Love letter to a disappearing city

 

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This tiny town within a town. With all its sparkling new tiles and windows that reflect the sky. It is hard to imagine that it could be anything else but home. And yet.

I look around and I do not see my face in other people. I don’t see heritage. Instead, I see new structures that keep sprouting from the ground up, keen on replacing every childhood memory I’ve had with stories that will never involve me in a lead role.

Every few days, I see ten or so new people who don’t speak my language, barely familiarizing themselves with this city that tries so hard to meet their needs halfway like a lover that is thirsty for the relationship to work, and I think about how jealous I am of this arrangement. This life that’s slowly turning into a foreign movie without subtitles for me.

I used to know this place. When there were only a handful of buildings. When I would look beyond the window and all I could see were possibilities, spread out in a vast empty land. When the salty air felt like an invitation to explore the city more. And it never saw me as lost. Just a curious child who kept coming back, hoping to find herself.

I’ve witnessed countless sunsets and it still takes my breath away every time the sun dips in the water far out in the horizon. I used to tell people, do you see that? People come here all the time to see just that. We name buildings after that. We treat it like it’s holy. But somehow that doesn’t feel true anymore.

There are walls and gates everywhere to keep us out. People don’t come here for the sunset. People don’t come here for the people, either. We have become backdrops for visitors that keep trying to re-shape our home. Decide that our language is not worth learning. Keep their heads down when they walk because the sunlight blinds them.

But we can only translate so much before we tire our brains out. And I promise, they still won’t understand all this beauty. Not when they are too busy changing this city. The stunning sunsets. The quiet early mornings dotted by birds chirping. The mess. The streets that are mapped out in my veins. The dark corners that act as refuge for those stranded in their heads from last night. All its secrets only we know and keep.

I wish I could wrap my arms around this entire town and say, “Love, we don’t need them. They don’t see it. They can’t love you like I do. Like a heart homesick for its own rib cage.”

And I may forget sometimes–the same way we forget we have hands on days we don’t know how to use them–but no matter how different we become, it will always belong to me. I will always belong to this city.

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Track 1: Dodie – Secret for the Mad
Tuesday, 2:30 pm

Dear Jake,

They never tell you how difficult it can be to remember someone’s voice long after they’re gone. You can try to imagine and replay conversations in your head but these memories come out more like hard-subbed silent films rather than talkies.

It’s only been a week, but it feels more like a year had gone by without you. I’ve never been good at grieving. Or timelines. Or keeping track of the days. To be honest, the entire week feels like one long sleepless, staggering night I’m not allowed to see the end of. Like I’ve been waiting for morning to come, but every time I emerge from my sheets to check for sunshine, all I see is more darkness.

I hate everything about this, Jake. I hate that I need to cope with something I didn’t ask to be in. I hate that it happened so suddenly. Although to be fair, how do you prepare for something like it anyway?

It’s in the middle of summer and the heat is killing me. I’m looking outside the bookstore and I’m seeing a traffic jam at the intersection and it’s so weird to see it at 2:30 in the afternoon in the summer. I guess what I’m saying is that everything is an anomaly. You not being here. This unforgiving heat. The terrible traffic.

I will never get used to this routine, so I guess it’s a good thing that starting next week, something will change about how I spend my days. I can’t even remember the entire conversation I had with Dr. Silang about the teaching post, but I somehow ended up accepting a part-time teaching position at the university. Yes, the classes that you were handling.

If I could describe how I feel, I think the most accurate word I could think of right now is dread. About living up to everyone’s expectations. About interacting with the students you left behind and who adored you. About seeing you in each one of them. I know that this is a rather pathetic attempt to hold on to your memories and to pretend like I didn’t lose my best friend. But every day, I keep trying to remember your voice and how your laughter sounded like, and it’s getting difficult, Jake. So maybe I could find them in the classrooms that you occupied and in the students whose lives you’ve touched.

I know that it will never be the same, but here’s to hoping I still find you in other people, Jake.

Always,
Matty

Multo

Naririnig ko silang kumakatok lahat
Narininig ko ang mga sigaw nila
At pag tumitingin ako sa salamin
Mas natatakot akong
Hindi nakikita sa mukha ko
Ang pagkarindi sa mga boses
At katok ng mga sarili kong multo

May isa sa kanilang ginagamit ang kanyang kamao
Narininig ko ang dagundong nito kasabay ng tibok ng aking puso
Wala siyang sinasabi
Pero ramdam ko na dala niya ang aking pagkaguho

May mga iba namang bumubulong lang
Banayad ang boses nila pero napakalinaw
Ng nais nilang iparating
Na mas maliit ang tingin nila sa akin
At alam nila na konting pilit pa
Na bibigay rin ako
At pakakawalan ko sila

Pero hindi sila dapat makawala

May isa sa kanila, inuuntog lang ang ulo niya
Habang sinasabi paulit-ulit
Na wala akong kwenta

Naririnig ko siya
Sa pinakaloob na parte ng aking tenga
Yung pakiramdam na nakalubog ang ulo ko sa batya
At wala akong ibang naririnig kahit sarili ko
Pero naririnig ko siya

Naririnig ko silang kumakatok
Na para bang ilang siglo na silang nagpipigil
At oras na nila ngayon para lumaya at kumawala
Para maghasik ng lagim sa lahat ng gumawa ng mali sakin
At una sa listahan nila ang pangalan ko para puntiryahin

Walang ibang nakakarinig ng mga katok nila kundi ako
Mahirap itago ang isang bagay na hindi nakikita ng ibang tao
Hindi ko kayang ipaliwanag ang itsura ng mga multong parating nag-iibang anyo.
Tuwing akala kong nakikilala ko na sila, may panibago silang sorpresa

Silang pumapalakpak kapag nakikita akong balisa
Silang humahalakhak tuwing nawawalan ako ng pag-asa
Silang parating kumakatok sa dibdib ko at
Nagmamakaawang palabasin ko

Kaya paano ko sasabihin sa ibang,
“Sandali lang, kailangan ko lang patahimikin ang utak ko.
Kailangan ko lang maramdaman ulit na kontrolado ko pa rin ang emosyon at mga saloobin ko,
Na ako pa rin itong nakikita mo at kumakausap sayo.”?

Hindi ko sila dapat hayaang makawala
Hindi sila dapat makawala

Marami na akong sinubukan
At mga taong tinakbuhan
Sa pag-asang malunod ng mga
Tawa nila ang alingawngaw
Ng mga multong sa isip ko
Napiling manirahan
Para hindi ko na marinig kumatok ang mga ito

Paulit-ulit, gabi-gabi
At tahimik na akong makatulog

Pero minsan
Magsisimula pa lang ang araw ko
O kaya habang naliligo
O nagpapakain ng aso
Tatahimik panandalian ang mundo ko
At bigla na lang may kakalabog
Dito sa dibdib ko
At mag-uumpisa ulit
Na maririnig ko
Kumakatok sila

Strong Women

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Heartache doesn’t happen in isolation inside a closed bedroom door. All the crying isn’t held in by mere metal and wood. It can cross cities and oceans and reach another person who’s going about their day.

And heartache doesn’t run its course within a single day. I picture swallowing bombs. Grenades inside closed fists. Tiny fireworks in each vein. I picture the sheets as temporary backbone. Your whole being an empty shell. For as long as you let it.

But this will not be a story about defeat. Or even about glorifying it. Of painting the hurt a pretty colour for other people to like it. We will stop calling ourselves heroines for simply loving another person.

In all the strangeness of human connection, we can’t be outraged with what we understand. When we’ve always understood that we are built to endure and survive a storm, we don’t question when it finally comes crashing in. We don’t call it the devil for testing us. The best thing we can do is find warmth in the comfort of people we call our home.

And to the lovers who are left without a lover, this will not undo what you’ve given and what you’ve become. Strong women.

Strong

I see you.

You with the heavy heart, and even heavier feet. I know there are times when you can’t decide which one is harder to carry, so you stay in one corner, not moving instead. I know you watch the days change outside through your curtain, praying for rain during summer days.

I know that it’s easier to brace yourself for disappointment than happiness. That it’s something you could bite your teeth into. It’s the thing you breathe in every morning, along with the smell of toast and coffee. I know you drag it around the house like an old teddy bear you can’t get rid of because then, what do you do with your empty hands?

I know people see you like the time bomb in movies where they can just cut the obvious red wire and the bomb stops ticking and everyone is safe. I know you feel that you are more like fireworks. Beautiful only from a distance but could burn anyone when they get closer.

I know that you have days when you can’t recognize anything good. That the only sound you hear are fire alarms going off in your head, telling you it’s time to run far, far away. But I wish you wouldn’t.

You’re so used to writing about your struggle and calling it creative names that in the rare moments you choose to be strong, you don’t understand it. In the moments that you get to be strong, it feels like someone else is wearing your skin.

But I’m here to tell you that strong doesn’t always mean comfortable. Sometimes it’s cutting your hair instead of something else. Ugly haircut be damned. Strong doesn’t always mean beautiful. Sometimes it’s spending 10 minutes of your 15-minute break crying in the dirty bathroom stall, but at least showing up for work. Strong doesn’t always mean hard. Sometimes it’s sinking into a tight hug from a loved one and letting yourself be taken care of.

I see you.

You can’t live inside your bedroom, let alone inside your head. You won’t get a star stamped on your hand every time you get through the week without crumbling. Most days, no one will even notice that you have your Courage badge digging through your skin. Most days, no one will congratulate you for trying.

And I know strong sometimes feels like turning your bruised heart inside out, almost dying in the process, and then entrusting it to another person. But strong has never been easy. Or painless.

But sometimes, someone notices. Someone tells you your hair looks smart. That your skin is glowing. Takes your heart and carefully tucks it in their jean pocket. You look in the mirror and you really see yourself.

And I see you. I know it’s been hard and I can’t promise it will get easier in the next few days or weeks. But sometimes during the hottest days, we get rain.

Even on the hottest days, it rains.