At a crowded hookah lounge in Downtown Orlando, where my girlfriends briefly whisk me away from post-breakup anguish, an opening G note played on a piano pulsates through the speakers. Immediately, I blow mango-mint smoke into the hazy room and pass the hose off, ready to replace pain with perreo.
Paso mucha’ noches pensándote/Yo no sé ni cómo, ni cuándo fue
The keys lift me up from the seat I made for myself on a large window sill at the back of the bar.
Pero sólo sé que yo recordé/cómo te lo hacía yo aquella vez.
I shout each word passionately to my homegirls who yell them back, our acrylic nails pointing at each other like handguns as we ignite the dancefloor with each heated blast.
Y yo no puedo seguir solo pero sé/ que te boté
Throwing my hips back with my derrière perched in the air, Ozuna’s voice booms.
De mi vida te boté, y te boté/ Te di banda y te solté, yo te solté/ Pa’l carajo usté’ se fue, y usté’ se fue/De mi vida te boté, yo te boté
I bend, sway, bounce, clap, squat, shake and repeat.
I’ve experienced this same moment numerous times in the last year: in Cuba, where I got my groove back grinding to the breakup hit at a Havana nightclub; at a Bad Bunny concert in New York, when my friend recorded and sent a clip of me shaking my a** to the Latin trap king himself while he performed it onstage; in Puerto Rico, during an actual “perreo sucio en La Placita;” and in my bedroom, where I spent the most time dancing through grief and healing through music.
In the year since my ex-boyfriend of eight years and I parted ways, music, particularly the rhythms and rhymes of Latin trap and reggaeton jams, have supported me. Songs like the energetic Nio Garcia and Casper Magico’s “Te Bote” remix, featuring Bad Bunny, Ozuna and Nicky Jam, offered me an escape when the agony felt overwhelming. But El Conejo Malo’s emo refrains and Karol G’s self-assured hooks also helped me confront my oscillating emotions when I was ready, comforted me when I needed to cry, thumped my chest when I was angry, returned my confidence when I felt worthless and, ultimately, helped heal my shattered heart.
The resurgence of urbano music to the mainstream, by way of 2017 bangers like Natti Natasha and Ozuna’s “Criminal,” Karol G and Bad Bunny’s “Ahora Me Llama” and, of course, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito,” has coincided with my own returning.
This was the year my tumultuous relationship reached its end. The healthy and happy bond my ex and I created started chipping away two years earlier, but love, and perhaps habit, kept us fighting an unwinnable, destructive battle. We were both to blame. One’s infidelity, the other’s selfishness, one’s depression, the other’s lack of support, our mutual loss of respect. We kissed and said goodbye July 4, my very own Independence Day.
It was cordial, with us laughing in a rented car he drove from our apartment in Washington, D.C., to my new home on my best friend’s couch in Queens, but rage and despair still pulsated in both of our bodies. “Why couldn’t you love me enough to change,” he roared through text messages or late-night phones calls. “Why couldn’t you love me enough to stay,” I’d fire back. Away from each other, where we were no longer able to physically comfort one another through the pain we were guilty of causing, anger brewed, boiled and erupted.
Irate one summer morning, I put my headphones on and started jogging at a neighborhood park.
Salí jodido la última vez que en alguien yo confié/Me compré una forty, y a Cupido se la vacié
Bad Bunny’s baritone pounded into my ears, both fueling and validating my wrath.
No me vuelvo a enamorar, no/No me vuelvo a enamorar
In my feelings, I shouted with the Puerto Rican rapper-singer, prompting stares from Little Leaguers at baseball practice and a group of senior Asian women performing their morning Tai Chi.
Sigue tu camino que sin ti me va mejor/Ahora tengo a otras que me lo hacen mejor/Si antes yo era un hijo de puta, ahora soy peor/Ahora soy peor, ahora soy peor, por ti
The truth: I didn’t have other lovers, and I preferred the heartbreak to turn me into a better partner, not a worse one, but El Conejo Malo’s 2017 salty breakup jam “Soy Peor” allowed me to experience, vicariously, all the irrational, not-so-healthy post-separation episodes that outrage leads to without actually doing them and regretting it later.
Even more, songs like Chris Jeday’s lovers-turned-foes beef track “Ahora Dice,” featuring J. Balvin, Ozuna and Arcángel, and Bunny’s f**k love anthem “Amorfoda” legitimized my feelings. I was angry, at myself, at him, and at all the promises we made to each other and plans we had for the future. I was regretful, for the ways I didn’t show up for him that I should have, for accepting behaviors and situations that I wasn’t OK with, for subscribing to bulls**t societal standards of romantic relationships. I was done, over trying to make something work that wasn’t serving either of us, over romantic love and over ruminating on all of it.
Truthfully, I wasn’t well at all — and I needed, for my own physical safety and mental stability, to feel whole again, to feel like me again, to feel loved again. So I left my job and industry opportunities to head back home to Orlando, Fla., where I found comfort, understanding, and warmth in family and lifelong friends. Surrounding myself with the unconditional love of a nephew’s laugh, a niece’s begs to play, a mother’s midnight head massages and a father’s weekly pep talks, it was hard to be angry. For a while, that ire transformed into longing, a yearning for the good ol’ times, before disappointment turned to rage and led to betrayal.
High off some kush in the backseat of a car, I’m in my feelings.
Tal vez no te pienso pero no te olvido/Tal vez yo te extraño pero no lo digo
Bryant Myers’ tenor has me on a long-avoided trip down memory lane.
Tal vez no cumplí nada de lo que juré/Tal vez tus heridas nunca las curé
Once traveling on this slippery road, it’s difficult to steer back to the path. Myers’ not-quite-over-you banger “Triste” featuring Bad Bunny has me in my head, unable to focus on the present because I realize I’m not yet over the past. I create a sad girl urbano playlist, with Ozuna’s “Farsante” forcing me to reconsider if the freedom that comes from singlehood really is as appealing as Bunny told me it was, and Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio’s own “Dime Si Te Acuerdas” reminding me of “to’ lo que hacíamos hasta que saliera el sol.”
My mood is heavy again, and my girlfriends take notice. They see me prioritizing my healing – journaling and meditating to identify where I, too, contributed to the demise of this relationship, trying to understand why, holding myself accountable, forgiving us both and trying to become a stronger and better me at the end — but they stress that I also need to make space for joy during this emotional journey.
I heed their advice.
Yo la conozco a ella es reservá’/Nunca ha salío’ con un extraño/Pero esta noche está revelada/por culpa de un bobo que le hizo daño
Real Hasta La Muerte blares from my bestie’s car speakers as we head downtown, eager to dance away our woes for a night.
Ella quiere beber, ella quiere bailar/Su novio la dejó y lo quiere olvidar/Ella se entregó y el tipo le falló y por eso se va a rumbear
Tonight, smutty trapero Anuel AA is encouraging me to bust out of my timid confines and let the champagne and club beats help me forget the one who broke my heart, even if just for a few hours. Next week, when I’m in Miami for a five-day getaway with two other homegirls who are fresh out of relationships, it’s Ozuna’s “Se Preparó” urging us to dry our tears and doll ourselves up for a night on the dancefloor.
These frequent reggaeton parties aren’t mending my broken heart alone — my ongoing self-analyzation and self-care practices are doing most of that work — but they are helping me regain a confidence in myself that I thought was gone forever and allowing me to discover a sexy that I never even knew I possessed.
Pero tú ‘ta grande, ‘ta madura/Pasan los años y te pones más dura
I take a sip of champagne between laughs as Bad Bunny sings through a speaker in my hotel room, where I celebrate my 28th birthday last July.
Baby, cómo te cura/Mientras me tortura
Cosculluela’s “Madura,” which features Benito, feels like it was recorded with me and this day in mind. Here I am, another year older and feeling badder than ever in my low-cut, skin-tight, thunder thighs-baring little black dress, and one year out of the most important romantic relationship, and friendship, of my life, maturing and healing in ways that were unimaginable 365 days prior.
That, I think, has been Latin trap and reggaeton’s greatest gift to me throughout my heartbreak: reminding me of who tf I am. When I hear Melii rap, “Tú me tienes tema / Cuida’o, si me tocas, te quemas” in her bilingual bop “Icey,” my insecurities trickle away and are replaced with self-assuredness. When Natti Natasha sings, “Cuidao, las mujeres tienen poder” in Daddy Yankee’s “Dura” remix, featuring la baby de urbano, Bad Bunny and Becky G, I’m reminded of my own enduring power. When Anitta croons, “En las noches soy yo la que define / todo a lo que vá a pasar. / A mí no me tienes que mandar” in her tantalizing Spanish-language hit “Downtown” featuring J Balvin, I, too, feel sexy and comfortable making demands in the bedroom.
With this renewed confidence, I’m now able to recognize, for the first time, the treasures that come with a single life.
Ahora me llama/diciendo que le hago falta en su cama
My phone rings. It’s yet another FaceTime call from my ex, the third this week.
Sabiendo que eso conmigo no va, ya no va/Ahora solo quiero salir con mi propia squad
I pick up. It’s all love, always and forever, but that doesn’t mean either of us want to rekindle this flame.
Es porque la noche es mía/La voy a disfrutar sin tu compañía
Life is the best it’s been in months, probably years. I’m not as stressed these days, so my skin is clear and my hair can easily land a spot in a shampoo commercial. I do what I want to do when I want to do it, whether that’s cozy solo nights in watching Netflix or catching a last-minute arena game with a homegirl. My money is mine, and I spend it traveling the globe and investing in my future. As Karol G sings in her chart-topper “Ahora Me Llama,” “Yo soy dueña de mi vida. A mi nadie me manda.”
After spending eight years with someone who I still consider the love of my life, many of them jovial and adoring yet others agonizing and lamentable, I’m at a place, post-anger and post-despair, where I’m learning what it’s like to be alone, particularly as an adult, an opportunity I never had before, and I’m surprisingly enjoying it. But I’m aware that this solitude won’t last forever. My “Amorfoda” “f**k love” stage is behind me. My heart isn’t cold. Instead, I’m excited to love and care again. After all, that’s when my cancer spirit feels its best. But before that day comes, I’m savoring and being intentional about these moments — my time with and for me.
Today, at the start of a new year and almost two years single, I’m feeling a bit like the trapero who has been with me throughout my heartbreak, Bad Bunny, in his newly-released, debut album X100PRE: “Ni Bien Ni Mal.”