When we were home this weekend for Christmas, I started cleaning out my bedroom closet in anticipation of my parents' move to Austin sometime in 2009. This is a daunting task, but I started by going through all of the stuff I accumulated from the summer I spent in Madrid, the summer of 2000, between my second and third years of college.
Even though I know I'm the sentimental type, I was unprepared for the onslaught of emotion and memory and feeling that came rushing back. That summer has taken on a huge significance in my mind; that was the summer I learned to love cities and urban life, and the things I did in those short weeks set in motion patterns and ideas and behaviors and habits that basically guide my life today. It was the beginning of the modern era.
I began that trip basically in a state of abject terror, afraid of being alone in a foreign country and so far from home for so long. I felt that the trip would surely end with rival gangs of chain-smoking gypsy pickpockets arguing over who got to keep my fillings as a trophy. By the end of the summer I was ready to come home, but I was tan, feeling like someone new, and flush with confidence after spending eight weeks with the best kind of temporary friends. The people I met and loved were completely separate from my normal life in Virginia; they entered my life so rapidly, and just as quickly, they were gone. There were two in particular:
My roommate, Stan, originally from Arkansas, was a year behind me at Yale. He and I would spend evenings at the Plaza Mayor, sipping sangria and watching the crowds go by. Once someone called us "the Southern intellectuals." He told me how he used to sit on his front porch in Arkansas and watch fireflies. He was into photography and literature, and he was artistic and mercurial, disappearing for days or weeks at a time without a word to anyone. Once I hadn't seen him in Madrid for several days, then unexpectedly ran into him at the Guggenheim in Bilbao -- we spoke briefly and then he disappeared again. At one point in the summer I bought a John Irving paperback to read, and later lent it to him; years later, opening the book, I found a handwritten paragraph on the front page describing a particular rainy afternoon, written in the overwrought, maddeningly sincere prose of the ivy league sophomore. He was urbane and sophisticated, younger than me but cooler and savvier all the same.
The third piece of the puzzle was Jeannine, also a year younger than me and a student at Yale. Her dad owned a strip mall in Wisconsin. She was a girl straight out of Botticelli, curly hair, light blonde, with beautiful light blue eyes. She was the kind who didn't realize, at that age, what a knockout she was. I remember the feeling when she would pull me by both hands out to dance, the smile on her face, the expectancy. The three of us, Stan, Jeannine, and I, were inseparable for those weeks. Before the trip I had read The Sun Also Rises, and was shocked to see the three of us assume the roles of the principals in that book, as if Hemingway himself had foretold our trip and how we would interact with each other.
There were the predictable love triangles and jealousies, all in a foreshortened time frame, which only gave them more heat and intensity. By the end of the summer Stan had mostly disappeared and Jeannine and I had a tearful goodbye. I think Jeannine and I sent a few emails back and forth, but I never heard from Stan. During that entire summer, I meticulously kept a journal noting what happened, and I tried to be as scrupulously honest as I could, including maybe 85% of what really happened (the remaining 15%, of course, I can still remember vividly today). Even though that summer was eight years ago, I have never reread that journal -- the idea of revisiting those distant times, when everything meant so much and my ideas of the world were changing so rapidly, is still too much to bear.
That's what I was thinking about over the weekend, as I methodically threw away blank postcards, ticket stubs, brochures, museum prints and class notes. The photos are safely tucked away, and the journal remains unopened. Stan and Jeannine, I hope you're out there.