It is Christmas Eve, in the year of our Lord 2021.
I was able to fly home to the Philippines to finally see my parents whom I have not seen since before the pandemic in 2019.
Travelling here was no small feat.
Last Sunday, I made an appointment to get an RT-PCR test at 12:00 noon. I arrived at the testing site at 11:40 a.m. thinking that I would be about fifteen minutes early and be done by 12:03 as the place had promised. “Appointments are 3 minutes or less.”
But when I arrived there, it turned out that about fifty other people also had a 12:00 noon appointment, and there were only five testing personnel.
We all ended up waiting outside in the bitter cold for almost an hour. The actual swabbing test itself did take less than 3 minutes. A cotton swab swirl in one nostril, a swish in the other nostril, boom, bam, done.
I paid $175.00 for guaranteed results in 24 hours or less. I figured that was plenty of time for my early morning Tuesday flight. I did not have to be at the airport until about 23:00 on Monday night. However, as Monday afternoon turned into Monday evening and the time was getting close for me to start to worry, I suddenly started feeling sick, mostly with anxiety that (a) I would not receive my results in time, and (b) that I actually tested positive since I had been in the same vicinity as people in my office who had tested positive earlier in the week.
It was not until about 20:00 that I finally received my negative results.
Off to the airport I go. Once I arrived to check into my flight, the agent told me that the Philippines was only accepting passengers that were current Filipino passport holders or former Filipinos with proof of birth in the country.
“Please produce a copy of your Philippine birth certificate, or you will be denied boarding on the flight.”
I thought I had read the travel requirements carefully, but apparently I had missed that requirement. I was thinking to myself how the f*ck was I going to be able to produce my birth certificate at that very moment. I definitely did not have enough time to go home and come back.
And then I had remembered Google docs. I had scanned a bunch of important documents and saved them onto my Google docs account. I logged into my account from my phone and there I was at the airport, sweating and praying that I had scanned my birth certificate.
There it was. I had scanned my birth certificate and saved it on my account sometime in 2011.
Crisis averted. I produced a copy of my birth certificate, boarded the plane, and settled into my seat. The flight was nearly eighteen hours long, but the sheer stress of the last thirty-six hours exhausted me to the point that I had slept through about ten hours during the flight.
When we landed on Philippine soil, we were immediately escorted to this large area that had the Philippine coast guard there. We were approached by guards who checked our papers and asked us a series of questions regarding our health. We were then instructed to complete an application for a OneHealth pass that you would have to carry for the duration of your time in the country. I had completed the application days in advance, but it was never approved because they had sent a follow-up email to me asking if I was pregnant, but I did not see that email because I had been on a plane for the last eighteen hours.
After about three more health station checks, I was escorted to the baggage area to claim my luggage, and after that, I was immediately taken outside to the official government taxi stand and then whisked off to my hotel where I am now to undergo a mandatory six day quarantine period (swabbing on the fifth day, plus one day to receive the results).
I am to be here until Monday, December 27. I will be spending Christmas locked in a hotel room.
“In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.” ~ Tony Kushner, Perestroika
The move to my new apartment this past July was really difficult for me. Firstly, I did everything by myself. While I did have movers to lift and transport the heavy stuff, I did all the packing and unpacking and rearranging on my own.
The idea of cleaning out my old apartment felt good at first. I had felt like I was shedding dead parts and growing into a new and improved version of myself. I called a junk removal service and scheduled a day for them to come and take away all those items that I no longer needed or wanted to bring into my new space. But when that day came, I panicked and I ended up directing them to take away far less than I had originally planned. As a result, I was still stuck with an apartment full of items and furniture that needed to be discarded. The stress of having wasted time and money on the failed removal project started to weigh heavily on me and I felt as though I could not continue. All I wanted to do was to go to sleep and never wake up as the task of completely cleaning out my old apartment felt too monumental for me to accomplish.
Somehow, I was able to pick myself up and just get it done. The next step was to unpack at my new place. The excitement of moving into a brand new space did not last long as the unpacking process was a brutal reminder of how alone I really was in this world. With the pandemic and health safety concerns, I really did not feel like asking for any help and instead unpacked and set up the entire apartment all by myself. I cried on many nights, drowning in self-pity that I had no one to help me with putting away things on high shelves or to help me lift heavy stuff like the mattress. The moving process made me miss the convenience of having someone like my ex who was very house-handy, and that led to me pining for him, even though I knew it was not really him that I missed. I just missed having a body around to help me. Mostly I just wished for someone to just be there.
After a lot of tears and sweat, I managed to get it all done.
It came along, slowly, but I did it.
I now look forward to spending cozy warm nights in my new home.
“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.” ~ Debra Ginsberg, Raising Blaze: Bringing Up an Extraordinary Son in an Ordinary World
The last few months have been difficult. I wrote about it in my last post. It is quite probably the lowest point for me this year: my relationship with my daughter.
I know that most teenage daughters start to hate their mothers during puberty. I don’t know why that is, and I try to think back to when I was a teenager. Did I hate my mother then? Probably? If I am remembering correctly, what I hated the most about my mom was that she never stood up for me against my father who was a tyrant and who never let us out after 5:00 p.m. My parents were old-school, strict Asian parents who never let us talk during dinner, never let us express our feelings or opinions, and who treated my siblings and me like little toy soldiers who had to follow the general (my father), or suffer punishment that included slaps and beatings.
When I was younger, I felt as though my childhood was not all that bad. After all, my father had a good job that afforded us a large home in the suburbs, and we generally lived a cushy life, not wanting for any material things.
But if you dug below the surface, my siblings and I lived a very stressful childhood. We were constantly under a microscope by my parents, and it seemed like we lived our whole young lives just trying to please my father. Nothing was ever good enough in my his eyes, and I grew up always feeling like I was never enough. My top grades in school, my school graduations, my earning a black belt in martial arts – none of those landmark events in my life meant anything to him. In fact, he never attended any of my graduation ceremonies.
The only attention I received from him was when I did something “bad” – if I came home late, if I brought home a bad grade, or if I expressed an opinion that differed from his. Only then would he pay attention to me, and of course that attention was never pretty. I would get slapped and berated, sometimes for hours, and my mom would just sit there. She would not say anything. I hated her for that.
When I became a parent, I tried to be the opposite of my father. I always celebrated my daughter’s successes and tried to encourage her whenever things did not go well. She and I had always been close, but something changed this year, and now I have no idea who she is.
It started out small. Lying about where she went. Coming home later and later. Then it built up to wanting to sleep at friends’ houses more and more frequently. Until one night, she decided not to come home at all and she would not answer her phone. She came home the next morning and said she had stayed at her friend’s house. When I asked her why she did that, she flatly responded, “I just want to have fun.”
She sometimes sneaks out at night and her bed would be empty in the morning. She is defiant and hardheaded, and lies about every single little thing.
I talk to her calmly and without anger, and we have even made agreements that I thought were peaceful and compromising to both our sides, but she is not complying with the terms. She still breaks curfew and last night she said, “I want to live on my own.”
The pandemic lasted 457 days in New York City, with the Covid restrictions ending on June 15, 2021.
Post-pandemic life has been a series of highs and lows.
May: I went to Miami, for the first time ever, and loved it. I met my high school and long time friend there to celebrate our landmark birthdays.
June: One day after the lifting of restrictions, I went to Cape Cod. I got to see the famous lighthouses and eat fantastic seafood.
July: I moved to a great location in the city, right on the East River. These are views from my apartment.
September: I was able to participate in the Tunnel to Towers Run to honor and pay respect to the thousands of lives that perished on 9/11. It’s surreal to me that this year was the 20th anniversary.
My cousin went into cardiac arrest in July, just two short months after I last saw him in May. He had looked to be healthy and on the mend from a recent medical procedure. He fell into a coma and never fully regained consciousness. He passed away in early October. Even worse, I found out about his passing through Instagram when one of his sons posted a note about his passing. I loved my cousin and am hurt that his family never even bothered to inform me. People (especially family) are freakin’ weird.
Another low this year is the sudden character regression of my daughter. I had posted in March about how proud I was of her seemingly becoming more mature, and sometime between March and during the summer, she transformed into a lying, sneaky, and unreliable little jerk. I know she’s my daughter and I should not refer to her disparagingly, but I call it how I see it. She had three sessions with a therapist, and those sessions went well. I have encouraged her to continue, but she refuses to go, instead choosing to be rebellious and defiant of house rules. I am nearly at my wit’s end with her, and am running out of patience.
It is now December and God willing, I will fly out in two weeks to see my family in the Philippines. The clock is ticking faster these days, it feels like, and I am anxious to see them, especially after this long pandemic that does not seem to end. Hopefully I will get to spend my Christmas and New Year with them. In the meantime, I am enjoying the festive decorations here in the city. It is such a welcome sight, made much more appreciated after having missed it last year with the city on lockdown.
“I was looking at the photographs and I started thinking that there was a time when these weren’t memories.” ~ Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Death has been the theme for me this past month with my uncle passing away last week and the 21st death anniversary of my sister on March 31.
Because of the lockdown last year, I was not able to visit my sister’s grave. I had been dreaming about her recently and I took it as a sign that it was time to make the trek down to Maryland to visit her.
St. Rose of Lima Church | Gaithersburg, Maryland
She is in a nice resting place. The grounds are well kept, and she is located underneath a tree next to the church. I sat with her awhile and told her that I missed her. I apologized for not visiting more often, but I know that she knows that she is always in my heart.
She died in 2000, so camera phones were not yet widely available, I don’t think. It was not how it is these days, with a camera readily available at your fingertips. These days, people take photos of everything, and I am grateful for the technology and to have the opportunity to document and immortalize important events in my life with videos and photographs.
I wish I had taken more photos with my sister. I don’t have nearly enough. All I really have are my memories, and those sadly tend to fade with time.
“And when he died, I suddenly realized I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again, he would never carve another piece of wood or help us raise doves and pigeons in the backyard or play the violin the way he did, or tell us jokes the way he did. He was part of us and when he died, all the actions stopped dead and there was no one to do them the way he did. He was an individual. He was an important man. I’ve never gotten over his death. Often I think what wonderful carvings never came to birth because he died. How many jokes are missing from the world, and how many homing pigeons untouched by his hands? He shaped the world. He did things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.” ~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
My uncle passed away last week. He was my father’s youngest brother. Among my father’s siblings, there’s only my father and his next oldest brother left. My father will turn 83 this year, and my uncle will turn 85 in June.
I had not seen my uncle since 2016, and prior to then, I had not seen him since I was a child. It is a curious thing how memories bind our love towards people even when we rarely see them. I have lifelong memories of my uncle from when I was about nine years old. We lived in California then and my uncle had not married yet. He came to our house often. I think he even lived with us for a time, if memory serves me correctly. Anyway, I remember how he was the “fun” uncle who would buy us candies and make us laugh. He had a wonderful singing voice too, reminiscent of Matt Monro. When I was around ten, my uncle married and then my cousin was born. After that, we rarely ever saw them, and some years later, my family moved to the East Coast, and I never saw him again until my visit to California in 2016.
I feel as though I am not worthy to speak of him since I rarely ever saw him. In a span of a year, I probably only thought of him a few days out of the 365 days, on holidays and such. But love does not keep score, does it? Time and distance have no weight when you love someone. It is just there. And now he’s gone. But the love is still there. It was always there. And I will miss him and mourn all the days we did not spend together, but I will hold tightly to the memories I have held since I was a young girl.
“Be VERY careful about having friends of the opposite sex. If you have a “friend” that you tell things to that you don’t tell your spouse, then you are creating a toxic situation. Affairs don’t start in the bedroom; they start with conversations, emails, texts and communication that lead down a dangerous path. Protect your Marriage!” ~ Dave Willis, iVow: Secrets to a Stronger Marriage
I got blocked today on Instagram by a male follower with whom I shared a friendly and platonic relationship. We have followed each other on Instagram for over six years. We had never met in person, and rarely communicated outside of Instagram direct messages. Over the summer, he reached out to me through text message, and we exchanged messages through the summer and the early part of this year.
We were starting to develop a real friendship, or so I thought. He lives in Texas and because I knew that Texas experienced some rough times, I had reached out to him to make sure he was faring well through their ordeal. In turn, he messaged me quite frequently to wish me a good day or to just check up on me.
Last week on Instagram he posted a video of his trip to Hawaii with a female companion, presumably his girlfriend. I was happy to see that he had finally taken a vacation and even happier that he was with someone who made him smile the way he was smiling in his video and photos. I gave a thumbs up on his posts, and he sent me a message with the thumbs up emoji.
Today I noticed he blocked me. I am not mad or hurt, but I am a bit shocked. I had never approached him in any sort of inappropriate way – if anything, he was the one who tried on several occasions to cross over from the friend zone. I never bit on his baits, though, and had always kept it platonic. I also never gave him any mixed signals and made it absolutely clear that I thought of him purely on a friend basis. I have my own theories about why he chose to block me, but in any case, I am fine with his choice. I am notorious for cutting off people at the first red flag I see, so who am I to judge when it is done to me?
But this begs the million dollar question: Can a man and a woman truly be friends?
“I hadn’t realized that music could unlock things in you, could transport you to somewhere even the composer hadn’t predicted. It left an imprint in the air around you, as if you carried its remnants with you when you went.” ~ Jojo Moyes, Me Before You
Day 356. Last Night was Friday night. The girls and I drove around the city and ended up on the Lower East Side. We parked the car and walked out in the blistering cold in search of a place to eat. With the restaurant gathering capacity still limited to thirty-five percent, we settled on dining inside a bubble at this place called Route 66.
The inside of the bubble was warmer, but by no means warm enough to take off your coat. It’s uncomfortable to eat in such conditions, but even more uncomfortable to just sit there idle, so I ordered a cocktail and some french fries. Not exactly healthy, but hey, you only live once.
After dinner, we got back into the car and drove around the city some more. I swear to God, New York is so bloody beautiful. We turned up the music in the car and with the lights of the city shining around us, it almost felt like we were in a nightclub.
“I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.” ~ Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery: An Autobiography
I got a promotion at work this week. It is long overdue, so I am not even excited about it anymore. I am thankful about it though. So many people are out of work and are anxiously waiting for the next stimulus check in order to make ends meet, while I am here flourishing in my career. It does not seem fair somehow, but then again, I worked damn hard to be where I am in life, and so I do not apologize for my good fortune, but as always, I am, and remain, grateful that I have achieved some successes in life.
My brother, on the other hand, has not been as fortunate of late as I have been. Troubled by his increasingly turbulent marriage and failing business due to the pandemic, my brother retreated back to the Philippines to reset his life. My parents, ever judgmental, have not been very supportive of his decision to return home, albeit temporarily, and have been bombarding him with questions and accusations, and in short, have called him a failure.
Harsh. But that’s how they have always been – tiger parents that have instilled in the minds of their children that if you are not successful (translation: rich), then you are a failure. Or simply: a loser.
But, really, what is success? A good job? A good marriage? To be able to afford a big house and a fancy car? Why can’t success be something intangible, like achieving peace in one’s heart? Why can’t one be considered successful if they are able to satiate the hunger for freedom in their soul, or dull the ache in their core to feel the fullness of life, instead of the emptiness in their heart?
In theory, my parents consider me successful. I have a good job and a lovely daughter. My brother has a failing marriage and a failing business, and his biggest crime: he has no children.
But in reality, my brother is more successful. No matter what obstacles he has ever faced in life, he has always kept a positive outlook and is genuinely happy. I, on the other hand, despite outward appearances, am prone to depression and disparaging thoughts. I am empty inside while my brother’s soul is rich. To me, that is real success.
“We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.” ~ Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove
Day 353. Yesterday, LilG turned fourteen.
Like all parents say when they realize their baby is no longer a baby, I say it now as well: “I cannot believe it.”
For me, there are four distinctive markers of passing time:
Watching my baby girl transform into a young woman.
The name LilG does not apply anymore. She is much taller than I am. She surpassed me when she was twelve. Her transformation, of course, is not just physical. She is more thoughtful now than she was, no longer having the typical selfish, youthful whims. She has become a planner and thinks about the future. The biggest sign of her transition from being a child and into the stages of young adulthood is her acknowledgement that all [of her] actions have consequences, good or bad, and she has to act in the manner appropriate to bring about the desired outcome.
Seeing my parents growing older.
My father will turn eighty-three this year, and my mother will turn seventy-nine. Thankfully, they are both in really great health, mentally and physically, and aside from the normal limitations of their age, they are still active in body and sharp in mind. However, because they live on the other side of the world and because I have not seen them in nearly two years due to the pandemic, it is still a bit jarring to see their faces on video chat and to realize that how I have them pictured in my mind and in my memories, is not how they actually are in reality. At the risk of sounding morbid, they are both at an age where one starts to wonder how much [good] time they really have left.
Experiencing the natural decaying process of my own aging body.
Over the years, I have come to accept that my body no longer functions the way that it did when I was in my twenties. If I am being honest, I will say that it does not even function the way it did when I was in my thirties, or even early forties. Every year that passes by, I lose half a step, and another joint cracks or is in pain.
Realizing that many people who I love are no longer here on Earth.
This one hits the hardest. My beloved sister passed away twenty-one years ago this month. Twenty-one years. She will have been gone longer than she was alive. I have lost other people in my life, important people to me, whose absences still create a hole in my soul. When I think of them and how long they have been gone, the reality of time cuts even deeper.