27 May 2013

Spainiversary, Year Two

Love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places
-e.e. cummings

May 25, 2011 was the last time I saw the United States.

Of course there are things I miss: water fountains in public places, for instance, and streets that align to a grid. (My navigational skills have gone off the charts, however, after two years of maneuvering streets with names like Calle de los Martires de Camarma toward Avenida de la Corazon de la Virgin where it splits into a ring around Calle Catalina Maria Juana Rosario del Toledo.) I miss being able to pick snippets out of the conversations around me; I miss being able to make important phone calls myself. I miss free-standing houses in different colors than brown.

And there are the parts I won't miss about life in Spain: emails from mom, informing me that my credit card company has called yet again about potentially fradulent charges. (Mine. Always only mine.) Walking through the inevitable daily smoke cloud exhaled by some man two steps ahead of me. Getting stuck behind the world's slowest walkers on a sidewalk only three feet wide. I won't miss my slanty ceilings, the ones that taper off to a three-foot wall with closet doors best suited to hobbits. Or the mildew smell that seeps from those closets when the clothes that hung on the rack for three days still aren't dry.

Even still, it's hard to say that I'm ready to go home again. It's not as easy as tucking everything into a suitcase, ready to unpack for normal life. This has become normal life. These two years constructed from remnants--borrowed furniture, copies of old lesson plans, new numbers on new accounts--are just as much life as the one I had before. I so often wonder if I'll soon feel like Lucy Pevensie as she tumbles out of the wardrobe, waking from one reality into another, heart full-to-bursting with love for a place she can't re-enter.

I will miss this place.

I will trade in bus tickets for gas receipts, and I will miss this ultra-pedestrian life once I'm in the land where car is king. We depend so much on that small piece of paper--worn to nearly unreadable--we all carry in our wallets: the 255 bus schedule. We have memorized the evening timetables because it's still better than Spanish driving school (which has been known to make grown men cry). That first moment you master public transit, you feel like a demigod, as though you'd just deciphered the Code of Hammurabi instead of a stupid 3x5 sheet of paper. Even if the ticket reader on the bus is broken and the driver has to hold-punch your brand new bus pass. You are unbreakable because you understand the bus schedule! And the first time you realize you can explain the menu to your non-Spanish-speaking friends? THIS. IS. SPARTA.

I'll miss the way travel is almost an expected weekend plan. I'll miss my travel friends and the trip-planning system we've condensed into two minutes: "Wanna go somewhere?" "Yep." "London is less than €50." "Okay." Boom, we're eating grocery store breakfasts, waking up in cheap hostels, unfamiliar languages sliding through the air around us. I'll miss the beauty of European countries nestled into one another, borders like scars marking former fractures.

I'll miss owning a cell phone that no one calls, that I pay €10 every two months to keep. I'll miss paying with Monopoly money, all those colors and sizes, and 50-centimo coins and paying entire bills in change. I'll miss the tiny burst of delight after finding a Euro coin with something other than Juan Carlos' face on it.

I'll miss the collection of street performers on Sol: Hello Kittys and floating monks and up to six patriotic Mickeys around the fountain at any given time. Referring to places like "the color store," "the cute scarf store," "the cheap clothing store"--and knowing exactly where to find them on Alcala's Calle Mayor. The way Kleenex and hand sanitizer are travel staples. I'll miss the country that made me a coffee drinker--socially only, with higher proportions of milk and sugar than actual coffee.

I'll even miss the refined science of fitting everything just so into one Carrefour bag so as to prevent having to buy a second one, although I'll always forget the bag at home the next time anyway, stash it away on the ever-growing pile of bags we shuffle around the community like currency. I'll miss the way we compare Carrefour bags in terms like "the pretty blue one" or "the pretty bird one" and the strange satisfaction that strikes when a new bag design is released.

I'll miss Fanta Limón, Mercadona's cheap hummus, mini pans con tomate in the bright red bag. Paella and tinto de verano and that classic European standby, the kebab. I'll miss saying hola when I enter and luego on the way out the door, even though I'm sure it'll slip out the first time I leave Target--just like all those other words that were never really in my English vocabulary but have now rooted themselves firmly in my brain with a strong Spanish accent: saldo, via, plaza, puente, huelga. Wi-fi will always be wee-fee; I'll still respond to sneezes with salud! And though I'm sure I'll be glad to see a Perkins menu, I'll miss not knowing what the foods are unless they're written in Spanish. (Seriously, gazpacho is so much more than cold tomato soup.) Supper at six seems ridiculously early. I hope I remember to leave a tip.

I'll miss the seasons slipping from one to the next without severe distinctions, the way summer unfolds from the chrysalis of spring with only a few clues of warning: the clacking of storks from every high corner, the chatadero's mumbled microphone, the old men perching along the corner Banesto. Old ladies dressed in their crispest outfits, grasping hands or linking arms in a line as they take up the center of the street. The cafés pulling their chairs and tables back into the streets, harem pants returning to clothing store racks, bus drivers finally acknowledging that 80°F is warm enough to discontinue use of the heater.

After living here, my navigational senses are sharpening. My understanding of European geography is stellar. My Spanish level is still as low as plankton, but I'm fluent in public transportation. I can toss out random words in Polish, Norwegian, and Czech, and I have a new, deeply ingrained fear of leaving my keys inside the house. My co-workers are my friends, and they know exactly how exciting it is to eat a real dill pickle, who owns which Region 1 DVDs, and how to piece Spain friends together into a patchwork family when you can't be near your own. The lady at the dollar store off the plaza laughs when she sees me coming for ice cream. I'll miss all of it. And I will miss the roses falling over the tops of fences as I walk to school, the poppies pinpricking the field like blood-drops, the view of mountains and Madrid from the top of Camarma's hill.

But the thing I'll miss the most? Them.

I'll miss the way they crash into my classroom at 9:05 each morning and use up all my whiteboard markers on drawings of monsters and pigs. I'll miss the clamor at break time, when they stuff themselves under my desk, giggling about how long it takes for me to accidentally smack them with my legs. I'll miss a certain seventh-grader popping up from the stack of beanbag chairs and announcing, "Surprise!" before realizing he'll be late for his next class.

The first ECA students I met had just finished seventh grade, scrawny and squealy in all the photos of our tapas outing. They are becoming young men and women now--almost tenth graders. I have seen them stretching taller, faces thinning into more adult shapes. I can feel them pulling ever-so-slightly into themselves instead of spilling everything about everything--from crushes to poo--with the unrestrained enthusiasm of a middle schooler. And the next time I see this year's seventh graders, they'll be treading that border of adulthood too, likely also taller than me.

I've never been closer to a group of kids before. They are my before-school, after-school, during-break, on-the-weekend life. They are what drew me here in the first place. They've been asking almost daily since March, "Why are you leaving?" The question makes me bubble up with that wistful feeling of well-maybe-just-one-more-year, even though I know classroom teaching won't be my life forever. I know that leaving is, for now, a good decision and the right one--but how to say goodbye to the kids who've invited me to an overnight Harry Potter marathon, the 8th grade girl who hugs me at the end of each day, the boys who are so eager to find me a nerdy Christian Clark Kent? They've slept over at our house, baked cupcakes, bared their hearts in writing, given high-fives, left notes on my desk. The birdlike girl who tosses herself into my lap each morning--I hold her more tightly these days, wondering if I'll still be able to hug her so openly next time we meet. I'll come back to see them changed without knowing what has changed them. I'll miss being a constant witness to their lives.

I miss them, and I haven't even left yet.

And yet. Love, I believe, has liquid properties: you can pour it into new surroundings and find that it still fits somehow. And I know every relationship shifts shape in the hands of time, that this doesn't have to be an end--just a new form, a new way of holding them. Skype. Facebook. The postal system. Same love, different container. Thirty spaces in my heart that will alter over time, some growing, some shrinking--but none disappearing. It has not been easy, but I have loved them. I have loved this place. I have loved this life. Already I feel the width of the ocean and wonder if I can hold it in my hands forever.

Where is home? It is love. So yes, perhaps I'm ready to be home. In the meantime, I already am.

"I will love. More. So much love that no one will have any idea what to do with me.
They will watch with a confused look and wonder why I give so much and do not ask for more in return. I will give it because giving is getting and there is nothing quite so important as emptying your heart every single day and leaving nothing undone,
no declarations of it unsaid."

-Tyler Knott Gregson

1 comment:

Birdman said...

Thanks Shar for sharing what's on our hearts. You made Emily cry on the outside and I think I'm crying a little on the inside (I need to be careful or I might mildew like those clothes). We will miss Spain, our ECA family, and also the kids lives that we have touched.
Even knowing we are coming back doesn't seem to make it easier in knowing the kids that will be gone by the time we get here. Thank you for your friendship (from fudgie the whales to office parties) and you will be in our prayers.

Adam and Emily