Every cigarette

tastes of iron at the tip of my tongue. No blood drawn. Just a flicker, a burning sensation down my throat, but it’s almost the same as piercing my lungs with the fumes. Maybe that’s where the blood comes from. After the puncture, it oozes and flows inside me. Like filthy water travelling into a sewer.

I don’t know why I still do this. Each stick is a regret. It’s pathetic. Why do I keep buying palm-sized boxes that I end up donating to the people who actually enjoy it?

Fair enough, I, too, used to enjoy it. I likened it to a cold bottle of beer, to a block of Cadbury. Despite the scorching tropical heat, there was a rush of adrenaline to watching the edges of a cigarette light up and fizzle out into thin strips of smoke with every inhalation.

Now, all I get are headaches. Nausea. Self-loathing.

I wonder what you’d say if you knew I smoke. Or smoked. You raised one smoker, but I don’t know how your heart would handle another one.

It’s been exactly 10 years since you died. A lot has happened since, and who knew I would turn out to be who I am today? I also don’t know if I mean that in a good way—I still have a few qualms about that matter.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. There are so many things I want to ask you, like: “Why do I still smoke even if I don’t like it? Will I ever stop?”

This box, I don’t know what I’ll do with it. Maybe give it to Mai again, or leave it in my bag until it turns stale. What would you do? Would I ever know?

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Getting lost in your quicksand

I didn’t know how hard this push-and-pull thing was until now. I guess this is how you feel. Like you’re always in the wings, waiting. You have so much love welling up inside of you but there’s no way to give it, to show it. It starts to become painful, unbearable, and just achingly sad. You feel pathetic about being sad, about constantly wondering how the person is, about wanting to talk to them but couldn’t, for reasons that aren’t even clear.

You try to make yourself busy by doing things that are important to you. You grow chilli plants, you learn to play the xaphoon, you cry over Princess Diana—all she wanted was to be loved, anyway. You feel fulfilled for a second, but something doesn’t sit well with you. It’s not even a hole or a void that has to be filled. It feels more like an extra leg that demands your attention. It wants to walk freely, to run in the grass and feel the earth. But you don’t use it, because the world tells you that you must stand on only two legs. That’s exactly how it must feel, huh?

I recently watched a documentary about Weng Weng, a dwarf action star from the 70’s. Andrew Leavold, the director, covered all sorts of themes from the perspective of an outsider in the documentary: poverty, the exploitative nature of mainstream cinema, politics during the Marcos Era, and our country’s lost value for the art of film.

And all I could think about was how fun it would be watching this with you. I imagine your face scrunching up before letting out a shrill “Aw!” for Weng Weng. I can almost feel your stubbled cheek on my shoulder as you exclaim your sadness for Weng Weng, your curly hair rubbing against my chin. Then your astounded face once Imee’s face comes on, and an even more dumbfounded reaction when Imelda plants a kiss on her dead husband’s (apparently fake) corpse. I can almost imagine a conversation with you right after. Or maybe a kiss. Then something else. Or maybe nothing, if we’re old and tired. Maybe it really just is a conversation. Just about anything makes me giddy, as long as it’s with you.

These thoughts of you and I in bed, they visit me often. Fine, more often than often. Almost on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s just in a quaint restaurant nearby. Or in the grocery, while I look for the freshest fruits and you pick out the condiments. I smile for a few seconds, then stop, trying to get the reveries out of my head. Because maybe I might jinx it, or maybe it might not even be the future, given the uncertainty of everything at the moment. But it hurts to know these are just images and thoughts, because it’s the reality that I want.

I don’t know if you’ll ever see this. There’s only a small chance you’ll remember this site exists. But in case I die tomorrow and I never get to tell you: I want you. And I love you. And I would choose you, over and over, if they made me choose again. Since I met you, there was never a time I didn’t want it to be you. If I did tell you otherwise, it was because I was scared. And I’m sorry. I still am scared, but very less so now. That, I told you and I hope I you believe me. I’m not sure if I’ll ever deserve your unconditional love, but let this unsent digital snail mail serve as proof that someone loved you this much. Someone will again.

An old but true story.

I have seen Call Me By Your Name (2017) exactly 11 times in the last 16 days. Probably even more by the time you read this. I cry in every viewing, hoping the next would be less painful than the last. But it doesn’t really end, the stream of tears. I’d have to stop the player in the middle of Timothée Chalamet’s final performance as he sits grief-stricken in front of a fireplace. The pain is heavy, the pain is familiar.

Call Me By Your Name (2017) is a love story. An older, wiser American man named Oliver (Armie Hammer) travels to Northern Italy for a dissertation residency with a kind, almost saintly professor (Michael Stuhlbarg). Oliver meets the professor’s 17-year-old son, Elio, and forms a special friendship with him before it slowly molds into a relationship of intellectual stimulation, sexual attraction, and love.

The film opened up some old, long healed wounds from more than five years ago. The same reason I could never finish Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) without swimming in my snot, Call Me By Your Name (2017) is not just a love story about two men. It’s a kind of truth. A painful one at that.

Mr. Perlman: Nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spot.

I was 16 and she was 26. I was in my senior year of high school, a little lost and a little hopeful. She, on the other hand, wasone of the school’s best literature teachers and my drama club moderator. And I’m not kidding when I say every girl in that school adored her (some, funnily enough, even bordered on obsession).

I didn’t think much about who she was. Yes, I admired her eloquence, her intelligence, her bright smile, and her talent in theater arts. But that was about it. I did not see her the way other girls did, as if she was an eagle in the clouds, an untouchable goddess. I just saw her as her. I knew underneath that powerful and confident front she put up every day for her students, she was just as lost as I was. And she knew I knew that. Maybe that’s how we became friends.

  • Oliver: I like the way you say things. I don’t know why you’re always putting yourself down, though.
  • Elio: So you won’t, I guess.

She was one of the reasons I started taking writing seriously. Her immense belief in me pushed me to read things, to learn things, to create things. We would talk for hours on the phone, discussing the likes of Botticelli and Magritte while sharing songs from Jobim and Santana. We would talk about the films we loved, the films we hated. We memorized poems and recited them to each other. The more I talked to her, the more I wanted to know everything. About her, about the world.

One night, she told me that if there was a boy version of me, she would date him. And I just thought it was funny. Because why did she need a boy version of me to date me? The conversation led to us professing our feelings for each other and, before you know it, we were in love.

She was the first person I ever imagined spending an eternity with. At that time, it seemed sane enough. We had our own version of Northern Italy and nothing mattered but the love we had. Of course, the unconventionalities eventually made it difficult. We were both women, she was much older, she was my former teacher, we were from Catholic schools, we lived in an unaccepting society, and we were born into unaccepting families. It became an us-vs.-the-world kind of love, and forever was beginning to make less sense.

It was the summer before university started for me and we were on the phone at 2 in the morning. She knew months before that I was going to take Literature for college. She told me she was afraid I would outgrow her, the same way her old students did. That I would know more things, I would study more. And it would eventually lead me to outgrow the love we had. I thought it was ridiculous. I told her it would never happen, that I would love her forever. How could she think such a thing?

“Cinema is a mirror of reality and it is a filter.”

But the poison ate at our relationship from within. I remember when she told me she wanted to put up her own bakery where she could sell her own freshly baked pan de sal. Selfishly, I responded with: “You can’t just say you want to do things and not do anything about it.” I thought it stemmed from envy, that maybe I wanted to do something as grand as that. But no. It was fear. The moment she would talk about making plans for her future that obviously did not include me in the picture, I would be crippled with fear. And I would lash back at her. Only years later did I realize that I said those things not because I was overly competitive or jealous of her ambitions. It was because I didn’t want to lose her.

The funny thing is, the more I didn’t want to lose her, the more I tried to wriggle myself out of her grasp. I was fading, slowly. It would hurt less this way, I used to tell myself. I would push and pull and push and pull, tiring her out endlessly. The last pull, I didn’t come back. And after that, she would no longer let me in, even if I tried.

  • Mr. Perlman: You two had a nice friendship.
  • Elio: Yeah…
  • Mr. Perlman: You’re too smart not to know how rare, how special, what you two had was.
  • Elio: Oliver was Oliver.
  • Mr. Perlman: Parce-que c’etait lui, parce-que c’etait moi.
  • Elio: Oliver may be very intelligent but…
  • Mr. Perlman: Ah… he was more than intelligent. What you two had, had everything and nothing to do with intelligence. He was good, and you were both lucky to have found each other, because… you too are good.
  • Elio: I think he was better than me, I think he was better than me.
  • Mr. Perlman: I’m sure he’d say the same thing about you, which flatters you both.

It’s been more than almost half a decade since we’ve last spoken to each other. She’s now happily married with a baby coming soon, and I have been in-love with the same man for almost four years. But I still think about her. Not with the same kind of love I had, but with a tenderness that won’t ever go away.

Will I ever stop crying while watching Call Me By Your Name? Maybe, maybe not. But pain is a child of memory. And maybe the reason I still cry is that the pain was real. That only just means the love was, too.

Mr. Perlman: Right now, there’s sorrow, pain. Don’t kill it and with it the joy you’ve felt.

I still think about you, B. I wonder how you are, what songs you listen to, what books you’re reading. I want to know if your heart is happy. I want to feel the kick of your baby’s feet against the walls of your stomach. I want to see you again, even if it’s just five minutes, a few seconds, or a blink. If not, if I don’t ever get to have that chance again in this lifetime, then I just pray you are well, always. I hope you’re doing fine. I’m sorry for the lies, for the anger, and for all the pain I have caused you. Thank you for everything.

If there’s something I’m starting to learn about love,

it’s that it won’t always meet you halfway. Sometimes, you run a marathon for love while love brisk walks the other way. Sometimes, you wake up early in the morning for love, but love is cold water from the shower—you can barely touch love.

Love won’t be fair. You will cook for love, wash clothes for love, clean the toilet for love, but love only sits, all day and all night. You will scrub the floors for love, wipe the windows for love, vacuum the sheets for love, and yet love still thinks that is not enough.

Love won’t be easy. You will be 500 miles away from love, and love is 500 miles away from you, but you are awake, and love is fast asleep, dreaming of android sheeps. You will remember the birthday of love’s mother but love will forget the sound of your voice, the softness of your lips, the shape of your calves. Love will be under the same night sky, but you will think of love, and love will be thinking of books, of movies, of—possibly—another love.

But you let this be because you chose love. And with the choice comes all life’s injustices, ones you’re happy to accept.

Further

You feel further away now. I see myself standing on the edge of a cliff, watching the sail of your ship flutter, but only slightly, by the horizon. Every passing second, you get smaller, and smaller, until you are but a speck in the ocean.

I try to find you in places I’ve never seen you in, almost as if I’m creating new pictures of you and I. But I’m on my own. And you’re far away. I replace memories with fantasies, because the latter is the only place you’re real now. 

It’s sad, how love just doesn’t go away. No matter the distance, both in latitude and in time. I sometimes wish it did. Like tonight. It hurts more than usual, and I can only pray it won’t anymore.

Some nights, I wish my sister was right. That maybe you’re not the one for me. That I’ll find someone “better,” as if love was a competition, a search for a more suitable candidate. But my heart doesn’t allow it. Sometimes, I wish it did.

But it won’t. I don’t want it to, God knows. And I can only just pray, pray, pray.

In ropes

You’re still trying to control me. I am not yours to control. You do not dictate who I am or what I am or what I am capable of or what I want to do with my life. I pray you learn that controlling someone does not change anything. I pray you realize that I am my own person, and that for as long as you live, there is only one Person who knows me best. As you said, I will still turn out to be whoever it is that I want to be, no matter how hard I conceal it. I want to remind you: I will still turn out to be whoever it is what I want to be, no matter how hard you try to change me. Don’t try to control me.

Fucking pain in the ass, this is.

This is the beginning of the downward spiral of dishonesty. Suddenly, every other word means nothing. It isn’t even vapor, it isn’t even smoke. It is nothing. Everything that oozes from your mouth is tainted with poison and I am forced to drink from the cup. And slowly, it eats me inside.

I try my hardest every day to fight this and it fucking sucks, how I have to suffer from the repercussions. I have never lied to you. I know I’m going to have to deal with this on my own, but fuck, does it fucking hurt. Do you merit my trust? Do you deserve to be believed? Do your words, from here on out, have any bearing at all?

Of course, my heart will answer yes to all those questions. But when will it be enough? When do I know when to stop and when to walk away? When do I know you’re not writing just another short story with your mouth?

Fuck, I need answers.