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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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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