I exit my apartment, keys and metro ticket in hand, wearing a strapless black shift, no bra. I have, however, remembered to put on fancy underwear and the blown-out flower-embroidered Sketchers that I have worn practically every day since I bought them in April 2008.
Deep grooves puddle the dirty, dark wood stairs. I like the lack of elevator. Extra calorie burn for me, especially when hauling bags of groceries from the Maxi Dia two doors down, like I did earlier today.
“Your friend went back to America?” my roommate Claudia asked me, as I turned from putting two bags of veggies in the freezer.
“Lyndsay? Oh, no. She lives in Spain.”
“Ah! Oh, she does! Really! But you know her from the States. From Boston.”
“Yes,” I confirmed. “That must have been confusing since we are both American, and she was visiting me!” I make sure to give Claudia a wide smile before I put my jar of tomato sauce and extra carton of soymilk on the bottom of the wooden shelves standing next to the refrigerator.
“Is she in Spain permanently?”
“I don’t know. You could ask her.” I take a deep, deep breath and smile. “I mean, she is online sometimes, so you could ask her if you wanted to know. Now she’s on a lavender farm. She’s going to different farms to learn about organic farming.”
“Are you going to visit her too?”
“Maybe. There’s a lot I have to do in Madrid.” Again I look at Claudia and smile. Questions like these cause me great and unreasonable distress. Others’ search for linearity, reciprocity, and definitiveness concerning my life, and concerning the lives of my friends, incites within me a level of exasperation that renders me nearly helpless. I know that people ask these questions because they are genuinely interested in my life. Unfortunately, this does nothing to mitigate the distress, even though I want nothing more than for people to be interested in my life. The only way in which I have managed to grow in dealing with this experience is to smile as if my life depended on it, to explain things patiently, and to acknowledge that appearances to the contrary, situations can be confusing.
My least favorite question is why I chose to live in Madrid. Actually, I’ll answer it now but it would not make sense to most people. I live in Madrid because of an amazing woman that I met two weeks after my arrival, and because of a dance partner that I didn’t dance with until about the same time.
At a party celebrating the conclusion of the English teaching course I took in June, one of my colleagues asked, “Hey Liz, how come you didn’t move to Paris? I’m sure the lindy hop is much better there.”
I stood up suddenly. “Oh,” I stammered, “oh my gosh - am I in the wrong place? Excuse me, I think I’m supposed to be in Paris!” I grabbed my purse and turned and started to walk out the door. Everyone laughed, loudly and appreciatively. I was happy with that response. I need to come up with more of those.
Claudia, the roommate who was asking me questions in the kitchen, is someone I am particularly grateful to have met. Despite her youth, she gets more done than most people I know, studying hard for a double-master’s in international management and finance. I live with her and with two other equally glorious gals because I blindly answered an online ad. Claudia, who was raised in Bordeaux, is tri-lingual and goes running with me most mornings at 6AM. What are the chances I would have found her if I’d tried?
“You should ask her about wines,” said my friend Morgan the other night.
“I don’t want to ask her about wines,” I answered, “because everyone asks her about wines once they find out she’s from Bordeaux. Anyway, she already told me once while we were running that she doesn’t like wine.”
“Ah. Then don’t ask her about wines,” Morgan said, his voice full of warmth.
I like Morgan a lot, because he has fascinating things to say about physics and calculus and dancing and novels. And he listens.
“Don’t worry about the how,” I told Lyndsay as we sat in the bus station lunch counter yesterday, eating horrible mayonnaise and vegetable sandwiches and patatas bravas that nevertheless tasted good to us because because we were eating for the first time since our fruit and bread the evening before. “Just put out to the universe what you truly want. If you wonder about the how too much, you might compromise.”
Lyndsay and I spent hours and hours talking during her visit. We walked all over the La Latina district, giggled over cute boys, pored over books in English bookstores, bought each other fruit and metro passes, drank wine at outdoor tables. I never once asked her how long she plans to stay in Spain, although we discussed different ideas she had on that topic. I like it when people discuss with me the things that are foremost in their minds and hearts. Then I have the opportunity to understand them in their complexities, as opposed to their reducibles. I like it when people do the same for me.
Some people think that “putting something out to the universe” is a cop-out for not making things happen. I left a whole life in the States to follow my heart. In a way it was the path of least resistance because it was the thing I most wanted to do. A lot of people say I am brave, but it doesn’t feel like bravery. Once I have an idea of what I want to do, I can’t rest until I make it happen. And then usually I can’t rest after that, either. The result may not be what I expected and things may not be easy per se, but I don’t want easy. I want to move forward. Just like in air steps. Let go. Look up.
Speaking of which, I have a dance partner. His name is Raul. Among other things, he is the best spotter I have ever worked with. Somehow, when another one of the boys is throwing me, practicing a step, Raul can get right in there with his hands around my waist without interfering with the momentum and without getting himself kicked in the head. Yesterday he and I practiced the knickerbocker for the first time - that’s a backflip for the girl - and we threw it with no problem.
Tuesday night I didn’t have practice, though, which worked out fine because I could go out with Lyndsay. Over our salad and fruit and bread, she told me about a fight she’d had with a dear old friend. When things had reached an emotional pitch, she stepped outside, took a breath and asked her God to help her know what to do. She re-entered the room and just listened to her friend. “She said a lot of hurtful things, but I just stayed there with her. Then I said, ‘Okay, I listened to you; now listen to what I have to say.’ She did listen to me. Now we’re friends again.”
Yesterday was not so easy. I stood on the metro, traveling from English class to dance practice. I felt tired, and, okay now, raise your hand if you’ve ever had a broken heart. Well, I do, and sometimes it hurts so much I’m astonished. I thought of Lyndsay and did something I never do. I thought of praying. However, I don’t think of myself as having a God. So I just closed my eyes and talked to the universe at large, in my head. I know I’m not supposed to be sad like this. Just give me a sign to help me get through.
I started counting the things I’m grateful for. I have a fantastic dance partner, and dance colleagues that practice four times per week and essentially do anything I want them to. I have August ahead of me, in which I will have hardly any work but enough money, and the time to do exactly what I want to do, not beholden to anyone - school, boss, family, husband - so I will do what I have always loved: read, play, write, dance, sing, be with the wonderful people I know.
I guess the universe didn’t give me a sign, but maybe I missed it because my eyes were closed. Fortunately the gratitude made me feel so good.
Maybe, just maybe…we would all do well to focus less on sense and order, and more on joy and gratitude, and the things we truly want more than anything. I don’t know. Just a thought, from the little dancer you know, tucked away in a crumbling building in Madrid, next to the tango and flamenco bar that makes great quiches.
Nevertheless, walking home from errands, I can understand why people leave Madrid for the beach in August. The sun stings, sears, fatigues me. Still, I hope this late-morning swing through the city burned my shoulders a bit and got rid of the white strap marks on my upper chest.