I am a 7 year old child, sitting in front of a dark brown desk in a small room next to the school library. Hovered over by a native born American ESL teacher.
Wrestling mentally with the reason why there is a "k" in "knife". Why?!
Because it's just there, it's silent, don't worry about it, it's the exception to the rule about "k".
But why is there an exception to the rule? Why can't I just not write it?
Because you have to. Because it's there.
I start running through the "rules" of the English language in my head and every single rule has an exception. Every single one.
Leaning back in my chair, crossing my arms, screaming "ENGLISH IS STUPID!!!!!" and meaning it with every inch of my being. The ESL teacher at first looking angry and shocked at my outburst and opens her mouth to say something, I see it.
She stops, changes her expression, takes a deep breathe and tells me not to worry about the "k" because it's silent, it's just there, now, let's move on to elephant.
I hate her at that moment. I know what she is thinking. Exactly what some of my classmates say "Don't come to America if you don't know English!", "English isn't hard, are you retarded or something? Stupid Polack!"
English is stupid, I kept telling myself. I tune her out for a moment, just sitting silently and hating hating hating this new language, sobbing inside how unfair this all was. I go back to trying again.
I am going to prove to her that I wasn't stupid, it wasn't me, it was this stupid language, her native language, the only one she ever knew, and my third.
She pats my shoulder and tells me, "I know it's hard for you. This is the only language I know, so of course, the rules are easy for me to remember. But you can do this. I can tell you are very smart. Come on, let's color in this picture of an elephant, that's fun."
I tell her I am sorry. She has no idea how much I mean that.
I color in the elephant.
And we talk about why there are two ways to spell Gray. And I feel my frustration rising again.
I can do this. I'm not stupid. It's the English language that is.
I finished the ESL program a few months later, on average a couple of years earlier than most.
I also get straight "A's" in Spelling, Reading and English classes.
At the school award ceremony that year, I receive a Citizenship Award. I still have it on a shelf in my bedroom. Every once in a while, I look at it and remember. And tell myself, I've done that, I can do anything.
And when I trip over a word while speaking Polish on the phone with my Babcia, I remember what I am capable of and keep trying.