‘New York is the thing that formed me. New York is the thing that deformed me. New York is the thing that perverted me. New York is the thing that converted me.’ Patti Smith
I wasn’t ready to go. And that’s where my story begins.
If I would have written this essay the moment I arrived in Miami, it would have been an unstable and unfair reflection of my erratic emotions and half-empty expectations of a city I had no interest in. I needed time to let my new reality sink in and some time to allow myself growing pains before I could share my story on loving and leaving New York. I didn’t want to glorify one city and bash another in the midst of my most delicate transition. I equate the experience to that of a break up- where you spend those first couple of months crying and listening to depressing music until one day you snap back to your old self and are able to rationally make sense of a situation. I needed to do the same with my unwanted move. It was up to me to create my happiness in these challenging times. And I did. I have now been in Miami for almost two years, and I can honestly say it took me a good year and a half to be at peace with living here. I spent the those first few months, crying, being resentful, and not wanting to let go of my NY life. I was grieving. Does that sound exceptionally shallow and silly? I’m sure to some it does. But I was grieving my city and I was grieving the life I left behind. As the days and months went by, I knew I had a choice. I could sit on my couch and feel sorry for myself and be miserable, or I could choose to be happy and create a beautiful and positive experience for my family and I. If life has taught me anything about myself, is that I am resilient, I am determined, and I’m optimistic. I have worked hard at making a life in a new Miami- a Miami that I had to rediscover not only as a native, but also as a mother. This was a whole new world for me- and one I wanted to redefine with my husband and my baby, no matter how much I longed for New York.
On September 3, 2013, 12 years after touching down at LGA, I found myself inconsolably crying in the back of a yellow cab on my way to that same airport where I took my first steps as a New Yorker. The memory of my tears, of the 59th Street Bridge, and the slowly disappearing NYC skyline moving away from me, is etched permanently in my brain like a regretted tattoo. I never thought I would see the day when I would leave my beloved city- not now at least. My husband, always quick to give words of encouragement, was at a loss. He knew there was no consolation and he knew he was uprooting me from a life and a city that had become a part of me- a city that had molded me. I hadn’t even left and I was already homesick.
I couldn’t imagine myself living anywhere else but New York. New York was home. A month after becoming a NY resident, 9/11 happened. It was during the days that followed that unspeakable tragedy that I knew more than ever that there was no other place I would rather be. New York was where I decided to build my life, to go to college, to kick-start my television career, and ultimately to start a family. It was where I met my husband. Where we had our first date and we danced all night and then took a train back to my shoebox apartment. It was where we had our first kiss in Chinatown, where we bought our first home together, where we made it official in a City Hall wedding in lower Manhattan. It was where we welcomed our first child at Lenox Hill Hospital. It was where on so many nights on the Upper East Side, I would fall asleep with butterflies in my stomach thinking, “I get to live in the greatest city in the world.” There’s a magic to New York that can’t be duplicated. Love it or hate it, it’s a city that leaves an impression- that sucks you in, spits you out, and yet, you still come back for more. It’s a city of dreams, a city of community, of camaraderie, and a city where opportunities and adventures live in every street crevice, every neighborhood, and every soul you come across. It’s what Frank sings about, “if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…” New York finds its way into your blood and consumes every inch of your sanity and of your spirit. Its aroma and its energy are intoxicating. It’s a city that will drive you madly in love or just plain mad.
New York is not for everyone, but it was for me. It was my city.
I wasn’t ready to leave, especially not for Miami. Yes, the land of palm trees, beaches, and cafecitos was idyllic and nice, but it had stopped being home for me the moment my mom passed away- long before I left to Manhattan. I knew that there was only so much Miami could give me and if I would have stayed, it would have killed me inside. Miami had given me 20 good years, but it was time to move on. I never thought I’d find myself moving back, at least not this soon. But sometimes life has a funny way of rearranging your best-laid plans. It may not be what you want or what you asked for, but it’s probably what you need. The reality of it all was that we were slowly getting priced out of New York. Even though my freelance gigs and Coco’s job brought in good money, the city just kept getting more ridiculously expensive and there was no denying we were feeling those effects. Being upper middle class in Manhattan was a recipe for ultimate extinction. It was time for us to rethink our next move. My thought process was more along the lines of a new life over the bridge; Coco’s was a move down South. I was crushed. I thought marrying a born and bred New Yorker would guarantee me long time residency in the city. I guess I was wrong. But Miami has been an eye-opening learning experience for me. I had to learn at a very young age to take care of myself and to put my well being first. I didn’t have to think about anyone else’s needs but mine. This move has been a lesson in doing for others- in putting Coco first (for a brief period at least). A little give and take in the sacrifice department goes a long way in strengthening your marriage. Miami has also turned out to be beneficial for me career wise. It has allotted me so many new and exciting freelance opportunities that I would have probably have never looked into if I was still in New York. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t be idle here- that I would somehow create a niche for myself in order to stay sane and keep the wheels in my head cranking for however long we would live here. And I have- I continue to cultivate that niche with hard work and gusto. I’m proud of myself for succeeding, for not giving up, and for creating a fresh path amidst this rollercoaster journey. Maya gets to witness first hand the manifestation of two hard-working parents who will stop at nothing when it comes to creating a sense of happiness. Miami came through for me in ways I never expected.
I moved to New York with two suitcases full of an ungodly amount of colorful clothing and $500 to buy myself a bed for my new five story walk-up apartment on 91st street. That’s when you know you are foolishly and blindly in love with New York- when crowded subways, the stench of dog pee in the summer, and those horrible drunk late night walk-ups in your ‘no elevator’ building, don’t even begin to bother you. Instead, they were magical and served as some sort of independent stamp of approval in your up and coming life as a certified New Yorker. But I didn’t buy a bed. Instead I used those 500 bucks to buy myself my first pair of Jimmy Choos on Madison Avenue. I’d officially arrived and my style evolution had unofficially begun. The move to the city was one big culture slap for me. The idea that Miami was some sort of melting pot compared to the culturally saturated landscape of New York was peanuts in scale. Languages I had never even heard, nationalities only known to me from a textbook or globe, were now a part of my everyday. Walking, (yes walking!), was my main source of transportation- so were trains, buses, and cabs. Commuting on a crowded subway to my TV job in Rockefeller Center, listening to my Ipod and sharing a morning commute with other New Yorkers, never got old. Everyday was different and that’s what I loved about it. I never saw myself as a little fish in a big pond-. I saw myself as a really lucky fish because I got to do exactly what I wanted to do since I was little girl. I got to experience four glorious seasons. There was always something special about the city covered in a blanket of snow (before it turned into murky black puddles), especially during the holidays, because everyone knows no one does the holidays like New York. And once you dug yourself out of a blizzard aftermath, there was always a day of sledding at the park to enjoy. Going sledding with Maya and Coco in Central Park is one of my favorite memories to play back in my head. I’m thankful to have suffered through horrid winters of puffer coats and snow boots, only to be welcomed a few months later by a spring awakening. Watching the city and all those heat-starved New Yorkers resurface with smiles and tank tops is still one of my favorite things about living in this urban paradise. $7 manicures, metro cards, spontaneous happy hours with friends, hotdogs at Gray’s Papaya, late night bites at the neighborhood diner, field trips to the city’s countless museums, drunk rooftop soirees in the summertime, picnics in Central Park, and bottomless brunches every weekend were all part of My New York. And New York with a baby? Even better! The city was your classroom. Parks, music classes, and sprinklers were my new normal.
New York enchants you, but it also jades you. Once you’ve lived in the city, no other place measures up. Ask any die-hard New Yorker. Coming back to Miami felt like I was coming back to a different city. As I would tell my husband many times, ‘visiting Miami and living in Miami are two very different things.’ I loved visiting Miami- particularly between January and March when the winter was solemn and bleak. Miami enticed me with her sparkling beaches, her warm weather, and her laid-back ‘I’ll get to it later’ attitude. And I loved missing it. I loved coming to see my family, to see my friends, to get my Cuban food fix, and to show Coco all the memorable sights and scenes that I enjoyed while growing up in the Magic City. And after a week of soaking up all that Miami juju, I was always ready to come back to New York. When people ask me if I miss New York, if I love it here, or if I’m happy to be back, I usually tell them one of two things. I tell them that I love Miami, but I love New York more. It’s just my kind of town. Or I put it to them in these terms. It’s like when you break up with a boyfriend that you really love and you miss that boyfriend terribly, and sometimes you even want to hook up with that boyfriend when you’re feeling a little lonely, but you still NEVER want to get back with that boyfriend. Miami is that boyfriend for me. Yes, I missed it from time to time and there were things I particularly yearned for, at the end of the day, Miami is still a part of me too, but I never missed it enough where I wanted to move back because the thought of leaving New York was just mentally insane to me. New York is the love of my life but Miami is the dirty mistress I can’t shake.
Being back in Miami has been one of the most uncomfortable, challenging, rewarding, and revelatory experiences for me. Miami has forced me to live one day at a time and I’m thankful for that. I refer to my current living situation in Miami as my mommy phase. As a family, the move is a ‘pit stop’ for us- a refueling station- if you may, to reconnect with each other and for me to make amends with this city and my past. While I’ve had to put my career on the back burner for a bit, nothing brings me more joy than being with Maya and being able to do all those things with her that I loved to do while I was growing up. I love spending my afternoons with her at the pool or at the beach (because let’s face it NY, your beaches don’t even come close to Miami beaches). Being here has allowed me to get that one-on-one precious time with her that I probably wouldn’t have gotten if I was working nonstop in the city. I’m able to enjoy her and hang out with her whenever I want. I get to drop her off at school and nothing beats the genuine excitement in her voice and in her face when I pick her up at the end of the day. I get to take her to some of the same parks I used to go to as a kid, and some of the same Cuban bakeries for pastelitos and café con leche. We spend days off from school at attractions like the Miami Seaquarium just like I used to do as a kid.
This is the Miami that I have grown to love.
I don’t know how long we’ll be in Miami- maybe another year, maybe five or ten. I can’t really tell you. But for right now, it’s my home and everyday, I learn to love it a little more. But that doesn’t mean I’m waving my white flag. My NY love affair isn’t quite over and I know we’ll meet again. My feelings for the city haven’t wavered and I still get teary-eyed when my plane flies over that illustrious skyline that has come to mean so much to so many, knowing that in a few short minutes I get to pretend like I never left- because that’s how it feels. I pick up right where I left off- pushing my stroller down the UES and blending in with the 8 million stories that make this city ‘the greatest city in the world.’
I’ve come home.
Photography by: Kim Mancuso Photography (@kimmancusophotophraphy)