Buenos Aires. I was just 23 when we first met. I knew I loved you right away, but I had no idea how much you would affect the rest of my life. I thought I knew everything then.
You were one of the first foreign cities I lived in. The beginning was hard, but you helped me to make friends. Lots of friends. We made the city our own.
I made changes for you. I learned to love the siestas, the late dinners, going out until 7am. I loved the way you woke me up every morning with your smell of cafe con leche and media luncitas. You even made smoking look sexy. I tried that for a while, though it didn’t last long.
I walked every inch of you, wanting to know you better. The twenty five blocks from Almagro to Plaza de Mayo. Caballito to the bosques de Palermo. I could feel you inside of me and I knew that this was where I was meant to be. ‘Estoy en mi salsa’ I sang to myself as I walked your streets, drank your Quilmes, ate your 3 peso pizza from Ugi’s at 4am, with a smile on my face.
It felt good to be with you. I felt safe. But my life was just getting started. I craved adventure. I wanted more. We met too soon, and so I left too soon. I wanted to travel the world. So as quick as I arrived, I was gone. I taught English in Korea. Learned yoga in India. Painted in Florence. Fell in love. Fell out of love. I drove across New Zealand, walked across Spain, and trained across Russia. But you were always there. In the back of my mind. No matter how many cities and countries I lived in or traveled to, you were still my special place.
I never stopped thinking about you. The first few years apart were the hardest. I missed you like I have never missed a man. I wanted adventure, but I never found another city like you, the way you made me feel. Rarely have I felt the sense of belonging I felt as when I was with you. Some places came close, but they just weren’t you.
As time went by, I got used to the whole you left in my heart. As more time went by, I started to wonder if what I felt was really real. Did I really love you that much, or am I creating a fantasy out of my memories of us? I should have come back to you, but I still wasn’t ready. I was afraid things wouldn’t be the same. Would I still love you like that? Would you still accept me even though now, I’ve changed?
The years passed. Sixteen years to be exact. But one night I dreamt about you. Suddenly, I couldn’t get you out of my mind. I felt you in my heart pulling me back, and I knew it was time. I completely changed my plans and I bought a ticket. For you. I arrived in the same month I had left- January- the height of summer. I was picking up exactly where I had left off. Full circle. I felt both excited and nervous.
But as soon as the plane landed, I knew. I was home. I walked your streets again, and everything felt so familiar. So much time had passed, but nothing had changed at all. I had my first cafe con leche con media lunas at a small cafe near Plaza de Mayo. I walked by La Casa Rosada, and into San Telmo. The places I used to go were no longer there, replaced now by second hand clothing stores and new cafes. But I had made the right decision.
I walked through my old neighborhood. Saw my old apartment building. My favorite bakery is now a real estate office. The internet cafe is gone. The choripan place is gone. The ice cream shop is gone. The park has grown a playground, but it’s still the same place I used to go to read. Newer, and cuter cafes have taken the place of old ones.
I ate choripan. Parrilla. Mate. Empanadas. Lots of empanadas.
I reconnected with my old friends. I reconnected with newer friends I had met elsewhere. In Georgia. In Spain. In Italy. I made brand new friends, and made brand new memories. We danced, we drank, we had pool parties and rooftop parties. Rooftop dinners and market dinners. You kept giving me more than I had hoped for, more than I expected.
I used to be shy to speak your language. I didn’t want to make mistakes. I didn’t want anyone to know I wasn’t from there. That I didn’t belong here because I wanted to belong here more than any place in the world. But now I understand you better. And so I speak freely, and without shame. To the bus driver. The vegetable seller. The waitress. I speak with my accent. I make mistakes. I may not be from here, and it may be obvious. Very obvious. But I do belong here. And now after sixteen years away, I finally understand that. You accept me in spite of it all.
There are still adjustments I need to make. Readjustments. I prefer dinner at 7pm. I’m tired by ten. I don’t want to stay out until the sun comes up, and Ugi’s is now a thing of the past. I can afford better pizza.
But these are changes I’m willing to make, once again, for you.
I love you, Buenos Aires. And now I know, no matter how much time passes, our connection remains.