Things I like about Miami

Murals on walls
Cats on sidewalks

Bars in hotels
Hotels with pools
Pools with tables in them

Beds next to water
Water taxis
Stone yachts

Secret gardens
Serious musicians

Old-guy guitarists
Drunk guys who share their wine

Guys who don’t dance
Guys who speak to me in Spanish
Girls in leopard print dresses

Getting lost


Nothing prepared us for this small Caribbean island, not our maps, not our omnipresent iPhones, not our best intentions. From the moment we arrived, everything assaulted us. The colors, vibrant; the people, guarded; the sun, brutal. We wanted an escape. Liberation from reality. A break from our cold, gray, gritty winter. The chance to turn bitter truths into lies.

We drove the twisted island roads, where we had to navigate by feel rather than sight. Carefully planned trips to dinner quickly dissolved into goose chases as restaurants eluded us. Nothing lasts on an island. By the end of our trip we’d sampled a wide variety of island cuisines, from simple pinchos by the road the first night to tacos on a bluff overlooking the rainforest to empanadas and croquettas in a café on a busy square. The unpredictability riled us.

In our wanderings, we found fences. Fences edged even the most run down homes, staking off territory, setting boundaries as if the island itself weren’t solitary enough, as if this spot of land could ever be owned. Barbed wire fences lined the glimmering beaches, grates locked up the defunct restaurants, blocking access. We respected our limits. We did small things – hiked to a stone tower, stumbled our way into a cave, ferried to a tiny island with a strip of brown sugar sand. We found an old church, its joyful music pouring through its wrought-iron grates. In the old city we found a few more places where life escaped the fences – rounding a street corner we came to a window without a pane, a woman just inside sitting at her kitchen table. We said hello.

Who could we be here? Certainly not who we thought we were. The island had its own ideas, its inhabitants, others. The island tried to darken our skin and lighten our hair; it tried to change us. Its inhabitants spoke to us only in English, refusing to teach us. The island initiated us, its inhabitants imitated us.

Our old ways failed us. You, driving, always chose the wrong fork, and I, frantic, would cry out, “Stop!” and then, “Turn left. Here.” And despite your irritation, we found that this new way, this irrational and immediate method of judgment-making, worked. We went in-between. We were forced to stumble, jerk, grope, seep, abandon our desires in favor of finding the surprises. So maybe this will be our new thing.

Where are you right now?

Last week I took a trip to Puerto Rico. Where I live, it’s winter – bitter, gray, snowy – and it has been for awhile. So Geoff and I tossed our swimsuits in a bag, bought some sunscreen, grabbed the kids, and headed for the airport. A few hours later, we squinted in the late afternoon tropical sun and shed our sweatshirts.

We spent our time on the beach, swimming and building sandcastles. Geoff opened a coconut for us and poured the water into our mouths. We hiked in the rainforest and we explored cobblestone streets and centuries-old castles. I took a lot of pictures, and of course, I posted some on Facebook. I shared my sunny moments, my too-cute kids, my lucky life with my winter friends. I did it not so much to show off as to bring my half-frozen friends with me, even if just for that one second that they scanned my photo in their Facebook feeds. Because, let’s face it, winter is long and hard and everyone needs an escape.

On our last evening, we stopped at a beachside park before dinner, to let the kids play and watch the surfers. As I sat on a stone bench, my phone tucked away in the rental car, I watched the people at the park. There was a young mom chasing a toddler younger than Nate, one hand on her phone at all times. There was a young woman in professional-looking skirt and blouse, perfect hair, clearly just off of work, typing madly on her iPhone. She never looked up at my kids who were playing on the grass around her. An older man sat on a bench a little ways down from us, eyes locked on his phone, and never even glanced at the surfers just yards away and directly in front of him.

Everyone else in the park was elsewhere. I’d love to believe that they, like me, might have been posting photos to help thaw their winter friends. I’d love to believe that all the people in the park were sharing their version of paradise. But I fear that they were trying to escape themselves. That reality is just as ugly even when you sit just yards from the beach, beauty staring you in the face.

I’m back at home now, and honestly, it’s nearly impossible to escape from the polar vortex outside. Ice is forming inside my windows. Our vacation feels distant, dreamlike. It’s tempting to read my email, text a friend, flip through my Twitter loop, anything to avoid looking at the snow piles outside and wondering how long it will be until I see grass again. Reality is hard to take and escapes, even real ones, are only temporary.

Still, if you’re reading this from paradise, text me a photo.