As I sit on a DC 747 en route to Miami, the city my sister and I fled 21 years ago, I cannot help but open the flood gates and reminisce. She was just an 11 year-old little girl, I was a 17 year-old with a college scholarship and wild summer plans.
Our parents drove us to Miami International Airport with all the cash they had. They went to a ticket counter, explained our situation, and within minutes we were running through the airport - my sister and I about to take the last 2 seats on a flight bound home to California. We had nothing but the clothes on our backs, my ID and a handwritten note granting me guardianship of my sister.
I remember every detail of Hurricane Andrew as if it happened yesterday. Being homeless is one of those things you never forget. Especially when you have no forewarning, no indication whatsoever. Unbeknownst to me, I had spent my last night as a carefree teenager on August 22, 1992 at Lollapalooza in Miami. It was there I first heard of a storm approaching, and I think it was Eddie Vedder that told us. (Allow me to take this opportunity to mention that nobody knows how to stage dive anymore. See video below for a reminder on how it's done.)
Everything about my life changed after that concert. Everything.
As a teenage girl form California - I detested Florida. However, it was where my step-father first established roots when moving to the US from Puerto Rico - and he quite liked it. In fact, my sister was born in Miami in 1980. Therefore, our return in 1986 was not my first time living there; I just prayed it would be short and my last. The latter being the case - but only after the complete destruction of my town, my home, my friends’ homes.
As much as I whined about the weather and the seemingly backwards thinking of the state during those 6 years I spent Florida, I am eternally grateful that the friends I made during those years continue to be the best friends I’ve ever had, and the experience of living though a natural disaster taught me priceless lessons that continue to influence my life:
I don’t buy things, I invest in experiences. Material possessions mean nothing to me. I give things away - frequently. I have never spoiled my daughter. I have always taught her that our value lies in our hearts - not in what we have. I live everyday as if it very well may be last. I love. I laugh. I give. And most of all, I don't pretend bad things can't happen to me. I’m prepared for a rainy day.