mother’s day

I’ve been completely conscious of the fact that it’s currently April.  Yet a separate consciousness of me which keeps track of important family milestones was preparing for Mother’s Day this weekend.  The mistake only dawned on me when I decided to check for the exact date, wondering why there hasn’t been enough fanfare for it on social media.

I’ve honestly been so busy lately that I’ve been thinking of you less.  It’s not an excuse but simply a fact of life that I’m living through.  There is a glut of things I have to figure out in moving forward in my life, and it leaves less time for my mind to wander.  But you broke into my consciousness the night after my job interview.  At that time, I hadn’t known that I would get that job.  I had a vivid dream of the two of us, walking along a road I used to drive for you.  Whenever you wanted to buy something for the house, when you had to go to your office, when you needed to go to the hospital.  I was struggling to carry you behind my back.  Not because you were too heavy, but because in my dream you were paralyzed from the waist down.  I was scared I would drop you and cause you harm.  It was the same fear I had watching you at the hospital bed one Christmas day, fully aware that you were dying.  Yet while in the hospital your face wore a permanent grimace from all the inflicted pain to ironically keep you alive, in my dream you were smiling and even cracking a joke about how you could still flail your arms.  Desperate to let you know, I kept telling you that I love you.  In that hospital bed, I don’t even know if you remembered me anymore.  But in my dream, you told me you knew.  “I know”, with a smile.  And that was the point I woke up.

You may not be on my mind the whole day.  But you’ll always occupy my heart, whatever that construct is.

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I fished out this photo from Facebook but I was hoping I could get the higher resolution copy.  I opened my old hard drive and was disappointed to see that the one I brought here only goes back to 2012.  This was in 2011, and that older hard drive was something I had left behind.

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heartbreak

Heartbreaks can take many forms.  It can be in a dark parking lot, sobbing inside a car in the arms of your newly minted former lover.  It can be in a bedroom, surrounded by messed up bed linens with a liter of dried-up tears.  It can even be a crisp sheet of paper, explaining a regretful decision and nothing much else.

For me today, it was inside the room of my boss for a year and my professor for 4 years, explaining to him that I had decided to move on from research after he had just surprised me with a meeting to tell me about an opportunity to continue working with him.  I wasn’t prepared for that conversation, and from his face I figured he wasn’t prepared for my answer either.  I had thought about this decision over and over, ever since I had accepted my current position.  I had imagined it in my mind, how I would rebel against the impractical decision of not renewing my contract even if I did not have a new job to move to.  I was sure of that decision, at least that’s what I felt.  But in that moment that I struggled to explain to him that I felt I wasn’t cut for research, I backtracked internally and wondered if I was committing a mistake.  If I really wanted to leave the wonderful family and friends I found in my labmates, and if I was really destined for more and not merely blinded by the infamous millenial propensity to keep looking for greener pastures.  As I looked at how my boss slumped into his seat when I said I had made up my mind, it occured to me how much I had grown to appreciate him and this place.  The same place that I felt tormented my mind and my soul.  The same person I felt could have done better in guiding me during my PhD.  I reminded myself that it was natural to feel this wave of nausea, it was something I had to get over and done with.  Life is a long stitch of impermanent situations.  I was grateful, but it was time to go.  I just didn’t expect to tell him today.  I wanted to tell him so many things, but the thought of him having had gone through so much better students leaving him stopped me.  He’ll find someone much better.  I walked out of his room apologetically in a daze at how life would throw me this curveball on the day of my first serious job interview.

On the train ride going to the company I had been recently pinning my hopes on as my ticket out of academia, instead of going through the material I had printed out to review, I found myself opening the email attachment with my book manuscript about my mom to stop myself from repeating the conversation with my boss in my mind.  The publishing house I had submitted it to had not replied either, I had been banking on the promised “within 3 months”, but it’s been several weeks past that.  I read through a few pages and stopped right before I teared up.  It would take a couple of minutes to clear off red eyes.  The last thing I wanted to do was show up for that interview looking sorry.  Strangely, it brought me a calming wave.  Knowing how my mom would have handled the wreck of nerves I currently had (she wouldn’t have shown it the slightest), I told myself out loud “I am my mother”.  A couple of times.  I thought there was no one beside me on the escalator, until a man walked up past me.  I guess he knows who I am now.

I arrived a few minutes too early at the place so I bought a cup of tea at Starbucks and found myself seated in between a guy reading about batch chemical reactors and a girl with her color palette spread out as she lay-outed a website.  Impeccable timing for my life choices to haunt me.  This is happening, I would just have to deal with the consequence of my now verbalized decision.

Including this heartbreak.

early mornings

I’m in love with early mornings.  When it’s dawn in some place, but not quite yet where I’m in.  The way it intensifies everything.  From the click of my heels, to the heavy silence – giving way to the songs of insects and birds alike to be heard.  And how it wakes me up when the watch man calls me out from the darkness to greet me a good morning.  It’s unlike dusk, where no further light is promised.  While dusk opens the gateway to unpredictable darkness, early mornings await the first ray of light to descend on the ground.  It awaits the golden torch that saves us from yearning through the night, because the promise of another day has already been kept.

grandpa

photo6080195806230587364I’m trying to remember you, before we both became much older and much recent.  And I realized, I’ve never really talked to you.

Ama always used to say that I was your favorite over my brother.  Whether it was because I looked more Chinese, or because I was born on the year of the Dragon, it was an unearned favor.  Perhaps it was an entirely different reason.  Most of our photos together were from a time I remember distinctly, yet they were long ago – before I reached eight.  Looking at the photos often helped as I have always been fond of dusting off old albums and reminiscing every photo on lazy summer days, but I remember those moments for other things more than you.  As a young girl then, I remember them for the adventures with Tita Anna, for the ribbon spaghetti of Mama Mila, for the hotel swimming pools and private club tennis courts, for the chandeliers and the fiber optic lights in your living room, and for whatever else imprinted memory of that period.  They are several but they are limited.  If I think about that time, my memory of you is often at the periphery, constantly smiling, constantly looking, but with little words in between.  For many reasons I have understood yet not completely comprehended, for they matter not much to me today, we had even less memories as I grew up.  When age gave me the knowledge of social classes and social structures, the consciousness of something atypical about our granddaughter-grandfather relationship became apparent. Being an introvert and a shy person, I often retreated behind my parents’ shadow whenever we had family dinners.  Yet I remember you as nothing but a smiling and kind grandfather.  As a person of opulence and wealth, yet a somewhat separate entity from what I considered family.  I probably would not have drawn you had I been asked to draw my family in school.  You always looked on me with kindness and happiness, yet you were unlike Lolo who would constantly rave and brag about my academic achievements.  You, on the other hand, often held your silence.  I wondered if you knew exactly what I do, or what you thought of it.  I took your smile as an approval.  It’s unlike me to start conversations, but when we both got older, I tried a little bit more.  But I don’t think we ever got pass much of the mundane things, my brother was much better at it.  Yet I always had a lot in mind, perhaps you did too.  Maybe we both weren’t fond of small talk and knew the more important things to talk about were things better left unsaid.  WhatsApp Image 2018-02-21 at 8.50.02 AM

When Inay was slowly passing away, I saw how much more time you devoted for her.  During her wake, you were an old man who wasn’t expected to sit so long in a memorial chapel, yet almost every day you went.  You sat right in front of her casket, never complaining of anything but simply grieving the reality of losing.  It was after this period that you talked to us more, constantly reminding us the importance of prayer and family – things we never even talked about before.  You’d always surprise us every single visit, getting up after long bouts of being unable to rise from your bed, just to join us in a meal and tell us with no end how our presence made you so happy.  Always. Repeatedly.  I’m thankful to my dad for always prodding us to do more.  To sing you Christmas carols and go to Church with you together.  If it wasn’t for him, these memories before you passed away would have never been possible.  Inay understandably never encouraged us to do anything for you.  Regretfully it was still a little time for me, as I was already based in Singapore.  Those times were sparing, squeezed on days before or after reaching the airport, and rushed on the limitation of distance, time and the reality of traffic.  There are many little things I remember about you, like your perennial glass of Coke Light, your habit of wearing polos most of the time, and how you rolled your “r” whenever you said my brother’s name.  Yet I know most things about you will be best remembered by Mama Mila and Tita Anna.  The other things that I know of you, I know from other people.  Things that happened in the past, things that were unknown to me as they happened, things that I will never understand, but things that will never change what you mean to me. While some of those are difficult to fathom and could betray my respect for you, I would rather accept the kindness that I knew of you.  If it was part of all the good you did in this life, I hope you know that I recognize them as such.  That I learned what I could from you and will take those lessons with me to do better in this world.  For all the other pain you caused, I can only pray you’ve asked for pardon and that they’ve forgiven you.

photo6080195806230587363It’s funny how people often look the same to us, no matter how much time goes by.  But memory is sometimes a treacherous thing, they lead us to beliefs of suspended time and limitless opportunities.  You simply became much too older, there was no denying it.  I am grateful for having had the opportunity to witness still a substantial part of your life – to be part of your legacy in this world.  Whenever people tell me I look Chinese, you’re always the reason I give why.  Thank you, Grandpa.

a bus ride

I got on the bus and tapped my card.  The sound of insufficient balance pierced through the entire vehicle and I took a step back to ask how much it was to my destination.  The bus driver mouthed the number and I was relieved to find the exact amount in my purse.  I dropped in my payment and collected the paper ticket that I always didn’t feel like taking.  “Nobody’s going to check anyway”.  Yet I’ve been on exactly 4 buses where a random check was conducted.  I got up into the second deck, almost missed a step but saved myself from embarrassment.  My mind never fails to come up with visions of tripping whenever a staircase confronts me.  I am grateful for every single time my fears don’t materialize.  As I scan for a seat, I find that getting a row to myself was no longer on the menu.  I chose a thin girl as a seat mate and took up my space.  I took an anthology out of my bag and started to read where I left off.  But my attention gradually pulled away from the text and into the surrounding bus space.  To my left was a mother, seated with her young daughter.  She was overdressed relative to her entire family.  And spoke to her daughter in a matter-of-fact way to tell her whose birthdays were coming up and that she’ll check and come back to her with those she missed on another day.  In the front was this lady’s husband, looking on to their other daughter who refused to give up the front seat she spotted when they first came up the bus.  They had a muffled argument just a couple of minutes ago, about whose fault it was that the other daughter wanted to sit in front.  The father cut it short by stamping into where the cast-away daughter held ground, perhaps fearing his wife would make a scene in the more than half-filled bus.  Behind me, a man assaulted my ears with a clanking sound every so often.  Its frequency was constant enough to drum pervasively into my consciousness.  He was an old man, with gold bangles, as I had witnessed when he first came up.  I struggled to figure out how he produced the disturbing sound, without success.  At a seat not too far, two ladies took everyone’s attention.  One spoke in Filipino, and another in a language I will not pretend knowing for the sake of completing this essay.  Their idea of a phone call was to include the entire bus in the conversation.  “I’m on my way”, she hollered.  “You wait for me”, in English she said.  I wondered if she was from Myanmar, but as soon as I looked into their direction, I realized the unknown language was probably one of my country’s dialects.

My stop finally came and I went down the upper deck a station early.  As soon as I stepped out of the bus, I imagined I would have been free of all the unnecessary noise that I could not escape in such a confined yet public space.  Yet I realized that I was in the same boat, just that people were further away.  The same people, only they didn’t clank into my ear.  This time, all the sounds competed in repressing one another and if I stayed isolated enough in my own thoughts and my own path, it was just one unified drone that echoed the city’s soul.

 

generosity

I’m not good at making small talk – making conversation about mundane things.  I struggle when my mind’s a blank and there is nothing conceivably genuinely interesting to talk about.  These struggles often happen when I go for a haircut, ride a cab, take a lift with a half-stranger, and among other things, to tell my story today: when I go for a facial.  That was where I first met Rebecca. I had recently escaped the wretched cycle of hard-selling from the two previous facial centers I had been going to.  Naturally, I was wary of Rebecca when I first met her.  She proved me wrong, she wasn’t that chatty to begin with.  On our first session, she didn’t ask me to buy anything.  I expected it on the second session, but the third and the fourth came without any question if I wanted to buy a new package or perhaps try a new product.  I was finally free of the cycle.  But the small talk, I needed to bear it.  Because she was everything I wanted in a facial specialist, I made an effort to make conversation.  It was strange in the beginning, I felt her strong compulsion to adhere to her stereotypes.  She asked me about my work, my salary, my working hours – things I didn’t think were exactly pleasant to talk about.  It didn’t help that she wasn’t familiar with a PhD is so I had to constantly downplay my life stories to “school”.  Gradually and strangely, I found myself drawn to her.  I realized, or at least want to think, that she actually tried to be friendly to me even if she herself wasn’t comfortable at it.  She always tried to make conversation, even if it was both a struggle for us.  She did extra procedures for me without me asking, and was actually very accommodating even if she came across as stern.  I realized our innate cultural difference could be the basic reason why there was a seeming disconnect between us, but I surprised myself because I reached out to close that gap more than I usually would.

Last Saturday, during my first facial for the year, I gave her a box of cookies since the new year and the upcoming chinese new year were a great excuse for my gesture of gratitude.  That’s another thing I’ve never been comfortable about.  I’ve always felt conscious of being openly generous, for reasons I have not fully made sense of.  I don’t like making people feel like they owe me anything when I give something.  I fidget when people say “thank you”, even if it warms my heart.  Just like when people give me compliments – I both abhor and like it.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that giving gifts ranks the lowest in my love languages.  In any case, it was easier to do that than tell Rebecca something sentimental.  Right after our session, I offhandedly handed it to her just as she was about to leave the room.  I already knew her for more than a year at this point, and had predicted her cool reaction upon receiving it with a simple thank you.  We went through the accustomed routine of asking my signature for that session and scheduling the next.  We said goodbye as usual.  But somehow deep inside, I knew she understood what I meant to say.

That I simply wanted to say thank you.