I live in Europe !!!!!! With a cat !!!!!!!
Two women in my periphery were clinging to each other, laughing through their happy sobs as they savored a seemingly long-awaited reunion; on my right, a group of men were smoking cigarettes and laughing very loudly at something one of them was saying; everywhere, there were people littered along the curb, leaning on their suitcases and impatiently tapping on their phones, lifting their head only when a car they had hoped was for them would pass by. These are all very normal scenes to witness at an airport, but I applied added importance to the flurry of motion and noise because I was experiencing them in Valencia, Spain after a day of traveling and months of anticipation.
In fact, I had spent so long wondering what a life here would look like that now, as rapid Spanish and Valencian ricocheted off my ears and I waited for my taxi to deliver me to my new apartment, all my anxieties and doubts and worries collapsed into one another. I felt overly conspicuous, like a spotlight was shined on me to demonstrate to everyone that I was an intruder who was fooling herself thinking she could live here. I knew I was neither the first nor the last American using Europe as a prevention tactic against figuring your life out, but I had the sneaking suspicion that I would be the first American to do it wrong. I’m not sure where I, a 5’3” person in an ever-expanding universe, got the notion that I can do something so singularly awful as to negatively distinguish myself in a country as big as Spain, but this was the general source of my fatigued brain’s panicked thoughts while I stood around waiting.
Eventually, my taxi rolled up and I got in. As we drove the one hour to Gandia, my anxieties didn’t diminish so much as temporarily recede as I gazed out the window at the verdant countryside that shot past. In fact, the lull of the moving car and the visions of rolling hills and expansive farmland even produced a kernel of excitement and eagerness to have this new chapter of my life commence.
Once I got to my apartment and had been given a mini tour by my landlord, I braved the nearby grocery store with its aisles of food all branded in confounding Spanish and made some dinner. Then I went to bed and got some clearly needed sleep.
To get to the beach near my apartment I walk through the sticky heat up two blocks past restaurants that, because of siesta, are barren except for the staff lazily polishing glasses or savoring cigarettes outside. I go during siesta because outside of the hours of 14.00-17.00 the beach is filled with mothers running after toddlers and groups of friends playing beach volleyball and jubilados strolling along the shore. However, as the days have gone on and pushed further into fall and the school year, the beach’s population has slowly diminished, leaving the surprisingly warm Mediterranean sea for me to enjoy in relative solitude. After swimming I lay out on a beach towel and read whichever book I’m reading; when I first arrived it was the newly released Beautiful World, Where Are You, which helps to explain why I was using my tiny occupancy in the universe as justification for indulging myself by spending the next year in Europe. Me reading it also proved that I graduated from a liberal arts college and have a basic familiarity with young adult malaise.
The six months prior to my arrival were filled with boring bureaucratic processes and imagining what this previously unknown Gandía would be like. Now the city’s physical structures languidly reveal themselves amidst the slow, sea-salted haze, completely usurping any of my preconceived notions. Various establishments reside in squat and stocky buildings, overshadowed by the comparatively tall and colorful apartment buildings that surround them; a ubiquitous, almost palpable quiet is only ever broken when people on the street explode with bursts of lively and expressive Spanish; the most movement can be found in the small dogs of indiscernible breeds that run ahead of their owners on the beach boardwalk and roll around in the sand.
Adapting to the tranquility of life here was no problem, and I started the assimilation process by appropriating siestas as a daily routine. Unfortunately, adjusting to other aspects of the lifestyle proved more difficult, as the anxiety of not being fluent in Spanish began to unveil itself in increasingly fuller force each time I had to leave the house. I felt that people knew I was a lone invader simply by looking at me, and each time I spoke only confirmed whatever suspicions they’d conjured.
Regardless, I was still successful in opening a bank account, getting my expat ID, and, eventually, meeting other people in my program. The routine and monotony of going to meet-ups and meeting people who I knew I probably wouldn’t talk to again soon became less like being part of a new experience and more like I was reliving the first semester of freshman year when I became acquainted with a whole assortment of people I would later awkwardly wave at or whose eye contact I would avoid throughout the rest of college. Still, I was able to meet a girl who interrupted a lot, but was helpful with the confounding Spanish bureaucracy, and a fellow American who laughed at my jokes and who later agreed to spend the weekend in Valencía with me.
Neither of us had ever been to the city, aside from when we flew into its airport, so it had been a lot of fun exploring and galavanting around. We walked through green and lively parks during the day and made fun of drunk Irishmen at night, which had been enough for me to develop a newfound appreciation for the city of Valencía and use it to ground me into my new life in Spain.
I found a kitten on the school playground and he’s now been with me for a week as of this writing. I missed having a pet, and I’ve started to enjoy pouring kibble into his bowl or gently chastising him for not going in the litter box. I also love going to sleep with him; truthfully it’s some of the worst sleep of my life, but his little purrs and need to curl up in my armpit make up for it. His name is Frankie, after Frank Costanza.
The only truly negative part is the underbelly of this contentment: I can’t shake an underlying, potent sense of worry and dread that something bad will happen and we’ll be separated too soon. I recognize this (frankly unnecessary) foreboding from when I had Titan, and know it’s resident in most pet owners, but it’s harder to ignore considering when I found him he was skin and bones and the children diagnosed him as “enferma!”
For now I keep him healthy by feeding him regularly and giving him a warm place to live. He returns the favor by being adorable and by acting as a proverbial icebreaker, as he has now given the teachers and students a reason to talk to me when I’m at work. Now I’m more than just the weird American–– I’m the weird American who takes cats from school playgrounds. I’d do it again, too.
The last week or so of this month, my roommate, Alex, finally arrived. While I thought she would merely be splitting the rent with me, she’s done more by rescuing me from the pains of going to more language assistant meet-ups. We bonded over a mutual love of reality TV and weed, and I realized that’s all I had been looking for.
Her third day after arriving, we went up to Alicante for Halloween weekend and met up with two other language assistants I had met previously. It was a fun trip in which we tried the dangerously delicious Agua de Valencia (I think the Olympians called it ambrosia); dutifully made a hungover trek to a kilo sale where I thrifted the most perfect dress and pair of trousers; briefly adopted another language assistant who was based in Alicante and who indulged my obsession with petty gossip by relentlessly complaining about her roommate; and nearly had to rescue Alex from being a couple’s third for the night. On Halloween, I fittingly dressed up as an angel.
It’s only been a month and a half but I can feel the long-awaited sensation of being settled slowly revealing itself.