The challenge was to write a letter to my childhood home. The collected letters will plaster the windows of a storefront in New York. As an Air Force brat, I've had several, but the home that holds the most magic in my memory is my apartment in Spain. To participate in the project, I sent in a handwritten 7" x 5" letter consisting of a photo and just a few sentences, but the original letter that I wrote is much more detailed.
Here it is:
To my Apartment Building in
: Torrejon, Spain
Thank you for being my accomplice in preschool mischief. I was only two years old when my father was stationed at Torrejon Air Force Base. You welcomed us warmly into the large fourth floor apartment that looked out on a city block-sized park, surrounded by three identical buildings. I watched the military moving men attach an industrial pulley to your strong support beams on the balcony. Our furniture was tied and pulled up through the heavy metal doors because, as my mother said, “The stairways in old Spanish buildings are ridiculously small.”
In a place where very few spoke my language, your porch became my childhood hide-a-way. I learned about the world safely shielded by your faded blue awning. I watched nervously as the beggar man sang for change on the street below, afraid that he would notice the sun glinting off my blonde curls and sing directly to me. When the white vans topped with loud speakers paraded by our building, I would burst through the balcony doors to see the crowds form outside. Communist propaganda filled the air, something I wouldn’t have understood even if it was spoken in English. Hundreds of white fliers floated up and swirled through the air above. You kept me safe as I leaned against your sturdy railing on tip toes, stretching my tiny fingers to grab them as they fluttered past.
I once watched a lady jump to her death from one of your balconies. I thought she was flying until I saw the blood. Horrified, I sat quietly under that blue shade and observed as Police came and covered her body with white plastic. Days later my mother and I walked to the grocery store and I saw the rose colored stain on the cement along with green plastic beads from her necklace that huddled by the curb with other debris caked in dried mud.
Your balcony was also my secret science lab for childhood experiments. It was here that I broke a snow globe to find out if the snow inside would melt and I drank a shot glass full of maple syrup. I attempted to make glue by mixing flour, aftershave, and water in a coffee can and tried out my mom’s red lipstick on a Cabbage Patch doll.
On New Years Eve, my dad pulled back the awning and we sat together as a family watching the fireworks. I was enchanted by the sizzling flair of sparkers on the balconies of other buildings and absorbed the sounds of noise makers and happy shouting among neighbors. The ashes fell around us in the dark like fluffy gray snow. On the eve of Three Kings Day, I was one of the many kids living in you, who set their little shoes outside and dreamt of finding them filled with candy in the morning.
Groups of children from the private school played in the park wearing uniforms, laughing and chasing each other. We watched together from four stories above as I drew on envelopes and pretended to be old enough for school. I enjoyed slowly unwrapping gold foil from the melting chocolate coins that my dad kept in his blue safe box, just for me.
When I started kindergarten, I spent my afternoons out there as I practiced writing my name and counting the cars parked around the street. In the evening, when conversations drifted up to my hideout from the sidewalk, I listened for Spanish words that I was learning in class. I ate bright colored candies shaped like fruit out of the Tupperware bowls, that were perfect miniature versions of my mom’s dishes, and cream filled pastries that came in wrappers stamped with the Pink Panther. When my brother was born I lay out in the sun with my cat, Nina, and looked at books as my parents tried to sooth his infant crying inside.
After four years, our time in
came to an end.
As the movers packed up my things and lowered the boxes down from your
balcony on the pulley, I cried. You were
the only home I knew. I was scared of
leaving, traveling overseas on a plane, and saying goodbye to my friends at
school. Eventually, the last of my
stuffed animals and clothes were packed up and I left you for the last time. On our way to the airport, I watched you
shrink into the distance as my parents told me I would soon be meeting the
aunts and uncles that sent me pictures and toys. They said it was time to start another
chapter in a new home. Spain
In 1992, the Air Force base was closed and I’ve read that you and the surrounding buildings were torn down to make room for a development of big houses. No more American girls will sit on your balconies pretending to be scientists or students. No matter how much time passes, I will always think of you and our hide-a-way. I’ll never forget how we watched the world together behind the safety of your bars and awning.