Soon, Sarah and I head off to the south of Spain.
Whereas that may sound like a lovely thing to do, here during a dark and damp northern winter... this will be-- sadly-- not a vacation or joy ride.
I lived in Spain, when I was a kid. Well, when I was a teenager. After my parents divorced (in Denmark), I moved with my mom to the small town of San Pedro de Alcantara on Spain's Costa del Sol, where we went to live with the new man in her life. In some ways, I'd have to say that I "grew up there," although my life from the time we left Denmark through age 20 involved quite a lot of moving around.
On December 16th, the man I came to know as my stepfather died, at age 92. In some ways, it was surprising that he outlived my mother (who passed in August 2009), but in other ways it seemed like a fitting tribute to his determination to "do his duty," which included taking care of my mom during her latter years.
He was a quiet and frugal man who-- as much as anything-- just wanted people and the world to just leave him alone. Mostly, I shall remember him sitting in his chair with the newspaper, or reading a book. Or eternally muttering at the orange and white cat he took care of, even while constantly complaining about what a "nuisance" it was, and how much he disliked cats.
In that strange way the Universe works, the (by then) ancient cat died just two days after my stepdad, almost as if it realized that its mission in this lifetime had been completed...
And so... I shall return to this strange place where I spent my formative years, this time not to "visit the parents," but to empty and close down the apartment in a place called Sotogrande, which he and my mother shared since the early 1980's, when they sold their large villa and started dividing their time between Spain and Phoenix, AZ.
Once upon a time, I lived in that same apartment complex... back in 1979, the apartments were "inexpensive housing," far away from everything, and it was my first place to live away from home. Back then, the development was new, and it was a little like living in a ghost town: only about 5-6 of the 100+ units were occupied. Somehow... it suited me; I sought solitude in a world I felt terribly out-of-step with... I could go for days and even weeks without seeing or talking to another person, aside from at the grocery or market.
Although I have been back for visits many times, I almost don't recognize the area, anymore. I can find little "pockets" here and there-- the beach I used to walk; a certain view of the rock of Gibraltar from a hillside; the sun on the mountains whose contours seem familiar-- but on the whole, the world seems to have become an increasingly homogenous cluster of strip malls and supermarkets. Perhaps it serves as a reminder that we can never "go back" in life, only forwards.
I expect it may be the last time I set foot in this part of the world... there is no reason to return, save for a few ghosts from times I'd rather forget. No relatives, no friends, no connections, nothing familiar or comforting. Maybe that sounds a bit "dark," but I have spent far too much of my life clinging to the pain of difficult times gone by. Sometimes we hang onto old things (memories, places, people, events) for no other reason than they are "familiar," and there's a measure of "comfort" to be found in sitting inside an uncomfortable and painful familiarity, rather than facing the uncertainty of walking through a doorway to an uncertain future and truly closing a chapter behind us.
Helen Keller once wrote (although this is sometimes attributed to Alexander Graham Bell):
“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
An era has quietly come to a close. In a way, I am going to say my goodbyes to this place I have somehow been "part of." Then I shall quietly walk away and blend back into the crowd... leaving behind whatever ghosts may reside there; it's where they belong...
And if I ever return, it will be as a tourist... not as someone connected to the local scene.
And that's OK.