The other day, I rediscovered the diary I kept during my time abroad in Spain in college. Lately (always), I’ve been thinking about money, and how I don’t have much of it. It makes me think I should be more politically aware, so that I can vote for the person who will take away less of my money, but I’d rather just brood on how my tiny little bank account probably won’t lead me to Europe anytime soon.
Before I found the diary, I was doing that thing where I look back on the time I spent abroad and thinking to myself, “Wow, I should have lived more! I should have ridden tandem bicycles and picnicked and skinny dipped in some body of water with an ethnic man!” But then I remember that I probably would have gotten injured (picnic) or pregnant (bike ride) if I had done those things. Plus, as the diary reminded me, everyone in Spain hated me.
Making friends is hard, especially when you’re in Madrid and you don’t speak great Spanish, so you’re afraid to talk to people who don’t speak English. Making friends is even harder when you’re also afraid to talk to the people in your program who speak English, because they all came to Spain with their best friends, so you’re left standing alone by the vending machine during every class break pretending that you’re trying to decide what snack to get, but what you’re actually thinking is, “DON’T LOOK AT ME I AM DECIDING THINGS AND THEN I WILL GO HOME AND SKYPE WITH MY BEST FRIEND EVER WHO IS IN AMERICA AND IS MY MOM.”
But in reality, I went home to a certifiably insane host mother and three devastatingly beautiful Spanish ho(s)t sisters, none of whom understood anything I tried to say. It took me a week to figure out how to ask where the toilet paper was, so I kept stealing rolls from the Sisters’ bathroom out of shame. Hostmama and the Sisters only ever called me “chica,” because none of them seemed capable of remembering my real name.
My first day there, Hostmama gave me a mug to use, and told me that I was only ever allowed to use that mug. I couldn’t drink out of any of the other cups in the kitchen. Every morning I would walk into the kitchen to clean The Mug, and find Hostmama patting her stomach and saying to herself in Spanish, “I am a little fat. But only a little.” Then I would say, “good morning” in (what I thought was) Spanish, and she would look at me vacantly. Then Hostmama would walk out into the hallway and yell at me to put my shoes in my room–even if there weren’t any shoes in the hallway. Every morning.
Hostmama also got deeply offended when I couldn’t finish all the food she piled on my plate. Each scoop felt like a thrown gauntlet. I tried so hard, so hard, to eat her huge platefuls of potatoes and ham and some kind of tomato salad, and whenever I just couldn’t get the last bites down, one of the Sisters would gleefully yell to Hostmama, “MAMA! CHICA DOESN’T WANT TO EAT ANYMORE!” and then Hostmama would appear out of nowhere, take my plate, push the uneaten food into the trash, and stare at me the whole time.
I did have three pseudo-friends at one point during the program, two guys and a girl, and that was only because I tripped over one of their outstretched legs and scratched my knee, so they felt obligated to adopt me. I shall call the boys Fred and Tom, and the girl will be Ginger.
FTG and I did everything together for two weeks, and I felt like I should get a tattoo to remember how happy I was to finally have friends–although I kind of knew we would never have been friends outside of mutual desperation for company. Fred was in a metal band and chain-smoked, Tom was an insufferable philosophy major who made Woody Allen look like Pollyanna, and Ginger was the daughter of religious zealots, and she had only one goal while in Spain: find a topless beach. Regardless, we did stuff together because everyone else in the program already had friends, and for a while, I think we actually enjoyed hanging out.
But then stuff happened. Fred and Ginger started sleeping together, while Tom and I got into a huge fight about who should win the Oscar for Best Actor that year (Sean Penn for Milk or Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler). When we decided to take a weekend trip to a couple cities in southern Spain, things imploded.
Fred and Ginger shared a hostel room, so Tom and I were forced to share a room, despite our thinly veiled, growing contempt for one another. Tom had decided I was very stupid, because I once told TGF that I hadn’t finished reading The Canterbury Tales in high school–I fell asleep every time I tried. Tom then took every opportunity to tell me that I wasn’t “well-read enough.” I took every opportunity to tell him to shut up or I would “Canterbury him somewhere even his mother wouldn’t find him.” Things were tense.
Our second night of the trip, we all went out to dinner, and then I decided to go back to the hostel because we had an early train to catch. TGF was going to go to a nearby bar for “a drink.” I went back, read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency for a while, and then fell asleep with the light on.
Around 6AM (our train was leaving at 8AM), TGF all stumbled into the hostel, tripping balls on a whole myriad of drugs that they described as “gooey.” Tom fell into his bed, stared at the ceiling, and started to methodically recite the alphabet forward and backward, while Fred and Ginger sat on the floor and took turns slowly touching the other’s face and whispering, “Wow.”
Fred and Ginger eventually retreated back to their own room, presumably to continue re-enacting Lionel Richie’s “Hello” music video, and Tom stopped reciting the alphabet. When the alarm went off a half hour later, Tom sat up and looked around like a caged animal, balls clearly still on an extended trip. He stared at me. I stared at him. Then he spoke in hushed, frightened tones.
Tom: Is there a cockroach in the bathroom?
Tom: Cockroach. In the bathroom.
Keely: Have you been in there?
Tom: I don’t know, have I?
Keely: Is this some philosophy exercise? Because we need to be out of here five minutes ago–
Tom: …I went in there and it looked at me.
Keely: Great. Get dressed.
Tom: I can’t move. My legs won’t work until I know.
Keely: THERE IS NO COCKROACH.
Tom: YOU DON’T KNOW THAT.
Keely: Fine. Look. [Keely walks over to the bathroom, pushes open the door, and sees a cockroach on the sink. It looks at her. She looks at it.] OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD–
Tom: I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT! KILL IT!
Keely: YOU KILL IT!
Tom: MY LEGS DON’T WORK!
Keely: I HATE THIS I HATE YOU!
I grabbed my already-packed suitcase and ran downstairs, where I waited. Twenty minutes later, Tom and Fred came ambling down the stairs, supporting a giggly Ginger, who hummed and tried to braid my hair every step of our silent journey to the bus station. Halfway through the bus ride, FTG’s balls came back from vaca, and they all started looking a little green. Ginger went and threw up in the bathroom.
When we got to our next city, it was a slow journey to the new hostel. We each took turns carrying Ginger like a backpack. FTG slept that entire day, while I tried to find my way around the town. I came back in the evening to a note that simply said, “Beach.” I walked down to the beach, where I found Ginger awake and happy and skipping around and completely topless. Fred and Tom reclined on towels, watching her unblinkingly. Tom looked at my one-piece and said, “Nice towel.” I gave him the finger and sat down.
While Tom and Fred talked about obscure bands, and about their hallucinations the night before, they sometimes included me in the chat by commenting on how I had totally missed out and shouldn’t have flaked to go back and read my “chick-lit or whatever,” and how I wasn’t really experiencing the culture because of my unwillingness to experience new things, I started to get really mad.
Then Tom made my short, stout little teapot steam up and shout with a final, “I could understand if you were flaking for good literature, but–” and then I lost my mind. Kind of. In my head, this is what I said to them:
“Ya know, fuck you both. Seriously. You spent the whole day sleeping off your drug binge while I went around the city and ‘experienced culture.’ and The Canterbury Tales sucks. It’s long, and it’s boring, and no one likes it. Neither of you like it. Name me three of the characters.” And they just look startled, and ashamed, and can’t name any character. “Exactly. But I would still rather read that whole awful goddamn book than hang out with you assholes. And you [indicates Tom] are too much of a pussy to even kill a cockroach, so fuck you and the Encyclopedia you read in your spare time. And ya know, fuck Mickey Rourke. Because he won’t win for Best Actor over Sean Penn, because Sean Penn is the best actor ever.”
What actually happened was I just got up and left without a word, grabbed my stuff from the hostel, took a bus back to Madrid, and ignored all three of them for the rest of the program, much like a child would.
But you know what happened after that?