Sit Down Next to Me

I am a child of the 70s, came of age in the 80s, and became an adult in the 90s – three decades of questionable fashion, but rich music.  Being of that age, I sometimes see my youth play out before me like an angst-y, hormone addled, roller coaster of a John Hughes film, complete with a kickin’ soundtrack.  The music makes all the angst tolerable.  In times of joy or crisis, music has sustained me.  I lost one of my favorite songs from this era for many years and have only just rediscovered it in the past year.  I listen to it a lot now and give thanks for it and what it inspires.

In 1992, I was a junior in college and paying tuition through a combination of scholarships, grants and loans.  What money I earned went towards tuition.  I had this dream of breaking through the bonds of poverty, becoming a worldly, wise, poetic darling of the literary world.  My horizons would be ever so broader.  I was fairly sure this meant I’d be a starving poet, but oh, it would be a different sort of poverty, rich in creative spirit.  I had a tendency towards the dramatic.  To that end, I hoped to spend a college semester studying in Sevilla.  The study abroad program required that my home tuition be paid, thus covering classes, room and board in Sevilla.  I wouldn’t really need much money I reasoned.  I went to Spain with $200.  This meant I didn’t plan to travel on university breaks.  I imagined riding a bicycle down cobbled streets and drinking coffee with a handsome Spaniard and perfecting my spoken Spanish through love.  I mentioned my tendency towards the dramatic, didn’t I?

In actuality, my experience was nothing like this.  I didn’t have enough money to even buy the class texts, let alone travel.  I would write long, long letters home and save them up until I could scrape together enough money for stamps.  My luxuries were an occasional custard filled pastry for 25 pesetas and a box of wine for 147 pesetas that I would share with my roommates.  We would take the wine down to the banks of the Guadalquivir or to Parque de Maria Luisa and tell each other our secret stories.  Sometimes one of them would let me borrow her Walkman and I would dance by the river to whatever music they had to share.  Sasha’s family lived in Florida, but seemed to have connections to everywhere – Kenya, Cuba, Cape Cod.  She was blonde and blue-eyed, but decidedly exotic.  She’d attended a boarding school.  Her family had friends in Europe she could visit on break.  And she wore old knit sweaters over artfully patched jeans.  She had no sense of fashion, but was so delightfully geeky and cool at the same time that it mattered not one whit.  Sasha attracted boys like flies, but was utterly incapable of interacting with them without suffering a fit of apoplexy.  Jennifer’s family came from bucolic upstate New York.  They lived in a gorgeous old salt-box from the 1600s.  Her father was an Episcopalian minister and her mother sent Girl Scout cookies all the way to Spain.  She had graduated from high school two years early and played the flute.  Still, she could tell stories that would make a seasoned sailor blush.  Lest she be mistaken for a good girl, she wore a black trench coat, black eyeliner and a helmet of hair sprayed three inches high.  She fell in love twice in one semester with the unlikeliest boys – a sheep farmer from Wyoming and a born-again missionary from the Midwest.  There was nothing for it, the three of us were kindred, and that was that.

One very fine day, I returned to our pensione after class to find a package from the States.  Dearest dear Brother Mine had sent a Walkman and three mixed tapes to me.  He had no way of knowing how much this would mean to me or how it buoyed me when I felt homesick.  To this day, it stands out as one of the finest presents I have ever received.  Brother Mine has always been about 99 degrees hipper than me.  His mixed tapes were the absolute standard for mixed tapes.  One of the songs on tape #2 was Sit Down by James.

So, there I was.  I had a box of cheap wine, new friends, the Andalusian sun, the river, bright bougainvillea spilling over the banks, and I had this song.  I put my headphones over my ears and danced my little American heart out.  At first it was just the sweet bounce of the melody that drew me in, but soon the lyrics broke through.  Such magic!

Those who feel the breath of sadness

 Sit down next to me

 Those who find they’re touched by madness

 Sit down next to me

 Those who find themselves ridiculous

 Sit down next to me

 In love, in fear, in hate, in tears…

 Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down, down

In sympathy

That semester was not what I anticipated.  I often felt lost and overwhelmed.  I felt my childhood was still trailing me, no matter how much I strived to leave it far behind.  I was shy about speaking with Spaniards, though we made friends with several interesting characters.  I felt inadequate in Spanish.  There is a precision to words that allows me to say just exactly what I mean.  My Spanish lacked this precision.  I never became fluent.  I didn’t have a great Spanish love affair or partake of philosophical discussions about the repercussions of Franco’s regime on Spanish literature.  I was poor and filled with insecurities and suffered through sidewalk machismo on every street and ate more fried food than is reasonably human, but that semester was a richer experience than I ever could have hoped.  Even though we attended the same college in the States, Sasha, Jennifer and I hadn’t really known each other before.  It was surrounded by the red velvet papered walls of our tiny pensione room that we came to really know one another.   It was in Sevilla that I found Sasha and Jennifer – the beautiful, beautiful women who became my sisters, my touchstones, my kindred.  They heard me, they saw me, and they sat down next to me in sympathy.

Sasha, Jennifer and I live far from one another now and we have our own families and children, but they will forever and always be my soul sisters.

Jessie (that’s me), Sasha & Jennifer circa 2003

Sasha recently sent an email to me, telling me that she’d read my blog and was enjoying it, and, in her typical fashion, she said she’d read it while sitting on the toilet.  She’ll always make me laugh.  Jennifer and I share birthdays and we were lucky enough to carve out 45 uninterrupted minutes recently to talk on the phone in celebration.  We don’t have to know all the minute details of one another’s days to know what is in our hearts.   I am so grateful for these dear spirits.  There is a line in Anne of Green Gables when Anne says, “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”   I have met wonderful folks before Spain and so, so many since.  So many more have sat down next to me, in love, in fear, in hate, in tears…and in laughter too.  I’ve discovered kindred spirits many times over – kindred writers, kindred seekers, kindred mothers and so on.  Today I give thanks for all of them, each and every one.  Sit down.  Sit down next to me.

*Thanks to the daily prompt for this week’s post topic.

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18 Responses to Sit Down Next to Me

  1. Dianne O'Hern says:

    Jessie, I am proud, honored and humbled to sit down next to you! You have such a way with words, that you made my heart hurt just a little bit with the beauty of what you wrote. I always felt the same about Sasha…beautiful spirit, smart and cool…I loved her laugh, and talking to her, but we didn’t really walk in the same circles, and I liked her a lot, from afar…the same as you. I’m so glad WE (you and I) have become friends since school….I wish in my youth I had been more gregarious and less “afraid of my own shadow” sometimes. Thank you for inviting me to sit with you…I cherish the experience! (Wish I had known Jenn)!


  2. Dianne O'Hern says:

    PS….When MY brother went to Spain while he was a Jr. in college…I sent him a mix tape too!!! We attach so much to the feelings that music that speaks to our soul makes it that much “louder” !

  3. An excellent post! I, too, revere that line from Anne of Green Gables and am so thankful for the kindred spirits I have gathered around me, including you.

  4. Judy says:

    It’s a joy to be able to read your posts!

  5. Christa says:

    What a wonderful post Jessie! I love your writing…so beautiful and descriptive, I can feel your emotion bounce off the page. Another thing in common – I too studied in Seville for a semester. I think my experience may have been somewhat similar to yours in that it wasn’t as “glamorous” as I had anticipated and yet it had its “lessons” that remain with me today. I wonder if we by chance were there at the same time? Curious where you studied…and if by chance you ever made it to Rhonda? One of my favorite places – not too far of a journey from Sevilla.

    Love love loved Anne of Green Gables growing up as well. Thanks for the beautiful words.

  6. What a beautiful essay! Now I want to hear this song. I love how you describe your continued friendship, where you don’t have to know the daily details of your kindred spirits’ lives. I have girlfriends like that from my adolescence – we get together for a girls’weekend every year – and I feel like the richest woman alive for the gift of those friendships. Sounds like your poor summer turned out to be rich in that way, too.

  7. Jess, I love learning about you and those you hold dear! Keep writing my friend!

  8. Pingback: The Green War at Consumption Junction | A Library & A Garden

  9. It takes great courage to go study abroad–it never even occurred to me to go. My son went to Argentina in his junior year, and is back there now teaching English as a Fulbright assistant. This was really good storytelling. I enjoyed this post very much.

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