One year ago I flew home to Miami from Minnesota – where I was living at the time, and where I had recently moved in with my ex-boyfriend – for a dear friend’s wedding. Two weeks at home filled with reunions of family and friends, and then I would be back in the tundra. That was the plan.
When I arrived home, my parents inquired about my relationship and my future. My plan was to move to my ex’s hometown, Berkeley, California. I was in denial about the nightmares I had about moving. How daunting it was to consider a life across the country from my family and friends. I would wake up in the middle of the night, pacing around our apartment, nauseous. I only admit that fact now because a year has passed and I figure I may as well be vulnerable and truthful about my experience. So, when my parents asked me questions about my relationship and next steps, they helped me breakthrough my view of the short term and extend my purview into the future.
At my friend’s wedding, I was surrounded by members of my community I have known for 20 years. Best friends who knew my family, hardships, and essence as a child. Community members surrounded me; a doctor who made house calls a couple times when absolutely needed, friends parents who housed me when I didn’t want to be around my own as a teenager, and acquaintances I had not seen since adolescence. I looked around and knew that if I were to stay in Minnesota and move further westward, I would tear farther away from the soul of home; I would be incomplete.
What I now understand I was experiencing was the heavy gut feeling that my needs were not being met up north in my relationship. Distanced and frigid, why stay? Love, that’s all. But what did love have to do with my dreams of the future? Not very much it turned out. I had no property nor children nor commitments to virtually anyone in Minnesota. I felt love, or what I thought was love, and I was empty. Even the abundance that came my way I could not receive for my vessel was cracking. Following a couple of upsetting discussions, I knew there was no reason to attempt to repair a relationship with someone I had no material ties to, and who had a different vision of the future.
Within a week of being home, I took a flight back to the Midwest. On my way to the airport, I stopped at my dad’s event catering warehouse where his employees who I’ve known for my entire life – and who my dad has known longer than he’s known my mom – fed me the only Thanksgiving meal I would have that year. My plan was to break up and to pack my belongings. A midnight exit was necessary to save myself further pain, as I realized I had not been prioritizing myself. At the airport, I bonded with a TSA agent whose girlfriend was playing mind games with him, and we wished each other well as I marched through a metal detector.
My Uber driver from the airport on a 20 degree Wednesday night heard me explain my future journey home, and he ordered me to affirm “I am strong.” That night I ended things with my ex and then had dinner with an old friend from college over pho. When I walked into the apartment after dinner, I began to pack and cried. Recalling memories of Apple day festivals, walking on frozen lakes with pellets whipping my face like burning sand, camping in the Apostle Islands on the edge of Lake Superior, snowshoeing at Gale Farms, making acquaintances with a cheese farmer, experiencing quarantine in solitude only to find love.
On Thanksgiving morning, I drove to the neighborhood gas station near Lake Nokomis and purchased a blue raspberry slushie and a tube of mini m&m’s. While I packed my clothes, books, and kitchen supplies – a friend said “if you break his heart, he gets to keep the furniture” – Gilmore Girls played in the background and cold air rushed through the crack I had left in the porch door. The two and a half years prior played in my head like a film reel with missing clips. How did I end up here? I asked myself.
Documents from work, a sales playbook, and journals of notes from calls were piled on the standing desk I invested in during quarantine’s work from home shift. Except the second job I had, which I transitioned to a year and a half into my northern adventure, was one that I would go into in-person multiple times a week. I wouldn’t tell my boss that I fled Minnesota until February. I collected my materials. I ate spoonfuls of Nutella and leftover pho as I prayed to G-d the day would end.
Thursday night I went to the Chabad house where I had attended countless meals. It was only myself and the shluchim couple. “I’m going home,” I told them. “Finally, it sounds like you’ve found certainty,” they said. That night my dad’s employee who I am closer with than all five of my aunts and uncles flew to Minnesota to assist with my escape. The next morning he helped me pack my car to the brim. He drove it home for me to save me the stress.
By Friday night I was at a Shabbat dinner in Miami and shared the news. Alas, I had come home…
The months following were filled with a readjustment to life at home with my parents. I had not lived with them since my teenage years which were filled with conflict and disagreement. It was a second chance, and one of the greatest blessings of my life.
I worked from home and traveled in January to Minnesota and Arizona for work. In February I visited a friend in New York. In March I spent a week in Salt Lake City for work the week of Purim. During the fast of Esther I stayed in my hotel room. It occurred to me the flying back and forth thing had an expiration date. I was spending my days among married 40 to 50-something year old men who I was entertaining and assisting. They were kind and taught me a lot about teamwork. However, as a Jewish half-latina Miami girl, it was challenging connecting with Midwestern suburban fathers who enjoy golf outings, home improvement, and betting on sports.
Spring came around and I was lost. I slept no more than four hours a night, wrote all day long, and drowned in memories that had to surface in order to disappear. I traveled more to Minnesota, which became a haunting experience. Driving down streets I lived on, not seeing people who once meant the world to me. On one occasion I could not figure out how to reverse the Audi rental car the kind man at Enterprise gave to me after I arrived in the storefront breathless, just having sprinted across the highway. On a one way suburban road in the snow, I spent a good seven minutes figuring out how to switch gears.
Disillusioned by enterprise technology, I began to resent my job. I loved my team but disliked the world of maximizing corporate profits. I have always been an anarchist, even at five years old (my mother says), so what the hell was I doing appealing to organizations that I reject? Aha! The answer, I thought, was to go on a WOOF program. Dwelling on a finca in Nicaragua with a small family in a rural area sounded perfect. Or a farm in California where I would milk goats. More likely though would be cleaning the animal pens and building farm infrastructure. Had I gone, I probably would have lasted three days.
In May at a Khruangbin concert with a friend who had recently returned from Oregon, I decided I would go stay at the same hostel my friend had returned from. The next day I booked two weeks at Bunk & Brew for June, and reserved flights – Miami to Houston, to Los Angeles to Redmond.
June came around and I was in Bend, Oregon. There – weed cost a few dollars a joint, hippies who literally lived out of vehicles such as school buses and ambulances habitually dosed mushrooms, and I was both enchanted and befuddled. I went on hikes alone around waterfalls and snow covered mountains where I meditated. Among mossy trails with thick pine tree canopies, I was in the planet’s heart chakra. I went paddle boarding and even rock climbed on one occasion. “Anyone can do it,” said the friends I made while I was there. As I climbed Smith Rock, the girl who I connected with most – who enjoyed 4,000 foot overnight climbs on icicle coated rocks – belayed me and said, “you look really unstable.”
The mountains were refreshing yet I was confused as few folks around me seemed to work a full time job. I was suddenly grateful to have a team that I was committed to. The feeling didn’t last for very long. When I went to the Chabad in Bend, they didn’t answer the door.
In Los Angeles I saw my friend who got married last November. I told her the influence her wedding had on me – that it catapulted me home… In her apartment I connected with her husband, which was special and something I had never experienced before. I saw a friend from middle school and high school who I frequently traveled with while on the high school debate team. We went to a party and on a hike. Then I stayed with my best friend who I grew up across the street from since the age of three. She felt fulfilled in her livelihood, relationships, and setting. I felt how much I craved the same.
The summer went on and I wished for it to end. When I was 12, I became sick over the summer while away with my family. I had to fly home in a hurry to go to the hospital. Ever since, summer was the season I dreaded most. It’s also the time of year that is most tragic for the Jewish people… My job was slowly killing me – I listened to Radiohead’s No Surprises on loop – and traveled to Minnesota one last time.
I stayed in an Airbnb in South Minneapolis with a host so unhinged that I left at 5AM my first night there. She told me she was robbed by a pimp as though it was my business (that’s the half of it, a brief detail of what she divulged). I prayed for her and got a hotel room. At the 3M Open golf tournament, which I flew up for, I connected with a kind CIO of a large tech company. Another person I spoke with complimented my name and asked my heritage. When I said I was Jewish, he called me a “Hebrew” and said he would teach me about the New Testament, that “the end has already been told.” In my mind I imagined him showing up at my house with a pitchfork blaming me for killing Jesus.
By August, with the support of my parents (thank G-d), I resigned from my job. I was sent off cordially with respect, and felt relieved. Finally I would declare how I need to write and express myself in my career. How terrible it would be to wake up at 35 with however many kids and think, darn… I never followed my dream.
In September I traveled for a month to Vienna, Budapest, Prague, and Jerusalem. Abroad I was reminded how in the United States we are often like cogs in a machine, and how people in other countries drink wine and eat cake midday with a cigarette in hand. Not that I want to drink or smoke – the cake I’ll take – however life slowed down in the best way. Still, as much as people hate America, I believe it is the place on earth with the most opportunity. It’s usually American born citizens who choose to bash the country. Immigrants and children of immigrants (like me) grew up hearing about life in countries far more corrupt and dangerous; America is a haven, even without mid-day cake.
In Israel, another haven – A friend got married in Jerusalem right before Rosh Hashanah, with a view of the city hanging in the background of her flower festooned chuppah. She and her husband embodied purity and how sincerely and viscerally they felt they were completing each other. Chuppahs are like a channel to the divine, and the blessings that came down I still feel flowing.
The high holidays were like a quick jolt of lightning that sent me across the universe; Rosh Hashanah in Jerusalem, Yom Kippur in Budapest; a Shabbat in Prague; Sukkot in Vienna. The Kol Nidre service I went to was at Kazinczy Street Synagogue, the most beautiful shul I have ever seen. There were hundreds of seats yet less than 30 people in the synagogue. 100 years ago, it was probably full. I couldn’t shake the thought of the Holocaust… My sister reframed it: it’s a miracle we were there at all. I returned home four and a half weeks after my initial departure. A sukkah party was my first stop directly from the airport. I was delirious and exhausted, simultaneously warmed by my homecoming.
I have been back in Miami for a month now. The last month has consisted of freelance assignments and research I am conducting. (If you’re reading this, I would love to interview you for my research.) I am pursuing things now that I probably shouldn’t write about; it’s better to share a project or pursuit once it’s completed, or at the least, fully formed. A man I sat next to at a meal in Jerusalem referenced a venture of his, and when I asked for more details he said, “if I talk about it, I find it’s less likely to actually happen.”
A few weeks ago I was in my college town, Gainesville. I saw a former professor who shared words of encouragement. I was reminded of how carefree and confident I felt as a college senior; and now resolve to inhabit those attributes once again.
What I know is that I must work in a setting where I am both challenged and welcomed to express ideas. There’s pressure, only that I put on myself. My 89 year old grandma says to enjoy the journey. It’s laughable how years away from family, a plague, and breakup can cause one to retreat… I am open to the world again. As my unfiltered self, finally. Now I see my grandma often, run into friends and mentors, and wake up at sunrise to shore fish with my father. I am surrounded by a vibrant Jewish community and no longer feel alone.
I am writing this to tell you the story. More so, I am writing to set myself free. Is this really worth sharing, I think. It’s not art, is it? Does anyone need to know?.. There are no answers.
We all share the exciting, shiny moments of our lives online. I should share the narrative of my last year – minus a detailing of my ebb and flow of emotions, and many inner impasses.
Being a twenty-something is dramatic and loaded with uncertainty. What I wish for myself this year and all the years moving forward is to stay laser focused on my vision of the future, while enjoying the present moment. I wish the same for you, too.