“Vivo en Sol.” The words slip from my slightly chapped lips as I explain to the cab driver how to get home on my last day in Madrid. It’s a natural phrase, uttered without hesitation, reflecting my years of practice and months of living in this city. A recited and practiced line, I guess you could say, but more or less a string of words smushed together haphazardly, indicating that I call this place my home. I live in Sol.
“Derecho en Calle Mayor y para antes la iglesia.” Sentences begin to flow effortlessly, a sudden click between brain and tongue, a feeling of near fluency. A sense of accomplishment washes over me, but then the sudden realization that I will be on a plane a mere twenty-four hours later brings me down from cloud nine.The ping of my inbox, alerting me to check in to my flight, brings with it a flood of emotions, regrets, memories, question; an almost self-loathing and pity all combined into one.
I watch the minutes tick away, yet I cannot bring myself to terms with leaving this place which had just provided me with a treasure chest full of experiences. Laying in my tiny twin bed for the last time, I set the alarm for 9 AM, early by our Madrid standards. Insomnia strikes again, surely a result of the conflicting emotions pitted in the depths of my stomach, thought I’m sure the cup of green tea an hour earlier wasn’t helping either. I shoot my family a quick “24 hours” text, send a Snapchat to my favorites and browse through the photos on my iPhone one last time before slipping into a light sleep. I wake no less than seven hours later to the blaring of my alarm, but instead of getting up, I silence it and enjoy the fleeting moments in my bed for the last time in our tiny Calle de la Villa apartment.
I rub the sleepies from my eyes, and look up from my bed towards the charcoal painting above my bed for the last time. The portrait of an old man, arms crossed, with a disappointing look strewn across his slightly wrinkled face, almost resembling my gather, looks down upon me and my questionable decisions for the last time. I look to my right and see three bags filled with a semesters’ worth of clothes and souvenirs, sitting neatly ready for their next adventure.I muster all my of my strength and plop myself up and quickly throw on my clothes and hastily pack away the last of my belongings. It plays back in my head; a surreal moment, frozen forever in time.
I creep down the hall into Erin’s room and see her struggling with her overpacked suitcases. I proceed to zip them shut in a “sitting and pulling” fashion, learned from my reign as Packing Princess of the Patten household. The clock hits 9:27 and we wake up our other two roommates to say our final goodbyes. The routine is all too familiar, from weeks of traveling together, yet the baggage, both physical and emotional, is much more to bear. A final group hug, a huddle, if you may, and we drag our belongings up the stairs from Bajo Izquerida for the last time and hail a taxi down.
After squishing into a cab, we wind our way through Sol and head eastward to the airport, past Puerta del sol, through Plaza de la Cibeles, by the Prado, and turn left at the Atocha railway. The cab driver asks us if we’re Americans and he reacts eagerly to ask more about our stay once we’re from Chicago and California. He asks if we mind if he smokes a drag, and though it’d normally bother the hell out of me, the smell and smoke in my face is almost welcome, a subtle reminder of my time in Europe. We continue on, past Plaza de las Ventas and my normally subdued emotions take form as a singular teardrop out of the corner of my left eye. It was beginning to hit me. The only thing holding the flood of tears back was the conversation with the cab driver about the Copa del Rey final the night before.
We struggle through the airport, it feels as if our feet our chained together, the city unwilling to let us out of her grip. Erin and I part ways, and promise to meet up after security, and sure enough, we do. My luck of running into people still proving to be as relentless as ever. What seems like an hour later, we are saying goodbye for real this time. She goes through yet another security check point and disappears into the growing crowd beyond the fence. I find my place among the remaining empty seats at gate U60, and find myself thinking of the number of people who have sat in that exact seat after a semester abroad.
I flash back to reality when fellow NYU students sit next to me, all hungover, clearly already missing our new city, regretting getting drunk the night before an 11 hour flight. I guess they really did grow accustomed to this Madrileño lifestyle. Twenty minutes later, I’m sitting in seat 27H, next to one of my teammate’s freshman year roommates – as a matter of fact, the same one who comforted my sobbing self when I missed my flight home on my official visit, three years prior. This world really is getting smaller. We break into conversation, reminiscing of our days abroad, her adventures in Italy, and mine in Spain. The familiar pang of nervousness washes over me as the captain announces we are delayed because we cannot take off in tail winds.
My basic flight training flashes before my eyes, and I reason it is because our 767 is way too heavy to do so. My intuition is rewarded when thirty minutes later, the captain explains that cargo is going to be taken off to lighten the load. An hour and a half late, we’re finally in the air – my true home away from home. I double-check my ticket from DFW to SAN and realize my original two-hour layover is compromised. Instead of my normally fretting and stressing, I repeat my favorite spanish phrase, “De perdido al río,” over and over in my head (translated meaning, “from lost to the river”). I accept the fact that I might not make it home tonight. I figure, a typical megventure is not complete without a missed flight, so I just go with it. That’s what the phrase essentially means, so…
de perdido al río