Oath: 1. a. A solemn or formal declaration invoking God (or a god, or other object of reverence) as witness to the truth of a statement, or to the binding nature of a promise or undertaking

Curse: 1. a. An utterance consigning, or supposed or intended to consign, (a person or thing) to spiritual and temporal evil, the vengeance of the deity, the blasting of malignant fate, etc. It may be uttered by the deity, or by persons supposed to speak in his name, or to be listened to by him.

She was enamored with the curses she learned in her Spanish class. There was one she felt particularly privileged to know, something to do with cutting the candles at- what was it? What ceremony? Your funeral? Your wedding? Your birthday? Already my bland ethnocentrism, my midwestern-ness was creeping in to my fourth-level understanding of my 3rd-generation daughter of Little Italy girlfriend’s 3rd-level understanding of her Spanish instructor’s 2nd-level understanding of pinto beans, sea breezes, things more passionate, less rational, more colorful- ah, again, I’m there again- in the way of everything Latin.
I see small plates. I see women.

I see women everywhere.

And that was a curse. That was the curse she told me about, over and over again, excited, incredulous.

“Can you imagine saying something like that?”

No, no- we didn’t have the tools. I was too tired, for one, and my language didn’t rest on an old tapestry of traditions, symbols stretching back to cave walls that became wine cellars. I spoke English- I had long summers, I had miles of cornfields I never worked in a day in my life, big meals that came from boxes or needed salt. On top of that, I needed sleep. It was college. I always needed sleep. I was none too quick on the uptake. What was I taking up? Where would I be going with it?

Maybe it was on my graduation from high school that my family took me to dinner at a big German restaurant in Peoria built to look like a castle, decorated darkly and heavily with German antiques up and down every floor. It really was a castle. There was a long wooden buffet table, one of very dark wood, behind me. Upon it stood a candelabra whose every candlestick at one point during the meal suddenly snapped in half with a crack. Did one of those halves land on my shoulder? Had I missed something, some missile in the form of a champagne cork that had made its miraculous mark above and behind me as I sat eating something German?

That was the instance I would remember when she would tell me about the curses her Spanish instructor would teach to her class.

She was a sad one. I was a sad one. We lived our lives like they were curses. I wonder if she ever got happier.

We mocked real human suffering with the zealous, excited abandon of the village’s tolerated ignoramus, with our youth, with our fascination with curses- with the way we lived our life with our mouths turned down like our life itself was a curse. Like something that twisted in our fresh viscera then would be big outside of us and our getting bigger, big enough that God would listen.

Life could have been weirder then. We didn’t have much to be sad about.

And then we become a little older, and hopefully not as sad, and remembering the girl that scared you with her bohemian wreck of a lifestyle becomes the project that requires seriously undertaken veracity. Not romantic, not painful, but an act of witness. The labor comes through more as an oath, a testament that things are in this world, a slightly funny, backhanded smile at your own expense that is a record and also a redemption.

Eventually, you tell yourself, you learn not to manufacture your woes.