Friday, February 25, 2011

The Translator's Office

This month has been a month of 'doing' rather than 'recording.' What I mean to say is that rather than writing on this blog, I've been taking care of business. Writing was put on the back burner so that I could accomplish, among other things, grading 250 English exams, filing my taxes, and renewing my teaching contract. Additionally, like a pedigreed dog on show, I've been jumping through hoops to complete my applications to French Masters programs, but alas, the hoops must be jumped, and the end of jumping and the beginning of waiting is near.

Today was a day of 'doing.' This afternoon I ventured to the 11th arrondissement, where the lovely cabinet I'm paying ungodly sums of money to translate two diplomas and four pages of transcripts, is located. I went on Monday to drop off my documents, but it turns out that American high school transcripts are wholly unstandardized, so I returned home with said documents to write out all the confusing abbreviations in order to facilitate Laurent, my translator's, life. Laurent is a thin, middle-aged Frenchman with crows feet around his eyes and a kind smile. He speaks English with an unmistakeable French accent, but his comprehension is impeccable, and he brandishes a magnifying glass to scan documents the way a cowboy in a John Wayne movie brandishes a pistol before a duel. He murmurs quietly to himself over these documents, and his air is tidy and unassuming.

Yesterday, Laurent emailed me to tell me that he'd be out of the office on my expected return date, and that I could simply drop the documents with the secretary at the front desk, which was my plan of action this afternoon. Cue my surprise when the secretary tells me that Laurent has JUST returned as she ushers me to his desk.

Dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a brown sweater over a blue button up, Laurent explained that he'd not planned on working this afternoon, as he's technically on vacation, but in a matter-of-fact rather than a complaining way. He invited me to sit down on a green chair beside his desk so he could scan my abbreviation-deciphering-work.

He whipped out his magnifying glass and we commenced with the university transcript, which, paradoxically, is easier to decipher than the high school transcript, simply because it's systematic. He scanned the columns top to bottom with a detached indifference, mechanically. I sat on the edge of my seat ready to explain anything to him.

I explained to him what the 'H' stood for--Honors.
I explained to him what PIB and IB and SL and HL stand for.
I explained to him what 'Cal Grant GPA' means, and what LEAD DEVELOP means.

But what I really wanted to explain to him is why my grades are impeccable, why they are wonderful, with the exception of my junior year. Looking at my junior year grades is painful. It's not painful because I'm ashamed in any way, I'm not. My junior year transcript is painful because front and center, those grades are an agonizing reminder that when I was sixteen, when I had just started my junior year, my dad died. And my grief shot me and my grades down like the sharp shooters in the John Wayne movies. The grades may not say "she lost her dad," but I know, and they are a permanent record, a never erasable indicator of how hard a year that was.

My grades are also a reminder that my dad is not here. I don't speak about him often, and I can go for months on end not thinking about how he's not here, not thinking about how much he's already missed, not wondering if he'd recognize me if he met me on the street now, if he'd know the Lindsay I've become now, if he'd like her. If he'd understand her. If he'd be proud of her.

I do not let his absence govern my life, nor fill my days with sadness, but every now and then, very rarely, there are reminders that call me back to the horrible night on a cold October when he left me forever. Staring at my transcripts was such a reminder. There I sat in a chair next to Laurent, explaining what IB and PIB and HL and SL meant, what H and N and T1 and IP meant, when all I really wanted to do was explain to him why suddenly those grades change so suddenly the third year. Why that mattered.

But some things don't translate, whether it be from English to French, or from paper to reality, from loss to healing. And no translator, no matter how talented, trained, or experienced, can ever translate that.

1 comment:

  1. This post was absolutely beautiful, linds, probably your best yet. I know your dad is looking down upon you, so proud of all the things that his little girl has already accomplished. Thanks for sharing this.