It’s week (year?) nine of quarantine, and many European countries are beginning to ease their lockdown restrictions. Shops and hairdressers are starting to open, even schools in some areas. Although there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, the road ahead is a windy one, littered with potholes and spontaneous road work.
I’ve spent the last two months quarantining at my Belgian boyfriend’s apartment in Brussels with him and his roommate. And while I’m eternally grateful that I chose to spend this time in a penthouse apartment with a rooftop terrace instead of holed up alone in my single bedroom, I’m anxiously awaiting the right time to return to my home in Madrid.
Madrid has had a rough go, so I hardly have any room to complain. As part of Spain’s strict lockdown, residents weren’t even allowed outside to walk or exercise up until two weeks ago, and police were notoriously harsh about handing out hefty fines. Even now, people are only allowed out at certain times of the day and schools remain closed for the rest of the academic year. While parts of Spain have begun to ease up, a city as densely populated as Madrid has remained cautious.
All that to say, I was lucky to escape just days before one of Europe’s harshest lockdowns went into effect. But I had no idea back in March that I would still be here: living out of a suitcase with my long-distance boyfriend of six months, caught in limbo between my old life and building a new one.
You see, these precious months were to be my last in Madrid. After three years living and working there, I decided it was time to move on—mainly from teaching English but also to a new location. This was fueled by the fact that I have to be back in the U.S. for two months to attend several weddings later this year—but I digress. There are many factors so I won’t bore you with the details, but if you’ve ever had to deal with getting a visa abroad then you know the struggle.
I often compared my final year in Madrid to being a graduating senior, excited for what’s to come while trying to make the most of all the lasts. As I’ve watched my time in Madrid slowly dwindle from afar, I’ve started coming to terms with the fact that I won’t get proper closure on that chapter of my life.
Things that remain on my Madrid bucket list will still be there (like that time I finally bought a ticket to see a Real Madrid game but it was cancelled just days before the lockdown). I won’t be able to hug my students at the elementary school where I’ve worked for the past two years. I won’t be able to drink with friends at Madrid’s verbenas or street parties one last time. Really, I won’t be able to say goodbye to the life that I built by myself, for myself.
Instead, I’m starting a new life in Brussels—well, sort of. I haven’t been able to do what I normally would when getting settled in a new city: attend meetups, make new friends, explore the neighborhood, maybe find a co-working space, learn the language. (Okay, I could be learning French or Dutch right now but there are only so many quarantine hours in a day.)
Some days I walk around a hauntingly empty city, imagining what it will feel like when I can make it my own, when I’ll feel at home on its streets—if I’ll fall in love with Brussels like I did with Madrid. Some days I sit blissfully in the sun as the boys throw burgers on the grill, thankful to be with the person I love. This much time in close quarters has been a make or break for many relationships and I’m glad it’s been the former for me.
Most days life is great. Occasionally it’s not.
I’ve learned that it’s okay to be happy and sad at the same time (cue Kasey Musgraves). It’s okay to appreciate what you have but still feel a little lost. It’s okay to take time for yourself. There’s no right or wrong way to feel right now, no one-size-fits-all quarantine.
Someday soon it will make sense for me to return to Madrid—close that chapter and start a new one, albeit a bit abruptly. Right now, I’ll take it day by day. And today is a good day.