Conglomeration of life

Below is a conglomeration of life I either noticed or experienced in recent weeks. The thoughts are scattered and unpolished (like everything else on my blog, except maybe just a bit more). But I hope you enjoy a peek into life here.

“Hola, American.” A sub-Saharan man said the words almost under his breath as we passed on the street.

I didn’t think much about it until I was a few steps beyond him. How did he know I was American? Someone must have told him.

Due to the abundance of Russian immigrants and the lack of North American ones, my community assumes I’m Russian. In fact, when I started Spanish class, my Russian classmate told me that she’s seen me around and always thought I was a Russian.

Last night in class, she worked on forming a sentence with the imperfect subjunctive: “Trish has a face as if she were Russian.” After various corrections and alterations, we all were very familiar with the idea that Trish looks Russian.

“I thought to myself: I hope she makes brownies. And you did!” My student pulled the brownie plate closer to her and grinned at me with shining eyes. And she didn’t protest when I sent the leftovers home with her after class.

Little arms thrown wide with delight in overhead bubbles.

Four neighbors were on the front stoop when I stepped out the front door of the apartment building.

“Are you having a meeting?” I asked with a laugh.

No, two were just out for a smoke and had collected the others coming in or out the door. Like me.

“Sit down here. Join us.” Demanded the middle-aged man from the second floor. We hadn’t seen each other for a while so maybe he thought he needed the latest scoop on my life.
Not really wanting to wedge myself between two people with lit cigarettes, I stood back just enough to enjoy the breeze that waltzed down the street.

“You don’t smoke, do you?” The second floor neighbor asked.


“Do you drink?”

“Not that either.”

“What about the other thing?”

Was this a morality test? I hesitated, not knowing for sure what he meant. “Marijuana?” I asked hopefully. “No, not that either.”

“No. Making love.” He tinged a bit with this. I suppose you could say I had forced him to say it.

The lady on the other side of the stoop eyed me. “It’s not worth it. Men are too complicated.”

“You say men are too complicated!” He was indignant. “It’s the women who are too complicated.”

It was a good time to leave. So I made a light, overgeneralized comment. They laughed. I told them goodbye and continued on my way.

I had almost reached the language school when I noticed a woman was getting out of her car. She was a bleached blonde with dark eye makeup. The combination made her seem sad somehow. Behind her was a mural of a woman with streaking mascara.

Two sad ladies on the corner, almost like a piece of visual poetry, I thought, and continued walking.

I was in the middle of the crosswalk when muffins, donuts, and bread came skidding across the road toward me. I hesitated mid-stride. Was I hallucinating, my subconscious pulling up cravings for foods I rarely ate?

But no. A delivery van’s door had slid open as the van bumbled through the roundabout. The goodies inside had tumbled onto the street with enough momentum to shoot them in my direction.

I helped gather the packages littered across the roundabout and toss them into crates. The poetic sad lady from the corner helped too.

“Gracias!” the man told Sad Lady. “Chokran!” he told me.

I paused and looked down. Sometimes when I wear a dress, people ignore my fair coloring and assume I’m North African. Not that it matters, I suppose. Russian. North African.

Why not?

I trailed Sad Lady into the language school–who knew she was going there too?!–and when I couldn’t get my questions answered at the front desk as I had hoped, I began to chat with her.

She was planning to test for English; I for Spanish. “Let’s meet for coffee to practice!” she said and we exchanged phone numbers.

The next evening, my neighbor and I were only a couple of blocks from home when we saw the drunkest person I have ever seen in Spain. He stumbled out of a salón de juegos and clambered on his bike. Both he and the bike splattered onto the sidewalk. He gave an unintelligible monologue at high decibels but appeared relatively undamaged.

Just a block later, a man bumped into my neighbor. “I’m sorry! I was looking over there while I was walking and didn’t see you!” he said while his arm gave an exaggerated swing in the direction of the park.

“No problem,” my neighbor said graciously. “It happens.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not a racist. And I’m not a thief. You have to be careful on the street. Hold your bag like this!” He tugged the strap of his man purse. Then he clasped his hands together, and gave a wobbly bow in mid-stride and began the same speech again.

And again.

And so we continued several blocks with his cycle of effervescent apologies and wobbly bowing.

My neighbor and I finally stopped at a store to let him get ahead of us.

“Well,” I sighed. “We’re only a few blocks from home. What else is going to happen? Should we go back?”

Hopscotch boxes drawn all of the way to 85, progressively lopsided from weary little hands.

I fell out of bed the other morning. I was freshly awake and rolled over, only to realize that during the night, I had perched myself on the edge of the bed. Fortunately, I caught myself with flailing limbs before I made a resounding boom on the downstairs neighbors’ ceiling.

Who needs caffeine? There’s nothing quite like tumbling out of bed for a delightful adrenaline rush.

A friend cried when I brought her a gift. We sat on the floor together just inside her front door while she fingered every item in the gift bag with grateful tears. Someone cared.

The safety of Grandma’s hand holding fast.

A house with crumbs and sticky that remind me that someone has honored me with their presence in my home.

I wish I knew you

Maybe you think I don’t notice that bruise on half your face. You light the room with a smile and a dignified calm.

But I wish I could grab him by the throat and not let go until I know that he will never touch you again.

Except with love.

But how can I know unless you tell me? And how can you tell me unless you trust me? And how can you trust me when you just met me and he calls your phone and you need to go before we even know each other?

We say goodbye with an embrace, two kisses, and a few besides.

Then I stand and watch you walk away, wishing I knew the you behind that sparkling smile. 

And that black eye.

Photo by mostafa meraji on Unsplash

Spanish healthcare chronicles: the optometrist

Now that you know I have bad teeth and a bad back, you might as well know that I have bad eyes too. That’s why I waited until very recently to update my contacts and glasses. I was panicky and Spanishless when I entered the office down the street just to make the appointment. I forced myself to ask a few logical questions and then raced home to dread the day of my appointment. 

Well, the optometrist had accidentally put me down on a holiday. I dutifully wore my outdated and headache-inducing glasses for a full 24 hours before traipsing to the appointment where I fully expected to be told I was careening toward unpreventable blindness. Instead, the office was closed. I called the number on the sign. Oops, he had indeed scheduled me on a day they were closed. Could I come on Monday instead?

Grumpy, I went home and put in my contacts. At least the news of my impending blindness would wait for one more weekend. 

On Monday, he didn’t even gasp at my prescription, but gave the standard line that I could see well for how bad my eyes are. No blurriness. No floaters. Etc. Maybe that line isn’t so standard, but it has been in my experience. 

After the first few letters of the chart, he noted that my hesitancy was not due to my inability to see but my inability to rattle off Spanish letter names. “Just say them in English,” he suggested. “I’m learning English.”

We talked about glasses and contacts and I realized that, for the first time in my eye doctor history, I wasn’t ashamed of my poor eyesight. Was it due to my book worminess? The failure to catch astigmatism early enough when I was a kid? A stray gene from a nearly-blind ancestor? Whatever the case, that’s the way it was. Feeling unashamed helped me gather my wits and ask the questions that mattered to me. He was patient. Spaniards aren’t so concerned with calling people an anomaly. They’re pretty good at accepting the “weird” as normal. 

When I got home, something broke inside of me. Something so deep that I’m not sure yet what it was. But my tears were tears of gratefulness for the gift of sight that I still have. 

A week later, I had my sample contacts. I went in the next day to get them tested. Apparently, this verification is standard procedure here, and quite thorough. My one eye wasn’t focusing as well as it should have been. After verifying the prescription was correct, he squirted a yellow dye into my eye, made me flutter my eyelashes, and kept saying, “Good. Good.” while he shone a light in.  I went home and blew neon yellow snot out of my nose. 

A couple of days later, I was back. I ordered contacts and glasses in one shot. Less than a week later, they were ready. I tried them on and they told me to come back in a day or so to have them adjusted. So, the next day I trotted back down the street for yet another appointment. 

The glasses I chose had bright pink sides. Note: “had.” It’s amazing what a bit of nail polish can do!

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash