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When I was a kid, I looked up to him. Strange when you combine it with feeling invisible. Strange, but he often took pictures of us kids. He liked the moment so much he wanted to preserve it. Maybe? The memories I have of those years are made up of both happy and sad ones, as well as memories I'd rather forget—or wish didn't happen. It was a childhood of longing and fleeting happiness. I'm trying to remember and I can't find a good, warm, solid memory. The ones that come up are of neglect, selfishness, lack of time.
In my teens there were glimpses of pure joy. My memories of these years are quite better. I often imagine time itself being marooned in a faraway island—hopeless and content at the same time. Just moving along where no one can reach it. I look at my teenage years as if I'm a different person who experienced it. There was the shoplifting, the running around with questionable characters, plus more forgettable mistakes, and along these memories are all the times my parents forgave me. This time is made up of relief. Being able to breathe, knowing I was loved.
In my 20s is this memory of a phone call, utterly unexpected and needed, that will forever mean so much—in that moment at least. In our sad moments we tend to think of ourselves as unworthy of love. And so when people who love us actually show up—we are overcome with so many different emotions. Fear, gratitude, disbelief, contempt, hope, sadness, tenderness, you name it. We can't just say: This made me happy. It's often 20 other different things. We contradict ourselves, stick to one emotion. You can love someone and feel something opposite at the same time.
In my 30s is definitely when I fell out of love with the idea of a family. It's a ruse. We can survive alone. Sometimes. Most times. The few times we think we can't is just the universe tricking us into connecting again. The world needs human connection to keep running smoothly or something. Jaded people? People. Everyone is jaded. Just say "people" and it means "jaded". This isn't meant to be a Debbie Downer statement. It's optimism is what it is. We can't choose our family, it's true, and people can disappoint us at any random point in time.
In my 40s the realization would probably come somehow, that I've been writing these bitter missives as a form of revenge, a way to deal with my anger at not being loved the way I had expected to be loved. You get used to being ignored and treated badly that you fall in love with the first person who so much as looks at you. That's not a way to live, is it? Mayhap forgiveness can come, too. Not the half-baked, poison-laden kind that just kills you more. The real thing, whatever it is. Mostly forgiveness of self.
The first time I remember wondering about this was on the way to Gapan, Nueva Ecija. Which is moving, the bus or the rice fields? Are we stationary in motion or are the places we pass by the ones that are moving? I never got to ask anyone this as it seemed a silly question. Obviously, the bus was the one moving, and along with it—us onboard. My uncles have repeatedly mentioned this by now: Driving is an important skill, you need to learn it. I can’t recall if I ever planned on it or even thought it possible.
In my teens I still haven’t learned to drive. If I recall right, my older brother started driving around this time. I could ride a bike, sure. The concept of movement while on a vehicle (and you controlling it) is frightening, always. If you are a passenger, think: Would holding on to something inside the vehicle matter if you figure in a collision? Will looking ahead at the road matter? They won’t. Somehow, something will happen to you which is out of your control. When I was this age, I believed it would make a difference if I were cautious.
My relationship with safety is fraught. I don’t trust it. Which is why I still haven’t learned to drive in my 20s. Kuya was there, my uncles were there, commute is there, walking is there. You know? We can do without it? Around this time I had a pressing concern: If a speeding car hits me while I wasn’t looking, was it my fault? Now of course there’s a lot of factors here. Is there someone at fault in an accident? See, this is why for a time I had difficulty crossing the road, even if it was Pedestrian Go.
I learned to drive in my early 30s. Knowing I don’t need to fight for my life in public transport commute brought a good feeling. It was nicer, leaving the house with that knowledge. I drove barefoot and only used the first gear for a significant (stupid) amount of time. I still wonder now how the car didn’t die on me all those times I “sped” through Shaw Boulevard during my practice drives. Apart from uphill drives and that truck collision, I don’t think there’s anything I disliked about driving. I enjoyed it, especially when it rained. Loved EDSA, too.
Heading into my 40s I would prefer walking, tyvm. I’m tired of compartmentalizing, carefully sifting through intrusive thoughts and chucking them into different-category bins anyway. Hours of thinking ending up in a long-forgotten drawer. What does driving have to do with this? Nothing and everything. Nothing because I was really just changing the subject to veer from another compulsion to dwell in a city of regret. Everything because I have hidden driving in one of them drawers forever. Locked it. Threw away the key. I’m going to be old and have all my groceries delivered. Oh, wait, that’s me now.
Save for one year in a co-ed Christian school, I was in all-girls’ Catholic schools the first 16 years of my life. Mini chapels and rituals were normal, up to the point that they became perfunctory. Chapels and churches were just a place to spend an hour in and prayers were merely groups of words meant to be memorized. I had a grandaunt who prayed fervently, every night before bed. This used to baffle me, up to the point that it just became something I had come to expect at night. Yes I prayed, but I didn’t know exactly why.
I discovered the adoration chapel in my teens, I think. I learned that one need not spend an hour in mass and that prayer can be personal, quiet, however-long-you-want-it-to-be. This was the first time I actually looked forward to visiting our neighborhood church. Someone told me to keep track of what it is I’m asking God for, so I know what not to ask of Him anymore and what to thank Him for. Somehow I did not take this to heart and just kept asking and thanking, without really ticking off an imaginary list. Just talk to Him about whatever.
My college roommate once brought me to Home Sweet Home chapel in Baguio and ever since I have held it close to my heart. It’s this quaint, small chapel walking distance from UP. I even had a phase when I wanted to get married there, or have any major life event celebrated there. It has a mini garden and every time I come visit, alone or with a friend, almost no one is around. You have to knock and just when you think there isn’t anyone to let you in, you’ll hear footsteps and someone nice will let you in.
Up until my early 30s I visited Home Sweet Home every chance I got. I think I will do that until I grow old. For the rest of my 30s the place I visited the most for prayers is the chapel at Shangri-la Mall. It’s quiet there and almost always there’s no one except a lady guard, looking out at the windows onto Ortigas/Pasig/Shaw Blvd IDK. I’ve cried a lot of times there. When I’m happy or sad this is the first place I go to. A visit to Shang is not complete without at least seeing the chapel doors.
When I’m old I imagine I’d be like my grandaunt, hunched over a candle, deep in supplication. At night I will be picking dama de noche from the nearby street and in the early morning I will be at the church plaza, talking with puto bumbong/bibingka sellers about the weather. It will be Christmas season all year round when I’m old, yes, of course. Because what is time, really? “And it came to me then, that every plan, is a tiny prayer to Father Time.” What Sarah Said – DCFC. This line always gets me. Makes me cry. Hunched. Humble. Grateful.
During summer in the early 90s, the family would nap together. We'd lay out a large cot and banig under the ceiling fan and take a sweaty afternoon respite. The anticipation for halo-halo was always a good ingredient to the day, sometimes it's sugar cane or buko juice, sometimes I'd settle for Corn Bits. Clutching my precious 5 peso bill I would run to the sari-sari store and point at my favorite junk food. If I had extra I'd buy those cherry bubble gum balls that colored one's tongue. It was boring. I looked forward to it everyday.
Teenage memories of just about anything yields a mixed bag. Family time was still there, however, a third of this "era" was spent apart from each other, in all senses so it's scattered and not concentrated as those summer afternoons that defined my early years. My memories are occupied by a lot of major friend-related stuff, Baguio mostly, being alone yet constantly being with a group, trying something for the first time, frantic journaling, my first overseas trip, lying a copious amount, the best siomai in Sta. Ana, flying to Baguio, my first kiss, walking barefoot in the rain.
I'm rattling off these memories because unlike my 20s, which I can revisit via blog posts, there's no definite way I can remember for sure what happened. That's an exaggeration, okay. There are photos, but there are no written accounts. Oh wait the journals! But you get the drift, no Internet "receipts," no ghastly daily retelling of all the mundane things that happened. What a shame. Kidding. I'm glad it's how it is. Some memories are enough where they are. They don't need to surface every year. We don't need to be reminded that something happened this time years ago.
My 30s is definitely revisit-able. Weaned myself off Facebook but plunged deep into 100 Words and Instagram. So, shrug. I had posted about the death of a loved once and never did it again, because however great the sadness is, there is no reason to share it with strangers, really. Before this practice was normal, how did families handle and disseminate news on the death of a loved one? I remember thumbing through my grandaunt's address book, calling her friends, wake and funeral details, etc. A business-like approach necessary to contain a crumbling world, stem the tide. Float.
I'm 40 next year. My plan is to be a better friend, remember to greet people on their birthday, be angry less often, go out more, smile more, know what I should stop vs what I should start vs what I should continue, etc. Plan. Do. The works. Spend time with people who make me happy. Exert more effort to make other people happy. Possible eliminate screen time at least 2 full days a week (cumulatively?). Count less. Enjoy the moment more. Yada. Yada. Listen. Look people in the eyes. Eat mindfully. Be grateful often. Walk in rain, under sun.
Imagine a 6-year-old version of yourself living in present time. Imagine this small person witnessing the daily conniption of a world gone awry. Imagine for a few minutes how a young person can forgive the year's many faults and go on with their life as if there are good things ahead. Imagine being innocent and pure and new to the concept of hope. Because how can one know hope when they haven't been desperate yet, at least not in the way an adult may be. Imagine being an almost-blank slate, imagine seeing only the good in people.
They tuned in to the evening news to wait for something they already know. On the couch he motioned for her to seat beside him as always, even though he never needed to. It was automatic, tucking herself into his outstretched arm. All these years. Weather came on first, rain is here, it said. They listened for thunder, wind, rain drops but outside there was only nervous anticipation, too aware of itself that one could hear it sigh. Their eyes are glued to the TV now, it’s coming, they know. They wait for confirmation of something they’re already sure of.
These days there’s no big or small news anymore. All news is old, in fact, that it’s become an afterthought. “Oh? That happened?” Someone would go about their day as if they know what’s going to happen next and they’re resigned to the future fact. Either that or they just lost the ability to care. What’s caring going to do anyway? Optimism these days is equivalent to basic survival. They run in parallel lines, not anymore a result of the other. One succeeded to reach End of Day and there’s celebration—a quiet ritual of gratitude to whoever’s Up There.
Human beings have learned to give thanks for their misfortunes. Before they did, they used to ask the heavens why. Now it’s Thank You all around. Whatever happens, “I am just glad to be here.” But what of those of who are not glad to be here? They look for smaller joys—being called their childhood nickname by a select few; being the first one up in the wee hours; being able to do something for their grandmother; falling asleep on their best friend’s lap while listening to the ocean; rain on an unexpected Thursday; a child’s smile. They manage.
Certainly, there’s a kind of tiredness about being this way. “This way” meaning indifferent but cautious, easily pleased, trusting, closed-up, fixated. It’s a messy combination of traits that should not coexist. But who’s to say what “should” or not. There comes a point when one accepts that they are not special. And this isn’t to simplify each person’s uniqueness, it’s actually to highlight that because each of us are complex and endless and fantastic in our own ways, no one is special. For lack of a better word, we are equal. Some struggle with this, so they continue being angry.
The early morning bristled against nighttime’s threatening return. It seems the world is upside down, but also simple. Kindness cannot be learned, we already know how to do it. Slow down and refocus and one will relearn how to live, really live. It’s only taken a few months for the city’s residents to realize how basic life is, how doable, how unwieldy and disposable, how fleeting and heavy. How it’s so here. The old man slung tomorrow across his back and headed for the day before. He’d been tasked to tell the people from yesterday that today is quite alright.
The city's ever-present fog, like San Francisco's Karl the Fog, has a name: Bob. At precisely 5 p.m. every day, Bob provides escape and clarity, a liminal space for people who don't want to head home quite yet—a non-place where someone can take a deep breath amid startling silence. By the lake, Bob commiserates. The city heaves a collective sigh of relief every time Bob resolutely rolls in. The city has lost so much this past year, yet in sadness it has found bliss. It knows now that the tragedy is when you don't know loss.
Here we have Mary, who lost her husband. She spent the first month after Rick's death staring at ants marching on the front porch. She kept wondering why insects build a home and a life in places where they know there is danger of being wiped out in the blink of an eye. Why? They do know, don't they? Surely they have learned this lesson and have passed this on to others? Why do they keep doing it? Mary parsed time into "while Rick was here" and "after Rick has gone." It makes sense, to keep on like this. Hopeful.
The city's also learned to treat its children right. It used to be that many young ones were brushed off, ridiculed, often-unreasonably-scolded. If one sees a happy child, in photos or in person, it's a sign that a family has figured out one of life's greatest mysteries: How to manufacture well-rounded adults. Don't take the usage of "manufacture" the wrong way. By all means it's not meant to be artificial. The future of Earth depends on happy children. It's basic, really. When one is listened to, treated well—they go on to become some version of positive.
Not all days begin in the morning. Sometimes it's sitting in the dark at 10 p.m. Sad/Optimistic. The city has learned not to be rigid. Let live. The through-line of all difficult years is resilience, but despair is also an important factor. It's not resignation, it's rest, is all. If something hurts, one masks it with humor. This is how we know it really hurts. All these kindnesses weigh heavy against the pain. Yes, there is kindness, always. Que pasa despues? One would ask after such an extraordinary, stunning year. We don't know, but we are eager.
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