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)