the 23 day-post-op blues

I was warned of it, and assumed it would happen immediately after surgery, with me plugged into an IV, bleeding from the mouth and unable to talk, but when I sailed through the first week and a half of healing, I thought I had gotten lucky and missed the post-op blues. Everything I had read (which had been a lot, probably bordering on obsession) said that the first three days were bad, but if you could make it through the first week after surgery, it was smooth sailing. Well here I am at a little more than three weeks after, and I’m in a slump.

The origin of the slump is probably due to two things: rate of visible healing and pain level. The first couple weeks I could see changes in my face every day. Swelling was going down, bruising was lightening up; just the incredible relief of having a surgery I’ve dreaded for years be done with was a high I rode for a while. Due to narcotics and nerve damage, my pain level was surprisingly low.

Now it feels like I’ve taken a step back. I ran out of painkillers around day 10 and started on just ibuprofen, which felt like a kick in the face at first. I’m also slowly, oh so slowly gaining feeling in my face back, and shit hurts like hell. Unfortunately, the majority of feeling is returning first inside my mouth, meaning the gums that have stitches all tied up in them. I bought some Orajel stuff to squeeze on that suture line, but it’s a constant dull throb, especially now that I’m talking more. I’ve gotten the all-ok from my surgeon, and nothing looks infected (I got a good peek at the stitches tonight and nearly fainted); it just hurts. My surgeon also took out my splint (yay) but gave me some mighty powerful elastics to wear instead (boo). They’re rubbing on my gums and making my teeth sore.

Only being half-done with my liquid diet is also a disheartening and monotonous thought.

I went back to work last night for the first time after surgery. In preparation, the night previous I watched Me Before You and cried and cried and threw myself a pity party. I’ve got to face it–my body is ready to go back to work. I’ve been out shopping WAY too much in the last week, which is how I know. But my mind isn’t there yet. Considering how I feel about my job, that’s not too surprising, but, I mean, I was REALLY dreading returning.

One good thing in this post of bad is that I haven’t been losing too much weight. Being 5’10” and 127ish pounds normally, I was worried that I would turn into Jack Skellington on a liquid diet. But, I got the chance to weigh myself the other day and I’m only down to 121 pounds, which is about half of what I had expected I’d lose.

To wrap up, things just feel glummy and gloomy right now. I’m going to leave you with some progress pictures and one I snuck at the surgeon’s office of my mouth x-ray three days post-op that made me queasy.

 

Icelandic midnight sun

My time in Europe ended with a trip to Iceland, a convenient pause on the way back to the US.

In sum, Iceland felt martian. I arrived in the dead of night to the midnight sun. We drove through lava fields, great black and green mounds covering the ground.

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It was only ever dusk at darkest the three days I was there. I stayed with a Chinese family who had moved there because they were in the tourism business. I fell asleep in their spare bedroom at 3am, the gray not-quite-sunlight coming through the sheer curtains.

Everything works perfectly in Iceland, much like it does in Scandinavian countries. Tourism is bringing in tons of money, and it’s obvious in the infrastructure the small fishing country has to sustain bougie tourists. Since the re-vamping of the Blue Lagoon and the free stopover offered to Icelandair flyers on their way to Europe or the US, tourism has expanded greatly in recent years. (Not only was this evident by everyone and their mom (literally) being there, and as a consequence guided trips and transportation to those trips being made so easy a three-year-old could figure it out, but a swimmingcapped Icelandic woman with fuschia lipstick confirmed this at the Blue Lagoon as I wiped the silicone ish she was handing out all over my face.)

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I learned that there, lots more people than normal believe in fairies, they eat raw puffin hearts, the national beer is like 2% (learned the hard/expensive way), and Icelandic is frustratingly only hardly familiar from my days studying Old Norse.

My last day there, I sat at a nearby lake. The sun was out, the water was calm, and across the way I could see that in lieu of a beach there was only green. A derelict wooden cabin was visible on the shore. It looked like the Shire. I sat there for a long while and read.

Geneva, Budapest, Amsterdam, and reverse culture shock

I’m back in the US after nearly three years away. Will I stay? For a while, at least. Maybe forever. I have some grown-up concerns to address, like my jaw problems and my quickly-accumulating pile of student loans. It’s hard to look past those huge obstacles at this point.

Traveling has me totally burned-out and grateful. I promised to write about Geneva, Budapest, and Amsterdam, and I will here, briefly. My last trip was to Iceland, which I’ll write about next time.

I traveled to Geneva, Switzerland alone and couchsurfed for the first time there. My host was great, but I’d never do it again. The expectation to chat and wow and entertain a stranger while traveling is exhausting, even if they are cool. I got to dip into France again after six years away, which was surprisingly nice, despite bringing back memories of my traumatic au pair experience. I ate delicious pate and drank delicious coffee and got treated like shit by my waitress, so everything was just as I remembered. It felt like returning to a sort of home after ostentatious Spain. Geneva proper was lovely, opulent, and liveable, if you’re part of the 1%. I spent a nice afternoon by the lake, reading on a sunny spot of grass. My French has deteriorated embarrassingly, but I hardly needed it. I tried to use it anyway, after rehearsing whatever I wanted to say in my head first. I usually got Englished, but not in a rude way.

Budapest feels like a dark cloud. It rained almost the entire time I was there. That coupled with soviet-era buildings made for a depressing time. I mostly remember my wet shoes, always wet. I’d take sopping shoes off at night and put them back on in the morning. I started to have a very bleak outlook on life that radiated directly from my feet. On the last day there, I went to the Hungarian baths, and though my feet were wet all day again, I didn’t mind it. The sun actually came out for a couple hours and I got to luxuriate outside in a pool full of Polish people, touching my sallow skin to the feeble sun. The ruins pubs were dark, strange, dilapidated, varied, and perfect. Beware of palinka: it will put you on your ass if you’re not careful.

Everyone knows a Dutch person who incessantly brags about how great Holland is. I also grew up in a Dutch immigrant-saturated area of the US where a common saying is, ‘If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much,’ so I was out to prove that wrong. But Amsterdam (or Hamsterdam, my preferred name for it) really is a little inclement paradise. Even the red light district was tasteful. I ate amazing cheese, drank great, dark beer, and stayed in an ideal apartment. I only almost got ran over by bikes twice. It was expensive, but not obscenely so. I went to a sex show, and even watching a woman feed a drunk American a banana out of her vagina seemed tasteful (no pun intended). Add to that stroopwaffels and the torture museum and Amsterdam gets an A+, as much as I hate to admit it.

Now that we’re caught up to present-day minus Iceland, some thoughts on re-entry. I feel like that kid in The Flight of the Navigator minus the alien abduction. He falls down a ravine on the 4th of July and is unconscious for ten years. Don’t ask me how he stayed alive, but when he comes to, he runs home only to find that another family lives in his house, and, though it’s the same house, everything is strange and different. He’s reunited with his family, but they’re all ten years older now. I feel that kind of depressed being back. The area I’m from seems both stagnant and different. Time has passed and I no longer belong to this time and place, just this place, which isn’t the same thing at all.

In general terms, I’ve forgotten how American things work. When I arrived at the Boston airport my first day back, I ate at a restaurant and forgot how to leave a tip on a card. I thought I had to add it before they ran the card. The waitress looked at me like I was an alien. I’ve also forgotten the sequence of how to buy things with a card without a chip in it. I’ve been handing my card to the cashier a lot when I shouldn’t, or trying to insert it into the bottom of the machine. I also forgot I could run a debit card as credit. I’m not used to being able to pay for everything with a card again either; I keep on having mild bouts of anxiety over the fact that I only have $4 cash in my wallet. Dollars too–they’re all the same size. Reais and euros vary in size and color based on denomination.

It’s amazing to be able to freely make calls on my cell phone again. A sense of dread comes over me every time I have to call my loan service provider, the bank, or even a family member, thinking I’ll have to use Skype, Viber, or some other equally annoying application to use when you have a bad internet connection, something I’ve consistently for the past few years.

I drove to Holland, Michigan my first weekend back in the US and I was surprisingly stressed out about driving on I-94 after not driving for months. I find myself not driving as fast as I normally would or stopping before I have to. Car repairs, gas fill-ups, and car insurance haven’t been parts of my world in a long time. Neither has autonomy.

Libraries are a wonderful thing. To be able to get virtually any book I want to read and have that book be in English and made out of paper and ink is exciting. My Kindle has been invaluable over my years abroad, but nothing compares to feeling the heft of a real book in your hands and the sense of accomplishment you get from flipping the pages as you finish them.

Lastly, I’ve forgotten my Subway order. This is no small feat, since I love Subway, always order the same thing, and used to work there during my darkest of days. I went in the other day and forgot all my options. What’s that bread with the grain things on it called? What is that white cheese called again? I am an alien exploring this place called Subway for the very first time and I don’t know what food is; please help me, please be patient with me.

So basically, I feel like an 80-year-old freshly-escaped from a nursing home. I don’t know how to work new phones, I don’t know what movies are out, I haven’t watched American TV in a really long time. I hope as the days pass that I’ll gradually feel 70, then 60, until I’m back to my normal age, because it’s disorienting being Rip Van Winkle.

preamble to more travels; a note before continuing

My relationship with travel has of late been more hate than love. At first, it was all an adventure. Everything was new because all I knew was where I grew up. I couldn’t sleep on planes because I was too excited to land in a new place and notice all its little differences: the faces and gestures of the people when they’re hungry, worked up, or indifferent, their versions of ‘um,’ ‘huh,’ and ‘what,’ the things I could buy at the grocery store that I couldn’t in the US and vice versa.

For the past year or so, my view of travel has been changing. Trips now seem like work. I joke with my roommate the night before every trip, ‘But I don’t WANT to go to Geneva Budapest Amsterdam Iceland.’ Part of me isn’t kidding. But I have to see them, the romantic and over-inflated ideas I have of these places come to nearly-always-disappointing life.

And maybe it’s right that I feel this way now. In a week and a half, for the first time in three years, I will be leaving countries of heat, dancing, and loud, idle chatter with neighbors. I’ll be leaving bland food and parties until 8am, sun and reggaeton. Tits out on the beach, asses out on the beach. Being drowned in olive oil, wine, cachaça, and brigadeiro. Overly-safe cities, overly-dangerous cities. Fighting to get my residency documents, pick up a package, or deal with my landlord in Spanish or Portuguese.

And it’s best that I go. I’ve grown, groaned, ached and loved during my time in Brazil and Spain. That was three years of my twenties, three years in which a lot happened, both related to being abroad and not. The hard part is realizing that though you’re open to new experiences, a place can still be just not for you, and that there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve realized I’m not a warm-culture person. I don’t like talking to strangers. I don’t like touching even those I know well. Dos besos my ass. No, I don’t want to pet your dog. No, I don’t want to hold your baby. No, I don’t want to dance samba/forro/salsa with you. I don’t want to go to language intercambios and small talk about how I like Brazil/Spain/anywhere and what I think about Obama and gun laws. I’ve long-since seen all of this in myself and I’m ready to move on.

I have Arizona on my mind. Desert, cacti, a new start, an American salary, an apartment all my own. Space to spread out. Silence to reflect. Time to read. A worthy job to put my hours toward, I hope.

All this preamble in preparation to commit my three most recent trips to virtual paper, I’d like to say soon.

Trip 1: Geneva, Switzerland

Trip 2: Budapest, Hungary

Trip 3: Amsterdam, Holland

Dublin, Barcelona, and an escalator bite

Over spring break I went to Dublin, Ireland for an easy, relaxing time away from work, which is exactly what it proved to be. Though, Dublin almost didn’t make it on my travel itinerary. I had my heart set on going to Malta and the Canary Islands, the former because of its differences from mainland Europe (did you know Maltese is the only Semetic language spoken within the EU?), and the latter because after thorough Google weather searches, the Canaries were the only place with (barely) beach-worthy weather in March, something I’ve been starved for since leaving Rio. But when it came time to book the tickets, the flight prices were astronomical for that week, so thanks to Ryanair, Dublin got bumped up to first pick.

What I liked about Dublin is what I like about the US: Generally nice people willing to help you if you need it. Touching strangers is uncommon and is apologized for if it happens. People walk with purpose down the streets. Secondhand English bookstores are aplenty and the selection is impressive. There is no lack of filling comfort food and rich, dark beer. You have no idea how much this mostly-vegetarian has been aching for a good hamburger.

I was pleasantly surprised by how brick-and-cobblestoned the streets were; it lent a quaint air to a bustling city. My overall impression was that if it weren’t for the ferocious wind and rain, I would have liked to live there myself.

One rainy afternoon my traveling companion and I took a bus an hour south to go to an aquarium we had seen advertised. The closest bus stop to the aquarium was about five blocks away, so we walked against the wind, the rain biting our faces, my umbrella flipping inside-out. We laughed when we arrived: it was for children. Spongebob stickers adorned fish tanks; 90% of the patrons were no higher than my waist. Still, we had come this far, so we paid and walked through. We wended our way around strollers and crying kids and exasperated parents, looked at a little shark, enormous, ugly fish, oceanic oddities. Aquariums always make me melancholy. What a life to be trapped in a tank.

Afterward, we went to the very much adult restaurant on top of the aquarium and sipped beer and ate brown bread while looking out over the churning ocean.

The past couple weeks have been a lesson in patience for me. While running up an escalator on my way to work a couple weeks ago, I fell hard, the escalator teeth hitting me right under my knee cap. I’ve gone through various states of crippled over the past couple weeks as I’ve slowly, oh-so-slowly been healing. No more running to catch the train, no more taking the stairs, no more running up escalators. I live on the fourth floor of a walk-up building; it now takes quite a bit longer to get up or down them than it did before. Though I can’t wait to get better to have the option to move quickly again, I can’t help but notice that taking an extra couple minutes to get somewhere instead of rushing has significantly reduced my stress level while in transit. Since ‘in transit’ is a state I’m in more often than not here, that has been something important for me to learn, and I’m grateful for it. But I still want my knee back.

Last weekend I visited Barcelona, mostly because of the weight of ‘I should do this’ rather than out pure desire to go. I’ve been told several times that I don’t travel enough within Spain, that I have to visit Barcelona before I leave, I just have to. People from home have more than once confused my home of Madrid for Barcelona, asking how I’m liking it there. So, you all win. I took a train to Barcelona.

The feel of the city is different than Madrid. It seemed quieter. The streets felt narrower. It was wonderful to see the sea again, to sit on the pier and just watch the water. I went to the erotic museum, and, glass of champagne in hand, learned about the link between scent and desire, saw a lot of paintings, carvings, and pictures that ranged from beautiful to ludicrous, and was reminded that people have been experimental, nasty perverts for millennia, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Check out silent Spanish porn from the 1920s–you won’t regret it.

My weekend in Barcelona was a nice reprieve from what have become somewhat routinized weekends in Madrid. Despite my feeling forced to go, I’m glad I had the opportunity to see the Sagrada Familia, watch the waves, and be surrounded by Catalan.

I have trips booked every other weekend from now until I leave Spain for good: Geneva, Budapest, Amsterdam, Morocco, Iceland. I booked them all in a frenzy last month after starting to anticipate returning to the US and all that entails, like debts to pay and a greater sense of permanency. I want to see all I can before I can’t.

Segovia and the doldrums of February

30 degrees Fahrenheit has a different meaning when you don’t have a car. In Chicago, it’s 30 degrees before it’s even winter and I don’t really think about it as I run from my heated house to my heated car, and drive in my heated car to my heated location. Here it’s different. It’s 30 degrees in the mornings before the sun rises as I get off the train where I work. That 15-minutes walk from the train to the high school I teach at leaves my ears throbbing and my jaw aching. I count my steps to distract me from the wind. Every outing requires the unspoken consideration of if braving the cold (the cold that’s colder than my unheated apartment) for 10 or 15 minutes is worth meeting my friends at whatever bar, or going to Spanish class, or going to yoga. I’m growing soft and full of olive oil and wine and cheese and cake, the things I feed myself when I’m feeling cold and sad. This has been my February in Madrid.

Last month I went on my most recent trip: a local one to Segovia, a small town an hour by bus from Madrid. It was January and raining icedrops. I went with someone who had studied abroad there years ago, so I put on my weird earmuffs and gloves and tottered after him as he led me to what there is to see. There’s a castle there, and an aqueduct from the 1300s. I sat on the damp lookout wall looking out over it, and tried to imagine what life was like when it was built, and the different ages and people who have moved and lived and changed things around the aqueduct while it remained unchanged.

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The whole town looked more like somewhere lifted from the past than anything existing now. I’m discovering the charm of small Spanish towns. They have something all their own that neighboring countries don’t quite do the same. I liked Segovia’s stone steps and medieval feel. We ducked under an archway and out of the rain to eat sandwiches with ultra-spicy French mustard, and laughed as it gave us brain burn and made our noses run. We finished the day with whiskey shots and a sleepy bus ride home.

Next month is Spring break. I’ve been looking forward to this break ever since Christmas; it’s been for me a sign of warmth and travel to somewhere relaxing, this oasis shimmering from far off. I don’t know it if will be any of those things, but I’m excited to break up my routine. The destinations currently in the running are Malta and The Canary Islands or Madeira. I’ve got islands on my mind.

December: Lisbon, Istanbul, Athens, Santorini, and New Year’s

My first ten weeks in Madrid were spent worrying about finding an apartment, worrying about finding another apartment, making friends, starting work, filling out the necessary resident paperwork, and flopping around in Spanish. Because one of the main reasons I chose to come to Spain this year was to travel to places in Europe I didn’t get to see the first time around, the pressure began to build as soon as I felt settled.

Over the first long weekend I had from work, I went to Lisbon with the brand-new boyfriend. We took Bla Bla Car there and back. It was my first time using it, and I was initially nervous–not because I was afraid the drivers were serial killers or rapists, but because the idea of driving in a car with a stranger for six hours sounded like a true nightmare. I made myself small in the backseat and talked as little as possible. I probably looked like the killer.

Lisbon isn’t what I thought it would be. I imagined this ideal city, a romantic one in which the people speak not only a language I speak, but one I love, and who are more melancholy than the average Brazilian. A place I’d want to live forever, if only I had the opportunity. In reality, I hardly got to speak Portuguese because everybody there assumes no tourist knows it, and also because they’re all rock stars at English. I tried to force it anyway, which more often than not just made the exchange awkward and probably a great study in code-switching. I found the melancholy stereotype pretty accurate, which was refreshing after so many years in close-talking, loud-speaking, hand-flinging countries. Lisbon looks a lot more like Brazil than I thought it would. I assumed the run-down colonial buildings in Rio were a product of a lack of money or care to maintain them, which does lend a feeling of derelict romanticism, but the buildings in Lisbon look much the same. I felt like I was back in Brazil, which was not a feeling I was expecting to have. What stands out to me about Lisbon is that although it’s certainly a whimsical place full of grand things, the city feels abandoned once dark falls. It’s eerie how hard it is to find a substantial cluster of people after 8pm. The streets feel dark and lonely and almost dangerous in their emptiness.

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Two weeks later my Christmas break started, and a few days later I headed to Istanbul with my roommate and her sister.

Istanbul is a magical place set in the past. I stayed in Sultanahmet, which is where the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque reside. Men sold ornate lamps and silk scarves in the Grand Bazaar, beginning each potential sell with “Yes, please.” “Yes, please, come inside.” “Yes, please, give me your money.” Never before have I been to a country where I didn’t speak the language at least a little bit, and considering something as simple as “thank you” in Turkish is the six-syllabled “teşekur ederim,” I didn’t learn much before going. It was daunting, but not as difficult as I had imagined. Not many people spoke English well, but most spoke at least a few words. I’m always impressed that so many people around the world speak English. It’s amazing how global a language it has become, regardless of how that makes people feel.

Istanbul is the closest I’ve ever been to Asia–technically just inside it, upon arrival at the airport. It was a treat to experience something different, to wake up and drink Turkish coffee and eat lentil soup with pita bread, to smoke hookah more in three days than I ever have while watching a dervish whirl. To go to a reggae bar and pet all the workers’ pets they bring with them (it’s been too long since I’ve pet a kitten). To be awoken at dawn by the call to prayer, which sounded ominous the first day, but by the last day it just lulled me back to sleep, barely a punctuation mark in my dreams.

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We had only a brief stint in Athens, two extended layovers on our way in and out of Santorini, a Greek island. Our first was on Christmas day, when we ate a lackluster meal and were plied with free wine. A quick night’s sleep in a drafty hostel and we were off again, bleary-eyed and hungover.

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We spent four days on Santorini. The entire island was a ghost town of apocalyptic proportions. It rained three out of the four days we were there, me umbrella-less in suede shoes. Many of the businesses close during the winter because there are so many fewer tourists, so we had trouble finding an open restaurant that served more than coffee and drinks. We spent one rainy day at the salon, where the hairdresser told us December isn’t even the slowest month. I imagined that by going in a down-month I’d have a paradise all to myself, but as we sat in a barely-open restaurant on a non-existent beach in what I can only describe as a gale, rain soaking my inappropriate shoes, I saw how wrong I’d been.

There was one sunny day, a burst of hope. We rented a car and drove to Oía, the first settlement on the island, high up on the cliffs. I got to drive for the first time in months, up and up around a winding mountain road til we could go no farther. We got out and walked among the steep, white houses like you see when you google “Greek islands”. We stayed for the sunset, a pink thing bursting behind a volcano. Present-day Santorini is shaped like a crescent moon with a volcano in the middle, but it used to be a circular island, before the volcano erupted and formed a caldera around it. The water is dark, deep-blue, and lethal-looking.

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One afternoon I had an unusual solitary moment, walking back from a few hours of coffee and reading. I rounded the bend to our place and from that hill I could see the sea. I was on an island in the Aegean and it was mostly gray and my shoes were kind of wet but it wasn’t raining and I was on an island in the Aegean. For me, for now, it’s worth the sacrifice of a well-paying job and a car and roots and less debt to spend one more year living this.

We made it back to Madrid on New Year’s Eve in time to watch everyone eating their grapes at midnight. I heard someone dies every year from choking on the grapes, unnoticed among all the flailing and revelry. I smoked a stranger’s rolled cigarette against a guardrail at the stroke of midnight, happy amid all the spilled champagne.

Portuñoling in Madrid

I’ve once again transported myself to a country of close-talkers, trash-throwers, and bad walkers.

On the other hand, I like to watch the way Madrileños, the kind you pass on the street and sit next to on the metro and buy horchata from, laugh raucously and gesticulate wildly. I’ve mistaken several people for deaf since coming here after watching them talk from afar. I’m especially endeared to the older men who work at restaurants, the kinds of places where you can sit on the street under umbrellas. I like their simple sweetness, usual rotundity, and their sincere attempt to understand what I’m saying.

My Spanish consists of my Portuguese interwoven with memories of the Portuguese for Spanish Speakers class I took four years ago because it was the only Portuguese class offered at my university that semester. Add to that Dora the Explorer flashbacks and the few phrases I’ve picked up since coming here, and there you have it.
I’ve had several interactions in Spanish that have gone like this:

Stranger: Where are you from?
Me: The U.S.
S: Do you speak Spanish?
Me: What language are we speaking in now?
S: Well, there are a lot of people here who don’t speak Spanish. You should learn it.

What the fuck. These interactions keep happening, and they confuse me every time. I was spoiled by living in a country where if you uttered a shitty ‘tudo bem’ you’d have people falling over themselves to tell you how great your Portuguese was. Being constantly told I need to learn Spanish as I make the effort to speak it with strangers makes me want to try less. Or stop talking to strangers.

Here I’m re-learning some lessons I’ve already learned and forgotten. First, there is nothing more humiliating than learning a language. As someone who refuses to try anything more than once that I’m not naturally amazing at, trying again and again to communicate only to be giggled about or misunderstood is the worst. Telling someone something serious, asking why they’re laughing and getting the answer, ‘Oh, the way you said that was just cute’ makes me want to slap my interlocutor. It’s a rush to the finish line, the finish line being communicative competency. I’m trying to cram as much into my head as possible until I reach that level, at which point existing in a foreign country becomes markedly easier.

The second lesson I’m re-learning is what it is to be poor. I’ve never had money, but here I exist on euro-pennies, which are the tiniest, cutest little things you’ve ever seen. I take packets of sugar from restaurants to use at home in my tea. I carry around a plastic water bottle I bought my first week here that’s probably giving me cancer. I scour the bottom of my purse for change to buy a 90-cent bocadillo for lunch at work. A sign on the street offering coffee for one euro has my attention. If someone cancels a tutoring session with me, it’s a minor disaster. After a difficult first month here money-wise due to a rental fiasco, I’m already down to the end of my last paycheck. The whole point of coming here was to scrape those pennies together to travel to some places in Europe I wanted to visit the first time I lived here but was too poor to, and so far that plan is slow to start. I have a one-way ticket to Istanbul for December 22nd. If I’m too poor to buy any other flights by then, you know where to find me. It all feels like a giant step back in what my mind thinks it is to be an adult.

Speaking of adulthood, I’m already thinking about what’s next. For the past three years, there’s always been abroad. As an Italian passport holder, I could stay in Europe easily enough, though I think I’d head north. But finding a job might be harder than finding one in the US, and I’d also miss the ease of living in my own country: knowing and being comfortable with the cultural norms, the language, and how to go about finding a job and a place to live. My student loans are screaming at me to go back and pay them off as quickly as possible. I had a dream last night that I inherited $6,000 from an unknown relative who I watched crash his plane on purpose to help me financially. It was like winning the lottery.

But, in general, life in Madrid is easy. It’s safe to walk around at night, there’s good shopping, and there are three Starbucks within walking distance from my house. I live in a hobbit house and sleep in an attic bedroom that looks like a place of punishment from a fairy tale. I can easily find peanut butter. Olive oil is delicious and cheap. Lots of people speak English. My job, while not that enjoyable, certainly isn’t challenging in any real way. And the best part of all, I can buy good enough wine for one euro.

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Finally, I’ve accumulated a strange little group of acquaintances here that I’m quite grateful for. I borrowed a wig from the art teacher at my school who just happens to have 15 (an exact number) wigs in her closet because she loves dressing up. She offers me beautifully arranged coffee while I tutor her son, and we tell each other stories while overseeing our students paint color wheels. I’ve met a misanthropic self-professed non-misanthrope who I feel compelled to befriend. I think it’s working. I’ve met a Canadian who thinks I’m the most interesting mystery he’s ever met, which I will let him continue thinking. I work with a guy who doesn’t know the meaning of coquettish or the plot of Lolita and dresses like Ellen DeGeneres. I met a Fulbrighter who I bond with over our weekly coffee date in the cafeteria at work. She let’s me flex my vocabulary and regales me with all kinds of stories. My favorite ones are about her parents, whose relationship she finds repulsive. My closest fast-friend here shares my name and height, the first being much easier to come by than the second. We got drunk together one night on free sangria and she stopped to muse, with a look of wonder, ‘Just what are the odds of someone as cynical as me being placed at the very same school?’