Non-fiction, Vignettes

Aural history

I am stirred from sleep by what I think is the sound of rain, which is among my favorite of Earth’s songs, if not my most favorite. (Rain is a sad thing, just like me.) I drag my eyelids open, and then the blinds, to watch the water pour from my window like I always do on blustery days, only to discover that it is not rain at all. It is the rustling of the wind through the thousands of leaves that grow on the many, many trees whose boughs surround my windows. I am blinded for a moment by the sunlight that suddenly streams into my bedroom and greets me hello.

I think to myself that maybe this is a good thing, despite my affinity for rain. That the trees’ and wind’s clever mimicry of rainfall, that the pleasant surprise of most unexpected sunshine will slowly, morning by morning, teach my heart to expect more joy in the world instead of turning straight to melancholy. That, over time, I will come to expect sunlight, and on gray days that I do not find it waiting for me there, that the mere sound of it will help me find a touch of happiness in rainfall, too.

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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.)

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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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