July is a big month for me. It hasn’t always been, but now it is; lurking with memories hiding behind closed doors. This July was especially hard. It was five years since Mr T had passed, but sometimes it still feels like it had happened yesterday. On my own and traveling, which I thought would never happen again, I decided to do something memorable, something special, something to mark the day. So I planned a trip to Salamanca, a place that had jumped out at me from the Spanish map when I first looked up where the heck Murcia was.
I needed to be in the right place and I’d found a monastery that had been converted into a vineyard with five star accommodation. It was a justifiable expense given the occasion and given that I was saving a lot of money by living with a host familia in Espana. With dates in mind, I booked the hotel and a hire car. I was set.
Well, not really… I hadn’t prepared myself for how heavy my heart had become. There are no rules or no time frames with grief. Like I say, sometimes it’s just an unexpected guest that turns up on your doorstep and invites itself in; staying however long it wants, messing up the furniture, and then leaving when it damn well pleases. But, you can always tidy up after it has left.
Some amazing things happened over this time. When I went to pick up my hire car, the cheapest one that I could find, the make and model that I had ordered was not available. Instead they handed over the keys to a Fiat 500, the kind of car I had dreamed about cruising around in Europe but thought that it wasn’t financially possible.
I went to find my new wheels and cracked up laughing. There on the side of the road wedged in between two other cars was my shining new friend, smiling at me. I wowed at the same time as wondering how I would get the car out of its space. She barely had room to breathe, so when I got in and couldn’t work out how to reverse (again!), my heart started high-fiving my chest. It wasn’t until after I started feeling up the gear stick that I solved the puzzle of lifting a little piece that clicked us into reverse. I’ll tell you what, once I was out of that tight spot, I was on the road with me and my girl, feeling free.
The next day I put on a cute dress, some bright red lippy and set off on another cross country journey, just me and little blanco Fi.
It was supposed to be a long journey, but when you are travelling at 120k on the open road and when there is so much to look at and think about, the time didn’t even factor in. Sunflowers were standing tall in fields, el toro and farmer silhouette statues were erected in random spots on the rolling hills, black crows circled in paddocks and heavy rain clouds dumped their loads in patches. Precipitation felt like a foreign concept in Espana.
By the time I had reached Cantelabria for my suggested lunch stop, the temperature had dropped from the early 30’s to half of that. It was a cute wee place under the greyness of cumulus. The streets had wound up and around into this cobbled town, where Fi was in her element. I fed the hunger pangs with a recomendacion of jamon with a smoky sweet potato mash. It was a little bit perfect accompaniment for the sudden cold chill.
After lunch, I went to explore the quaintness of Cantelabria. The stoic houses steeped up the hill, with saloon style stable gates at the entrances. On every inclined street, open drains let the water rush from top to bottom. Careful with my footing, I wrapped my arms tightly into my waist and let the village mesmerise me with its archaic charm.
Fi was calling and I still had around an hour to drive. On the road again and over some hills and looking out where the fields met the horizon line, there was a yellow glow of flora. Instinctively, I knew that’s where I was going. And when I reached that point, there was an ellipse in the sky; a white halo in front of the cerulean background. That’s where I headed, that’s where I found my hotel for the next three nights, and that’s where I was going to reminisce and grieve.
The hotel was a little bit perfect. My room was labelled with the name of the monk who had resided there. Inside was a simple and rustic yet enticingly lavish. The terracotta walls, the massive bed, the arched windows opening out to the river and church, the huge bathroom with natural light sprawling in and a bath to melt inside.
Once the door closed and the welcoming committee had left, I soaked in my surroundings. Five years… five whole years. At the time, I couldn’t even comprehend five minutes ahead, five days, five weeks, five months… I was in a space that I didn’t think was possible, in a room that I could never imagine as probable. I lay down with the skirt of my dress splayed outwards, the crush of my red lips against the high thread count crisp white cotton sheets. No-one else… just me on that big ol’ bed, me and my memories; what’s been lost, what has since come.
I wanted to sink into that bed and let it envelope me, but instead I thought I should go and grab some snack foods to gorge on in my room. I drove to the next town, where there was only a lowly roadside restaurant open. I didn’t feel like interacting with anyone but my own thoughts. The following village I looped through the skinny streets looking for any sign of a convenience store. It was Sunday. Locals were staring and I was trying not to drive crappily.
I ended up twenty minutes away in Ledesma. A stunning arched bridge and sunset had indicated that I should pull over and soak in the moment, create some new memories. The town had some restaurants open and I thought that I might try my luck, that I might muster up some courage. But when I was stepping over the stones and people were staring at me, when a downpour of rain bucketed down and cleared with a rainbow arced over the castle, when I just simply couldn’t be f&^%ed trying to speak Spanish to order my meal, I turned around and went back ‘home’.
The hotel restaurant was quiet, but not quiet enough. Sensing something was up, the waiter offered for dinner to be delivered to my room. There was no hesitation when I pictured eating at my window overlooking the moonlight river. And because I could, I filled up the bathtub with bubbles and slid down in there with a glass of red wine.
Anniversaries, they are usually good things; things to look forward to, things to celebrate, milestones to mark. Husband’s deaths do not equate with anything celebratory, but at the same time, in a way, it was the rebirth of my life. Thoughts and processes change. The crippling cape of grief slowly opens up to let in the warming change in attitude; a breath of new, the feeling of lucky to be here.
I spent the anniversary day feeling numb, emotional, crying and indulging in a spa massage treatment followed by a degustation dinner. The waiter, who incidentally happened to be from where we were headed to on our last holiday, did his utmost to relax me with wine and good banter; which was also something that Mr T would’ve done.
There are some things in life that you simply cannot change. But I’ve learnt through all of the s*&^, you can acknowledge, embrace and enjoy the sparkles of happiness that dance around you. No matter how hard it gets, it can and does always get better. Attitude is quite simply, everything.
Until next time, when I fill you in on stalking a Kiwi family in Salamanca and the corker of an ordeal I had trying to get back to Southern Spain. x