Volver: To Return, to Go Back

[Friday, June 15]: Catching up on posts from last week!

Tienes hermanos, Kelly? Yo no. Soy la unica. Eres hija unica?!
Do you have brothers or sisters? Nope, I’m an only child. The only child??

Regardless of the language being spoken, after my admission of a solo childhood, there usually follows an expression of surprise. Some people ask if I enjoyed my only childhood, did I wish I had siblings. I usually tell the story that my parents told me: when I was 2 and people starting pestering me about my sibling status (“are you ready for a baby brother?”), I shook my head definitively and declared, “No, I’m quite enough.” Sometimes I crack a joke about not being able to blame the dog for any household wrongdoing, or refer to my common practice of borrowing other people’s siblings.

For those that know me, my parents and I are quite close. My friends also think of my parents as an extension of me; likewise, my parents adopt my friends. There are emails, letters, gifts, hospitality. What a compliment to have these two people that accept everyone I love, and automatically love them, too.

When I went abroad for the first time – age 20, hija unica – it was terrifying for my parents. They were pretty good about hiding it under a veil of excitement, only confessing to me upon my return that it was deeply and profoundly scary. Their only daughter spending six months overseas in a place they didn’t know, a language I kind of knew… I can understand the anxiety. But one small comfort, a silver lining – there would be a family.

Six months later, I would be sobbing hysterically in my Spanish apartment, clinging to my señora, torn between going home and leaving a place that had also become home. The cab driver telling me I would come back, “they always come back.”

Family 2010

Juan, Josefina, Kelly, Esther, Juani: 2010

Six years later, I prove him right, returning to the same apartment, visiting during my year teaching English abroad. As if no time had passed at all, the family sits down for lunch together and the sound of Castellano bounces around the room, bouyant, full of the joy of return. With every mouthful of paella, I am grinning, telling stories and recounting the last few years.

Eight years later, I will direct my taxi driver to the same apartment. I recall a train ride in from Sevilla two years earlier. Americans, gathering like they do, exchanging plans and stories. A girl several years younger than I, referring to her semester in Granada a few years back. I ask immediately about her living situation, and she mentions that she stayed with a host family. I ask where she lived, and she shakes her head – she can’t remember – and she returns the question. Startled, I repeat my host family’s address and explain the general direction. She shrugs and nods. This is my first true recognition that not all host family experiences are created equal.

Josefina Esther

Josefina & Esther: 2004

For me, a señora who loved to cook. Who always had “her face” on, who made me special meals when I was sick. She let me cook in her kitchen, and she comforted me when my grandmother died. Host to more than two decades of American girls, a most generous soul. A father, who worked hard on the family property and loved jokes and sweets. Extraordinarily shorter than his American daughter, and equally proud to escort me to the plaza on my first day in town. Two siblings already moving on with their lives: a handsome older son working in Madrid, a kind woman with a five year old princess who let me plan an Easter egg hunt for her.

Most notably, a sister. Gorgeous, model thin, incredibly Spanish. She quizzed me about my days at university, shuffled around in silly slippers, taught me Sevillanas (kind of) in the marble hallway. Inquired about boys, America and my future plans. Entertained my friends, praised the cultivation of an Andaluza accent and baked a birthday cake for my roommate. Quick to laugh, an expert at an American-Spanish accent and so animated, so Granadina.

And so tomorrow, a wedding. Her wedding. Tradition, fun, finery and .. family. A triumphant return to a beautiful city that I think about all the time. A seat at the table with a family not my own, a series of American sisters celebrating a sister not mine, or theirs. Olé.

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5 thoughts on “Volver: To Return, to Go Back

  1. I wish I had a host sister :(….I just had a host brother, David, and I hardly ever saw him. Anyways, I look forward to getting back to the office and exchanging stories! (that is IF I come back)

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  2. The similarities between our stories are crazy endless! I also had a taxi driver in Granada who told me that with Spain, it’s always an hasta luego. And my host family and I are still close, which eased my parents’s minds!

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  3. That’s really great. I didn’t know whose wedding it was. It’s pretty neat to go back for your host sister’s wedding. I hope you had a good time!

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