The Leaving and The Staying
Before starting this trip, the most common piece of advice I received was to avoid making plans too far in advance. A born planner, I tried to suppress my organizational tendencies and take this counsel to heart. I bought a one-way ticket to Madrid. I spontaneously extended my time there, staying an extra weekend. I booked accommodations and train tickets for my week in Andalucía just a couple days before leaving for Córdoba, patting myself on the back for my relaxed attitude.
It was only when I had to race to catch my bus on my last morning in Córdoba, rolling out of bed after just a few hours of sleep, that I realized I probably shouldn’t have booked my Sevilla hostel a week in advance. I ended up postponing my trip to Granada and going back to Córdoba from Sevilla, wishing I hadn’t been so quick to leave in the first place.
From Granada, I had planned to go on to Berlin. I thought I would be staying with family friends, but it turns out I was going to end up staying there on my own. Browsing Hostelworld last night for a place in Berlin, something didn’t feel right. I didn’t want to go.
I’d primarily chosen Berlin as a destination due to these friends, because I’ve never had a particularly strong desire to go. My lack of desire has nothing to do with Berlin itself; I'm sure it's an extraordinary city. The feeling, I think, is in no small part due to a ghost that lives in my head. I’ll spare you the details; all you need to know is that someone I used to know is deeply connected to that city in my mind. Thinking about going made my stomach turn. I decided to sleep on it.
After I drifted off last night, I dreamt about that person. It wasn’t a nightmare, per se. It was rather one of those dark dreams that feels like a parallel dimension, in which your entire reality is shifted just enough to make you question your sanity. Like the upside-down in Stranger Things, this sinister version of your life is just recognizable enough to send your skin prickling, cold fear tightening around your heart like a vice. I woke up with total clarity: I will not go to Berlin. At least not now.
Even when I want to depart for a new adventure, I’m terrible at goodbyes. I love going to places; I hate leaving them, though the two are of course intimately connected. To discover a new home, I have to leave one. But I’m so good at making homes. When I find a place I like, I allow myself to sink into it. I picture a sunlit flat, the corner grocery store, the café where I’d make my daily stop for espresso.
In short, I get too attached.
The same happens with people. The connection inherent in solo travel combined with the openness of my own heart means that I find friends wherever I go. With the pretense of strangeness stripped away, we see each other for who we are, and that makes the goodbyes hurt. I have no poker face. I cry. I love too hard.
The vulnerability leaves me with an emotional hangover. Someone said to me the other day that one can drink too much love, as with wine. He was talking about a breakup, but he may was well have been describing my daily life. I absorb into my bones the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met because I don’t know how to do anything else. I don’t know how to exist any other way. I write them onto the page and into my body. This is a blessing and a curse; I both feel their presence more fully and their absence more acutely.
This means that for me, where I am going had better be worth the inevitable pain of a goodbye. I’m not going to suffer showing my mascara-streaked cheeks to the impeccably put-together Spaniards for a place that doesn’t call to me.
The eternal question rings in my ears yet again: What if I stayed?
I asked myself that when I was preparing to leave Madrid last week. After only two weeks, I was ready to adopt the city again. This is what I do.
What if I didn’t pack my bags? What if I left my toothbrush on the sink? What if I bought groceries? What if I laid in that bed all day instead of going to the train station? What if I hid away in that café, writing every day? What if I kept spinning around this dance floor, kissing those lips?
In Andalucía, I feel the same sweet inertia. I wonder how it would be if I let time fall away as I wandered these back streets, watching sour oranges drop to the ground as the seasons changed. What if I ran along the Guadalquivir each morning, added my name to the graffiti along the river? What if I listened to flamenco guitar forever?
There has always been something drawing me away from the places I love. A degree, a job, a partner, this or that obligation. None of those exist for me anymore. The only thing reaching for me now, tugging on my shirt and whispering in my ear, is fear. Fear of loving too hard. Fear of feeling too much at home. Fear that staying now will make leaving later harder. And that’s no way to live.
I'm back in Madrid for a couple of days, a happy product of my overeager planning for a flight to Berlin that I will no longer take. I'm addicted to this city. I already feel its hold on me. Knowing Madrid will be here for me when I return, I'm going back to Andalucía to take my time. I want to buy groceries there.