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Watching “Maid in Manhattan” this year on Oaks night was a first-time experience. I usually work myself to exhaustion doing hair and makeup for 21C Hotel and the celebrities who come into town for the Derby. But I woke up one morning about three weeks ago and made a quick decision to take this year off and go see my new love in another city.

I was anxious at first. It was only because I had concern for how others would see me, what it would mean in their eyes for me to let go. Yet when I told my mother about my decision not to work she looked at me and smiled. She said, “I'm so proud of you,” and hugged me. She knew without my explaining a word what a hard decision it was. She knew I was following my heart for the first time in my life.

As I lay on the couch taking in the film, I reflected where I was this time last year. After my last client on Derby Day, I jumped onto a plane to Havana, Cuba. I was able to enter Cuba on a family visa because the person I was dating then is a citizen. I had no idea that I was about to start a downward spiral to rock bottom. I've experienced this rock bottom place once before but never like this.

I entered a country knowing only one person with whom I could communicate. My Spanish wasn't very good. By day two my relationship had crumbled into arguing and his saying he wished I hadn't come. Day three we traveled to visit an uncle in a Cuban prison. I witnessed a man almost stabbed to death squishing in his own blood. Day four I spent nine hours in the outdoor immigration office—in the sun with no food or water. By day five I was not myself anymore, emotionless and numb. I was swindled by a family member for my shoes and told I needed to eat less so I don't get fat. (I could have done without that translation.) My last day in Cuba I had no choice but to drink the water. I was ill for at least two weeks after. Never drink the water!!!!

I was there for 14 days and had never felt so alone. The only place I could go to seek refuge was within. One day I will write about every detail and feeling. For now I will explain what I found on my journey. It took me traveling to a different country, where I didn't know the language, to see so much with my own eyes that broke my heart, and to scare me enough to go within: to the depths of my soul. I experienced a deep depression for months after I returned. It's still painful to revisit my memories.

One short year later I reflect back on a different me, so much closer to the life of my dreams. In the movie “Maid in Manhattan,” Jennifer Lopez pretends to be a guest at the hotel where she is actually employed as a maid. The happy ending only comes once she is willing to be honest, to give up all pretenses, and be okay with who she is. Going within and embracing who you are: only then will you get your happy ending.

Some people are stubborn like me, and it takes a complete culture shock to go on the journey within. It is the hardest thing I've ever done, but I promise it's the most rewarding. To love and be loved is the greatest happiness. Learning to love myself wholly is what I'm most grateful for.

"I looked in the temples, churches, and mosques, but I have found the divine within my heart."


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