27 November 2011


At 11:00 am, the sun poked its fingers through my bedroom window and pried apart my eyelids. Tiempo para comprar barras, SharBear. Time to buy bread.

I threw the comforter off and pulled on a little jacket and scarf--to balance out my natural, grungy, unkempt American look. With hair that insisted on jutting out in the back, I walked onto the front patio and into glorious sunlight. 56 degrees. At the end of the block, tufts of grass poked up, fresh with green after this week's rain. I reached over and touched them: the feel of April.

Coming back from the panaderia, barras in arms, I began to sweat. By the time I got to the crosswalk, it felt like May. By the front door, June.

I remember one other snowless Thanksgiving--in 1997 or 1998. I remember overcast skies and brown and not being able to sled; I remember wearing a boy's sweater from Target, a sweater I thought was fashionable for any gender. I think there was another mild Thanksgiving a few years ago, because I remember walking down a winding hillside highway back toward my aunt and uncle's house. I remember the snowflakes that came after that, the inches and then feet that pushed against our doors the way mean older siblings do, holding us captive in our rooms and houses for Christmas. I remember turning my head to be able to hear last year, thanks to the infection in my right ear.

I could list a million of the things I'm thankful for today, including grassy Novembers, healthy ears, and better taste in clothing. But the thing I remember right now is the Sunday in high school when a little girl walked up to me and said, "You kinda look like Dracula."

She meant my teeth, which were gapped and crooked and looked slightly fang-like. I had been dropping the hint about braces to my parents for years, and the Dracula comment pushed me over the edge. It was during my junior year, at 16 years old, that I finally got them, that mouthful of metal scraping at the sides of my cheeks. But I had made a resolution to myself: since I'd begged for braces for so long, I was not ever going to complain about them. And I didn't. For nearly two years, I felt awkward and kind of ugly and lots of pain every time my teeth got cranked in another direction, but I held firmly to my vow. I didn't speak a word of complaint out loud.

There are few things about my high school self that I admire now (including dying my hair with peroxide and wearing boys' sweaters), but one thing that makes me proud of my past self was my resolve. I was much more disciplined in high school.

Over this four-day weekend, I traveled with friends (Hi, Sarah! I know you're reading this!) and accidentally made a fool of myself several times. And it was great. We had a slumber party and slept in and talked about boys. I had a conversation with a cute old man in a souvenir shop in Toledo, and that made me want to jump back into hardcore Spanish study and learn the language well enough to stay here forever.

I adore living in Europe. Sometimes Spain and I fight over things like its lack of Hobby Lobby and its demand for paperwork, but there haven't been real dealbreakers yet. Living overseas comes with this requirement that you go through a period of disdain for your current country (every book and diagram and seminar has told me so). I think Spain and I hit that point early on, but now we are in love. Granted, the stress of teaching probably takes the focus off lots of cultural stress, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Anyway. Weren't we talking about pointy teeth?

Yes. Here's what I think I was meaning to say. Life is stressful, and stress is hard, and part of being honest is admitting your stresses before they gang up and cause you to face-plant. However, there's a tension between honesty and complaining, and I often allow myself to cross the line, painting over my complaints with words to make them look like honesty (or, dumber yet, just saying negative things so I have something to contribute to the conversation). That's when I need to remember the era of Shar of the Braces and keep my mouth shut.

I thought of it over and over again this weekend: my life is so full. I live in Spain. My Thanksgiving was snow-free. I have friends in multiple countries. My students are hilarious. If I give myself a bad haircut, it will always grow back. We didn't get lost in Toledo this weekend; we didn't miss our train; we spent Saturday walking cobblestone streets; we live in a place where it's customary to follow up a meal with sweet coffee and hours of just sitting around and talking. I adore Spain, even though I know I still don't entirely get Spain, even though I'm sometimes more enchanted with the idea of all the things I could do in Spain than with the things I'm actually currently doing.

Tomorrow will be a Monday, and I know these last few weeks before Christmas vacation are going to be full-to-exploding with correcting and grading and making worksheets. At several points, I'll probably sigh and feel frustrated again and again. But I can't complain, I shouldn't and I won't, because these pains--pulling and twisting me like wire on crooked teeth--are part of living in Spain. Living here, not just traveling through. Collecting memories along with postcards. Being a part of Spain, not just being in Spain.

I love Spain.

And so I want to be honest, yes, and tell you about the way I get stressed sometimes. But I want to keep this at the forefront of my brain to make sure my honesty doesn't dissolve into complaining: I am experiencing these stresses because I am in Spain, because I am doing the thing I want to be doing. I would rather have the stresses and the Spain right now than not have stresses because I'm not in Spain. Does it make any sense? To choose the painful braces over the painless Dracula smile, knowing that it's being shaped into something better all the while?

Perhaps thankfulness is not so much about a list of things I am grateful for. Maybe it is also--and moreso--the practice of remembering that if I had no desire to complain sometimes, I also wouldn't have whatever it is I'm complaining about. Maybe gratitude is just as much about keeping quiet as it is about praising out loud.

Today I am thankful for Dracula teeth.

1 comment:

dancin' said...

Don't forget to run with the bulls; it's on your list =)