Break-up Blues


This is what happens after a break-up.

First comes the overwhelming sense of empowerment. Finally, you are that single woman who needs no man in her life. You are independent. You are unstoppable.

Then, stealthily, loneliness creeps in. You are happy yet there is no one to come home to and tell why. Or you had a crappy day and there is no one to rant on. There is no one to share food with (and hell, food tastes so much better when shared).

Suddenly, you miss his soft hands and purring voice. You miss his scent.

There really is a price for choosing yourself. Is it worth it? I hope it is.

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I saw you…


For a moment, I thought it’s you.

He walked just like you — hips steady but shoulders slightly swaying. He ate just like you —- cutting the meat into tiny pieces and taking time to chew each morsel.

I never realized I miss you until I can see you in random strangers.

It’s Just A Name


Note: All right, I know this is not microfiction. But let’s face it, this is probably the last short story I will ever write. This was a requirement for a literature class I took during my senior year in college. I know I have never been comfortable with writing fiction but I thought it would be great to share this and finally face rejection bravely (for I shy away from longer pieces of fiction because I am afraid of criticism).

It was an uneventful Friday night and all three of us were cooped in the house, eating a dinner of tuna spaghetti. Bored, we spent the evening just like any family (minus Mother) on quiet Friday nights— in front of the T.V.

We were watching the probably most controversial teleserye of the moment. Commercials promised that the night’s episode was a must-watch so since we had nothing to do, we decided to watch it and see what was hooking everybody. But before Angel Locsin could slap Maja Salvador, my brother grabbed the remote then the screen went dead.

“We’ve had enough of that. Thank you very much,” my sister said.

“Can’t believe how people eat up this stuff,” my brother said.

As I turned the T.V. on again to find a better show I replied, “People always love the unusual.”

My brother shrugged and went back to the kitchen to get more pasta. My sister had finished hers and has found a magazine to read. Neither of us said anything but surely we were all thinking of the same thing.

The dark weather in the house dragged me out and I found myself in my favorite cafe. It is an unpopular one (that’s why I like it) but with the hell weeks looming in, the shop is unusually full of students in loud group study sessions. At this moment, I love the noise. It drowns unwanted thoughts.

I pulled out a book and tried to read to brighten mood. But I was not even halfway through the first chapter when a tall, older-looking man came and asked if I were alone. I nodded. I did not trust him but I did not feel like lying. It can be tiresome.

“Can we share the table? All are taken.”

I looked around. Indeed, no table is unoccupied. But he can go find a seat in a different shop, right?

Probably seeing my hesitation, he added, “Please? I really like this place.”

Well, I do, too. “All right.”

As soon as he sat down, he made a polite attempt to talk. He said he is an English teacher. With that said, the awkward chitchat turned to an actual conversation about literature and, eventually, words. I could not remember how we got to that part but he asked me this: “What’s your least favorite word?”

I was stunned. I know my favorite word but I am unsure of my hatest word. It changes, depending on my mood. Right now, with the bitter aftertaste of the dinner at home that I escaped from, one word is burning my tongue. But I cannot see why I have to tell this to this stranger. One has to guard her filthiest secrets with her life. But then, I probably wouldn’t see this guy again, anyway.

“Illegitimate,” I said. Trying to look disinterested, I pretended to be too absorbed with studying and started highlighting random passages in my book.

“Oh.” He motioned for the waiter and seemed to have no intention of leaving. It bums me more because I really wanted him to go away. I hated the sound of that Oh.

After ordering, he turned back to me and said, “Me, too.”

“Oh…” Now he has my attention. No more elaboration is needed for me to get what he meant.

“Copycat,” he replied with a smirk.

Goodness, I hate this guy. How does he expect me to reply to his revelation? I feel you, dude?

“So what’s your story?” he asked.

“I’m sorry?”

“Tolstoy said — wait, do you know him? The Russian guy who —“

“I know Leo Tolstoy,” I sharply answered.

“Right. Well, he said: ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is —‘”

“‘… unhappy in its own way.'”

“Exactly,” he said. “So what’s your unhappy family story?”

At first, I found it ridiculous. This random guy just barged into my me time and now he’s asking me to tell him my family’s story? Who is he anyway? But then, maybe it’s about time.

There are five of us — my brother and sister and our other brother and sister. My brother, my sister, and I belong to Mommy. The other two belong to the other mother. But to Daddy, there is always five of us.

When I was little, I was entirely unaware of my family’s real status. In my earliest memories, we were just like any normal family — a mom, a dad, and their kids living under one roof. We ate dinner together on weekdays and go out on weekends. Mommy and Daddy would put us to bed with bedtime stories. Birthdays are all about cakes, candles, and lots of gifts. We spent every holiday together. It was a rather happy childhood. But I started asking questions when I was around ten years old.

When I turned ten, it was then decided that I was old enough to attend sleepovers and overnight pajama parties so I spent a lot of Friday nights in my friends’ houses along with other girls. I get asked a lot but when it was my turn to throw a pajama party, only two girls showed up in our house. Back then, I could not see why.

When I was in my friends’ houses, I noticed how their houses are almost the same as mine — there is a Sto. Nino altar, a T.V. set in the sala, a framed picture of the The Last Supper in the Kitchen beside or in between a large pair of wooden spoon and fork, and lots of framed pictures on the wall. There is only one thing that is strikingly absent in our house: a wedding picture of Mommy and Daddy.

One Saturday morning, upon arriving home, I decided to ask my mom why their wedding picture is not up on the wall or displayed by the coffee table. I remember how scared I was when I saw the face of my naturally confident mother turn white. I knew immediately something was wrong.

“The picture is not that important, dear. I could not remember where I had put it.”

She was lying, I know. If pictures are not important to her, then why is it that our photo albums were the first thing she grabbed when there was a fire across the street? But she woud not tell me so I went on to find the picture myself.

In the attic, I found a shoe box containing old photos, mostly of my mother when she was little. I was thrilled with what I found (though it was not what I was looking for) so I brought down the shoe box to my sister’s room, as quietly as I could so Mommy would not notice.

We were having a great time looking at the old pictures when, surprisingly, we found a quite recent photo of a teenage boy and girl that we could not recognize. Just as my sister put it back on the box, I noticed there was something written at the back.

To Papa, We miss you so much. Love, Kate and Kiko.

“Who is Papa?” my sister asked.

I turned to her nervously. “Daddy?”

“That’s impossible, Ate,” my sister said confidently. “He’s Daddy, not Papa.”

My sister went back to the old photos but I stared at this picture. For some reason, Kate and Kiko suddenly looked familiar.

Seven years later, we met Kate and Kiko in person on Daddy’s funeral. They were already in their late twenties and were already professionals while I, Mommy’s eldest, was only seventeen and barely in college. I was right the entire time — Daddy was indeed Papa.

When I first saw their picture, I had suspected we were of the same blood but deep inside I was not entirely convinced that they actually existed. Seeing them in flesh during our father’s funeral was like waking up from a beautiful dream only to find nightmare in reality. And that nightmare is the horror of realizing that the life we had been living was not what it was. For seventeen years, I lived a lie. It was unfair. My siblings and I did not ask to be born to this kind of situation.

On that day, I could not cry. I was angry at everyone — at my parents for keeping their secret, at Kate, Kiko, and their pretty mother for showing up and pushing our family to the corner, at my friends who would not treat me the same way again.

My brother and sister were both silent. They could not believe it. This is the stuff that only happens in movies. It does not happen in real life. Or, if it does, it happens to other people, not to my perfect, happy family. It could not be. There must be some mistake.

But soon, just weeks after we buried my father in the ground, there were talks of us, three children, taking up Mommy’s name instead. It was the legally right thing to do, they decided.

I went livid. They have no right to strip me and my siblings of our name. We lived that name and brought honor to it, too. What right have they to say we do not deserve it just as the other two do? Are we not our father’s children, too? But my aunts and uncles shook their heads and said I have to listen to them for it was the rightful to thing to do. My mother said nothing.

So here we are, both fatherless and nameless.

“So that’s the story of how, in his death, my father took my name with him to the grave,” I ended the story. There is more to it but I have said too much for this stranger.

“What’s in a name? ‘That which we call a rose —“

“‘… by any other name would smell as sweet.'” I took a sip of my coffee. It has grown cold. “Why do you like quoting classics?”

“Because it makes girls swoon and they don’t even notice it wasn’t exactly original.”

I grunted. “Weh? I don’t believe you. All girls know Romeo and Juliet.”

“No. Trust me, most don’t. They only know ‘O Romeo, Romeo!’ and that they both died in the end. You’re one of the smarter few.”

My cheeks burned. Heavens, swallow me now, please.

He noticed and smiled. “Seriously though, there is absolutely no reason for you to worry about your name. It’s just your name. It’s not you. You did not name yourself — your parents did that for you— but you chose to be the wonderful person that you are and that’s what’s important.”

I could not help but smile. I’m starting to like this guy.

“I told you mine. Now, tell me yours.”

And he did. But I am not telling you his story for that is his to tell. What I can tell you is that his is an unhappy story entirely different from mine. But he has found a way to liberate himself from the question of his true identity for, as he had said, one does not name himself. He said I can, too. I could only smile and say, “I hope so.”

“You will,” he said. “Remember, it is you who determines the kind of person that you will be. Bad circumstances are mere inconveniences. They don’t define you unless you let them to.”

The cafe is turning quieter as the college kids start leaving.

“I think I should be leaving. My sister must be waiting for me at home,” I said.

“I’ll walk you out.”

Before I turned to leave, I thanked him. I honestly had a good time talking with him. He thanked me, too, then we said goodbye.

“I’m sorry but I didn’t catch your name?” I turned and called back.

He waved his hand in dismissal. “It doesn’t matter. It’s just a name.”

“Oh. ‘K, bye!” Then he was back inside the cafe.

Walking back to the house, I realized he’s right — it’s just a name.

Being wise and brave and right


I have loved him but I am no longer the love-drunk teenager he knew while five years has done nothing to him. I just knew — it’s time to go.

They applauded. They said I am wise and brave and right.

I didn’t know being wise and brave and right hurts.

Choosing curves


He gave me a one-arm hug and whispered, “Dear, you gained some weight.”

“Really? Thanks!” Finally, I’m finally getting back the curves I lost.

“Uh, honey, I don’t mean it in that way…”

I looked into him and realized he’s not kidding. It’s really probably time to let him go.

One Last Dance


Waltzing, he sweeps her across the ballroom as I watch in envy. She is perfect.

It is probably rude to ask a girl to dance on her wedding day but I will do so anyway. After all, he has a lifetime to dance with her. This is my last chance.

Unsent Letter: To L., the friend I have lost


Dear L.,

Hi! It’s a tad weird, isn’t it, that I’m writing you this rambling letter when we haven’t seen each other for almost five years and haven’t talked for almost seven years. Even weirder, I just realized that in a way, I miss you.

Today had been a rough day for me. Two of my kids (two of my students, I mean) got into a quite messy relationship squabble and dealing with each, sobbing but unapologetic, drained me so much. Trying to reason with 16-year-olds that some of the things they do now may become their future regrets is a pointless case. They are so in love with love just like almost every teenager out there. Just like I was. Just like you were (probably).

As I was scrolling down my feed earlier this night, trying to distract myself from the issue, I saw you instead. The heartbreak of losing a friend and the gnawing feeling that I did something stupid came back. Then I realized, you are one of my regrets.

Do you remember how I would sneak in your room just so I can talk with you? Do you remember when you calmly tried to teach a panicking me how to twirl the baton only a few days before the demo? Do you remember when you used to teach me physics because I was not ashamed to admit to you that I understood zilch in class? Do you remember that I had my first cup of coffee with you and I pretended that I like it strong because I was too lazy to go back and get sugar and cream?

I look back on these memories with a bittersweet smile. If that thing (you know what I mean) did not happen, who do you think we are today? Maybe we could still be the same as we were when we were fourteen — the inseparable twinsies. Or maybe, not inseparable but still good friends, always catching up on each other with a cup of coffee. I truly regret the friends we could have been.

Maybe someday, when we are women enough to actually face each other, we can meet up for coffee. I miss you, L. I really do. And yes, I have forgiven you.

With love,

Wencey ❤

Marked with scent


5

He came home drunk last night with lipstick marks on his neck and collar. Thus, today I bathe in my perfume.

Tonight I will get my scent all over him and I hope she smells it. I hope she gets the message — lipstick marks cannot mark a territory; scent does.

Afternoon radio music


Just a fool to believe I am everything she needs, Patrick Swayze croons. She’s like the wind.

I crank up the volume. Soon, I’m waltzing in the living room with the cocktail in my hand.

You dance like the wind, I tell myself. You need no man to do that.

Strawberry Martini

The College Playlist: Sophomore Year


This post is 3rd in a six-post series.

It’s four more days before my eighteenth birthday. Thus, I write:

In a few more days, I will be turning 18. I believe every girl waits for this special day — her debut to the society as a full-fledged woman. I can see that most see this coming of age as a rite to liberation, the grant of freedom to drive her own car in this road of life. It sounds enticing — I would not deny that— but I must admit that it scares me more than it excites me. If there is a name for the fear of independence, then I guess I have that. It is not something to be proud of but honestly, I am afraid of being left to care for my own self.

When I turned fifteen, it dawned on me that, though legally a minor, I am no longer a child. Since then, I began to feel what Wendy Darling must have felt ―longing to go back to Neverland to escape the growing complexity in life. But Neverland is now just a memory that I can only treasure but never relive.

To be a child is the most wonderful experience any person can have. When an older person reminisces her childhood days, it is often that she will recall fond memories of a life full of laughter and hope and devoid of worries and fears.It was an uncomplicated life that is so full of magic. Then, she can be anything ― a princess, a mermaid, or even a ninja! But slowly, the magic wore off,taking away the identity she had created for herself. From someone who viewed her life and herself with certainty, she becomes someone searching for the person she is made to be. She becomes lost for the magic is gone and all her hopes went with it.

Where has the magic gone? Why is it that as a person grows up, she seems to slowly lose the hopes that she once held dear as a child? Why is it that learning more of this world creates worries and fears in an adult who should have been more confident for being more equipped with knowledge acquired from experience? They say it is because a child is innocent for her world is usually and merely confined within the home and the classroom.Growing up is accompanied with the gradual but eventual expansion of her little world into a place that widens her perspective of life. It is then that she sees the life beyond the delicate bubble she was clothed in as a younger person. She sees reality as opposed to the sweet and perfect little world that her family created for her. When the curtain is drawn, the reality that she sees is vulgar and prejudiced, never serene and perfect.

The world is not always fair. Sometimes, no matter how hard you work for the things you want so badly, you cannot even come close to your goal.  The lack of justice in the circumstances in life used to depress me. I used to stand up indignantly and tried to defy it but I never did. It was a way too strong force that I cannot manage to vanquish. I guess I am really not the brave soul I was trying to be. Maybe I am just a vulnerable girl with a fragile spirit. This is why I cling so much to my family. I need them to live. I cannot survive on my own.

Nowadays, I live by fear. Being fearful has become a way of life for me and it keeps me living. Every single day since Daddy died, I have feared for tomorrow. That fateful episode of my life showed me how hostile life can be. Since then, I have waited for tomorrow with fearful anxiety, knowing there is so much more misfortunes that could happen. I start each day with a prayer asking God to please ease my qualms and conclude with a yet another prayer with gratitude for another day passed. Thankfully, He has never let me down but still, the fears remain.

I admire the children who live each day looking forward to the next, beaming with so much hope. I was once such a child, optimistic about my future and sure of my place in this world. Now, I no longer know who I am or what I want. The future is vague and I can hardly have a glimpse of the imminent life that the present offers me. I have no choice but to simply keep walking, my childhood dreams in tow, serving as my lamp to combat the darkness of my chosen path. You see, childhood is a brimming cup of hope and I need to take a sip every now and then to rouse my sullen spirit.

I wish to be a child again. I wish to go back to the carefree days when no one expects me to be independent. I wish to be whisked back to Neverland and be eternally a child. But Neverland is a “never” land. It never existed and will never exist. At the stroke of midnight, the magic will wear off and the fancy dress and the carriage drawn by horses will soon be gone. There will be no magic carpets to bring me to places I have to go to. I have to carry myself from place to place by foot or public transport. A frog will remain a frog no matter how hard I try to love it. Kissing it will just give me a salmonella infection. Beasts will be beasts and they are not princes in disguise. There will be no three fairies to protect from the curse of an evil witch and a kiss will only bring me into a deeper slumber. Yes, the magic is all gone. You cannot simply live with hakuna matata.

As much as I want to be a child forever, I can never turn the days back. I must now start to look ahead and face adulthood to embrace it. No one ceases to grow up. We must and that is the only choice we have. Besides, it may not be that difficult. Even if friends and acquaintances come and go, I know my family will forever be with me in this struggle. And of course, there is my mom who never gave up on me.

So yeah, 18th birthday, I dread your arrival but I am here to welcome you nevertheless.

I am sitting at the cafeteria, having a breakfast of stale donut and iced coffee, nervously waiting for the release of grades in Inorganic Chemistry. Having failed Organic Chemistry in the summer, I don’t think I can afford to fail another chemistry subject again. Or any subject, actually, or else I lose my scholarship and losing it means having to drop out of school for good. It is unthinkable. I don’t want to break my mother’s heart.

Nibbling on my donut, I push the coffee cup away. It is not helping my nerves. A little while later, a classmate comes and joins me. He, too, is waiting for the grades. Being strictly acquaintances and having nothing to talk about, we make a polite conversation about school, especially Inorganic Chemistry. For some reason, I end up telling him about how I find chemistry subjects difficult and how I can’t afford to fail this one, too. Thus, he asks: “’Di pa ‘pag Pisay grad magaling sa DPSM subjects? Bakit…

He need not say anymore for I know exactly what he is trying to tell me: How come you’re not as smart as they are?

I shrug. I don’t know either.

We have reached an uncomfortable silence. He has a struck a sore point of mine and I do not know how to react because he is partly correct — I am not smart, at least, in his (and probably everybody else’s) perspective. But then, there is one thing that I do know: I am not stupid either; I can be smart in different circumstances. But I don’t know how to tell him that. He will not understand just as I still don’t.

He says nothing, seemingly waiting for my answer. I don’t know what sort of answer he is expecting (maybe an admission of arrogance and laziness) so I shut my mouth. After all, he thinks I am not smart enough so any answer will not matter to him.

Sensing my irritation, he excuses himself. He extricates himself from the awkward situation he started while I am left to torturously ponder why, after four years of special science education in high school, I still suck at science. Why I am not as smart as my fellow Pisay graduates.

I don’t know, I whisper to myself. That’s all I can give as an answer as tears stain my cheeks.

**********

“Ah, you’re going to med school!”

I have to stop myself from rolling my eyes. “Uh, no. I’m not.” I look away.

“But why?”

“Because I don’t want to.” Why can’t most people understand that?

She looks at me like I’m mad and I bite my tongue to keep myself from screaming, MED SCHOOL IS NOT THE ONLY OPTION! But then, I ask myself, Indeed, what other options do you have?

As if she can hear my mind, she answers, “Research — you can go into research.” I shudder. I don’t know. I don’t think so.

Despite the superb training that we are being provided by the school, I still don’t think research is a niche that I can dwell on comfortably. While I love learning, I am not naturally probing as a scientist should be. I have no deep-seated interest in what I am studying and instead, I just want to read the books and absorb as much as I can so I can pass. With all due honesty, science is not really my passion. I am no science geek.

Instead, I am a bibliophile — I love literature, I adore the written word. In a parallel universe, I am a literature major, preparing to be a high school English teacher — that’s the dream since I was little (although I originally planned to be a grade school teacher).

“I am actually planning to teach after college,” I say truthfully.

Her face lights up. “Ah, prof sa college.”

“Uh, no. High school.”

She looks at me, open-mouthed. “But why?”

“Because that’s what I want.”

“Why?”

I shrug. I don’t know how I can make people understand.

**********

“What will you talk about?” We are supposed to give an inspirational speech in a speech class and everyone’s been asking everyone this question.

“Hmmm… I dunno,” I answer, without looking up from my chemistry notebook. “Do I look inspiring to you?”

My friends laugh. They always love my self-deprecating humor. But underneath the badass student façade I like to keep, there is an anxious creature lurking, wondering what indeed should I talk about.

My problem, unlike most of my friends, is not what to talk about. Rather, it is which one to talk about. With a life that is very much like pushing a cart uphill only to let it drag you downhill uncontrollably, I can talk about so many life challenges.

I can talk about my family and my father’s death — Filipinos are notorious for being such suckers for the sob story. But then, I do not want to look kawawa because I don’t think I am.

I can talk about the contract I signed as a thirteen-year-old that practically bars me from taking all other paths except for one. But then, I do not want to offend people who would gladly switch places me because of that privilege I was granted when I was thirteen. I do not want to sound ungrateful, especially to the Filipino taxpayers who has sent me to school for the last six years.

I can talk about my school problems — how I can’t cope and catch up, how I am starting to believe I am really stupid. But then, I don’t want to sound like I’m whining because I hate whiners myself. Besides, my classmates, with their relatively comfortable lives, would never understand anyway. For them, I am just lazy.

Still pretending to read my chemistry notebook, I keep thinking what I will share to the class. I just know that I can’t talk about my current problems for these are not overcome obstacles. There are no resolutions (yet), no happily-ever-afters (that is never going to happen).

Thus, when a friend asks what I will talk about, I still answer, “Hmmm… I dunno.” Because there are stories that are painful to tell. But someday, when I finally understand how His great plan for me works, maybe I can give a true inspirational speech.

**********

We are cramming a problem set for chemistry and I have at least half left blank. A new friend nudges me. “Ano’ng sagot?”, he asks while pointing at an item.

I look at my own paper. It is blank, too. I laugh. “I don’t know.”

It seems that I still can’t understand, no matter how much I try. But it’s okay — someday, I know I will.