Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
Everyone thinks me strange because I love it all as though it were a person.
I love the quiet road named after my great-uncle Pintor Ruano as though it were my great-uncle himself; I love the old church like an old friend; I love the sound of its bells like a familiar song—not a current favorite, but an old melody with notes carved into the crevices of my early childhood memories. The pristine anthem of my baptism, or the soundtrack of my morning walks to the bakery. I have kissed the countless cans of lemon-flavored soda and been embraced by the cold waters of the public pool. I have spent more time staring into the intricate shells of the snails on my great-grandmother’s almond trees than I have ever stared into the eyes of another. I love the shadow, and the whole town it touches, as though it were someone whom I have loved since I was very young.
The shadow was cast over a thousand years ago: first by one settler, then by his followers, then by the towers of a medieval castle following the Moors’ conquest of Iberia. They did not know that their castle would stand over the town of Orba and be spoken of by locals as El Castallet, as I am spoken of as La Americana. They built El Castallet to watch for invaders and outsiders, and had they been alive today, I would have never been let so close as to fall in love with its shadow.
There are other outsiders now, ones whose origins are not even half-Spanish, as mine are. Once I befriended one—an English boy of seven, who taught me backstroke. We played billiards as our parents chatted at the bar, their eyes warmed with alcohol and summer hours past. But the shadow does not freeze time for others as it does for me, and in a few years, the boy made his name in television. The bar was sold. Yet the shadow still touched our old stomping ground and I still loved the shadow as a person, so I returned to the bar’s back patio. That afternoon, I was extra-careful with my glass bottle of soda.
Forgive me if I speak as though the shadow is permanent, for it changes by the year. Two of the four towers have fallen since my birth; a third fell years before. The castle lives on in a single tower. It has seen the birth and death and rebirth of people, of kingdoms, of empires, even of the ideology of the Europeans. It has seen myriad styles of art: that of my great-uncle and of the 20th century surrealists and of myself, struggling to capture the face of the morning in a weathered notepad. It saw my great-grandmother embroider elegant tapestries and saw the clothing she washed in the ravine across the road, and it covered her home and the ravine with morning glories in her honor. Every day it looks upon the pesetas in my grandmother’s bottom drawer, sitting like scars of Francisco Franco’s revolution.
Yet the tower still stands to cast a shadow in which I am content to be. It watches me with the same eyes—me, singing to the breeze, gazing out at the skyline over the top of a book, sitting in a silent lemon grove—that may have watched wonders more worthy. So I love the shadow like a person, because the shadow loves me back.