_ It’s been about a year now, and the dream is getting more vivid. In it I walk through the cobblestone streets of Salamanca, Spain to the Café Don Quixote. Everything is the same as when I was there. Smoke pours out the front door each time it opens; miniature sandwiches, bite-size hotdogs, and other fresh tapas line the glass counter. At noon the Spaniards switch from coffee to beer, and I gladly join them. I wake, disoriented, my mind, across the ocean, still thousands of miles away. It was just a dream, but the taste of Spanish coffee lingers on my tongue, cigarette smoke hot in my lungs.
When I traveled to Salamanca over a year ago, the first snows of January were starting to stick. Trancelike, I watched as it thickened on the ground, and days turned quickly into weeks. I don’t think I realized I was there until it was time to leave. The only thing in my schedule was an optional daily Spanish lesson. Free and happy for the first time in a while, I spent my days wandering the city and exploring the hills rolling for miles in the distance. The sculptures covering the cathedrals never quit impressing me. I could sit in their empty hollows for hours, listening for hints of time’s passing. I left home to figure out what I wanted to do, but in leaving I forgot why I had to want to do anything.
* * *
It had started as an itch, some months before I went abroad, always the worst at night. At first it was just a mild discomfort in my toes, but it quickly spread, infecting my calves and thighs. Kicking or rolling over offered some relief, but never for long. Soon I’d tangle in my bed sheets, contorting myself like I was in a late-night game of Twister. I didn’t mistake it for pain, but it was sometimes painful.
Nothing worked, and believe me, I tried. My grandmother suggested warm milk. A friend offered weed as a solution. The doctor wasn’t any more helpful.
“So it’s a physical problem?” my mother asked.
“Not exactly,” the doctor said. “About ten percent of the population has it, but there isn’t actually any proof that it’s real.”
“So it’s a mental problem?” my mother asked.
“Not exactly. Actually, we’re not really sure what causes it. Regular exercise might help.”
“I exercise regularly,” I told him.
“Have you tried warm milk?”
* * *
As the weeks passed I stayed awake more and did less. Insomnia grew into anxiety; my grades dropped.
“Traveling?” my dad asked over the phone one afternoon. “And you think it will help?”
The itch was in full swing, crawling and pulling under the skin in my legs. I didn’t know where it wanted me to go, so I covered all my bases: I would travel, staying in any one place no more than a month. I stepped on the plane, nervous and excited and unprepared as ever, and ordered Bloody Marys until I fell asleep listening to the drone of the plane, the vodka warming my stomach.
* * *
Sleep enveloped me like a warm blanket from my first night in Spain. Maybe it was the lack of responsibility or the dancing or the culture that didn’t look down on drinking before lunch, but I was sure the country existed for my enjoyment. Even after seeing a girl I knew from Chapel Hill, I never quit thinking I was on some journey to self-discovery no one else had ever experienced.
Soon I had made friends with the waiter in the favorite restaurants my roommates and I frequented.
“This is a delicacy in Salamanca,” Franz said one evening. “Try a piece.”
The dish looked like fat skimmed off the top of a dairy vat, but Franz had surprised me with some suspicious foods before so I stuck a sliver in my mouth. The texture was awful, so combination of muscle and cartilage, yet I resigned myself to eat it, barely able to chew. I tried to swallow, and it caught in my throat, thick like molasses.
“The crest of a rooster,” said Franz. “Very tasty, no?” The words triggered my throat, now a catapult, and I had barely covered my mouth with a napkin before the piece shot out. I pretended to cough, nodding my head in agreement.
Oh, there are other things I’m not remembering now, but it’s always the moments you feel most alive that you never forget.
* * *
Although it got better, the itch never went away, but I’m not sure I want it to anymore. It keeps me from sitting still for too long. It keeps me on my toes. These days, I don’t have to travel as far to get it to quiet down; I only need to climb in my car and choose a turnaround point some miles away, a nice place where I can use the bathroom and grab a pack of Nabs. Sometimes it’s only a few miles away, other times I drive for hours. I prefer older gas stations, the kind where the pumps have numbers that spin around and men gather inside, talking and laughing big hearty laughs. The itch is far from gone, but I’m starting to like it. It reminds me that I’m not here for long, that I have some other destination waiting for me, unprepared as I may be.