One of my dearest childhood memories was watching Hocus Pocus for the first time. Having lived in the tropical Cuban heat for the earlier part of my life only to trade it for the scorching Miami sun, I couldn’t wait to live in a place where the seasons changed like they were supposed to. Sitting on my living room floor, sticky from sweat and melted popsicle sugar (typical for a South Florida kind of Halloween), my ten year old self dreamed of a place where, like Max Dennison, I could walk home in a light windbreaker and look up at the leaves in all shades of brown, red, and yellow. So when I was old enough, I moved up north— New York City north. It’s no wonder then that Autumn is my favorite time in Manhattan. Like any true October baby, I feel there’s something extra special about fall. Even when it bears, as late-night satirist John Oliver phrases it, a “keen awareness of [your] own mortality because that’s what foliage is.”
As the leaves began to turn, the Love (Asterisk) crew was in a fight against time to finish filming. On October 6th, after much maneuvering of the camera, we shot the last scene. The footage was in the can and ready for editing magic. My fictional character’s love life may have drawn to a close but my real-life story was beginning to unfold. I got over my apprehension toward my on-again/off-again OKCupid relationship and reactivated my account. Previous experience had taught me nothing good would come of it but ever the optimist, I decided not to let Previous Experience’s personal hang-ups keep me from trying.
I accept Mr. Darcy’s invitation to meet for a friendly drink because, if our flirty exchange of messages was any indication of chemistry, this would make for one hell of a connection. He quickly caught on to my dorky Shakespeare reference, replied by calling me Juliet, and his profile picture showed a mischievous smile that reached his boyish eyes. Apparently, I didn’t need much more convincing. That Saturday afternoon Vicky helps me pick out an outfit and blow dry my hair. It was a long time since I’d last been on a date and out of sheer anxiety, I stuck my head in the freezer to cool down my furiously blushing cheeks. It was the kind of flush described by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Beautiful and Damned as the “illusion of young romantic love to which women look forever forward and forever back.”
We’d agreed to meet at a bar in Midtown and doubt crept in by the time I got off the train. Maybe this would be a colossal waste of time. Maybe he’d be the most boring individual on the face of the Earth. Maybe we’d hit it off, date for a month, and end up irrevocably broken-hearted. Or maybe, said a small voice, maybe you’ll have a nice time and he won’t turn out to be so predictable. I braved on, squeezing past the Times Square masses, passing under the giant Walgreen’s billboard advertising some drug prescription or other. In big, flashing letters it read “Heal”. It had also been a long time since I believed in signs from the Universe. Now seemed like a serendipitous time to start.
It was the kind of first date one could only wish for. There was witty banter, laughter, sexual tension, white wine, and genuine conversation. It was the perfect mix of strange familiarity and fascinating mystery, a heady concoction more bubbly than champagne. I couldn’t resist his candid charm or the way he grazed my bare knee under our small table. His touch was shy yet sure. I was a goner. Afterwards, he walked me to the train station and asked to kiss me goodnight. I said yes and for a few precious minutes the whole of Times Square stood still. Nothing else mattered but his mouth on mine, his hands on my hips, the fireworks exploding in my stomach. We stood there saying goodbye for forty minutes. When I walked away he chased after me for one last kiss. I like to think that humans are allowed rare glimpses of immortal divinity. I know no other explanation for the magic that happens when, one breezy autumn night, two strangers collide in the middle of a New York City street.
Late Thursday night at LaGuardia Airport. I sit at a deserted Cinnabon table while I wait for Mami to disembark the plane. It was her first time visiting me in New York and in my excitement I almost jump on top of her when she walks through the Arrivals sliding doors. That night we stay up till very late, chatting away like teenage besties. Friday afternoon we ride the Staten Island Ferry to visit Lady Liberty. We hold on to the outside rail and snap pictures of the statue. I look up and see a butterfly fluttering above our heads. Of all the winged creatures to be found near a river, a butterfly seemed random and unexpected. The strong winds kept violently pushing her to and fro. Higher and higher still she went. I read this as a sign too. I turn to Mami, her profile against the proud Manhattan skyline, and I click the shutter. I want to capture this moment— to forever remember this complete and utter happiness. We travel uptown to Central Park. She marvels at its majesty. I marvel at my luck in having her as my lot in life. I blow on a dandelion, its puffy seeds scattering off into the wind. Oftentimes the enlightenment I seek eludes me on the meditation cushion only to find me in the smallest of moments. It caresses my cheek in the form of a ray of sunset light. It takes my hand as my mother’s hand while we walk the city like curious tourists.
I wake up on the morning of my birthday to a barrage of phone calls, texts, messages, and a trail of tiny colorful Post-Its that lead to the dining room table where my roommates’ gifts await. Those two sure know how to make a gal feel special. Mami and I grab breakfast to go and I lead her down Fifth Avenue. I show her all the iconic landmarks— The Plaza Hotel, Columbus Circle, Tiffany’s— with the same unabashed pride of an owner showing a guest her extravagant mansion. As she takes more pictures of the billboards and skyscrapers, I sit on the ruby-red steps of Duffy Square. I sip my hot coffee and admire the view. I don’t own New York but still I call it mine.
We head home to get ready for my birthday dinner— reservations at Il Cantinori. The same restaurant where Carrie Bradshaw celebrates her 35th birthday. It wouldn’t be my New York birthday without a dash of pink Sex and the City glitter. I do my make-up while Sophie’s Choice plays in the background. The movie is, more than anything, a self-imposed distraction to keep from constantly checking my texts. All day long I’d been expecting a “Bon Anniversaire” message from Mr. Darcy that wouldn’t come. But the distraction works. I forget my phone long enough to be caught off-guard when it finally dings. The jolt of excitement quickly turns to one of exasperation. It’s from RobotBoy. A dry, impersonal email sending birthday greetings. An email that irreverently addressed me by the same nickname once used in intimacy, now turned into a weapon of mass destruction. An email that was too little, a year too damn late. I was having a “happier” day before the fucking email. And still no sign of life from Mr. Darcy. Sophie’s Choice was turning out to be quite the ironic title. I let his email go unanswered. I’d nothing left to say. I delete it from my inbox along with all of his contact information. I put away the phone and slip on the high heels. I have a fabulous (exclamation point!) party to get to.
We arrive at the restaurant and the maître d' tells me this is the same restaurant where that one show was filmed where the birthday girl gets stood up by her friends. I smile and say that yes, I do know. He leads us to a long table in the back where nine of my incredible friends greet me with incomparable warmth. Lucky for me, I don’t share the same fate as Ms. Bradshaw. I receive some pretty kick-ass gifts (Can I start bragging about my poppy Kate Spade satchel now or later? How about my Carrie-esque Swarovski necklace or my beautiful bouquet of white roses?) but the best gift was the one expressly shipped from Miami. Having my mom there was priceless. And so with a sweet rendition of “Moon River” and a wish made on a solitary candle, I welcomed my 29th year. It was perfect. At 11:59 PM I got a text from one Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. He feigned ignorance about some special event this day marked and although he couldn’t quite remember what it was (and one minute before it was too late to say) he was convinced that no matter how special the event might be, it didn’t compare to my smile. He was a charmer that one, but he understood my weakness for romantic albeit cheesy Victorian courtship.
Because all good things must come to an end, the day arrived to drop off Mami at the airport. From the M-60 bus we looked at the receding city behind us. I tightened my grip of her hand. Life is a sequence of cycles and nothing more. It’s a wheel that doesn’t stop turning, the great equalizer, and sometimes you’re at the top and sometimes you’re on the bottom. “I can see now why you’ll never move back home,” she says. I’m taken aback by her comment so I ask what she means. She speaks plainly, her voice carries no accusation, “You love this city too much. I get it now.” I guess I do too. We kiss goodbye and I see her walk past the glass gates. I don’t leave until she’s no longer visible in the distance. I know we’re always just a plane ride away but it’s never easy saying goodbye.
I walk home in a light jacket under the shade of the changing leaves. Just like Max Dennison, just like I pictured it. I hang the days old roses out to dry on the windowsill. It makes me keenly aware of my own mortality. Birthdays, like foliage, can do that too. I am reminded how transient it all is. As transient as a butterfly. The best we can do is accept our metamorphosis with grace, release all false hope of control, and grow from love in the process. We may not know where the transformation will lead but uncertainty can sometimes be the most wonderful part.
They say living in New York toughens you up. I often find the opposite to be true. This city has rendered my heart open in more ways than one. It has made me more vulnerable, more tender, more human and I’ve got the embarrassing crying in a subway station/street corner/park bench stories to prove it. In what is conceived to be one of the most abrasive places in the world, I find myself becoming more compassionate. Because despite their cynicism and no-bullshit attitude, New Yorkers are no exception to what I believe is a Universal truth, no matter where you are or where you go, people want to be treated with kindness.
Saturday morning at Murray’s Bagels. I meet an old college friend for petit déjeuner. We weren’t there, however, just for the delicious lox and black coffee. This is neutral ground where we could safely unstitch past wounds and face some uncomfortable emotions. Oblivious to the light drizzle, we sit on an outside bench baring our insecurities, our fallacies, the scars left behind by words spoken in anger or not spoken at all. Our light breakfast offers no levity to the heavy conversation but six hours later, as we say our amicable goodbyes, I feel the past float away from me like the dissipating rain. We made amends, spoke from an open heart, and grew up a little more in the process. No longer anchored by our history, we were free to move into the friendship of our future. We’d probably never have the same relationship again but it was from a more honest place and perhaps more worthy of merit because of it.
Later that day I went home to work on Love (Asterisk), a web series Vicky and I had been creating for the better part of a year. At one point (the “we’re so tired from working we’re now deluded” point) she gets on the air guitar, I take the air drums, and we sing impromptu lyrics to random online tunes. Needless to say, we got nothing done that night. It was a crucial reminder that good friendships can sometimes be as simple as sharing moments that make you pee a little from laughing so hard. Or as simple as crying together over a glass of wine while watching Beaches. If you’ve never seen it, I suggest you immediately drop whatever you’re doing, grab a girlfriend, a bottle of Merlot, and enjoy what is the ultimate authority on tender-yet-fraught female friendships. I dare you not to tear up by the time Bette Midler softly croons “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
As Holly Golightly explains it, the “mean reds” differ from the blues. They defy explanation, reason or logic. Triggered by no event in particular, they arrive unannounced to invade every single nook and cranny like a rude house guest who won’t leave. The mean reds have nothing to do with how well life is going. They are, more often than not, the ungrounded fear of tipping over the edge, of shattering your fragile psyche. Unlike Ms. Golightly who hops on a cab to Tiffany’s, I hop on the D train straight to my bed. I hide under the covers and read old issues of The New Yorker until the melancholy passes or, at the very least, eases up long enough to stop questioning my sanity and get through yet another neurotic existential crisis. This wasn’t about fluctuating hormones (not that time of the month), it wasn’t about the audition I missed because of my complete lack of discipline to get up early (that’s happened more times than I care to be upset about), it wasn’t about the weekly Chekhov workshop I was attending (I’d done these same soul-searching exercises in college and they never left me feeling so sensitive). It was about nothing. It was about everything. I couldn’t stop sobbing over God knows what. In the same day I cried over seeing a beggar in the subway and an old woman crossing the street. It felt like my top layer of skin had been razored off and all that remained were the exposed raw nerve endings. I couldn’t pinpoint the reason for the bout of dejection that not even my cousin’s birth nor a cute postcard from my favorite niece could drag me out of.
Tuesday afternoon I get a call from Mom which somehow escalates into a heated argument. The kind of argument that only two people who know and love each other deeply can get into. I suppress my frustration for the sake of my co-workers but it becomes too much and hurtful words are exchanged. I can’t remember now what the argument was about (or maybe I subconsciously choose not to disclose it) but I do remember the realization I had days after our Battle of Waterloo. It slowly dawned on me that my wistfulness was a byproduct of isolation, one that isn’t easily resolved over drinks with friends or working the day away. It’s the kind of isolation that comes from sleeping alone. It’s the loneliness of being single in a city away from your family. It is the loneliness that feeds on homesickness. You wake up in the middle of the night with feelings of disembodiment and it’s all you can do from reasserting your own existence. Some birds can fly astray for long distances. Others require a return to the nest more often that not. The next day I book my plane ticket home for the holidays and feel instantly comforted. I’m just that kind of bird.
The Buddha urges us to go through life with an open heart but sometimes it becomes too painful to let it all in, all the time. So I add thin layers of armor. Not too thick a hide but I still need them if I want a fighting chance to make it through the day. At the end of two unsettling weeks, I slowly get back to feeling like myself. Since the season was rapidly changing, I also didn’t have the luxury to mope about. We were on a mad dash to finish filming Love (Asterisk) so I pull myself up by the bootstraps and go to work. We manage to extend summer or at least make it look that way on camera.
The beginning strings of autumn’s concerto play through the air. Tea kettle on the stove and Fleetwood Mac singing in the background. This is how I soothe my soul. I spend Sunday afternoon thoroughly Spring cleaning my room. A crisp fall breeze sneaks in through the window. I cannot wait till spring for a Chi cleanse. On the midnight of the autumnal equinox, I sit on my bedroom floor to work a little witchy moonlight magic. It is a simple ritual of burning away the fruitless stalks to make room for the harvest. I light some sage, say a blessing, and ponder upon the veritable cornucopia that is my harvest: drinking tequila shots with great friends on their birthdays, drinking sangria glasses with great friends on their non-birthdays, a family to love back home, roommates to love like family, an apartment to come back to, a bed to find refuge in, industry meetings full possibility, a team of people to create art with, and yes, even this, a heart wide open to the blues, the reds, and all the other shades of life in between.
Living in “the city that never sleeps”, my favorite time is watching it wake up. The first rays of sunrise bathe its streets, its brownstones, its fire escapes. Commuters balancing their briefcases on one hand and large cups of coffee in the other walk by children in school uniforms lugging their book bags and homemade lunches. Bodegas open up their doors, the smell of breakfast wafts onto the sidewalk. Garbage trucks hum alongside the curb, underneath the windows of the slumberous few who snore away in Orpheus’ arms, unaware of the world that moves without them. I walk home breathing the fresh air in great gulps. It’s only mid-August but you can already taste autumn. It’s a reminder that summer, with its lazy afternoons in bed reading Posar Desnuda en La Habana and its balmy nights at BAMcinématek watching Magic in the Moonlight, are on their way out.
Every last day of summer becomes precious, made more so by its impending demise, and every occasion is an opportunity to open-toed wedges. Occasions like going to see Cate Blanchett in The Maids for Vicky’s 25th birthday. Watching Blanchett light up the stage tugged at the same heart strings as watching Shakespeare in the Park’s King Lear under a starry night sky. It’s reason enough for which to relentlessly pursue an acting career because, by God, when it’s good, it’s really good.
Thursday afternoon I sit on a Washington Square Park bench killing time (read: people-watching) until my workshop starts. I briefly go over my sides and I begin to doubt my choices. Not only my choices in the scene but my life choices as well. Here I was, in the theatre capital of the world, going in for a film/TV workshop. Had I ultimately picked the wrong town? I’d set my heart on Broadway long ago but it was a place for singers, dancers, triple-threats— skills which I sorely lacked. I dreamed about a career in indie films and the occasional, meaty Off-Broadway role. Had I made a wrong turn somewhere? Maybe I would fare better in a little town called L.A., with its sunny disposition and blinding movie stars. A town built expressly for the magic of cinema. A town responsible for creating all the movies I’d grown up on and adored.
I was at a crossroads. The same one, I’m sure, every actor faces at a determined point in their career: East vs. West. Did location even matter all that much? Cate herself started out in Australia. Or maybe the better question was, if it came down to it, could I really start all over again? Moving was not just a pain in the ass; moving cross-country required courage. Before I further unravel on the precipice of a mental breakdown, I firmly remind myself that fear hasn’t stopped me before. It has never been my tether to a person, place, or whatever other proper noun. All the qualities I lack, I make up for in gall. If the time did come, I would be ready. Until then, I knew my reason to stay. New York may very well be done with me but I’m not done with New York quite yet. I tuck away the sides and doubts in my bag and walk over to the workshop, wearing the same wedges I wore on my date with Ms. Blanchett. I hoped the casting director would see in me what my friends claimed to see and which sometimes eluded me. If nothing else, I trusted my shoes to lead me exactly where I needed to be.
By the following week, I was slowly slipping into all-too-familiar despondence. The kind that rears its ugly head whenever the incessant machinery of my busy brain has nothing to tinker on. No auditions, no call-backs, and no hours at the office (Ah, the hangups of freelance!) meant that I felt as productive as a flimsy umbrella on a rainy day. My hands weren’t made for vacuous hours of idleness and they itched for something to do. I offer to dog-sit Jasper for the week. I pass the time picking up his poop, walking him around the block, eating, reading the screenplay to Annie Hall and writing out a half-baked idea for one of my own. Maybe inspiration visits only the bored and pays in kind to the receptive and willing.
The end of summer also heralded the start of a new school year. Lizy sends me a picture text of Gigi, my sweet niece, attending her first day of pre-Kindergarten. She looks so grown. It makes me think of that Stevie Nicks song: “I’ve been afraid of changing/‘Cause I’ve built my life around you/But time makes you bolder/Even children get older/And I’m getting older too.” Impermanence. It is the only constant and in this business of building empires we often forget that. Even moments of great joy are tinged with sadness because, as wise crones well know, this too shall pass. And yet, as fleeting as those moments may be, they should be relished despite or perhaps in spite of their transience. It’s things like spending an afternoon at the Central Park Conservancy, hunting down a lobster joint in South Street Seaport, dancing on the rooftop of Jimmy at the James, or brunching on dim sum with good friends that make the ride worthwhile. It’s the little things, really. The little things that add up to a well-lived life.
As the third week of August closed in, I was ready to kick the “mean reds”. Things at work were picking up and I was back to my usual 9-to-5 routine: mornings at the office, cooking dinner in the evenings, logging miles at the gym, and waking up early on Saturdays to the tranquility of a cup of coffee and the NPR news. My own kind of hermetic heaven. Things were looking up professionally as well. Hard-Bitten, 3tO5’s first project, was entered into film festivals resulting in my first IMDB credit. It was a goal that had long been on the list; its realization made sweeter by having come about through a self-made film.
Friday afternoon Ryan, Jian, and I put on our bathing suits and head to the public pool in Central Park. I rarely ever swam in my own backyard pool when living in Miami so I could only blame the impetus to jump in a cesspool of bacteria with 70 other perfect strangers on my longing for unending summer. Whatever the reason, we walk down Lenox Avenue and crossing the intersection we’re stopped by the sound of halting brakes and a loud thud. We turn around to find a young woman, no more than 25 years old, slouching in the middle of the street. After the initial shock subsides, we rush over to help as she hangs up the phone— “Mom, I gotta go. I just got hit by a car.” As Jian calls 911 and Ryan helps her up, I answer her phone because it’s ringing incessantly and she’s disoriented and it breaks my heart that the caller ID reads “Home”. I talk to a concerned mother who is on the brink of hysterics and I say her daughter’s fine, just a bit shaken up. I would want someone to have the same reassurance for my mom. The cops who show up on the scene are completely unfazed, probably because they have seen it all, but most likely because getting hit by a car must be run-of-the-mill. She gets driven off in an ambulance and we continue on our way, ultimately fine but also a bit shaken up. It’s not a city for the faint of heart.
On Labor Day weekend we rent a car and drive up the George Washington Bridge, heading for the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. Living in a sprawling metropolis makes it easy to forget how much man is made of nature. As soon as my feet stepped on that hiking trail, I was happier than I’d been in weeks. I was enraptured in the beauty of it all, the pungent smell of pine trees, the sheer force of the rushing waterfalls, the chirping birds. I couldn’t help myself, I plunged in the river at the first chance I got. The temperature was cooler but it tasted like my childhood. The muddy water reminded me of all those summers ago, spent on my grandfather’s farm, when my cousins and I would beg our Tío Chinge to let us swim in the river. It was comforting to know that although children do get older, that little girl still loved plunging in at the first chance she got. Life and rivers are, in their onward course, very much alike.
On the way back to the city that never sleeps, we sped down I-80 with the windows open. I was wide awake. The corn fields stretched out for miles, my family back home was healthy and safe, my closest friends were in this car, the sunset rivaled the sunflowers in its yellow splendor, a catchy pop song played on the radio, my hair whipped behind me in the blowing wind, my world was at peace and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so anchored. I leaned back into the headrest and cherished this perfect moment in time because I knew, after all, this too shall pass.
I have this tradition that began my first year living in New York City. Every summer, without fail, I watch the entire Sex and the City series from start to finish. It is a compulsive ritual that only true fanatics can sympathize with. Sometimes I even persuade friends to geek out with me. Two summers ago we had SATC Sundays and while my friends were reluctant at first they nevertheless indulged me. To this day it is one of my favorite memories: getting together with Yariel at Jian and Ryan’s first New York apartment to order pizza and binge on episodes. It was serendipitous that Yari happened to be in town to kick off season one, episode one on the very first of July. Despite the unusual circumstances for his visit, or maybe in spite of them, I found comfort in our familiar tradition. In times of heartbreak the best cure was tenderness and a bit of humor. His visit was brief but his presence lingered.
My high school girlfriends, Amanda and Julissa, landed Thursday afternoon to stay with me for Fourth of July weekend. They picked me up after work for a sugar rush at Melissa’s Cupcakes before walking the Brooklyn Bridge. We were already running late so we hurried home to change for Vicky’s directorial opening night of El Cruce Sobre el Niagara at Repertorio Español. After the show, we went to the bar next door for a celebratory drink which turned into many celebratory drinks and an overnight guest for me. The tryst was unexpected but exhilarating. It was a sexual awakening to behold myself as a fully consenting adult capable of shameless, physically-driven, and emotionally-unencumbered sex liberated from old childhood guilts and prudish labels. The following morning, after plenty of amiable heckling from both roommates and guests alike, he made his exit and the girls and I headed out for the second day of our tour. We gazed up at the constellations of Grand Central Station, visited Patience and Fortitude at the New York Public Library, walked through the When Harry Met Sally wing of The Metropolitan Museum (which, of course, isn’t called that) and after a quick coffee run we finished the day with a picnic in Battery Park. Under the gaze of Lady Liberty herself, we watched the fireworks. What is it about sparklers in the night sky that makes one crave a lover’s embrace?
Saturday afternoon we brunched at Red Rooster before heading out to Central Park where we took turns Instagramming pictures with Hans Christian Andersen's statue. It was time for high tea, so the ladies and I proceeded to Alice’s Teacup where over dainty cups of tea and scones we talked of love, friendship, and everything in between. Afterwards we watched the sunset on The Highline and had tacos at El Centro— vegetarian for me since I’d recently given up meat. At the end of the night we walked up from Times Square to Columbus Circle where the adventure continued with impromptu twerking and flirting with some sexy Spaniards, freshly arrived from Barcelona.
Inevitably the weekend came to a close and it was time to say goodbye to the girls. Before they left for the airport we took the last picture of the trip together. We looked silly but so happy. Reuniting with them, after almost ten years, was like coming home. We’d spent an entire weekend of Ya-Ya-Sisterhood bonding and it was reassuring to know that my Sex and the City girls had been there all along.
Sunday afternoon we began filming our web series Love* (Asterisk). We had been graced with borrowed sound equipment, talented actors, and some of the best locations. When you’re shooting in the greatest city in the world you don’t need much else. One of the first scenes was at The Mall in Central Park, a promenade full of vibrant trees and pedestrians. Three years in and completely in love I figured it was time to make this thing official. I scheduled an appointment to get my New York license. The day went from bad to worse, between missing my time slot due to train delays and the hour long lines, it was a reminder that this city is not always a walk in the park, quite literally and figuratively. I gave up on the whole thing and went off to work in pissy mood. I took it as a sign; maybe I was meant to be a Florida girl for a bit longer.
Saturday night at Turnmill Bar on a first date with my one night stand. Over drinks, I told him about my most recent heartbreak, he told me about his. So there he was, just as mangled as I was, as we all are, but brave enough to jump again. He was offering up his world freely and yet I didn’t want it. A year earlier I was in the same situation. Except that time I was in his shoes. I’d given out my heart freely and it wasn’t received. The great paradox of life is that nothing ever goes as planned. We went back to his place but the next morning it was apparent that his intentions were nobler than mine. I got out of there quicker than a shopaholic with a credit card. Vicky’s aunts, who were visiting for the weekend, graciously invited us to brunch that day. As I rehashed the previous night’s conversation about how brutally honest I was with him in my disinterest for a relationship, Vicky’s aunt looked me dead in the eye and called bullshit, “You’re scared and you’re speaking out of fear.” She was right, of course. I was still letting my burn scars dictate how close I came to the fire. All I could do was honor my own turtle-slow pace. Some people can spring right back, I just wasn’t one of them. Later that day I had a thought maybe it wasn’t fear or even bad timing holding me back but rather my complete and utter refusal to settle for anything less than spectacular, anything less than absolutely amazing. I wanted fireworks and I knew they were worth waiting for.
Far harder than settling is letting go. It’s counterintuitive to the human heart but it is the truest test of love. Another Saturday, another brunch at Red Rooster. We’d been there so often I was beginning to accumulate quite the little collection of Ambessa Chocolate Nut Black teas. Our friend Liz was visiting from Miami and we met up with her before she made her return flight. Coincidentally, Mr. Gatsby was also in town on a layover to Los Angeles. I was so thrilled to see him again. We all went for drinks by the Highline and ate Artichoke slices. By the end of the night we were ankle deep in the mossy water of the Washington Square Park fountain pretending to be ballerinas while Clair de Lune played on someone’s boombox. It was one of those moments one tries to commit to memory so years down the line it wouldn’t be just a picture or just another piece of classical music. As Mr. Gatsby helped me strap on my now damp shoes, I saw in his eyes what his mouth had already confessed: he wouldn’t give up his tireless pursuit of that which for me had already died an irrevocable death. My heart is fickle that way. Once it’s moved on it is for good. I patiently waited for the day when my foolish heart would also feel that way for RobotBoy. Saddened, I took Gatsby’s arm and walked the streets of New York repeating words that would be forgotten as soon as they’d been said. That night in bed I held his head and made my secret apology to his unrequited love. I told myself I wasn’t responsible for his darkness, the one he tried his best to disguise. He flew home the next day and my mind was made up. I asked him not to look for me; he’d only be greeted with silence. Forever is a frightening word to the mortal soul but “forever” was the only love I could show. There would be things I’d want to share with him, moments I’d like to revisit, words I’d want to say but for our best interest they would have to begin and end with me. Forever. Finite. So frightening yet so freeing.
Summer carried on. I began developing two new scripts and took a freelance job writing for The Culturalist. I rewarded myself for all the hard work with a gift from Anthropologie. Some of us are more hedonistic than others. I bought myself a bottle of Outremer’s Vanille. It was petite and exquisite and the “Made In France” label made me tingle with excitement. Since most of my perfumes have been gifts from men this small indulgence was more than just another perfume. I believe a woman’s scent of choice is a personal, almost intimate story. It can, at a whiff, tell you everything you need to know about her personality, maybe even her soul. It should be chosen carefully, deliberately and it is a search that can take years, life stages. Ironically, this was the same scent that had in the past been an aphrodisiac for the men I dated. I wore it only on dates and special occasions, specifically for them. I brought the tiny bottle home and after a long shower I spritzed on a few drops before going to bed. Just for me.
Sunday afternoon, before we started shooting for Love* (Asterisk), I tackled on something that had been gnawing at me for weeks. I put on my big girl panties and reached out to a college friend I hadn’t talked to in years. After graduation our friendship had taken a turn for the worse and, aided by the convenience of living in different states, I never addressed the problem. But now she was moving to New York in a matter of months (and visiting in a matter of days) and everything that I’d managed to neatly store away was coming back up like a congested sewage pipe. Like Pema Chödrön wisely says “Nothing really goes away until it has taught us everything we need to know.” Sooner rather than later, I would have to deal with all the messy emotions I’d compartmentalized. It occurred to me then that she also must have things that she’d held on to these last four years. It was out of compassion that I realized she and I were not much different at all. All this time I’d held on to my storyline as a living, breathing thing; maybe so had she. I decided to write her a message and bury the hatchet. I left myself vulnerable and spoke from the place I operate best, honesty. I kindly wrote around the edges, mostly about practical things when looking for apartments, and offered my help if needed. In my heart I’d forgiven everything. I was no longer interested in past injuries, inflicted or imaginary. Most importantly, I forgave myself. That night I dreamt of a great deluge in which I was running in the rain but not from it. I Googled what it meant and was rewarded by the definition: falling rain symbolizes forgiveness, grace, spiritual growth.
Friday night arrived and it was time to put all my forgiveness mumbo jumbo to the test. When I finally saw her I was immensely relieved to look upon her face and feel nothing but delight. Pure delight at seeing an old friend. We filmed the Love* (Asterisk) party scene in a smooth couple of hours and afterwards we all went to celebrate with a drink at Chocolat Restaurant Lounge. Maybe it was my champagne-y cocktail or how happy I was to have all my beautiful friends together collaborating on a project but that night I felt larger than life. I felt like a shining light. Yeah, it was probably (most definitely!) the drink. Whatever it was, I was euphoric. My fears were not only unfounded, they were downright laughable. My life wasn’t diminishing because of my past, it was expanding— “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
After three consecutive weekends of social activities and weeknights of late filming, I was looking forward to a quiet day at home. I’d finished up my assignments for Culturalist so all I had on the agenda was lazing on the couch reading Woody Allen’s Annie Hall screenplay. In the morning Vicky and I sat down with our big mugs of café con leche to watch Michael Scott’s last episode of The Office. I cried my eyes out for the entire thirty minutes. A lot of it was attributed to Steve Carrell’s talent as an actor and his skillful crafting of a beloved character but it was also something else. Carrell was one of Mr. Gatsby’s favorite actors, thinking of him was unavoidable. I cried for all the changes my life was undergoing, all the necessary changes. I was closing one door and opening another. It was a feeling that would take some time to adjust. We had a roomies night in and ordered takeout which we scarfed down watching World War Z. Flesh-hungry zombies may just be the best antidote for the blues. The next day we put our game faces on and continued shooting. Then we took a lunch break which turned into a long dip at the neighborhood pool. Not everything can be work, work, work. This was summer after all. I’ve learned that, in New York, you grab on to the sunny days whenever you can get them.
I was welcomed home from my Miami trip with a bouquet of wildflowers and a makeshift dedication on colorful Post-Its. I truly have the best roommates. Although it felt nice to be missed vacation time was over and it was now back to work mode. Barely four days after being back, I hopped on the New Jersey Transit Train and headed to the Tainted Love set. I had a small yet hilarious part in the short film. While the shooting process was fun, the best part about the day was the three hour train ride. Seeing Manhattan from the other side of the river, getting smaller and smaller, was magical in itself. There’s something about embarking on a trip not entirely sure of the final destination or in this case the final train station that can feel daring. In the quiet solace of anonymity of that train car, I genuinely understood the appeal of Eat, Pray, Love. Traveling alone is the perfect way to spend time with the one person you sometimes forget to talk to. I used the hours to read and finish up some revisions. By the time I boarded for the ride back two things were certain: draft number two of my play Detours was complete and I needed to plan a solo trip somewhere. I’m thinking Paris. Perhaps India! I returned to the apartment late and tired but completely satisfied. Getting paid to do what I love wasn’t too bad either.
I'd missed Repertorio Español’s submission deadline for their playwriting competition but I figured to give it a shot anyway. I submitted Detours in the hopes of having it produced and when they kindly accepted it all there was left to do was wait. Deadlines weren’t the only thing backed up because of my time away in Miami. Piled up assignments at work kept me chained to the computer desk for four weekends in a row. I'd also been working with my writing partner, Victoria, on a concept that we eventually titled Love* (Asterisk) : a web series about two single girls dating in a post-Tinder world. We’d been formulating the idea since January and were now cementing the last minute details of pre-production— meetings, calendars, and agendas ad nauseum. It was a hectic, productive time yet I was worried that summer, short as it already was due to a long winter, would pass me by without even so much as enjoying an ice cream cone in DUMBO. And almost as if the Day Planner Gods heard my plea, the scheduling seas parted and it was time for fun.
I trekked out to Central Park with Vicky in search of the stranger who’d found her lost wallet and decently offered to return it. While she called her bank for the third time that day, we sat on the great lawn and looked out at the fading sunset. Life is what happens when you’re busy looking for your wallet. That night we celebrated a friend’s birthday on a rooftop with the most unbelievable view of the Empire State building. Sunday morning Jian woke me up for an early audition. Afterwards we met up with the gang at Corner Social for brunch, followed by a picnic at Sheep Meadow, and ending the day at Nina’s to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones. By the end of the episode it got pretty late so Matt thoughtfully offered to drive me home. In the car he asked if I had to rush home or if I had time for a detour. I’ve come to know that detours are the best part so I acquiesced. He drove his convertible up Grand Central Station and took a sharp right turn a few feet shy from the swooping eagle. Driving past the Station's tunnel, leveled with the third floor of the adjacent building, I had to admit he was right, it really did feel like Batman’s Gotham. We continued up Fifth Avenue, top down, Philip Glass playing loud, the barely visible stars outshined by the bright city lights, and then it happened. I fell in love with New York all over again. Maybe it was the epic music or the embrace of the cool night air but I was enamored by it all. Remember to always take the detours. They really are the best part.
In trying to squeeze in some meditation before our scheduled production meeting, I got home from work on Saturday evening and made a strawberry-banana-peanut butter milkshake which I intended to drink on our kitchen fire escape. I slurped up my milkshake happy as a bug and, just like Siddhartha many centuries before me, I assumed the lotus position ready to breathe from my open heart chakra. “Look at her! Coming out of her apartment to do yoga! She gotta come out of her house? Look at her right there! On the fire escape, that’s not what that’s for!” The rude comments from the loud neighbors across the alley kept coming for what felt like an eternity (in reality it probably only lasted five minutes). I considered telling them off or at the very least going back inside but I held my ground. It was easy to preach compassion in a conflict-free state but far harder to practice in the midst of resistance. Which is exactly what I did; sat there and tried my best not to lose touch with my soft open heart.
Sunday afternoon I got all dolled up and posed with the quintessential props that make for a “successful blogger” picture. These are also known as a MacBook Pro and, in my case, an empty Starbucks cup— a tell-tale sign of all the brand name coffee I don’t drink while writing my posts. The illusion sure did look cute though. Now if I could only find a way to write these posts as easily as posing pretty they would practically write themselves. And punctually so! I barely find the time to keep them on deadline anymore. Maybe if I wasn’t so busy watching the Boston Ballet perform at Lincoln Center or taking pictures of friends in front of Manhattan-henge, April's edition wouldn’t show up in your inbox by late July. Then again, you’ll have to forgive me dear reader because I’d much rather be submersed in the world of a SummerFeast, held captive under a director’s vision, than to stare at a computer screen attempting to write about it. Life happens when you’re busy trying to write your belated blog.
On my morning commute, I’d just finished reading Pema Chödrön’s “Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living”. As I floated down the stairs feeling enlightened and pious I see an old lady stooped over her two heavy bags labouriously making her way up on the opposite side of the rail. Eager to help and revel in my Buddha nature, I flew down the steps and leaned in “Do you need any he— ”. Before I could finish my sentence she let out a loud and guttural “NO!” that reverberated across the entire platform. Completely startled, I keeled over backwards and quickly ran away. Once I was some distance away, I giggled to hide my embarrassment but still felt every eye on me. It was unnerving. A man turned to me and said “You did a generous thing. Don’t feel bad. They’re just always scared someone’s going to hurt them. You did a good thing.” My impetuosity to show compassion had blinded me. I hadn’t seen her clearly. True, I also have very bad eyesight, but what I’d chosen to see was my grandmother struggling with her groceries and not a homeless woman struggling against the world. By the time I got to Union Square I was still feeling a little rattled. That aggressive NO resonated in my ringing ears, in my shaky knees. As I made for the stairs a blond haired boy bumped into me, unintentionally wrapping his tiny arms around my legs to break his fall. His big sister scolded him “Were you watching where you’re going?” They walked away before I could say “It’s okay. Neither was I.” I smiled and felt my body relax again. That child’s innocent touch also had the power to resonate. My knees no longer felt weak. So that’s thing about New York and, I would be so bold as to even say, that’s the thing about life: you can have two completely different experiences in the same subway ride. You just have to try your best not to lose touch with your soft, open heart.
As a requirement to being a member of the Actors’ Equity Association you are responsible for two yearly dues. My May payment, however, was bit more than the basic $60. I finally paid in full my initial fee, totalling a hefty $1,100. That’s a nice chunk of change. Even so, I couldn’t be prouder to confidently flash that card at auditions. I considered it badge of achievement, a personal summit reached. If I wasn’t feeling entirely part of the club before, I was now a certified Kool-Aid drinker.
Business with our company, The 3tO5, was running smoothly. We turned Cinco de Mayo into Work-o de Mayo and in between bites of guacamole and swigs of Corona we had ourselves a working happy hour. We were churning full speed ahead with the web series Love* (Asterisk), scheduled to shoot in the summer. Meanwhile the play Detours was still being tweaked into a second draft by yours truly in order to meet a June 1st festival competition deadline. Besides writing and producing, I was kept busy with a photo shoot for the Psychosis film poster and auditions. Another summer, another general audition for Repertorio Español. Just like The Actors Studio auditions, it looked like perseverance would be key.
On a cool Friday evening, four women got together in a Harlem apartment for some fun and games. Since Aileen had never seen Showgirls, Nina and I felt it was our nipple-tasseled duty to expose her to the campy perfection of Nomi Malone in all her violent-dancing, pelvis-thrusting, “Ver-sayce”-wearing glory. We had ourselves a classy/trashy night complete with pizza, beer, and ice cream. We played the drinking game for every time Gina Gershon drawled out a darlin’ or every time Elizabeth Berkley went off in an unprovoked fit of rage. Sometimes a girl needs to let out her inner ratchet.
That Saturday we celebrated Dougie’s birthday at The Spot Karaoke bar. Any time I get a chance to show off my Stevie Nick’s Dreams rendition is a good night. Time flies when you’re having fun. Before I even knew what hit me it was already Memorial Day Weekend also known as Fleet Week but better known to Manhattan women everywhere as the single best holiday in the calendar. It’s that time of year when we trade the boots and leggings for a skirt and a smile and we shamelessly flirt with the fine men who protect our homeland. Okay, I exaggerated. About the flirting part, I mean. The closest I come to that is shyly asking for an Instagram picture, hoping against hope my friends don’t embarrass me by telling the hunk in uniform how Oh, so thankful I am for all he does for our country. Note to self: one day, not too far away, be the bold woman who sidles up to a Navy Seal to ask his zodiac sign. I ended the long weekend with a picnic in Roosevelt Island and a tiny princess named Zooey. Nothing is more beautiful than the glimmering New York skyline as backdrop or a little girl running through an open field chasing after a rainbow-colored kite. On second thought, new note to self: one day, not too far away, be the bold woman who chases after her kaleidoscope dreams instead of a man’s astrological sign.
At the end of May I took a trip to Miami to celebrate a belated Mother’s Day and a slew of family milestones. My cousin Luisita, a wee thing whose birth I witnessed only yesterday, was graduating high school. I sat on the bleachers at FIU (my alma mater) watching her accept her diploma and I couldn’t help feeling old. Memories from my own high school graduation, also conducted in this same gymnasium, suddenly came rushing back. How did ten years rush past me so quickly? Is that all life was? A second, a breath, and then gone? Our ten year reunion was that same weekend but my girlfriends and I opted out. Instead we met at Applebee’s— our trusty hang out spot, witness to many a life & love conversations over shared plates of appetizers and Coca Cola refills. Basketball jerseys hung on the walls and a big mural depicted our Spartans in full football action. The Miami Heat was in the play-offs and the place was packed. I was definitely home. We scrounged together three empty chairs and reminisced about our times together at good ol' Southridge High: the pep rallies, prom, old boyfriends, graduation, Grad Night at Disney, lunches by the stadium lawn. I hadn’t seen these girls in almost a decade. Life had taken us on different paths, different careers, even different cities. We had traded the Cokes for margaritas and high school crushes for live-in boyfriends yet the ease with which we fell back into each other was as if we’d never parted. We couldn’t believe we’d let so much time pass by without communication. We promised to keep in touch before another reunion sneaked up on us and plans were made to have them visit me in New York.
Late Friday afternoon the family donned their semi-formal wedding attire to witness Tia Olga and Tio Eduardo tie their hands and lives in matrimony. The rain may not have been welcomed at the backyard wedding, especially by the guests with fresh blowouts, but it was an omen of lifetime happiness for the couple. It filled me with such optimism to see my glowing auntie finally find her happy ending at a later chapter in her life. Most important note to self: life doesn’t peak nor does it end after high school. It was just getting started.
The trip lasted only a short while. My itinerary was booked with prior engagements and errands so my down time was limited. I spent an entire day at a Cuban embassy office working through stressful paperwork for my sisters’ reclamation. Luckily, I had an angel named Crichy guide me through it all. On my last day there we ate brunch at Cracker Barrel (they really must put crack in those pancakes!) and had a pool party with the entire family. I danced like an idiot with my mom, played chicken fight with my sister, and had a beer with my brother-in-law. It occurred to me then that these would become the moments I’d remember ten years from now. I needed to make good ones.
I read in an online article once that if you ever get fed up with New York City you should visit Chinatown. It will remind you of everything it means to live here. It also happens to be my favorite place to get lost in. Chinatown is the place where la vie quotidienne is lived on every street corner bustling with activity. The hustlers selling knock-offs of every luxury item imaginable. The old men and old ladies perched on park benches playing chess or mahjong. The vigilant grandma sitting on the pink plastic child chair watching over her cart of strange, spiky-haired fruits arranged in a rainbow of colors. The pungent smell of raw fish hitting you like an unexpected punch to the nose. The tiny stores brimming with herbs to cure every malady but sold in packaging you can’t read. For a few minutes you almost forget you're in Manhattan. That is, until you remember why you’re there in the first place and hurry up Mott Street before the optical store closes for the day.
Mid-April and still wearing a down jacket is not my idea of fun but it looked as if the elusive Spring season would never get here. I resigned myself to my frigid fate and doubled up on scarves as I headed out for the Psychosis film set; a short film directed by Arnold Pitre. Since the Bronx location was within walking distance from my Harlem apartment, I put on my headphones and decided to brave the weather. Maybe it was the folksy melody of Pandora's Moon Song station or the way the sunlight rippled on the Harlem River but in the span of 20 minutes I mapped out an entire storyline for a new film script. I’d been sitting on the idea for months but now I could clearly see the talking images. It would no doubt be a challenge attempting to write a feature film but I was inspired again. I call these moments of my creative psyche as Periods of Renaissance. That may sound pedantic and grandiose yet they lie not in me but in the Muse. The Muse that can lie dormant for years on end but re-awakens when a story demands to be told. The aftermath of Her visit was the beginnings of a screenplay, the second draft edits for a play, and a finished first season of a web series entitled Love* (Asterisk), written in partnership with my friend Victoria. The Periods may not happen often but they happen with a vengeance.
Psychosis was shot in a single twelve hour day. I woke the next morning feeling completely drained and bearing a great sense of loss. It had been a long time since a character had carved in so deeply. Lucy was a character requiring such darkness that it was easy to fall deep down the rabbit hole. It was then that I realized how easily actors can sometimes come undone under the complexities of a tormented character. I needed un despojo— an exorcism. I cleaned the apartment, lazed in bed with a cup of tea, sent out industry mailings, went to the gym (nothing like jogging in place for 30 minutes to free up the mind) and all in all waited for the melancholia to subside. When none of that worked it was time to leave the house. We met up for Rumela’s birthday at La Nacional and by the end of the night we were the last patrons in the restaurant. A group of friends around a pitcher of sangria is better than any curandera in town.
On Easter Sunday we went to Harlem’s Floridita for the best Cuban food I’ve had in New York. As a native, my standards are quite high but Floridita is the closest you can get to La Carreta without hopping a flight to Miami. After a delicious lunch, JianCarlos and Ryan accompanied me to the mecca of all things technological: the Apple store. I was in dire need of a new laptop after my Dell had petered out its last binary breaths. I settled on a sleek, steel grey MacBook Pro. I was officially a Mac girl and Ms. Pro was a thing of beauty. I had half a mind to name her Carrie, after the quintessential Mac girl herself, but I settled on JiRa; a nod to the two Apple aficionados responsible for my newfound brand allegiance. I couldn’t wait for all the wonderful things she'd help me write through the years.
My gadgets weren’t the only ones undergoing a makeover. After sporting the grown-out pixie look for months, I enlisted the help of Vicky’s scissors for some sprucing up. I should have been terrified of a botched up job. Instead I was filled with the same anticipation of a grade school sleepover where we talked about boys and dyed our hair purple. A lady of many talents, she succeeded in giving me a chic bob and a story to tell at brunch.
On my way to Ryan’s for movie night, I was waiting for the 3 train when the gentleman seated next to me complimented my “pretty face.” Much older and oblivious to the fact his chances were slim to none, he asked if I was married (which surprised me because, when did I start looking old enough to pass for a wife?) and when I replied No he followed up with if I had a boyfriend. When I again said No he said, “Well for a beautiful woman like you it must be by choice.” What amazed me wasn’t the compliment, men will be men at any age, but it was the realization that yes, I was single by choice, thank you very much! After all, it wasn’t for lack of suitors or, to sound less Victorian, a lack of appealing choices. Why did I always feel so inadequate when admitting to being single? Maybe it was the pity I heard in my family members’ voices at yet another holiday party, “Still no novio, huh?” Or maybe it was my own insecurity for feeling left out of the club. The club everyone wants to be a part of when they’re single and half the time want to be out of when they’re not. I smiled at the gentleman and said a little more self-assured, “Yes, by choice.” Then I got on the train, making sure to avoid the car he went in. If it was by choice there was no need to start changing that now.
The morning after can sometimes be awkward. Thankfully this time around it wasn’t my morning after but rather my roommate’s. To make things less weird we all sat down around the breakfast table for eggs and conversation, because of course that’s always what makes things less weird. Over coffee, my roommate’s “morning after” asked how I liked living in our new space and if I was adjusting to this new chapter. Without a moment’s hesitation the most natural response spilled from my lips, “Actually, I’m really happy.” I was happy to trust in my ability to heal. Just like when I wore my new glasses and was suddenly able to see the windows of the skyscrapers that I couldn’t see before, happy to see clearly. Really see Chinatown, see my life, for all it is worth.
It is a testament to the life you’ve led when everyone is sad to see you leave the party. On a warm Saturday morning I got home from the gym, took a shower, and was ready to jump into my shorts when I get a call from my Dad. His mom, Abuela Cuca, had passed away. I've always dreaded the middle-of-the-night phone call because it's never a good omen but this didn't make any sense. It was such a beautiful day. Five seconds ago I had plans for a park picnic and now my grandmother was dead. Everything can change in the span of a phone’s ring. Fate never cares about your day plans. Or your life plans. I cried not so much for her because her years were well lived. She was full of joy, love, and joie de vivre. She had more stamina and zest for adventure in her 80 year old pinkie than I did in my 28 year old body. I cried instead for the absence of her. I cried because I was always too busy and self-involved to call. I cried because I didn't get to say goodbye. According to Dr. Brian Weiss souls travel in packs. I hoped to love her again in my next life.
Three years ago I wrote a semi-autobiographical play entitled Detours and that Saturday night it had its first reading. It was equal parts magic and mourning to hear it. Instantly I was transported to a time in my life when not everything was so certain. It’d been a long time since I’d seen that burdened little girl. Hearing the actors read the words exactly the way I intended was very special. In the third scene when the sisters talk about their grandmother's remedy for a belly ache I couldn't help tearing up. The tenderness in the actresses’ voices referring to their Abuela was poignant. I felt Mima closer than ever. A Wednesday night in the city is not like any other regular night somewhere else. There's always something to do, see, or eat. Even on a school night. That's what I love about New York: no day is ever ordinary. We attend a screening of Face of Love followed by a Q&A with Annette Bening, one of my favorite actresses. “When you get a script you can experience it only once as an audience member,” she says, “And your job is to recreate it for the audience.” Two days later I had tickets to Rattlestick's Ode to Joy. That's another thing I love about New York: art, art, art, happening everywhere. It's impossible not to be inspired in this town. I looked through the Playbill for the director’s name when I noticed that the playwright and director, Craig Lucas, were one and the same. I knew from his plays that I loved his writing; I didn’t know I would also love his directing. I was so very impressed and so very inspired. I'd been ambivalent about directing Detours for fear of stifling it but here was proof that it could be done and done well. This was not to say, of course, that anyone could succeed doing so but I left the theater invigorated and full of ideas for both the script and future production.
Sunday night was Oscar night so we got all dolled up and headed to Ryan's viewing party. I feel the same way every year watching the acceptance speeches: the deep yearning and inexplicable conviction that one day that will be me. One fine day. On the home front, our apartment had finally come together; a project that took a little over a weekend. A quick run to Home Depot and a chevron-print paint job later we had ourselves an adorable nest. But it was still missing something... I framed a picture of us laughing like dorks at the Academy Awards viewing party. Can’t wait for the day that sentence is true sans the last two words. I looked at our freshly painted living room, now it was complete. Between dentist/optometrist appointments, auditions, and running around like a chicken without a head I almost forgot the birthdays of my two leading ladies: my mom and sister. Beli was turning 25 and my mom was turning another year young. I missed them both terribly. Seeing pictures of the celebration on Facebook made me wish I lived a three minute drive distance instead of the actual three hour flight. Being away from family was one of the sacrifices this career demanded. Sometimes it asks for too much. All I'm saying is, this better make for a great thank-you-to-the-Academy speech someday!
I don't know how I found the time but somehow I managed to squeeze in a first date. It had been a while since I'd last gone on one and thank my lucky stars he actually turned out to be normal. And interesting. And attractive. And most miraculous of all I actually enjoyed myself! So much so that I accepted his invitation for a second date. Now, you won’t understand why I was so delighted unless you’ve ventured out into the hazardous world of online dating. It’s a cyber crapshoot. Just like Forrest's box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get. Sometimes it's a nut. And not the good kind. I once met a guy who wanted to "cut through the small talk and really connect to another soul." Geez, buddy let's just get through this Bud Light first! Now the best part about any date- and feel free to ask any girl because I'm sure they'll agree with me on this- is getting ready. That Yoncé anthem blasts through the speakers (for me it's a toss up between Flawless and Grown Woman) and out come the eyelash curlers and razors. Depending if it's a first or third date that razor will go up past certain leg benchmarks. This, however, was only a second date so need to get ahead of ourselves. I’m a lady after all. Ha! Walking to the subway I’ve got on my moto jacket and I’m feeling like a badass. “Snowbunny you perfect, love” well thank you random pedestrian for the unsolicited remark. The date itself, unfortunately, did not live up to its prep-time hype. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great, it was just nice. After three hours of a whole lot of talking (mostly on his part) all I got was a good night peck on the lips. Seriously? After THAT much talking that’s all I get? The next day he mentioned meeting up again. I gracefully declined. If there was no zsa zsa zsu, what was the point?
My busy work week continued on. I had auditions/rehearsals/belated newsletters to tend to. I also struggled with my newly imposed wake up time. I read somewhere that successful people get up really early. I figured if I could rise at 7AM I could gain a few hours to go to the gym, meditate, work on my writing, and even save the world while I’m at it. Most days I barely made it out of bed by 9AM. Synchronizing my circadian rhythm was proving to be more tedious and frustrating that enrolling my mom in the Marketplace. There goes my success. I did, however, manage to make it through work during the day and rehearsals with Ryan at night. Our Actors Studio audition was right around the corner. Rehearsals for Psychosis were also underway. The director needed pictures for set dressing so we had a photo session in The Cloisters. It was my first visit and I was in awe of the architecture and the art. It was one of those places I knew my dad and I could probably spend hours going gaga over all the history behind it. That same day I emailed him all the pictures I took for him. I couldn't wait for the day he’d see it in person. When I found out that the actual museum was built circa 1935 with grants from John D. Rockerfeller I was a little disappointed- what do you mean it wasn't built and lived in by monks in the 1300’s? Still, it was such an idyllic place to spend a Sunday afternoon.
The first day of Spring had finally arrived and so had Ry's birthday. He booked a weekend trip with the boys to celebrate his dirty thirty in San Francisco so Vicky and I decided to have a girls’ weekend. Which was really just a cute name for dog-sitting their pooch Jasper, eating all their food, and watching all their Netflix. Other perks: Kiehl's products and a quiet place to write my tragically late newsletters. Friday night we had tickets for INTAR's Adoration of the Old Woman. Perfect start to our Girls’ Weekend Adventure. Walking to the theater we see a horse-drawn carriage passing us by. I tell Vicky I’d always wanted to ride one and probably should before they are removed by the mayor. She hollers at the coachman, “How much for a ride?” He yells back, “For you? Free!”. It was on his way to the stables so he dropped us off close to the theater. It was a perfect New York moment. Spring weather hadn't quite arrived but there were some warmer days peppered in with the more don't-leave-the-bed frigid temperatures. One such night was Daley’s birthday party at The Royalton penthouse. We're dressed up, we’re looking good and we know it, and we don't even need an overcoat. This makes me happiest of all. I almost taste the summer nights not too far away. All our friends are at there; they are dancing, laughing, and everything in the world is “alright, alright, alright.” This is the part where I mention I'm also drunk, drunk, drunk. Suffering from low tolerance as is, it also doesn't help breaking my "vow of sobriety" with a Cuba Libre and a virgin Cosmopolitan. OK, that was lie. There was nothing virginal about that Cosmo. Shameless flirting with cute bartenders will always get you extra liquor. Vicky disappears halfway through the night, I can't find Natalie or my clutch but I do find myself out on the terrace stealing puffs from the smokers. Somehow I wind up in the corner making out with a friend of a friend who was not so keen on talking but very keen on groping. As the crowd thins out Vicky spots me and we hail a cab home. Next day we head downstairs to Harlem Public for Sunday brunch and girl talk. We swap the mimosas for cappuccinos and over an order of chicken and waffles she dishes about last night's escapades. This was one for the books. The stories we would tell in our old age about our wild and crazy times as twenty-something New Yorkers. Sometimes you just need to let your outgrown pixie down and have some fun.
In the end, Ryan and I were not accepted into the Actors Studio. It is the second consecutive denial for me so here's hoping that third time's the charm. All I'm saying is this better make for a fun anecdote to share with James Lipton someday. It is also a testament to the life you’ve led when you refuse to never, never, never give up.
It’s been my experience that all unfinished business has a way of coming back exactly when you least expect it. Nothing ever really goes away. It simply reincarnates as new circumstances and different people. Tuesday night and we were all in attendance for a 3tO5 meeting. Now, it is only natural that artistic differences will arise when working as a group. But add to that the pressure of three of those people living as roommates, two of whom have despairingly different personalities, and you’ve got the formula for an emotional Hiroshima. OK, that was an exaggeration. But it’s me we’re talking about here- everything is hyperbole. In retrospect the disagreement itself wasn’t all that remarkable but my reaction to it was. The first jab to my ego and I instinctively shut down. In a matter of seconds I’d become so irrationally angry I stopped listening. I let my expectations hook in their claws to the point where I could see nothing but my own righteous anger. I hadn’t approached this friend with compassion. I’d closed off my heart. In a single moment all the training had gone out the window. Regardless of his demeanor, I should not have lost my cool. I didn’t like myself very much in that moment. Afterwards, I considered leaving the company. If I could avoid a situation in which I was clearly not comfortable then it made sense to walk away. And yet that seemed as effective as covering a gash with a band-aid. Turning away was easy, working through it was growth.
It was already February so seemed like a good time to get those New Year resolutions under way. First off was health and wellness. As a result from an overly indulgent holiday season I’d gained five pounds. Turns out Cuban food plus zero physical activity, save for getting up for seconds, doesn’t make up for the healthiest lifestyle. It was time for this vain Libra to move it! Since winter didn’t want to budge even a few degrees (damn you, Groundhog!) exercising outdoors was out of the question. Running in 20 degree weather was not my kind of fun. Neither was a gym membership but it was the lesser of two necessary evils. I took a tour of the neighborhood gym and I liked its Mighty-Mick’s-Boxing appearance right away. Added, of course, to its convenient location (two skips away from my apartment) and it was a match made in Rocky heaven. It would do just fine. The next order of business was getting health insurance. What I’ve learned in late 20’s is that we’re not the invincible titans we thought we were in our teens. It was shameful to admit that I didn’t remember the last time I’d had a general check-up. Maybe it was as far back as when I had to squeeze on to my mom’s hand during shots. So after finally getting around to it, I enrolled in the Marketplace (reason #578 why this temp loves her President!) and appointments were set for the general physician, the optometrist, and yes even the dreaded dentist. I only hoped my sweet tooth wouldn’t get me into too much trouble. In the spirit of holistic wellness I also gave up alcohol. Not for Lent or the foreseeable future but for good. It probably sounds like I had drinking problem, which I don’t. After two shots I’m in for the count. Instead, I gave it up because I realized that I didn’t drink for me as much as for social pressure. Truth be told I was reading Walk Like a Buddha in which the author explains how drinking is fine as long as you’re mindful, don’t use it as an escape, and don’t do it for other people. Three strikes and I was out. I gave it up as easy as pie because I’ve never liked the taste anyway so I doubt I would ever miss it; except maybe for the occasional glass of Moscato. Does wine even count?
For Maury’s birthday weekend we had a scavenger hunt all over town. I remember three different clubs, dancing with a drag queen who kept calling me Selena Gomez, a picture taken at the Washington Park fountain à la Friends, and a one tumbler glass filled to the brim with tequila deceivingly called a ‘shot’. Clearly this was before my vow of sobriety (one would think I had a drinking problem…). But drunkenness has a way of making you bolder than usual. Wasn’t there a pit stop at Potatopia where numbers were exchanged? After hitting up Open House to celebrate with Alain, the other birthday boy of the evening, we were all danced out. Wasn’t there also a blue-eyed boy whom I kept finding on the dance floor? I vaguely remember it not ending well when he keeled over against a wall, literally drunk off his ass. I helped him regain his balance (although I’m sure his dignity was a little harder to steady) and I bade him good night. I woke up the next day sleep deprived and groggy. I got dressed, stopped for a breakfast bagel at the corner Dunkin’ and hailed a cab to the Bronx Museum where Vicky’s Mosquita Muerta video diary was having its premiere. We ended the night with a succulent birthday dinner on Fifth Avenue (who knew Tommy Bahama had such a fantastic restaurant?) and later on with two containers of Magnolia Bakery's banana pudding and an episode of Girls. Clearly this was before my vow of clean nutrition.
February is also pilot season which means that if you were slacking off before (read: October, November, December) now was the time to get serious. I printed a fresh batch of headshots. I auditioned and was subsequently accepted into One-on-One. I went to the Drama Bookshop and compiled a new target list of agents, casting directors, and managers. A trip to Actors Equity Association and taxes were begrudgingly filed (Lordy, is it expensive to live here or what!). Rehearsals for Psychosis – a short film I was set to shoot in April- was underway as well as rehearsals with Ryan for our upcoming Actors Studio audition. I was feeling so productive!
Early Tuesday morning I wake to an email from my Dad in which he writes that he had been denied his visa during his interview that morning. I was shattered. His biggest dream had always been to visit New York and I could feel his disappointment and sadness in every line of the email. I felt solely responsible. For months I’d been writing to him about all the things we would see and do during his visit to the Big Apple. I knew full that the chance for denial was 50/50 but I chose to not even consider the alternative. I felt angry. How could a government be so transgressive of a person’s basic human right to freedom? I felt sadder still. I wanted to give my father his heart’s biggest dream: the chance to see the city he loved so much. The same dream that once upon a time I didn’t know we had shared. My friend Nina, upon hearing the news, said “I know your Dad will able to come. He has to see your life here.” I called up the embassy and set another interview for March 2015. I didn’t know when or how he would see my life here. All I had was the certainty that he would.
By the time Valentine’s Day came around I was in no mood to celebrate. I’m usually a huge fan of the holiday, with or without a date, but for this one I had planned something low-key and fun. On the agenda: takeout, mani/pedi, and a chick flick. My good humor lasted until I got to the office and everyone kept talking about their evening plans. I’m not the girl that proclaimed it a corporate-invented holiday and watched slasher movies out of spite but on the train home everybody carrying flowers, balloons, and chocolates was annoying the hell out of me. Damn it, I was that girl. I finally made it to my apartment where the only red and white object in sight was the kitchen clock. I didn’t plan to leave the house until the next when the world would go back to normal, albeit a little less pretty.
Saturday night. Vicky’s opening night. We make our way through the slushy snow and arrive to the theatre just in time. Afterwards we go for a celebratory dinner. On the search for a good margarita & guacamole joint Ryan gives me the terrible news. An old classmate, with whom I had a rocky track record to say the least, was moving to New York in the summer. I stopped walking. I didn't want salsa chips, I wanted to scream. Every atom in my body flared up in a fit of rage. I thought leaving Miami meant leaving that broken friendship behind me. New York was MY city full of my memories and my landmarks. But now she was moving which meant that I had to deal with her whether I wanted to or not. We had the same circle of friends so it would be nearly impossible not to run into each other. I cringed at the thought of going back to the days when passive-aggressiveness and hypocrisy was thinly veiled as social nicety and fake smiles. Couldn't she stay on her side of the country where I didn’t have to deal with any of that crap? Life has a sardonic sense of humor. It won't leave you alone until a thing is done and over with. I worked myself up into a tizzy and by the end of it the only night who was ruined was mine. I didn't even make it to dinner. Instead I left to go dancing with Ryan and Jian at the Gansevoort Hotel where Jian's co-worker was celebrating his birthday. I needed to blow off steam and right then that meant dancing.
One of my favorite things now to do on the weekends is get up at 8AM, have breakfast, hit the treadmill until I'm weak in the knees (which only takes about 45 minutes) and afterwards take a long shower. Then I sit down by the foot of the bed, assume the lotus position, and meditate. The apartment is quiet; you can barely hear the soft sounds of neighbors going about their morning. If it’s a sunny day the rays of light fall breezily on the hardwood floors. It is my piece of Nirvana. I ask my mind to sit with me and it is in that moment when I find the higher wisdom to realize that everything is a teacher. My ego still refuses to let go of past grudges and old trespasses but some days are better than others. Some days I’m filled with so much compassion for those who’ve wounded me and so much compassion for myself as well. I give myself permission to heal a little slower than I’d like to or probably should. I understand that I have to thank both my roommate and my old friend because they are my gurus. They teach me about equanimity and all the other great principles of Buddhism better than any book. And on most days I thank them.
Another Friday night. I meet Nina for her friend's birthday. After a few songs we put on our coats and head out for one dollar slices. Biting into that doughy piece of New York I realize how silly I'd been. I had made such a big deal about her moving here based on what-if scenarios staged completely in my head. I wasn't giving her enough credit. Who's to say she hadn’t changed? After all, I had. By the same token, I wasn't giving ME enough credit either. My life in New York was as real as the Chrysler building and my memories would always be mine to keep. New York was a beacon of hope for all seekers and dreamers. It was always welcoming. It had always asked for the tired, the poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” My New York was big enough for the both of us. At our next company meeting we talked about upcoming projects. They were projects I felt very passionate about. And so did they. I had made the right decision to stay. I was in the right place.
While the North battled against the bitter January snow storms I greeted the new year in sunny South Florida; having barbecue by the pool and teaching baby Gigi how to float. I wish I could say I felt guilty about escaping the miserable weather but a cold Corona on a hot day has a funny way of persuading you otherwise. I was home for holiday vacation which meant I had plenty of leisure time for lounging with our puppy Pulguita, playing board game Sundays, and catching up with dear friends.
I logged in some much needed face time with my Yari, also known as our Sammy Jones. We hiked up Biscayne National Park while he told me stories of his latest dating shenanigans. We even managed to get in some exercise in between our laughing hysterics. It was so good to see him again. I also got to visit my friend/college professor Marina and see her new home. It was so lovely to shoot the breeze with her and Paul. It was reminiscent of all those other afternoons we spent on those same couches when we talked about art, philosophy, theatre and mainly just tried to figure our shit out. On those afternoons time was irrelevant. We talked about our wonderful FIU stories that I’d long since forgotten because it felt like an eternity ago. Before I knew it it was time to go. I had my going-away party to get to and I was running late. It seemed that on those couches time would always be irrelevant and I was glad that some things never change. I kissed Paulie and Marina goodbye. She smelled exactly the way she always did- Ralph Lauren’s Blue, cigarettes, and comfort.
Going-away parties are always a little sad but they’re never without its precious moments. The adults playing domino a 25 kilo el pase y 50 la ganada. The music always pumping higher than what the speakers can manage. The long table full of Tia Olga’s homemade dishes. Abuelita telling her grandson to get off from that chair because he’ll fall. My baby cousin Anahi sitting on my lap, asking for stories about princesses and frogs- little does she know the premise doesn’t change much even after childhood. She looked up at me with same adoration in her eyes I too once gave my elder sisters and cousins. Nothing makes you feel like you belong at the adult table more than realizing you’re now the older generation.
Like all good things, my vacay came to an end. Around 5AM Lizy and Gigi dropped me off at the Fort Lauderdale Airport. I already missed them all but I was also anxious to get back to the city. I needed to get back to the business of moving. I landed at LaGuardia at 11:30AM on the coldest day of winter. Payback was a bitch. Due to airline delays, I had to quite literally drop off my carry-on and jump in the moving van without a second to spare. Three things I’ve learned about moving- especially in New York, especially below freezing weather. Number 1: don’t plan it from 1,088 miles away. Number 2: don’t schedule it on the same day you fly back from vacation. Number 3: for heaven’s sake don’t think for a second you can manage it alone. For all future moves new rule of thumb is throw some money at the problem and hire professionals. It may not be the stuff of great character building but it will save you major back pains. Pun intended! Luckily for me, my roommate and savior Maury helped me out with all of the heavy lifting. So much so that it’s safe to admit he did it all himself. Six hours and three take-out containers later, I was all moved in. I woke up the next day on an air mattress in the living room, my body more beat up than Rocky after 12 rounds, and without the slightest notion which box contained my toiletries. Vicky, the third ingredient to our Three’s Company trio, arrived from Miami the following night. We all huddled on the air mattress with steaming mugs of cinnamon tea mapping out decorating ideas. Suddenly, I got a sense of déjà vu. Vicky said that someone once told her that déjà vu meant you were on the right path. It has been my favorite explanation thus far.
Over the course of two weeks we went about the process of making the apartment a home. Trips were made to IKEA (new bed), BJ’s (double-size egg cartons), Home Depot (paint and more paint), and Target (chevron-print ottomans). And then came the fun stuff- can you sense the sarcasm?- organizing the pile of boxes that seemed to multiply any time I wasn’t looking. So I put on my Daisy Dukes real low and Pandora on real high and got to work. Now, it’s no great secret that I enjoy housework/home improvement. I find that spending an entire afternoon wielding a brush or washing windows can be more therapeutic than a trip to the head doctor. No really, try it! Next time you’re frustrated have a go at scrubbing the hell out of your bathtub. You can thank me later.
Once every square inch was spic and span it was time to unpack my old life into my new room. My books found a resting place by the two bright windowsills. The plain $10 lamp I’d bought for my first apartment, which I can’t seem to part ways with, cozied up the corner of my “night table” (read: the windowsill that so happens to be on the left side of the headboard). The full sized bed, with its pristine grey sheets, was a kingdom unto itself. After three years of twin-sized confinement I’d become desensitized to the grand luxuries of mattress real estate. That night I slept spread out like a starfish. It was glorious! Putting away the last of the boxes it became evident that this new life fit me quite nicely. Everything had found a place and a purpose. And yet I couldn’t fight the nagging feeling that there was still one loose end to tie up.
After two years of a romantic relationship and four years of an undefined friendship, Mr. Stark and I were left somewhere in between: ex-lovers’ limbo. Undeterred by my reluctance to visit him in the City of Angels, he'd bought a ticket to visit me instead. One simple assessment of our dysfunctional relationship was enough to see that it was an all around a bad idea. I couldn’t keep making the same choices and expect the relationship to magically work itself out. It was illogical and toxic. What I wanted more than anything was a fresh start so I asked him not to come, even after having initially agreed to the trip. That conversation went about as well as an Israeli–Palestinian peace attempt. There were casualties and there was carnage. I could only hope one day he’d forgive me for sparing us both. But even if that day never came, I knew that I was done. I was done with breaking up after every visit, every phone call, every text or message, in every single goodbye. I was done breaking his heart as a byproduct of everything he wanted me to say and that which I couldn’t be.
When the last frame was hung and the broom put away, I plunged back into my career. The new year brimmed with promise and it was time for major revamps. I put together a different marketing strategy focused on finding representation (any day now, Ari Gold!) and joined the One-on-One network for a more discerning selection of workshops. I auditioned at my beloved INTAR for its latest production. I took new pictures with a friend photographer. In one of the portraits he managed to capture a certain je ne sais quoi not easily attainable on film. It was not headshot material, at least not a conventional headshot, but the fun of learning the rules comes from knowing when to break them. I printed 100 copies and off to submissions they went. The dotcom underwent a face-lift and a boob job. The old resume gained a new short-film credit. I was so proud of that one I stopped myself short of writing actor/producer.
Saturday afternoon binge watching Breaking Bad while doing my nails. Bless those simple moments of restorative solitude. Sunday I met Nan, who was visiting from San Francisco, for brunch at Louro. We walk around the West Village streets reminiscing about our college days. Wednesday after work I stop by Victoria’s Secret just to browse but then decide on a dainty, lacy promise that I neatly fold and place on my top drawer as a reminder that just because the flowers are not in bloom it won’t always be winter. Thursday night I meet Vicky at BAM to watch Frank Langella’s King Lear and it is epic: the performance as much as the company. Friday evening I stop by Trader Joe’s for cheese and wine for a dinner party with the girls. We drink, we roll up salami appetizers, and we trade dating horror stories. I think of the small frame Mr. Stark once gave me. It reads “Live the Life You’ve Always Wanted.” I wished the same for him because it’s been the best advice anyone’s ever given me.