“You’re going,” he said flatly. “Again?”
Kolie shifted his weight onto one leg, scratching his head and crookedly squinting at me in an over-exaggerated expression of speculation. Never one to shy away from pertinent questions, no matter how grating or barbed, he lobbed me the newest.
“What is it that you’re running away from, Cait?”
“I…” I trailed off, searching his wide blue eyes, as confused as when another manfriend of mine had waxed incredulous about my habit of going for walks with no real destination. It had never occurred to me that what I planned on doing by going to Madrid was a deliberate, desperate flight. Am I running? I asked myself. And if I am, what am I trying to escape? I ticked down a mental checklist of reasons to hightail it. Certainly there was cause (isn’t there always?), but none of said causes pertained to my need for Iberia, for the insistent, ineluctable pull I felt toward golden sun and shady streets. If anything, I decided, I was running to. And so I told him.
“Nothing,” I finally said to Kolie, certain of the truth. “I’m not running away from anything.” For a moment he was quiet, thick eyebrows knitting as though gauging my answer for veracity. It would have been like him to challenge me, to scoff, to mutter something vaguely insulting in his thick Boston accent. Ultimately, though, I received only a grunt in reply. “Hunh,” was his final answer, and the conversation was over.
When nearly nine months ago today Kolie asked me what it was I was fleeing by going to Spain, I believed firmly–as I do now–that leaving is not a direct translation for “running away.” I have never felt as though coming to this country was an attempt at avoiding reality, but rather an enhancement of the one I knew. I feel that even more strongly now. I have left behind beautiful friends and a loving home, but fortunately, I’ve gained both of those things, too. Home is now in barrio de las letras, in an apartment where I have somehow been blessed with two Italian big brothers who greet me with “ciao, carissima,” a store around the corner that sells quinoa for cheap, a loft bed and a book shelf I put together myself. Home is a city populated by a passel of colorful friends to meet for coffee, with whom to cook dinner and commiserate over 15th century Spanish literature homework then sweeten it all with preserves on toast and a light, lemony beer. Vendors with whom I chatted two years ago on Saturday mornings in Plaza Dos de Mayo remember me, I have a rapport with the checkout lady at Lidl (my local grocery store), and I am considered a “regular” at my gym. I am not running, but I have gotten lighter.
And yet, still sometimes I wonder. Restive on Thursday night, I took to the street at 10:30 p.m. I traveled West to Plaza Mayor and made a left down Calle Bailén, a street I’ve been peripherally hoping to re-find since David walked me home via this route about two years ago. As I walked I thought about the usual romantic, egotistical bullshit into which my mind likes to slide: affection, attraction, fear and being loved (and also the acute, nagging desire for a bocadillo de calamares--that’s a fried octopus sandwich, y’all), being static and how one is supposed to know when a decision is right. I thought about Kolie again, and about his question, “what are you running away from?” and about to how many situations the same query can be applied. I wonder if he still thinks I’m running away (for the record, he is not either of the men from whom I was running on Thursday night), and why I still care what he thinks of my decision to be here in Spain in place of the country that was my home for 23 years.
As I rounded the corner (rounding a corner? what a strange English expression!) of Calle de San Pedro, sidestepping to stay out of the path of a nighttime cyclist, I looked up at the sky to see a single star shining overhead. A 24-degree-Celsius breeze blew through my hair and lifted the edges of my skirt. I had never seen a star in Madrid before, the sky usually too polluted by city smog and streetlights to expose anything much higher than commercial flights. I stopped walking for a moment, gazing at the star and listening to the quiet hubbub of the outskirts of La Latina on a late-summer Thursday night. I don’t know that I believe in omens, and I don’t know that I believe in low-hanging stars either, but in spite of myself I smiled and continued, heartened, to wander.
I know that I was right when I said I wasn’t running, and sometimes the only way to know that a move is good is to feel it in your gut. I am not running away from anything by being here, but I am shaping a future. I am walking, briskly by myself late at night, not away, but to.