The opportunity for heroism had passed. The conductor had thrown the emergency brake, bringing the train to a halting stop, but not fast enough. The man who had been beside her, hunched over his laptop, reached out only after he’d heard the scream. No one in the crowded L stop had moved a muscle, and now, she was under the train.
Your ex has her nipples pierced, and I am the kind of girl who only talks about getting her nipples pierced. So I wake up, hungover and sleepy, and I dare myself to walk 20 miles.
I pack the essentials: notebooks, pen, chorizo, backup pen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, slightly old cheese, sunscreen, ointment for the road rash on my ass (note that I will never dare myself to go rollerblading again).
I walk all damn day. Sweaty men jog in Casa de Campo through the yellow grass and sparse, piney trees. Battles were fought here. I spit; I imagine it mingling with the blood and spit of Spanish soldiers and give myself chills on a sunny day. Five miles blur by and my feet keep moving. I’m a little bored, a little thirsty. I sit on a picnic bench, one cheek off the seat. “FUCK SOCIALISM” is etched in the table. I am here to write, to make something of this day and this grand adventure my life is supposed to be. But the wheels just turn like the cyclists whipping by, kicking up dust and twigs but no prize-winning words.
I walk to my favorite supermercado. I take my lunch to Palacio Real and sit on a shady bench under a low-hanging tree, where the tourists can’t see me and I can’t see them, and some dude is playing “Despacito” on the harp and I’m loving the quiet until I realize I’m sitting on a pile of fire ants. I move benches. I watch a couple take selfies for ten minutes. I hear a lot of Spanish, a lot of English (“Honey, what’s that art museum called again? The Prawdo?”).
12 miles. I sing to myself when I’m on lonely streets. I guess how many miles I’ve walked. I talk to myself, in Spanish and in English: “Stop overthinking everything all the time.” “Está bien, no te preocupes, we’re having fun.”
I meet a lot of people. An overly-friendly man in the farmacia who asks how much I weigh. A Spanish mother and daughter who hustle me into buying a terrible, billowy shirt (“¡Mira, guapa, esta camiseta es para ti, te queda tan bien!”). I’m flattered but unhelpful when asked for directions. I stop and breathe deeply when a cool breeze rushes down the narrow streets.
16 miles. I walk to Retiro, my favorite park in Madrid. I haven’t spoken more than a couple words all day. It’s late afternoon, and my phone has been off for hours. I’m dehydrated. I imagine you with your guitar walking next to me. I think about ridiculous things I would say, things I will probably never say: “You know, I’m very goal-oriented. We should rent a car and drive out west sometime and I’ll write a book and you can write music and we’ll never have to go inside again. What if we’re supposed to be together? You really have to try this churros place.”
Fuck, are my shin splints coming back? Fuck me. Fuck you. What if we’re not good together?
17.5 miles. I buy a tub of laundry detergent. I have to keep walking, I have to keep moving—two and a half miles to go. That’s nothing. I’m lightheaded and I’ve picked an inopportune time to buy detergent.
I walk a couple sluggish blocks. I’m reminded of the desperate miles I used to run, sometimes late at night, sometimes when I was supposed to be in class, sometimes when I hurt every time my right leg hit the pavement.
Miguel Cervantes stares down at me from the side of a hipster café on Calle Huertas. “Él que lee mucho y anda mucho, ve mucho y sabe mucho.”
I’m so close.
18 miles of walking, talking, singing, and swearing, and I’m at my apartment door. The soles of my feet are sore and my back is damp and the handle of the detergent digs into my fingers.
You really can’t run from anything.