My plane lands in Madrid, Spain and I feel heavy. I remind myself that I don’t have to feel this way. I am simply here to reclaim what’s mine.
To be honest, I could’ve left Madrid back at the end of May in a better place. May 27, the day before my 24th birthday, I told myself that I wasn’t going into pass another year of my 20s in Spain feeling miserable and sad, while dreading work each day. I was working 3 jobs and walking to work each day to save money.
I could’ve completed my work contract at the school that only had 25 days left. I didn’t have to leave my 108 of my 6 and 7 year old students without an English teacher for that amount of time. I could have handled my boss better, a woman who consistently made it clear that she hated me because of the color of my skin and constantly attempted to make me feel inferior and out of place from Monday to Friday for a whopping total of 9 months. I could have done all of these things differently. Maybe. It is now November and I just came to this conclusion.
But I was tired.
I’ve learned that is simply enough.
And that’s okay.
I’d overstayed my welcome in my own body. I missed home, or just having someone see me for who I am. I was tired of people staring at me in the upper class suburban neighborhood I lived in, tired of feeling like an outsider. I desperately wanted children not to point at me in the grocery store or have another one of my students parents discerningly stare me down and wonder how I knew their child after I spoke to them in the grocery store on a Tuesday afternoon. I lived for the moments that my student’s ran up to me in the street, the parents waving and wishing me well.
I should of focused on the good, like my four coworkers that really cared about me. I tutored them all in English on Friday afternoons and we discussed life. They taught me about motherhood, marriage, how to navigate life, and Spanish customs and culture. They took me in. I love them dearly for that. All four of them will stay in my life as a good memory of Madrid.
Almudena, my coworker, walks with me to the gate of my old apartment. I thank her again for everything, just coming from dinner at her house and seeing her sons, my old tutoring students. I tell her in Spanish how much she’s taught me about life and she is confused.
“Tianna! You learn things from life, what could I possibly have taught you?” She asks.
“You’ve taught me about life, being a woman, a mother. I’ve been watching you for a great example here in Spain.”
“But you learn from life.”
“If we only learn from life, why do we make friends and have family?” I ask her in Spanish and she smiles, squeezing my arm and throwing her arm around my shoulder for a hug.
I could focus on the family from Argentina that I lived with for six months. Their three year old daughter, now four, Emma, who drew photos of her mom and dad with me included. I practiced songs in English with Emma and taught her the Happy Birthday song. The late night Spanish conversations with Marina about her life and she truly became my older sister. How patient she was with my Spanish, listening attentively, correcting any mistakes in a kind way. Her husband, Dani, and all of us watching Gold Rush on Discovery Channel at night or the family favorite, a Detroit pawn shop reality tv show, dubbed in Spanish. They always shared with me, asked me how I was doing, and truly made me feel like I was a part of their family, even to this day.
I could have focused on my friend, Santiago, who I met on Couchsurfer last November, a website to make friends and connect while traveling on a random solo trip to Paris. He had good references from people who met him and I took the chance. We met last October right next to the Notre Dame Church in Paris and he introduced me to his friends, Harry and Marione, some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. His friend threw a salsa party right next to the Seine River, packs of diverse groups of people talking and having fun and dancing.
I find myself in a better place now that I’m back in Spain. I feel happier. My friends comment that I look different.
Peace of mind will do wonders for you.
This time, I get to spend more time with Marina, Emma, and Dani, my Argentinian family. Marina tells me more about her life, both her and Emma are a year older.
“You too,” she adds.
I can’t believe how much Emma has grown. Her hair now cut short around her shoulders; her round face smiling wide. She giggles more than I remember. Like throws her head back and laughs until everyone in the room is wrapped up in her childlike laughter, taking us back to a time when things were simple, when we double-dutched in the street, were home by the time the street lights illuminated our faces, our mother’s and father’s standing in the distance, yelling our names for dinner.
When we weren’t paying bills and all trying to figure out how the hell to navigate a 9 to 5 job/ career and our personal lives.
Just trying to feel alive, you know?
Emma is more active, more talkative. As far as English goes, I taught her how to count to 11 and she can sing the Happy Birthday Song. She loves anything related to Peppa Pig, a British animated tv show. Emma takes my hand and walks me over to the window. She moves the curtain and points. “The sky is blue!” She says. I’m so proud. I feel like she just won a Nobel Prize.
I later realize that she is now referring to the color blue as “sky is blue” until her mom and I are sky is blue in the face with correcting and exploding with laugher.
What I like the most about Marina, Emma’s mom, or my sister, is that she’s an actual, real live person. She doesn’t bite her tongue nor waste her time. She’s 32, just 8 years older than me, but yet, she feels real. Her life feels attainable, she makes sense. She is always open with me, sharing her life, her shortcomings, her assets, her blessings. How much she loves her daughter. She feels safe. I confide in her.
As a young adult, you see adults that are where you want to be, but you have no idea how they got there or how to get yourself to that specific point. The disconnect between their current situation and the astonishment that they were once your age is too overwhelming and then, suddenly, you’re converted into a hopeless, lost 20 year old something, one double cappuccino and LinkedIn endorsement too short.
What an experience it’s been.
I feel a wave of happiness as Santiago opens his front door and his parents hug me with wide smiles. Santiago’s mom sends me Facebook messages with sweet messages or about Santiago’s life. We’ve never met. I secretly think she thinks I’m cooler than I actually am and it’s really adorable to me. I embrace her; she’s so happy to see me. She speaks Spanish to me slowly, dropping any trace of a heavy accent and asks me several times if I understand her. What a jewel.
His dad cooked us a lentil soup, turkey, and rice dinner. I brought wine because I knew my immediate family and ancestors would be outraged if I showed up empty handed.
Santi’s dad sings opera in Spanish, his voice echoing through The Avenue of Americas. “What a powerful voice,” I tell him and he smiles proudly, his chest sticking out. Santi and I sit. I wonder if he realizes how great his family is. I dance salsa with Santi’s dad.
His mom claps!! “Wow, que bueno Tianna!”
We listen to classic Colombian salsa songs. Santi’s mom asks about America. I YouTube search Marvin Gaye’s Love and Happiness. They love it immediately and Santi and I translate it from English into Spanish for them.
Six hours later, we’re all sitting at a bar, discussing life, and the lives in Colombia that they left behind for Spain back in the 90s. They ask me about politics in America and I shake my head. I’m surprised how well I’m able to articulate my disgust in Spanish.
Later, Santi’s mom wraps her arm in mine while we’re walking on the sidewalk.
“Today has been great,” she tells me. “We could have planned today out but it was so great in the moment. That’s the way life goes.”
She laughs and squeezes my arm. I feel at home.
Spain taught me many things. It’s this one evolving circle of life, of overcoming and struggle, and moments of joy that I cherish. People that make me feel like I’m family. This time, I went back, passed a Spanish certification exam, and made peace with my experience.
“It’s what you make it,” I whisper to myself, Santi’s mom’s arm still wrapped around mine.