future-in-the-past

we teach the future and the conditional together;
this is a fatal mistake.

they have shared irregular stems.
it’s supposed to make it easier to learn
(like it’s easier to memorize countries alphabetically,
but this does not teach you geography).

but of course, there is no way to make this easy:
either you have a future or you know what it is to have had one.
it’s will and would, i tell them, trepidatious, 
future-in-the-present,
future-in-the-past.

somehow they always grasp the future, these young minds.
you may laugh at me calling them young as if i am not,
but if you knew them you would know i am not,
because the concept of future-in-the-past is self-evident at a certain point,
and you forget now,
but there was a time when you would have found that confusing.

they always ask me for examples.
and i have plenty,
as anyone of a certain age has plenty.
(this certain age is getting younger.)
i thought i would be a soccer player,
but i was terrible,
and i ran out of girls’ leagues to play in when i was twelve.
i would be fluent in catalan,
except i kept thinking i didn’t need to study.
i would teach this differently,
but i do what i’m told.

note the interrupting condition,
the commas, that’s your cue,
the tense will change,
or i should say,
the tense has changed,
and you must observe it.

this never works, and they uniformly fail this section,
because it’s the last unit in the course, and who has the time.

i am relieved.

the hideous thing about the conditional tense is that it is so very easy to use.
simple conjugation, flows off the tongue, takes five seconds to learn.
the vowels get softer when a future passes:
pasaría, pasarías, pasaría,
and i’d rather not be the one to break this to them.

Published by Catherine Addington

I am a translator from Spanish to English and a writer on saints, myths, and icons in both religious and secular contexts.

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