Me in front of Madrid's Palacio Real in 2002
In 2002, Crayton and I had just started dating, and I convinced him to take a trip to Spain with me.
I studied abroad there for two semesters in college and I think I won him over by telling him I’d show him around my old Madrid haunts — and that there was this thing called a botellón, a concept now outlawed, that enabled anyone to drink outside, anywhere.
We went for a week and botellón-ed and saw the sites. But it wasn’t a good trip. My Spanish had atrophied. I couldn’t understand anyone. I hated the madrileños’ brusqueness and their lack of patience with foreigners. The food, which I loved when I lived there, suddenly seemed complex and intimidating, and I hated that there wasn’t more variety.
The real problem was that I was terrified I’d become a failure. When I lived in Madrid, I thought I would graduate college and travel the world, and I’d have a job where I could use my Spanish every day. I would live in Mexico and be a freelance writer. Four years later, none of it had come true, and I wasn’t sure it ever would. I spent a lot of my time on that trip crying and willing myself to leave our hotel room, and tearfully asking Crayton if he’d go buy me McDonald’s. (I’m wincing as I type that.)
Last week, we went back to Spain together and the difference between then and now was astounding.
I wish I could have told the 23-year-old me who cried and thought she wasn’t good enough that everything was going to be fine. I will live in Mexico, and I will speak Spanish, and my next visit to Spain in 2012 will be when I’m happy and healthy and confident. I’ll order sepia and chocolate palmeras and pulpo with gusto, and take pictures of everything on my iPhone.
In 2012, I will love the guttural, garbled way Spanish men say “hasta luego” because it reminds me of a time when I was just stepping out in the world. I’ll love that they serve me a fork and knife with my pan tostado, because that’s what they did 14 years ago and they still do it now. I’ll love the shops piled with sweets, because they remind me of sweets in Mexico. And I’ll actually find myself looking up at my surroundings, not down at my feet, and realizing: whoa. Madrid has gorgeous architecture.
When I was 23, I wanted to be exactly where I am now — bilingual, happy and at peace. A woman in a job she loves, and who made the excellent decision to marry the man she went to Spain with in 2002.
The dreams will come true. It just takes time.