My Spanish Summer

9 May

I remember being sixteen and spending the summer in Spain.  Each morning I would wake and look out my window, encountering a cloudless sky and the topaz Mediterranean.  I lived on a hill that rose out from the city square.  It took me twice as long to get home from an evening out because I had so many steps to climb.

The rectangular world that I had left faded.  I only reached it through a pay-phone and I rarely called.  How could I miss what was behind me when surrounded by such majestic beauty?

Being isolated from everything that defined me was very freeing; a sense of constant joy infused my soul.  Even living with a South African family who locked up their entire house did not mar any of my moments.  I didn’t care that some nights I had to knock on their door for an hour to be let me in, or that they only served me steamed rice and vegetables.   I didn’t even care that the milk was always sour and that they thought I was wild for never being home.

I sat for hours on beaches and learned about the world from other teenagers who inhabited what I longed for.  People who came from families that had beach houses in Nerja, who spoke four languages, who summered in Morocco and had tribal men drop flowers on their bare backs.

Each day my international friends smoked, swore and sought out their country’s daily newspaper.

Lu was having one last summer before he had to go into the army; he was vibrant, shimmering with constant energy.  Together we danced on a platform near the water on my seventeenth birthday.  I never kissed him.

Maria told me that the wrinkled, topless women on the beach taught her to love her own body.  She invited me to her town where her decrepit Mother served us a simple lunch of  freshly caught sardines and crackers.

Viola had a constant cigarette in her mouth, wore thong bikinis and was always looking seductively into a camera.  She taught me how to say, “Vaffanculo!” to the men that stared at her.

Patricia drank Guinness and made fun of her twin sister for her nightly snogging, which is Irish for making-out.  “The twins” got their picture in the local paper because they dramatically fell off a speaker at a club.

Amina wore tiny jean shorts and had a pot for a belly.  She gave me a Norwegian birthday card and laughed when I blushed at her sex stories.

Each person, each friend opened up a doorway for me into their life and country.   Disconnection was still possible in 2001, and while I had read what lay beyond my own borders I had never experienced it.  I had never stayed out past midnight, nor run from Spanish gangs, nor learned how to cross a street full of traffic that had no limits.

However, despite our many differences I realized there was a collective; an entirely human spirit that flamed within each being; a spirit that yearned for love, for release of drudgery and pain, which cared for family and had suffered through life’s nicks and bruises.  It made me feel less alone and hopeful.  It made me believe that we could take each patch and weave it together to blanket life.

Now we are all so connected that often I feel a deeper sense of disconnection.  Having a constant window into one another’s lives has blurred our uniqueness, making similarity in difference less of a discovery.  Instead of a quilt we are often peeping Toms (me included), peering into our neighbor’s backyards.

I can still hear the thud in my heart as I made my way down the many mountain steps to the square where we met each evening; the fear that the others would not show up and the relief when everyone always did.  I remember the night of the broken shoe-strap when I scrambled to make it at our assigned time because I knew if I missed everyone I would have no way of reaching them, and yet, somehow they were still found.

I remember what it was like to be utterly free of any device connecting me to anything.  Still, I have lost touch with those I learned so much from, and their last names have faded from my memory, but I want that.  I want an untouchable snapshot of my youth that only lives within me.

In my mind those friendships will always be perfect, my body always made for a string bikini and I will happily accept my present as is in every moment.

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