I took took my language proficiency index exam in Armenian last week. I scored Advanced-Low, which I feel great about. Still, today is exactly one month until I leave my life in Stepanavan behind, and moments ago I was eating dinner with my co-workers, unable to follow the conversation. I might have, I bet, if I listened very closely. But I instead nodded, I smiled at appropriate times, and as I have done almost daily for two years, I let my mind drift. This drifting is familiar to anyone living around an unfamiliar language, and even after learning to speak a new tongue, the habit of drifting is hard to break.
Usually, my mind wanders among go-to drifting topics, pulls them out like worn folders from a file drawer. I think about relationships. I dream about my future life in the US. I wonder about the lives of my friends and family. I worry about work.
This time however, I kept my mind at the table and thought about my office friends. I thought about Davit’s charm, how he sets the table at ease with deep-voiced interjections and warm laugh. I watched the sibling like bickering between Alvart the Clooker and Arman who argued over the location of the tea break’s remaining snacks. As usual Hasmik jumped into the lunch time conversations with questions and prompts that seem to keep the conversation moving. Armen made sure everyone has good food on their plate before piling a big-boy sized portion onto his. And after another one of Edgar’s room-raising anecdotes set everyone chuckling, I realized that here is a family. Every single one of them has a beat in the rhythm of this place, and because I work here I do, too. They would have to tell you what part I play, but I know I play it because as soon as I walk in from being away I fit directly into the flow as if I never left.
As soon as I hear my name mentioned at the table I start listening again, and it’s Davit asking me something. I have no idea what he said, so I nod and say, “Mmhmm,” and see if the conversation will end or keep on and clue me in. But this time he knows.
“Inke chi haskanum,” he says. (“He doesn’t understand.”)
Somehow I am touched that he knows me well enough to know the difference between my understanding and my merely wanting to. Despite my trying to hide it, he knows the cues that say I haven’t followed a word.
“Asel em, ko oratsuitsi vra es jinjum orere minchev gnalu?” (“I said, ‘Are you marking off the days on your calendar until you leave?'”)
“Che, che.” I tell him I can’t do that because I don’t want to think about how soon the leaving starts.
“You don’t want to go?”
“I want to be home. I don’t want to leave. I want to live in both places at once.”
“Apres,” (“You should live”) he says, and with that common affirmation he leaves me to drift into a dream of a life on two sides of the world.