Despite the steady stream of columns I’ve been writing, life in Barcelona has been a bit more complicated than one easily reduced, column-ready anecdote per week. Now, in a month it will all be over, and I’ve thought of one last topic about which I never quite got around to writing about: endings. About coming home.
I remember it was one of the first long weekends in September or October, and people from the program had scattered to the four winds, or rather the winds going to Amsterdam, Oktoberfest and Rome. I stayed back. I felt like I barely knew where I was in Barcelona. I didn’t feel much up to hopping on a plane bound for another country.
The first night, I was cooking in my room. More specifically, I was washing potatoes in the sink and heating oil on the stove while I watched television on my computer. I had the door open and the windows cracked, hoping to avoid the guy at reception calling to ask if I was dying in a blaze, since it seemed like every time the stove was on it tripped the fire alarm. I was so engrossed in my multitasking that when I registered that the open door creaking, a girl I had met but barely ever spoken to was already sitting on my bed and striking up conversation.
I was drying the potatoes and beginning to attempt to peel them with a knife while I evaluated the situation. This girl was in the program, but she’d maybe been in my room once? After that, I’d only noticed her because of how hung over she always seemed in our nine o’ clock class. She was very short, so I worried about it less. After all, if she did fall asleep in class, her head would not have far to fall to the desk.
That night she was drinking a beer, and having that special sort of “conversation” that amounts to a monologue with pauses for breathing which an interlocutor might misinterpret as an invitation to participate. Her topic? She’d been scheduled to stay a year and was seeking some justification for cutting her stay here short.
“It’s just, I know I could make a life for myself here,” she said, and paused, taking a sip from her Heineken, “but why bother when I’m just going to rip it all up in eight months time?”
At first I tried to give her real advice. I talked about how connections made had their own intrinsic worth, how the focus on a relationship couldn’t be the end date, whether it was with a person or a city. Blah, blah, blah. She didn’t care much for what I said though, of course. Finishing her beer, she looked up and asked me if I’d like one. I said sure, and she went off to her room to fetch it. I walked out into the hallway and realized my door had probably been the only open one she’d found on all three floors. There wasn’t anyone else to listen.
Of course, I had been having the opposite debate with myself–whether or not to extend my stay. I’d avoid spending a painful five-month stretch before my 21st birthday in the States, for one, but it was more than that. More than anything, it was that I love this place. Unlike the girl in my room, I would have loved more time here, no matter how much harder it would have been to leave it in the end. There was a variety of reasons why I ended up deciding not to stay–cost, timing, legal status in the country–but most of all, I have spent enough time outside of things. Because that is what being nine hours out of sync with my friends and six with my family has been like: a world apart.
Back home, you, dear reader, are getting ready for finals. Me, too. All that reading and writing, all that thinking and living–it comes to an end. No matter how long I stayed here, that’s inescapable. No number of extensions and incompletes will get you away from it. Time moves forward, and we move with it. Always another phase beginning before the one that’s ending starts making any sense. Always a newer, shinier brass ring at which to grasp.
After the plane peels off the runway here, so close to the ocean that it seems like the wheels must be grazing the water, it will finally creep up into the sky. It will roll back over the city, across the coast, and I will see the tangled mess of streets in the ciutat vella, behind the remnants of old medieval walls. Beyond that I will see the clunky, expansive regularity of what the city has since become. And I will be home. And I will be gone.