photo: Johanna Ferreira, Vivala

A couple of years ago, I was fresh out of college, struggling to find a full-time job, and overwhelmed with anxiety. I needed to find a way to relax and de-stress so I turned to cooking and it’s all thanks to my abuelita Celeste.

Abuela and I have always been close. But we didn't really get to know each other until she taught me how to cook. There was something about being in the kitchen and chopping away that got her to open up. I always knew that her and my grandfather (who passed away in 1999) had a difficult marriage. But I had no idea what she went through with him. She opened up to me about the pain and the heartache she endured through our first cooking lessons together.

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Last fall, after my breakup with my ex-fiancé, is when I finally discovered that my grandma had been engaged to someone before having met my grandfather. They had dated for five years and she was deeply in love. She was crushed when he left her and shocked when she learned through her town's newspaper, that he had married another woman. Unbelievable.

She eventually moved on and married my grandfather, but never got over the betrayal from her ex. Funny enough, my ex also married someone shortly after we broke up. And, I couldn't even talk to my abuela the first few weeks following my breakup because she was inconsolable. It was as if she was reliving her own experience. My mother told me she wasn't even sleeping. I got a lot of love and support from both family and friends during my breakup but no one really understood what I was experiencing like abuela did. It was because of her that I was able to move on so quickly.

photo: Johanna Ferreira, Vivala

We were prepping pastelitos for Thanksgiving when she gave me her first piece of post-breakup advice.

“Forgive him,” she said in the middle of making the dough.
She promised me that the second I forgave him I would not only be free from the pain but I would be ready to meet someone else and that's exactly how it went down. A few weeks after that, I was already seeing someone else. We dated for a few months and while it never turned into anything serious, it was still a very special experience. It not only freed me from some of the relationship fears I had developed but it restored my trust in men.
"Don't focus so much on protecting your heart," she said. "It's going to get broken regardless. Do what I didn't give myself the chance to do. Live your life, let go, and love. It's the best gift you can give to yourself." 
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The funny thing about love is that even when things don't work out, it allows you to learn so much about yourself and life. It's something abuela said she missed out on. After her breakup, she closed off her heart, never allowing herself to fully trust and love my grandfather. She believes it’s part of the reason why the marriage never flourished.

Just last weekend we found ourselves in the kitchen yet again, this time making Cuban Ropa Vieja for my mom and sister's birthday.

"So do you have any new enamorados right now?" she asked excitedly. "Not at the moment," I said. I explained how I wasn't looking to date but wanted to focus more on myself.

"Good," she said. "Just remember to always keep your heart open to love." And while this absolutely terrifies me, I think I'm finally getting to that place.