Wednesday, December 01, 2010

memory 1

we were out constantly when we were kids. my mom and papa took us all over. it stopped when B was in his teens. maybe earlier. i don't know why.

but when A and i were small, i remember going to paco park a lot. my mom and papa got married there, in the small chapel. st pancratius chapel, i think it's called. she wore a gown of old lace and a yellow belt. and three-inch stack heels with a snub nose. she still has those shoes today.

we went even before ali was born; my mom and i have a photo sitting on one of the benches, A still in her womb. later, when A came, i remember me, papa, and her taking walks all around the park. over the walls, skipping on rizal's marker.

one day, while my mom was hearing mass, my papa drew the church for us. he signed it, "to googoo and A, love papa." and the date. i still have it somewhere. he drew it with a charcoal pencil; the christmas before, they gifted me and ali with a pack of magic markers and sketchpads. tiny japanese branded markers in a plastic case. i knew it didn't cost much, but it was what they could afford then. i was only three or four but could feel their heartache at not being able to give us something more. my own heart twitches even now, seeing myself hold the markers in my small hands. 

i also remember a trip to la union. i was much older, maybe 10 or 11. it was a sigma rho outing and my papa brought us along. now that i think about it, he was probably the only sigma rhoan who brought his family--maybe mom forced him again. we were billeted in an inn--those non-fuss, un-fancy ones with large rooms, basic beds, icky blue paint, and a clean bathroom. i can see my mom sitting in bed, reading. she's in a blouse and in her slip, and i get so mad, flare up so large and rapidly inside when our driver opens the door without knocking. my mom covers herself up quickly. eddie apologizes and says something in ybanag. later, we go down and check out the party. my mom stays behind and ali and i go up. the door is unlocked. i push A behind me, enter first, half-crouching, half-walking in a karate stance. as if i knew karate. nothing is out of place, no predators to karate chop. we lock the door and go to bed. 

outside, the carousing continues. i remember us seeing a woman dressed in black, made up like a model, in the hallway. she's beautiful. we stare. we never saw women like that in our world.

the next morning, we take breakfast by the poolside. my papa and i are taking a walk, and i remember asking him, 'what does putang ina mean?' he doesn't answer me directly, he just says it's something i'm too young to say. we also talk about how the catholic church, in its twisted way, makes the poor feel good about being poor, so they stay poor. it's not dignity at all, it's just annoying, soap opera shit. "blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven," or something like that. around the breakfast table, talk is also of religion. pastor D, one of papa's brods says, "isn't this nice. it's a sunday and we're talking about God. what a great way to start the day."

by the pool, a young woman with the features of a mongoloid is unrobing. she's down to her bra and panties. someone calls out to her and asks what the hell she's doing. she puts her hand on her waist and juts her hip out. "bakit, sexy naman ako a!" then she dives into the pool.

until today, when A and i want to have a good laugh, we say: "bakit, sexy naman ako a!"

Saturday, August 07, 2010

come visit my tumblr blog

i've been posting more regularly on my tumblr, vivalogos.tumblr, and started a new blog with yahoo southeast asia ( i realized tumblr's more user-friendly when it comes to posting photos, and well, yahoo pays me. haha. so come, check me out :)

Monday, April 26, 2010

lost...and well, lost. full stop.

i just realized something.

when he was happy, or claimed to be, he hid it.

there are two things a man cannot hide, goes a saying: a cough, and if he is in love.

he was very good at hiding the latter.

but when things got bad, and sour, he showed it immediately. the silence. the facebook posts. the bitterness of his actions and his words.

"sino yan," he asked M, when M answered one of my phone calls. he himself wouldn't pick up his phone, and M hadn't had a stroke yet then, and being his neighbor, was my nearest link to him. "kung si Gina lang yan, ayokong kausapin."

when in love with me--or so he claimed--he couldn't even hold my hand in public. never kissed me in public. never took my photo. couldn't introduce me properly to his son, his parents, his uncles, his friends. like a dumb fool i always stood back, an insipid smile on my face, telling myself how endearing his cruelty was.

he only posted "in a relationship" on facebook last December, when he finally felt i would really leave him.

today, he took down that status. after two months of silence and yes, bitter messages and actions.

i think i owe it to myself to feel bad. just a little. as a friend recently posted on twitter, 'the only things that should be kept bottled up are wine and vinegar.'

i always felt love--as well as grief (even if only temporary)--should be uncorked. grief and despair from the slaves of the US south were sung into the air and permeated the air, absorbed by the leaves, swallowed by the great trunks of trees, seeped into the soil, only to find life again and consumed by the same people who would give the world the greatness of blues and honkytonk.

and love is only alive and well if it is expressed in a way the beloved understands and appreciates.

i tried to make it flourish, i really did, by asking for the many little and myriad forms with which i could store it in, in my humble understanding. forms in which i could store away in my memory--i wasn't even asking for anything to be stored in my fucking jewelry box--to be pulled out and take a whiff at, when needed.

i guess--well, i know now--that he couldn't give those things because he hid them so well, and for so long, he's forgotten where he put them.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


when i was in high school, the nuns taught us how to sit.

well, not really the nuns, but our home economics teacher did. and she could have very well been a nun. slightly overweight, with a low, tiny twitter that she hid behind a fan. she once told us that when having sex--oh, excuse me, making love--with our future husbands, we should always disrobe with THE LIGHTS OFF.

sit perched on the edge of the seat. legs set diagonally, one heel tucked behind the other, hands on one hip. 'like Gloria Diaz,' she says.

that's stayed with me for the past 20 years. i automatically sit like this when i'm working or in a meeting, or in a social event--then i gradually slacken and sprawl as i get more and more comfortable.

it is like this that i sit at a coffee house as i wait for simone and her friends at the mall. my laptop is in front of me, and as i look up, i see sim and her friends rush past. a group of adolescent girls, in straight-cut jeans, graphic tees, harajuku/kipling/gap bags slung over their skinny shoulders. the boys follow, ambling clumsily but trying to look trés cool behind their female counterparts.

they like to say i'm "cool", this young, happy crowd. "simone, your mom's a PRO," they say. that, in 13-year-old-speak, is "awesome".  they even add me on facebook.

my breath catches in my throat as i see them run by. if only they knew how scared i feel sometimes, how tender and worried i feel about their futures.

i am still seated that way, back straight and legs crossed like a 1960s beauty queen, as the last of them disappears from my view, and i feel like i'm going to cry.

very uncool.

Friday, April 09, 2010

simone and her secret to happiness

we are in the car, simone and i. she had just completed the Yes! course of Art of Living Foundation, a four-day course tailored for teens (meditation and yoga, as well as age-appropriate issues self-esteem, peer pressure, etc., are tackled). Simone is not yet a teen--she'll turn 13 in June--but, according to her tita dona (and i totally agree), Sim has been through much in her young life. her emotions, questions about God, and outlook surpass most kids'.

she is visibly exhausted. her hair, matted by sweat from the 36-degree-Celsius heat outside (and from doing 40 full rounds of surya namaskaras), sticks to the contours of her face. the car's aircon is a relief.

"mommy, what makes people hate other people?"

the question floors me, because the answers seem so obvious. because people hurt each other. they lie, cheat, steal. they backbite and connive to take power away from one another; they snatch away what the other loves and values; they are selfish.

what i tell her, though, is different. "we hate when we feel the other is apart from us, outside of us. different from us. not part of what we love, our experience, our life." i try to figure out where this is coming from, and i realize Sim has so much to learn.

"did they teach you about the God consciousness, that everything is One?"

"no, not really..." she says.

"that God's love makes us One. my consciousness is a part of yours, and yours, mine, and mine, Ranie's (the driver's), his, yours. when we feel apart from that One-ness, we hate."

she nods. "yeah, i think i understand."

dozens more thoughts and words run through my head, but they're too quick for me to catch and express out loud.

so instead: "what did you feel during meditation? did you cry?" she told me earlier that one of her classmates had cried.


"no? why?"

"i have no problems."

i find this surprising. i'm beaming inside, but i'm wondering: "you don't consider not knowing your dad a problem?"

"no. i just don't care."

"whoa. that's worse than hating."

"no, i care," she explains. "i'd care if he got hurt. or if something happened to him. but i just...don'"


my daughter may still have many more questions to ask, and things to learn, but i think she's pretty much okay where she is.

Friday, April 02, 2010

drunkan (sic), we

my younger sister A rapping at my bedroom door: "nang (term for 'older sister'). nang. help me."
A is there. drunk as a skunk. i help her to the toilet and she worships the porcelain god.

years after: "B, where are you? come pick me up."
my baby brother, then 20 or so, drives to where i tell him. holds me by the back of my blouse, at the collar, nape, like a mommy cat guiding a kitten, and hoists me up into his SUV.

a year or two after, A visits from the states. i am at a farewell party with friends from publishing. i have discovered jagermeister, and perform a scene from exorcist on the 2nd floor of a building in makati. A and B come to save me. they stuff me into the "mafia car" my dad had acquired recently, all soft and quiet and plush, and drive me home. it is dark and soft, like a cocoon.

tonight, holy thirstday, B says, sure, come by. i had just finished several drinks with friends in their new posh home in makati, and needed more alcohol. so i join him and his friends for more.

"isn't it a good sign," i text A, "that our baby brother considers me cool enough to drink with his friends?"

and maybe it is.

we get to our mom's place a couple of hours after. my bladder is bursting and B is about to blow. instead of "over the bakod", he does "under the bakod", and opens the gate sans help of the maids, lying on the pavement and reaching upward for the lock. the kids and i are sleeping over because my new house is being painted, see. i should feel and act grown up, but instead i feel like i'm in high school and uni again. B is the co-conspirator i never had. we let ourselves in through the window. i clamber over the sofas, gently, lest any blemish be blamed on my 6-year old twins, and hurry to the bathroom.

when i come out, i hear B heaving and hacking the alcohol out of his intestines.

some things never change.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

project Me, day 6

had the Girlfriend Magazine team over for dinner and waaaayyyyy too many drinks last night. hahaha.

Nikki brought pizza and cake. i prepared tinapa pesto with wholewheat pasta, olives marinated in balsamic vinegar, chocolate-cinnamon pudding. i like feeding my friends :)

after the weird barcino-tabu fiasco with Mr Maharlika and Rockstar Photographer tuesday night--Maharlika went off for a booty call and Rockstar wandered away in a drunken haze while muttering something about brazilian models--i decided that i would say yes to every invite extended to me by friends to socialize, talk, eat, party.

wednesday, it was James, my yoga teacher, and Anna G. we got buzzed on hot chocolate, drank it like the Aztecs must've, all spicy and thick and heady, and talked like the Aztecs must've too--about the heavens aligning with our plans, the rhythm and wrath of nature, the whole lot, except human sacrifice.

thursday, it was Mimi, a friend from my childhood, long re-singled, but still as beautiful, brilliant, and feisty as ever. we're cooking something up for re-singled women. very exciting :)

and last night, it was my girls from my old magazine. the craziest, funniest, most creative team an editor could ever have. we missed Jeng, though, our artist, and Diona's soul sister, who's now based in the U.S.

they are so creative and funny, i myself am stumped to describe what fun we had last night. or maybe it's just this hangover. hahahaha. whatever.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


when you choose a mate, choose someone curious about who you are, 
what made you be this way, 
yet totally non-judgmental about who you are.

there's a sublime pleasure in seeing the interest in his eyes, 
the unfolding of understanding 
and the delight and compassion in discovering why and how you are.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

project Me, day 2

why day 2? because the words felt forced on day 1.

a trial dose of meso, my syringoma cauterized, and two shots of jack.

chatting with my daughter, who's growing more beautiful everyday, and i notice a heightened blush to her cheeks, her smile more luminous than usual, when we talk about E. soon, soon, she'll have her puppy love soon, i balk.

pesto with cheese and dried chili. four more shots of jack while watching four episodes of Modern Family. i started watching this show when i first decided to leave him last november. it got me through a couple of weeks then, it'll get me through another couple of weeks now.

this morning: his espresso machine packed and stacked onto the truck yesterday morning ("hakutin mo lahat! lahat! ura-urada, wag magtira!" were his instructions to those who came and took away his things), i send the maid to 7-11 for brewed coffee. cutting out transformers figures and setting them on cardboard standees with mateo; listening to marco's chatter, fascinated that a 6-year old knows the chinese zodiac and uses the term 'amanita muscaria' instead of the simplistic 'toadstool'.

watch one episode of Modern Family. hold myself back from watching more. must save them to last me two weeks. then maybe i can move on to Marriage Ref.

stay tuned.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

the past 16 hours

i post a blog entry post-haste, trill over it with a friend, take it down the next morning, apologize to everyone for deleting it.

i look up old songs, experiment with the 'link' feature. post a song, take it down again.

the hairs on my back stand; i feel hot and creepy crawly all over.

i flirt half-heartedly with a friend from across the globe, skip around his nuances, thinking i'll be alone forever.

i begin to read a book, my second in three days, and doze off.

i awake. i stare at the ceiling. i am paralyzed. i don't know whether to laugh or cry. maybe i should've accepted that invite to the satsang tonight, i tell myself. if a bunch of meditating vegans chanting praises to shiva can't cheer me up, nothing can.

but no. i don't want to go out. a close friend's birthday party tonight is all the socialization i'm willing to go through.

i text two friends, tell them i feel the black dog descending, and one calls. i need jobs, where are the jobs, i cry. i was fine last week with all the deadlines. where are they?!

it's the weekend, chillax, he says.

i've been chillaxing for the past three days, gadamit! i need to work.

well, there are good days and there are not-so good days, he says, and distracts me by telling me the Tale of Two B's. that gets me laughing.

i eat a late lunch. after, i stare at the table and realize i didn't eat any rice. i think of my body, gone to flab. will any man ever think me desirable again? i wonder to myself. i think of bringing a date to the party tonight, but already the idea bears me down with fatigue. stress. effort. stress. effort. futility.

i sit and stare at my newly-painted nails. cherry red.

i write this and stare out the window, and again feel the paralysis of loss whisper up my toes, my ankles, my calves. my eyes swelter and i am reminded of an earlier me, almost seven years ago, pregnant with the twins and waiting for my ex-husband to come home.

if he comes home, then everything would be all right, i remember thinking as i stared out a curtain-less window, willing him to come home, his name a mantra on my lips. turn on your phone and just come home.

how strong i was then. i'm not as strong now, i think. then, i held the grenade to my chest and let it explode, allowing the shrapnel to become part of me over the years. no one knew how deeply they were lodged, or how many pieces there were.

or maybe it's not about strength. i don't know.


i am in the sun's direct glare as i write this. my thighs and neck turn hot and sticky and my irritation at the sound of a message popping up on facebook is turning into a roaring rage i try to swallow. i should move out of the heat.

i don't.

mar 6
5.20 pm

Monday, March 01, 2010

normalcy, overdue

I open the ref we brought from his apartment, way over a year ago.

The stickers he stuck on the door are still there—Fujitake mineral water delivery, Dial 1898 Singtel to call overseas, OCBC Rewards. The Elvis magnets, I moved to the bigger ref downstairs, thinking he’d get a kick out of seeing them holding up drawings my kids made in school.

Inside, his pepperoncinis—almost gone—are still marinating in their brine. There’s the chorizo he promised he would cook someday; bottled herring from Finland; tabletas from Christmas gift baskets long past. I remember the first Christmas I actually got to know him. I wanted to buy him a jar of Tita Muning’s famous pudding. I texted him if he liked those things. “No,” he replied. “Not into sweets.”

A week or two later, after Christmas, he texted me the lyrics to A Hard Day’s Night. When I asked him about it, he answered, “because life is easier lived when one’s eyes are closed.” Never got to ask him what he meant by that.

I kept the ref and its contents in this state, this stasis, hoping – knowing – that he would come home someday and would want to touch base with the past. A past where midnight snacks, after several rounds of drinks at The Oar, would consist of Nissins Ramen and egg. He hated it when I broke the yolk. He would get so angry he would storm out of the room. Another fight we had about food was when I was so hungry, I didn’t wait for the adobo sauce to reduce; he said he was experimenting with rum as a base. He didn’t talk to me for a day. I spent the day in the garage, furtively chain smoking and gulping down San Mig Lite. Sometimes, after The Oar, we would stop by that greasy spoon before the alley that turns into Mabini, and I would order an ultra el cheapo tocilog. On better nights, no fights would break out between us. I would wash the smoke out of my hair so he could smell only Kerastase as he buried his face in my nape as we slept.

That was so long ago.

I remember the time we had no money, and we had to take Gizzard to the vet. I paid for his check up, and later treated him and Jimmy to lunch. But it was ok. “Are we still ok?” he would ask, beating himself up because he knew we weren’t, financially.  “Yes, we’re ok,” I would answer. “Don’t worry.”

And really, I never did.

There was this summer when we didn’t know where to take the kids for holiday. He suggested we bring them to the Greenpeace hangout in Batangas, because we could get a credit on the accommodations, and we could buy food from the market and cook it ourselves. It wasn’t much of a vacation, and we hightailed it out of there before the karaoke crowd came blasting through, but he tried. He really did. I could see all he wanted was a sense of normalcy.

This is what I think about when I look at that ref. At the cigar boxes he likes to collect, and which I display. I used to keep his diving and darkroom equipment out in the open, too, as if expecting him to come home any moment, and asking where they were; he might need them.

He won't, of course. Making money can negate the importance of time and touch. The memories I wanted to preserve seem more like fossils than foundations.

“Normal” is over a year overdue.

I should pack things up now. Really, I should.

March 1

Friday, February 19, 2010

clamming up

this, in Girlfriend April 06 issue (magazine now defunct)

My Pisalayan experience
Subhead: Gina Abuyuan goes back to the basics to try to give a wee back to the sea

We are told to conserve water. When we bathe, we are to use only a small pail, and use the tabo slowly. So slowly, our hostess jests, that we’d have enough time to imagine bathing with another. When we rinse, we are to step into a larger basin that will catch the old water, which will be collected and used for watering the plants.
We are on Pisalayan island in Bolinao, Pangasinan, with no electricity (save for the current supplied by solar panels), limited drinking water, and spare amenities. We plunge our plates into seawater after eating, segregate our garbage, sleep to the sound of silence. During the night, the darkness is broken only by the light of fireflies streaking across the black; during the day, the cycle of eating and sleeping is broken only by us checking out the seabed, where an astounding marine ecosystem lies.

My kind of rehab
It’s no ordinary vacation; we’re there on the invite of a Belgian friend (who prefers to keep his identity secret), who’s lived on the island since 1994. Coming back from his home country, where he and his Filipina wife Kelly (that I can reveal) lived a high profile life in the music business, he made a 180-degree turn and undertook what he calls “the Pisalayan Experience.”
“It started in 1994 after three years of observation of the seagrass-ecosystem inside the coral reef,” he says. “’Observations,’ because I had absolutely no know-how about the circle of life in the most important breeding places of the sea--the coral reef ecosystems.”
Currently, the coral reef ecosystem is one of the most endangered, due to water pollution, dynamite fishing, and cyanide fishing. To ensure a healthy coral reef, three other ecosystems have to be also present—beach, mangrove, and seagrass—to provide a balance for one another. When one is degraded, not only the balance of life is affected, but also the food source of many Filipinos (including, if you eat fish, you and me).
The purpose of the Pisalayan Experience, initially, my Belgian friend shares, was to “create a pocket of sea free of dynamite of cyanide fishing, where marine life would find a safe haven and bio-diversity would be maintained and improved.”
To set this up, he needed a place where the seagrass was healthy and close to the coastline. Pisalayan—which in the local dialect means “where turtles lay their eggs”—was perfect. (Three years after my friend mounted his project, the turtles, that had been lost for 20 years, did come back.)
The star of this ambitious rehabilitation was the baptismal font-shaped endangered Tridacna clams—otherwise known as the giant clams.
And they are what bring us to Pisalayan.

Low tech high
Twelve years and a wealth of experiences after (including being strong-armed by organizations about the irrelevance of his rehabilitation), our friend’s underwater sea garden has grown to cover a hectare. Demarcated by rope, rattan poles, and the occasional old slipper, his sea garden is a thriving marine ecosystem of two thousand giant clams and nearly 400 species of fish, anemone, and corals. There’s nothing fancy about it—everything is done at low technology, using recycled materials (like Kelly’s old socks as gloves when moving the shells), at almost no cost.
But some of the clams have gotten so huge and the garden so congested. Our friend needs help rearranging them, gathering up old shells from dead clams and building new houses for the fish. So we come—not so much to kick back and laze, but to reorganize the garden. Well, ok, I’m too small and weak to actually haul the shells up and out (they can weigh up to 500 kg), but I do my bit too: I help rearrange the coral, act as “marker” for the boys so they know where to pick up the shells, and scout for dead shells.
It’s tiring work, and work that needs a different kind of discipline: the discipline of an unhurried pace. We city folk are used to rush, rush, rushing to get things done. Our Belgian friend says this attitude could kill you when working with the clams. He’s seen people break their bones, get severe lacerations up their legs—serious injuries that called for an emergency banca to take them back to the mainland. “Take your time. If you feel tired, or are beginning to feel irritated, you stop. Rest. Go back. Go slow, go slow,” he cautions us.
And so we do. We walk through the water like we are in a slow-motion movie, take care not to let mistakes bother us, and are careful even with our laughter. We go slow. We tiptoe. We give back to the sea.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

slices of life in carlsbad

a newborn who likes to spit up.
a two year old who likes to perform a robot dance and 'in the library', even when in costco.
a sister, now a mom, who cleans the spit up and sings for the two year old so he can dance his little dances.
a man, now a husband, father, and brother-in-law, who puts the two year old to sleep every night and is washing bottles again, for another year, for his new son.
a mom, now a grandmom, who makes sure everyone is fed, but who eats little herself, yet still has the energy to look after the new grandson, and sing to him, and rock him, while his parents sleep.
playdates, carseats, the occasional time out, the happiness that people like to talk about, but seldom work and wait for.
click on the link so you can see...

posted feb 10, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

What The Fuck Do I Know

I won “Youngest Sigma Deltan” in 1989. It was at an alumnae function in the Mondragon House. I was newly initiated and inducted, 16 going on 24 (a good friend would later say, “24 going on 88”), a freshman when freshman weren’t allowed to join sororities, and I won P2,500. Which of course my new ka-batches and I spent at once on beer and perhaps some ghastly pulutan like sizzling red hotdogs and onion slices awash with ketchup and soy sauce.

Joining the papers and learning the ropes from my ka-batch Dinah when I was 22, I was once again the youngest in my circles: in the office, I was the youngest desk editor; outside work, I was the youngest in our weekend San Lorenzo lunch group—Tio Paeng and Tina, Richard and Dinah, Johnet and Girlie, Big Richard and Tiffin. Big Richard called me “Baby Batch” (though he isn’t a brod, or a sis). A few years into publishing, and still I was still being called “Baby”: Lulu Tan Gan, in a thank you note to our team in Mega Magazine, called me the “baby writer”; many years later, when I was already editor in chief of Working Mom, Jun de Leon called me “baby editor.”

And so on. While, on the outside, I used to say that I wanted—needed!—to look older, especially in an industry that valued seniority (ah, how that has changed since!), inside I reveled in the deceptive, youth-giving qualities of my puffy cheeks (which also make me totally unphotogenic). Good genes have given me the gift of looking several years younger, in spite of all the abuse I’ve given to my body and my sanity, but wiser eyes have seen the truth. I remember a blind masseuse once asking me how old I was. I think I was 26 at the time, confused with my spirituality and running my health to the ground by subsisting on alfalfa sprouts and tomatoes and smoking a pack a day. She said that her hands told her my body seemed like it was 60 years old.

During a recent dinner with my ka-batches, I handed some photos over to Mireille to scan for our 20th year birthday presentation. “Gina, di ka nagbago,” Milen says. “Thank you,” I answer, but the thrill is gone. The smile may be the same, the way I flip my hair over my shoulder for a photo, but I know I’m no longer young. The chick is now a chicken. An inahen. The writer of a recent article on the demise of The Oarhouse saw through my ruse. “A black-clad girl in her thirties comes to the bar to order drinks,” he writes. “She gives Wilson a hug. ‘Saan ka na ngayon?’ she asks. Wilson just shrugs. ‘Dito-dito lang muna,’ he replies.”

That black-clad girl is me.

Nothing radical has changed about my appearance—and in fact, now, thanks to a more prudent approach to health and vice, and no longer agonizing over whether I should remain Catholic, I have the energy of someone in their 20s when it comes to partying and staying up late (one early morning during closing an issue of our magazine, I kept wide awake while the rest of them slept at their desks; I wondered if I had killed them with exhaustion).

But history has seeped into my skin. My face sags with the weight of it when I stare long and close enough into the mirror; my hips and thighs groan against the lie that a girdle tries to control. No matter how perkily and carefree-ly I try to walk (a gait I try to copy from Hindy Weber-Tantoco, already in her mid-30s but with blessed with a girlishness of speech and bird-thin bones), my stride reveals the sense of purpose of one who has no time to wait, because the luxury of being untroubled can only belong to the young.

Several times over the past year, I’d tried to reclaim it, this feeling and belief that I would always be (mis)taken for being younger than I chronologically am, but found myself shuddering at the illusion. The idea that I’m the “baby”—the notion of being infantile, unsullied—doesn’t sit comfortably with me anymore.

In a twisted way, it hurts, accepting that I’m almost 40, no longer a “baby”, and that I should “grow up.” Because what else am I doing as I raise my children, hold down my job, and run my household? But I embrace it as well, this power I now have, to share my opinions and feelings without the fear of being judged; this (at most times) certainty of self, this humor and indifference toward the kind of criticism that can slay fresher, more fragile souls. This screening of outside stimuli to make our blood race as if we were 20 again; the kinds of experiences chosen with more discernment, as they get distilled more and more, until only the essential is left. An extreme way of putting it would be how Marge Piercy once put it, “My idea of Hell is to be young again.”

The folly of being young is thinking you are immortal; powerful forever, and repeatedly absolved by life and karma. The folly of being young is thinking you know it all.

Of being afraid of not knowing.

Which is why, I invite us all to ask ourselves, in all humility and understanding: “What The Fuck Do I Know?”

January 18, 2010
12.56 am

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My 37th Birthday

My mother was 33 when she relocated to the States, my papa, Ali, and I in tow. She was going back to University of Wisconsin, where she had taken up one of her many MAs a couple years before, to finish her doctorate. I was six, Ali was three. My papa had a fuller head of hair and liked KISS (or at least attended a concert of theirs once). I marveled at the swings with rubber seats. Ali was a cry baby who I had to save several times from bullies on the jungle gym. And I loved climbing trees—until an Indian (Bombay, not American) yelled at me from the window of his second floor apartment. “You! You! Get down!” I was perched on a branch of a birch, and couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from. I turned and saw him glaring at me. Shocked and scared, I clambered down. The next day, I ran back to the tree and—horrified—saw that the branch had been sawed off. In its place was the black pitch they used to keep invading insects out. It was my first heartbreak.

My mother was 37 when we all came back to the Philippines. Her father had passed away, “Papang”, and we all had to come back home. She got a job in NEDA. I remember running my hands up her stockinged legs, the dignified suits she wore, the brown briefcase she brought to work. It was still only Ali and I who existed then—B-Jon came several years later--and Mom enrolled us in JASMS, even if I had wanted to go to Maryknoll, on account of my best Filipina friend back in the States raving about the school. Thank God I went to JASMS. On my first day, I remember literally hiding behind Mommy’s skirt while Mrs. Chan asked me, “What’s your name?” “Regina,” I answered. But she heard only “Gina” and that abbreviation has stuck ever since.

I turned 37 last Saturday. Mom booked us a villa at Mimosa in Clark, while she and Papa had a room in nearby Holiday Inn. A villa to accommodate my family, so very unlike hers and Papa’s during their time: twin boys, a pubescent daughter, a yaya on her fourth month of pregnancy. We check in a little after lunch, and Simone said she was hungry. She’s always hungry these days, my tall gangly daughter who I know, with all the kindness and understanding in her heart, sometimes quietly tolerates her neurotic mother. “She’s an old soul. She’s the mom and you’re the daughter,” someone told me when Simone was barely a year old. Maybe. Who knows.

I want to take them to Zapata’s, the authentic Mexican along Fields Avenue, because C is too expensive for my budget. So we drive, drive, past the girlie bars, past the spanking new Lewis Grand Hotel, only to find that Zapatas has been turned into a Thai restaurant, with working girls already outside, waiting for early customers. The twins are beginning to get restless; Sim’s in a bad mood. “Ok,” I say. “You want food? All sorts of food? Let’s go to Margarita Station. But Ma, don’t be shocked, ok?”

All Mama is concerned about is if they serve Asian cuisine. “Oh God, they have everything,” I assure her.

The Margarita Station is, of course, one of the oldest joints on Fields Ave. It’s home to dodgy old GIs and foreigners of every race. Girls working and non-working alike converge there to eat, play pool, look for a little boom-boom. Locals eat there, as well, with their little ones. So I figured it was, in my estimation, “family friendly.”

As we drive by the entrance – a shabby screen door – Mama gasps. “Is this it?”
From outside, one can see lumpy middle-aged foreigners drink at the window bar. “But Mommy,” Sim says, “there are creepy men inside.”

Creepy-looking men aside, the Margarita Station is also known for its friendly waitresses and service. No judgments are made there, as the case should be anywhere. Inside, Marco and Mateo gape at the women and men playing pool. “I want to learn billiards,” says Mateo, awed.

My mother is fascinated. “I didn’t know about this place,” she says. “All I know are the places inside the base.”

The driver, is of course, delighted. “Do you know this place?” my mother asks him. “Do you come here? I want to bring my friends here.” It takes her 15 minutes to study the vast menu. Simone has gotten over her creepy guy shock, and asks me, out of the blue: “Mommy, why are there pedophiles?”

I look around if there are any within shooting range. There aren’t. She’s asking because one of the freshmen from her school is dating a senior, and, because kids can be extremely cruel, the senior has been branded a pedophile. “Pedophiles are sick in the head,” I say. “They think differently, and need help.”

So we eat, take photos. The twins and Mama explore the souvenir shop. I tell my mom about the old bar ritual: “He who rings this bell in jest, buys a round of drinks for all the rest.” It’s the first time she’s heard it.

After lunch, she buys two pairs of ballroom dancing trousers from the shop next door, amazed at the dirt cheap prices. We drive past the other bars on our way back to the villa, back inside the base. I explain to Mama that as we drive further down, the places get dodgier and dodgier. Still, I urge Simone to look out the window and see what kind of world exists outside hers. To my surprise, Mama agrees: “Yes Sim, take a look so you won’t be like Mama.”

The twins don’t look out—they’re folded in the back seat, heavy with slumber.

My Papa arrives from Manila in the afternoon, but it’s only on the next day that we get to talk. It’s after lunch in Shanghai Palace, beside the old casino on MacArthur Avenue. “We used to come here in the ‘60s,” he says, “and watch acts like Pepe Smith before they became big.” Where? “Harrison. Vietnam War years. Everyone was on drugs then.”

As we drive from the restaurant, he continues. “We had a brod named Bombing Nepomuceno. His mom was the mayor and his dad was congressman. He’d invite us over for the weekend; we’d choose what car we wanted to take. It was always the Jaguar X36. We’d check into the Oasis and no one ever wanted to go home.”

Before we turn into the road leading to NLEX, he adds, “and Baluga (the nickname we have for one of his younger brods, Tito Val) and I would come here to buy Bose stereos even before Bose was known in Manila. We had those cannon-type speakers before anyone had them.”

And more. I love it when Papa reminisces like this. He comes alive, his speech is clear and confident, and you almost ache for his longing of years past. “There was this brod, a close friend of your Uncle Freddie’s, he used to drive an Impala. One day he saw us on the road. Kaway-kaway siya. Ayun, nahulog sa bangin.”

Marco and Mateo, eager to get back home and to their plants and Gizzard and Plants vs. Zombies, chant non-stop: “Clark never ends! Clark never ends!”

But it did. And so did the weekend of my 37th birthday.

Jan 12, 2.09 a.m.