You stood next to me on the second day of university in Spain as we all introduced ourselves in a little circle on the quad. “I’m from America,” I proclaimed, which prompted a boy next to me to mock me and say, “Uh-MER-ica?” in a jokingly Southern accent that lots of Europeans seem to think all of us in the U.S. have. I blushed. “The U.S.A., I mean. New Jersey. I was born in Brooklyn.” The boy smiled and put his hand on my shoulder apologetically, later becoming one of my closest friends abroad.
Then, you turned to me, stunned. “Brooklyn?” you asked, your blue-green eyes that I hadn’t yet noticed filled with genuine wonderment. You were tall; I had to crane my neck to even look at you. Earlier, you told me your height in centimeters, but I’d rarely used the metric system. All I knew was that you towered over me like the Empire State Building over the entirety of New York, lighting up at me like I was the city skyline itself. “I love Brooklyn!” you said excitedly. “Jay-Z is my favorite.”
I giggled at your frankness. “He’s the best,” I replied. Naturally, the rest of the Europeans bombarded me with questions about the Jersey Shore and if I’ve ever met Pauly D, and as always I said things like, “Can’t say I have!” and “Don’t listen to that show, seriously,” and “My friend’s sister dated The Situation, so does that make me famous, too?”
Afterwards, our little international group of American and Korean and Dutch and French and British exchange students went out for lunch off-campus. I took a picture of my first legal beer, much to the amazement of everyone at the table who had been drinking legally for two years already, including you, who happened to be seated right next to me. You started calling me “Brooklyn Girl,” and I felt at ease throwing my hands in the air in typical New Jersey exasperation as I talked and didn’t try to hide my slight accent. We all exchanged phone numbers when we left and vowed to hang out all the time.
I had just figured out WhatsApp and was learning the difference between a credit card number and your Dutch number when your texts came beeping through. Slowly but surely, I became charmed by your messages about getting a drink sometime and wanting to be around an American accent more often. It didn’t hurt that you were drop dead gorgeous, either. At our next international group hang out, we laughed and drank 1 euro beers and bonded over our favorite hip-hop artists and our differing lifestyles. You even told me in your adorably smooth accent that you were going to marry a girl from Brooklyn. My American friends enjoyed teasing me about you.
You seemed to bring out a side of me that I left back in high school. It’s not that I hide myself from my peers in Boston, but it’s easier to be your complete self in a foreign environment where there’s no pressure to be similar to anyone. In fact, major differences were encouraged while abroad, and Lord knows I took full advantage. I was fearless in my boisterousness around you, definitely fulfilling the stereotype of the crazy but lovable American. I rapped “Lean Back” and “Disco Inferno” to make you laugh. You taught me Dutch phrases and I found it hilarious when you and your roommates (who soon became my friends, too) cursed in Dutch at sports or video games. You kissed me during my first night at that huge seven-story club we all grew to love and hate, and soon enough, I was hooked.
You came into my life at a perfect time, with the backdrop of an evanescent semester in Europe, and unlocked parts of me that I forgot existed. You filled the cracks from my last relationship, the one that left me feeling a bit insecure and unsure of whom I really was. We weren’t a grand romantic novel, and we fizzled into friendship somewhere between the clubbing and the Fanta vodkas and the middle of the warm Spanish fall, but you gave me something fun to put my energy towards and made me realize that I was capable of feeling excited about somebody else when I honestly thought I never could. You validated things about me that I subconsciously left subdued, and I came back to the U.S. in January with a new perspective on my real self.
It feels like lifetimes ago that I first made fun of you for wearing a shirt with pink flowers on it, but thank you for laughing with me when I did. I’ll forever send you photos of the famous NYC skyline when I pass by it, and please know that if you ever come visit the U.S., you have a home.