I haven’t lived in the UK in almost 8 years. I left in 2011, scared that the economic crisis left me minimal job options. I watched the people on my course moan about going home to parents, or listened to their plans to study a masters, do law conversion, or a teaching post grad, and I knew that I wasn’t ready to get another loan, a “real” bank loan, to stumble into a profession that I hadn’t a clue whether I’d like or not. My degree had been more of a way to get a loan to move cities, rather than about studying; in the end, against my parents’ wishes, I had chosen my favourite subject, and studied English Literature. It was an expensive way to heal, to escape my own destructive patterns and being mired in the world of drugs, but I think it was all I could handle mentally at the time and something more practical, more maths based, might have frustrated me too much and caused me to quit mid year again, as I did with the Engineering course.
Time flies. I worked in one school for two years. It took me a long time to realise that the teachers were fascist. I should have twigged when one of my pupils had a family member who was a judge and had been targeted by ETA. I joked that the school had been built on an indian burial ground; I see now I was right in a way. The unresolved conflicts of the violence of the civil war and the retribution doled out by the victors flows beneath the modern façade throughout “Spain”.
My third year, I was going to go freelance, but my mother became seriously ill so I took a job where I could take time off and get paid if I needed to. By the time she was stabilised, I had saved money and went travelling (something she always told me was a waste of time and never to do), helping a friend with a documentary project, seeing the world, and feeling the freedom and loneliness of the open road. Although I went to so-called “dangerous” countries, people were kind and helpful, and apart from my camera breaking or its own accord, getting lost in a dodgy part of town, and unwanted advances from men who “just wanted to share their bed with me”, none of the things they tell you to be afraid of as a lone female traveller came to pass. Thank god.
I moved to Bilbao, and my world was soon on fire, and not in a good way. My mother’s cancer came back and I spent months living two weeks with my partner in Bilbao, two weeks “taking care” of her. I put that in quotes as “taking care” of a woman as independent, strong, and proud as my mother was kind of like trying to take care of a wolf, lion, or other large animal that doesn’t need or want your help at all. I cooked her eggs, as they were the only things she could eat. I watched TV with her. I chatted to her.
Her death is an event that destroyed my life as I knew it, and that marks a before and an after. We had a very, very difficult relationship. When she became seriously ill I had been in therapy for 5 years, when she was dying, 6 years. I’m very grateful for the work that I did that meant that I could forgive her and spend time with her before she died, and show her completely unconditional love, despite a violent argument we had.
I thought that, once she was dead, I would be free, but I felt like I had been literally shot in the head. I had lost everything. My mother, who although for many years had been my nemesis, was someone who had been a constant every year of my life. My home, that I had always run from. My country, the place where I had grown up. My family (as people go absolutely chicken oriental after a death and have stupid arguments that seem very important at the time. This is called “secondary losses” in grief books).
I did a masters, all in Spanish, in Feminism and Gender. It was amazing, and it was terrible. It was like putting your whole life experience into a framework, both historical, sociological, legal, political, with a bunch of dates and stats. I learnt that violence against women goes on a scale, and the more points you have (being poor, black, lesbian, trans…) then the more of a target you are by violent bullies.
It opened my eyes to a million things, and once I had taken a bite of that apple, I couldn’t go back to the garden. It was too much for my then boyfriend. We broke up. I moved out.
I wrote my dissertation. I defended it. And all the while, the people from my uni course who weren’t from the Basque Country left, one by one, even those whose parents were paying for their rent, their uni fees, their food, AND BASQUE CLASS ON TOP (I have a big chip on my shoulder about this. Can you tell? :P). They went home to work as journalists, or social workers; they went back to their parental home to regroup and look for other opportunities in a place where they had the language, the contacts, and certificates.
It took me around 6 months of therapy to realise that, although I love the Basque Country, I had grown all I could grow there. I had done my best to put down roots, but they had encountered rocks, and could only be shallow. The Basque language must be protected, but seeing as I’d worked my arse off to learn Spanish for 8 years and still had to think quite a lot about it before I opened my big gob, I thought that my chances of being able to invest thousands of hours in a language, day after day of being the “lemon” at the party who no one wants to speak to, and not becoming even more insane than I already am, were quite low. Having a foreign accent and making small errors in Spanish makes me basically kind of linguistically disabled in Spanish, and Spain isn’t an economy like the UK that relies on the brain drain of other countries to feed it with bargain skilled labour. Also the güiri stereotype was really getting me down, as my butt had been fondled non-consensually by one to many an old sleaze bag.
It was time to sell, give away, throw away, and generally let go of all my possessions, in order to take the leap of faith back to the UK.