Her name was Heidi. She’d been on the program some eight or so years ago. Mid-October, she’d just disappeared. Skipped classes, left her host mom, and dropped the program without such a reason as why. A few months later, Dr. H (our resident Cal Poly professor and basically father) received a call from her.
“Are you safe?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“Where’d you go?”
“I met someone.”
And she never came home. Eight years later, she’s still here. In Spain. Married to some Spanish man.
Now personally, I seemed to have a thing for the Italians. And the Portuguese if you count that one time I fell in love for four years. Also, given that my heart and mind were occupied somewhere at a frat house on Foothill, I couldn’t see myself giving up my life at home for a Spanish man, but I could see myself giving it up for Spain.
Values were different here. I was 15 years old when I went to Spain for the first time, and a singular experience had made me determined to come back.
It was a topless beach, as most beaches here are. And it wasn’t the envy of people with actual breasts that sparked my desire to return (still waiting, puberty…), it was the confidence. All shapes and sizes and body types lay naked on this beach, basking in the sun, and not once did you see a look of judgment. Not once did the heavier woman look up in fear of snide remarks or giggles. Not once did a skinny girl strut past someone less genetically blessed with an aura of superiority. Everyone minded their own, and everyone seemed to feel beautiful. It was a concept so foreign to me, but it was breathtaking.
Because this is something you’d never find in the United States, where someone will berate your body before they ever berate your character.
But I digress. After story time, it was time to get on the bus and reach our final destination: Valladolid and our host families. I was nervous. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t stop my mind from racing. And to the continued chagrin and annoyance of my classmates, I could not shut up.
But when they called me and my roommate’s names (first), and we got off that bus to meet our “mama Española,” my nerves seemed pointless.
She reminded me a bit of my own mother, short brown hair slightly feathered, brown eyes, and a personality big enough for someone three times her size. She was fiery, loquacious, and immensely opinionated. She was perfect.
Walking into the place I’d be living for the next three months felt like home. It wasn’t fancy. It was actually quite small. It was messy, and a tad disorganized, and I shared a bunk bed for the first time since I’d lived in my dad’s Foster City apartment. And I absolutely loved it.
There was no grace period. No awkward time of trying to find my footing or get comfortable with my new maternal figure or my surroundings. It just felt like I belonged there. It was comfortable.
The first week saw a multitude of occurrences. Friday night, we all went out. Naturally. Nothing special there. Sunday saw my first home-cooked paella. Sunday night saw me getting the stomach flu for the first time in three years. Monday morning saw me barely making it through my Spanish placement test without puking on the table, and Tuesday morning saw my placement in a level that obviously reflected just how shitty I’d been feeling.
But I didn’t mind. Out of six levels, I’d been placed in Level 4. While not the most challenging academically, it would cover crucial grammar, syntax, and vocabulary that I knew I needed to re-learn desperately. My teacher was a pistol, and while her aggressive teaching style rubbed some the wrong way, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
There were groups, as was natural in large gatherings of people. People found who they clicked with, who made them comfortable, and smaller subsets formed. It bothered me in the beginning, but didn’t anymore.
The Universidad classes were easy. They were thought-provoking and the homework load was light. I found it easy to pay attention. The Cal Poly classes…well. I had never been one for history. It either pissed me off, or bored me to death. So the history of Spain, at 6pm while I’m fully fed and wide awake, brought out the worst side effects of my inattention. I couldn’t sit still, I couldn’t shut up, and then upon knowing I was annoying my classmates I would become anxious. And, as anyone who knows me knows, the more uncomfortable I am, the more obnoxious I get. But I tried to find new ways to distract myself and tone it down with every class.
We shared language classes with some students from Eau Claire in Wisconsin. The students in my class didn’t speak much. I’m not sure if it was from a lack of understanding, or that they partied harder than we ever did. But in their silence I asked questions, and I practiced. I’d come here to learn the language, and I wasn’t going to do that by staying silent in class.
This apparently rubbed some the wrong way. Wednesday, October 12 was a holiday, so Tuesday night we all went out. I was talking to one of the Wisconsin students who was in my class, when another walked up and said, “are you telling her she talks too much?” I turned to face him.
“He wasn’t, but it seems apparent now that you are,” I smirked.
“You think you’re so smart just because you can talk fast, like, slow down.”
I found this response comical, and it perplexed me that someone would equate the velocity of my speech with my intelligence. I talked fast in English, too. But why not have a little fun with the drunk boy?
“Alright, well then Thursday in class I won’t say anything. And when she’s standing up there asking questions none of you answer, feel free to just go for it.”
I began to walk away.
“Alright, bitch, see you Thursday.”
I raised my eyebrows and turned back to face him.
“Oh sweetheart…don’t fuck with me.”
My roommate, Julia, and I left the bar, wannabe-alpha male screams of, “oh now you’re gonna call me sweetheart? Now you think you’re the shit?” fading into the background.
I had not previously valued myself above this boy, but anyone who will call a woman a bitch based on her intelligence has a dick smaller than my nonexistent one. How tragic.