“The journey is sorry for being the cause of distance.”
-Atahualpa Yupanqui; and graffiti on the building next to my apartment
Today, for the first time in more than two years, I woke up in my parents’ house in Massachusetts, knowing that I didn’t have a flight to Madrid awaiting me in the upcoming weeks.
No one can deny the comforts of coming home…the exclamation point-laiden texts from friends upon receiving a message from your “normal” number, the familiarity of the same coffee mugs you’ve caffeinated from for years, the family photos adorning the walls, reminding you that no place, no matter how “right” it feels, will ever replace your roots.
But there’s also that sense of dreamlike fantasy, as if, upon returning to the place of constancy, all of the experiences and growth and changes you’ve undergone since the previous time you lived there, disappear.
While the future is always uncertain, in all likelihood, I will not return to live in Spain. Yes, as a dear friend reminded me via song lyrics, “one always returns to the places where they loved life.” But there’s a stark difference between living somewhere and returning as a visitor.
“Because Madrid isn’t special at all. It doesn’t have a great river. It barely has skyscrapers. It doesn’t have ruins, nor a beach, nor the sea. But it has its people, unexpected corners, constant liveliness, and variety. It’s worth it to get up early—even just once—to live a day in Madrid”
Yesterday, I walked Madrid’s streets for the last time as a resident (when the customs agent in Barajas asked me if I resided there, it pained me to say no, because although I don’t according to the legal definition of the word residir, I certainly feel like I did). When I go back to visit, be it in a year or two or five, the guy who works at the corner fruit stand probably won’t be there anymore. Or maybe the fruit stand won’t be there at all, having been replaced in the interim by a pharmacy or clothing store. The menus at my favorite restaurants will probably have changed. My friends will live in different apartments, or different cities altogether. Those who were dating will be single, those who were single will have children. The graffiti will be painted over and new words of wisdom will take its place. Pot holes whose locations I had memorized and could step over with my eyes closed will be fixed, and new ones will catch me by surprise.
But more important than losing familiarity with the employees at neighborhood establishments and the terrain of the local streets, is the fear of losing the intangible things that Madrid gave me: linguistic flexibility, cultural competence, appreciation for spontaneity, comfort in my own skin, life-altering friendships, and confidence in my ability to conquer the world.
Now comes the real challenge. Not adapting to a new culture across the pond, but rather readapting to my own culture, embracing my own extrañeza and that of those in my own backyard, delicately weaving together the experiences, lessons, smells and sensations that the past two years have given me, with the roots of the previous 22 and the future that awaits.
After two years of documenting my life, including trips to foreign lands, adventures in the classroom, Spanish history as seen through food, musings on bilingualism, and love for my adoptive city, it is with this final post that I lay this blog to rest. I hope that it has served you well, be it as a way to follow my life across the pond, or as inspiration to pack things up and see the world. If you’re anything like me, doing so will serve as the best tool possible to truly see yourself.