Our first encounter was serendipitous. A woman I had heard of but had never met, emailed me to ask if I knew of an advanced English class to which she could refer a newcomer from Spain. Hmm. I really couldn’t recommend a class until I knew Ana’s level of English. And my Spanish could use a workout. Surely I could help someone who spoke English at an advanced level. All these thoughts went through my mind as I emailed Ana and asked if she’d like to meet for coffee.
We met first at Starbucks. Her English was excellent. She only wanted help in pronunciation. We decided to meet often and devote half our conversation to each language. That didn’t last long. Obviously she’d figured out that my Spanish needed more work than her English, so at some point all our conversations were in her first language.
We became friends over the two years we sat in coffee shops and talked. Mostly we shared our everyday comings and goings, our opinions on everything, a little gossip, and laughter. I marveled at her confidence and the ease with which she adjusted to life in a foreign environment.
When I first met Ana she was researching private schools for one son. They chose a school in the City of Kirkland a few miles away. She pronounced it something like “Keerklan,” and I couldn’t understand what she was saying. Recently the family had to find a new house to rent and she located one in Kirkland. I told her she couldn’t move there until she learned to pronounce it. She laughed and told me there was another word she needed to practice: milk. In Starbucks she had ordered coffee with milk on the side. The person who took her order kept asking, What?” and Ana kept saying, “Meelk.” When the coffee arrived, Ana couldn’t understand why the barista had set a sprig of mint beside it and no milk.
A week ago Ana died. Heart attack? Stroke? Something that took her fast. She was fifty-three. I was glad I had seen her a few days before, but that doesn’t keep me from missing her. Without her help I will lose my Spanish fluency. But that can always come back. She can’t and that is the problem.