me

Third Culture

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In our guest room a flag hangs from the wall above the bed. No, not a yellow and red flag; this one is red, white, and blue. You know—the stars and stripes. My dad bought Mario this flag to remind him where he should (eventually) settle down. My dad would like it very much if we moved back to the US, preferably yesterday. It has a prominent place in our home, this flag. Why?

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Thankful for 2012

In 2012, life changed. Life changed fast. I could say it all to you, in one breath, a rush of words and emotion that would leave you reeling. I could replay the year over in my head, wondering how I got to this point, this place right here—November 22, 2012.

In 2012 I did so many things. So many things changed in my life, in my family’s lives, in my friend’s lives. These things, there were good. They were wonderful and magical and joyful. So, dear 2012,now it’s my turn. Thank you. Thank you for:

  • July 7. On this day, I married Mario. I don’t have words for this day. It was a day full of sunshine and laughter and red scarves and dancing. It was rich with tears and photographs and the grasping of hands. I wore a white dress; he wore a suit. We joined hands, and we said yes.

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  • New family. I’ve gained some new family this year: in-laws, cousins, aunts, uncles. I’m no longer the American; I’m prima or hija. I’m part of this family here in Spain, a grand family who has taken me in without a second thought, who has taught me to cook, lavished me with presents and love and welcome. I couldn’t be more grateful for my mother-in-law, Pepita, who worries about me as if I were her daughter or my father-in-law, Jesús, who emails me to wish me a happy Thanksgiving in his newly acquired English. I am so grateful to them and for them.

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  • Old family. One is silver, but the other’s gold? I don’t really buy this saying, but I am aware that my family has always been there for me, ever since the rainy Monday almost twenty-six years ago. My family has supported me through my on-again, off-again relationship with Spain, and I don’t think I could have done it without them. They love Mario like their own son, and they would do anything for us and for my brother and his wife. You couldn’t ask for more dedicated parents, the kind that go to every single sports event in high school, the kind that never say a word about driving six hours there and back to pick you up at the airport, the kind that pay for a brother and future-sister-in-law’s plane tickets just so that they can all be together on the most important day of the bride’s life.

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  • Thanksgivings past. My extended family was never one to fight. Our holidays were filled with food, laughter, and kids’ tables. There was no yelling, no hurt feelings, no real problems. As a girl, I took this for granted. Now I couldn’t be more grateful for an extended family that knows the value of togetherness.
  • New friends. I’ve met some new people here in Madrid recently, and I’m really excited to see where these friendships lead. You cannot underestimate the value of a nearby friend.
  • Old friends. Where would I be without my constant source of encouragement and laughter, Hilary? Roommates in college, friends for life. I cannot say enough about my cousin Bailey, just seven months older than me and already on her way to having her second child. It’s hard to reconcile what was with what is, but our friendships will never shrivel and die, just change and grow as we do.
  • This blog. This blog has been a source of encouragement for me over the past few years. I started it without knowing what would come of it, and I am ever so grateful for the readers who comment, email, tweet, or Facebook me. Thank you, readers! Thanks for reading, for caring, for helping me see things in a new light. Without you, I know I wouldn’t keep writing. Thank you.

So happy Thanksgiving, dear friends! If you’re in the States, please eat some stuffing for me! And—oh yeah—give your mom and dad a hug! They’re the only ones you’ve got.

On the Road to Salamanca

The bus rumbled along the highway, dusk quickly approaching. We sat side by side, our fingers curled together, leaving the day behind us. Weary but content, we sat in silence, the silence of two people who have everything to say to each other, but not necessarily at that moment. It had been a long day: up early to catch a morning bus, a long walk around town as they wind bit at our cheeks and hands, a hearty lunch, and all of the things that go along with meeting someone, someone special, for the very first time. By that point, I was exhausted but we glanced at each other and smiled with a sigh.

The evening sun tinged the horizon amaranth, gold, and orange. I grasped his hand, searching for the words I wanted, needed, to say to him. I hadn’t picked out a special place or time to say them, hadn’t analyzed my feelings, hadn’t thought about his reaction. I only knew that I loved him. And so I told him—there, in the bus, speeding along the A-66 towards Salamanca: “Te quiero.”

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I didn’t start learning Spanish for love. I did it out of curiosity, because I needed a language to complete my high-school degree, because it was what was expected of me. But I mastered it for other reasons: it challenged me, it made me think about the world differently, it allowed me to see into the soul of another nation, of another people. I mastered it in the end because of Mario, because for him I stayed here, because for him I made my second home in Spain, because for him I packed up my whole life and changed it forever when I told him, standing in front of our friends and family in a church built in the 13th century, right in the heart of Zamora: “Sí, quiero.”

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Yes, I do.  I do promise to love you, to be there for you, to remember the important things for you. For you I will overcome the frustration that I sometimes feel when I can’t think of the right word, when I can’t remember the proper phrasing. Yes, I do.

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My motivation for learning Spanish has varied over the years, but my one constant has been love. Some may consider it cliché to say that love makes you do crazy things, and it is, a bit. But love can also make you do daring things, things you would never have had the chance to do had you not bitten the bullet, got right back on the horse after it threw you off, and said to life and learning, “Sí, quiero.”

On the day we were married, the priest—a friend of Mario’s—talked to us and all our guests about love. Moving to another country for someone? he said with an intensity shining in his dark-brown eyes. That’s love. That’s love, friends.

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Learning a language is frustrating. The first part is enthralling, when you learn by leaps and bounds, huge gulps of knowledge. But then comes the slow part, when you feel as though you’re dreaming about running, desperately trying to move your legs faster, but you just can’t. It’s a slow slog; it can seem fruitless. I know this feeling all too well. I still struggle with fast speech and gender; I still slip up almost every time I open my mouth. But with Mario there, and his family alongside him, I see the purpose. Without him—without them—I’d haven given up already.

Here’s to learning a language for love, whether it be love for a significant other, for a husband or a wife, for the little English-learning children who attend your local elementary schools, for a fellow church member, for the person who lives down your street. Learn a language for a love, and learn it for a lifetime.

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This entry is a part of Kaplan’s Inspire Language Learning Blogger Competition. I’m not that interested in winning a Macbook, but I am interested in sharing my story. After October 29, you’ll be able to vote for me on their Facebook page if you so choose. Thanks, readers.

inspire language learningLearn English with Kaplan

Also, please visit Vaya Madrid—I’ve just had my first article published: Tales of a Transplant.

Two Threads

The music is loud and it fills the room. All eyes are on us, and I can’t stop smiling. He grasps my hand, a bit harder than normal, and whispers, “Vamos.” So we enter the room, bright lights shining hotly on us, and I try to see everyone and everything, take it all in, remember everything about this moment. All these people, all this happiness, happened because we happened. We are the cause of these beaming faces, this raucous laughter, this clink of glasses. We are so loved. And we are so unbelievably lucky.

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Pretty close to where it all started

My life and Mario’s life have become intertwined, two threads of the same story, irrevocably twisted together. I didn’t mean for it to happen, didn’t head to Spain looking for love, let alone looking for him. But happen it did.

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Nevertheless, sometimes I feel a twinge of envy as I look at others’ lives. Perhaps I’m crazy, and feel free to say so, but I do sometimes envy those who aren’t headed to Spain, who aren’t married to foreigners like I am. I think of their lives, and I wonder what it’s like not to always yearn. I miss half of my world. Every day.

In the US, I miss Mario most of all, his contagious laughter, our bilingual jokes, how he tells me he loves me. I miss the sunshine and dry plains of Zamora. I miss speaking Spanish, feeling like I’m always learning and growing somehow. I miss our friends: R with his earnest attempts at English, J’s jokes, M who sees Mario much like I do. I cannot help but think of café con leche, chorizo, salchichón, and lentejas. I miss walking past the corner store that sells salt cod, sweet wine, and aguardiente. I reminisce about drinking sweet liqueurs out of frozen tiny beer steins after long lunches, the orujo staining our upper lips a milky brown. I think of paseando after dinner in the summer, when the streets are finally cool and sometimes smell of an afternoon downpour, the pharmacies’ thermometers blinking the temperature in red. I remember how to savor wine and food, linger over a meal,  and—because I must—speak deliberately, with a purpose.

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In Spain, I miss my family—my mother’s hugs “on both sides,” my father mowing the grass, chatting with my sister-in-law about the Hoosiers, the family get-togethers. I miss the green grass, the smell of fires in the fall, my backyard garden with its endless sweet green peppers and curious rabbits poking about. I miss the local Mexican restaurant, its colorful, joyful booths and waiters who already know our orders. I long for cookouts, pitch-ins, and barbecues; fireflies, dandelions, and open fields; barns, cornfields, and corner stores. I miss them all, but know they’re waiting on me to return, and I hope one day I will.

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I think that coming back and forth exacerbates it all. I read posts from former Conversation and Language Assistants who are reminded, every so often, of Spain, and they miss it. Understandably. I wonder if these feelings fade. I think they do, over time. They become less and less frequent, less and less painful. Is this good or bad, this lessening? Who’s to say? I just know that my feelings do not become less frequent; in fact, as I become more deeply entrenched in another culture, another country, another place altogether, I’m realizing that these feelings are more frequent, and often more gut-wrenching. I will never stop missing the other place. Never.

And so I face my future, knowing that something will always be missing, some hole will always be present. These holes I will fill when I return to that place; they, in turn, will be emptied when I must inevitably leave.

And please, don’t think I’m complaining—there’s no reason to complain about my life, fortunate and blessed as it is. But remember that your life, too, is fortunate. T-minus twenty-six days until I’m officially a madrileña.