Today, I voted. Tomorrow, regardless of the outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election, I’m getting out of the country. While my favorite sub, Mr. G., facilitates my English and yearbook classes, I’ll be on a plane to Europe. The next day, while my kids take on punctuating appositives, I’ll take on the Plaza Mayor in Madrid.
Admittedly, it’s hard to focus on the election. I packed last night according to the travel itinerary from the educational tour company sponsoring my week abroad in hopes of freeing my mind up to write tonight. Nevertheless, my mind meanders back to Madrid. I was in my early twenties the last time I experienced the Prado Museum and the Palacio Real, studying Spanish in the heartland while making a lifelong friend in the process.
In fact, it’s impossible for me to separate my memories from Spain from my memories of my friend Mulan. Yesterday, when I reviewed an invitation to an optional dinner event at a restaurant built on the site of a medieval dungeon, I remembered how she and I laughed with the waiter in that very room after I mistakenly ordered make-up for my bread instead of butter.
One of the highlights of my summer road trip this year was visiting Mulan and meeting her three-year old son for the first time. As the two of us chatted into the wee hours of the night, we recalled the highlights from our college days abroad. Our house mother, Berta. Our teacher, Pilar. Our diversion to Portugal where we had our first and only fight. Our trips to the beach with the other students. And of course, the mistaken make-up order mishap.
In a couple of hours, I’ll check in on the election coverage and find out what America’s future holds; right now, I’m contented to disappear down Memory Lane and see where it takes me.
That night with Mulan, on her back patio, she mentioned two details specifically that I did not recall. Memory Lane is quite the magician. I can picture my husband’s cuff-links on our wedding day… I don’t have any recollection of telling Mulan, when he and I were first dating, that I could see myself being happy with him… but that I could probably be just as happy with another man.
There had been more than physical distance between Mulan and me since my divorce. It wasn’t just that I didn’t have a natural reason to drive through Ohio anymore. I filed for divorce and she got pregnant. Mulan was engaged when we were in Spain. Her fiancé was attentive. They exchanged letters. They arranged convenient times to use a calling card. Things were simpler then and yet so much more complicated. If only we’d had Google Maps, we might still not have ever had a fight.
My boyfriend and I had many fights while I was in Spain, mostly via email as he was so evasive and absentee. While Mulan Skyped with her fiancé, I journaled about how disillusioned I was with the man who in a few years would become mine. She was so comfortable in her skin. She was confident in her faith, her appearance, her talents, and her relationship. I’ll always carry a tinge of regret that I spent so much of that study abroad experience in Spain with my mind, emotions, and energy focused on a boy who would never become a man back in the States.
Mulan married her high school sweetheart. I sang at the wedding. And like in Madrid, I was jealous. It wasn’t a spiritual sin, really. I could be simultaneously delighted for her and still long for what she had: this pure, healthy, balanced, steady love. When they bought a house near me in Nashville soon after, I again felt jealousy’s tug.
So what is it about a house, a marriage, a solid relationship that taunts me? They anchor us, whether in the United States or Europe. If you count dorm rooms and Spain, I’ve lived in eleven “homes” since I left my parents’. To me, their house in Syracuse is still “home” because that’s where life happened. We shared meals, conversation, entertainment, and faith as a family.
I see it with my brother’s family, newly settled in a home with plenty of room. At two, the twins have discovered pronouns: “My French fry. My toy. My La La.” When I buy a house, it will be the equivalent of saying, “I’m ready for my home.” That will be the place where my children will make memories like I did, the valuable ones you hold onto for a lifetime. I’ve more vivid memories of my childhood home than I do of the Plaza Royal in Madrid.
This summer’s road trip had been an opportunity to reconnect with Mulan, though we’d been keeping up with each other’s lives through our blogs. She asserted that I never spoke about my ex-husband the way that I do about Charming. When I got home from that trip, I poured over old journals. I found the one from Spain in 2005. A few hours later, I would conclude that Mulan was right.
I never held him in as high esteem as I do Charming. My words gave me away. I don’t think I ever truly respected my husband. There were holes in his character. I saw them. I wrote about them. Ultimately, I forgot them, and married him anyway.
Most surprisingly, it was that very conversation with Mulan that led me to break up with Charming two days later. Mulan reminds me of my American dream, a dream we shared together as young woman in a foreign country. I see how her faithfulness and steadfastness has yielded good fruit in abundance. Despite difficulty conceiving, Mulan never surrendered her hope or her faith. And God rewarded her.
What reason had God to reward me? Charming admitted he still didn’t know if I was the one… and I had confessed to Mulan that I prayed he was. This summer, when I ended things, I feared Charming was standing between me and that dream. After nine days, I realized Charming had become a central part of that dream. It wasn’t foolish to break up. The space helped me gain perspective.
Mulan felt me pull away after my divorce. The stark contrast between our lives broke my heart. It’s been eleven years since we met, and our daily routines are so very different. It didn’t take but a few moments in her house to feel like no time had passed at all, and she forgave me my absence. She understood my plight. I should have known she would never dismiss my desire for a family with the shallow, “Enjoy it! When you’ve got kids, you’re gonna wish you had all this free time!”
I’ve had enough free time. I’ve had my selfish years. I’m going to Madrid again, but I’m not the same. I don’t envy Mulan. What she is now is an inspiration: a reminder of what may await me in the future if I do it right this time. I’m starting a decade later, but I can choose the right man, a good man, the one I see myself buying a home with, raising a family with, making memories to last our kids’ lifetimes.
My mom told me to vote for the platform today, not the person. Maybe that works for politics, but in relationships, both stand as equal judgment criteria. When I cast my vote for the next president, I did so with little satisfaction. I picked the candidate I felt would do the least damage. When I picked my first husband, I voted for the platform. He was gifted and from a good family, but my journals are evidence that he lacked integrity despite my active efforts to overlook or dismiss his shortcomings.
Mulan heard me cast my vote for Charming this summer, and I did so with a hesitant passion, scared to commit to the weight of such a revelation. This week, I will get the opportunity to reclaim Spain. With the yearbook camera in hand, I’ll capture all the moments I missed looking stateside on my last visit. This winter, I’ll take Charming home for Christmas.
To my parents’ home, that is; it’s still home because all my best memories still breathe in its walls. With Charming, I’m getting another opportunity to live the right life. In a moment, I’ll see who America’s voting for, but for me, I choose Charming. He has character and a platform I believe in. I could build a home with him like my mother and father did.
And I’d be confident that, with Charming, even if the political atmosphere were lacking, we would cultivate integrity in our children the same way our parents instilled those values in us. In our home, our motto would be, “In God we trust.”