The Ice Queen

Bilder von der Polarstern-Expidition ARK XXVII-3 in die zentrale ArktisA couple weeks ago, mom fell and fractured her rib. I was out of town when this happened, so you can imagine my surprise when I came home and saw her walking very rigidly and slowly down the stairs. She finally told me what happened and I wave of guilt came over me. Of course I couldn’t prevent this fall, of course it wasn’t my fault that she didn’t say anything, but I still couldn’t help but feel that way. The minute she told me, I did everything I could to minimize her movement. I reheated her food for her, helped her put her heating pads on, did chores around the house, just anything and everything to make her feel more comfortable.

The next day, I worked from home and my brother, Jr, also came by with my sister in law and their dog to see how she was doing. In all honesty, we really didn’t do much for her. She was able to get around pretty well and the pain meds were starting to kick in. I think the very act of her children being around her, surrounding her with love and support, was enough to give her another kind of healing.

Seeing mom in so fragile a state, it humanized her in a way that I hadn’t seen in a long time. In the last few months, she’s been very vocal about how she doesn’t like how I maintain my relationship with David. She’s under the impression that I spend so much time with him that I’ve lost sight of my priorities. Those exchanges bring out something very ugly in her, and the things that come out of her mouth can be very scathing. But in mom’s current condition of frailty, it’s somehow softened her. She saw how concerned I was, and how I was willing to drop everything for her. She saw and was reminded that no matter what, family will always be first in my eyes.

This past Sunday at church, both she and I were called into spontaneous service. They pulled me from the crowd because they needed another singer, and before Mass, mom was asked to administer the wine for Eucharist because they were short of people. She and I both came to church thinking we would sit together, but we ended up serving instead. I usually never take wine because I honestly think it’s gross, but, it was my mom administering it, so I wanted to support her. (I hope I don’t contract herpes.)

In any case, this whole thing made me smile. Mom and I are so different, but in a lot of ways, I will always be my mother’s daughter. We both seek to serve God by our gifts and help in any way we can. I know they say that you can’t change people, but I have hope for my mom. I know she’s a good person and just needs to learn to communicate better. Last week when I told her I was going up to San Francisco for the weekend to be with David, I was bracing myself for her judgment. Instead she said, “Drive carefully, it’s raining.”



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.

The Philippines: A House Broken

“I die without seeing dawn’s light shining on my country… You, who will see it, welcome it for me…don’t forget those who fell during the nighttime.”
José Rizal

It is no secret that the Philippines has retained a culture of political corruption. In the last three decades, two presidents have been ousted from power. From cheating, murder, corruption, it is a tragic fact that most Filipinos believe their own government cannot be trusted.

It is times like these that I wonder, what if our national hero, Jose Rizal, had been president? I find it ironic that the most beloved and revered of our country’s founding fathers was never really in a seat of power. Rizal was a freethinker. His writing and outspoken opinions of overthrowing Spanish colonial rule were the very thing that put him in exile, then in jail, and ultimately in front of a firing squad. Despite the violence inflicted on Rizal, he never saw war as the answer. He sought peaceful means of revolution and did not completely agree with the Katipunan’s military agenda.

And yet, Rizal was made an example of. His sacrifice and valor in dying for the cause of freedom only further incited the Katipunan to carry out its attacks against the Spanish. His execution was the stuff of legend, an incendiary beginning to the Philippine revolution that culminated in the independence from Spain. But I wonder, if he had lived to see the end of the revolution, would he have been put in a seat of power? And if he had been our first president, what kind of leader would he have been to our young government?

Perhaps we revere Rizal as we do because his love for our homeland was pure and untainted by the greed of political power.

Fast forward to present day. In 1983, Benigno Aquino, Jr., a staunch political opponent to then president Ferdinand Marcos, is assassinated on the tarmac of our international airport. Though there is no concrete evidence that Marcos was to blame, popular sentiment would have it that Marcos felt threatened by Aquino’s rising influence with the people and thus had him eliminated. His murder, like Rizal’s, fueled the People Power Revolution, which sought to take Marcos out of office, abolish his 20-year authoritarian rule and reinstate a democratic government. This time around this was a peaceful demonstration of civil disobedience.

EDSA_Revolution_pic1My parents were revolutionaries in their own right and actively took part in this rebellion; my mom perfected her famous pancit, by cooking and bagging the food for hundreds of demonstrators at sit-ins, while running from teargas explosions. My dad was a freethinker and had in his possession, a Red Book, containing communist ideas of Chairman Mao. Fearing for his life, he fled from the capital and spent a year in hiding back the province.

Years later, after Marcos was removed from power, it was discovered that he and his wife, Imelda, moved billions of dollars of embezzled public funds to accounts and investments in the US, Switzerland and other countries. His widow, Imelda, still faces these charges today.

Fast forward to 2013. In July of this year, President Benigno Aquino, III (son of the assassinated Aquino), and his allies are accused of stealing up to half the money allocated toward local projects from government discretionary funds. As a result, his approval rating tanked a couple months later.

Shortly thereafter, super typhoon Haiyan slams into the eastern Philippines, ravaging Tacloban, my hometown, leaving thousands dead and millions displaced. Aquino is slow to respond and gets on the defensive. He blames the media for exaggerated reports of death tolls and the inefficiency of the local Tacloban government to respond. Alfred Romualdez, the mayor of Tacloban, is nephew to Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.

The two major TV networks, GMA and ABS-CBN, also have conflicting coverage of the typhoon and relief efforts. Radio broadcaster, Korina Sanchez of ABS-CBN, (also Aquino aligned) accuses renowned CNN reporter, Anderson Cooper, of saying that there was no presence of Philippine government in Tacloban. Watch Cooper’s reaction to her accusation below.

Sanchez’s husband is Director of Interior and is overseeing the relief effort on the ground. Current buzz states that Sanchez has been suspended from ABS-CBN for one year, though Sanchez claims she had a vacation planned, long in advance.

We can argue all day about whether you are Marcos or Aquino aligned, these families can continue to feud, but one indisputable fact remains: People are starving. People are dying. There are people in Tacloban that need help. It angers me that nepotism, corruption, political alliances, rivalries and dynasties have sullied the vision of what I think our country could be. I believe we are a nation of power and promise.

Let me tell you the story of Harriet Olmida. Harriet and her husband Veltor have 4 children and live in Palo, Leyte, a few kilometers from Tacloban. The night before the typhoon made landfall, she and her husband brought her three younger children on their small motorcycle to the evacuation center to be with her parents. Their plan was to return home to retrieve their eldest son and go back to the evacuation center, but the weather had gotten so bad, with debris flying everywhere, that they decided to wait it out at home. The next morning it was too late, they woke up to their kitchen knee-deep in water. Moments later, the water surge hit and it was too late. They were neck deep in water and had no way to get out.

For 8 hours, they clung onto the railing of the staircase of their home and waited for the water to recede. Every time a wave came crashing in, they clung tighter to the railing to keep from being swept away, and ducked their heads underwater to avoid the debris. Veltor, her husband, bore the brunt of each wave and tried to clear any debris that was coming their way and even lost his grip on the railing twice. That staircase is the one thing that saved their lives and the only thing that remains of their destroyed home. Harriet’s hands are calloused and will always have the scars of that terrifying night, but she and her family are alive.


Harriet is my cousin and one of many courageous survivors of Tacloban.

A good friend of mine and active member of the Fil-Am community once said, “Our country will always be third world if our help is second rate.” No government is perfect, the rivalries may always exist, and the disparity between the have and have-nots may deepen. But all it takes is one person, one leader to carry that torch and bury these differences and truly bring to light the motto of our country, “Maka-Diyos, Maka-Tao, Makakalikasan at Makabansa” For God, People, Nature and Country.” It is our responsibility- our social, national, moral, Filipino and human imperative to do what we can from wherever we are.

Last week, thousands of people flocked to ruined churches for mass to find comfort amid the tragedy. One of the churches that was destroyed was Santo Nino Church in Tacloban, a special place I used to frequent with my family. Rev. Amadero Alvero noted, “The church may have been destroyed, but our faith is intact. As believers, as a people of God, our faith has not been destroyed.”

My dear kababayan, neither has mine.

Want to help the relief effort? Donate to the Philippine Red Cross today. Use the #StrongerPH hashtag to keep the conversation going. Newspaper versions here from Philippine News and Filipino Express.



What would you do if you lived till you were 96 years old? What would you do in that time? What kind of life would you lead? Would you look back with pride? Fondness? Or shame and regret? Would you remember anything at all?

Grandma turned 96 years old today. She’s at the point where I can’t ask her such heavy-handed questions. But what I can tell you is that the proof is in the pudding. Grandma has  3 sons, 7 grandchildren and 10 great grand children. She’s survived WWII under Japanese invasion, when she put chicken blood on her clothes and blackened her naturally light complexion with dirt so that the Japanese would keep from raping her. She suffered the death of her first husband, who was woefully murdered over an argument regarding a transaction of water buffalo. After that she somehow, she picked herself up and married again and had her last 2 boys.

She left everything she’d ever known and came to the US in the 70s, working with Dad in the burgeoning Silicon Valley, making microchips in a long factory line for semiconductors. A decade later, she welcomed me and JR to the States not only as full-time grandma, but also as babysitter, cook, and guardian angel. Every morning, she’d prepare our breakfasts and lunches and would walk us to school. Promptly at 2:15pm she would stand outside the school gates with her trusty blue umbrella, waiting to escort me and JR home. My friends always thought it was weird that she’d use that umbrella as we walked in the sunshine. I never understood it either. In fact, I have no memory of ever walking in the rain with that umbrella.

Our family business that put me and JR through school was built on her special recipe of spices for our homemade lechon. To this day, no one knows that perfect blend of salt, pepper, lemongrass and love that makes our lechon the most delicious people have ever had. Every day, she’d go through her chores of sweeping up in front of the house, taking out the garbage and whatever else the house needed. I’d tell her that she shouldn’t be doing such things at her age, but she said she liked doing them because she felt strong. Every night like clockwork, she’d plop herself down in front of the TV and watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.

In my early adult life, she worried about my virginity and questioned my choice in men and choices I made in my relationships. To that end she only offered this sage advice regarding my supposed purity: ‘if the flower is touched, it loses its fragrance.’ Is it any wonder that she’d always try to sniff the top of my head whenever I saw her? She was a born a singer and poet. She’d preface her Happy Birthday songs with beloved Ilocano folk songs. And on every Mother’s Day, she’d recite a poem she learned all the way back from 7th grade, about how very important it was to love your mother.

Her small birthday today made me sad. She didn’t remember me again. But as we made our goodbyes and put her to bed, she insisted on escorting us to the door in her walker. She has always been this way. No matter the hour, she always wants to properly bid goodbye to her loved ones. And through this small and simple act, she begins to remember me again. She repeats my name over and over and I am overwhelmed with bittersweet love. She sings her goodbyes, saying how much she’ll miss me. I’m the last thing on her mind before we part ways again. Perhaps that’s what’s most important. What if this would be the last time I would see her?

I shook the thought out of my mind and did my best to sear that moment in my memory. As she said her goodbyes, she pushed her walker forward, dancing and singing. That’s how I always want to remember her, dancing and singing into the light. And I know somewhere deep inside her memory, she will always come back and remember me.

Of Fire and Faith


It had been 5 years since I’d visited the Philippines. All this time, I’d had an aversion for my homeland. My last memory of the Philippines was a painful one. I’d gone there with my then boyfriend so we could meet each other’s families. The trip was all a façade and a last ditch effort at a flailing relationship. On the outside we were a picture-perfect couple who was halfway down the aisle. On the inside we were miserable. We’d grown desperate to keep the relationship going and we planned the trip in hopes it would bring us closer together, but instead it drew us further apart.  In the last few days of our trip there, his love for home was reinvigorated, so much so that he broke down in tears. He confessed that he had no wish to get married and build a life in California with me. His heart was there in the Philippines, where his family was. I flew back to the States alone.

I love my country. I love my culture. But that memory alone kept me away from visiting the homeland for so long. I summoned all my courage and decided to return there.

I de-boarded the plane at Ninoy Aquino International Airport and walked into a wall of heat. The air was thick with humidity and the smell of home. Although this wasn’t my first time as a balikbayan, I knew it would take me a couple days to get accustomed to certain things; lack of warm water, using a tabo, being careful with the water I drank, these were things that I had to consciously account for.

Our main agenda was to go to a friend’s wedding in Boracay, do some site-seeing around the capital, and visit my family near Manila in Marikina. Little did I know that I would also spontaneously find myself in Pangasinan and Palawan!

Boracay was beautiful and fun. The 100 Islands in Pangasinan were enchanting. The Underground River in Palawan, now the newest wonder of the world, is a feat of nature. I had a great time at these amazing tourist meccas. But what I really want to share are the moments that transformed me- and those were the times I spent with the local people.

From walking by beggars and street vendors, to spending time with my own family, these were the times that affected me the most and reminded me about why it was so very important to come home.

Every time we’d see the shanty houses balanced on stilts over the water, I’d think for a moment and formulate a plan about how to stop the tremendous poverty of my country.  Seeing high-rise condominiums literally next to such devastating poverty, would break my heart. Did anyone not see the grave contrast? Maybe people had, but had come to the point of growing indifference or feeling that nothing could be done to change it.

I’d think up various schemes of fixing the country: If we put money into rehabilitating the metropolitan areas then we could pump money into tourism, and in turn the money generated there could go towards bettering the quality of living for the poor. But wait- if we fixed the metropolitan areas, wouldn’t we be displacing all the poor people who lived there?

I’d try again and think- maybe if we developed a better welfare system and educate the impoverished with trade skills, they might be able to find a better life. But wait- what about the corrupt government officials? How could we make sure the money went to the right place?

Every time I’d think of a plan, there was always some factor that I hadn’t thought of and I would get discouraged. My heart ached for my brothers and sisters. But the one thing that I admired most was the uncanny and strictly Filipino ability for joyfulness and laughter. Life is so very hard in the Philippines, but everywhere I looked there was a sense of optimism.

Amidst the shanty towns there are gatherings filled with dancing, food and karaoke.  People make do with what they have. They are grateful for the handful of blessings they can call their own. They carry a joy in their hearts that can only come from deep-rooted faith and hope.

We visited a barangay in Pangasinan where the people there prepared lunch for us. I was so touched; they had spent all day preparing the food and spent the very little they had to make a feast for us. They were so very gracious and wanted to wait till we had gotten our fill before beginning to eat their share. We took some members of the barangay on our trip to 100 Islands and they were so happy and grateful to come along.

Towards the end of the trip I went to visit my family. I wasn’t sure how I would feel after not seeing them for 5 years. I hadn’t even gotten off my cousin’s motorcycle when my uncle rushed outside and lifted me off of it and carried me into the house, singing all the while. It made me laugh so hard and made me feel so humbled that I had such a grand welcome.

They put out a whole spread of food in my cousin’s room, which was the only room with AC, just so that we’d be more comfortable. After we ate, we spent the rest of the night, drinking, laughing, doing karaoke and reminiscing on the last time I had visited. Right then, I missed my own immediate family so much, and wished they could be there to share that moment.

Probably the last and most important part of our trip was our visit to the Rizal Museum in Fort Santiago. All this time, I’d been reading up on our national hero, Jose Rizal, and had become fascinated with his life and his role in inspiring Filipinos to revolution.

We saw pages of his diary and various books he’d written and artwork he’d created.  How any one person was so gifted, eloquent and brilliant was just beyond me. Most chilling of all was when we stood outside his prison cell, his last testament was illuminated on the wall:

I have always loved my poor country. And I am sure I shall love her until my last moments, should men prove unjust to me. I shall die happy, satisfied with the thought that all I have suffered, my past, my present and my future, my life, my loves, my joys, everything, I have sacrificed for love her.

I admired this man who was prepared to die for love of his country.  Like any young imperialist conquest, the Philippines had its flaws, but the ambition to be free from colonial rule was fervent and unstoppable. Rizal had hope for this. He was willing to die for this. And as we walked out of the museum and walked his last steps to his execution – I looked beyond the walls of Fort Santiago to the city and saw his dream realized.

In my short time there, I found myself transformed. My country is born of volcanoes, a shifting and twisting land, ever being re-made. I think back on my last trip here and realized what was once a painful memory had now become a time of wonder and clarity. I marvel at the generosity of spirit amongst family and complete strangers. I see not the shanties and beggars, but a defiant hope. One day I pray my people will no longer be slave to staggering poverty. But no matter the fate of my country, I know that its people will continually adapt and transform to their surroundings. We are a people of change. No matter the circumstances surrounding us, within us is always the fire of hope.

A Change of View

D4046B9A-782F-11E1-9A28-D2AD052995DAWhen I had my one-on-one with my mentor, M. Evelina Galang at VONA, I was bout to piss my pants. My manuscript was scattered with no real plot or cohesion. The one story that did have promise was, “A Christmas Robbery,” the one thing I actually worked and re-worked (and re-worked) so that it won me that place in Tayo Lit Mag. I guess it shouldn’t be any surprise that the one piece that I actually spent the most time perfecting was the one that had the most potential.

She gave me some interesting feedback and asked me to write the story from the perspective of the mother. I had never thought to do it that way because I had always been so busy trying to capture it from my point view, the point of view of the little girl, because it’s the way the story has unfolded in my memory.

But Evelina taught me an important lesson in distancing myself from my work. I had been so invested in staying “true” to story that I had missed the potential in exploring the mother’s complexity. No, not my mom’s complexity, but the woman in the story. (Although, admittedly in writing it, I did begin to empathize with my mother during that difficult time in our lives.) In taking this step back I was able to find new paths in developing the character and the conflict that propels her forward through the plot… and I’m still not done yet! Here’s the revision of the story I made while I was in Miami.

I didn’t want to take her into the city, but I had to.  Her yaya fell ill and I had no one to take care of her.  Before the jeepney arrived I slowly bent down and told her, “Huwag mo bitawan yong kamay ko.” She obeyed and took my hand. Manila was dangerous so I pressed on, “If you let go of my hand, walang ka nang nanay.” Tears filed her inchik eyes.  She always did look like her father more than me.  I wanted to comfort her and apologize for my harshness.  She was only 4 years old, but I knew she had to learn.   If she let go, she would be lost.

It broke my heart to utter the words, but how much more if something should happen to her? She needed that fear to survive out there.

We moved quickly down the streets, her little feet struggling to keep up.  I had so many errands to run and I wanted to get her out of the city as quickly as possible.  We were stopped on the sidewalk and I looked down to check on her.  Her cute mouth agape, staring at a banana-q stand.  I wish I had a camera to snap a photo and send to her father.  I asked her if she wanted one but she shook her head.  Her eyes though, always betrayed her.  You could see and know everything by them. I was always at the hospital with J.R’s constant illnesses.  The Philippine pollution and heat were difficult on his fragile body.  Every month he would be in there for a new illness.  I’d have to leave her with the yaya every time.  During those difficult times I would ask her how she was doing and she would lie.  She was so small, but so brave.  She had learned to put on a face for me, while I tended to her brother.  I knew I had to do better by her.   I bought her two banana-q and promised we’d go to Magnolia ice cream shop before returning home.

Paroles brightly lit the streets and this gave me hope.  Soon, Virgil would be coming home to visit and stay for a couple of weeks.  A few months ago, the kids had a small recital at school where they learned “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” It was their first English production.  Ginette vigorously rowed her arms just the way the teachers taught her.  Her sherbet colored sailor dress bobbed on the papier mache waves.  J.R. gallantly wore a miniature navy man’s uniform and sharply saluted the crowd.  His arms were covered in mosquito bites, ones that I tried to cover with makeup.  “Iwanan mo, mommy, they make me look like a real sailor!” I had never been so proud.  After the show I saw both moms and dads rushing to their children.  JR and Ginette could only run up to me.  I didn’t have enough arms to hold them.

Today was a special vigil for St. Anthony.  I had to light a candle for Virgil to assure a safe trip home.  The paperwork never seemed to end.  These 6-month stints were growing more difficult.  When would we truly be a family again?

I positioned my little girl in one of the middle pews.  She sat forward with her short legs hanging over the side of the pew.  The pew was so large, it enveloped this tiny girl.  I scanned the church to see only a few worshipers scattered throughout.  I didn’t want to leave her there but St. Anthony would grant our family special favor today for his feast day.  I needed to pray for us.  Reluctantly I handed her my purse and told her to wait there while I prayed.

The walk down the aisle didn’t seem as long the first time.  I could almost see Virgil at the altar, waiting for me.   I took a padded pew before St. Anthony.   I hated the idea that St. Anthony was the patron saint of the lost.  My husband was not missing, but in those agonizing months apart, I felt lost.  Could I be both mother and father? Was I enough? Ginette was 4 and JR only 2.  Would I lose my family even before we had had a chance to begin?

Hot tears cascaded down my rosary.  And then I felt a tug on my on sleeve.


Anakko! Are you ok?” I struggled to stand up and wipe my face with a pano.

She lowered her eyes and faintly whispered, “Kunin nila yong purse mo…”

My heart stopped.  I looked toward the empty pew.  I looked to her small empty hands.  And in the distance, I could hear a rapid click clack of footsteps against the marble floor.  I took her hand and we raced through the church, and out onto the street.

I raced to the Carriedo Fountain just in front of church and climbed onto the edge.  I paced the perimeter of the fountain, feverishly scouring the busy street, searching for anyone with the purse Virgil had given me.  I looked down to my little girl below, fighting back her tears.  What had I done?

I spotted a policeman nearby and explained what had happened, but he hadn’t seen a thing.  It hurt for me to beg for money but I had no other choice.  Somehow I had to find away to get us out of there.  We took the first jeepney to the nearest bank.

I explained the story to the tellers and tried to hide my shame for doing something so foolish.  How could I leave my daughter like that? How could I risk making her lost? Her head hung low all day.  She hadn’t said a word since we ran out of the church.   All the bank employees marveled at her bravery.  I did too.  They all offered her candy but she refused.  My child was needlessly hard on herself.  She needed something more.  I was going to make good on my promise.

We walked out of the bank and down a few blocks.  Ginette’s shoes were scuffed from our tear of the city.  It was much more of Manila than I wanted her to see.

I turned the corner and said to her, “Ah, dito na tayo.”

I pointed to the shop window and her cute mouth opened in awe.  Mango, macapuno, jackfruit, and her favorite, ube ice cream melting before her eyes.

Gusto mo ba?” I asked.

Tears filled her eyes and she couldn’t bring herself to look up at me.  I bent down to wipe them away and took her gently in my arms.

I pulled out pesos from the bank, “See? Wala lang.”



I’ve been terrible, I know, and haven’t posted since I got back from Miami (which btw- was an AMAZING experience that I will write about soon.) At the end of VONA, each participant had to do a reading of one of his/her pieces. I had originally picked something that I’d already written just to play it safe. But my mentor and residency leader, M. Evelina Galang, threw a wrench in my plans. On our last day of the program, we were invited to her home for lunch and a day of writing. It was lovely to sit outside in the Miami sun and have the singular mandate of writing. (Although, I was reprimanded for ‘liking’ my mentor’s pix on FB while i should have been writing..  what can i say – i’m a rebel and stubborn when it comes to my own good.)

She had us do an exercise where we closed our eyes and channeled our ancestors. While doing this, the one person I could think of was my Lolo on my dad’s side. When I sat down to write I started having a conversation with him and what spawned out of that conversation is the piece you see below.  When i shared it with my cohort, I was in tears, thinking about and loving and longing for a man whom i never knew. My cohort encouraged me to read this piece instead of the one I had planned b/c the feeling that brought it to life is the source of where my writing comes from. And so.. after the initial writing, I spent the whole afternoon editing it. And when I presented to all of VONA, my cohort was surprised that it was the same piece I had produced earlier. One of them commented, “You edited the shit out of that didn’t you?” Yes, yes I did.

Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to Abraham De La Cruz Acacio.

I hate Werther’s caramel candy.  Whenever those commercials came on, I would quickly change the channel.  The child in the scene is unable to open a small piece of candy, and the grandfather gently undoes the gold foil and tenderly places it in his mouth.  Where was that person to unwrap my candy?

Everyone knew lolo or abuelo.  They celebrated mass, birthdays and Christmases with him.  I have no such memory, only a lingering feeling that something had been taken from me much too soon.

Lolo, how did you fall in love with lola? How did you comfort a widow who grieved the loss of her first husband? How do you take on a child who is not yours? How do you begin a chapter for this family by adding new life to it? How do you explain to the priest why all the host is gone even before Mass starts, and why your son, the altar server, can’t stop laughing in the back? How do you explain why you risked your life to save stacks of books from the public library, while Manila burned all around you?

All I know of you lolo, are a few stories, good stories.  Stories to help me paint who you are.  I see you with a chicken in one hand a machete in the other, ready to put dinner on the table for Inocencia and your three boys.  I see your hands calloused from corralling the pigs to and from market. The sweetness of smoke and tuba are your daily cologne.  Lola hates it when you smoke and drink but she’s still drawn into your kisses.

You wear the same white T shirt.  It was always clean because lola made sure of that, but the hole at the nape of your back grew bigger with each typhoon season.  Character, you’d call it.  Things needed to be worn in, like people.  If they didn’t have any holes in them, they’d be less interesting.  “This is where the stories are,” you would say. Lolo, I do know you. You and me, we are so like.  Because the holes in me, they make me long for you.

2012: The Year of Ill


Let’s face, 2012 was an interesting year. For some reason the only way I could think of the year was in terms of illnesses I had dealt with. This is TMI, so if you hate this kind of stuff, I’d turn away now.

1)   Bronchitis. At the end of 2011, I was battling what I thought was a pretty severe cold that had a lingering cough. I went for at least 3 weeks with this hacking cough before getting it checked out. I was only prompted by the fact that I was going on a 3-week trip to the Philippines and didn’t want to be SOL w/out any medicine if I did in fact have something more serious. When I arrived at the doctor’s office, I ended up breathing into a tube to clear my congested lungs.  My doctor scolded me for not coming in sooner. How was I to know that it was bronchitis? But the fact that I was hacking out my life with each cough, should’ve tipped me off.  I went to the Philippines  (the place with probably the worst air quality in the world) strapped with an inhaler.

2)   Severe Diarrhea. When I went to the Philippines back in 2007, I drank the local tap water and fearlessly ate food from street vendors and was completely fine. When I went there in January 2012, despite my better efforts of avoiding al tap water and ice, I suffered the most terrible bout of diarrhea. I wanted to kill myself. It was such a hindrance to our crazy travel itineraries. And because it’s a 3rd world country, there would be times when bathrooms were nonexistent.

3)   UTI – Just when I thought I was on my back to the comforts of the US, I experienced the worst flight of my life. I left Manila with what I thought were cramps but quickly realized it was UTI. I went to the bathroom every 5 minutes in excruciating pain. All I had to fight it was a bottle full of pain relievers. The warning label read that I shouldn’t take no more than 8 in a given period or I could risk kidney failure. I weighed out the mind-numbing pain I was experiencing against the possibility of kidney failure and my pain won out. I spent 16 hours on that flight, sweating and praying for relief. I asked the gentleman next to me if he wouldn’t mind giving up his aisle seat because I was stepping over him so often. He declined, saying that he always had to pee too.  MEN.

4)   Food poisoning – This was my own damn fault. I did a very Filipino thing and left out some fish to defrost so I could cook it when I got home. I got home late that night and didn’t have a chance to cook it until later in the evening. The fish tasted funny but braved it, since I was hungry. Bad decision. The next day I was feeling awful.  I was shaking and sweating and thought maybe I had come down with a fever. The room was spinning and I couldn’t keep anything down. Finally, I yacked my life away and felt immediately better.

5)   Vertigo – The food and poisoning and vertigo somewhat overlapped and so I was confused about what I was suffering from.  I was fitfully dizzy and all I wanted to do was lay in bed so the room would stop moving. I wanted to eat but would immediately feel nauseous after I did.  I went into Skyfall and couldn’t stomach the first chase scene so I had to leave after the first 10 minutes. I wanted to refund my ticket but was so nauseous that all I wanted to do was go home and lay down. Damn you Skyfall!

6)   Neck and back problems – Ordinarily I wouldn’t consider this an ailment but I’ve been dealing with it for the past couple weeks and it’s really affected my day to day activities. At first it was just a slight soreness I was experiencing, but one morning I woke up was unable to move my neck. I literally slid off my bed horizontally and onto the floor and put both hands behind my neck to lift myself upright. It was absolutely awful. I’m currently seeing a chiropractor.

7)   Heartbreak – This was one I didn’t see coming. But in hindsight, it was inevitable. What can anyone say about the pain of heartache? It’s a pain that slowly rises like thunder in the distance. You know it’s coming, but you somehow think the storm clouds won’t ever come near you. There are moments that overwhelm me, like I’m drowning in so much sadness and loneliness don’t know how I’ll ever make it out. There are others that prick like a thorn, a memory, a scent, a song – that send me spiraling down onto my knees.  There are moments of longing for comfort that tear me in two. Others where I am seething with rage and hatred. There is nothing I can do, there is nothing I can take to get past this pain.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from all this is that my latter ailments followed my breakup. Coincidence? Who knows, but one thing is clear: I have to take better care of myself. And while there are doctors to see and medicines to take for most of these ailments- how am I to deal with the heartbreak? I recall a quote that once said, “The best way out of difficulty is through it.” I’m bigger and stronger than the sum of my illnesses and past hurts. I’ve gotten past them, and I’m getting past them. I’m still here.

Walden Pond and the Secret of Life


Some will wonder if this is a true story and I will be happy to say that is. For this reason, I have changed the name of my male companion and only hope that he thinks of this story as a compliment. Have I piqued your interest? 🙂 Without further ado, here is my visit to Walden Pond.

I wandered through Walden Pond trying to find my date. No, his name was not Henry, nor was it David.

His name was Lucas, and he drove me to Walden Pond Books on Grand Avenue for the second part of our date.  Earlier, we started the evening at an upscale vegetarian restaurant.  Lucas was cleansing his body of all meat and asked me if I wouldn’t mind doing the same, at least for the evening.  I hesitated at first, considering my Filipino carnivorous upbringing.  In my experience, veggies were always on the side of: a side of green beans for your ground beef, veggies (in)side of eggrolls.  But veggies side-by-side and beside itself, seemed absurd.  I eventually agreed to his choice of dining because I wanted to impress him with my worldliness and openness to all things.

I peeked between the aisles of the bookstore. With each step I could hear my stomach growl.  I was hungry.  The white tofu micro-green concoction was hardly a meal.  Lucas chomped heartily and happily about life in the East Coast, while I had done my best to keep my food down and smile at the same time.

And now it seemed he had lost his away amid the stacks.  And I had lost my date.  “This is no way to treat a date,” I grumbled.  But I realized that he had taken me here because he knew I’d enjoy it.  I gave up the search party and began navigating Walden Pond instead.  I crisscrossed from aisle to aisle, scanning the spines and inhaling the damp and weathered smell of years and dust.  I gently took a red leather-bound off the shelf and opened it carefully.  It reminded me of my lolo, my grandfather.  It looked like one of the books he had rescued.

While Manila burned in the midst of World War II and everyone fled the city, my lolo, like a madman, went into the flames and into the Manila public library.  With his bare hands, he gathered all the books he could.  They were handed down to my father, and then eventually to me.

The red leather-bound that I held reminded me of the 1930 Almanac that we frequently referred to while I was growing up.  When we first arrived to the U.S., my brother and I referred to the Star Spangled Banner to help my mom with her citizenship test.  But among the books my favorite was a collection of poetry containing works by Keats, Shakespeare, Shelley and other classic poets.  It lay on my lamp stand and I’d fall asleep to it at night.  It was falling apart at the seams, but it was the sole reminder of a man I’d never known, but whose passion for literature I intimately understood.

What drives a man to walk into an inferno to save books? That sort of madness always intrigued me.  It reminded me of what Jack Kerouac once said, “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” I wondered if I could ever have that same, dizzying, self-sacrificing madness.

What I had been doing with my life had been anything but mad.  Just that semester I had dropped my English major.  My parents were worried about my choice of career.  The occupation of ‘writer’ didn’t seem to resonate well at family gatherings.  Aside from that, they were struggling to pay for my tuition.  I wish I had been smarter to earn more scholarships.  I wish I had been smarter to get into a cheaper, public university.  Mostly I felt guilty for wasting my parents’ money on what they thought of as a hobby.  After plenty of deliberation, I chose Communications; a major that would allow me to write but sounded a bit more respectable.

At night though, after all the essays had been written and the studying done, I’d reach for my journal.  Like a secret a lover, I’d return there and nourish my longing for writing.  I wondered if there would ever be a chance for me to truly pursue my creative urges.

I returned the leather-bound and explored some more.  I walked where I was compelled, side-stepping the owners’ giant huskies, Amos and Kip, and around couples snickering at Freud’s obsessions.  Somewhere on the corner of Self-Help and Religious, I stumbled on a title called, “Work: Making a Life, Making a Living.”

I opened it up to the introduction.

A Native American Legend

The gods, just before the creation of the world, deliberated where they should hide the secret of life. One god suggested hiding it on the peak of the highest mountain. But another said that humans, in their curiosity would find a way to trek there. Another suggested they hide it in the depths of the ocean.  Again, they argued that humans would somehow find a way to even go there. One god finally suggested they hide the secret of life inside the human heart. That way, they would never think to search there.

What did work have to do with the secret of life? I paused to think about what it could mean.  I could feel my lolo through the pages, beckoning and calling with a different kind of fire.

“Find anything good?”

“No, not really,” as I quickly shelved the book.  “Did you get anything?”

Lucas proudly brandished a copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.  I smirked and commended him on his choice.

“Are you sure you don’t want to grab that book? You seemed really into it.”

“No it’s ok.  I already have it in here,” and valiantly placed my hand over my heart.

He looked at me, puzzled and pulled the book from the shelf.  “You have ‘work’ in your heart?”

I laughed and thought, perhaps it would have been better to have Henry David as my date.  Maybe even Jack.  I’m sure they would’ve sat and shared a burger with me.