Essays, Journal

Home

I am thinking about home.

We moved the better part of the last thirteen years of our lives into a new house this week (with Mom doing the Herculean bulk of the work like some homemaking superhero), and while I’m typically resistant to change, this was a very welcome one. I felt it was an opportunity to start anew, somewhere new. (Something I’ve craved desperately for years, thus the upcoming trip to Berlin.) You pack up all the things that mean something to you, the best of you, and take it with you to what is essentially a beautiful blank canvas that has already been prepared to your specifications, and leave the baggage of the last decade behind.

The people who went in and out through your old front doors, they’re not walking through the new ones unless you want them to. Words that were spoken, or weren’t, they’re wind now; wind blowing through quiet, empty rooms and dissipating into nothing. Unwanted memories, regrets, they fade faster when you’re not reminded of them every time you lay eyes on the upstairs sofa set, or when you look at the telephone that was on the night table next to your bed; those hours upon hours of conversations become vague snippets of speech that don’t matter any longer, because more and more, you forget what you even used to talk about. You forget the sound of their voices.

You feel as new as your new home is, and already, this one feels like home. Not house, more than house; home. I see myself reflected in every corner of my room — literally because I went through a vain phase that never really ended and requested a lot of mirrors, and figuratively because every last bit of it was chosen by me. Should you walk into my space, you would be able to infer fairly accurately the kind of person I am, with all my quirks, nuances, interests, and contradictions; it has Regina stamped all over it, and I have the hardest time leaving it because it is warm and comfortable. I need none of my many, many, many defenses here; I feel safe. It’s me, and so I can be me.

I am thinking about home, and how home is not always a place.

Joseph, my best friend, was here earlier today. A spontaneous thing, like we often are. Sometimes we make plans and they fall through. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they change midway. Sometimes we disappear on each other (and we both always understand why, perhaps reach out a bit, and then wait patiently for the other to return, as he or I inevitably will). And sometimes it’s a matter of messaging “Hiii, what are you doing?” because there are no plans, so we make some. And that’s how he became the first friend to walk through the double doors into this new chapter of my life, and the first and only friend allowed into the new house so far by Mom, who is understandably not ready to entertain yet. (We still have lots to do. But she loves him.) I toured him through every room, then we headed up to mine to just do anything and nothing.

You come to realize later in life how important it is to be able to do nothing with a person, and how difficult it is to find people like that.

I marvel at how the universe works, because once upon a time in college, I was a stranger reading his LiveJournal and looking at his beautiful photos, then an acquaintance in the publishing industry, then this duo we are now. I marvel at how the people in my life — really in my life — seem to have appeared at just the right time, exactly when I needed them. I know this is how friendship has generally always worked, but it still amazes me anyway.

I think about how Joseph feels like home; someone I am always myself with. Someone I have never had to pretend with. Someone who has seen the best and worst of me, and someone I have also seen the best and worst of. Someone who I believe in, and who believes in me. Someone with whom I always feel safe.

And I think about our other friends; Bobby, messaging me and David from Berlin, regaling us with stories upon stories of shenanigans. We talk about stories, about how important it is to have them, and how it is necessary to live, to really live, in order to have brilliant and hilarious and unbelievable and beautiful and messy stories. “What will they remember when they’re old?” we wonder about those who are so cautious, but then again, we are a different breed, and although I was never his student in college (and cannot yet reconcile my obscenely handsome dancefloor partner and fake Facebook boyfriend with the published international academic that is his alter ego — shh, don’t tell), he has still been my favorite and most important teacher. He is too nomadic to be really home, but I visit, often, and it’s an unpredictable adventure every time. He brings such madness with him, and he can wheedle the most salacious secrets out of me and I never worry or mind because I know they are safe with him, just like his are safe with me.

La bella Alice from Sardegna, my loving Italian mother and fiercest, most fearless, funny friend, who was just another (beautiful and intimidating) face at Future once, who I now run to when I need to talk to a fellow girl (because according to Bobby I am a fagnet — OH MY GOD IS THAT WHY I’M STILL SINGLE?), who fills my life with warmth and love and wisdom and joy and Italian phrases that just don’t make sense in English sometimes (Paganini no repite, haha!), who nurtures all of us, who is so strong but also so sensitive, who is so passionate and endlessly kind, who is from the other side of the world. And yet we managed to find each other anyway, kindred spirits.

And I think to myself that this is home. The bed upon which I am writing right now, this is home. The insanely talented photographer who dipped his feet in our jacuzzi with me and used my phone to take a picture and freeze the moment forever, he is home. The friends I’ve spoken of and the ones I haven’t, they are home. Bobby’s Sacred Table at Cubao Z, that is home. The Godmothers’ table that has begun to assume Sacred status as well, that is home. (Anything said at the Sacred Table stays at the Sacred Table.)

If it makes you feel like you can be every last bit of yourself comfortably, without any pretenses or fear of judgment, then it is home. If it knows your darkest heart and still loves you anyway, then it is home. If it makes you feel safe, then it is home.

It is Valentine’s Day. I love, and am loved, today and on all other days. And I realize how many homes I have, and can’t imagine how I got this lucky.

(Photograph: Joseph Pascual)

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Essays, Journal, Non-fiction

Thermodynamics — an excerpt

I am typing away fruitlessly on my phone at breakfast, trying to send out important messages that aren’t going through because the cellular signal is terrible in our new village, when my mom looks at the newspaper, looks up at me, and gives me a quizzical look. We attended a piano concerto the other week, and our photo is sandwiched somewhere between two of John Lloyd Cruz. “Your body language here is so…guarded,” she comments. “So defensive.” I brought a friend — a male friend, a business partner — with me to see my favorite Rachmaninoff performed because he asked to come, to reconnect with his ‘Europeanness’ and bask in a little culture instead of the clubbing we were always doing. (Also, he’d never been to the CCP.)

“What?” I ask. I look at the photo. “Do I, really? I don’t think I do, I think I look good in that picture. I’m thin, I’m dressed like a lady, I look pleasant, and everything is on point.”

“Yes, you do, but look at this, look at your body language,” Mom says. “I can read it, and I can read you. You’re leaning away from him. You’re so on guard.” She likes this boy a lot, which does not happen very often with boys I introduce to her. (I can write this here because that smug halfie already knows precisely how charming he was and can be; and I have told her — and my godmother, and my grandmother, who were also with us and also now adore him, and even my editor, who messaged me at three in the morning to ask me about ‘the guy I was with’ — time and again since then that we really do work together.) “Why do you look so hesitant?” she asks me.

I don’t even pause to think about my answer. “Mom, I think I’m like that with all boys. Even ones I’m interested in. Especially those. Because every year since I became single, I’ve put myself out there, and I got hurt, and I got disappointed, and I’m scared to get hurt again. I’m not ready to go through that another time. I’m not done putting myself back together. There are things about myself I need to fix, and right now, I don’t know how to trust. I’m too terrified.”

She looks at me with understanding. We have the most open mother-daughter relationship I know of — almost more best friends than anything else — and I tell her nearly everything. I can count on one hand the number of people who know me better than I know myself, and she is one of them. She knows. She knows about last summer.

Around April of last year, at the height of an ill-advised and ill-fated summer romance, I wrote an essay entitled Thermodynamics. About 80 people got to read a version of it on my now defunct TinyLetter, and it was initially written upon the request of Sarge Lacuesta for Esquire’s Notes & Essays section for an issue about women — anything about the female experience, don’t even think about it, just wing it, and by the way, your deadline’s in less than a week — but it never came out in the magazine. I wasn’t writing anything at the time; disillusioned with the practice of it or just completely blocked, but he was and is a writer and editor I deeply respect, and to have been asked by him to write something was an honor, so I just had to do it. (He told me later that it reminded him of a Jeff Buckley song.)

Some months later, Dyan Zarzuela of Candy Magazine, also under Summit Media, messaged me to ask if I might be willing to contribute to a book they were putting together about feels. Any kind of feels, she said. Even your feels for techno. And while I was still blocked — the block even worse because of the antidepressants I was placed on — I said yes. I figured I would be able to pull a thousand words out of myself somehow; I could find something to be passionate about.

But I wasn’t, not then. I was comfortably numb. And in the end, I asked Sarge if I could give Thermodynamics to Candy, and he said I could. It will be appearing in the Candy #Feels book that’s launching this Sunday, February 14th, at Eastwood, and because I have no Valentine this year, I will be there. In the meantime, I’m putting an excerpt below.

The boy it was written about has probably never read it, and probably doesn’t even know it exists. But he will know it is him from the very first line. I’m generally never fond of old work, but this piece, for some reason, I still love. Despite the memories attached. Maybe because this one, like most of my writing these days, came from the heart.

(Spoiler alert: I forgave. You’ll get it when you read it. I hope you pick up a copy of the book and read it.)

Continue reading

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Essays, Journal

With every heartbeat

There is a knock on my door, and I haul myself out of bed from my nap to answer it.

“Yo, how do I use my credit card for Uber? Like, what’s a CV-whatever?”

It’s my brother, and internally, I am smiling. (Externally, I am giving him the you are the biggest idiot on the planet look I really enjoy giving him in moments like this one.) This situation is faintly reminiscent of the time a decade ago that he borrowed my laptop to write a paper and asked me, “Yo, how do I print?” “Well, you plug this cord into this port, plug the other end of the cord into the printer, turn the printer on, and then click ‘Print’, oh my God, so complicated, aren’t you so glad I’m majoring in rocket science?” I replied then. The laptop returned to me with Microsoft Office completely deleted from it; a mystery that, to this day, neither of us can quite figure out, but one I have teased him about relentlessly ever since.

“These three numbers,” I say, gesturing to the back of his card, “are the verification numbers. Now that I know them, I just need to memorize your card number and I can go on an online shopping spree.” He gives me the this is my greatest fear in life and I am never letting it happen look.

“And do I type the entire number on the front as the credit card number? I really don’t like having my credit card information anywhere on the Internet.”

“Yes. Dude, you’re 25, you owned your own business for two years, and you have way more money than I do, how do you not know this? How am I actually still better at adulting than you? Welcome to technology! Also, can I put my Uber account under your credit card instead of my extension to Mom’s?” I joke.

I then explain the mechanics of Uber, and help him set our new address as “Home,” as it has already been on mine for months.

He has always taken late to any technology that doesn’t involve gaming (he is the reason I have Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII on my laptop — recovered from the original PlayStation discs we owned as children). I know soon enough he will come around, just as our mother, who also once feared the Internet, has. (“Mom, you need to stop spending money on Candy Crush. I can’t believe I’m the one telling you this. I can’t believe that I, your offspring, am telling you, the parent, how pointless it is to spend real money on virtual things like extra lives on Candy Crush.” “But I’ve been stuck on this stupid level forever and I’m one move away from finishing it!” “Oh my God, I’m changing our WiFi password and I am not telling you what it is.” “Don’t you dare!”)

We don’t talk about why my brother suddenly needs to start using Uber. We don’t talk about the extensive damage to his car from the accident the other night. We don’t talk about how he could have died, although I was the one assigned to do the getting-mad when my mother herself was so mad that she didn’t know how to; because I’ve always been part-confidante, part-best friend, part-third-parent, and all only sister. We didn’t even talk about it when I was meant to.

Because while I walked up the stairs with purpose and knocked on his door with a Big Sister Speech already running through my head, the words, they were a flood of tears instead. In a family that loves intensely but, for some reason, rarely hugs and mostly expresses affection in the form of making fun of each other, he is the one I have hugged the most in the 25 years we have known each other — his whole life — and I held on to him for dear life, literally dear life; his life, dearer to me than my own.

“What happened? What happened? You can’t do that to me, you can’t ever do that to me, I love you so much.” Near-incomprehensible blubbering that I knew he understood, because we have always had a sibling shorthand for everything, one that often doesn’t even require actual speech. We are our own language.

And my mind still runs the gamut of everything that could have happened, but didn’t — injuries, death — and the lesson is the same, but never, ever any easier to learn: that life is fleeting. That the people we care about are mortal and so very, very fragile. That we will never have enough time. That we must be so, so grateful.

So I resolve to love, to hold on to every precious second I am gifted, with every last heartbeat.

(Photograph: Joseph Pascual)

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Essays, Non-fiction

Bones

“Regina, every morning, when I wake up, I take my clothes off, I stand in my underwear, and I look in the mirror to make sure they’re still there,” she tells me as I take a sip of my Lagavulin. “Every morning.”

I had a feeling this would be the kind of conversation that would require Lagavulin. It is the strongest scotch on my shelf and I only bring it out for goodbyes and for serious conversations requiring serious alcohol. My assessment was right.

“Make sure what’s still there?” I ask her, pouring another finger into the glass, topping it off with the smallest splash of water.

She pulls her shirt straps down to show me her collarbones. “These. My clavicles. The proof that, after all these years, I am finally coming close to getting the body I want,” she says. “I’m finally going to be hot. Revenge body.”

I have watched her for months; watched her eat like a bird, watched her slow but steady disappearing act. I have watched her make herself small, quietly. A part of me wanted to tell her, you don’t need to do this, but a bigger part understood why.

“All my life, I wanted to know if this was the only thing holding me back from everything I ever wanted,” she says. “Think about it, the people who have everything — they’re thin, they’re beautiful. What’s a brain? What’s a personality in this day and age? What is kindness?”

Everything, I think. It’s everything.

I rest my cheek onto my palm, and I look at her with softness. My eyes say, continue. These are the things she will never tell anyone else, and I know she needs to say them. We have always had this uncanny ability of communicating without actually speaking. She knows I am listening.

A hint of a smile graces the corner of her mouth. “I have to admit that it’s been really gratifying to be told by practically everyone that I look great now,” she jokes. “Who knew fifteen pounds would make such a difference, right?” I quip back. “Twenty, actually.” She shrugs, and I can feel the mirth fade away.

“It’s been great, but I just—” she trails off, looking down at I know not what. Maybe her hands, hands that have always been slender. “I just need to be beautiful so I know that it’s not why they always leave me,” she finally admits. “Nobody ever gives me a chance to love them. They go right when I’m finally ready, to someone else. It’s another possibility crossed off that checklist I have in my head of reasons that no one ever stays, you know? One less thing that makes me not good enough to love. It’s one less thing that’s wrong about me.” She looks at me imploringly, eyes watery with tears I know she will not shed because they are a weakness she will never allow. Not even in front of me.

There is nothing wrong with you.

I could say it, but I know she won’t believe it.

Because late at night, every night, right before I slip into my bedclothes, I check for my bones, too.

I don’t tell her. I don’t have to. We know each other too well.

I wrap my hands around my glass. I drink.

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Essays, Non-fiction

Like no one’s watching

The first thing I noticed was that everyone was watching. Keen eyes took note of everything — your outfit (something from Greenhills), your purse (also something from Greenhills), your shoes (there’s a pattern here and it’s spelled Greenhills), your makeup (inexpertly applied eyeliner), your hair (a mess), your companions — and did the mental mathematics required to place you properly on the social hierarchy. Or at least that’s how I perceived it, back then. It wasn’t so much a dancefloor as it was a zoo, panes of glass between us, invisible, as we observed, observed, observed. And I hated being watched, but I watched right back. What else could you do?

They watched us from the main floor; the people who lined up, risked rejection at the door, and paid their dues once they were deemed worthy of entry by the Amazonian door bitch who’d been known to turn girls away for wearing the wrong shade of nail varnish. We watched them from the raised VIP ledge; we who got in by virtue of having the right pedigrees, the right friends, the right money, the right combinations of face and physique, the right power.

There is a thrill that settles when you are young and impressionable — sixteen, seventeen, severely lacking in self-esteem — and you find yourself on that side of the glass, swilling expensive alcohol that’s been paid for by the butterflies of the night who have, on this evening and many others, taken you under their gossamer wing. I’m one of these people; maybe I’m beautiful, too.

But in spite of the inebriation, you find yourself unsettled soon enough; aware that you are not so much a butterfly as a moth, drawn to their light, but not truly among them, not colorful enough. Longing for that vibrancy, wise enough to be wary to come too close lest you catch fire and burn.

Those places were never for dancing. At least not for people like me. I hated being watched. I was the kind of girl who always wanted to disappear.


Almost a decade later, I found myself in a small, kitschy bar in Cubao, the Version 2.0 of a place in Cubao X that I used to watch from Mogwai, across the street, a corner spot walled in glass that I was too afraid to enter. It seemed the kind of place that required one to be real, themselves, just like it unapologetically was, and those were things I wasn’t yet. Strange, to straddle the line between artifice and authenticity and find yourself lost, and without a place to call yours, clinging again from one person to another, borrowing identities that never quite feel your own.

But there I was, between Cebuana Lhuillier and Capitol Pawnshop on General Malvar Street, nervous to be new, but there for a boy.

It was Valentine’s Day, or at least an hour into February 15th, and the bar’s owner’s brother, who I had just been introduced to but would come to know well over the coming year, said: “Are you going to fuck him?” Embarrassed and scandalized, I laughed off the brazenness of the question; my ‘date’ covered my ears.

I kept going back. For him, yes. But more and more, for me. I could feel myself shedding the old skin of who I had been, of all the people I had tried to become, and I could feel new skin growing in that felt right. And that place, it kept me, even after the boy no longer did. It gave me time to figure myself out. It gave me the love, and friends, and patience I needed to discover which parts of myself I wanted to keep, which parts I wanted to burn, which parts I wanted to build.

It gave me their DJ booth — where I learned to love music again.

And it gave me their dancefloor, where, for the first time in my life, I learned to be free. Oh, I will admit that my fledgling steps onto that space, my drunken flailing, my laughter, they were all initially an act. Who wants to look heartbroken? I was determined to look happy; fake until you make. And I think Future knew, and took me lovingly by the hand, and let me slowly find my way back to joy, spent, sweating, and finally smiling real smiles again.

When I am on that dancefloor, I want you to watch me. Because on it, I am real. Because on it, I don’t care what I look like. Because on it, it is my space. Because on it, they understand. Because on it, I am who I am, and I am not ashamed. Because on it, I am neither moth nor butterfly; I am the sun.

(Photograph: Joseph Pascual)

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