This post is a draft, and currently being written in public. This block of text will be removed when it is finished.
There is no place else in the world where I feel inordinate amounts of paranoia than in my childhood bedroom. I grew up quietly then edgily while always being annoying––the you don’t understand me and browsing DeviantArt then /b/ far too young kind––with little trust to place in the world. Our house, in an unsafe neighborhood in residential Las Piñas, had been broken into several times in our youth. One night, while on my laptop, I had been ushered with my sister by our shaking helper to get into the car so we could drive out and call for help because someone was currently in the house. (Emergency lines and police phones often do not work. There was no functioning 911 call system then.) Another night, we watched in silence as someone brandished with a weapon walked over our sleeping bodies to take bags of stuff and leave; reporting the incident only when we knew they were gone. (The family sleeps in the same room to conserve electricity, most of us on the floor.) Aside from break-ins, I had known that nothing physical I own would be forever. With the amount of people moving in and out, I would notice little things like clothing, toys, trinkets, disappearing.
As a child, these conditions invariably fucked with my head often. Think the weird, gut sinking feeling you have at night when you remember a shirt you haven’t seen in a while but magnified for every little thing you own. If I was allowed to access the toys I had (usually barred in layers of clear packaging tape, to be taken away months after) at all, they would soon be gone. When I saved up enough money to buy crappy one-dollar shirts at the mall’s tiny bazaars, they would be taken, too. I’d open my drawers, piling things on the floor until my fingernails clogged with dust and woodchips, teary-eyed, looking for any item that would be in my possession for longer than a few weeks. My first iPhone’s camera roll mostly consisted of iFunny screenshots and photos of anything I owned, taken in several angles. About three times did that help me find something I lost misplaced in the laundry or elsewhere, or suddenly “found” in my stack of things. I knew how to take everything in my room apart and put it back again. I never could do this with individual possessions, too unfamiliar and distant to learn how to detach.
While packing for America, I realized that my possessions mostly consisted of ill-fitting shoes and shirts from over a decade ago, aching for the presence of any constant object. I owned two functioning pairs of footwear that were truly my own, and brought those with me to my dorm room.
When campuses shut down in early 2020, I began clinging to the little material things that I gathered over my two years at school. Pens and mugs from random visiting companies recruiting on diversity events, leftover flyers from overpriced campus printing, vinyls amassed and catalogued carefully on Discogs from trips to record stores in every city I would visit, YesStyle haul boxes and their $12 shirts that would consist of most of my wardrobe––a mild upgrade from my high school one. And then, I condensed everything again from a life I had lived anew and left boxes of belongings somewhere behind. As the virus worsened, my roommates sent messages and proxies to pick up their things, one-by-one emptying our suite. The solitary spring break I had stretched out, stilling, paralyzing.
In April, I would take masks from the laundry room and go out to buy groceries––milk, crackers, cup noodles––and walk back to my dorm. New Haven was now largely free of undergraduates, dispersed across America and the larger world, yet it had never been so alive.
As the summer arrived, I took job interviews in a disheveled room, take two daily showers on walks across bleach-scented bathroom floors, take the stairs up to the top dorm room floor in the decades-old dorm for the first time. I think one other person was in the entire building. I saw no other Yale students for the next few months.
Most of the time, people presume my biggest contention is where to live. The story of the Filipino international always comes with an expectation to lift your family with you to American soil and a shiny new workplace that pays tenfold your parents’ work, and live anew. You become the new generation of salvation, a person to emulate for the ages.
My tiny dreams today mostly have me wondering about when I will find a room of my own. It is the most prominent and distant dream I hold with me.