Jason’s death has brought with it a lot of secondary losses. (Secondary loss is things like going into foreclosure when you no longer have 2 incomes, or the people who you no longer talk to because of the change in your circumstances.) Recently, the one I’ve been feeling is the loss of language. There are 2 parts to this.
Part 1: Bislama and Apma
Though there are about 5 other Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Vanuatu in the Twin Cities, they all served after me. They appear to have a community with each other (their services overlapped), but because we never overlapped in country, I don’t know them. Outside of RPCVs, there aren’t a lot of people in the US who speak Bislama. There really aren’t a lot in the Twin Cities.
I miss the language, in all of its ridiculousness. I miss phrases like “flat” to refer to something as being finished (the battery in the phone is flat; I flatted that plate of food); I miss phrases like “no gat” to refer to an absence of something (Do you have more screws in your pocket? No gat. Is there anymore donut? No gat.). I miss the cheerful “No gat taem” way of telling someone to fuck off (No got time aka you aren’t worth my time so piss off). I miss being able to answer literally any question with a swallowed back “no.” (What are you doing today? No. Where are you coming from? No.) I miss words like “naoia!” which convey both time and place. I miss the ability to specify who is included in “they” and “you.” (Yufala = all the yous. Yutufala = just the two of you. Mifala = the people that include me but not you. There are more, with more complexity.)
I miss Apma, the local language spoken where we lived on Pentecost. “Komu” is much tighter than “be quiet” (or more accurately, “shut up”. It isn’t polite.) I miss being able to use “tegabis” in context. I miss being called Lala or Lala-Oh! (My name on the island was MatanLala, usually shortened to Lala. If any of you English speakers call me this I will likely punch you. You haven’t earned it.)
Part 2: Gaea-ese
When you have an intimate, complex, and long-running relationship with a person, you develop a language. This is not just romantic relationships. Any relationship develops these. My friend Nora and I have a word which only the two of us know. It came up while we were riding a ski lift to the top of the hill as pre-teens. It has stayed in our vocabulary, but only with each other.
Jason and I had a rich language which only we understood. It include the noise I make when I am genuinely frustrated, and the phrase “I’m the boss” (to be used only while naked and laughing). It included the wide variety of the ways Jason sighed and the inflection he used when trying to get my attention by yelling Lala at me. It incorporated the body language which I can’t see that says I’m done with people and the ways in which he rolled his eyes at my antics that sometimes says he was over it and sometimes says he was humoring me. The phrase “catch me” applied to my antics and to our acto. It included puns and plays on words and memes and leet speak, and a hundred inside jokes.
I’m going to lose that language. I am the only speaker. Without someone to practice with, I will lose it. I will lose the jokes, the inflection, the laughter. I will lose this piece of the relationship between Jason and I, because no one else is here to remember it with me.
Jason’s death has shrunk my vocabulary. I will inevitably lose the language that we spoke together. I can’t maintain this thing that existed between us on my own. And so it will get lost, just like the memories that he held. I grieve secondary loss, as well as the primary loss of Jason.