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Bertha's List: December Edition
 I believe in second chances.

Maybe that’s why I associate the end of the year with the hope that the trials suffered will give birth to a new dawn. The New Year will certainly bring its own set of mistakes, such is life, but the hope is that we can apply what we learned in the old one for the betterment of the new one. My last horoscope read- “The challenge of 2012 was personal growth. This is the last in a three-year phase of self-development and reinvention through hard lessons.” I can only take that to mean that if 2012 was the year for sowing, 2013 will be for reaping. But before I skip along to "Auld Lang Syne" I should start with the most magical of holidays: Christmas.

By some crazy airline miracle made in Delta heaven my sister found me a cheap ticket which would eventually lead to an elaborate plan to surprise my Mom on Christmas Eve by showing up on her doorstep. Her emotional reaction, captured and immortalized in a Facebook video, was the best present I could possibly give her. Some presents, usually the best ones, you just can’t wrap. My sister threw an impressive party for Nochebuena, mixing our Cuban traditions with our adopted American sensibilities. Bing Crosby’s soft voice crooned in the living room, salsa/merengue played in the backyard, everybody playing dominoes and kissing under the mistletoe. It was a Miami Christmas and the best I’ve ever had. Of course the holidays would not be complete without a little family drama. Turns out a certain outsider didn’t know that when she hurt one of our own she messed with the pride of lionesses we become when protecting our cubs. My family is blunt, rambunctious and we talk over each other’s sentences but what we lack in social niceties we make up for in fierce loyalty. After she cowered away, much to her chagrin, all that upheaval only managed to wind our pack closer together. We made bonds that night that will tie us even when memory no longer serves us.

Christmas morning greeted me with the smell of fresh-out-the-oven Knaus Berry Farm cinnamon rolls. I don’t know if my baby sister was vying for the Hostess of the Year blue ribbon award but it was a real welcome home treat. That night my cousins took me to a showing of “Les Misérables” and it felt like the beginning of a new tradition: a tradition where we go to the movies on Christmas night and I talk my brother-in-law’s ear off during Hugh Jackman’s solo. Or some other traditions like blasting “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and prancing around the living room in our jammies. Or playing musical chairs to José Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad.” Or playing Taboo till the wee hours and eating cold pizza. Or lying under the tree looking at the lights, serenaded by a two-year-old’s sweet rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Like something straight out of an old, black and white, feel-good holiday movie my family Christmas was exactly that perfect.

On the day of my departure my Mom made me the most delicious lunch. As I chewed my last bites of arroz blanco y frijoles colorados I thought about having to go back to my empty apartment (sans Mom’s cooking) and I was pleasantly surprised. The sadness that usually accompanied my three hour return flight to New York (more often than not turning into a weeklong sulk) just wasn’t there. For the first time I was actually looking forward to go (dare I say it!) home. Yes, I did have some fun upcoming events that could have been the culprit for my unexpected excitement. I was really looking forward to my trip to Boston and celebrating New Year’s Eve with my “urban family.” But it also felt like something else. I felt…sated.

Long after the ball dropped and the confetti was swept off 42nd Street, I sat with friends reminiscing about our past year. Two thousand and twelve was the year I chopped off my hair like a rebel and turned 27 like a big girl. It marked the year of my baby cousin’s birth and my sister’s anniversary of wedded bliss. It was the year my Mom found love and I got my own heart broken. It was the year my career hit a plateau, I got denied acceptance into The Actor’s Studio, and had the worst audition of my life. On April 25 I was diagnosed with low-grade mucoepidermoid carcinoma and on June 18 I had the successful surgery that pronounced me cancer-free. On May 23 I began chanting and on August 29 I had my first Buddhist intro class. On September 23, after nearly ten years, I went back to Cuba and found the redemption I sought. October marked one year of newsletters and coming into my own as a writer, published two articles in an online magazine. In two thousand and twelve I visited Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment, ate macarons in front of Tiffany’s, fell in love with the New York Public Library, met Sir Paul McCartney and Woody Harrelson, had drinks on a rooftop overlooking the Freedom Tower and got to see Obama elected for a second term.

Unexplicably I burst into tears. I say unexplicably because I couldn’t understand why I was crying in the middle of a perfectly normal conversation in my friend’s perfectly normal Brooklyn apartment. Nothing bad had happened recently, no major life changes- so why had I turned on the water works and why was I having a breakdown??? Only till weeks later, after reading Kelly Cutrone’s If You Have to Cry, Go Outside, did I realize that I wasn’t having a breakdown, I was having a breakthrough. My body physicalized what my soul already knew and my mind still hadn’t processed- I was becoming a grown-up. So I start this New Year, this promising year of change, with the hope to keep making mistakes. Big ones. Colossal. If not, how will I keep growing? And if all else fails, there’s always next year. I hear there’s always room there for second chances.


"...sometimes the hardest lessons to learn are the ones your soul needs most. I believe you can’t feel real joy unless you’ve felt heartache. You can’t have a sense of victory unless you know what it means to fail. You can’t know what it’s like to feel holy until you know what it’s like to feel really fucking evil. And you can’t be birthed again until you’ve died."

~Kelly Cutrone

Copyright © 2012 Bertha Leal, All rights reserved.
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