Writing this from a wobbly-as-shit Ikea desk (because the pre-drilled holes aren’t deep enough / the screws are too long), in a shiny-musky new studio-ish apartment (the kitchen is at least in a separate area) with no overhead lighting––illuminated only by a bright streetlight shining through the gaps of my blinds that face a parking lot. I realized that my parents have no longer seen every space I’ve lived in despite having nursed the roof that held us over Manila monsoons. In the last place I stayed in for three-and-so weeks (but not really since I was mostly away from New Haven), the blinds were broken and let everyone peer in, eight different people shuffled in and out of the house, food (even if labeled ever so delicately) was thrown out every two days, and more cracks than floor followed you down to the basement––where a mound of bleach spilled itself onto open concrete.
Nothing is more me than disgusting materiality. I realized that as someone who spends nearly all of their time inside, I can’t function without a stable sense of four walls around me. This was mostly fine at Yale, where 50-year-old donor-funded statues surrounded decades-old rooms and their enfolds, the last stand of protection amidst RFID swipes a clothes hanger propping doors open. This was also fine at my Seattle Airbnb (* capitalization of Airbnb corrected, I never got it right––I’m sorry god), which was far too nice for me and an Amazon intern to afford reliably. This was more than fine under the grasp of my now-suburb native relatives, where I flipflopped between a large bed and an open desk, my belongings always strewn somewhere in suitcases and boxes.
I’m sleeping on a pile of blankets and comforter on the floor, silk pillows, three pieces of luggage carrying my entire life, Amazon boxes, popped air bags, a loose Ikea screw, the creaking sound of my shitty Lagkapten / Olov legs, a wall holding the most valuable items I own with cheap tape. New Haven ambulances, party buses, and cops on Friday night; three blocks from the hospital and another six to the cemetery. Never have I felt some semblance of home again, like I’m making something more stable––making, in the sense that I could never have with my childhood bedroom, where a printed picture of Gerard Way with the margins only folded over still sticks up next to dried flowers given to me by an ex three years ago––making, in the sense that empty music and white girls laughing in the hallways isn’t bothersome at all, or were motorcycles revving across college or Manila streets, or that I need much at all. I bleed out opening Amazon boxes, I fight over who can carry my boxes to the next place, I swear to never fly back to the Philippines for the sake of saving money––and cry because nobody comes to see me graduate, as I cried outside a restaurant filled with relative-strangers after my high school graduation, I rip 3M hooks out the wall no matter how hard I try to get it right, I never do anything right––
I have a huge problem with items; which is weird to even type down, because I never truly admitted that in person and acknowledged it for what it is (a problem). When I was young, a series of break-ins in our home made me paranoid of losing everything. People fluttered in and out of the house, and in the chaotic mess of notebooks and blanket piles and $3 gifts would I get panic attacks over a shirt I haven’t seen in a while, of a Php20 bill (0.40 USD) leaving my sight, of forgetting who I was without any item. Materiality symbolized love in the Philippines, at least in my family that substituted new pairs of shoes and tears for actual conversations. One of my most stunning, worst memories when I was in early middle school was crying so hard for a red plastic table and chair set in a department store––about thirty dollars (Php1,500) and too out of budget––but the idea of not having to do homework on the floor, papers no longer stained by the corrugations of the breaking tiles was my dream. My seven-year-old something self couldn’t even get over it in the long car ride home (2 hours, Manila highway style and all) that we eventually drove back to the department store to purchase it. I wore that set down, it holding all my memories, it carrying a series of valedictory gifts and tears, until the legs on the plastic chair (made for someone no older than 7, probably) had to be repaired with masking tape, then duct tape, then super glue––until cracks broke the hinges of the table.
I gave shitty gifts comprised of tiny trinkets and letters, because quantity and love mattered to me. My room is filled with plastic crates and shelves that carry my dreams across the years, materials that I equated with my worth, materials that I feared made me look more poor than interesting, etc.
In America. I carry with me as much as I can of the people I love.
On the wall are polaroids whose backs are filled to the brim with sticky residue, a result of being put up and down everytime I call somewhere home for more than two weeks. A shot of flowers from a pack of Instax film I would never buy myself gifted by a friend, a League of Legends joke jotted in blue and pink pen addressed to me (pens I still remember borrowing), an A24 postcard of waves doubly attached with rainbow washi tape, my “media boss” and their Adobe Illustrator piece of a cheesy key and heart given to me my junior year of high school (“Make us proud,” it reads), a picture of me and my best friends in a garden at Japan, a picture of me and my best friends in a hotel room wearing matching shirts–and the internal reminder to go and call them more, a Glossier card from the first time I stepped into NYC, the latest Amazon-template gift card that reads “Chia love, From daddy and mommy”, a ticket to the Ateneo de Manila University TEDx talk held in Newport Performing Arts Center back in 2017––where my friend and I couldn’t find the food court so instead went to a fancy Italian restaurant to share a single pasta dish (it was the type of cacio e pepe where they mix it in a cheese wheel, for what trend finds itself in NYC easily finds its way in Alabang) with four refills of their bread and olive oil, a clipping from an ex I used to exchange 1500-word handwritten letters with on yellow pad, scented paper, manila paper, index cards. I remember all the love I carry with me, that when I put up––makes a space feel like a home, that I can live––still, that I can live for them.
I want all the people I love in the same place, really. Maybe I mean that materially for the time being, when it can’t happen in the physical sense of personhood. I wonder if that time will ever come. I want all my cottagecore fantasies with my gay best friends to come true one day, even if half of us end up with men. I want to destroy that waitbutwhy.com article that tells you that 93% of your time spent with your parents is gone by the time you graduate high school––denounce it for all its inaccuracy, or claim myself as the exception.
I think about how $2000 flights back to Manila are a thing; what it means to pour your savings into stability, a home as an act of love; the Filipino family (where we make no distinction between relative and family, except when speaking to the American audience) spread out across thousands of miles and then later thousands of islands; the knowledge that these walls, if given the chance, will one day be filled by more people that I can count and more mouths that I can feed––so that all returns to New Year’s Day after mass where everyone you’ve known since birth sleeps silently on mounds of blankets and throw pillows on hard floor.
In the stillness of the morning, when I’m not woken up by an alarm (and instead by engines, wind, air conditioning blasting), sometimes I see the pattern of my grandmother’s bedroom from Tondo on the ceiling; other times the window in Silang of my mother’s childhood bedroom that looks over an uphill path towards the back of our house surrounded by overgrowth and brush; and other times the exact specks of yellow-stained concrete in my childhood room, the same firm marks of push and time on my back, where the pink curtains were forever closed shut––never drawn––its tint covering every stain…
I don’t remember the earliest houses I lived in. I was told that one of them had a Bahay Kubo in the yard, and in the other, I still remember the baby gate placed at the top of the stairwell. I remember the childrens’ scrubs I’d wear, the buttons pressing so hard into my chest and indenting them as I laid on the floor; thin blankets and a body pillow wrapped over me, hands moving; wearing down the splinters on your door by running your hands through it, over and over.
The obvious thing here is that I need to rethink my definition of ‘home’ now that I’ve relegated the old one to ‘childhood home’. I still mean ‘the Philippines’ when I say ‘here’ sometimes. I still wonder if I have it in me to cry mounds in the corners, eyes twitching before the tears stream out of sheer loneliness in a house full of people I love as much as I can in an overpriced apartment steps across a billion-dollar institution in a room alone.
Tonight, I sleep amidst the Lagkapten desk cover cardboard (used to measure the size of the Full bed I have incoming, arrival date pending because I wanted an intentionally ~Japanese~ mattress to keep with my bed on the floor situation, since that’s what I know as home) and stuffed toys that have remained with me through my journey. There’s newer things I lose, too: an earring at Pitchfork, my Twin Fantasy vinyls––both editions, now somewhere on a cargo ship in the Pacific Ocean, the change from cover fees at bars, stickers that I’ve been bringing around for years. I keep losing items and people and time. I wonder how many people I can bring in, new. Or, is my job now to maintain? The more people and experiences I take in, am I abandoning the ones that I carry without me?
I have a recurring dream of a fire taking away everything I own, people aside. I swear like many others, I can rebuild––but what about me, whose memory relies on photographs and physicality to remember? I rebuild, but for who?
Most of my apologies directed to my companies sound like this: “sorry, my living situation is unstable.” To many people back home (I draw the distinction between name-brand American tech company and then ‘Filipino startup’, because the latter is less interesting to most), this is generally unbelievable. America is a gracious land that has sheltered me. It has given me new life, name brand and all, and the terrors of living here are incomparable to the pain of the Philippines. I scald no skin with decade-old tea kettles when I shower, I can flush toilet paper down. In the world, there is no threat of fire but the wildfires…
Near 1AM. In the frat next door, a white boy speaks into a megaphone and kicks people out.
Gifts and items welcome at my place ;^) DM for addy
My kit of screws has arrived from Amazon and I have fixed the shitty Ikea table. It is no longer wobbly. My floor lamp arrived and I am no longer only illuminated by the streetlamp.
note: i do not proofread journal entries, please do not roast me