When I was in the second grade—our family had left Romania shortly after the 1989 revolution with violence and corruption still a daily part of life despite the end of the communist regime—I spoke enough English to ask to use the toilet.
Since my lunch smelled funny and I wore second hand shoes and beat everyone fair and square at math, none of the Canadian kids—except for Amanda Brown, who lived with her 5 brothers and sisters in Scarborough in a house which, I later learned, was falling in around their ears—gave me the time of day.
One recess period I was playing alone with some sticks near the baseball diamond (being from a place where toys were a luxury, I was not perturbed by my meager choice of implements) when three little white girls began to play nearby.
I was making something, I can’t remember what, when all of a sudden a teacher I had never spoken to came screaming up to me. She insisted that I had said the ef-word many times, and berated me for using such coarse, horrid language. How could I possibly find it acceptable to speak this way?! Did I not realize how I had offended everyone nearby? I protested my innocence with gesture and supplemented with some feeble no ma’ams and yes ma’ams that my dad had instructed me to use, as signs of respect, after watching Clint Eastwood Westerns surreptitiously borrowed from another mechanical engineer equally fed up with communist hatred of anything remotely fun.
An hour later, in the principal's office, my mother's tired sombre face appeared, having been called by the administrators out of Introduction to Clinical Medicine II—a class she had completed seven years before, but in a place unacceptable to delicate Canadian physiology, and so was made to do it all over again.
She said nothing to me later that evening, on the walk home from school, but put down her large bag, changed into her cleaners uniform, and walked to the bookshelf we had cobbled together from a shipping container. It had sailed our family possessions (including what I, at 9, deemed to be an utterly absurd amount of books) across the Atlantic Ocean.
She took out the English-Romanian dictionary and flipped intently past the E’s and into the F’s. Fe, Fi, Fo, Fu, Fuscia, no that’s too far, Fuck. I peered over the small spine, together we read the tiny cramped print:
[intransitive, transitive] fuck (somebody) to have sex with somebody
[intransitive, transitive] a swear word that many people find offensive that is used to express anger, horror or surprise
Sa fac, eu fac, tu faci, in the tongue I knew, according to the world that still made sense to me, means to make, to create, to do.