Whore

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My mother called me a whore.

A few weeks back mom and I engaged in a formidable text war over the course of a couple hours. Ah, text – the passive aggressive medium. I should’ve known not to fall prey to her manipulation. I can’t help it. She’s my mother and as her child, there’s a constant and unrelenting need for me to feel loved and accepted. But in choosing to engage with her, I incurred her wrath and the subsequent name-calling.

It hurt.

In so many words, she accused me of spending too much time with David and used the adage, “why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free.” She thinks that I am way too giving of myself. She believes this is my fatal flaw and that I will inevitably smother David (like I smother all my boyfriends) and that in the end he will be driven to abandon me.

She’s absolutely right. I am too giving, too loving, just clearly too much with the man I love and adore. This is the reason why my friends and family love me, so why can’t you love and accept me like they do? But in her mind, this is the reason why significant others have left me. Some have abused that love and some have downright taken it for granted. Mom is right – who’s to say that David wouldn’t do the same thing?

I don’t know what the future will hold. And I understand that she’s just trying to protect me. But I cannot change who I am. This is how I operate. I’m confident in who I am and I’m putting faith in David and in our relationship. The man who deserves me is someone who will always want to be around me and cherish every moment we have together.

Yes, I am too giving to a fault. If this is what it means to be a whore, then I’m guilty.

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How to Say Goodbye

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This weekend, we said goodbye to Grandma and conclude a 2-week ordeal of watching her slowly pass away.  I’ve never had to watch someone die.

About two weeks ago I went to visit her at hospice care. Something was so ominous about that visit. It was the last time I saw her alive. When I came into her room Uncle Tony was also there. She was between asleep and awake. Her food tray lay untouched. Uncle said that she hadn’t eaten all day. There were some days she’d want to eat, and others when she would. And I use the word ‘eat’ very loosely. If she wanted to, she’d eat some puree stuff or yogurt. Uncle and I tried to feed her but she took in very little of the vanilla puree. She’d keep her mouth shut and shake her head no.

On this day we had the opportunity for the two of us to sit, just grandmother and granddaughter. I was saying to her that it was ok for her to let go. I also told her I was sorry that I never got to write her story. I had always imagined that my great novel would revolve around her life. Many times I’ve thought to bring a voice recorder to visit her and ask her questions about her life, about what it was like to live life under Japanese invasion, life as a single mother and starting life again as an immigrant. I think I did it once but I remember it was very difficult because at that point she had trouble hearing me. I felt the guilt that all writers know- the guilt of the unwritten story. But this time my guilt felt doubly weary and heavy, thinking that I owed this story to grandma. I wept at her bedside, believing I had somehow failed her.

When she saw my tears, she frowned gravely and with great difficulty tried to pull her arms up and over the covers. At first I thought she was motioning that she wanted something. Grandma hadn’t been able to talk in awhile. I looked around to see what she could want and she instead grabbed my hand. I wept even more. I was there to comfort her, but little did I know that she was there to comfort me. I held her hand tight and it was still so warm. Her body was wasting away and she was refusing food, but there was still this fire of life in her. This little old lady wanted to be there in that moment to comfort her granddaughter who was weeping over her. I had to laugh out loud at the terrific irony. So I said, ok grandma I’m stopping, I’m stopping, as I wiped my tears away and managed a smiled. She smiled back. I remember thinking that I don’t remember the last time I held her hand.

I feel weary. Chin died not even 2 months ago and now grandma. My heart has felt so heavy. I find it hard to believe that the same God who bestows blessings, is the same one who takes away. One night, I remember asking David why I had to feel such sadness like this. He said, “You have family and friends…” And I wouldn’t have it any other way. To be blessed with family and friends means experiencing laughter, affection, and love. It also means knowing that one day you’ll have to let go and say goodbye. This year, God has taken two of my loved ones, but He also gave me David and He continues to shower His blessings on me. God’s also given me pen and paper to write.

One of the last things I told Grandma was that I would need her help in writing my story. I told her I wasn’t any good and I would need her to send whatever heavenly help she could.

In Grandma’s last moments I’m sure she was thinking about everything she hadn’t done and was maybe filled with a bit of regret. She’s not here now and I hope she’s made her peace with whatever was holding her down. She’s run out of time, but I haven’t. I have a story to write.

The Art of Letting Go

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In the midst of the silence of every breakup, one person will always find a reason to break that silence. Mine came in the form of a letter. A few days after I had stealthily dropped off Cris’ things in a box in front of his house, I received a letter in the mail. Somehow when I got it, I wasn’t surprised. Putting together that box was hard for me, I could only imagine what it was like for him. I took a moment and a deep breath before opening it.

He began by saying how the sight of his things had greatly affected him, so much so that he wanted to begin communicating again through letters. He of course said that it was up to me whether or not I wanted that to happen. Cris always had a knack for writing letters. Through the course of our relationship, he’d write me these cute love letters, decorated with tickets stubs of movies we’d seen, fortune cookie messages, any little knick-knack that was part of our time together. As our relationship grew harder, the letters became less frequent. I had to beg him to write me more. I should’ve known that we were slowly dying and there was nothing he or I could do about it. And now through this letter, I could see what he was doing. He was trying and my heart ached. Where was this overflow of emotion when we were together?

He went on to describe how he’d imagine looking at my smile, or looking into my eyes, hear my laugh or even daydream about how I’d react to something. He even went so far as to compile a list of songs that were special to him and our relationship and think of a way to give it to me. This was too much. It was an awful thing to read and realize that he was in effect, torturing himself with the memory of me. He bore the tremendous guilt of breaking my heart and he had to live with that. The way he was dealing with it was not healthy and he was clearly not trying to move on at all.

He went on to describe our last night together in vivid detail. How much I cried, the prolonged goodbye, how I grabbed onto his shirt while we hugged as I desperately tried to hang onto his shirt and simultaneously try to let go. He marveled at how hard I was trying to be strong and admitted that whenever he thought of that night, it would always bring him to tears.

I can’t remember much else of the letter, other than the fact that I knew that there was no way I could re-establish contact. The person who wrote the letter was not a healthy individual. If anything, this was a selfish attempt at trying to bring me back into his life, regain control, and perhaps see if there was a chance at rebuilding our relationship.

As I read it, I realized that this was someone who didn’t care for me at all. He knew the letter would hurt me, but he did it anyway and for his own selfish gain.

I took a couple days to reply. The more I thought about it, the more I felt sorry for him. He may have broken up with me the same way John had, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t a stranger to the guilt he was feeling. In the months leading up to our breakup, I knew that our relationship was failing and still I hung on, even though he’d expressed a handful of times that he wanted to let go. I felt the guilt of hanging onto him and shaming someone who clearly didn’t love me.

I searched my heart and although I was hurt, there would always be a part of me that would care for him. I knew that the best thing I could do for him was to free him of that guilt and misery. I replied back to his letter with this simple note:

“Cristern, please stop. It’s not time for us. Your friend, Virginette. P.s. I forgive you.”

A few days later, on April Fool’s Day, I woke up to a bunch of trash on my car. There were candy wrappers all over the hood of my car. The night before I had heard voices outside, but figured it was the neighbors talking. I examined the candy wrappers and realized they were Hi-Chews, his favorite candy.

I remember that day clearly and how angry I was. I knew what he was doing- he was inciting me to react. He was hoping my anger would be so great that I’d break my silence. I was seething with rage and came very close to actually doing that. But if I did that, I knew that he would win. He’d have the satisfaction that a child only knows when they’ve gotten what they’ve wanted after throwing a fit. Did I want a child or a man in my life?

Looking at the trash on my car, I realized that he would never grow up. He couldn’t see that I was trying to help him and he reacted so childishly. That act alone let me know that he wasn’t capable of maturing into the kind of person I’d always hoped he could be. In hindsight, that was always the problem, Cris was just always a child. He had aspirations of making it big but lacked drive to do the hard work. He was always playing.. with his toy trucks, his friends, and ultimately with his life. Was it any wonder why I was so frustrated with him and showed so much resentment? In everything he was doing it was clear that he didn’t want me in his life. Being with me would have to mean getting his act together, and he simply wasn’t ready or willing to do that.

I remember a few weeks before my breakup, I was so desperate to keep my relationship together that I went to visit a family friend who’s a priest. I sat alone in a beautiful church for a long time before I met with him and contemplated how I would keep from crying while I told my story. I told him that every day I had grown so desperate for help, that I would get down on my knees at night and in the morning to plead with God to make my relationship work. I could see pity in his eyes and he asked me to kneel at the pew and tell him what I saw. I told him that I saw the altar and the cross. Then he asked me to stand up and asked me again what I saw. Apart from the altar, I told him that I saw the tabernacle, the statues of the saints, candles, the lectern and flowers all around. He smiled and said that life was exactly like that.

Life’s sorrows can bring us to our knees, so much so that it obscures our view. If we take a moment to stand up, we’re able to see the opportunity and the wonderful gift that God is giving to us in that moment. He gently told me that he hoped things would work out with my boyfriend, but to remember to stand up to see what else God was giving to me. I look back on that time and I realize that God was giving me a chance to see what my life could be like.

Next month will make it a year since my breakup. I think about how far I’d come and all the amazing things that have happened to me since then: the jump in my career, the opportunity to be part of a writer’s conference, a growing and healthy love of self and finally, my new partner in crime- the wonderful man who’s privileged to be in my life now. I know that none of these things wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have the courage to let go, let God, and open up to life’s possibilities.

The One That Got Away

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There’s nothing like the memory of a first love. And nothing makes it more memorable and heartbreaking when you have to watch that person walk away.

The other day I went to Starbucks to write and saw two prom couples taking photos. The girls were all decked out in long glittery formal wear. One wore pink and all the ruffles enveloped her – like a tiny bee lost in labyrinth of blossoms. The other wore blue, a mermaid out of water, shining radiantly with sparkles in her hair, like seawater glistening on her crown.

They looked so young and excited for the night ahead.  I couldn’t help but smile and think about that simple and innocent time in my life. When I think of high school, I think of Jay.

All love stories are the same. We were friends.

Jay and I met at a leadership camp the summer before our senior year. The camp was only a weeklong but we both made a lasting impression on one another. A month later after camp ended he had broken his arm in a horrific car accident and was unable to make the camp beach reunion. A week later, I drove out to the East Bay to visit him and bring him In-n-Out and show him pictures of the event and tell him everything he missed. We became fast friends.

In those early days, I would call him in tears at the thought of leaving home to go to college. He would confide in me about the development of his father’s illness. He’d accompany me to dances when I didn’t have a date. He’d ask me to come over to help him to look after his baby sister. We had to be friends because that’s all we could be. He was with someone else. When we were together, we laughed and experienced so much joy. But we both struggled with the definition of our relationship. We both felt it. After we’d see one another, he would go home and put on a face for his girl, while I got down on my knees and put my face in my hands. It was hard to be in love with your best friend.

Homecoming came around and I had no date for the dance and in his usual way, Jay came to the rescue. When he got me back to my house after the dance, he had the arduous task of helping me take down the countless pins in my hair. We sat on the floor of my room, stifling our giggles in the wee hours of the morning while he plucked my hair and counted each one. When he finished, I shook my head, closed my eyes and ran my fingers slowly through my hair. I opened my eyes and he leaned in deep and kissed me.

He broke my heart not too soon after that, professing undying love to his girlfriend and denying any involvement with me. What followed in the decade after was a stop-and-start fledgling relationship. At some point in all those years, I let go of my past disappointment and anger for what happened, and concentrated on one thing – being his friend; and that friendship has been the most fulfilling and bittersweet of all.

In my anxiety about moving forward in what could be my new relationship, I had to look back to my past, and look for advice from Jay, the one person who probably knew me the best. He confided in me about the complicated particulars of his relationship and how he would be going next level and asking his girlfriend to marry him.

I was happy for him but couldn’t help but think- had we missed our chance?

For a long time, I felt there was nothing to mourn. Though Jay and I never had the opportunity to be in a tried and true relationship, I treasured the fragile friendship that we did have. With my dad and grandma in the hospital and his father passing away, we have been each other’s sanity checks and shoulder to cry on.

After all we’d been through, would it soon be time to say goodbye?

I sit back and look at it as logically as I can. We would be horrific as a couple, so much so that it makes me chuckle just thinking about it. I think our relationship would be awful and amazing, vindictive and forgiving, volatile and serene, thoughtless and deeply loving, all at the same time. And at the end of it, we will have amnesia of every negative thing and only remember one thing- our friendship.

Perhaps we were lovers in a past life and that’s why our friendship has survived 13 years in this life. And just as he’s growing up and finding love and happiness, so am I. I think we’ve been here for one another to help each other on this never-ending journey. Soon, we’ll both have to walk away.  My heart will break a little and maybe his will too. I will look back on that time with fondness and I hope he will do the same.

The Great Purge

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I always have a hard time thinking about what to give up for Lent- but given my breakup, it was clear. I had to give up Cristern. I had to give up the hope of reunion and the hope of anything ever happening between us. The one tangible thing I can think of was to finally drop off his things. When I tell people I haven’t done this, they look at me aghast and think –  why didn’t I do this sooner? Fact is, I didn’t have anything of his that was terribly valuable, just some clothes he left at my house. Because they were things of little valuable, I made that my excuse. But in truth, I was scared to do it because it would mean making a monumental step in letting go. And with Easter next weekend, I knew that the time had finally come.

Before packing up his things, I decided to go through my own things and put aside anything that had to do with him. I came across movie stubs, pictures, old ticket stubs and receipts from our trips together. Then I looked in my bookshelf, right behind my bed pillows and found the letters he’d written me. This was the hardest thing to put away. In the last few months of our relationship, these letters kept me afloat. They gave me hope that our love could be like what it was in simpler, more romantic and carefree days. I felt the urge to open them in start reading but I knew that it would tear my heart open and make this process even harder. Cristern was always so dirt broke but these letters were the one thing that he gave me that made me feel so special. He put so much thought into them, and would attach ticket stubs, fortune cookie fortunes, anything kind of knick knack to decorate it. As our relationship wound down, I’d have to beg him to write me letters. I should have known that when the letters were becoming less frequent, it was a sign of his waning love for me. I solemnly put everything into a shoebox and put it out of my room.

A couple days later, I tackled his things.  I took an empty box from work and slowly folded his pajamas and shirts. The very last thing I placed on top was a Sharks sweatshirt that mom got for xmas one year. I have the same sweatshirt. That whole process hurt like hell. The moment I put the lid on the box, I got a text from a guy that I’ve been talking to. He  asked me out on a date. Coincidence?

Yesterday I went out on a coffee date with that guy and had an amazing time. It felt foreign to feel beautiful, attractive and wanted. This person wanted to be in my presence and wanted to get to know me. He was not hurrying to get to anywhere or looking to push me aside for better things. He was content to sit there with me.

Later that night, I knew it was time for me to start a new chapter of my life. I took the box with Cristern’s things and put it in the front seat of my car and drove the oh so familiar route to his house. I methodically took a back route to avoid any sort of uncomfortable run-in.  I pulled up to his place, scoped out the scene and saw that he wasn’t home.  I pulled out a pen and wrote his name on a post-it note and stuck it on the box. It was strange to write his name. I left the engine running and sprinted to the house. I quietly placed the box in the corner of the porch and quickly ran back to my car, my heart racing the whole time.

I think about the frenzy in my body and wonder if it was the same feeling he had when he taped a birthday card on my car window, only a few days after we had broken up. Now that I’m without the weight of his things, do I feel any lighter? Do I feel free to finally move forward? Not yet, but I know I will. I honestly feel like I’m still reeling from taking that painful but necessary trip down memory lane when I had to parse through his things. I knew that I had been avoiding that feeling. This process has forced me to face that pain head-on.

Lent is about doing something that makes you a better person, something that brings you closer to God and the person you’re meant to be, no matter how hard it is. I know that in order for me to move my life forward, I have to let go. God wants that for me. God wants me to be happy. I have to learn to want it for myself.

Coping & Acceptance

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6 months later.. this is my attempt at making peace and finally acknowledging my breakup.

Like all breakups, you already see the relationship slowly unraveling in months, if not years before you have enough courage to let go. In my case, it was years. How do I always get myself into these messes? I always seem to find men who are never in the same place in life as I am. John was all about going next level and making that full leap of commitment.  I was scared and just wasn’t ready to go full bore like that- especially since he was my first  long-term relationship. With Cristern, it was like pulling teeth. We spoke a lot in generality about our future, but never the specifics. When it got down to it, he was just too busy playing and trying to figure out his own life, and there just wasn’t room for me. I kept pushing, and waiting and hoping someday that there’d be room for me. But all that waiting was in vain. In our 3.5 years together, he was still the same person: scraping the bottom of the barrel, just struggling to get by, and going out and not having a care in the world.

Had I changed in that 3.5 years? I came from working for free for an aspiring author, working for free again and commuting to SF for an editorial job, to working a shitty job at retail, to having some semblance of security working in publishing, and finally – having a legitimate career at a startup, where I bust my ass, get to do what I love, and feeling more financially secure than I have ever felt in my life. Was it wrong to want more? No… but my professional circumstances, biological clock, and tenure at that relationship made me feel entitled to want more. That feeling wasn’t wrong. But that was always a point of friction for the two of us. He was just trying to get by, figure stuff out, and here’s me, ready to take it to the next step, and just waiting for him to grow up and catch up.

They say that the heart of a couple’s break up and problems boils down to 1-2 things. They take on various forms but at the heart of it, they’re essentially the same thing. Inevitably you fight about those things and rationalize the mending of it because of two reasons: 1) you’re scared to let go 2) you’re naïve. The crux of our problem was that we were at different places in life and every other problem sprung from that. His want to go out and party w/out me made me insecure – it would make me think, ‘shouldn’t he be trying to find a better job?’ ‘shouldn’t he want to invite me to go out with him?’. That insecurity got out of control and pushed him away because he thought that I was made of stronger stuff. The insecure girlfriend sitting at home waiting for her boyfriend to call was not the same independent, ‘I don’t need a man’ chick that he was so attracted to 3.5 years prior. He did not sign up for this. So he began to even question who I really was. And doing that, it made me question and really doubt myself.

There is nothing worse than losing yourself and doubting who you are; especially when that doubt springs from someone who you had always believed loved you unconditionally as you were, better or worse. I think about my natural disposition and will admit that I’ve always been a sucker for love. I’ve always bent over backwards at the thought of being with a man. And when I’m with one, I give wholeheartedly and dangerously. The independent chick spurts happen as a result of single life. I’m literally forced to accept and be in love with myself- and that is a sad fact. I’ve never been really happy with myself and that is something I’ve long struggled with – and it really has nothing to do with a man. I am a consummate perfectionist and perpetually hard on myself. I never let myself enjoy anything because I feel guilty for feeling good – that I’m so severely lacking that I don’t deserve to feel good about anything. Where does this come from?

I love my parents but part of it as a function of how I was raised. Everyone was always watching, judging, and you had to be perfect because our family was the best. You fall short and it is unacceptable. Throw in being a woman in this botox and boob job age, oldest child syndrome, and Catholic guilt and you got a hot mess. The other part of it is that it’s only been in recent months that I’ve started to work through who I am and be accepting of who I am and to realize there’s beauty in that. I have to be ok with me before anyone else can be ok with me.

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if I’m miss independent chick or dependent wannabe girlfriend. I’m me. And the one for me will love me no mater what labels i put on myself. I am Virg. Neurotic at times, a scathing perfectionist, all-together too hard on myself, but… The people i care about- they always come first. Even before you think you’ll need help, i’m already one step ahead thinking about what i can do. And most of all, i’m loyal. I will love you, I will love you, I will love you. Someone out there will want that. Someone out there will need that. For someone out there, that will be more than enough.

Men who don’t want that aren’t for me. They don’t deserve me.

Perfection

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I wrote this after I did something very stupid one weekend and was consumed in remorse. Though the event prompted this journal entry, it’s a sentiment that I’ve long struggled with.

‘Even a halo is something to keep clean.’

What does it mean to be perfect? I’ve been searching for the answer to this for a couple days now, but I realize that this has been more of a lifelong query. With my Catholic upbringing it has always been difficult to adhere to the highest standards of morality and integrity.

I think about how I was raised in a rather strict Filipino home. I had to serve as the consummate example for my younger brother. The grades had to be the best, because our family was always the best. You are not to have a boyfriend before college or you will get pregnant and ruin your life. You are to watch over your brother because he looks up to you. Someone was always watching, and judging and I felt I could never just be. And mid-way through college, when it came time to cement my major and my future, I abandoned my love of writing for a more respectable major.

They never once asked me to make that shift, but I didn’t want to let my parents down. They had sacrificed for me and my brother that I didn’t want to let them down but relying solely on an art. How could I re-pay my parents back by putting my thoughts on paper?

My relationships were no better. I had no idea what it meant to be a ‘perfect’ girlfriend. It was like sand through my fingers, the more I held tightly to the ideal of perfection, the more they would slip from me.

Perhaps perfection is a mere ideal that we work towards but never completely achieve. It is something to strive towards that makes us better in our pursuit of it. But intention and execution are two very different things. Maybe that’s why we need things outside of ourselves to help us achieve that near-perfectness. God, art, love – these are things that are pure in and of themselves – but are transformed into something greater through human imperfection.

It is in our complexities and our short-sightedness that transforms these obscure things, into something real and tangible.

What is love without forgiveness? And would art be beautiful, if it were not borne from pain? And why would we need God, if not to acknowledge our own frailty?

I am tired of trying to be perfect. I want to be me, in all its glorious imperfection. I want to be the most perfect version of my imperfect self.