The People I Kept [Madrid]

I’ve always wanted to see the world, and this previous semester I got a small sliver of just that. Looking back I might describe this entire semester as “fleeting”. Both because it went by too fast, and because each day seemed as though it fleetingly sent me through copious different spaces.

I love being able to spend small amounts of time in many different places, even if it’s just trying out a new restaurant or club. The problem with this constant state of travel though is that I’m not just traveling through places or inanimate space, but also through lives. I am leaving behind both physical masses and also groups of people who continue their life without me, just as I continue on my life without them. People whom I loved, even for a split second.

Since I’m the one living my life, it makes it feel as though I am always the one leaving. Like I am only a temporary player in everyone else’s permanent existence. Even though I am not able to keep them all physically next to me, there are still countless people that I keep.


The first person I choose to keep is Maeve. She was the first new person I met when I arrived in Madrid, so it’s only fair. We went out to lunch upon meeting each other and tried to make small talk while both coming to terms with the idea we were now living in Madrid. We then proceeded to get locked out of our apartment and had to wait in an office together for three hours before the locksmith could fix our lock. In November, Maeve got high for the first time while in Madrid. She doesn’t like to smoke pot because it makes her hostile and mean, but she wanted to see if she had outgrown it. She hadn’t. She turned to me and asked if I ever drew or sketched anymore, I told her not really. She proceeded to yell that she stalked me on Instagram and had seen the art I was capable of, and was mad at me that I was wasting my potential. High Maeve kind of scares me, but she says what needs to be said.

I’d like to keep Pilar, even though I know very little about her. One night I went out alone late at night to meet Naia, Aubrey, and Alaska at a club. I didn’t expect there to still be a line, so I had to wait by myself. Pilar saw that I was alone, and turned around to talk with me. I told her that my friends were inside. Pilar proceeded to tell me that she was from two hours outside of Madrid. She takes the last bus into Madrid Friday night at 10pm, parties in the Madrid clubs, and then takes the first bus out the next morning at 5am back home. Pilar seems to have discovered some kind of energy hack that the rest of the human population is yet to utilize. When we get to the front of the line she tells the bouncer we are together so he doesn’t split us up, waits while I check my coat, and then makes sure that I find my friends. When I point them out to her in the crowd and we say our goodbyes, she says to me what is directly translated as, “Girls for girls”.

I want to keep Alejandro around for the fun nights and confidence boosts. I was pushing through the crowds to photograph everything I could at the Taylor Swift rave when somebody grabbed me by the wrist. He pointed to my camera and asked if I was a photographer then promptly started voguing as soon as I told him yes. Of course, I snapped the pictures. When “good 4 u” came on, he grabbed my wrist again and started jumping up and down, screaming the lyrics. Alejandro taught me that it’s always rewarding to get good photos of moments like these, but you also have to know when to put down the camera and scream Olivia Rodrigo. Before we departed, he wrote down my Instagram and promptly followed me the next morning, sending me a DM about how fun the previous night was. I sent him the pictures I took of him to which he responded, “I blame Taylor Swift for these pictures and the emotional wreck I was yesterday.”

I’m going to keep the waitress from Barcelona, even though I never even learned her name. I like to say that I wasn’t overwhelmed the initial week I arrived in Spain and was traveling around solely by myself, but looking back I definitely was. While in Barcelona I was walking 15 miles a day so quickly became hot, thirsty, hungry and a bit flustered from the enormity of it all. Not Barcelona, just life in general. I came across a sports bar and went up to the counter to see the waitress. She immediately recognized my American accent when I began to order in Spanish and responded in English, saying she was from Australia and would happily speak English instead of Spanish. She didn’t judge me when I asked if I could have a caesar salad without the ‘caesar’ part, she gave me a large glass of free ice water and showed me where I could refill it myself, and cleared a table for me next to two outlets so I could plug in my phone and computer. When she delivered my salad and saw me watching Gossip Girl on my phone she said, “Chuck has always been my favorite.” He’s always been my favorite too.

I would like to keep the man I met in Retiro park one afternoon, but I would like to keep him at a distance. Schools in Europe are astronomically harder than schools in the US. From coursework to relationships with teachers, to other students not wanting to help ‘the competition’. I was in Retiro when one of my professors emailed me that if I didn’t get an 80% on the final or above, I would fail the class. I’ve never failed a class before, I’ve never even received a grade below a B+. I called my mom crying, but she was in a meeting at work and couldn’t help. So I sat on this park bench, stared at a leaf, and tried not to make it so obvious I was crying in public. A man walking by asked me if I had the time, but I was so in my own head that I forgot how to say time in Spanish. I showed him my phone so he could read the time, and he began asking me where I was from and what I was doing in Madrid. I told him I could speak Spanish, I was just flustered when he initially asked. So then he asked me all the same questions in Spanish, to make sure ‘Missouri’ was really a state in the US, or if he was just confused as he had never heard of it before. I told him what I am studying and what I’m interested in doing in my career, and answered all of his questions in Spanish. When I finally told him I had to leave he told me how good at Spanish I am, and how impressive it is that I’m well-versed in so many different industries. He said that he could tell I was very intelligent just by talking to me for a short time. Just 30 minutes earlier I was crying alone in the park because of how foolish I felt in a Spanish university. He then proceeded to give me a very tight hug goodbye, which is why I would keep him at a distance.

No matter how funny my friends may think it sounds, I want to keep my adopted father (just don’t let my real father know). I was working on a photo project and left my apartment later than my group of friends, which left me waiting in line at the bar while they were already inside. I didn’t mind, as the weather was nice, I had my headphones, and the streets of Madrid felt very safe to me. All of the sudden the man in front of me turned around and started blabbering quickly in Spanish. He was obviously drunk, but his girlfriend and friend with him were laughing and apologizing. He asked me where my friends were and I said inside, and he told me that I couldn’t be out here alone, that he would be my adoptive father. I was now his daughter. His English was horrible, but he wanted to practice. He told me he has been to the United States before to which I replied, “and how did you like New York?” He cheered like his team had just scored a goal and said, “how did you know I went to New York?” I just laughed and shook my head. When we got to the bouncer, he paid for my cover and told me to find him if I needed anything. He was so out of his mind drunk, happy, and outgoing that I’d like to see what he was like sober. Once I sat down at the booth with my friends, I told them about how a man had adopted me outside in line. About 10 minutes later, Alaska mummers under her breath, “is that your adoptive father?” Sure enough there he was when I turned around, trying to convince his girlfriend to let him come over and say hi to me and my friends. When she saw us laughing, he made his move and sat down at the table with us. Alaska and he argued about if Ecuador (Alaska’s home) or Venezuela (my adoptive father’s home) was better. Despite completely losing any sense of personal space due to alcohol, he gave us all a night full of laughs and helped me burn an hour and half of wait time outside.

I feel like I have to keep Miguel, but nobody tell him I said that! Miguel ran up to me one night when Naia and I were about to leave the club and he said to me, “You are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. I just needed to tell you that and I will leave you alone now, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t tell you.” Nothing did happen between Miguel and I, as I was in a man-hater era while in Madrid and therefore told him “thank you” and “goodbye”, however I appreciated the compliment, and although I like to think of myself as a bad bitch who does not need male validation it is, on occasion, a nice thing to sprinkle on life.

I want to keep the workers at my favorite acai place in Madrid, even though I did not learn their names either. I suppose if there is one micro-lesson I learned from being in Madrid alongside all the large and existential ones, it’s to learn more people’s names. I’m sure I read their name tags plenty of times, but names aren’t something I can easily grasp onto despite how important they are. I was a regular at the Alicambre Acai House and so the workers knew me and the order that I ate exactly the same every time I came in. Once I ordered it wrong and they came out from the back to ask me if I was changing my order or if I had messed up. One morning one of the girls asked if I wanted banana bread with chocolate chips in it. As someone who will never turn down banana bread, I obliged. A few minutes later she brought me out a warmed up piece of bread with chocolate chips sprinkled on the top and said, “I was wrong there are no chocolate chips inside of it, so I just sprinkled some on top for you.” I spent my last night in Madrid in this acai restaurant for dinner, as Sevyn and Lana had already left and Maeve was out with her family. We had going away dinners for each of them so by the day it was my departure, I felt as though I had overstayed my welcome. Or as though I had to stick along to make sure everyone got a good Spanish goodbye. So I ate dinner at the acai place as I talked to my mom on the phone about what I was going to do when I got back home, and the workers smiled at me like always and when it was time for me to leave I thought about how I didn’t know how many months or years it would be until I returned here. 

Most of all I want to keep Naia, Alaska, and Aubrey very close to my heart. When the students at my school were mean and my roommates were too busy with boys, the three of them were always there to bring me along. I was friends with Naia from high school and we just happened to be in Madrid at the same time but attending different schools. She went to SLU-Madrid, a school with more people from the States. Naia is also very good at making friends and very good at keeping friends around. I went on so many adventures with Naia, Alaska, and Aubrey. We watched the World Cup together (aka fought the Brits together when the US tied them), traveled to Paris together and popped champagne on our fifth-floor balcony, went clubbing and did the most embarrassing things, ransacked Malasana for cheap clothes, visited art museums and had Aubrey educate us on art history, but most importantly we just were together. The nights when we would sit around and read our respective books, or watch a movie in silence. I texted them all as my plane took off from Madrid, “you all made this experience unforgettable for me. Please know you always have a bed and home cooked meal at my place. We’ll see each other soon.”

Yours truly, 



One response to “The People I Kept [Madrid]”

  1. this is incredibly soft. boutta be crying


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