One month in Gijon, Spain and we are starting to find our rhythm. I’ve staked out my favorite spot in yoga class and as usual arrive early to make sure I get it. (Yes, I know what you’re going to say. For years, I’ve told my students that they don’t own their own real estate in class but there is something so comforting about having your own place, isn’t there?) I’ve also memorized which squeaky floor boards to step over as I make my way to the bathroom at night so that I don’t wake anyone else. And at noon every day, I stop whatever I’m doing to listen to the church bells ring for a few minutes, a new favorite ritual.
Rocky has figured out the timing of the cross walk lights so that he is already half way across the street when the walking man sign turns green, leaving Wilma and I still cautiously clinging to the curb. He knows the fastest way to his Spanish classes through the city streets and the most scenic way home along the beach. He knows where to get the best price on his favorite vermouth, or in Spanish “vermut.”
Wilma knows which waitresses have dog biscuits in their pockets and which pet stores are waiting with treats for their favorite four-leggers and she steers us towards them when we get close. When we near her doggie day care, her steps speed up and she practically dances to the door.
As much as I had dreamed of creating more spontaneity in my life, I’ve found a sense of belonging in having a schedule again. Having both Spanish and yoga classes to attend and yoga classes to teach on Zoom gives my week just enough structure to keep me feeling productive and engaged.
This week I realized that as much as our first two weeks in Gijon felt like a vacation, we are doing “real life” here now. When Rocky was a kid, his step mom used to turn around in her seat and say with irritation, “Vacation’s over, Kids!” as he and his sister bounced around in the back seat after having no-rules fun at his mom’s place for the weekend. It’s one of the lines that we jokingly share anytime we’ve had to return home from a fabulous trip in the past. Well, “Vacation’s over, Kids!” This time though, we get to stay and try to make a life that feels on the verge of being a vacation every day.
There are moments when that excitement is tempered by something else, though: homesickness, or more specifically missing-You sickness.
As I walked to my Spanish class today, my pace quickened as I tried to catch up with you even though I knew it was not you that I saw, but a trick of my mind. Your legs took strides longer than mine as they always have, leaving me slightly more winded than you as I tried to match your steps. You were wearing a pale green jacket I did not recognize but could imagine you wearing. Your shoulder-length hair caught the breeze and covered your face for a moment before you brushed it away with your hand. If I caught up to you and actually saw your face, my illusion would be shattered so I slowed down and enjoyed pretending we were walking together again, just a regular Tuesday in Tacoma, me just a few steps behind you.
When the missing-You starts to squeeze my heart, I reach for the phone to call you, to let your voice swirl around me again. Then, I realize you are still asleep, the curse of the nine-hour time difference. I miss our hikes together, our dinners out, walking the Tacoma waterfront and playing games. While Rocky and I have loved discovering Gijon together we both miss the easy comaraderie with those friends we left in Washington.
Yesterday, I passed a store and did a double take as I noticed a group of young women standing outside laughing together. One of them looked so familiar with her sleeve of tatoos and her long fingers waving a cigarette around as she talked. Rationally, I knew it could not be who I thought it was. Besides she swore off smoking earlier this year. Whatever she said amused her friends as they caught her laugh and tossed it back to her in unison. Something about the way she told her story with her cigarette made me pay closer attention to her tattoos. A lotus flower and a cheetah wound around her forearm along with some Sanskrit lettering that I could not read. Looked about right to be my friend’s doppleganger although I could not remember what her tatoos actually looked like, just that she had a similar distinctive sleeve. I kept walking, wondering if we all have a twin somewhere and at the same time marveling that so many of your look-alikes ended up on the streets of Gijon!
Wilma seems to be similary afflicted, pulling the leash towards any long-haired dachshund that we walk by who, no doubt, reminds her of her best friend Millie. She’s not easily convinced that it is not her buddy, requiring a close-up hiney sniff to make sure. Thank goodness I don’t have to take that extra step to know it’s not you I see.
As we wander through the neighborhoods on our walks, snatches of conversation float by, some that I can understand and some that remain a secret code that I can’t yet unlock. I read once that our minds are constantly trying to fill in the blanks when we see a familiar person or hear something in the distance, whether music or other unexplained noises. My mind is working overtime here, not only seeing friends in other’s faces but trying to decipher words and phrases.
Yesterday afternoon, I introduced myself to a couple of women in my yoga class because we were the first to arrive. I was surprised to find one of them spoke English and was from South Africa. Before class we communicated only in Spanish out of respect for the other students and the teacher. After class though, we were drawn to each other, subconsciously craving a momentary ease in communication. For a few minutes, I didn’t have to mentally conjugate verbs before using them, ot try to think of how to say something without having all the words I wanted to use stuck on my tongue. It felt like the start of a friendship and exactly what I had hoped to find in the yoga community. We have very little in common other than language and yoga and living in Gijon but many friendships have been built on less, I’m sure.
When I was a little girl in Brownies, we would sing, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” My new friendships will need polishing, like silver, and time and effort to develop. Nothing will ever take away my appreciation and longing for my golden friends though. And that is just as it should be.