“No quiero salir.” I used my child-like vocabulary with as much emotion as I could muster. I wanted them both to understand that I wasn’t giving up, he was. “Es que su hijo no quiere…,” I had to think about how to word it. “…que estoy aqui mas dias.” I knew that wasn’t right. It sounded babyish, slow, broken.
It wasn’t that I had to leave immediately. It was just that this whole “living in Spain thing,” as I’d defensively begun to phrase it to friends at home, had ended. I wasn’t living here anymore; I was just waiting to leave. I wanted his parents to know that leaving Spain hadn’t been part of my plan.
My plan had been to make a life in Spain. I’d fallen in love with the parched streets, the frenetic pace, the half-swallowed language of cafe solo, tapas, and slow smiles that made me blush. I’d sold the Escort, sublet my Cobble Hill apartment, and I’d taken a leave of absence from work, a year. By the time a year had gone, all the loose ends would be snipped and tied. But it didn’t take a year; it took only five months before it was clear that I had less than solid ground in Spain. The man who loved me was afraid of rocking his family’s boat, and Una Americana was far too unpredictable and outspoken for comfort.
Yet, even as I saw the discomfort of my broken Spanish explanation of innocence, it was so important to me that these people not rewrite my role in their son’s life. I was desperate that I not become an example of another loose American dancing along the Costa del Sol. They had welcomed me warmly the year before when I was a tourist, a visitor, an infatuation for their youngest son. But despite the hot sun that chased all but the most die-hard tourists into cool homes or shaded restaurants for two hours a day, their admiration cooled with my commitment to their son.
Now, with half-formed phrases still squirming to get out of my mouth, I saw that no matter how eloquent I was, no matter how much I assimilated to Spanish life, I was undesirable. And the person I had counted on to support me didn’t have the strength – it couldn’t be that he didn’t want me enough – to defy his family.
After that dinner, I realized there was no convincing apathy to become understanding, and I finally let go. I stopped groveling for favor, and I started enjoying time as a tourist. With my newfound freedom, I quit teaching English to privileged children and hopeful entrepreneurs. With my sudden autonomy, I took trips without saying good-bye or asking for directions. With my strengthened confidence, my Spanish improved because I wasn’t worried about sounding ridiculous; I just spoke.
When summer came, I left my mourning in Spain and reentered my deserted life with a sunny glow.