In October, I had the opportunity to head to Orlando and spend five weeks living there with my mom.
the land of Disney World and tourists is where I grew up, partly. I left when I was 13, my mom, dad and I (my sister was in college) packing up and moving to oil-rich Houston, Texas, where I attended high school, and finished the whole growing up thing.
When I had the chance, I jetted out of the interminable heat — Florida and Texas — opting instead to attend college in Colorado. After college I headed to Boston and then to Rhode Island. The seasons, the cold, the snow — I loved it and wanted to stay with it. I’d rather mountains and seasons and snow than beach and heat and sun, any day.
Since moving out of Orlando and discovering the wide world of winter, I’ve been pretty down on the place. i’ve viewed it as just a massive city full of pavement, a place that values roads and cars over outdoor space or people, installs strips malls instead of independent shops, a place where the heat is oppressive and never ending and the AC is always yanked up to the highest level.
But over the course of October, I found that i’d given orlando pretty short shrift. Sure, there were areas overrun by those strip malls, but there were also whole communities full of independent shops that were walkable, there were loads of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, trivia nights at bars with local brews. there were slacklining communities (though definitely more sparse than the NE and out west), and the movie theatres in orlando have no equal –they’re why i fell in love with movie nights. and while there were many days it I found it too hot to run outside, there were other days where the heat was just right for a dip in a local spring. there were days when the rain fell from the sky in incredibly powerful displays of mother nature. orlando might not have snow or mountains or hiking, but it had a lot of very cool features that I’d been almost purposely blind to for over a decade.
alongside rediscovering orlando, I also rediscovered my family over those five weeks. instead of the usual trip down to florida, where my family and I spend 48 hours rushing through a tightly schedule set of dinners and hangouts, trying to fit in enough time with each other to last until the next time i come down, this time, we got to take things as they came. every second didn’t need to be scheduled because I wasn’t going anywhere. and every time we hung out wasn’t the last time we’d be able to see each other. we could breathe a little.
Over the five weeks, I was able to spend more time with my sister, playing games like catan, sharing stories and laughter, visiting her classroom and experiencing her day to day schedule while spending a good deal of time with her husband and their fur baby, charlie. instead of just a quick afternoon with my dad, i got to spend several days and nights spending time going to fairs and movies and dinners and his neighborhood watering hole. With my mom we were able to spend time laughing and joking, bonding over driving together and The Voice and food, sharing stories about the guys we love, and the jobs we work.
with each family member, the gift of more time gave me the chance to find better ways to communicate with them, gave me more understanding of who they are. there were deeper conversations, more laughs. we shared more and got closer.
At the end of the five weeks, when i boarded the plane back home to Providence, i found myself feeling very differently than i had when leaving Orlando in the past. Instead of breathing a sigh of relaxation after a crazy jam-packed weekend, I found that I felt sad. I was going to miss Orlando, i was going to miss my family.
As we took off, i found myself thinking of orlando, for the first time in 15 years, as home. Maybe not a home ill move back to, or a home that i get to visit as often as I’d like, but a home i love and care for, full of people that mean the world to me.