h1

Of Comfort

February 10, 2017

I am burdened by the kindness of the people around me and hurt by my constant inability to bloom in familial affection.

It’s always been that I have sweet thoughts but never the know-how to turn them into anything more. Since I was young, I felt I owed it to myself to be independent and strong. It wasn’t difficult but it didn’t say much about my own resilience so much as a visceral necessity for me to survive. I swore the angels away, convinced that games were better played with the demons I grew up with.

To be honest, I have never felt comfortable dealing with what I call genetic relations. My loss, of course, but we do what we got to do.

I am incapable of blame, unlearned in matters of reciprocity. And just when I feel like I’ve let the chinks grow and grant me the freedom of an armistice, my predilection to go back to what’s comfortable I’ve ran all these years to find wins.

At thirty-one, how little I’ve grown.

h1

Fire Out

January 31, 2017

A month ago, I quit smoking for the second and last time. An app on my phone tells me I’m saving minutes and coins, that my heart’s beats per minute’s falling all the time.

Many words have been said about the successes of kicking the habit but I feel I must go the other route for I feel like I’ve lost a friend. For a depressive, a cigarette is as good a company as any, making sure thirty minutes in a coffee shop didn’t feel as lonely. It gives me cancer and steals my breath but when friends wouldn’t do and my brain kept on playing and replaying end scenarios like an old choose your own adventure book, lighting a stick kept me still. I learned to chain-smoke at twenty-one, late by smoker standards. Really, it was just a byproduct of my struggles to start and keep conversations, and something to get my hands still enough to get me some.

Maybe it says more about the places I haunt than anything, but up of ninety percent of the best people I have ever met smoke or used to. The conversations were always amazing. And in cases when the words wouldn’t come, there was the tobacco — like a clingy no akward zone.

So from sneaking sticks in to my childhood room, to odd corners in UP Diliman, to numerous Starbucks branches, to countless al fresco food joints, to the front of Orient Square, to its back, to videoke bars, to Today x Future, to Mckinley Hill parking lots, to backseats with the window down and my arm out, to beds of lovers and strangers, to my own, to now dry and clean reminiscing all the great people I have smoked with over the span of a decade.

The moments are countless but I think I remember them all. The minutes — eleven per stick — I had lost with all of you were worth it.

Alas, health.

 

 

h1

Eve

January 10, 2017

Cinnamon warm, menthol cool, sweats and alcohol and the sun in his hair as he came home. Smells get you, don’t they? Whereas sights flash and sounds easily deniable, a smell takes its time clutching onto the folds of your brain, gives it a shake or two or a hundred depending on the time of the day and the number of pills you’ve already taken. You remember them now, don’t you?

And so it was her name that first arrived: Chanel, her perfume and the one she answered to. Must have been a couple of years into her hormone therapy when I met her, easily stealing any spotlight any room must have had. I was there in the same room not for her, but for her friend who I talked with online looking for my first best sex ever. I forgot his name but let’s call him Mark, the way all the guys I forgot the names of are called Mark. This Mark looked like my brother and I was eighteen, at the precipice between when brothers still meant something to me, and had I a younger brother, he’d have found me pretty old. I knew it when he had come walking towards me at Tropical Hut along Shaw. It must have been his eyes — my brother’s eyes. Fuck, our eyes. Spent all the money I had in a computer rental shop and commuting to this goddamned place and what I get is someone at the age borderline dividing my answers whenever I played the game To Do or Not To Do in my head when I people-watch.

“Hello,” I must have said, and he nodded to say let’s go.

He whisked me away across the highway into smaller streets that must have turned as fast as my mind that time. But I was that scrawny kid who took what he was given and at eighteen, everything felt like shining goddamned candy. He nodded left, we turned left, right and we went right, finally to a gate to a house which was really just a big room. You remember the rooms they take you, don’t you?

Anyway, I’ve always been a fan of small talking — the weather, exciting; your favorite band just might be mine, too. But Mark was not having that and he seemed to be a fan that day of nothing but getting some and I got that. But my brother’s eyes were not doing it for me — thank the heavens, a sign of normalcy. So I distracted by saying I was sleepy which was a half-truth, anyway, when who must have been his roommate came in.

Sees me, “Hi.”

“Hello,” I say.

Mark nods. “My friend,” he says.

The friend uh-huhs.

Ten minutes after and another friend comes in. Five more and another. Then another. One more and then finally, Chanel. Amazing Mark had brought me and tried to get laid in his fucking bedspace. Annoyed and frankly a little scared, I wanted to go home. But how could I? Chanel had the spotlight. She who was walking slowly towards me as I sat on a bed. All eyes were on her as she puts her index finger on my chin, raising my head so she could see my face clearly. I could smell her — sweet but about to fade as though she had worn her perfume since 6AM and have been out all day.

“Who?” she asks.

A roll of whispers in the room: “Mark’s.”

She taps my cheek with the same finger twice, smiles, turns, walks away and plops herself on one of the other beds I only noticed were also in the room. I watched them all like they were a new sitcom. I didn’t get most of what they were saying but I laughed at politely appropriate parts.

At one point, she took her top off. A pair of glorious breasts — fake, yes, but good lord glorious. If there were a cis-female in the room, she’d have taken one look at them and down at her own, feeling lacking. Chanel danced for a bit, egged on by the singing of what to me felt like five hundred people in the room; they were all singing, good god always singing.

She turns and turns until one pirouette took her in front of me. She looks down at me sweetly, her voice softer as though I were delicate.

“Hello Mark’s,” she says.

I wanted to struggle and stand and face her — the type of demeanor that said I was not anybody’s. When I would speak, I wanted my voice to be lower and more serious as though my being was questioned. But when it was actually time for me to do anything, good lord her sweet, sweet smell shut me up.

“Yes?” I say.

She took both my hands and raised them just in front of her chest.

“Do you mind?” she asks.

“Mind what?” I reply.

She moves a little closer.

“See, I just got these, and the doctor told me I needed to massage them every once in a while,” she says as she sits beside me, playacting like she was annoyed in a way only girls could be annoyed.

“And I’d do it myself, but tonight I’m tired and I need someone else to do it for me,” she goes on.

Confused, I looked around for help. Amongst grinning faces, finally, a voice spoke. It was Mark.

“It’s okay, Ron,” he says.

And it’s probably hearing my name — and I was young enough to enjoy the feeling that somebody actually knew me — that got me going with a little bit of unwarranted courage.

“You’re good at this,” Chanel says as I massaged her scarily firm breasts.

“Can’t say I’ve done this before,” I think I said.

At the risk of being existential, there I was, massaging fake breasts of a woman more woman than most I know, where only a man who wanted to get some who looked like my brother who I did not know the name of knew me, in a house that was really just a room, kind of wanting to go home, but might as well just stay. It was like a synecdoche of things to come.

Later that night, I find myself with everybody in a big grocery store. I remember buying myself some ice cream which I ate outside by the door while I waited for Mark so I could say goodbye.

“Well, I had fun,” he lies.

“I did, too,” I answer — truth.

I gave him a hug — one that said we’ll never see each other again, we will never bump into each other, we won’t haunt the same places, in ten years I’d have changed so much you wouldn’t recognize me, but not too much that you’d hit on me again.

******************

I bought a book. I have quit smoking. I felt an uncanny fondness for my job. I even got my hair cut.

It was new year’s eve — the most unimportant day of the year. You can either use it for self-examination, or say fuck it and get wasted one last time I swear to god to jesus and to everywhere his face is burnt upon, this is the last time. As unimportant, but I don’t even remember the last time I got properly wasted. I mean the logistics of getting wasted are a nightmare. How do I get home? Can I wear my favorite shoes and would I get puke on them? How annoying is too annoying and will I get there? What proper mix of drinks do I do to get me to the happy sort of wasted instead of the I’ll get in a dashboard confessional state of awareness and think I can sing type of wasted?

Besides, I was in the office. People would think it was slavery — having to work on new year’s eve. I thought it was cool. Or maybe not cool, but at least it gave me an excuse not to revel. I mean look at the fireworks go at minutes to midnight. They’re metaphorical hope of better things to come, replete with the sparks and colors. There’s no way I could look at them and honestly tell myself next year was going to be any different than this one. See, I was afraid of switches and sometimes even doors. Switches get you from one state to the other without any real reason other than you flipped. And don’t get me started with doors and how you’re in then out.

These were the thoughts in my head as I checked grocery items, together with delinquent house people who lacked a jar of mayonnaise or whatever for their media noche. And as I checked the price of a box of chocolates I’ve already had too much in this lifetime, a whiff and a swirl of a smell: sweet, familiar, unknown.

And there Chanel goes, coming to me as ethereal as ever. She looks a little weathered as though thirteen years passed her by in one, but as strong a presence as ever. She smiles at me, not because she recognized me but whatever I had in my grocery basket she wanted to know where to find it. It was that — ten seconds max — and she was gone.

I look at her back as she walks away, wondering if I should explain. But what? How she might not remember me, but I played with her breasts once?

h1

AM

August 26, 2016

When the sorrow dissipates like fog at 4 AM to be replaced by loneliness, I will see that you were right and always right there. All along and waiting, not to tell me you had told me so, but as respite against everything that weathered and chipped. The wind chimes in, whispers words from where I came from, determined for the past to imprint itself so that at night I’d know it was never the same.

I got here 8PM, nighttime by any measure, I know, but that was a few hours ago. Now I hear my phone ringing. You’ve heard and now you want to know. I could ignore you but you’re past that. I pick up to hear you humming.

“You’re in Greece,” you say. Hellos — you’re also past them.

“I am in Greece,” I confirm.

“Had you ever been in Greece?” you ask.

I slump back to my bed, a thump to bring flakes of me five minutes ago flying only to fall again, and now I gaze at the ceiling and imagine your voice talking to me from where you must always be. I’ll say no, I had never been to Greece but I am now, and no I can’t go to places I’ve never been to to find things I’ve left behind. Surely, one could only lose and find where one had been to and in, but I knew you, you’d spit that back at me.

So I go, “I feel tired and will go to sleep now,” when what I mean is you’re not who I need now.

And you go, “I’ll talk to you when you get here,” when what you really mean is let’s talk about you now.

“I miss you,” I add as I click end-call, further solidifying my horrible track record as a friend.

I was not tired. I jump up, put a shirt on. I would go downstairs and maybe on the way I would see a hotel staff and remind them they ought to give me the towel I had asked for. I would. Instead, I am scrolling through my contacts, curated and special, all the way to that one name that would make this all worth the hassle.

It rings and rings then your voice hits like soda crackers.

“You,” you say.

“Me,” and I brush my hair up, conscious only you could make me.

“You’re here,” you say, not a question.

“My first time,” I reply.

“God, what time is it?” you say, a question.

“4:15 AM,” I say, hoping it’s not too early.

h1

In Silence

June 12, 2016

“I mean the saddest thing, and I really thought about it, you know? It’s not cancer or unrequited love, or not having too much coffee to start your day. I was really thinking about it. No, that’s not the saddest because that’s not what depression is. It’s knowing but not knowing what to do. It’s this lull. The lull, you know? It’s the lull. It’s this space around your head that just seems so fucking empty. And you want to fill it but to do so is to crush your head. The annoyance you’d have to deal with with people telling you to go out, travel, find a hobby, go on dates, get laid, find jesus fucking christ. Those don’t work because you just don’t have the energy and you just want to stay in your bed alone. Well, sometimes with someone but mostly you want to be alone. You get me? That’s the saddest if I had to write about it. How about you?”

“It was watching you.”

h1

The Thing About Rape

April 19, 2016

You know, it’s 2016, and we live in a society that has rules much different from what we used to have. Being alive means you abide by these rules because insomuch as we can not draft a list of absolutes, we could do our best to strive to reach whatever’s nearest to it.

You don’t joke about rape.

You don’t joke about rape.

Never joke about rape.

Before you go ahead and get all defensive and view this as an attack on your presidential candidate, it is not. Well, not solely.

Why are we not allowed to joke about rape? It’s not because it’s unsavory to read on facebook. It’s not because it could bring presidential candidates’ numbers down. It’s because we are humans and rape is the failure of the very threads of our humanity; it’s the victory of the animal in us. And as I have slowly learned over the years, there’s absolutely no context that allows for joking about it. Not when you’re drunk with your friends, not when you’re in a comedy gig, and definitely not when you’re at the precipice of so much power.

Whereas other cruelties need to occur a few times to scar, rape only needs to happen once for someone to be changed. See, the funny thing about change is that too much of it is to be essentially destroyed. Rape is a cycle crime; it lives on, and as with anything living, it must have started somewhere. Unlike, for example, murder, rape is nursed in the collective psyche of a nation and it would take a strong leader to challenge and shift the way we think.

So when you look at a woman and say, “What a waste!” or throw catcalls at women who find comfort and confidence in whatever clothing they so desire, you instantly denigrate their being. You go from being human to an animal unable to contain its lust. When you make light of rape and unfortunately have an audience for it, you desensitize and lead others to believe that rape ends when the violent physical struggle becomes small trembling shakes. Ultimately, you fail at protecting your own loved ones.

There’s a nightmare replay machine rape victims guard, and nothing sets it off faster than our supposed harmless jokes. It’s curious: What good would it bring us if we rid ourselves of economic corruption but let our minds and tongues out to rot?

To touch lightly on specifics, it disappoints that for so long we have told ourselves to crave for more intelligent discussions, and along with it, a smarter electorate. But too many people are unable to discriminate between the itemized failings of politicians. Often, we are blinded by the finished product — say, the perceived beauty of a city — and ignore the red flags raised with every crass campaign day. It’s confounding how lazy we have become! We are willing to arrive while forgoing all the small details on how to get there.

Mr. Duterte, you are a far greater man than most of us. I don’t know anymore which is true when it comes to things I read about you, but one strikes me as very odd: I specifically remember you saying you were sexually abused as a kid. I was also sexually abused once when I was young but perhaps we are the stronger kind. We were able to deal but not everyone will be able to. See, we get it, you’re big. You are accomplished, no question about that. I was just really surprised by how much someone could cling to his bigness when the time to be small and say sorry seemed like the right path to go.

To end, I remember when I was a teenager, a young girl had a bottle of gin thrust up her vagina bottom-end up, left for dead by a gang of men. She must have been strong for she was able to walk home for her mother to see. But she died. I pray to god her mother didn’t see that video of you. I pray to god she does not get to read all the words thrown all in the defense of one man’s greatness.

h1

Aglow

September 1, 2015

Her skin was sticking to the faux leather seat like post-war regret. She had said something and he had taken it a dozen times more potent than the intent. One of the doors to the back of the car was open, inviting the scent of the parking lot’s cement in.

They trespassed a nice house, took a dip in the strange pool and made out. And she remembered the way he had got out of the water, the floodlight reflected in the drops of water on his chest. Good god, he glowed, good god, he glowed for her and seemingly her alone.

And now he says sorry for the pull, says sorry for the push, and the million stabs in between. He is sorry for the war, she is sorry for the casualty count.

And I, well I, I stood fixed and flat like my favorite cheap bottle of wine, inside the house and in cigarette smoke, waiting for the next time the strangers would come back to and into my pool. Good god, they glowed, and they were mine, and there, still.

I read her lips as she says her apologies. For what, who cares, when they stick the same way onto his skin like faux leather.

They walked away and away, until they burned, sparked, and glowed no more.