Monday, July 26, 2010

counting cars

The weary warrior walked up the steps of his fallen home. Around him lay an orgy of rubble. If these stones could speak, they would tell stories of death, struggle and waste. Suddenly, all the victories he won, all the challenges he overcame seemed meaningless. Nothing he ever did in his short life could ever compare to the grief, the immense sense of loss that seemed to rain on him now. What good would it do if he had no one to share it with?

My father walked up the funeral home with a similar sense of defeat. My uncle died over the weekend. He was instrumental in my formative years. We spent countless summers together, playing street games and eating watermelons. My uncle was a bit of a wild child. He never conformed to anyone even when he had a family of his own. In my clearest memories of him, he is coming up to me with a big, ripe watermelon. He’d chop it in half and we’d bury our faces in the heart of each cheek, eating only the sweetest part, throwing out the rest. It showed how he viewed life. He didn’t want to waste his time with seeds or the bland parts of the fruit’s flesh. You gotta take the good parts and throw away the bad, he explained once. Outside, the trash cans were filled to the brim with half-eaten watermelons left to the flies.

His final years saw him wasting away. The last I saw him, he was almost toothless. His smile beamed at me from across the room, the years betraying signs on his face. His daughters, no longer charmed by his careless life, treated him like a prisoner. He rarely left his room, only venturing into the outside world for his daily trip to the sari-sari store for soda and some smokes. That’s what pained my father the most. He looked at them with disgust. How could you do that to my brother?

He’d been dead for hours before anyone noticed. The entire left side of his body was bloated beyond recognition. My father walked up to the closed casket with a stern expression. He’s always been such an expert at concealing his emotions, showing only what was necessary or negligible. His hands caressed the coffin’s trimmings, running his fingers through the wooden carvings. A single tear dropped on the cold wood. My eyes widened. I realized I had never seen my father cry before.

He was quiet for a long time. He sat on one of the pews, speaking to no one, refusing trays of food or drink. My father is the youngest in his family. He has buried so many people, we have all lost count. My uncle was not the first nor will he be the last my father puts in the ground. It seems that for most people born last in the family, it is our inheritance to bury our kin. I looked at my sisters sitting quietly in the corner. How will it be when my turn comes?

I saw my eldest sister staring at my father, her thoughts running parallel with mine. I couldn’t explain it. I rarely cry at funerals but all of a sudden, I found my own dams had burst. I ran to my sisters, hugging them, hoping they would understand why I felt so bad. There was no doubt in my mind we had many years ahead of us. My fear was that we had already wasted the ones we have now.

My family is not known for our emotions. Prior to this funeral, it had been weeks since we hung out as a pack. Time is a funny thing. We never realize how much we’ve wasted until we are faced with our own mortality. My father wiped his tears and as he stood up, his grown-up children rushed to him with the same fervor as townspeople welcoming a hero. We couldn’t explain it. Logic seemed to escape us but it took a great sense of grief and loss to remind us that it is not too late for our family. It is not too late to be a family.

My sister was too tired so my dad offered to drive us home. In the passenger seat, my mother sat half-awake. In the back seat, my siblings and I sat together, like we did when we were kids on our way to church. I was exhausted. The little strength I had left was taken away by all the crying. In the darkness, I felt a small hand grasp mine, my sister seemingly holding the little time we had left together.

We are only given a few years before everything we worked for, every thing we know is taken away from us. I walked up the steps to my home and unlike the warrior’s, my home’s walls were still intact, the roof firmly above our heads. It’ll take years, decades even, before this house falls to rubble. I found my father frozen in the kitchen with a glass of water. It was like he forgot what he was doing or what the next step was. Good night, I said as my arms wrapped tightly around him. What I really wanted to say was that it’s not too late. That our family will be different. And that though I don’t say it too much, I love him with everything I am.

I could tell he found this strange, too. His first impulse was to flinch. Slowly, I felt his shoulders relax. This evening armed us with an openness none of us wanted to explain. He didn’t say anything. I just felt his hold tighten and I knew what his heart was trying to say. Thank you for being here. I love you, too.

Photo Credit: parthenon

Counting Blue Cars
Pet Your Friends

If songs have covers, what do blog posts have? My good friend Victor translated one of my first Filipino posts into English. (And though it’s a little embarrassing to have your three-year-old posts aired out, because of the talented writer I know-he knows-I know he is, me’s izz extreeeemely flattered.) Click here to see what he came up with.

Monday, July 19, 2010


For weeks, we’ve been trying to track him down. A sage told me that all my unhappiness, my failures in relationships, my dismal career, all of these things could be attributed to one man. I told my people to look for him and for weeks, they searched every corner in the city, looked under every rock in the country. I was about to give up when I received a call from my assistant that they finally located the bastard. He was being held at the safe house in Manila.

They led me through the poorly lit room where a man was sitting on a chair. Looking back, I’m not sure if they cuffed him or not. No matter the case, he wasn’t going anywhere. He was facing the wall. The sage told me that if I should ever find him, I must never look at his face. I sat down, took out my tape recorder and began my interview.

“How did you do it?” I asked. Outside, it sounded like it was starting to rain.

“Do what?”

“Take my happiness. Sabotage my relationships. How did you do it?”

“It’s not that hard. You made it pretty easy for me.” The guard by the door stepped forward, like a hound ready to attack. I cleared my throat twice as he stepped back into the darkness.

“I would appreciate it if we figured this out as soon as possible. I don’t know about you but I’m a very busy man and personal attacks only take us farther away from the truth we seek tonight. If you don’t mind, I’d like to get back to business.”

“Alright. Be my guest.”

“All these years, I’ve tried hard to be happy only for you to take it away from me. Why did you do it?”

“You’re not asking the right questions,” he said. “Why I chose you is not important.”

“What’s in it for you? What could you possibly have to gain from my suffering?”

“Everything. Nothing. Does it matter?”

“Is someone paying you to do this? I can match their offer. Money is no object.”

“Money never is.”

“If it’s not money, then tell me. Why have you been doing this to me?”

“Because I can.”

“That’s not reason enough.”

“It is for me,” he replied. His voice was warm but strained. “What do you want to hear? Do you want me to say it made me happy? Do you want me to say that I enjoyed your suffering?”

“Did you?”

“Of course not.”

“Then why? What could you possible have to gain?” I could no longer hide the frustration in my voice. Outside, the water made little drum beats on the roof. The air smelled of rain and wet concrete.

“Looks like the weather finally gave in,” he said. There was no fear in his voice, only a faint sense of familiarity. “You’ve been trapped in your own little world for too long. You’ve forgotten that people mostly do things for themselves and not for other people.”

“So you’re saying that you did all of these things because you wanted to. That it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with you.”

“Exactly,” he replied. In his voice, you could hear a wicked little smile.

“Fuck you,” I said, a little too forcefully for comfort. The guards all shuddered at my voice. “Why did you do it? What did I ever do to you?”

“Because you didn’t love me!” he shouted. “Because you wasted so much time on these fuckers who wouldn’t know love if it hit them in the eye! Because all this time, I was waiting for you to love me and you didn’t even know I was there.”

“Love you? Love you?! I don’t even know you!”

“Exactly,” he said as he swiveled his chair to face me. My first instinct was to look away, the sage’s warning ringing clear in my mind. I forgot that behind me was a mirror. There, in plain sight was the man who made a living of tormenting my waking life. I saw the man who sank all my relationships, who took away all the people I have ever loved simply because I didn’t love him.

It was me.

Photo Credit: interrogationroom6

Paula Cole
This Fire

Monday, July 12, 2010

alaala ng daga

Noong high school ako, nagmakaawa ako sa nanay ko na ipag-dorm ako. Pano naman kasi, taga Sucat kami tapos sa Diliman yung school ko. Hindi ko na mabilang ang oras na iginugol ko sa mga bus sa EDSA. Noong third year na ako, napapayag ko din siya sa wakas.

Ganun pala ang buhay pag wala kang magulang, no? Noong una, ang saya saya ko! Malaya na akong makinig ng mga depressing songs buong araw. Wala nang kakatok at magsasabing wala bang mas masaya diyan? o bakit paulit-ulit yang kanta? Malaya narin ako kumain ng kahit anong gusto ko. Wala nang magbabawal sakin manood ng TV kahit disioras na ng gabi. Wala nang magpipilit sakin kumain ng ampalaya o paksiw na isda. Hate na hate ko kasi talaga ang paksiw na isda.

Madami akong natutunan sa pagdo-dorm. Nalaman ko na masama pala pag puro Gatorade at junk food ang laman ng tiyan mo. Nalaman ko na hindi rin pala dapat mag-impok ng pagkain sa kwarto dahil naaamoy ito ng mga ipis, daga at langgam. Nalaman ko rin na napakarami palang peste sa Katipunan. Nagising ako isang gabi dahil sa isang malakas na kaluskos. Pagbukas ko ng ilaw, may malaking daga na kinakain yung Nova ko. Nagtalukbong nalang ako ng kumot at nagdasal na di niya ako ngatngatin habang tulog ako.

Isang araw, napansin kong amoy patay na daga yung kwarto ko. Noong una, akala ko sa kabila pero habang papalapit ako ng papalapit sa kwarto ko, hindi ko na maipagkaila na nasa akin nga siya. Hinanap ko ng matagal yung pinanggagalingan nung amoy. Pagtingin ko sa aparador, andun siya sa tabi ng mga sapatos ko. Kinilabutan talaga ako. Nakapikit ang mga mata nung daga pero medyo nakabukas yung bibig niya. Basa yung balahibo niya, parang naka-mumurahing gel. Nakakasulasok yung amoy, lalo nung binuksan ko ng todo yung aparador.

Napaupo ako sa kama. Di ko alam ang gagawin. Masyadong malayo tatay ko para pakiusapan kong iitsa yung bangkay. Sumilip ako sa labas, baka sakaling may ka-dorm ako na magmamagandang loob tumulong sakin kaso lahat sila busy. Andun yung isa kaso masungit yun at alam ko di niya ako tutulungan. Doon ko talaga narealize kung ano ibig sabihin ng independence. Parang gusto ko na umuwi nun. Kung ganito pala ang feeling ng pagiging independent eh ayoko na. Kadiri kasi talaga yung daga. Kinikilabutan parin ako ngayon kahit ilang taon na ang lumipas.

Sinubukan ko siyang galawin gamit ng t-square ko. Di ko rin naman kasi ginagamit. Kaso mabigat siya talaga. Medyo kumukurba na yung kawawang kahoy. Nausug ko lang siya ng konti. Hindi talaga matinag ang kadiring peste. Naisip kong medyo imposible din na kayanin ng t-square kong buhatin yung daga papunta sa basurahan. Baka tumalsik pa yun pag nagkamali ako ng tiyempo.

Pagkatapos ng ilang oras ng pagtitiis sa amoy ng patay na daga, naisip kong walang ibang tutulong sakin kundi sarili ko. Kumuha ako ng maraming plastic bag at binalot ito sa mga kamay ko. Nagtakip ako ng ilong gamit ng lumang t-shirt na spinrayan ng pabango. Sabay lapit sa daga, pikit mata at dukot. Success!!!

Ihinagis ko yung bangkay sa garbage bag na maraming diyaryo at dali-daling bumaba ng bahay papunta sa kalsada. Initsa ko yung buong plastic, kasama narin yung improvised gloves ko sa tambakan ng basura sa tapat ng dorm. Pag-akyat ko, pinaliguan ko ng Lysol yung kwarto ko at nangakong hinding hindi ko na hahayaang maulit pa ang eksenang iyon. Papanatiliin kong malinis ang aking kwarto. Sisiguraduhin kong hindi ako mag-iiwan ng mga pinagkainan. Gagawin ko ang lahat, wag lang ako magpulot ng daga muli.

Weird lang na ito yung naalala ko nung nakita ko yung mga pictures mo sa Facebook. Kahit parang dumaan ako sa butas ng karayom para iitsa yung daga, di hamak na mas madali parin yun kaysa sa kalimutan ka. Halos isang taon narin ang lumipas. Inaamag na ang bangkay mo sa aparador ko. Inuuod na ang mga panahong pinagsamahan natin. Malamang di mo na ako iniisip. Di mo nga siguro alam na iniisip parin kita ngayon. Sana talaga ganun lang kadali yun.

Photo Credits: kwarto, dead rat drawing


Monday, July 5, 2010


“Is this related to the long e?” I asked. The boy shook his head. In my hand, I held a frail sheet of paper where he had scribbled his name in seventeen different styles. On the board, a PowerPoint slide stood frozen, marinating on the screen.

“No? Okay. Do we need it?” He shook his head again. “Answer me!” I barked. “Use your words!”

“N-no,” he stuttered. “No, sir.”

“Can I throw it?” I asked. He looked up. I was standing right in front of him like an animal ready to pounce. He looked back down and nodded, signaling a surrender of sorts.

“Can I tear it up first?” I asked, with a smile on my face. He no longer answered me. The class was quiet and the only thing you could hear apart from the gentle humming of the AC was the sound of a small, innocent piece of paper being ripped to shreds.


I’ve been losing my temper way too much these days. This little incident started over a measly house rule violation. I could’ve solved it by rewarding points to the other teams but instead, I became emotional. I attacked him for not listening to me, for his assumption that my lessons were not important. I traced his behavior to one simple fact: he did not think I was good enough to train him. When he disrupted the class, he grossly disrespected me and for that, he got the bitter end of my words.

I thought that that whole thing was just an isolated incident but then last Thursday, I snapped at another trainee. Fearing a repeat of the paper incident, I asked him to step out instead. He was getting on my nerves. I never saw him again. He didn’t come back from lunch. I think I scared him away.

Mean. That’s the only word I can think of. My friends tell me that there’s something different about me. Truth is, they needn’t even bother. I’ve seen the change for myself. Somehow, along the way, I managed to lose the one thing I swore I would hold on to: myself*. I’ve lost the will to work, the patience it takes to do my job, the perseverance to love or to even be anything. If I could have my way, I would lock myself in my room all day until I’m nicer.

But I can’t do that. I need to work to live. And so I have to make do with what I have.

“Parang ang bait mo kasi noon. Nakakapanibago lang,” a friend from work explained. She felt she needed to step in after rumors of me turning into Hitler started to surface. My first impulse was to retaliate, to be strong in my anger. But then I realized she was right. You can’t argue with someone who’s right.

“Ano ba kasi problema?” she asked. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Wala naman,” I lied. For days, I had been trying not to think of a lot of things. If I allowed my mind to wander, even for just a tiny little bit, I knew I’d go ballistic. Being mean was my way of coping with the tiny voices in my head that tell me I’m not good enough. Being mean was my way of ignoring the insecurities that were piling up and demanding attention. I looked in the mirror, wondering how that nice little boy two years ago could turn into this miserable old man. How do I get him back?

An external change to inspire an internal one. You see it all the time in movies. I looked at old pictures of myself, when I was proud of who I was and what I was doing. I figured, if I look more like the guy I was two years ago, the niceness would automatically follow.

I had been growing my hair for close to six months. With the exception of the Bieber comparisons, I loved everything about it. One morning, when sleep seemed to avoid me, I marched right on to the nearest salon. Without thinking twice, I told the stylist I wanted most of it out. The shampoo guy who took his time washing my hair, telling me how soft it was and everything looked absolutely stunned. “Sayang,” he muttered under his breath. I didn’t explain it to him. He wouldn’t have understood.

The following day, I got mixed reactions for my new hairdo. Some liked it, some didn’t and a great number of people didn’t even recognize me. None of them mattered to me. There was only one person I needed to hear from, one person I needed to convince. With a smile that could rival most of the great movie villains of our time, I singled out my friend near the copier.

“Well, mukha na ba akong mabait?” I asked her. She stared at me for a good ten seconds. In my heart of hearts, I prayed that it worked.

Photo Credit: papercut


Saturday, July 3, 2010

interlude: on winning and losing

You win enough battles, you think you can do anything.
Lose enough and you start to wonder if you should even try.

Photo Credit: scottdo

Janet Jackson
Every Time
The Velvet Rope