Essays, Non-fiction

Signals

In the early 2000s, it would be the flashing of the bottom-most light on our intercom — my personal line, indicating a call — that would set my heart to racing. Only a handful of people ever knew that number for the thirteen years it existed, and for the life of me, I can’t remember why my parents even gave me my own landline to begin with when the advent of cell phones had already begun. But it would be that light, blinking, and I’d know there was a conversation ahead with someone who meant something to me.

I can no longer remember what it was like to talk for hours upon hours on the telephone, like I used to almost daily for years. Nobody does that anymore. What did we talk about, when we still used to talk?

Ten years later, advancements in technology changed the art of communication completely and my landline went mostly unused, partly because smartphones and the Internet made messaging more efficient than long chats on the phone, and partly because I had parted ways forever with the person who last used that number.


I use R2-D2 ringtones on my iPhone for receiving messages because I am a proud nerd, and also because so few other people do that I almost always know it’s my phone ringing.

The first is a frantic string of beeps and bloops — Artoo sounding adorably panicked — that I’ve set specifically for members of my immediate family. ‘R2-D2: Curt,’ it’s called. It’s the perfect choice for them, because they typically only text me when it’s important, and theirs are the messages I can never miss, never ignore, and never not reply to unless I want to get into more trouble than I’m already in, so the sense of urgency I’m immediately launched into upon hearing that particular tone is ideal. It puts me right in the “Oh shit, what have I done now?” mindset — I am instantly ready for action, or snap into the creative writing zone I need to be in so that I can come up with a logical, reasonable explanation for whatever it is I’ve done wrong. (Usually it has something to do with my curfew, which I believe has finally been abolished.) I remember when my brother still had a BlackBerry, and the indicator light in the corner would flash in multiple colors every time it was Mom messaging or calling, like mini disco lights. “It’s so I know it’s you and I can start freaking out,” was the logic behind it, just like mine, though I get the feeling he received far more angry text messages typed out in capslock than I ever did. (And probably still does.)

The second is a fairly standard series of R2-D2 chirps; cute, brief, and cheerful. ‘R2-D2: Happy.’ It’s the tone I use for everyone else, and it is what it is: functional, pleasant, and nondescript. It could be anyone, it could be anything.

And there is a third one that I only used once, and have not since. It is called ‘R2-D2: Tri-tone,’ but the name doesn’t do it justice. It is three happy notes, bright, excited, and thrilled; precisely the way I would feel every time I would hear it. The only time I ever used it was for a boy, and the sound of it would send a jolt up my spine. I imagine I must have had the dumbest smile plastered onto my face every time it would beep from my purse or pocket, but I just loved hearing that tone and knowing that there was something waiting for me from him, even if it was only a hello or a how are you? It made me light-headed, like a schoolgirl with a crush. (I certainly wasn’t a schoolgirl, but I did have a crush.) “O, who is that? It’s him, no?” Raymond or Milan used to say in the office on closing days, when I’d zone out of work and zoom onto my screen with a self-satisfied little smirk on my lips, fingers tapping out a snappy reply. I would just smile back at them after hitting send.

The last time that tone beeped was when I got The Message from him — the digital equivalent of The Talk, the one every girl dreads, the formal apology and the ending of the affair. And after that, I set his tone to the same one I used for everyone else, and he became just like everyone else again, too. Anyone, anything. No one, nothing. I didn’t realize how much that small action would hurt until I actually had to do it, but it hurt, like having hopes dashed, like defeat, like potential gone kinetic, then come to an abrupt and unexpected stop.

And the silence afterwards was deafening.

I briefly toyed with the idea of using that tone again for the next one who seemed like he was serious (for some reason, it’s when you transition from online messaging applications to actual text messaging — even though iMessage is essentially the same thing — that things start to feel a little more serious), but I had since learned caution, and in the end, that lesson paid off. It was one less hurt to handle when that, too, came to a sudden, unforeseen end.

It has lain dormant among my selection of sounds for almost two years now. Part of me thinks I may never use it again. But the smaller part that still knows what it is like to hope is just quietly waiting for someone who will deserve those three utterly delighted notes, that much joy.

(Illustration: Ralph McQuarrie)

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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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