Essays, Journal

Time and space

It’s been a while, I know.

Staring at my screen now, with my fingertips on the keys for the first time in almost a year, I realize that it’s because this — the written word, this space — has always been where I am most vulnerable, and I have not wanted to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is an exhausting, terrifying quality to possess in a world like the one we live in now.

The last thing I wanted was to make myself vulnerable again.

Experience has taught me that it never ends well.


It is a year to the day since I learned I’d been cheated on. Mayon Volcano erupted this morning, something I took as a sign that it was finally the right time to write again.

I want so badly to be able to write this without referencing my heartbreak of 2017, but that makes no sense. How do you write about recovering from something without mentioning that something, that someone? You can’t. I can’t.

I want so badly to free him from my narrative, because he hasn’t been in my life for nearly a year now, but that’s impossible, because he will always be part of my narrative, and the loss of him, his absence, the emptiness he left in his wake, and all the hurt, figured so significantly in the year that was my year.

That is the nature of life, I suppose. It is the nature of stories, of interpersonal relations and their endings. It is the nature of writing, and one of the perils of dating a chronic oversharer who has made words her living from the age of seventeen.

“You own everything that happened to you,” says Anne Lamott in her Instructions on Writing and Life. “Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” I’ve lived by those words since the day I read them. I’ve been living by them since before that, really.

You’re always going to be a character in my story now.

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Essays, Journal

Windswept

I am looking at the clock as I type these words. I have a little over thirty minutes to go. Thirty more minutes to mourn. Thirty more minutes to indulge myself in the agony of my heartbreak. Thirty more minutes to allow myself this anger, this bitterness. Thirty more minutes to hate him. Thirty more minutes to love him.

And when the clock strikes midnight on March 1st, I will take a deep, deep breath, close my eyes, release the last of the tempest from within me, and take the first, unsteady steps forward into the next chapter of my life.

I have thought a lot about love over the last two weeks, over the month since he broke my heart. I have thought about a great number of things aside from love, actually. True to my self-doubting nature, I held a figurative mirror up to my face and asked myself over and over again if maybe I was the one who was wrong. For some reason, I have always found it infinitely easier to hate myself than to hate the ones I love. It’s something I’m trying to grow out of, my tendency to absorb the blame for the cruelties of others. Did I overreact? Did I ask for too much? But I asked for none of this. I didn’t ask for love. I didn’t ask to be loved. I didn’t ask for commitment. I didn’t ask for promises.

He made me want things that I had grown afraid to want, because I’d been hurt by them already before. And then he hurt me with them again.

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Essays, Journal

Deafening silence

It is so quiet, and I don’t know how to contend with the silence. Lately, I’ve been chasing noise wherever I can find it — whatever form, as long as it is something loud enough outside to drown out the noise inside that only I can hear, when I find myself alone.

It is Valentine’s Day, and I am heartbroken again. I don’t think my newly minted ex-boyfriend quite understands why I am all over the emotional spectrum, and to be honest, neither do I. At least not completely. Sometimes I feel like it is not in the nature of emotions to ever be fully understood, or perhaps not as they occur. They are merely experienced, lived through, ridden out until you stagger waterlogged onto the shores of reason and sanity, on your hands and knees coughing the sea out of your lungs, amazed that you are no longer drowning. The emotions I feel are borderline tidal. Meanwhile, his life in Berlin continues. Meaningless sex (which is what began us and ultimately ended us), partying, fun, fun, fun. I can’t imagine he is much changed by all this, or tormented like I am. He possesses that glorious male capability to compartmentalize — to tuck things away into little boxes and forget about them when they are inconvenient. (I suppose I was one of those inconvenient things, in the end.)

Meanwhile, in Manila, I try to put myself back together. I am treading water, weary. I exist in a constant tumult; one thing flowing into the next at the most inopportune and unexpected moments, like a riptide. I am beyond my own control.

I do not know where to begin. I just know that I need to write this out, because writing has always helped me process my thoughts better than days of self-flagellation in bed ever have. (I have spent many days in bed torturing myself over the last few weeks; I need to try something new.)

Normally, I would already have written a hefty and emotional narrative of some fragment of our brief history together — I mean, the last boy who broke my heart got both a story published in a collection (Thermodynamics), and a monologue performed in a play and subsequently published in a script book (Intimacy), and he wasn’t even my boyfriend. He was just a guy literally everyone warned me not to date. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t listen. I’ve paid for that.) I’ve immortalized that lucky bastard.

This, this boy, my first real love since my last relationship ended in 2013, must surely deserve something on a Palanca Award-winning scale, then. (My version of Carrie Fisher’s ‘Take your broken heart, make it into art’ is: ‘Today’s heartbreak is tomorrow’s Palanca Award.’) But I’ve come to realize that I didn’t write about him as much as I probably would have because he so fiercely guarded his privacy. He barely had a social media footprint. He disdained Instagram, which I found novel. He didn’t put himself out there, which is something I wanted to respect. Oh, I would post about him — all of those posts gone now, of course, when I went all scorched earth on my Instagram account — but I kept it cryptic when I did. Unless you were my Facebook friend, you wouldn’t even know his surname. I longed to scream him from the rooftops, but only whispered the barest minimum of him.

I guess I wanted to guard him as zealously as I could, because he was mine. He isn’t any longer. All he is now is fair game.

(That’s what happens when you date a writer.)

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Essays, Journal

Foreign lands

It was so stupid, really. Today, I wanted to roast some cauliflower to snack on and I found out when I looked for it in the refrigerator that I couldn’t cook it the way I wanted to because our maid had half-steamed it already. And for some reason, in that moment, I was so upset that I ran up to my bedroom, curled up under the covers, and cried. It was the most absurd thing to be upset about, and I knew it even at the height of my uncontrollable sobbing. But then, a part of me knew that it wasn’t really the cauliflower I was ugly-crying over. It was just the last little frustration compounding so many greater frustrations, finally pushing me over the edge. That last grain of sand, tipping the scale.

And it was when I realized that I didn’t know who I could possibly talk to about my feelings that I felt even lonelier. I don’t have much of a support system left in this country. And how the hell was I supposed to explain to my boyfriend that I was crying because of a head of cooked cauliflower? How stupid would I sound? But I knew then that it was never about that, and so I messaged him, because one of the things I love best about him is that we’re of such similar backgrounds and temperaments that he’s the person I’ve least had to explain myself to in all my life.

It is hard to come home to a city you no longer recognize. I left Manila cavalierly and essentially put it out of my mind while I was away. What I wasn’t expecting was that it was doing exactly the same to me. The city as I knew it had changed while I was gone, filling in whatever void I left behind with other things. “I came home to a dynamic that changed to accommodate my absence, and it hasn’t adjusted for my return,” I told him. It feels like there is no longer any room for me here. And oddly enough, that’s what I wanted when I left: a clean break from Manila, detachment from the toxic environment that made me so miserable. But I never thought that emancipating myself from the bad would also divorce me from the good.

It’s unbelievably lonely here. I almost never leave my house, let alone my room, because I’m tired of trying to carve out a new space for myself — what’s the point, when I intend to leave again? I don’t go out anymore because the only thing lonelier than being home alone is trying not to be lonely and failing.

I feel like a peg trying to shove myself into the hole I used to occupy, only to find that I am an entirely different shape now, and I can’t find a corresponding slot for myself anywhere on the board. It’s so difficult to go back to being less when you know what it feels like to feel like so much more.

And it doesn’t help that Manila is a shadow of what she was when I left her.

More than the distance and detachment from the people and places I loved — and still love — in it, the city itself has a constant cloud hanging over it. The city as I knew her is just a shade, haunted and haunting. The color has leached out of her brightest of spaces, and the light has gone out of her eyes.

I guess that’s what happens when everyone is living in a state of fear, fury, and distrust.

I had my issues with Manila before I left, but there was always a vibrancy and spirit to it that I loved. I remember us describing it to foreign friends as being dirty but sexy. It was always fun here, at least in the circles I actively chose to run around with. We’d have our drama here and there, but for the most part, we were happy and carefree, and we loved to dance, and we loved to sing along to Robyn in Future. We’d drink on the sidewalks, talking about all manner of things you’d never expect to discuss with near strangers in what is essentially a dive bar in a corner of Cubao.

We still sing along, but it’s not the same. You can feel the climate has changed. Everyone is so subdued — is it because we’re afraid to be too exuberant, lest that exuberance be attributed to being high, lest we be mistaken for drug personalities? We’re all so eccentric to begin with that your average judgmental person — 85% of Filipinos, probably — would find it easy to take one look at us queers and weirdos and feel justified in their judgment. Far more normal people than us have died for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and in this state of uncertainty, any place could be the wrong place and any time could be the wrong time. Within days of my arrival here, I was already told not to be too friendly with an acquaintance I’ve always been friendly with because this person was rumored to have popped up on a drugs watchlist, and I shouldn’t want to be associated with that. Rumors fly everywhere about who else is a suspect, about who has supposedly turned informant and sold out his friends, and these intrigues chip away more and more at the sense of community the alternative spaces of the city used to have. How true are any of these rumors? How many have been started by people with bad intentions? And yet, you can’t just ignore these things because you need to be smart. You need to look out for yourself.

And when my thoughts turn darkest, I wonder if there aren’t people out there who hate me enough to hurl unfounded accusations at me, too; lies that will be seen as gospel truth in this new world order of guilty until proven innocent, murdered before proven guilty. I tell myself that it’s an overly paranoid thought. I’ve always had a tendency towards anxiety and paranoia; it’s the curse of the oversensitive overthinker, with a side of clinical depression and her fair share of anonymous haters. But if anything, human nature has never been more transparent, and human nature is proving to be cruel and vicious and void of empathy.

That’s the kind of environment we live in now. So I don’t go out at all. It’s safer at home.

I know this is superficial, and that there are more important things than the city’s nightlife and the city’s sense of fun, but those were among the few things left that I had to love about it, and now they are gone. Whatever camaraderie there used to be is falling away. The parts of Manila that I loved best, the ones I used to escape into, are taking their last gasping breaths and I am watching them die. It is heartbreaking to see such a colorful, fascinating character turn solemn and gray. The atmosphere is funereal and cold. There is so much anger and grief.

If you get me started on the even more important things, I’m going to fall into a black hole that I will not be able to pull myself from. And besides, smarter and more eloquent people than me have written plenty — but apparently never enough. I can’t tell you how profoundly saddening it is to read or hear the appalling opinions of people I thought I knew, only to realize with indescribable disappointment that maybe I never actually knew them at all. It is with incredulity and disgust that I watch and read the news. Every morning, I wake up expecting to hear at least five new fucked up things before breakfast. I am not surprised when that number is exceeded.

I don’t know how to be here anymore. Rationally I know that these things that bother me aren’t going to affect me, but just because I’m safe doesn’t mean that I can be silent, that I can turn a blind eye to those who are affected, who aren’t safe.

The only thing keeping me going is knowing that I am going away to a place that I love, where I am happier, and where the physical distance will enable the detachment that I’m not capable of while I’m here. And I hate that. I’ve never been emotionally strong enough for disillusionment. I want to love this place but I don’t know how.

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Essays, Journal

True stories

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.

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