Sunday, November 12, 2017

no room in my heart for hate

A few years ago, I discovered that someone had taken some of my stories and posted them as his own. I have had many regrets since then but an unspoken one is I wish I had been mature enough to see beyond what happened, beyond what he did. Instead, I posted screenshot after screenshot of his supposed crime. I wanted him to hurt as much as I was hurting then. His apologies were left unanswered, his attempts to reach out and rebuild unequivocally rebuffed.

I let hatred out of my heart and into the world not fully realizing that it may take days, hours, even years but hate always has a way of coming right back to you.

Recently, it's come to my attention that he has been saying hurtful things about me online - half lies too many to disprove, too pointless to discount. I know a couple of the people egging him on but most were relative strangers to me. They insulted my writing, my work, and even my physical appearance. I couldn't understand how there could be so much hatred out there, and from people I didn't even know.

I have scratched the itch that is hatred for such a large part of my life. And while it is easy to play the victim and fuel the flames of this narrative, today I choose to be different.

I saw this wall of letters in a hotel a few weeks ago and I thought it was interesting how if you extended it to infinity, you could build infinite combinations of letters, words, and sentences. Somewhere in this wall are all the things you have wanted to say but couldn't. I could pick out the letters I like - strike back, say mean things, fight fire with fire - but what would that accomplish? What good would that do to either of us?

So instead, I pick out this combination. I forgive you. I release you. I hope you find the courage to move on.

I have. And let me tell you. It feels great.

To quote the brilliant Wachowskis in Sense8, there is simply no room in my heart for hate.

♫: The Beatles | All You Need Is Love - Love Version (2006)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

your umbra, my penumbra

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration defines an eclipse as an event where one heavenly body such as a moon or planet moves into the shadow of another heavenly body. There are generally two kinds of eclipses: a lunar eclipse where the Earth blocks the sunlight that is normally reflected by the moon and a solar eclipse where the moon blocks the light of the sun from reaching the earth. In cases on total solar eclipses, the sky becomes very dark, as if it were night.

I remember holding your hand as we made our way through the crowd. I remember the beads of sweat glistening on your forehead as we looked for our perfect spot. I remember the strength of your arms, your sinewy muscles as you laid out a blanket on the damp grass. I remember you squinting your eyes, your right hand resting on your brow as you struggled to see.

The sky began to darken as we sat down. I squeezed your hand tighter as the crowd began to scream louder and louder. Through high-powered lenses, we watched as the moon emerged, encroaching gently on the sun. I watched as that big ball of light faded into unnatural shapes - a bitten apple, a child's toy, an orange wedge, slowly retreating to a fingernail. The crowd grew in fervor and despite warnings from the government, a number looked directly at the sun. How could you look away when you know that these things only happen once in a lifetime?

I didn’t look at the sun. I didn’t look through the lens. I was looking at you. You were all at once so beautiful, so curious, and yet so dangerous. I could’ve stayed there looking at you forever. The sight of you was more beautiful, more breathtaking than the sun, moon, and Earth combined.

For what seemed like a millisecond, the whole world was wrapped in darkness. I held my breath and closed my eyes, letting the sound of the crowd, the warm August air, the grip of your hand, the magnitude of a solar eclipse in our lifetime – I let it all wash over me. For a second, I was no longer in my body. I had somehow found a way to fly away into the darkness. I was floating in zero gravity. I had never felt so calm, so free. That’s probably why I didn’t notice you’d let go of my hand. You let go of me.

I opened my eyes. It was the afternoon again. The crowd began to put their cameras and their sandwiches away. Everywhere, everyone was moving on with their day. It was as though the eclipse and all that came with it had never happened. I looked to where you were but you were gone. I searched through your face in the crowd but you weren’t there. Why did I look away when a love like yours only happens once in a lifetime?

In the middle of it all, it was as if the moon stayed put and there was nothing but darkness. Some eclipses last a few seconds. Some stay for a few minutes. Some of us are still waiting for the sun to come back.

♫: Jill Andrews | Total Eclipse of the Heart (2013)
Photo: eclipse
Text: NASA

Monday, August 14, 2017

burns like a promise broken

Sometimes, I feel like life would be so much easier if I were a cat. I imagine weaving in and out of crowded alleys, strength in my legs as I leap from room to roof searching for my next adventure. I laugh as I evade countless threats with my speed and wit. I know how to run with the best of them but I also know where to find solitude. Cats know many stories and this one starts as I enter a studio through a hole in the window screen. I am silent save for a hushed purring that I tried but failed to contain.

They do not hear me for they are asleep. She is clutching the sheets to her chest. The blanket resists but gives. He is left with nothing but the thin film of sweat the covers his body. He tugs at the blanket, the tug-of-war only briefly entertaining. I jump towards the top of the shelf where I have a better view of things. I gently paw a pointless figurine towards the edge. It shatters into a million pieces.

His eyes fly open. At last, he awakes. He glances at the wall clock, the minute and hour hands like an ice cold bucket of water. And just like that, he’s up.

“Fuck. Fuck. FUCK!” he yells. It is obvious he does not care if she awakes. She stirs, mumbling incoherently, her sleep prevailing over this midnight tantrum. He is dressing hurriedly. The button from his boxers nearly comes loose as he tries to put his pants on. He is hopping. Always hopping. Why do humans like wearing such tight jeans?

“What’s happening?” she finally asks.

“I must’ve slept through my alarm. It’s almost morning and I’m still here. Fuck. FUUUUCK!

A bright light embraces her face as her eyes squint to adjust. “Um, it’s just half past 8.” He isn’t listening. He seems to be looking for something under the bed.

“Have you seen my socks? Damn it, I swear I left them right here.” She slinks towards him, her arms like little snakes that caress him from his back to his chest as she adjusts his tie. “Honey, It’s just 8:15. The batteries on that old clock must’ve died. You have time.”

“I do?” She nods. He exhales. “There’s still time to…” She continues the rest in a whisper.

“Phew,” he interrupts. “I’m sorry I panicked.” She kisses a line from his shoulders to his neck to a fevered cheek. He seems unfazed. “I didn’t want to sleep in the car tonight.”

“You are welcome to sleep over. You know that, right?” Her voice is suddenly cold and sharp like a steel knife. His hands fly to his ring finger where a golden band burns like a promise broken.

I may be a cat but even I know what that means.

♫: Dragonfly Collector | Someday, Someday, Maybe (2014)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

on love and food

“Do you ever wonder who started the whole garlic-onion power combo? Like did some random housewife from the 20s try it once and then it just sort of caught on or was this something our first ancestors passed on to us?” I was in bed thumbing through cookbooks, hell-bent on learning about my culinary heritage from the masters of Filipino cuisine.

“I don’t think that’s how you’re meant to use a cookbook,” he reports from the kitchen. “You’re supposed to be in here, trying it out for yourself.” Various scents and sounds of spices in symphony wafted through the air. It was a Sunday afternoon and my lover was making me brunch. I know of few pleasures that could come close to this.

“Well, you gotta start somewhere. I’m sure even…” I said, scanning the cover for a credit. “Nora Daza started somewhere.” I just don’t think I should be trusted with flammable things until I know at least 20% of how these things work. Need I remind you what happened last week when I tried to fry an egg?”

“No,” he chuckled. “Although the fire department might appreciate the caution you’re taking.” I could hear the sounds getting louder, the smell of gisa filling the tiny 19 sqm apartment we were in.

“Gawd, that smells good. Ugh. I just don’t know how you do it. You make it seem so easy.”

“Patience you must have, my young Padawan. These things take time, patience, and a little bit of magic.” I peered up from my book to see him with a sachet of Magic Sarap. “Plus, if it smells so good, we’re in trouble. You know what they say: Ang mabango mag-gisa, magaling mag-sinungaling.

“What? I literally know no one who says that!”

“My lola used to say that all the time. She’d say never trust a good chef. But then again, she was shit at love and cooking so maybe that was more rationalization than actual advice.

I put the book down and dragged the covers all the way to the kitchen. He was sautéing garlic, onion, and some random vegetables I wasn’t confident I could name. I wrapped my arms around him as he stir-fried.

“But the real secret to any good dish cannot be found in your little cookbooks. If you really want to know, here’s the secret ingredient.” He set the spatula down, took my hand, and placed it on his chest. “Do you feel that? I’m cooking with love.”

I pulled my hand away almost immediately. “Ang baduy ha!” I said between fits of laughter. He puckers up and makes air kisses. I wiped his sweat away and planted a solid one right in the lips.

Whether his made-up saying proved true or not, I’d always have this memory in my head and in my heart. That summer, I learned exactly 26 of the 304 dishes in Let’s Cook with Nora. The novelty faded after the book called for ingredients like beef kabilugan, ox tongue, and tripe. And while I can now sauté like the best of them, none of the dishes I’ve made have ever smelled as good as that one little dish he made with love.

♫: Yael Naïm | New Soul (2007)

Postcript: While this is mostly fiction, I really did try cooking my way through Let’s Cook with Nora. Documented [here], I channeled the stresses of “funemployment” into developing a new skill. Shortly after I published the sole cooking post, I signed a job offer and that was that.

The POST: April 2017

Saturday, April 8, 2017

on what it was like to get over you

There is a wall in my house that tells a story. If you press your ear against it and silence your heart, you’ll hear it whispering well through the night.
The landlord said we couldn’t hang anything on the walls but that didn’t stop us. We were young. We were hasty. We had just moved into our first apartment. Nothing was going to stop us. For weeks, we snuck in frame after frame after frame. One day, we set the alarm for 3AM. With sleep in our eyes, we pounded in hooks and nails to hold our memories. There were cracks in the concrete from a few misguided strikes of the hammer. There were bits of wall scattered on the ground. There was hell to reckon with, that was for sure. But that wouldn’t be for a while. At that moment, we could just revel at the wall that was just us in the house that was just ours. I held your hand as we went back to bed. And while we were sleeping, my hands traveled through the sheets to find yours. Hands clasped, I knew that we were finally home.
I told the landlord you were leaving. He didn’t ask much questions. He just signed the gate pass and that was it. That last week was tense. We were ghosts wandering around the life we built, watching as it all crumbled down. I pretended not to notice how you were slowly packing your things. Records were divided, books were packed in balikbayan boxes, shirts were folded and packed into old suitcases. It would be a full week before the moving trucks would come and take you away from here, from the home we built together. But we both know you’d been gone long before that last box was packed, ported, and shipped away.
I combed through thousands of photos – some of me, some of you, there was even one of you when you were a little boy. I had nine spaces for photos so I had to choose wisely. I rushed to the photo shop one Saturday while you were out. I held the envelope close to my chest as I walked home. I took down each frame from the wall and carefully slipped in our pictures. When I was finished, I stepped back to look at my handiwork. This must be it. This is how you make a life. My heart was full.
Our photos together were the first to go. I practically ripped them out of the frames. After that, I ripped out anything that had your face in it, anything that would remind me of you. I stood in the middle of the living room, a circus of torn photos and memories on my feet, in a fevered rush to erase all that you left behind. For days, I tried to walk past that wall without looking. And when that charade became too difficult to maintain, I took my photos off too. Suddenly, there were just empty frames, haphazardly put back together. When I couldn’t handle that either, I took down each frame and pulled out each nail from the wall. There were holes where the hooks were. I took a bit of putty and with the craftsmanship of a five-year-old who has just discovered play doh, or the craftsmanship of a thirty-year-old who had just gotten his heart broken, I sealed the hole shut. I sealed all the holes shut.
As soon as I heard your footsteps, I put on some speed. I turned out all the lights. I hid behind the sofa. I stifled my breath as I tried desperately to catch it. You opened the door, confused by all the darkness. Your fingers groped in the darkness for the switch. Flick. I wished I had a camera. I hoped I had thought of capturing the moment you saw our wall for the first time. Because right at that moment, I saw all the messes of the day drain away. I saw all the bad things that keep you up at night give you temporary respite. There was nothing on your face at that moment but pure joy, pure love. You looked around. Heavy breathing. You were looking for me. I jumped up from my hiding place. Surprise! I yelled and you ran towards me, dropped your things on the floor, and held me like it had been years since you last felt love.
In the morning, you can’t see it. The light tricks you that way. But at night if you draw the curtains and look real closely, you can see the putty on the wall. I run my hands through them, the same way you’d run your fingers over an old scar. I see us meeting. I see us falling in love. I see us moving in together. I see the home we made. I see us fighting. That was tough. I see us falling apart. And finally, I see the life we were going to live together – the future we thought we could count on – like an overexposing photograph, I see it all fade away.
And I wrote all this today because for the first time in months, I have come to realize that I’m not angry anymore. I don’t blame you anymore. You were just a boy who loved me for as long as he could. I did my best to hold on to you. I thought you’d be safe under my wing but people change their minds, lovers change their hearts, and fickle is the future we rely on. We shared a lot of good years together, scenes like broken shards of colored glass I will forever cherish in my heart. My hands still crawl through sheets at night but they now find a different hand, a different heart, a different home. My love, I have found another home.

♫: Rachael Yamagata | Over (2016)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

on the children we didn't have

Today I mourn for the children we didn’t have, the weight of their unlived lives weighing heavy on my chest. I see their toys, their clothes a mess by the door, their hopes scribbled in journals hidden under the bed. I marvel at their fully formed lives that I could see clearly in my head and it’s a struggle to let them go. I wanted to tell them about you. I wanted them to see where you end and they begin. I wanted to pull them into the fabric that was our love. I wanted to tell them how you were the kindest man I have ever met, how you changed how I believed love could be. I’d always thought men were temporary, always fleeting, always running towards the next best thing. Yet year after year, you stayed. For five years, you made me believe in happy ever afters, in hands-clasped-silver-in-our-hair-seeing-through-the-years-together ever afters. When nobody else stayed, you never left. Until one day, you did.

Today I mourn for the children we couldn’t have. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I didn’t know what being a good father meant. Maybe we just carry our issues until we become the issues ourselves. Maybe I threw my ego around like you meant nothing to me. You looked at me one day and realized you’d finally snapped out of it – that this life we were gonna have, this love we were gonna share, this home that we built with our own hands – you wanted none of it. One day, you packed your clothes, your records, your half of my dreams. You didn’t even say goodbye. I got home that day wondering where you were. I sat by the window and waited. I thought for sure you were coming back. I could almost see it in my mind’s eye. You open the door. You drop your suitcase and your pride. You tell me you’ve changed your mind. Like you did before. Like the million other times we said goodbye. I leap into your open arms and all is right again. That last time was different though. You never did come back. I sat by the window for a full week, sifting through every shadow, yearning to see yours. Some days, I still sit by the window.

Today I mourn for the children we will never have. One final look before I say goodbye completely. I run to the closet, pack their things in tiny suitcases, and pack a sandwich for the road. I tell them to take good care of themselves and how I would’ve loved to meet them, how I would’ve wanted to become the kind of father I never had. But things change, people change, and you could hold on to someone but that doesn’t guarantee they’re going to stay. As often as lovers grow into each other, so many grow apart. I tell them that’s what happened to us and the fault was all mine and not theirs. I kiss them one last time. I say goodbye to their tear-stained cheeks and watch their shadows fade slowly into the horizon as they walk away.

♫: Birdy | Wings (2014)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

on the first night he slept

My baby doesn’t like it when I sleep with my back turned against him. And while I have explained multiple times that I have little control over what my body does while I sleep, he has maintained his position – I must always face him when I sleep. I figured it was something that would go away on its own eventually but I could also see that he barely slept a wink when he stayed over. I knew something had to be done.

I tried everything. I tried building forts out of pillows, even squishing myself against the wall to avoid turning but night after night after night, there I was with my back against him facing the wall.

And normally, this would be it. This would be the one small thing that started the snowball, the so-called straw that would break the camel’s back. Why would I commit to someone who would get upset over a sleeping position? It’s not like I was rolling off to some exotic location. I was literally a few inches away. I could almost hear my spiels – It’s not you. It’s me. I wasn’t ready. I’m sorry. But there was something about this man, something in the way he fought back tears to tell me about the exact moment I turned last night, that told me to stop. There must be more to this than it seems.

The bags under his eyes told me a different story. They showed me the many nights spent with other men who turned their backs on him, physically at first but then metaphorically towards the end. Perhaps there were too many outstretched arms. Too many ears to the ground praying for the sound of footsteps returning. Too many pictures untagged or erased. When he awakes in the middle of the night and with sleep in his eyes sees my back, he recalls every single lover who was gone by morning. He hears every single goodbye he never got to say. He sees my back as I walk away.

He said he doesn’t know why he can’t stand it. It seemed simple enough. It’s just sleep. Nothing to worry about. He said he knows it doesn’t make sense but I should trust that it would mean the world to him if I kept trying. I wiped his tears away, pulled him closer to my chest, and told him I would do my best.

As he lay there, I could feel the blood draining away from my arms. Just as I was about to pull away, I noticed that for the first time he was sleeping soundly. My baby doesn’t like it when I sleep with my back turned against him but if I held him as we slept, there was no way I could move. He could rest in my arms, in my love, in the fact that I wasn’t going anywhere. Not without him. And while I woke up the next day with a numb arm, it was a small price to pay for my baby to dream sweet dreams in peace.

♫: John Mayer | XO (2014)

The POST: March 2017