I was on my own. For the first time and last time in my life I was a firm believer in human agency unencumbered by an increasingly more flexible structure wherein I could invent myself.
I was meant to be in Sevilla for university but had a few weeks to situate myself in my new world. My parents had generously put me up in the Hotel California on the Gran Via in Madrid for a couple of nights to gather my bearings until I could manage to find a hostel or some other arrangement and make my way down south where I was expected.
I took no pictures of that hotel room on the Gran Via to conserve my memory. Film at that time was reserved for splendid cathedrals, quaint plazas, important monuments, things I thought I might only see for a short time, not knowing I would walk by them every day for years en route to work. Even without pictures, my memory conserves the tall ceilings, old world decorations and the busy street below my window that I gazed out of. The tub was miniature, the faucets and light switches and pillows all different. I stared at the bidet in befuddlement. Something inside me told me this memory is important; keep it.
I knew loneliness wasn't far off, but for the moment I cherished that I alone made every decision for myself. I decided which streets were worthy of walking down, what I wanted to eat and when and where. I felt in charge of my fate. It's a feeling that only comes accompanied by solitude but that I am grateful is a part of the assemblage of my human experience.
I wandered around Madrid alone. A child of new America, sprawl America, strip mall America, who had never so much as been to Chicago, New York or San Francisco, I stared up at the tall buildings until my neck could no longer take it. I watched all the busy, beautiful people in their perfectly tailored and pressed clothes. I looked down at my own dorky attire but couldn't pinpoint exactly where I had gone wrong. I just knew I wasn't quite right.
I wandered into a cafe where I realized that after three years of high school and college Spanish I was incapable of even ordering breakfast.
"Un croissant y un cafe con leche", a man barked to the waiter.
"Un croissant y un cafe con leche", I repeated insecurely when the waiter finally muttered something unintelligible to me. I salivated at the gorgeous looking orange juice I saw others enjoying and tried to remember how to say it. Jugo de...something or another. Oh well, cafe con leche it shall be. I wanted desperatly not to look like a dumb tourist and would give up orange juice to do so.
I wandered up to what appeared to be a train station with loads of people rushing up and down the stairs in a fury. The sign above the stairway, plain as day, read "Sevilla". Excellent, I thought. I'll get my trip to Sevilla all figured out, it will be one less thing to have to worry about. I went down the steps and told the woman at the ticket counter that I wanted a ticket to Sevilla, since obviously this was the train to Sevilla. She stared at me dumbfounded and answered, "But you are in Sevilla." I thanked her and walked away in complete provincial confusion and worked my way back up to the street level. It was days later that I realized this was the Madrid subway. I had been at the subway stop called "Sevilla". I had never seen a real underground before. The awareness of my own ignorance was humbling.
I thought about where I had come from and I felt an aching to be someone else. No, I wanted to be someone.
Months and years later I clung to being the person that moved to Spain that had learned Spanish and became this bicultural entity. It was the only thing that had ever defined me. In Spain I was Bluestreak, la americana. At home I was Bluestreak, "she lives in Spain, dude." I guess I thought this gave me the social and cultural capital to trump all the motherfuckers who had pushed me aside. I had been chiseled out into something worth mention. Or something. That feeling wore off a long time ago and metamorphisized into something resembling inadequacy.
For awhile I have arithmetically examined my life and summed up all of the parts of me that remained after culture had blended beyond a novelty, after I had subtracted people being impressed with me living in Spain which was now nothing other than an annoyance to me that they thought it interesting, or people here finding it curious that I was an American that spoke such good Spanish which equally annoyed me, after I had subtracted all the scabs I'd shed over the years. The sum total terrified me that I was left with an embodied dialectic, a person who had defined themselves by a contradiction.
But I'd be a hopeless idiot and a waste to think that I can't reinvent myself whenever I want.
Maybe I'll never have the same sense of agency that I had those first few days in Madrid when I was just 21. There may be times I want to take a bite of food that I decide on and Luigi says, "Don't eat that, babe, that's nasty, you're gonna get sick." There may be streets I want to take and he will say, "No, cariño, that's not the right way, we're gonna get lost, let's go my way". But as any structure that impinges on any actor, these structures also enable me, and I´d be floating off into fucking nothingness without them...without him. And this one who licked my war/love wounds and helped coagulate my blood, and gave me the go ahead when my scabs were clear for picking doesn't deserve the tired, defeated version of me. He deserves the hope-spangled one.
And so do I.
P.S. I´ve missed you guys. I´m catching up on your blogs slowly. I know it goes without saying, but I´ve needed a break from the pixelated wonderland to find my voice again, and I hope I´m not fucking jinxing it again. Thanks for sticking around.
Artwork Hopper, Edward Hotel Room, 1931 and Automat 1927.