For several reasons, Florida holds a special place in my heart and my history. During the eleven years of my childhood that my family and I spent in Jacksonville, I met friends who’ve since become lifelong confidants. When I lived in Florida as an adult, the constant – though sometimes unrelenting – sunshine, miles of beaches, and abundant seafood often made life feel like a perpetual vacation. Also moving to Florida as an adult enabled me to transition out of a troubled emotional period and get some much needed downtime to focus on my shit. For reasons both tangible and spiritual, I have a strong affinity for the Sunshine State, but this summer I’m leaving it behind.
I’ve moved six times since 2009, owed to an aggressive pursuit of educational and professional endeavors and a touch of life ADHD. In most cases, the benefits of the move outweighed the inconvenience of uprooting; however my next to last move – from DC to Phoenix, AZ – resulted in the most challenging period of my then 30-year-old life. The experience of moving across the country for a new job (one that I regretting taking as soon as I accepted it) while dealing with the aftermath of a dreadful relationship left me desperate for something to go right in my life. After exactly one year the chance for improvement appeared in the form of a new job in my sort of home state of Florida. In September 2013, I enthusiastically moved to Orlando, buoyed by the opportunity to be back in semi familiar land and the promise of a fresh start.
I had no expectations for what living in Orlando would be like. Since I was a kid, I have always identified as a big city person. Although I should note that I spent the majority of my childhood in Jacksonville and Enterprise, AL sooo I’m not sure where that insight came from. Orlando was a place that I had always considered big-little. I was both excited about moving closer to home and skeptical about attempting to settle down in Central Florida. My new job required frequent travel, and for my first two years, Orlando seemed like more a resting stop than it did home. Eventually, the nagging sense of not belonging began to wear on me, and I forced myself to make more substantive efforts to be social. My efforts paid off and during my last year in the City Beautiful, I grew to love many parts of the city.
To no one who knows me surprise, those parts largely included food and opportunities to be outside in the sun. I developed a more consistent and deeper yoga practice owed to $5 classes and a few fantastic instructors over at Altamonte Springs Yoga. I made some fabulous, uber supportive friends, many of whom will be in my life for the foreseeable future. My two-bedroom, 1000+ sq ft apartment cost exactly the same as the 500 sq ft studio I rented in DC in my early twenties. fell in love with a bahn mi shop, cigars, and vegan food owed to the city’s many delicious eateries. On the surface, I had no reason to complain about my Floridian lifestyle; however earlier this year as my apartment lease neared expiration for the third time, I found myself hesitant to renew it.
Many things were going well. I had a great apartment, friends and family nearby, restaurants to keep me busy and full, a budding social life. But somehow the sum of those parts didn’t create a place that I could wholeheartedly call home. I often wondered if my frequent trips back to DC and NYC caused me to develop a “grass is greener” perspective that made it hard for me to appreciate Orlando, but I knew that it was more than that. As much as I love cheap living costs and the option of going to the beach year round, those things don’t fuel me. I feel most alive when I’m in cities like DC, NYC, Chicago, or London. Cities with a palpable energy created by the millions of people and their hopes and dreams crammed into a few hundred square miles. Cities that are best explored by walking, with the seasons change quarterly, and where, sadly, the rent is always too damn high. Cities where I’ve always felt pushed to be the best version of myself.
I left Phoenix joyously skipping away,vowing to never live there again, but leaving Orlando has been a more reluctant departure. I moved out of my apartment a month ago, and for the next few months I’ll be hoping around the country with a few trips to the Orlando area for reasons both personal and professional. To be honest, I don’t mind the excuses to return. While deep down I know that I’m meant to live in a bigger city (DC or quite possibly NYC – I’m coming to you soon), I’ll always look back on my time in Florida with a smile.