“Put it away. You don’t need that sh*t,” she said. The wake up call came from Ellie Goulding. Rewind a week ago, and you will get to the peak of this drama ride. It was a kind of homesick I had not yet experienced in Spain. This time the feeling lasted longer than normal. This time, I had a broken heart. Yet I put myself in this situation, so I did not feel like I could ask Life for a reimbursement (though I considered the option). It was me, after all, who declared my heart open to every kind of adventure. I risked my heart for the sake of loving, so it was impossible to feel regret. Hence, the nonrefundable pain.
On Tuesday I gave myself permission to fall apart. I went as all out as I could, and watched Netflix until I fell asleep. That night I even cried in my dreams. On Wednesday I took reality in with a beer during lunch break in Algete. My coworkers’ support is now a fundamental part of my life in Spain. Thursday I went on a sort of school field trip. Ten 4th graders were selected to paint a wall for an art exhibition in Madrid. It was a memorable experience, putting my focus on the kids, the art, the beauty of the city, and the awesome teachers I get to work with. My job is truly great.
On Friday our school celebrated carnival. I got to paint with the 3rd graders in art class, and watch students dancing in their WhatsApp emoji costumes. They burned a big paper sardine in the playground which had the kids’ wishes written all over its scales.
That night was the start of an important weekend. Because I was out to restore my girl-power. Perhaps my love life was not going the way I wanted, but it was the relationship with myself I was most concerned about. I needed me. I needed me a lot.
Friday night I met a group of friends in Principe Pio, Madrid. We walked in the theater, which looked like a small circus, cozy, and mysterious. We went to see a show called Cabaret Clandestino. It was an adult cabaret, and to be honest, we did not know what that meant. We just found a great discount, and decided to go. It ended up being my first “sexy show,” to give it a name. The red lights and fog covered the stage as a shirtless man began the party. A burlesque kind of performance, however, the focus was more on the artistic aspect such as the silk dancing, contortionist act, and even comedy (a Spanish satire).
The following night I was on the metro to Palacio Vistalegre when I begged myself to get my act together. I was on my way to a concert I had looked forward to since before I even moved to Spain! I had spent weeks memorizing song lyrics, and being pumped up about this. The night was not living up to the expectation quite yet. I desperately wanted a good time. An unforgettable, mind blowing time. I walked in the arena, surprised by the lack of advertisement. I am used to getting bombarded with publicity when I go to concerts in the United States. No flashy, pushy propaganda. No long lines.
A very simple stage for an international, well known artist. No opening act. A humble entrance. Ellie Goulding’s music has grown on me with the years, and at this point I’m a BIG fan. I thanked myself. For not worrying about going to a big concert alone. For not fearing the alone part. This was something I chose to give myself a while back, and it was coincidentally, a weekend where I needed to stand alone. It was exciting to see her up close, and her girl-power lyrics resonated with me more than ever. Her energy was contagious! I was doing the shy hip-shake and head bobbing, worried about my camera’s memory being full, and trying to record my favorite songs with my cellphone. While at the same time being painfully aware of WhatsApp…waiting for a sign I knew would never come to me.
Ellie announced the end of the show was near. She sweetly requested us to slip our phones in our pocket, and show her both hands. Some hesitated. “You don’t need that, sh*t,” she said. I took it to heart. I took it even further. I took it not only to mean that we do not need this device, which we have grown so attached to…An addiction of our generation. I took her words to mean: You don’t need this cellphone. You don’t need this drama. You don’t need that relationship. You don’t need validation. You don’t need that WhatsApp message. You don’t need a video of this concert. You don’t need a picture of every moment of your life. You don’t need to stress about your future. You don’t need to figure it out. You don’t need to beg for love. You don’t need all the things you’ve been crying over. You don’t need the answers. “Put it away,” she said. And I did. I raised my empty hands up in the air. It was breathtaking to see most people fulfill her request. A concert venue, thousands of empty, cellphone-less hands in the air. “We, we don’t have to worry ’bout nothing,” she sang, and the tears filled my eyes. I completely let go. The last 4 songs she performed were some of her greatest hits, and had she not made that request, I would have missed them. I lived the rest of the show. I was there for it. She was there for it. The band was there for it. The audience was there for it. She made an entire crowd present to their lives, and the moment. What an innovative concept that is: to live. That night, on my way home, I had to run in the very cold, pouring rain (it never pours in Alcobendas). It was past midnight, and I was running alone, down empty, dark streets. I was listening to her songs on my iPod, filling up my lungs with cold, humid air. I was filled with aliveness again. Scars and all. I was running, I was cold, I was in pain, I was soaked. And I was living every second of all those things.
I had a calmer Sunday, scheduled for a spiritual practice and a long Skype session with my best friend from New York. We were just talking, catching up, sort of figuring out what to do when she visits Madrid in a month. Next thing I knew, she had clicked “confirm” and I followed. I don’t know how that happened. We were just skyping…and then we had flight tickets, and now we are going on a global adventure. “A year ago this was not possible,” she said. It was true. Until not long ago, this was something we could not have even discussed. And now it was a real thing happening. Our lives, they are not passing by. Our lives are happening by. We are young, free, independent, and alive. I began to breathe my girl-power back in, absorbing it like smoke into my lungs. Once our Skype call concluded, a spontaneous group of friends agreed on a hike the next day. And so I had no more time left to feel sad. I quickly prepared things for the next day, and tucked my feminist heart in bed, full of anticipation!
The next morning Sarah met me at my piso before going to the mountains. I wrote about Sarah some blog entries ago, describing her as the American version of Kate Middleton. She is also an auxiliar in Madrid, from New York, and a recent college graduate. Our friendship has grown the past few weeks, and we have unexpectedly bonded over meals and various kinds of alcohol (always in moderation, people). We drank coffee with butter and jelly toasts while discussing the future. The conversation centered around the importance of living the moment, and how Sarah is no longer worried about her future. What an innovative concept that is: to be worry free.
Talia and Alvaro picked us up around noon. They are the friends I went to Avila with (also a few blog entries ago). Alvaro is from Spain, and Talia is an auxiliar from Michigan, who also happens to be my rocking coworker! As we left my piso I told Sarah, “I am leaving my cellphone home today. Because Ellie Goulding said I don’t need that sh*t. And when Ellie speaks, I listen.” Alvaro drove us somewhere in Navacerrada where there are many hiking routes. We laughed and listened to music, looking out at the very dry, rocky mountains. As we drove up, trees became greener, and suddenly, completely unexpectedly, and epic…we arrived to what would be my very first winter wonderland! I had seen some snow in Los Angeles, California. And there was that one autumn night in Japan when it snowed in the mountains. But when I felt my foot go deep into the snow, and the ice got inside my shoe, I flipped the freak out! Talia and I had gone hiking the previous weekend, and there was hardly any snow left on the mountains. We were totally surprised! (And should I mention unprepared for snow!) Thankfully, Talia had an extra jacket, and we could buy gloves, hats, socks for a good price at the local store.
I believe this to be my favorite day in Madrid so far! As we passed the touristy area with tons of children on sleds, and families taking pictures with snowmen, the snow became thicker, pristine, untouched. A sight of purity and serenity I was living for the first time in my life. Some of the water was frozen, and I did a little dance for the ice I had never seen. Fog covered our sight, and clean air filled our lungs. Sarah’s feet were soaked the whole time, and she bravely hiked the trail without complaints, and a big smile. It dawned on me, that it takes so little to be happy.
Alvaro and Talia made snow angels, Sarah and I risked our lives on a slippery trunk, and Crash (Alvaro’s dog) jumped in a nearly freezing stream (silly pet). On the way back, I grew quiet as I daydreamed of patatas bravas and chorizo. Accomplished and content, we concluded our hike at a café, clearly satisfied. We were all grateful. You could see it in our facial gestures, and you could hear it in our words. “I needed this.” “Me too.” “I am so glad I came.” “I am so glad we did this.” “Thank you for today, guys.” I heard these sentences over and over again from each of us.
It is hard to let go of love. It is hard when reality does not match your dreams. It is hard when you can no longer keep trying to fix a broken bond. But it brings more pain to not let love go, to choose the fantasy over the truth, to try to fix what’s no longer there. It is far more heartbreaking to live the story in my head than to live this moment, alone, in a cold room, with the wind blowing hard on the naked trees. I did not want to let him go for fear of facing the empty space. But this weekend, spent with good, supportive, funny, loving friends…Dancing shamelessly with Ellie Goulding…booking a trip abroad with my best friend…touching ice up in the Spanish mountains, admiring untouched snow made me realize I’ve got plenty of things to fill up the gap. There are countless experiences I have yet to cry over or laugh about. I am not done loving; I am not done living; I am not done making room in my heart for every possible person to come in. It’s okay to be heartbroken. I have room for everything. I have room for pain, I have room for joy, I have room for impatience, I have room for laughter, I have room for worries, I have room for hugs. There is a lot empty room in me, pristine, pure, as untouched snow.