Time is nothing.

My love for you is timeless. Love, time is nothing.

In another concave reflection of our time at this very moment, we are married with two kids in a house with a library that we built together. We are forty and driving down south with your hand on my knee and my hand on the dashboard, roaring with laughter at one of your perverse jokes. We are both old and wrinkly on the porch, two 80-year-olds who are tired of the world, but never tired of each other. Time is nothing.

We may not be married later or grow old together down this linear plane of time. But what matters is in this fraction of a second that we exist in, I have chosen to be with you in whatever time loop that may be and I am with you right now, wherever that may be.

Love, believe me, time is nothing.

A Hero’s Metamorphosis: A Film Review of Lightningface (2017)

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Cowardice was Basil Sitt’s (Oscar Isaac) hamartia in Petsos’ Lightningface (2017). Underneath his self-assured stature, he was rotting in fear. He was afraid of being seen with a monstrous scar on his face, he was afraid of confronting his own girlfriend about her adulterous ways, he was afraid of uncertainty, and he was afraid of being alone.

The film begins with Basil seeing a dark cloud looming over his apartment building. A thunder roars from the cumulonimbus and a flash of light hits him on the left cheek, knocking him out. He wakes up with half his face burnt from the blast. We, the spectators, watch from the corners of his apartment as he loses his mind and rages a war against himself.

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Stellar performance from Oscar Isaac, but I’m not surprised. He brings the character to life with manic Jack Torrancian episodes and neck-breaking head bangs to a Slayer song. This was a treat to watch, especially knowing how great of a thespian he is beyond the lens.

Other than cowardice, the film explored themes of vanity, disguised narcissism, the male ego, as well as the destruction of a man’s illusion of being the center of the universe.

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Other than Basil himself, we see how the word “everything” also undergoes a transformation. From a signifier of tangible earthly things, it becomes an all-encompassing, godly “everything.” It shifts the foregrounding from the self onto the vast and ever-expanding cosmos.

The short film was directed by Brian Petsos, who happens to be the same director of Oscar’s last short film stint in Ticky Tacky (2014) as well as the former long-time partner of Kristen Wiig, the executive producer and one of my favorite comediennes in the world. He also wrote the screenplay for Revenge for Jolly (2012) where he also acted alongside Oscar. When Petsos is not toying with Oscar’s breadth as an actor in short films, he is directing comedy adventures and commercials.

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Although Lightningface did not have as much grit and comedic substance as much as its predecessor, it was still a splendid display of Isaac’s undeniable talent (and extremely good looks) — that’s more than enough for me.

Re-enchantment of a Pervert

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The first thing you will notice about Lovely at first glance is how she walks like a panther in a crowd of hounds. She struts into your office with her static-zapped hair and heels like daggers and you will resist the urge to hum “Toxic” by Britney Spears. You ask her to sit on the chair you’ve asphyxiated with Lysol too many times that day. She crosses her legs. One hand rests on her knee. A fingernail is unpolished. You feel confident that this is her first application for a PR firm yet you ask her anyway.

“Second,” she says. You blush a little.

On the header of her resume, she listed down ghoddezz42285@yahoo.com.ph as her e-mail address. You will not look at the resume again for the entire interview. You ask about her expectations from the staff position, her skills, her reason for application. She wants the job for the money, she can operate a PC (“I know how to change the screensaver.”), also just for the money. You admire her for her honesty. And maybe for the strands of hair on her cleavage.

Holding her folder, you walk her out to the door. You touch her gently on the small of her back. “We’ll give you a call,” you tell applicants you have no plans of seeing again. This time, you mean it.

She doesn’t answer. You only see her get smaller and smaller as she walks down the hallway, your eyes fixated on her cellulite-ridden thighs.

You exhale. You close the door to your office and collapse back onto your swiveling chair. Her folder falls on your lap. Underneath it is the biggest boner you’ve had in years.

***

The garage will reek of oregano and pickled onions when you get home. In the kitchen, your wife is hunched over a skillet of sautéed whatever-the-fuck-you’re-having-for-dinner. Gloria smiles at you. Only now you notice the new toes on her crow’s feet and you wonder if your wife is secretly ten years your senior. You rest a hand on her right shoulder. It pokes you somehow. You remember the only time you told her you wanted “a little meat” and she flung her chagrin at you in the form of a tantrum. You didn’t know 27-year-olds still threw around tantrums.

She asks how your day went. “Great,” you say. She has a surprised look on her face. You press your lips to her hair and head straight to the dining room.

On the television, the same broadcaster rambles on about the same rapist in custody. Civilians are gathered outside the court with their phones in the air. A footage of the courtroom hearing appears on the screen. The lawyer loosens his tie. The rapist wears a placid face. You think he is a bit too attractive for a rapist.

You sense Gloria’s eyes on you as she pours tzatziki over your chicken. She sits down across you and waits for you to start eating before she dunks her spoon into her mouth.

“How is it?” she asks in between chews.

“Perfect.” It’s a little gritty.

Her grin reaches her eyes. You feel guilty for lying.

You read the last seven pages of The Magic of Public Relations in bed. Gloria steps out of the bathroom, fresh from a shower. She slowly walks to her side of the bed, slipping the robe off her shoulders, hanging it on the dresser stool. She is wearing the satin slip that you bought her for her birthday five years ago. The last time she wore it was during your trip to Burma. You told her she looked cute. She said it “fit like a sack.”

Upon hearing the bed springs squeak, you close your book. You reach for Gloria’s hair, always her hair. After enough rubbing, you turn to one side. You are facing the wall. You can hear her controlled breaths, her polite disappointment. You close your eyes. She crawls under your arm and falls asleep. For the rest of the night, you will feel snuggled by a cold chop of wagyu beef.

***

On her first day, Lovely is late by thirteen minutes. Annita, your accounts officer, gives her a brief orientation. Lovely’s desk is beside Joanna’s. Joanna is away for the entire week. Lovely’s ankle is already coiled around the base of Joanna’s chair, her other foot tapping the pedal of her trash bin. Earphones are plugged into her ears. She sways her head to a song. Prima from marketing is staring at her. So is Manuel from accounts. You want to kick Manuel in the nuts.

On Wednesday, you sit beside Annita and Tomas for lunch. “May I?” you ask. A millisecond look of doubt passes between the both of them, but Tomas shrugs and Annita pulls you a chair.

They talk about the pope. Tomas says his grandmother’s heart ailment improved after the pope’s visit. Annita says the pope has crazy eyes. Tomas disagrees, but you know he secretly wants to fuck her.

You see Lovely samba her way into the cafeteria. Jenny, another staff member, waves at her from another table. Today, Lovely is wearing shorter heels but an even shorter skirt, her hair tied into a ponytail she separates into two weaves that dangle on her shoulders. They look like snakes.

Jenny’s mouth opens and closes at an inhuman speed and not once do you see food enter her mouth. Lovely doesn’t look at Jenny. She slurps on her spaghetti like she’s the queen of all things filthy but wipes the sauce off her lips with a carnality you’ve only seen from Monica Bellucci. Then you realize she looks a little like a young Monica Bellucci.

***

You come home one night with Gloria lying on the couch in nothing but her only pair of lace underwear. All the lights are off except for the luminance of a naked woman with blonde hair on the television being swung around by two black men in fedora hats. A bottle of Tavernello, a quarter-filled glass, and an empty glass (which you assume is yours) are on the table.

“Where’s dinner?” you ask her.

“Right here,” she spreads her legs.

You look away. “Cover up, Gloria, it’s cold.”

I will be if you don’t—”

You walk to the kitchen. The faucet is running. Orange light peeks from the refrigerator door. The marker to the magnetic white board is missing. You groan a little. You rummage through the fridge for anything edible, and you find a plastic container. Inside it is a zucchini. You don’t remember buying a zucchini. It’s wrinkled like a prune. You toss it into the trash bin.

Gloria is on the floor, gulping down the contents of the bottle. You plop onto the space beside her. You snatch the bottle from her, holding it as high as your arms could possibly reach. She screams at you. You rub her hair. She pulls the hem of your polo and sobs onto it. You hide the bottle behind your back.

“Do you still love me?” Gloria faces you, snot running down to her mouth.

You blink. “Of course.”

She grabs your hand and pushes it against her tits and you feel nothing but dimpled skin and bones. Your fingers whiten from the pressure. She looks at your face then down to your crotch. Your arm falls limp on your lap. She slaps you with her tiny hand—a force you never thought she was capable of producing hits you hard on the head. Your left ear rings a little. She grabs the couch pillow and covers her body. Her shadow looms over you; you dare not look at her. Running to the bedroom, she yells at you to kill yourself before she slams the door.

One man on the video thrusts into the woman’s mouth while the other plays with himself. You drink whatever’s left of the bottle. You also take Gloria’s glass. The last drops of wine glide down your throat and it burns your stomach. The only sounds you hear before you flake out on the carpet are the frantic whimpers from the television screen.

***

When you get to the office, everyone avoids looking you in the eye. Joanna delivers two week’s worth of unattended paperwork to your table. She tells you that four requests from companies are in pending and are only waiting for your approval. You massage your temples. You nod slightly, and Joanna walks out of the room.

You hear a rampant ratata against the floor. Lovely is late again. Her hair, still wet and uncombed, is webbed all over the sides of her face. Her lips are a bright shade of red, Coca-Cola red, fire alarm red. She is wearing a silver dress. She slams her bag onto the desk. She sits back and combs her fingers through her hair. Her legs are crossed, as usual, but you pray she pulls off a Sharon Stone.

Joanna taps Lovely on the shoulder. She snaps her head to the other side. Her hair whips in the air, gliding off her bare shoulders. Joanna mouths something to Lovely, pointing to your office with her lips. Lovely raises her eyebrows. She looks in your direction. From her desk, through the glass, she is looking at you now.

You hold her gaze. Your pants tighten.

Annita breaks your line of vision and walks over to Lovely’s desk with a folder. Lovely stands up with her cup of coffee. She gets the folder and Annita leaves. Lovely struts out the door and disappears around the corner.

You lean back on your chair. You stretch your arms over your head. You smile to yourself and think, too bad, you’re a bit too attractive for a pervert.

(Published in Malate Literary Folio, Tomo XXXI Bilang 2, 2015)

Skinpeel

Two years after my mother’s death, I wrote her a letter that would sit next to her urn at the cemetery for years to come (before it disappeared to God knows where). My sister-in-law told me it was the only way I would finally let her go. I was crying when she told me this, as I usually did. But write, I did.

Today, it’s been almost ten years since I kissed my mother’s cold cheek as a farewell gesture. The letter isn’t beside her urn anymore but I no longer cry at the mere mention of her name. Maybe it’s the letter, maybe it’s my body’s lack of fluids. Bottom-line is: it worked.

You, on the other hand, are not dead. In fact, you’re very much alive, somewhere, wherever you may be at this very moment. It’s only been more than a month since our last phone call but I have relapsed about two times since then. That’s why I’m writing this.

For the first three days after we put an end to things, all I could do was cry. In front of my family, alone, in the shower. There was a lot of pathetic crying. My siblings and I talked about avocado shakes over lunch one day. I choked on my chicken—the last time I ate an avocado, I was with you. I cried again.

But work commenced the next Monday and I buried myself in the shitload of articles I had to write for that day. I ran an extra kilometer on the treadmill. I talked to my dog more, ate more, prayed more. I felt a lightness in my chest. I was happier, more at peace. I was okay.

But the more I thought about you, the more I forget all the bad things and remember all the reasons I loved you in the first place. I could not listen to a single Up Dharma Down song without conjuring memories of you and I in buses, in dark motel rooms, in the school library, in the backseat of a cab, at bookstores, on the edge of my bed.

The feel of your hands is embedded onto the memory of my fingers now. Your scent, an ever-persistent ghost. Oh, how I loved the smell of you. Still do. Forgetting you is heavier than pushing a boulder up a hill. That, I cannot will myself to do. If there’s anything I can keep, it would be the curve of your body against mine. Your kiss, your touch, your warmth. To forget that, I’d have to peel my skin off.

Darling, you are beautiful. You are insecure about all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons. You feel like you have to prove something to the world but sharing your life with those around you is enough. You feel unloved, you feel alone. Oh, how I wish I could be with you. If only the universe would let me. But you have to remember you are never on your own. Look around more often and see what you’ve let yourself be blind to. You are loved, always.

I remember telling you I loved you after months of keeping you in the dark. Because I was scared. Because I was selfish. But it was about right that I learned to love you unconditionally in those last days. I allowed myself to love you and that’s something I don’t normally do. This tenderness I feel for you is something I hope I will still feel in the future. If I find something just as powerful, I promise to take good care of it.

Our story comes too close to a Bolaño novel but loving you is something I’d have the pleasure of doing all over again, even if it’s not the kind where I get to kiss you. For now, I will heal. ‘Til then, this is my goodbye.

One Of Those Nights

On most nights like this, at 11 in the evening, I would be alone in my room, on my bed, like a dry vegetable, silently wondering where the hell my half-empty pack of cigarettes went that day and which messenger bag I could have left my lighter in, or if I had any lighter at all, humming, waiting for the next night to get piss-drunk so I could collapse onto my bed with no objection to sleep all my worries away.

Tonight, however, it is 11 in the evening, and I am sober. I am excited to get drunk, though, whenever that may be. I am also as happy as I would have been at 4 in the afternoon with a sugar-coated Filipino donut in one hand and the looming responsibilities of my day job in the other. A Solange song is playing. I finish speaking to a friend about how great I am these days. There is no convincing him the way I always did. He just feels it.

I discover that tonight is not One Of Those Nights, but sooner or later, One Of Those Nights will become the kind of night just like tonight and, eventually, the One Of Those Nights that I know now will no longer exist.

I will not make sense and I do not want to. This is for me. This is me whispering to the moon and to the evening spirits how grateful I am to be embracing the darkness the way I should have. And that I am happier doing so.

Dear Morpheus, Dear You

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Morpheus knew my hunger for intimacy too well. He opened the door for you, letting you gallop into my dreams with no remorse. I sighed as you wrapped your arms around me, as you introduced your body to mine. I did not flinch from your touch. Before this moment, your skin was an unfamiliar terrain, a closed-off territory I did not have the chance to explore. It still is. But I held your arms.

It was funny — I did not know your arms. Why did my unconscious assume the texture, the girth, the warmth of your arms? Your hands, the ones a few inches below the curves of my breasts, are these yours? Or are they the hands of a love lost, of a love I regret, or of a love I missed?

Morpheus, take this away from me. Vulnerability disgusts me. It’s not a request; it’s a plea. Don’t disguise my thirst for affinity with a conquistador’s promiscuity. They only want everything and nothing from me.

My body is tired of foreign lands and unsailed oceans.

I’m— she— no more— me—