Before you read this, you should know: This is a relatively long story of how I used a devastating break up to pursue a lifelong dream. It includes vulnerable and shockingly honest details of my personal life, which I ask that you read with kindness in your heart and the understanding that by sharing our stories, to the degree at which we are each personally comfortable with, we can open up a broader conversation that could help others with similar experiences.
Five weeks ago today, on August 4th, 2019, I stepped off of a plane that traveled from New York to Medellín with my 7-year-old rescued Black Lab, Sam, and took my first few steps into my new life of being an expat in Colombia. The move had taken about three months to plan from conception to execution, including hundreds of hours of research, dozens of phone calls and emails, and a few dark moments when the only cures for the fear brought on by incessant and distressing thoughts of how difficult an international move might be were yoga (with Adrienne on YouTube, specifically) and deep, deep breaths. Although slow and painstaking at times, those three months of planning flew by faster than I had anticipated, and soon I found myself breathing in the fresh Colombian air instead of merely dreaming about it. Finally, I was in Medellín, and words cannot explain how amazing it felt to finally be free.
Now, there’s a lot that went into this move that I want to share, including why I chose Medellín/Colombia, why I decided to move in the first place, and how I managed to do it. I have been asked about how and why I brought Sam with me, what I am doing for work and how long I plan to stay. In this post, I’m going to answer as many of those questions as I can, both for the loyal Crumbles (readers of this blog) who have been following along from the beginning of my journey, as well as for any new visitors who may have stumbled upon this page during a soul-searching chapter of their lives, too. I hope this post can serve as a reminder that although our lives can take an unexpected turn at any moment, instead of fearing it we should embrace it with the understanding that, as uncomfortable and demoralizing as it can feel, if we welcome the changes in our lives that we can’t control while pursuing the passions that spark little fires in our souls, opportunities that we could only dream of will soon fall into our laps and remind us that everything in life happens for a reason. And after all is said and done, even if we don’t understand why it happened, we will be better for it.
The story of why I’m in Medellín starts about 8 years ago when I was a freshman college student at the University of Connecticut sitting in on my first real lecture for a Linguistics class called “Language and the Mind.” The topic was “Mother Tongues,” or, one’s native language — the one in which their brain forms its first connections. For many, myself included, one’s Mother Tongue (MT) differs from the predominant language of the culture in which they are raised, which can cause their comprehension and production skills in their MT to reduce significantly, and sometimes diminish entirely as their second language becomes the dominant of the two. This is pretty much what happened to me. I am Latina-American, which for me means that my native language was Spanish. Then, at the age of 3, I was enrolled in an English-only preschool and subsequently grew up learning in an English-speaking school system, surrounded by an English-speaking environment and culture. I began to take formal Spanish classes in school at an early age, but doing so did not prove to be a successful effort in regaining fluency in my Mother Tongue. Strictly studying verb tenses and conjugations led me to over-analyze every aspect of grammar in the Spanish language, which caused me to second-guess myself any time I would speak it, and eventually evolved into me feeling so incapable of speaking my native tongue that I would avoid interactions with my adored Spanish-speaking family members out of self-imposed shame and embarrassment. The guilt of having lost my first language plagued me for years until I was sitting in that very first Linguistics lecture about Mother Tongues and heard the words: “One’s mother tongue is never fully lost. It is always there. And the only way to truly access it is through immersion.” Light bulb. I could get my Spanish back, I realized. I could become fluent again and reconnect with my family. All I would have to do is move back to where they’re from for a few months, and I could pick it back up again. Light! Bulb!!! “One day I’ll move to Medellín for six months before having a family of my own so that I can pass the language down to my kids,” I thought to myself. And at that moment, a huge life plan nestled itself in the boroughs of my mind, heart, and soul. But then, I met a boy…and everything changed.
I was 19, having just finished my freshman year when I met a boy a couple years older than me with whom I quickly fell in love. After trudging through my last few years of college in a blissful long-distance relationship with him, filled with exciting plans for our future together, I soon graduated and proceeded to orbit my entire life around his. I moved to his home town, held his hand through the process of achieving his lifelong goal of becoming a police officer, bought a house with him, adopted a dog, and happily planned my life around the family we were creating together. And then, 6 years into our relationship and one year into owning a house together, I found out that he was cheating on me. Like…really cheating on me. I found out about a secret girlfriend that he had been living with when he wasn’t home, with whom he had also been sharing plans to marry and have kids, along with a handful of other girls with various connections to his life, ranging from ex-girlfriends to random girls at the bar, that he was seeing on the side. I learned about all of this and more when, one evening, a dear friend shared convincing evidence that he had spent one of my recent nights away on vacation with his high school sweetheart and she encouraged that I confront him about it. Now, confrontation is not in my nature, and at this point in our relationship, my love for and trust in this person was so profound that I had never suspected him of so much as looking at another girl throughout the entirety of our relationship. But, I confronted him. Mortified, yes, of what I might find out, but too angry (with an urge to scream-demand answers) to care. To make a very long and layered (like an onion or a cinnamon bun, depending how you look at it) story of betrayal short, I’ll just say that I screamed-demanded answers, he volunteered his phone to me, and within seconds I found an insurmountable amount of incriminating texts including one that fully ripped my heart out and photographically burned itself into my memory, forever and without remorse.
“I’m seeing Ashley, Alex, and another girl, but none of them are really chill so when one annoys me I just go to the other. It’s my world, they’re just living in it”
It’s my world, they’re just living in it…
Six years. Six years of being fully and unconditionally faithful to a guy whom I had been planning the rest of my life with thrown away instantly. I was floored with shock, devastation, and a myriad of questions. Just how involved was he with these girls? How long had he been cheating on me and exactly how many times within the past six years? What do we do about the house? Is my body safe? Can we make this work?
The immediate and gut-wrenchingly honest truth that I knew for sure within seconds of discovering his infidelity was that no, we could not make it work. The devastation was far too catastrophic to be rebuilt. In more ways than one, this person had proven himself to be a deeply troubled individual, and it was far beyond my threshold of empathy to help guide him through resolving his inner turmoil. I knew that holding his hand through treatment and hoping he would change would take more away from my life and happiness than provide for it. Helping him would be a surefire death sentence for my heart, and a painstaking task with no guarantees of success. None of this, given our reconciliation, could provide me with even an ounce of happiness close to what I deserved (and dammit, after this moment if I knew one thing for sure it was that I deserved it all).
So I left.
Well, I kicked him out of the house. Then I started to plan my exit.
I knew I would sell my rights to the house to him (a process referred to as “Buying Out”). I knew that I wanted to move out of his home town, out of my home state of Connecticut, to a new place that reminded me of none of the above…but, I didn’t know where. I tried looking for jobs in New York, L.A., and pretty much anywhere that could offer a refreshing change of scenery while living comfortably with my dog (of whom I established sole ownership over in a very Legally Blonde, “…and I’m taking the dog, too!”-Esque way. I never imagined that my best Jennifer Coolidge impression wouldn’t, in fact, be the “Bend, and Snap,” but here we are).
Then, with the help of the most encouraging friends and family in the world, I realized that every possible door was opening for me to fulfill the dream of moving to Medellín that had sprouted all those years ago. By selling the house to him, I had the financial opportunity to afford more than a few months of rent in the city of my dreams, one that is incredibly affordable to live in compared to pretty much anywhere in the United States. Upon further research, I learned that it is an overwhelmingly pet-friendly city, one that invites dogs to join their owners at places like malls and restaurants with outdoor seating. I had learned all I needed to know. From there, my plan to actualize my life’s biggest dream began to form. Over the course of the next few months, I worked tirelessly to coordinate the processes of selling the house to him: how much I would sell it for, as well as organizing my exit from homeowner life. I researched all the requirements for bringing Sam with me on the plane and successfully into the country through customs. I collaborated with family friends to find a place to live and fully catapulted myself into the process of executing an international move. I began to look for jobs, but quickly became inspired to actualize another lifelong dream: to write and publish my very first book. So, I forfeited the job hunt and decided to focus my time in Medellín solely on writing a book that gives me an immense sense of purpose, as well as working to rebuild this very website that, having just celebrated it’s first year live, has been severely neglected throughout the process of my getting knocked down and slowly picking myself back up again, sprinkled with a light international move.
Now, about the book. Sparing the intimate details of its plot, I’ll just say that it has nothing to do with my break up. My mind needed a full 180° turn from the thoughts of my ex’s infidelity and yearned to express gratitude for a different area of my life that has had a profound effect on who I am today: being the daughter of a gay man. Thus came the idea for my book — a historically-informed fiction novel that tells the story of Gay Liberation and the AIDS crisis in 1960’s-1980’s NYC through the eyes of a teenager who learns that her dad is gay. The idea for the novel is inspired by my own story of having grown up with a gay dad and subsequently being raised in and by the LGBT+ community, reimagined during a time of fierce activism, self-expression, and profound devastation, much of which is still a part of the community’s struggle today. Just thinking about it gives me an enormous sense of pride and honor to be able to bring a story like this to life, especially after having evolved in my own self-identity and realizing that, by virtue of being a newly-out bisexual woman, the valiant victims and survivors of that time period were my ancestors, too. After being presented with the opportunity to work on the book full-time, I decided to take the plunge. I quit my job, sold my car and every last piece of furniture I owned, and exactly 365 days after the saga of my break up began, I stepped off of a plane in Medellín, Colombia with my sweet, loveable rescued dog and moved into a quiet and incredibly serene and safe two-bedroom apartment, surrounded by tropical foliage and welcomed by the delish smells of what I personally believe to be the best cuisine in the world.
While I have fallen absolutely in love with this vibrant city and its kind and welcoming people, I would be lying if I said that my time here has been without struggle. Truth be told, there is a lot that I set out to do here. I am here to write a novel, to explore my heritage, to revamp this website so that it reflects more accurately the new season of life I have found myself in, as well as making it accessible in both English and Spanish. After five weeks of being here, I find that I am still struggling to balance the three, on top of trying to take care of myself daily. Nourishing myself is difficult, even as a self-taught chef and a self-proclaimed foodie, because I have been secretly struggling with multiple eating disorders for many years (but, I’m okay…more on this in a later blog post) as well as a crippling social anxiety that keeps me from getting dressed and going outside until I absolutely have to. I am happy to report, however, that I am feeling more grounded in my space each day, confident in myself, and more driven to reconnect with the passions that make me truly happy inside. Every day feels a little easier, and with Sam by my side, I am grateful to be able to say that I never feel truly alone.
So, that’s where we are, for now, my dear Crumbles. I appreciate your patience as I work through getting this website up and running again. My blog posts might be different for a bit, as I am doing less recipe inventing and more restaurant hopping these days, but they will nevertheless carry a strong emphasis on self-care, mental health, and self-love. There are a lot of heavy topics that I have felt inspired to talk about over the past year — i.e. healing from a break up, dealing with an eating disorder, and coming out as bisexual to name a few — and I am slowly but surely gaining the confidence to bring that type of content to this website. I can’t make any promises yet on a consistent posting schedule, but I just want you to know that being here — writing this blog post and connecting with you all again — brings me more joy than pretty much anything. So, I’ll be back soon. But for now, if you could just indulge me in one small favor: wrap your arms around yourself and give yourself a big hug from me to you. If you’re reading this, I love you and I hope you love yourself, too. If not, check back into this blog soon. I might have some content for you.
Peace and So Much Love,