Three years ago today, Jeff and I boarded a flight in Los Angeles for Spain. We had 4 duffle bags and one checked suitcase – which the airline would promptly lose.

We left the US to start an adventure we thought we understood. Back then, we couldn’t have imagined what those three years would bring. The surprises, the learning, the struggles. If someone had told us we’d spend nearly a third of that time in lockdown, we would have thought they were crazy.

I made so many assumptions about how we would navigate setting up house and settling in. I read so many blogs and stories on the internet before we landed in Valencia. Lots of incorrect information out there. We are much wiser now. But, even with the pandemic, I wouldn’t give up the past three years for anything.

I usually celebrate our arrival anniversary by getting my annual exam. So I don’t forget. This year is no different. I figure, they’ve poked and prodded the rest of my body so much the past year, I don’t want any part of it to feel left out. Except now, I have history with my gyno.

As a Dr in her mid 30’s, she is maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet. Tiny. Usually, she is all business, But this year, she wasn’t in a hurry and seemed to want to talk. People always seem to like to tell me things. Strangers, most especially. I’d say I just have that kind of face, but you can’t see it under the mask. But we’ve gotten to know each other. Her English started out hesitant, but grew more confident over time. And this year, her anger grew, too.

Looking back, last year, at exactly this time, she told me she would be quickly moving from being an ob/gyn to fighting Covid on the front line. She clearly had a handle on what was coming. More than anyone I had yet to encounter. Even the news wasn’t quite on board with the scope. Her prediction sounded ominous, but I’ll never forget that conversation. This time, she was even more candid.

‘The first wave, OK. We knew nothing. The confinement worked. But then we went into deescalation and people acted like it was an inconvenience. The bars and terraces packed. So we had a second wave. But, still, we never learned. Humans only want to hear what they want to hear. The third wave was the worst. But I work in the public hospital when I’m not here. If people understood how bad these variants are they would be very afraid. And they should be. There is no excuse for a forth wave. And yet its coming. 100%. And it will be worse than anything we’ve seen.’

Chills ran down my spine. I wanted to hug her. But I couldn’t. This bright, intelligent woman looked so small. Screaming into the void. Frustrated that no one will listen.

She asked if we had spent the entire pandemic in Valencia. I told her we had, and that we hadn’t seen family in more than 14 months. She shook her head.

‘People here are complaining about not seeing each other for a month. ‘Missing Christmas’.’ She scoffed ‘That’s nothing compared to a year away from family. And now they want ‘a reprieve’ for Easter. Like this virus will take a break for another holiday. Its mutating and we are giving it every opportunity to do so.’

She was shaking and had her head in her hands. She looked exhausted. I told her we don’t go out unless we have to complete a task that is unavoidable. She said ‘Thats good. But be very careful. Stay away from people as much as you can. I have had the vaccine. But its the variants. They are very, very bad. And we don’t really know if any of the vaccines work for them, and for which ones.’

I know Jeff and I are finally looking towards the future, again. But we also know our forth year in Spain will be another difficult year. When we moved here we did so blind. We had so little visibility into daily life of Valencia, at first we were disconnected. Moving like ghosts as we lived and learned. Now, we feel part of the community. And our community has suffered badly.

I was standing at the front door of our apartment this weekend, waiting for a delivery person I had buzzed in. Our next door neighbor came out of the elevator and asked me how I was doing. He and his wife drove Jeff to the hospital during one of my ambulance rides. We have come to know them. And they us.

‘You and Jeff are very special neighbors. You have a place in our hearts.’ He told me.

And its that which will make our move up North a bit bitter sweet. In three years we have an ecosystem here. People to whom we matter. And those who matter to us. I’m not sure I understand how so strongly until that moment. You never understand the imprint you have on people, or a place, until you leave it. Its only then you can truly gauge if your presence made a mark.

When I was leaving the Dr. she had gathered herself.

‘I will see you next year for your annual exam. In the meantime, let me know how you are doing. And please,’ she put her hands together like she was praying, ‘be safe. Do not take any chances, even after you get whatever vaccine they give you.’

I didn’t want to tell her we will likely not see each other again. Moving from Valencia will be harder than I thought. Our community can not come with us and I have no idea what the one up North will look like, yet. Our new tribe.

We’ll figure it all out, I have no doubt. But it won’t be the city that I’ll miss. It will be the people. And yet, that is something to celebrate. If we could build a community here in three years, we can do it up there. And, after all, Valencia isn’t going anywhere.

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