“Mira,” I say, holding out my hand in an approximation of the States, “Es Estados Unidos.” I point to the farthest left corner—Seattle and say, “Mi hermano.” I go to explain (and point) to my parents’ home in Colorado, my brother-in-law’s family home in North Carolina, and Paul’s family living in Wisconsin. If I’m really feeling adventurous, I’ll go on to explain that I was born in Arizona, and that my extended family hails from Chicago. I’ll also remind them that prior to Spain, we lived in Maryland.
Generally, much gets lost in translation. And I believe they pity me a bit. For a culture in which it is common to see five to ten different cousins over the course of one day, the enormity of the physical distance is just….wrong. Unhealthy. Sad.
I don’t write about my American friends here as much, probably because they are less likely to get their hair done at 10:30 PM, or decorate the family donkey with flowers. They’re more like me. And each one is another rock in a stone bridge I’m building here.
There are the American mothers navigating the Spanish school experience with me, translating notes from the teachers and sharing baguettes of bread amongst the kids at pick-up. We listen to our kids speak English with each other. And a bit of Spanish, too. They protect each other, just by existing.
I have friends from mi pueblo, and from the naval base. Some are military, some are not. But for all of us, our time is limited. None of us get to stay in Spain forever. There is an urgency in those approaching the end of their three or five-year tours, to see it all, to remember it all.
It’s never enough. There’s always another street to walk, a pastry to eat at a sidewalk cafe, those final strums of the guitar. There’s always a yearning.
And there are goodbyes. And hellos. New faces, fresh and expectant.
My Spanish friends shake their heads at my ping-pong lifestyle. Family separated, relationships forever changing.
And yes, there is a loss. There is a cost.
But then I look at the bridge crafted here. The blending of stones from so many lands, the stories whispering in each one. How very rich my life is, because of the people who stand near me, physically or in memory.
I stand firm, and supported. Grateful. I would rather say goodbye, and remember, than have never had the chance to say “Hola.“