The bedroom light is on low, and I read stories to a little girl I don’t know. She has her head nestled on my shoulder, and we are both happy. The bedroom door creaks open. Something catches my eye as it walks down the hallway, and I leave her to go outside, check on the kitchen. The stove is on, a flickering fire. I turn it off.
It turns into a repetitive dream. I read, set the book aside, tell the girl to hush and walk to to kitchen. The fire is on again, and there’s a creature sitting at the table watching me. It’s evil.
I run back to take the girl outside and give her to my mom in the garden. There’s a creature in the kitchen, and I scream at it and launch myself into… BATTLE! Except instead of fighting I’m praying it down. I wake up disoriented, screaming and with chills running up and down my spine.
R shaves his beard. He looks odd. We are at a party in someone’s house, and he leans over from behind the couch to kiss my ear. The gesture feels nostalgic, like it’s something he no longer does.We spend the rest of time looking for a bedroom.
I feel like the second dream is fairly straightforward.
“I like your tattoo. Is it real?” We’re in the middle of a noisy conference hall. My feet already hurt, and I’m not even wearing pumps. My skirt is a little too tight. She has long straight hair, an earnest beautiful face, winning smile. She looks like a Filipina soccer mom.
I always want to say no, not real. I like to rotate temporary tattoos. It’s tempting. I forget people don’t always like tattoos, or seeing them. “Yes.”
We talk about tattoo work and color. Tattoo colors are different colors. They are black and gray. Colored. Watercolor. “It fades,” she says. “After a few years, if you’re not careful. Keep out of the sun.”
“I have one too.” She says. It’s secret. Most women tend to get tattoos in secret places: hip, rib, back of leg, top of thigh. Other women tend to get tattoos in small places: wrist, ankle, the tiny place just under the back of your neck, the tip of your spine. “But I don’t show the others.” Conservative culture sometimes makes for conservative rebellion.
We continue to wait for the meeting to go on break. It’s hard to be different here. They remember differences, even after the years pass: the girl with blue hair, the two people who kissed in the parking lot (but they were married to different people), the Japanese man who went mad in his office, shut himself in. This, that. They call you siga, like you wade into things to wage war. I think of the dozen tattoos I seriously wanted, and how they lurk under my skin, waiting.
“If I was a bit…” I want to say brave, or dumb, but being brave or dumb isn’t defined by the body art you wear, or the armor you carry. “Crazier, I guess. I would have covered my arms now.” I make this gesture, like pulling on sleeves.
She tells me about her friend — always a friend, the ultra Amazon, tattooed goddess type friend. I wanted to be that girl, I want to tell her but I don’t. I don’t really know this woman. For a moment there, I even forgot her name.
After the Life Altering Break-Up (henceforth dubbed LABU). I went through the mandatory soul-searching Activities.
I drank a lot of bad craft beer and a few good ones, a lot of whiskey, oodles of Black Label, and Double Black. I ran a 10k, tried a few new hobbies, and gave up some others.
Once, in an effort to acquire [redacted], I met up with L –, a good friend from Baguio at a nearby mall. L — played guitar very well, but also sold [redacted] on the side for extra cash. As I waited by the tiny Ferris Wheel, listened to the inane loop of children’s songs (these places always seem to have children nursery rhymes sung in little irritating voices). I thought. Hurrah! This is my life. My friend showed up next to me the way spies do in movies, materializing from the nether.
“Uy.” Followed by a friendly shove. L — was gaunt, but carried a beer belly around like a favorite kid.
“Beer tayo?” My treat, since I was buying.
Sometimes when I look back at periods in my life they come back like snapshots.
There was this one sad/happy day when I went to eat with A — at this cute little restaurant in Taft. It was raining, I think, but I don’t really remember. I don’t remember the food because I spent most of the meal with my head on the table, crying. I don’t remember why (we usually have a purpose, like a gig or an inuman) we met up, but that wasn’t really important.
A lot of the snapshots involve cab drivers. Mostly because I wasn’t driving in the city yet and Manila has snarly, horrid traffic that gets exponentially worse as the weather worsens.
I once sat through a terrific lecture from this old cab driver who happened to be probably the most devoted member of Iglesia ni Kristo. First, he tried to invite me to service. When I demurred, he said. “Iha, sa simbahan mo mahahanap true love mo.*” He proceeded to tell me about his first wife, who passed away and how he met his second wife, and how lucky he was in love.
I was really sad when I got home that day, let me tell you that.
The next week or so, I was stuck in three hour traffic with an utterly insane cab driver who told me how he caught his wife cheating.
He had been deeply suspicious of an affair between wifey and neighbor, who was also one of his closest friends. It was his birthday. They had a little celebration, which became a drinking session for the adults. In time, the number dwindled as various party goers said goodbye until only the three of them remained.
Kuya Driver feigned extreme drunkenness and told them that he was tired and needed to sleep, but that they could keep drinking if they wanted. His wife even tucked him into bed and gave him a good night kiss.
“Imaginin mo yun!”**
An hour later, he caught them in-flagrante delicto, on the sofa in the living room. The neighbor ran for his life, disappearing so fast he left his pants and shirt behind.
He then proceeded to drag his wife out of the house to beat her senseless in front of all their neighbors. So badly he knocked out most of her teeth! The guy was also their neighbor, and it turned out everybody knew about the affair except him.
During this cab ride, I was mostly quiet, except the horrified gasps that kept coming out of my mouth. I kept wishing that I hadn’t forgotten my headphones at the office or engaged this particular driver in conversation at all.
I think he noticed, because he tried to console me with: “I had her teeth fixed, don’t worry.”
* You will find your true love in a church. or more colloquially, I was mostly evil and wouldn’t find a good man in a bar, so I better like save myself by hanging around in a church.
Someone’s knocking, but I’m not afraid to answer the door. There’s a tea party in a garden, and I put my cloak on with a flourish, swirling it out. The fabric gleams.
It’s sunny outside, and I think my grandfather is nearby. The party feels lively, but old-fashioned. There’s a record player, and a frosted white buttercream cake with yellow sponge and pretty sugar flowers. I’m wearing a long dress under the cloak. My hands are not my hands — they are someone else’s fine-boned fingers and oval-shaped manicured nails. This fazes me not. I feel, as I step through the door, very loved.
“We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier and the last pusher have surrendered or are put, either behind bars or below the ground, if they so wish.” – Philippine President Duterte, on drug enforcement.
A partial transcript of the speech is here if you want to read it, but it doesn’t contain his adlibs. It was vague, meandered up and away so he could score some comedic points and left me wondering. It feels like populist propaganda to me. But he is the populist Dirty Harry president everybody loves. So why not.
The good points included a nicely scaled down event, no mega-fashion show as with previous years. It’s funny that all it took was a short statement banning it. PNoy must be shocked. I guess vague economic promises, a “ceasefire” and basically a whole of it “it will be like this” without actual statements on what they will do count kind of counts.
Nothing about the China Sea ruling, which for me is a pertinent issue since they are building on the contested land. Nothing regarding the Marcos burial.
Scapegoats are nice. Drugs have always been a nice scapegoat for governments. Nixon knows this too. After all, he was the original “war on drugs” president. A declared war on drugs feels a lot like state-sanctioned propaganda.
Drugs are a pervasive societal issue that affects people at all levels. There’s no one-off solution to “solving” drug smuggling, use and abuse. But it’s easy to please people through a show of force. And it’s easy to please people who are all to happy to hand it over to a president who has a reputation for taking action.
In this context, I can’t help but think of Richter Baykin, the 16-year old student killed in a buy-bust in Baguio. (Buy-busts in Baguio are a laugh and a half, let me tell you.)
What about Jefferson Bunuan, the young scholar shot dead in his sleep next to his cousin. Police say they started a gunfight, so they shot them. Witnesses say they were asleep. Maybe people hide guns under their mattresses these days. In a country where a gun costs more than a month’s salary. (Legally, of course!) Illegally, well.
Do we have a concept of reasonable force in this country? Or is force reasonable because you have the authority to wield it?
Not all cops. Not all pushers? Do we have that kind of hashtag? #druggielivesmatter Every life matters? Or they only matter if they make national news, but if you classify them as no-lives, worthless lives that don’t deserve the basic things other people do, because “human rights cannot be used a shield or an excuse to destroy the country–your country and my country. (Duterte, again in the same speech”.
If so, what other reason can be used? 400 estimated dead due to extrajudicial killings. Of course, some of them were committed by vigilantes in the name of justice.But you have the dubious blessing of The Man in Power.
It’s easier to kill than to prove guilt. He does talk about rehabilitation later on. You can’t put the dead in rehab, though.
You can’t really put the dead anywhere.
In third grade, we moved to Manila from our little city perched on the mountain. It was the middle of summer and I had never realized how hot a city could be before. As an added insult to injury, my sisters and I somehow managed to contract lice at the same time. After a couple of Kwell baths and extensive hair-combing, my mom had had enough and decided to simply cut off my waist-length hair. (As an adult I somehow got lice from a public bus, and Kwell made a reappearance in my life. But later, I had more patience, and I didn’t lop all my hair off.). Manila also had minimal trees, like some non-tree lover had made an executive decision in the past to simply not let them exist.
School was horrid, especially at first. I was used to smaller, Montessori-style classes where I could freely leave my classroom to go play Chinese Checkers with this blind kid who would also leave his classes to play guitar in the principal’s office. This didn’t fly well at my new, strict, Catholic school.
I was also a probinsyano, which is kind of the equivalent of a redneck from Redneckville moving to New York. Like most Baguio kids, I spoke too much English and mixed it with a local dialect, Ilocano (a social faux pas, to always say kwan, which is more of a punctuation, than an expression if anything else). I could barely speak Tagalog. I had short hair, which wasn’t allowed. I was too nerdy, too eager, too something. I was also, and still am, gullible as all hell.
I felt bad because everyone was listening to Ace of Base and Wooden Heart and songs I had no idea existed. My music education was almost entirely composed of Disney and my parent’s extensive CD collection. I had just discovered the Cranberries, and I loved them. I remember bringing the CD to a school show and tell and a classmate, derisively asking, “Ano yan? Baduy.”
I did not like Zombie, which would later be the hit that they would be remembered for. The music video made me uncomfortable, but the album itself is still quite a classic. I’ve grown to like the song, but anyone who sings it during karaoke sessions instantly loses cred.
This album (which I recently listened to again) revealed sadder songs like Everything I said and Twenty-One. During long trips home to Baguio, we would sing it in the car with my parents, For this reason, I occasionally like to play it on when I travel alone.