The Immigrant

He arrives at JFK, luggage and passport in hand. This is a new world, a river spiraling
with millions of people, flowing into the ocean.  

He sinks to the bottom of the Manhattan streets, dizzy from the blinding lights
and deafening sounds. He’s looking for a job but doesn’t know where to find it. 

He walks into a grocery store, amazed by the hundreds of spices and brands of coffee.  

He realizes he doesn’t know how to ask for bread, how to ask for the bread aisle. He doesn’t know how to ask for anything. He doesn’t know how to say bread. He uses his hands, trying
to communicate by pointing fingers. He feels helpless and ashamed. Where is the pâine 

Bread in America is never the same as in Romania. Good bread is rare. It tastes like home
on the tongue. You can only find it in special bakeries, not in the supermarket.
He doesn’t know that yet. And after tasting good bread, you’re thirsty for water,
but even the water is not the same.  

English is a wide river. He was thrown into it, and now he must endure the currents of language. Each day he’s drowning, gasping for air. He’s alone in the most crowded body of water.   

For him, Romanian is a gentle stream. In his home language, he has full control,
but not here. Not yet. I imagine him trying to navigate through this new life.
He doesn’t know how to say, “How do I get home?”  

He has a thick, incomprehensible accent, slowly floating in the rapids. He struggles
to shape words in his mouth, rolling consonants on his tongue, choking on simple sounds,
learning how to get from pâine to bread, from apa to water.  

At the evening school of English as a second language, he sits next to people
from different continents, uttering WA-TUH, BR-EAD, like a small child. 

How did he start swimming? He flings his arms, self-conscious and afraid
of being pulled under, and discovers he can float, his feet rising to the surface.
He takes his first stroke, then the next, until he feels the flow of the waves carrying him.  

He says slowly, “Nice to meet you.” 

WA-TUH. WA-TER. Water.  

He’s my father, swimming in the English language in the United States.