I knew when I laid my head down at seven in the morning after my first 24 hours in Berlin — to sleep for the first time since arriving, after a night out at Roses with Bobby — that the summer would give me many stories to tell.
I looked forward to telling them here. I looked forward to finally having exciting things to write about; a new and exciting life far from home, populated with fresh and unfamiliar characters whose stories would gradually intertwine with my own. A foreign stage upon which to stage the next act of my life, an act in which I would finally stop being a supporting character in my own narrative and do something interesting.
I never told any of my stories here. I hardly told any of them at all, actually. The whole time I was in Berlin, I almost had to force myself to upload perfunctory photos on Instagram just to reassure loved ones back home that I was actually alive and well. I’d let a few hints slip through about what was going on in my life — a vaguely captioned Instagram photo here, a vaguely worded Facebook status update there. Vague, vague, vague.
But what I realized about my life in Berlin was that it was entirely mine to do with as I pleased — a freedom I hadn’t had the privilege of enjoying before the summer of 2016 — and what I most wanted to do with it was to hold it close to my chest, right by my heart, and keep it sacred.
There are a lot of things I could tell you about my time in Berlin.
I could tell you about the drama I went through at beauty school. The classes weren’t difficult — makeup artistry is a challenge I enjoy, and I learned far more than I ever thought I would from kind and generous teachers. But the things I was running from when I left Manila, they met me in that classroom, too. I spent a good amount of time feeling misunderstood, isolated, and alone, half a world away from the people who knew and loved me, crying to my mother and to my best friend over the phone. “You didn’t go there to let a stranger make you miserable and ruin it for you,” they told me. And they were right. So I didn’t.
I could tell you about the weekly anxiety of trying to get past the doormen of arguably the best club in the world. Of all the friends I — we — took in with us (and all the plotting and permutations of people we carefully orchestrated to make sure we all made it in for the best weekends of our lives); of all the beautiful strangers we met there; of dancing on a platform to the greatest soundsystem in any club anywhere, the bass pulsing like a heartbeat pushing electric blood through my veins, gazing upon the silhouettes of hundreds of sweating bodies bathed in smoke and strobe lights, feeling an acute sense of belonging.
I could tell you about how much I loved domestic life, and how surprised I was to love it. It was quiet, it was simple, it was borderline mundane, and those were precisely the things I liked most about it. On the days that I was bordering on boredom, I was grateful for it. I was unbelievably glad to be just another girl in a city full of people who were, like me, living their own, quiet, magnificent lives. I could tell you about how thrilled I was when my family came to visit me on my birthday and the first thing my mom exclaimed upon entering and inspecting my Mitte flat was “Ang linis ng banyo!” (“The bathroom is so clean!”), which made me feel oddly proud. I could tell you about how Mich showed me how to use my laundry machine before I took her to Kitkat, or how Alice taught me to make authentic Italian carbonara. I could tell you about the basil plant that actually survived three months with me, and how pleased I was that I managed to keep something other than myself alive.
I could tell you about the sense of accomplishment I felt when I came to realize that I was really getting to know the city. When the places I frequented became truly familiar, and I stopped having to look at Google Maps for directions. When I could make my U-Bahn and S-Bahn changes without having to check if they were the right ones. For someone who grew up sheltered — and continues to be sheltered in Manila — there was nothing quite like having the freedom of movement for the very first time.
I could tell you about cutting my hair, and cutting it again, and feeling a weight fall off my shoulders — the Manila mask I so carefully maintained, finally slipping off. I could tell you about how refreshing it was to finally feel like myself, and to have myself be more than my physical appearance for once. (I wore almost no makeup in Berlin — I wear significantly less now.) I could tell you how amused I was to realize that after I got my septum pierced, people started speaking to me in German instead of English.
I could tell you about all the friends I made, from all these odd corners of the world. If you have only one friend in the city, that friend will inevitably introduce you to a whole bunch of people that you will end up calling family because all of you have left home to make this poor but sexy city home, and so you build new families with each other. Berlin is the kind of city that attracts a particular kind of person, and I think that’s part of the reason I like it so much — everyone who falls in love with it shares a touch of that spirit. You find something of yourself in everyone who falls in love with Berlin and never wants to leave.
I could tell you about Thomas. I could tell you about how I fell in love.
There are so many stories to tell. I could tell you so many things.
But I learned that just because I can doesn’t mean I have to. There are some things that I can keep just for myself, close to my chest, right by my heart, sacred: the very best and most beloved of things. All I have to do is close my eyes and I’m there again, living the best stories in all the world.