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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Essays, Journal

Forever, always

We drive through the expanse of undeveloped space, mostly empty save a few mausoleums already built. I ride shotgun, as I always do. “God, look at that one,” I say, pointing out the gaudiest, most self-important offense to the Renaissance era (or maybe Baroque; I am bad at art history) that I have ever laid eyes on. It stands out in the darkness, it stands out among the small number of minimalist mausoleums (some almost brutalist in their minimalism; a simplicity that appeals to me) that are scattered around the memorial park.

Completely lit chandeliers, marble (maybe marble) pillars, gilded cherubs on every corner — ostentation at its most ostentatious, saying without needing the words that the dead who occupy it and the living who inevitably will join them likely consider themselves royalty, or similar. Surname etched in huge gold-engraved serif above the entrance, Greco-Roman. “Ah, I’m not surprised.”

I decided long ago that I never want to be buried. It’s something we discussed, often jokingly, around the Sacred Table on a few occasions: what we wanted our funerals to be like. (“Nobody’s allowed to be happy at my wake because I’m dead. Everybody needs to be fucking crying and miserable. I’m dead.“) In keeping with the sanctity of our Sacred Table, I will only tell you what I finally decided upon, which is partly a joke (although if there is any possibility of it becoming reality, then I take that back, please make it happen): I want something like a viking funeral.

I would like to be as beautifully decked out as Padmé Amidala laying in her funeral boat at the end of Revenge of the Sith, except not floating down a river, but out on the ocean somewhere. Without a flower crown. (My friend Karlo says I should be dressed in Dior couture, but that’s Karlo for you, and it would be a waste of a thing of beauty — and money. I’ve never been keen on designer goods. The only labeled things I own are a few purses and my mother’s Fendi shoes that are older than my youngest brother, which she bought because she was told Princess Diana owned the same pair. But I digress.) Then, I want a flaming arrow fired onto the boat (or my ideally still beautiful corpse, probably doused in kerosene), and I want to burn into the sea. Like Frigga in Thor: The Dark World, except I won’t fall out into the empty silence of space because the Earth is not flat.

I am not sure if there will be major environmental repercussions should this actually occur, and if there will be, then I suppose I’d like to just be cremated and have my ashes scattered into the ocean, which I love, or spread out in the soil beneath a strong tree that will hopefully get to live another century, but what I know for certain is that I do not want to be buried in a traditional manner. I do not want a tombstone with my name and dates of birth and death on it. I don’t want a quote of some sort beneath that basic information that says nothing about the person I was or the life I lived, but that’s probably because I would never be able to decide on a quote. None of that.

“It just takes up space,” I tell Joseph. (Because who else is in the driver’s seat but my best friend?) “If I’m already dead, then I don’t want to take up any more space that I won’t even need. How much bigger will the population become by then? How necessary will that space be for someone actually living? It seems…egotistical in a way. I don’t really feel the need to be remembered. If I’m going to be remembered, I’m going to be remembered in different ways, by the people who really matter, and you won’t need my rotting corpse in a box to do that. And if I’m forgotten, life’s life; someday, the Sun will become a black hole and none of this will have been for anything. So I’m just going to think about now.” I don’t know if the word for what I am is fatalistic, nihilistic, or something else entirely. I get the feeling my shrink might think I have taken the principle of being in the present just a tad too far.

I think of Shelley’s “Ozymandias.” Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

I think of the movie Troy — yes, the Brad Pitt one — where Achilles is told by his mother that, should he remain home, he will live a wonderful life, but will eventually be forgotten. Should he sail to Troy to fight with the Greeks, he will never see home again, but his story will become legend, and his name will survive the ages. We all know what he picked.

I steel myself for the evening as we come closer to where we are supposed to be. “Never married, never buried. That will be me, that will be my thing.”

Lately, as age has crept up on me, I’ve begun to worry that I may never fall in love. (I have loved, deeply, but feel as though I have never fallen in love, been in love, and there’s a difference. I’ve never known the kind of love that consumes; the kind you live and die for. The kind that you just know is right, even when things are going wrong. The One. I wonder sometimes if all the books have lied to me, but my friends say no.) The romantic in me despairs at the possibility. The pragmatist already has a long list of very logical reasons as to why a significant other is more of a complication than a necessity. (“Just give me a Eurasian grandchild,” my mother has implored in all seriousness at every possible occasion. I think it’s why they’re sending me to Berlin for three months.)

But I digress. Again.

Joseph and I, we finally arrive at our destination: the wake of a friend, who happens — happened, happened, God, I cannot bring myself to write it in the past tense — to be the love of another friend’s life. The pain of such a thing is unfathomable to me. The unfairness of it. I force myself to inhabit an emotional space I cannot quite describe: I try to stay still, I try to stay distant, I make myself pleasant, because I know myself too well. The part of me that is all heart is breaking for these people that I love so much, but to cry, to show that kind of emotion, would be the most selfish thing I could possibly do in a situation like this.

It is not my place. It is not my right. Not here. Not now.

At a wake, you come to comfort. You come to give support, or whatever the bereaved need from you. You come to pay your respects.

You come to remember.

You come to say goodbye.

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Essays, Journal, Non-fiction

Becoming

It is July 2015.

I am in Berlin for my 28th birthday, crashing on a friend’s couch for the next 12 days. I’m on my own across the world from my parents, something I’ve never been allowed to do before now, but I’ve never really been allowed to do a good number of things by Millennial standards anyway, so it’s a gift I appreciate all the more. (I suppose getting your heart broken and your pride wrecked by someone who gave you the idea that he wanted to be more than a summer fling does have its perks.)

The feeling is like being underage and getting drunk for the first time: like I’m doing something I’m not supposed to, and it’s the best thing ever. Except this time, I’m doing it with a lot less guilt and no fear, because there will be no repercussions — no one is watching; I don’t know anyone here. I can do whatever I want, and there is no place for doing that quite like this city.

No one watches in Berlin. No, that is wrong. They glance, and then look away politely; they do not document, and they do not judge. There’s a respect for privacy and individuality here that I never thought possible, which is unsurprising because Manila is the polar opposite, and Manila is the only place I’ve ever truly known. In Manila, there are no strangers. There are whispers, and whispers spread like wildfire, so you tread carefully.

In Manila, you either disappear or do your best to fit in, which is essentially the same thing. There’s this homogeneity to it. Ironically, despite the need to blend into the wallpaper, there is also a need to be seen, but not necessarily for who you are, unless who you are fits into the preferred social mold. If it doesn’t, you trim bits of yourself off until you do. So many give up personalities to become Personalities. Go where everyone goes. Wear what everyone wears. Do what everyone does. So pretty, so clean, so #GOALS. But it is all surface, surface, surface.

I came from a time less policed, when people felt more comfortable baring their souls to strangers who would eventually become real friends, which is probably why I still sometimes do, although things have changed considerably since then. But I have no right to judge if those who came after that era choose not to make themselves vulnerable; that is their prerogative, as this is mine. And perhaps theirs is the better choice in the end; there is less of them available for scrutiny, for judgment, for the condemnation of strangers who will most certainly not be your friends. But almost everything is so thoroughly sanitized. We present only the best of ourselves, the idealized and aspirational, and it turns into a never-ending cycle of everyone else trying to do the same thing: bury our grit in the dirt and pretend at perfection. It’s safer that way.

Berlin is gritty, and it is dirty, and it is all the more breathtaking for it, and within 12 hours of landing exhausted at Berlin Tegel, taking a quick nap, grabbing a bite, and being dragged out by friends to two clubs thinking that not wearing a bra under my backless tank top might be the most scandalous thing I have ever publicly done — my God, it’s nothing here — I already know I will leave this place irrevocably changed, because for the first time in my life, I am going to be allowed to learn — or decide, or discover — who I am, what I really want, and what kind of person I am capable of becoming outside of Manila’s gilded limits, in a place where everyone is free. The cage is open; I am about to fly.

No, that is the wrong metaphor. The abyss is before me; I am about to jump.

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