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On a rare sunny May afternoon in Portland, I drove with the windows down, flipping through the stations on the radio. I was on my way to see the artist’s wife, whom I’ve decided to christen Eve since I’m tired of referring to her as the artist’s wife.

Eve isn’t young, and English isn’t coming easily to her. She is also, like many women of indeterminate age, set in her ways and not one to mete out grace. “Argh! I just can’t get it!” she says when she makes a mistake or forgets a word. She’ll hit her forehead, berate herself. And yet I’ve never had a student as dedicated as she is, bar none. She works ahead. She asks for more homework. Yet she often misses class; her days are also filled with doctor’s visits and dental work. She is losing most of her teeth, will soon have dentures but in the meantime, ashamed, wears a mask to cover her toothless grin.

Eve is 65. Her husband is 70. They have an interesting story that she has alluded to several times, although her English remains more of a barrier than an aid to conversation. She chose him, which isn’t typical for Arab marriages especially of her generation, and they come from very different backgrounds. They are in many ways an atypical couple, and I’m enjoying getting to know them.

I’ve invited them for dinner before but she has refused. I’m not sure why, but I think it is a form of shyness, even politeness. She’ll say odd things. “I’m not a good woman,” she told me, but I understand that she doesn’t mean exactly what she says. I think she means she’s not a good cook, but I’m not sure. She hints at problems in their marriage. I believe she needs a friend.

So, last week when Donn and I were both there and we weren’t really doing much English class, we invited them again. “Please?” I said to her. And she cried. “Look!” she said, pointing to her eyes. “I’m crying.” I don’t know why a simple invitation for dinner would make her cry, but at least this time she has agreed to come.

I’m also getting to know her daughter, who lives nearby with her husband. If I were to believe even half of what Eve tells me about her son-in-law, I would detest him, but I take it with a grain of salt. But her daughter, Daisy, seems fine with him. “But he needs a friend,” she tells me. “He doesn’t know any Americans.”

We should probably have invited all of them, but given Eve’s reaction, I think it’s best to go slow. Eve and the artist lived in Italy for 4 years when they were first married, and her Italian remains much better than her English. (I can often figure out the Italian word by relating it to French, so our conversations are sort of English-Arabic-Italian-French. What would we call such a language?) I’m making a lasagna, since she doesn’t currently have enough teeth for pizza. Green salad, bread. What else? Suggestions? Also, does anyone have an absolutely amazing recipe for lasagna? I hardly ever make it.

May 2011

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