Monday, December 8, 2014

on how you should remember me



My father once taught me a secret. He said if you pressed an ear against a shell's hollow side, you could hear wave upon wave crashing upon the shore. And I always felt there was such beauty in that simple fact – the hollow never forgets where it's been. The ocean is forever alive if you listen closely. This is how I remember you.

You can tell me about the science of it all, about how they're just sound waves bouncing off walls, mimicking the sound of the tide. But if you really think about the beauty of the common conch, you'd understand that all beautiful things must die. Maybe it was alive once. Maybe it even moved. One summer, a lonely crab came upon it. She dusted him off and made him brand new. They were inseparable. They were happy. But then she moved on.

A fortune teller once told me that in my past life, I was happy. They called me California because you couldn't see anything but the sunlight when I was in the room. It's such a far cry from the man I am today. Some days, I question if I can ever be truly happy. Maybe the soul can only hold so much laughter and I've used all mine up.

What if I told you I was hollow? That you could love me all you want but all you'll get at most is your own voice echoing. Would you leave?

If you pick me up and press an ear to my heart, you will not hear the ocean singing. At first it will seem like nothing, just random beats of blood pulsing through my veins. But if you close your eyes and you picture who I was in your mind's eye, you will hear California's laughter.

The seashell echoes where it once was. This is how I want you to remember me.

♫: Sheryl Crow | Wildflower (2005)
Photo: The last trip


This Month's Roster

Monday, December 1, 2014

on conversations at 2am



"O eto, maganda. Anong mas gugustuhin mo? Yung mahal ka niya or yung mahal mo siya?"

"Siyempre yung mahal ako. Vain ako, bakit ba?"

"Ako, mas bet ko yung ako yung nagmamahal. Okay na yun. Di naman to pamasahe na dapat sinusuklian."

"Naku becks! Mahirap yan. Mahal na ang pasustento ngayon no. Rubber shoes, autoload, pati college scholarship, kasama na dapat! Tapos malalaman mo, di naman pala siya seryoso. Parang siopao love yan. Akala mo special, ayun pala bola-bola lang."

"Ha ha! Tapos ikaw naman tong asa-dong asado."

"Kurek! Eh eto. Ano ang mas masakit: yung maghiwalay kayo na in love na in love pa kayo or yung marerealize niyong unti-unti na palang nawala?"

"Naku, mahirap din yan."

"Wala ka namang ibang alam kundi mahirap yan! Ambag ambag din naman tayo, teh."

"Eh sa mahirap nga talaga. Ikaw kaya mauna."

"K fine. Ako siguro, yung in love pa kayo. Kasi malamang sa malalang may dahilan naman kaya kayo maghihiwalay diba?"

"Eh… minsan kasi yung mga gumaganyan, parang trip lang nila gumawa ng gulo eh. Kulang lang ng conflict sa life ba kaya ayun."

"Huy hindi a! Malay mo di lang talaga tama yung panahon."

"May bagyo?"

"…or yung love niyo naman talaga ang isa't isa pero parang may mali lang talaga."

"Ay trut. Alam ko yan. Sige na nga. Ikaw na tama."

"Suko agad? Agad agad?"

"Yezterday."

"Magaling magaling. Eh ikaw ba? Ano ang mas masakit para sayo?"

"Siguro yung… ma-cesarean sa likod. Ikaw kaya, padaanin ko yung sanggol dun. Tignan natin kung di ka magsisisigaw."

"Ha ha! Baliw! Yung totoo."

"Teka… siguro yung pangalawa. Yung unti-unti kayong nag-fall out of love. Parang kanser kasi yan eh. Dahan-dahan kang itetegi. Masakit yun."

"Nagka-kanser ka na noon?"

"Tanga!"

"Eh ano?"

"Basta. Alam mo na yun…"

---

Ano ang mas masakit: yung maghiwalay kayo na in love na in love pa kayo or yung marerealize niyong unti-unti na palang nawala? Wala namang nagsabi sa 'kin na may mas masakit pa pala dun sa dalawang yun. Pinaka-masakit yung kapit ka ng kapit, mag-isa ka nalang palang lumalaban. Tang ina. Ang sakit magising one day na marerealize mong mag-isa ka nalang palang nagmamahal. Paalam na, mahal ko. Pasensiya na't hanggang dito nalang ako.

♫: Aiza Seguerra | Ako Lang Ang Nagmahal (2013)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

on the future and the past


To my former lover's future lover,

You don't know me. At least I don't think you do. You may have seen my initials on a book you borrowed from him. You may have seen my clumsy twenty-six-year old handwriting on an old birthday card. You may have seen me in a doodle in an aging coffee shop planner. But you still won't know me. You can't. Because the man you love holds many secrets and by now, I think I may have become one of them.

So before the hours erase everything like tidal waves rearranging the shore, allow me to tell you everything you need to know. You must understand what happened between us and know that I'm not trying to take him from you. This is not a bent knee pleading for you to return him to me. All this is is a stern reminder for you to never let him go. Not a day goes by where I don't regret taking the first feeble footsteps away from the man you now call your own.

You can ask about who I was or what I meant to him. He'll tell you my name. He'll tell you where we met. If you play it cool (don't push too hard), maybe he'll even tell you how long we were together. But he'll never tell you how I was his favorite person. He won't say how I once meant the world to him or that at one point, I was the axis in which his entire life revolved. He won't tell you, he can't tell you that although I am but a fading memory now, at one point his heart was an anchor and I was the vast expanse of the ocean floor.

You can ask if he told me the same things he's telling you now. He'll tell you about the laughs we had and the tears we shed in the three years we were together. He'll tell you your love is different, that it's nothing like what we had back then. He won't tell you about the moonlight on the night we first met or about how we wound our watches back three hours so we wouldn't have to part ways. He won't tell you about the kisses he stole from me that night or how he tapped the cab twice as it drove away. Those images were ours although we let them go that night we broke our promises to stay true to each other forever.

You can ask if he held me like he holds you now and he'll tell you that your fingers lock completely with his. Like jigsaw puzzle pieces thought separated for years, the minute your skin touched his felt like coming home. But he won't tell you about how I once scrubbed my fingers so hard, my knuckles started to bleed. About how I felt my palms were never clean enough, never white enough to graze his. I stopped trying to put our pieces together because I knew I had to let him go. I did it so he could find you.

You can ask if he loves you more than he loved me. He'll tell you that meeting you was like ending a long journey – that I was a layover but you were always the final stop. That we had some great times but in the end, he was just preparing for the time he was to spend with you. What he won't say is that at one point, it felt like we were facing a million sunrises and sunsets hand in hand. He won't tell you the names of our kids, the dreams we both shared, or the number of hydrangeas we were going to plant in our backyard. He will tell you that I was the mistake that made him see how right your love was. But he will never tell you about that night I whispered the exact same words in his ear.

You can ask why we broke up and he'll tell you it was because I needed too much, because I demanded too many things from him. He will tell you I was selfish, that I was needy, and unkind. He won't tell you about the nights I stayed up watching him sleep, wondering what I did in the past to deserve such a gentle, perfect man. He can't tell you about moments I spent staring at my reflection in the mirror, wondering what he saw in me, why he chose me out of all the strangers in the crowd. He won't tell you how I questioned his love because I didn't feel I deserved it. He can't tell you I felt unworthy because he didn't know. I didn't tell him. But I am telling you now.

And so when you hear about me, see my face in a Timehop or a passing glimmer in his eye, I want you to know that if I could have loved him the way you do, I wouldn't need to write you this letter. Please take good care of him. He was and always will be my life's biggest regret. Love him with all your heart. Love him the way I never could. And though you owe me nothing, please love him all your life for me.

All the best,

N.

♫: Rachael Yamagata | Has It Happened Yet? (2012)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

on how it's not in our stars


My lover is a Gemini. On a whim, he came to me one day. He picked me up, dusted me off, and said that he loved me. Truly, wholly, and without tiring. I believed his persuasion. I trusted the frailty of his words. He was such a puzzle, warm and alive one minute and deathly cold the next. I wrestled plain in his conflicting hands. I learned to listen to the butterflies in my belly. He moved so quickly, breezing into my life and without warning, rushing out of it. Nobody told me the butterflies were just on loan. He took them with him when he walked away, leaving nothing but a hollow of wasps inside me.

My lover is a Gemini but I wish he was a Leo. I want him to find the courage to see past my faults, to purify me in the fire of his love. To hold me when I am afraid. To be there in the morning when I wake up. I want to drown in his discourse, to bask in the light of his idealism and arrogance. I want to hear about his day, however trivial or mundane. I want him to be open to me, to be strong enough to tell me when I cross the line. But I'm just wishing on stars and a Leo, he is not.

I wish he was a Libra. I want him to be fair. Like a photograph that falls off the pages of a book, his memory finds me in the strangest places. How do you miss somebody who was never yours? How do you learn to forget hands that have never held you or lips you have never kissed? I want to weave my words around his heart, to find out what made him change his mind so quickly. I want him to be just to me. But I'm just wishing on stars and a Libra, he is not.

I wish he was a Cancer. I want to be there for his famous mood swings. I want to understand his vulnerability, to warm my hands on the embers of his temper. I want to have long, tedious conversations about the frost on the window pane or the politics of living in an ant farm. I want him to be jealous, to wear his heart out on his sleeve. I want him to shake me when my heart wanders, to kiss me deeply to remind me why we got together in the first place. I want his desire to consume him like a fever. But I'm just wishing on stars and a Cancer, he is not.

I wish he was a Capricorn. I want to fall asleep on his stable chest. I want to feel my head rising and falling as he breathes me in. I want him to be loyal, for his eyes to never stray far away from me. I want his love to be as vast as a net. I could leap from the highest highs with eyes closed, arms outstretched. If cats knew they would always land on their feet, would they still be afraid to jump? I want my lover to catch me when I fall. But I'm just wishing on stars and a Capricorn, he is not.

But above all these, I know there is one wish that I would kill to make – I wish that love was in our stars. Because I know it isn't. Because I know that you're gone. But that hasn't stopped me from searching for your face in every crowd. It hasn't stopped me from leaning on the frailty of your words, on the butterflies in my gut. And so with the courage of the lion,the fairness of the scales, the passion of the crab, and the stability of the goat, I search the night sky for a shooting star. When I see one, I swear to God I will get down on my knees, shout your name, and wish that your footsteps would one day lead you back to me. I wish you would come back to me. I wish we had different stars.

♫: Nicole Scherzinger | AmenJena (2011)
Photo: Stars Above Haleakala

Thursday, November 6, 2014

on the games we play


"Come play with me," he beckoned from a park bench. He had careless hair and a crooked smile. He had one of those old-time chess boards in front of him with all the pieces lined up for a duel. His words wound up the key to my heart. Like a wind-up toy, my gears buzzed with life anew. I didn't stand a chance.

I was lost and ripe for an epiphany. I looked around to make sure he was talking to me. He welcomed me with a smile and motioned for me to sit. I sat across him, my messenger bag sliding from my shoulder to the grass. A few strands of hair covered his eyes as he aligned his pawns across an imaginary line.

"Do you know how to play?" he asked.

"A little, I guess." I lied. I was the class champion in my senior year but I'd gotten rusty throughout the years. "What are we playing for?"

"Oh! A gambling man, I see. Well, what do you think?"

"We can play for quarters. Let's keep it friendly?"

He ran his fingers through his hair, brushing it away from his forehead. He surveyed the pieces carefully, weighing the pros and cons of his battle with a stranger. He looked up, a quiet flame in his eyes and asked me, "Why don't we play for love?"

---

He explained that chess was a lot like love. All the while, his long, graceful fingers danced across the board with ease. Within a few moves, he'd captured a bishop and one of my knights. I barely escaped with his rook and a pawn.

His queen did most of his bidding, a dangerous but effective way to play. "The queen is like the mind," he told me. "She can move any number of squares and in any direction. She does what she wants. She temps, she taunts, but most of all, she can seize." His queen moved closer towards my pieces as it devoured my last bishop.

"Your mind is very powerful then." I surveyed the board and saw he was winning.

"The king," he continued. "is your heart. You must protect it at all costs. The whole ship could go down but you must keep him locked away." With one move, he had his queen at a straight angle to my king. "Check."

I quickly moved my king out of harm's way. This boy was a hustler and he had both my heart and curiosity piqued.

"And what about you? Has anyone claimed your king?" I asked. I began a relay to capture his queen, my knight setting up a trap on the northeast corner of the board.

"There'll be no talk of that," he said, his crooked smile on full display. "Don't ask questions you can't afford the answers to."

"So you've got a boyfriend. I've got one too. We're just playing chess."

He looked me straight in the eye and for a second, I could see a glimmer of a little boy drowning in those dark brown pools. Help me, he cried out. In my chest, I could feel the weight of a million promises starting to break.

---

We had major casualties on both sides of the board. Towards the end, he was left with a pawn, a knight, a queen, and his king. I had a rook, two pawns, my king but no queen. He'd captured my literal and metaphorical mind in five swift moves. We both knew the game was coming to an end. The gears of my wind-up were slowing and tiring as each second ticked by.

"See this is why you have to be careful," he warned me. "You have to stay alert and keep thinking. Otherwise, you'd be left with your heart out in the open." He tapped my king lightly, his touch rocking the piece gently on its felt base. His words started to sound more calculated, his tone growing colder by the minute.

"Maybe I wanted it this way. Maybe love is about abandoning logic for the sentimental. About throwing caution to the wind, devil may care."

"But no one wins by being careless. It takes skill, not luck, to be victorious."

"In chess, maybe. But in love?" His eyes were transfixed on the board, calculating each and every step. I wanted to reach down into his heart, wondering who could have damaged it so severely that one would have to press an ear to it to hear its mellow ticking.

"There's got to be some merit to keeping your head in the game," he said. "No one's ever died from a broken mind but many have fallen with a broken heart."

"So you'd rather think about love than just feel it? I don't think you can call that love."

"What do you call that then?"

"I don't know." I told him. "The name escapes me now but I know that's not love."

---

In the end, his queen took my last rook in three moves. My heart, defenseless, was suddenly his for the taking. Within seconds, the game was over. Checkmate. He shook my hand and congratulated me on a game well played.

"You said you only played a little. I think you lied." His voice sounded cocky but his face betrayed a tenderness that lay beneath.

"Well you said we were playing for love. Were you lying, too?"

"I don't know."

"Well now you have my love. What are you going to do with it?"

He shrugged and shook his head. We sat there in silence for a moment then he got up and placed all the pieces clumsily back into the box. Soon, imaginary appointments were made as we both rushed to opposite sides of the world. It was too late when I noticed that a lonely chessman had wandered into my bag. I reached in for it, the crown digging hollow pits into my palm.

It was his heart.

---

I don't think you can call that love, I told him and so he asked me for its name. It escaped me then but as soon as his figure left my horizon, the words came rushing into me like a wayward breeze. It was Self-Preservation.

I still keep that wandering piece with me, a prayer that one day we'll meet again. The grinding gears in my wind-up spin one last time as it slows to a halt. In my mind's eye, I still see him on that dusty park bench – careless hair, crooked smile, chessmen ready for battle. Come play with me, he'd beckon and these four little words would wind me up once again.

♫: Vanessa Carlton | Pretty Baby (2002)

This Month's Roster

Sunday, November 2, 2014

on time


It's a Thursday in 2011. I'm gonna be late for work but I don't really care. I'm finally going to meet you. You emerge from the fog and into my life. You take my breath away. We have dinner and then coffee and then you walk me to my cab. I had a lovely evening, I said when what I meant was you look like the man I imagined I'd be with for the rest of my life.

It's a Friday in 2012. They say the world is ending in a few months and though I'm not a prayerful person, last night I got down on my knees and asked for a little more time with you. You tell me you're off work early and you could spend the weekend with me. You arrive shortly after dinner, melted strawberry sundaes in your hands, and you tell me you've missed me like the sea misses the shore. Like the breeze kisses bed sheets swaying, like the sunlight misses the sunburnt skin on my nape. Your backpack is bursting with clothes, the first few rays of the rest of our lives. I run to you, my heart fevered with a silent wish. I know you said you can only stay till Sunday but you know, you can stay here forever. Like um, if you wanted to.

It's a Saturday in 2013. The world did not end. Perhaps my prayers were heard. You've traded in your backpacks for suitcases. I now awaken each morning to your light snores, your stubbled chin, your all too familiar scent. I wish I could lay back and enjoy the comfort of your arms but the voices came back last night. He's going to leave you, they said. You're not good enough for him. There's always going to be someone wiser, someone younger, someone who's just a few notches above kind. I hold on to you, feel your breath on my cheek as I wait for the voices to fade away. This is a call to arms.

It's a Sunday in 2014. You leave early in the morning. I could feel your exit in my bones as you walked away. Where are you going? I wanted to know but there were no words, no answers for a calloused heart. It is nighttime. You emerge from the darkness. You set down your things and you hold me. Your backpack bursts open as it hits the ground. I count five shirts, three briefs, and a fresh pair of pants. You were going to leave me. What made you change your mind? You tell me about the bus, about how each mile it set between us felt like a knife in your gut. You tell me about how you ran from the terminal back to our street, how the front door practically flew when you swung it open. Your left cheek twitches as you tell me how each step on the staircase felt like bloody murder. There are no apologies where there are no sins. You hold me and it feels like you've truly come home. It feels like you've come home.

The sea teaches me love is a wish
not for safety but for destruction.
I am not ashamed to admit it:
I love you the way water loves.
Which is to say
I wish the world were through with you,
so you could return to me ravaged, upon this shore:
a shell held tight inside my palm.


Gift, 2
J. Neil C. Garcia

You still look like the man I imagined I'd be with for the rest of my life. But it's a Sunday and I'm not in love.

♫: Rachael Yamagata | Miles On a Car (2011)
Poem: Gift, 2


It's a Monday in 2064. I am a fossil, the last embers of a love that burned brightly. We’ve weathered the storms – all 6,396 I made myself – and I'm sorry. I can't always say it for I fear the taste will soon seem pale to my lips but from the deepest corners of this ashen heart, I loved you. I love you. I will always love you.

Monday, October 13, 2014

on grazed hearts


"Anak, gising na," my mother beckoned from downstairs. I had been holed up in my room all weekend, trying not to let even the slightest ray of sunshine filter in. My heart was broken yet again. This month's suspect was a beautiful boy who thought he could love me. But just like all the others, my damage was too deep and too dark for his soothing words to heal and he left before I could even tell him how I really felt.

It was hardly my first rodeo. I knew how these things went. Everywhere, people were holding hands and basking in love's ardent glow whereas I was still in my room in two-day old boxers. Maybe it's time for me to accept that it takes all sorts to run the world and as Kermit put it, there are lovers, there are dreamers, and then there's me.

"Dali na. Tanghali na…" she said, her voice getting louder and louder as she came closer. I could hear her steps on the wooden stairs, her slippers spelling the end of my self-imposed prison sentence. "Tignan mo o. Ilang araw ka nang nakakulong diyan. Bangon na."

"Ma..." I begged. "Masama pakiramdam ko. Mamaya mo na ako guluhin." I dug deeper into the covers, my head burying into my pillows.

She put her hand on my forehead then on my neck, feeling for a fever. Seeing I was fine, her hand retreated to my shoulder, her touch tentative but reassuring. "May problema ba? Wala ka namang lagnat. Baka sinat lang." I did not answer. Maybe I couldn't. Maybe I didn't know where to start.

"Halika, tulungan mo ako mag-luto. Uuwi ngayon kuya mo. Ipagluto natin siya nung paborito niya." When I was a boy, I would often help her out with some of the kitchen chores. As the runt in the family, Ma entrusted me with the most menial of tasks. My brothers picked up the groceries and fed the dogs whereas I chopped red onions and crushed garlic for her.

"Sige na... Please?" She pulled away at the covers and instantly, I curled up like a caterpillar turned on its side. She placed her hand on my back, my undershirt damp from cold sweat.

"Basang basa na 'yang damit mo." She walked towards the cabinet and brought out a fresh shirt and some shorts. "Magpalit ka ng damit. Lalo kang magkakasakit niyan. Tara na." She left me alone after that and I don't know if it was love or obligation that pushed me but I did what I was told.

By the time I got to the kitchen, it was already a flurry of sounds, aromas, and spices. There were chunks of beef gently boiling in a pot. I could hear the sizzle of a roast chicken in the oven. There were vegetables of various cuts and sizes on the chopping board. Ma was on all fours reaching under the sink. Between the cramped space and old age, I could hear her muffled grunts as she reached for a pan.

"Ako na diyan, ma." I offered. "Baka mapano ka pa." She dismissed me with a muffled heh under her breath but moved out of the way. I didn't have to be told which pan to bring out. I knew she was reaching for her favorite – the green non-stick with the deep scratches. It was a wedding gift from my grandmother and although it had aged badly, she still insisted on using it whenever she could.

"Ano ba 'to, ma. Palitan mo na ito." I ran my hands through the pan's scratches, possibly from a too eager scourer or a misplaced silver utensil. "Baka magka-cancer na tayo niyan o."

"Okay pa 'yan. Gumagana pa naman. Kaya may gasgas, kasi ginagamit. 'Di ba ganun naman lahat?" I propped myself up on the kitchen counter as she pulled up a bar stool. I ran the pan under some running water as she freed a grilled eggplant of its skin. "Kung 'di ginagamit e ano pang saysay niyan?"

"Pero ma, ang lalim na nito o. Palitan na natin. Ikaw din. Ikaw rin mahihirapan maghugas niyan. Sale ngayon sa Landmark. Daan tayo sa weekend, gusto mo?"

"'Wag na. Okay pa 'yan, pramis." She placed her hand on my heart and I looked up in shock. "Kaya may gasgas, kasi ginagamit. Kaya okay lang yan. Gumagana pa naman, diba? Eh ikaw, okay ka lang ba?"

For a second, I considered telling her everything – my pain, my doubts, my fears about dying alone. But there was so much to say and so little time. I just wanted to relish the comfort of her touch. As soon as she let go of me, I knew we had somehow reached an understanding. It was as though she was telling me that she was on my side, that I still had love in the world even though it wasn't from the beautiful boy who broke my heart.

Pans get scratched up. It's nothing to get embarrassed about. That's how you know they get used. But what about hearts? Lovers leave marks like a heavy scouring or a careless utensil. What happens when he leaves your heart banged up? Should you still wear the scars as proudly?

Yes, my mother's touch told me. Because at least your heart still beats. Because at least you know you're not impervious to the pain. After everything, love always has and always will be a big gamble. Sometimes you win and it's like the world is on your side. But sometimes you lose and it's times like these when you're broke, you're broken, and you haven't moved from the space where he left you for two days – it's these moments where you have to come back to the one lover who has never forgotten.

"Salamat sa tulong mo, anak." Ma said as we started cleaning up. "Gustong gusto ko 'pag andito ka." She came towards me, arms outstretched with an embrace. In all my weakness, I let her hold me until the longing inside me passed.

♫: OneRepublic and Sara Bareilles | Come Home (2007)
Post: overheard

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday, October 5, 2014

on growing old


If you ask me how we got here, I honestly would not know what to say. Like the sunset, it just crept up on us unsuspectingly. One minute, he and I were taking spontaneous trips to Batangas and watching exotic French movies at midnight, the next we were suffering through the silence of countless breakfasts and forgetting each other's birthdays. Three years can do that to you and on most days, I'm okay with that. There is some value to a stable relationship. But then there are days like today where I wonder whether it was time or was it romance that truly passed us by.

And what kills me is he's a good man, that much I know. I could do so much worse. Wait, let me rephrase that. I have done so much worse. I've been lied to, cheated on, I've been hurt and all for what? The pursuit of a happy ever after? When I met him all those summers ago, I was a wounded bird with a broken wing. I was beginning to believe that happy ever afters only existed in fairy tales and cheesy Sunday movies. When my last lover left, he took so much more than my heart. He stripped me of my pride, my confidence, and my will. This brand new boy took one look at my heart and said I could fix that. I could fix him. And so I let him. It wasn't easy at first but through time and with his gentle heart, I learned to trust again. I learned to love again. He was the kindest man I had ever met and so we took our vows to grow old together. He with his gentle heart and I with my mended wing, we would get our happy ever after.

Nobody tells you what happens after the couple rides off into the horizon and the screen fades to black. Let me tell you. What follows is a whole lot of… nothing.

All that feels like a lifetime ago. These days, we hardly ever talk beyond the how was your days and what do you want for dinners – these questions disguise themselves as everyday pleasantries but I should have seen them for what they truly are. They are footsteps. Each question and its corresponding monotonous answer brought us closer and closer to silence, to complacent, to mundane.

I've become increasingly good at keeping these thoughts at bay. But just when I've let my guard down, they crash into me with the impact of a bursting dam. Today, it finds me on a quiet Saturday morning, as plain as the last sixty-three. He lies sleeping beside me. His snoring stops, signaling he is about to wake. The curtains sway without tire as the aroma of breakfast wafts through from the neighbor's kitchen. I daydream of dried fish, scrambled eggs, and a love that will hold me till morning.

You're up early, he says, mid yawn. What time is it?

6:30? I'm not really sure.

Why are you up so early? It's the weekend. We should be sleeping. He rolls over to my side of the bed to embrace me and I let him because that's what lovers are supposed to do.

I don't know. I couldn't get back to sleep.

Well, let's… he continues incoherently. His silence was soon replaced by quiet little snores. We lay there, two spoons with mountains of space in between. Now how much of that space was on me, I didn't want to know. Because I couldn't afford to think about these things. I couldn't afford to lose my savior. I close my eyes, hoping the same slumber that took him would swallow me whole.

He's a good man, that much I know. I could do so much worse. But now and then, you wonder how growing old together somehow turns into just plain growing old.

♫: Pancho's Lament | Promise Me This (2000)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

hello love


There was a man who couldn't understand the puzzle of life. But these
are his first words. 24 different pies under 24 different skies. Oh me oh
no I don't want to have no wife!
All the other words are pointless. His
words were only of kindness. The busy little witches cackled and spat at
that curiosity, suspecting wicked demons at play. We've done all we
could but...
Her daughters all wept, tearing off robes and basking
fully nude under the moonlight. There was no way the sundial could
express the things they saw. We're going to die soon, he said. Oh
how you'd like that for sure,
they replied. Hiding in the dark was a
happy little bear. His invisibility granted him many privileges. You…
you don't understand what you're doing,
it said to them. And they
have made me very afraid.
I didn't want to tell her she's all but
made it. That really wouldn't be fair to anyone, most especially to
me because I vowed to always be honest and never cruel to you. Of
these purple waves that are going to come crashing, How many will
last without proper nutrition and oxygen that they deserve? About
two days from dying of exhaustion? It's been too long, at least seven
years. It might have been too long.

I could see all this happening from my dusty balcony. Perhaps I didn't
look too far ahead. Like ants under a magnifying glass, marching
forward as they plot their own destructions and deaths. And I know that
to do all this from such a vantage point may seem cruel. The liaison was
spending way too much money. Everybody needs time to go and explore
the things they really want, even if it is embezzling company funds. The
rest persist like animals do. We are guided by instinct and mouths fed,
of course. Off course as it may be, there will always be something in
my current situation that jars me. That's life, my boy. That's just how
life is.
That's what my father told me and what his father told him. Mix
with everything you want. Wonder about the crazy things happening to
you. Then you'll get by just fine.

Happy never grows old. She's the same white dog. On that iconic show's
second year, the old faithful pet was given a chance to speak. On their
anniversary, the producers sat her down for an interview. I want
my family to remember that we are important
, she said. I've shown
love. I never aged and I never died.
In reality, she was a puppet.

You used to tell me these things when you were learning to play golf. You
are pretty strong yourself, though you know nothing could compare to
the funny way she collided with all of us. Or maybe we knew he was the
best at golf and we were better at other things. Like Monopoly? That
thing he said could make all our strengths better than our weaknesses. If
that's okay with you, we don't all have to be great at cooking. All we
ever do is eat crappy things, we say that it's okay and good. All it's ever
been is mediocre and lackluster. The fault? I don't know if it's yours or
mine. Maybe it's yours. Maybe it's mine. Or maybe, just maybe, it's ours.


♫: Naya Rivera | Mine [Glee Cast Version] (2012)

Monday, February 3, 2014

ember cinema


Every now and then, I remember him. He's the kind of paramour whose memory creeps up on you when you're sitting alone at a random café, thoughts drifting into space. The fires have long been extinguished and yet in the deepest corners of my heart, quiet little embers still persist. If you listen closely enough, they'll tell you a story.

The theater lights dim as a song from too long ago begins to play. I am the hero in this story as everything else blurs away.

---

The next few days breezed by very quickly. We continued with training without incident. I learned about the strangest things like DST, AHT, and the dreaded, despicable schwa. It was strange to learn about a whole new world that existed apart from mine. I thought I had everything I needed to speak to an American. That week, I learned that I was wrong. It seems that not only did I struggle with the cultural pieces. I also had a slight problem with prepositions.

Vincent and I continued smoking together. It turns out, we had a lot in common despite the fact that he was about a decade older than me. We listened to the same music, laughed at the same jokes, and enjoyed the same films. He also turned out to be really good at grammar. Over one of our breaks, he taught me a trick about prepositions.

"I just don't get it. In Filipino, it's all sa sa sa. And then suddenly, I learn there's in the car. On the bus. At the train station. Ano ba yun?"

"It's in that's used more often than not. Rooms, cities, states, counties, even barangays. Anything that has a border uses in."

"See that's what my problem is. I always end up using on. It just sounds better. On time. On point. On cue... On top? Everything sounds better with on."

"I don't know about you but I'd rather be in than just on," he retorted with a smile. I looked up from my seat to see that he was staring at me. Suddenly, it was clear that we weren't talking about prepositions anymore.

---

On our last day of training, he asked if I had any plans after work.

"But we're broke!" I exclaimed, laughing at the very idea of drinking when I was still living off an allowance from my parents. "How do we get drunk if we can barely afford a bucket?" It 'd be a good two weeks before either of us got paid.

"It doesn't have to be a whole bucket," he said. "And we don't even have to get more than one each."

"I'm not gonna get drunk from just one," I dismissed. "I'm a college kid, remember?"

"You were a college kid. And trust me," he said, grabbing my hand as we walked to 7-11. "Have I ever let you down?" It was the first time we ever held hands like that and it felt like I could just explode.

A few minutes later, enveloped in the cold 6AM breeze, we stood about a foot from each other. In our hands, we held a can of San Mig Light each.

"Ready?" he asked, his smile wide and beaming from miles away. "And remember, it's one long chug. If you break at any point, next round's on you."

"One long chug. You know I'm pretty sure this is illegal." I said. We were standing at a street corner. I looked around for any guards or policemen who could spot us.

"Stop being such a wuss, will you?" he said as he lifted the tab. He caught some of the escaping foam with his mouth and wiped the rest on his sleeve. "Ready?"

I took a deep breath and opened my can. "Ready."

We linked arms like they do in the movies. "Bottoms up." I emptied the can into my throat. I tipped my head back as the last of the golden liquid dripped into my mouth. I felt a rush almost immediately. He was right. I'd never drank beer so quickly before and my head was swimming. When I came to, I peered at him and saw he was only about halfway through.

"Not so strong anymore, are we? C'mon old man, you can do it!" His eyes grew wide with those words. Old man. He finished his can, crushed it with one hand, and threw it to the ground.

"Old man? Old man? I'll show you old man." He wrapped both arms around my waist and pulled me close to his body. I looked up at him in shock and anticipation. I could smell the alcohol from his breath as his body pressed against mine. My knees felt weak as he tightened his grip on my body. My heart started beating furiously, like it wanted to escape from my chest. I wanted to shout but no words could escape my lips. I let my bag and my inhibitions slip to the ground. I closed my eyes, certain he was about to kiss me.

---

"Who's the old man now?" he scoffed as he let go. I couldn't move. He picked up the can, tossed it into the bin, and walked away. I was left standing there, slackjawed and wondering. What just happened?

"I'll see you tomorrow, Mr. Cruz," he said, walking away. I could hear a persistent smile in his voice. I stood there, immobile, recalling those six little words. They were a promise of more days like this up ahead. They sent me home on a cloud.

♫: Amy Winehouse | To Know Him Is To Love Him [Live] (2007)
City Part 1 | 2

Monday, January 27, 2014

unfold


When I was a kid, I wondered what it was like to fall in love. I had only ever seen it in fairy tales – the prince would sweep the lonely maiden off her feet as the music swells. There would be birds singing and stars aligning. If you're lucky, maybe you'd have fireworks. I wondered if it was like that in real life. In the summer of 2007, I found out.

Vince was not a friend of mine, at least not right away. He was quiet, always sulking in a corner with a paperback and pack of Marlboro reds. But I loved him just the same. I had just graduated. I didn't know the first thing about love, my career, or anything remotely adult. By the time I threw my graduation cap in the air, I didn't know where it would land. I received a call from a call center recruiter one day. They received my application from a job website and they were inviting me for an interview. A sign, I declared. Since I had no other leads, I wore my father's best polo, polished my shoes, and dragged my ass to their Makati office.

I got in and on the first day of training, I spotted Vincent right away. He was slightly older than me and spoke with a perfect American accent. Because we were the only smokers in our wave, we got along fairly quickly. In between orientation and pronunciation modules, we learned about each other's lives. I was a call center virgin fresh off of college. He was an undergrad who had spent years in a non-voice account in Cagayan. He didn't look bad either. He certainly knew how to dress himself. He also had quite a temper on him. We'd barely gotten to lunch when he got into an argument with our accent trainer.

"It's ih-REH-vuh-kuh-bul," he insisted. On the board, a speech drill sentence stood frozen in time. "Irrevocable" was underlined twice for emphasis and they were arguing about how it's supposed to be pronounced.

"Americans say ih-reh-VOW-kuh-bul. It maintains its original stress. Surely, I must know this. I'm your trainer." Our rookie trainer looked like she was about to explode.

"Surely you must. But that doesn't change that fact that it's ih-REH-vuh-kuh-bul." My other wavemates and I, we didn't know what to do. It felt like we were caught in the middle of the world's most pointless war.

"Here, I'll show you," he said as he typed furiously into his assigned computer. Within seconds, the speakers boasted of the truth that none of us wanted to hear. He was right.

"Are you browsing a non-work site?" she asked. We all knew the rules and he clearly just broke one. It didn't matter if he was right all along. He made her look like an idiot and there would be hell to pay. "Stay after your shift. HR will be hearing from you."
I waited for him outside our building after class. There I was, first day of work and the only guy who was remotely interesting was about to get terminated. I must've burned through my pack of menthols from the nervousness. When HR finally released him, he walked out of the building looking cool and confident.

"What happened?" I asked, fear in my voice.

"I explained what happened and they let me go with a warning." He fished out his pack of cigarettes from his coat pocket and lit up a stick.

"If it makes you feel better, Merriam-Webster agrees with you." I showed him my phone. There were fine lines on his face. His eyes squinted into tiny slits as he viewed the definition.

"But then so was she," he said, referring to the secondary pronunciation. He continued to read the article. "From Latin. Irrevocabilis."

"I thought for sure they'd sack you." I said, hesitating. "I was worried that I would lose my only friend."

"It'll take more than a green accent trainer to bring down Vicente Cabrera," he chuckled. "Plus it wouldn't be fair. I was just starting to get to know you." We finished our cigarettes in peace and went our separate ways. In my heart, I could feel the quiet tugging of a chapter about to unfold.

♫: Jason Mraz | Unfold (2000)
City Part 1 | 2


THE HARDEST STORIES to write are the ones that are actually true. I realized this as soon as I started writing this story down. A friend and I were talking about the cheesiest things that ever happened to us and I remembered this little scene from when I first started working. I got to write it all down this morning and the daunting word count led me to chop it up into smaller bite-sized chunks. I won't make the same mistake I made with Stella. I actually made sure I'd written most of it down by the time I started. Next installment within the week. :)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

to my lover on his twenty-seventh year


Someone once told me that if you truly want to be happy, you must marry the kindest person you know. And I briefly thought of this while we were having coffee this morning. The café was full of people but there was only one person I wanted to see, only one person I could ever truly love. You were laughing at something silly I said and there was a slight wrinkle at the corner of each eye. It took my breath away.

You are sleeping as I write this. I hear your gentle snores rising from the bed. Tomorrow you must leave me. You are so real to me, such an integral cog in the machine of my life, that I feel as though I am broken whenever you leave. One day, I will forgive you for the five months you made me wait until you were born. Till then, I relish the idea that the days I spend without you are numbered.

It was as though you knew all this would happen, that day you stepped out of the fog and into my life. You saw past the pretenses, the walls I put up to hide my psychoses, and saw me as the man I didn't know I could be. Forgive me for all the stupid things I did that hurt you. So much of who I am now – the maturity, the strength, the over-all feeling of wholeness – I owe all that to you.

You stir and calm me all in one breath. Happy birthday, my love. You are more than just my greatest adventure. You are all my dreams come true.

♫: Hoku | You First Believed (2000)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

on forgetting


"You left the shampoo bottle uncapped again," I shouted from the bathroom. I wasn't picking a fight or anything. I just remembered this thing a friend told me about how there are little particles of shit in all bathrooms and I didn't want that stuff in my hair.

There was no response from him so I peeked out of the bathroom, my body safe behind the wall.

"Did you hear me? I said you forgot the…"

"The shampoo bottle. Got it," he said, barely lifting his head from the laptop. I smiled at him, letting him know I wasn't flying off the handle. He smiled back, a hurried one at first but then when he saw that this was something that genuinely bothered me, he eased back with a sharp exhale.

"It's a small thing really but it's slowly driving me nuts. Last week, you left the fridge door open and I had to throw out some meat."

"I'm sorry for being forgetful but…"

"But?" I interjected, my pitch a little too high for comfort.

"But I'm not the only one," he said with a chuckle. He pointed his lips towards the outlet. My cellphone charger was plugged in, the cord left hanging like a headless snake. "Don't blame me if you set your apartment on fire."

I laughed, a genuine one at least. How have we become so forgetful?

"What are we going to do?" I asked. "They say love is about remembering, about keeping track of the minute details of each and everyday, and I just don't think we have the mental capacity to remember all that!" I pictured us grey and old, forgetting to unplug appliances and cap shampoo bottles. What will we fail to remember next?

"Well at least we'd have each other," he said, finality in his tone. Conversation over. I shut the door and showered in peace. With wet fingers, I searched my phone for a familiar song. If he paid attention, he'd hear the prayer of my heart.

I wish I wasn't so fragile.
Because I know I'm not easy to handle.

Oh, baby please.
Don't forget you love me.
Don't forget you love me today.

Oh, my baby please.
Don't forget you love me.
Don't forget you love me today.

Well at least we'd have each other. With that, I knew I would gladly forget about everything in the world except for one thing – him.

♫: Schuyler Fisk | Fall Apart Today (2009)


HELLO! So I updated my music player to HTML5 with an option for Flash on older browsers. I'm going to sincerely make an effort to pay attention to this space this year. I've also set up a Facebook page which you can like here (please? pretty please?). I haven't really done anything to it but I fully intend to one of these days!