You never register it happening. Your mind dissociates but your body is exposed. First they dismantle you, break your protections. Then they settle in your cells, stay with you, like a virus you don’t know you have.
I was six. The chubby red-haired lady pushed me on the grass.
“Assis,” she ordered.
Her fat fingers clasped my hand. She pulled me up.
She pushed me down again, “assis,” then pulled me up, “debout,” down, up, “assis,” “debout,” until the lesson made me motion sick.
The woman scolded me, making me understand I should keep quiet and obey. Her voice had the consistency of vomit: chunks of words floating in dribble.
Her bloated face blotched out the sun. My stomach hurt, my knees were trembling. I sank down and hid my face between my hands.
Their tactic was more lethal – more effective – than any pedagogy could aspire to attain. Instead of teaching me a language, they injected me with blind submission, eating away my sense of agency.
This is how you become a PhD student in French literature.
Simon Rogghe is a poet, fiction writer and translator of French surrealism and contemporary fiction. His work has appeared and is forthcoming in 3:AM Magazine, Gone Lawn, Crack the Spine and other publications. He is currently earning his Ph.D. in French literature at UC Berkeley.
–Art by Peter Lamata