Non-fiction, Vignettes

Vicarious

(Note: This was written in April of last year. It still applies today.)

“I’m worried about him,” my mother says of my youngest brother, fourteen and taller than all of us, but so young for his age, innocent. She and I sit at the dining table, running the gamut of conversational topics like we do every day. We’ve discussed interior decoration, local showbiz, her friends, mine, the state of our extended family. As is always the case with us, the subject matter grows closer and closer to home until we get down to business: analyses of my brothers, of me.

Neither of us thinks my youngest brother is equipped for the real world, a place of which he and I have always had a more limited understanding because of our limited interaction with it. He attends a small school with a handful of equally oblivious classmates who are probably out of touch with reality. I am the only daughter. Sheltered as we have been all our lives, and sheltered as I still am even in my late twenties, our ignorance of human nature, of people and their darkness, comes up regularly in these conversations between my mother and I. He and I, we are too soft for this world.

“Maybe it will help if he reads more books. It helped me,” I tell her. And it’s true; what I lacked in real life experience, I made up for by living vicariously through people in pages, fictional and non-fictional alike, living less comfortable but more colorful lives than mine. I’ve always believed that reading teaches empathy. I lived hundreds of lives before I even began to live my own.

“I think it helped you too much,” replies my mother in Filipino. “You’ve always been so sad.”

She switches gears. “I got his grades today. They’re outstanding. His lowest grades are in English, but I can’t even complain about them because they’re still good,” she informs me. This is not a surprise; my youngest brother has always gravitated towards maths and sciences. “He has the vocabulary of a writer. He just isn’t one because he doesn’t use it to embellish. All he sees is what’s there, and he will use the barest minimum of words to tell you exactly what that is,” I explain.

In this family, the realm of seeing everything except what’s right in front of my face belongs to me.

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(Photograph: Joseph Pascual)

Photographs

We try to hide our feelings, but we forget that our eyes speak

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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

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.)

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