It was singed into the desk deeper than I imagined possible in wood that thick. Although, I’m not exactly a wood expert. That’s an understatement. I can remember classes, from elementary school, where I learned them – the trees and the plants. But I could barely tell the difference between an oak and a maple at this point.
Nonetheless, it fit perfectly in my new room. It was gorgeous. The small, pale yellow room had a nook in the far corner that could’ve been measured just for this desk. And on top, I placed only one large black and white photograph that my mother had taken of my uncle a few years before I was born. He is standing in front of his childhood home, his legs straddling the bike his uncle had just bought him.
I looked up the charred etching in damn near every language I could find. Nothing. I’m sure it was on there when my uncle, a full fledged auction hunter and bullshit spinner, bought it for what he called “a lucky steal.” To me, having spent most of my youth touring auctions with him and witnessing some of the stunts he’s pulled, this translated to, “I told the auctioneer the desk was an antique from (any one of the thousand eras he can spin off the top of his head), and were it not for the unfortunate graffiti (always use strong negative wording), it might be worth of a fortune. As it is, I’ll give you the opening bid plus a fifty to let it go before you even bother raising the gavel.”
Either way, it’s the best house-warming gift I got. My parents and sister went in together on a microwave. My friends got me silverware. My grandmother got me plates (I have no doubt the coincidence was not void of my mothers influence). And my uncle got me the desk.
En wittium testivari. For weeks, I stared at the deep, smooth cursive script, singed black against the table’s deep, red complexion. I ran my fingers along it as I checked my email. I picked at the slight bit of jagged varnish on the inside of the “e.” I found myself using it in different ways in daily conversation. My friend, Marris, two weeks ago Tuesday, had a shit day. Just one of those “wish you could just crawl into bed and sleep until you were naked on a beach somewhere off the coast of Belize” days. So, she and I went out for a forget-the-day margarita, and I found myself, in a near ‘hakuna matata’ way, whimsically saying, “en wittium testivari.” She shrugged it off like it must be some carpe diem shit. I couldn’t believe myself. Two days later, in the grocery store, they were out of pomegranates. And even though I had not once before even thought of buying a pomegranate, I was in the mood, and they were out, and I got pissed and screamed, “en wittium testivari!” as though it were a curse to all that is grocery.
It invaded my work, my social life, my dinner with my parents. During which I spoke of little else, and, at every convenient and not convenient pause in conversation, I brought it up. I became obsessed. It was all I thought about. I shouted it at climax with this local coed who found my ramblings philosophical and deep. I had been passionately insisting that the desk’s previous owner was this ragged old woman, who, while effected by deep psychological issues, invented a language unlike that of Tolkien’s elfish tongue, and carved her language key into the desk as to not forget it. The margaritas had gone to my head a bit, I think.
I wrote to professors at various Ivy League schools. One got back to me. He didn’t know what it meant.
My mom called me, worried about me. She rambled on about some horror movie my sister dragged her to and was then convinced the desk was possessed. It had, apparently, invaded my mind and I needed to escape its devilish grasp. I allowed the idea some thought but found it more likely it was just some family motto or childhood mispronunciation that later became in house jargon. Was I actually using it correctly? Could it be that it had no meaning? That perhaps, simply using it was the important thing? Was I keeping some long lost family tradition alive? Perhaps my constant use, my incessant fixation, my rebirthing of this wonderful, unknown phrase was actually a beautiful, magical thing. I started using it more. It was “Thank you” at the corner deli, “God bless you” after an old man sneezed on the bus, and “Leave a message after the beep” on my voice mail. It was my world. It was my “all work and no play…”
And then it happened. So casually, I almost didn’t notice it. I was on a morning walk, taking in my new, rural environment. Spreading the word of “en wittium testivari,” watching the buildings grow taller and taller, my eyes fixed on the horizon that seemed so epically far off. I was turning onto a small side street, where the most unbelievable aroma of fresh baked deliciousness was floating. I saw it just out the corner of my eye and nearly thought I was imagining it. Hanging in the window of a small, one room bakery, the same beautiful fire red wood, and the same singed black cursive. It was my mantra. It hung there so naturally. So simply mixed in amongst the kitsch.
I ran into the perfectly cozy bakery. The smell was like childhood and imagination wound into a perfect stickiness. My eyes watered with possibility, my heart was throbbing. And as though I didn’t have to ask, the stout little grandma that worked the counter welcomed me with the words I had only ever heard in my voice. I jumped. I couldn’t say what I wanted to. The build up was so sudden and unexpected. I choked on my own breath. I coughed and swallowed deeply. I took a breath, smiled, and finally whimpered, “What does that mean?”