I haven't read for myself, not regularly, anyway, in years. These days, I can recite The Cat in the Hat and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" by memory. But until recently, I couldn't tell you the title of the last book I read that hadn't been checked out or purchased for the pre-K age group.
Then I signed up for The National Latino Writer's Conference. And as the days brought me closer to my first conference, I decided to read as a way to calm my nerves. It would get my mind off the butterflies. And help me prep for meeting published faculty face to face.
Mother Tongue was one of my pre-conference frenzy reads. It's a novel written as a memoir, a love story where you know he leaves in the end, yet can't be mad at him because it was for the very best of reasons. I've oversimplified the plot almost to the point of sin, but I'm afraid to say too much; afraid I'll spoil the beauty of the language on the page and the images contained within.
Demetria uses this book as the basis for teaching workshops on both fiction and non-fiction and I had the great honor of sitting in on a memoir writing session at the conference. I felt confident raising my hand and contributing to the discussion because earlier that day, I had already made an ass out of myself.
I had walked into the lunch session just a few minutes late and grabbed the first available seat I saw, ducking down as to not draw attention to myself and away from our speaker. I paid no attention to the dark-haired woman sitting in the seat next me. At our round table, the woman's back was to me as she focused on the lunch time presenter. I did the same.
It wasn't until she turned around to introduce herself that I realized who she was.
"Hi, I'm Demetria Martinez."
She said it like I would say, " Hi, my name is Pauline Campos," or "The sky is blue." Because to her, being who she is is not the same as hearing the name of the woman who wrote one of the most beautiful works ever written while the hand of that very woman is being extended in greeting.
For a moment, I was dignified. I shook her hand. I told her it was an honor to meet her and reminded her that I had submitted a sample of my work for her to read. She nodded again.
Then I gushed.
"I'm reading Mother Tongue right now. It's amazing! Every time I think you've stolen my breath for the last time, you do it again on the very next page."
And Demetria? Bless her heart. She was humble. She was gracious. She joked that it was lovely to know her words were not just gathering dust.
"Dust?" I balked. "Of course not. They're being treasured."
And she waited for me to file through my memories until I was able to recite one of the most memorable lines in Mother Tongue...and there are many.
"He asks, have you kissed a man whose name you did not know?
I say, I knew the name but not the man."