I practiced French in my bedroom closet, in the old house where my mother died. I didn't want my family to hear me trying another language, so I sat inside the sliver of a space that cannot rightly be called a room. I slid the door closed. I held a flashlight in one hand, I held index cards in the other (la maison, le mur, la porte, la fenêtre: "Puis-je fermer la fenêtre?"). I said the words aloud, quietly.
A tunnel appeared in the far corner of the small dark closet. I had tried other tunnels before, but they went just below the ground's surface, making me into a mole. One tunnel stopped as far as my sister's bedroom, which was directly below mine. Another brought me to the back side of Richman Gordman's parking lot, to a line of timber that separated beige suburban homes from beige suburban stores.
I wanted further. I wanted to turn into a frog. I gave myself frog feet and frog legs that could swim in perfect symmetry. When the tunnel appeared, I poked my nose in deep, then pushed hard to where the earth was cold and wet. I looked back to admire my frog legs. I wrote very fine letters on my machine à écrire to other frogs like me.
Then I tried Arabic. The earth thickened. It was rich and thick. I put my whole face in it, and it squeezed me in return. It squeezed my slick, rubbery skin. It knew I wasn't a frog. It wanted my essential self, whatever that was. My legs twitched, my gills burned. I was holding my breath, I realized I had been holding my breath this whole time, then I realized I was the only one to blame for holding my breath. It was me who'd come this far. I felt dumb, so why not swim further down. Why not see how long I could hold my breath. I had already swam so far from my small closet in the house where my mother had died, so far even the words "small" and "closet" were unfamiliar to me.
Only my heart remained the same. I could hear it beating the whole time, that's how I know.
Then, the earth became very dry. There was light there and gray dust, and bones. Human bones and frog bones and dog bones and cat bones and horse bones and mule bones and donkey bones and goat bones. All kinds of bones. It wasn't until I reached these bones that I took in breath. It wasn't until the bones that I could breathe.