Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Lion Awakens III

I felt my strength drain away from me, but I realized that the only way to get rid of her was to continue hitting her with the hard truth. “Alright then… Here’s another: you seem to have a reason or excuse for everything—for things you don’t know, for things you didn’t get to do, for the mistakes you’ve done.”

I look at her and her face just reviled me. She stared at me, her eyes not blinking, her mouth curled into a crooked smile. I was annoyed to the nth degree. I wanted to uproot my computer monitor and bash her on the head! Avoiding her gaze, I roared, “I don’t want to talk to you anymore! Your smug face is pissing me off!!!”

Upset, she defended her mug and claimed that it wasn’t her “poker” face that I saw. I nearly burst out laughing while I stared hard on my computer screen. Lady Gaga’s song began to play in my head and I began imagining myself dancing. The anger must have made me delirious!


She took the lull as an opportunity to speak, her voice trembling. “I have a few things to say. For the issues you’ve mentioned, I acknowledge them. I admit na nagkakalat ako ngayon [that I’ve been all over the place lately]. And to you, please don’t keep it all in. If you have something to say, say it.”

Bored with her explanation, tired of her presence, all I could say was a tepid, “Is that all?”

Dalawa lang nga tayo dito sa office [It’s only just of the two of us left in the office]... Alam mo, sa umaga nga hindi kita mapinta [You know, I can’t tell how you are in the morning], gusto kitang ma-kuwentuhan [I want to tell you stories]…”

Immediately, I cut her off and clarified with a thespian flourish, “On a personal note, I do not see myself being friends with you AT ALL!”

I couldn't help myself. I continued, “I find it so interesting that you majored in Psychology but don’t seem to have the sensitivity to know what needs to be done at work!” Even without meeting her gaze, I could feel her body stiffen. I realized I actually had said something close to cruel. All this time, I was proud that I didn’t resort to cheap tricks (like cussing and name-calling) to put her in place but the Psychology bit seemed too close an insult. Just like battles in the olden days, I was aiming for a pragmatic level-headedness that perhaps could have been equated to honor and chivalry.

I felt her almost whimper. In a choked voice, she managed, “Can I speak now?” I remained silent, staring intently on my computer monitor, my hands heavy on my lap... (to be continued)

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Lion Awakens II

When I got back to my desk, I noticed I was still shaking. I continued to seethe from all the anger. I couldn’t help it. I just had to let the fire out lest I explode.

Heaving like a bull, I managed to say over my shoulder, “F****s… I don't appreciate how I end up cleaning your mess!!!” My voice had deepened in its timbre, always a sign that I was dead-serious.

Usap nga tayo…” [Let’s talk], she said with heightened concern as she rushed to my desk. I could sense her defenses were up. I was angry. The doors had been opened. I couldn’t wait to unleash my lions so that I can put the bitch in her place.

I repeated what I said just in case she was that dumb and she didn’t get what I meant.

“Is it just the client today?”

“No. It’s not just the client today. It’s the way you work and how I constantly put back into order the mess you’ve made.”

“What else am I doing wrong? Tell me.” I hated how forward she became. I hated that she sat right in front of me, shoving her ugly self in my space. She got too close to the remaining shred of patience I held dearly. I imagined uprooting the computer monitor and bashing it on her head.

“What else?! Your issues with communication! You seem to relay incomplete information to the people around you. Case in point, the client today! He wouldn't have come to the office if the stuff you told him on the phone was complete!...Other cases?! The admin assistants in the past. They'd always tell me how you would give them incomplete instructions. And when they’d ask a question, binabara mo sila! [you’d interrupt them!]… You interrupt me!”


"Let me finish."


“You’re doing it again!”

“It’s because…”

“You’re doing it again!” God, how dumb can this bitch be?!

“I do not appreciate that you keep interrupting me when I’m speaking!,” I blurted out, raising my voice even louder to shut her up. I continued, “Even the printers have told our boss that they hate coordinating with you kase ang gulo mo! [because you’re such a mess!]”

I still couldn’t stop shaking. My stomach was beginning to ache. I could feel the bile rise up my esophagus. I wanted to end the heated discussion lest I put to reality the violence running through my head.

“That’s it!” I said. “I don’t want to continue anymore!”

“Why? Keep telling me what I’m doing wrong.”

I had reached my tether. My voice boomed. Facing her, I spat out: “Can’t you see that I can’t talk right now?!! I am angry, my hands are shaking, and I just can’t continue talking to you!!!”


God, how dumb can this bitch be?!, I thought again. Instead, with all the energy I could muster, I controlled myself and answered, “Because I might say something regrettable!”

But she just wouldn’t let go.

“You have to tell me everything else.” Her voice had now shrunk to a squeak...(to be continued)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Lion Awakens

Perhaps I didn’t have enough sleep that day or I was ravenously hungry, but it was that day when the office became a battlefield.

The activities in the office began to pile up that morning. I was focused on multi-tasking, challenging myself to get things done before I went off to lunch. There were emails that needed replying to, phone calls that needed answering, and a bevy of walk-in clients needing attention.

She, for whatever reason, left to do menial errands elsewhere. My superior was still out of the country, off to her yearly holiday abroad, and I was left all alone in the office. The pressure was mounting.

While I was running around our small office, rushing from computer to scanner/printer, answering calls, and running back to clients I was counseling, a tinge of pride kept my chin up. I knew that I held my composure amid everything. But slowly, as the hours passed I grew tired. It dawned on me that the bulk of the morning’s tasks were not all mine. I realized, yet again, I was tying the loose ends of my co-worker’s disarray. I became a ticking bomb while I simmered in another unfair situation.

Still, the tasks had to be accomplished. I had to carry on.

In the center of the whirlwind, she calmly walked in with that wide-eyed, dumb look that always left me looking away in irritation. Amid the calm of my voice as I spoke to the student, I began seeing red. I wanted to rush at her and beat her senseless to the ground. How can she be so still? How can she ignore the fact that the client I was still talking to was the same one she spoke with in the morning? How could she not be aware that the reason for the client’s visit was because the information she ineptly shared on the phone was incomplete? I couldn’t wait to finish the session and leave the office.

As soon as the clients had left, I rushed out of the office without a word.

Outside, I called my sister. I must have looked like a mad man, yelling invectives in the middle of the street, my cigarette burning furiously. She helped me calm down, her gentle hormones from pregnancy traveled through the telephone line. I was glad I had spoken to her. I was glad that I let it all out. I was glad that it was over. So I thought... (to be continued)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lola's Hands

Her hands always reminded me of an old book, just like the ones you find on a dusty shelf. Thick and aged, I’ve always liked old books because they often had that distinct smell I found comforting and curious. Leafing through their pages, I was sure to find the most interesting and unique of stories. Like many of the old books lined up at home, Lola Pering's hands were just as filled to the brim with distinctive tales that I still remember.

Whenever I held Lola’s hands, the creases on her palms felt like crumpled pages, each fold rich with a memory, an interesting story to tell. There was the tale of how her family had escaped to the mountains during the Japanese occupation, living on whatever the jungle had to offer. The story of how she was among the chosen few to have been hired to work at a posh department store during the American regime. There also was the story of how she had finally met Lolo Eking whom she said not only fell in love with her face, but her pretty legs as well. Indeed, Lola had the best legs, her skin fair and unblemished. I’d like to think I got all that from her. As a child, I’d enjoy these tales, rolling on the bed beside her or whenever we’d play a game of forty one with 25 cents or matchsticks as prize money.

She was great company as I was growing up. She would take me with her whenever she’d visit the seamstress for a new outfit, tag me along when she’d take the ferry back to Bacolod, or when she’d visit Lolo Eking’s grave. I remember her paying for my “ice scramble” one boat ride. Even though she knew that street food could make us sick, she knew better that I had a sweet tooth; and was happy to give up 5 pesos for me to have my sugar fix.

Lola was really great with her hands. I remember those pieces of bread that she would mix with a little water and roll it into a ball of clay for me to play with, long before I discovered the joys of Play-Dough. Or those bread slices that she’d lightly spread butter on and drizzle with a layer of sugar or a generous helping of condensed milk during meriendas. She would also make the sweetest warm milk that can calm any hyper kid down. When I got older, whenever I’d visit, she would always remind me how I loved being with her when I was a baby, crying out to be carried and cuddled constantly.

As the years went by and I began to build a life in the big city, though my visits to her had lessened, I still made it a point to come to her room and sit beside her whenever I was home. I would hold her hands and relish the feel of her palms. Sometimes she would forget who I was, or comment on why I didn’t have any hair. Then, she would ask me if I had a girlfriend. I would always reply, “Many”, to which she would say,”That’s good. You’re still young. Enjoy life.” She would always add one of my favorite quotes: “Collect and select.”

Recently, during conversations, she would always manage to include how tired she was, how sour her stomach was, how constantly hungry she was, how she always had a headache. I would immediately change the topic by recalling the stories she told me when I was a kid. It was a delight to hear her repeat everything. Not only did it remind me of my childhood days, I was glad to get her mind off whatever she was feeling at that time. I would even tease her to dye her hair to make her look younger. I was glad to make her smile even for just a while, hold her hands, and peck her on the cheek whenever I came home for holidays.

I have to admit that hearing her repeat that she longed to die soon did put me off. I would always respond that everyone had their own time, and that her being alive still meant that she wasn’t through yet. But she would always ignore my comment, sigh, and repeat her desire for the end. I wanted her to be happy at the twilight of her life. But recently, I was glad that Fr. Arthur had made us all see a different perspective with her words. She had raised 8 children, buried a husband, and still had time to enjoy herself. She survived the average lifespan of a human being. She was ready to go. I respect that. I admire that. Her courage to face death, armed with a full life is indeed something for all of us to envy.

I miss Lola’s hands; the creases on her palm, the stories she would tell. But I know wherever she is now, she will have more hands to hold (perhaps Baby Matthew’s and Lolo Eking’s) and more unique and comforting stories to tell of the life she had here.

We love you Lola. And thank you for sharing yourself with us.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


It usually takes me twenty minutes getting ready in front of the mirror. If I had hair, it would take more. But beyond the silent questions whether I stand out in a crowd without being too conspicuous, whether the prints and colors compliment each other, another blatant one nags: Do I look gay?

“A little vanity,” according to Bunny Jeans, “reflects a healthy ego.” Unlike Narcissus, I’d like to think that all my primping is far from egotistical. Though I’ve always considered what other people think of me to be somehow important, I am not consumed by it. Not to the point that it renders me immobile or riddled in pretention, but other people’s impressions of me does matter in a way.

Ever since I started sporting the skinhead look, impressions have hounded me. They’re mostly the wrong ones, but all fascinating nonetheless. People are intimidated, often perceiving me as arrogant, a bad boy, or terribly temperamental. The negativity seems to increase whenever I keep silent, smoke my cigarette, and let my facial hair grow. Dark circles from lack of sleep or a self-imposed fast can make me look like a rapist or druggie. In my commutes, I see people either avoiding me or carefully minding their space. When I stayed with my brother in California some time ago, I remember that no amount of sorbet-colored clothes could shake off the impression that I may be some Mexican thug. Passing by a gasoline station one time and seeing an American teen glare and spit in my direction made me really nervous.

A friend of mine once said that I look straight, but when I open my mouth it becomes another story. Yeah, I can talk a lot. I usually have a lazy and soft inflection, which is possibly influenced by my Southern upbringing. But I can dribble like a thespian too, especially when I get carried away in a conversation. I must admit that my penchant for proper enunciation and pronunciation borders on the compulsive. I play with accents randomly and have been mistaken to have gone to school or grown-up abroad, either in the United Kingdom or the United States. Honestly.

My voice is peculiar and another matter altogether. I can bellow like a cow when I sing as a bass-baritone, but my speaking voice straddles breathy and light. I rarely shriek but howl like an ogre when a cockroach flies by. It never fails that whenever I’d like the attention of a server in a restaurant, I call them in the lowest voice possible. It really works. I get what I want and I get it fast.

I’ve also been accused by my students before and some acquaintances of being a party boy. I do listen to house music and actively socialize whenever I’m out and about, but I’d rather a quiet night. I like to watch movies, have dinner, dessert and coffee, a chill nightcap, and meandering conversations with friends. When I ask them why they see me that way, it’s apparently how I dress. If you asked me what my fashion aesthetic is, I’d describe it as “edgy preppy.” Sometimes I experiment with monochrome, adding a dash of loud colors, but never like the freakish abandon of Lady Gaga. I’d like to think my bald head brings to mind images of a DJ, a rowdy club, and parties that break at dawn.

So, do I look gay? My sister is usually swift to reply: “But aren’t you, hunny?” It’s funny how both questions are rhetorical. True. I am. But my concern lies more in people’s perception of me. Nobody likes to be misunderstood, misconstrued, or even mortified with some miscast idea of themselves. The truth is, impressions can be frustrating because we are unable to justify ourselves immediately with reasons or explanations. Impressions are private thought bubbles that can be dangerous. They can ruin relationships before they even start. They also weaken paranoid, over-thinking, quasi-vane individuals like me.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I woke up with my jaw clenched. Amid the morning grogginess, there was a pervading anxiety that kept me staring blankly. I had a nightmare.

From what I remember, it was about my bed and how it began to bother me. Though it remained adequately soft, I felt lumps in several areas. I’d usually consider them a banality. Just like the many stains and the occasional odor during summer, the lumps were something I’d easily ignore. But in the dream, they called out for my attention.

Interestingly, even my silent and brooding brother took part in it all. We were amicable when I approached him with my concern. He offered me advice and asked that I check what was underneath my mattress. My curiosity welcomed it, interested at what things I may have swept underneath the bed through the years.

Sunset lit my room weakly. Amid the shadows, there were patches of orange and scraps of sickly yellows. My bed was half-shrouded in gray darkness.

My inspection began by pulling the dark blue sheets off one corner of the bed, exposing the layers of mattresses. As I lay on my stomach, the view below me was so novel. The long-hidden area was covered in an almost paper-like film. It was light brown and had darker patterns that simulated some parquet floor. I thought it cheap and tacky, and was glad that it lay hidden underneath all this time.

Excitement grew as I took off the rest of the sheets and pillows. Moving the top mattresses was an unexpected struggle. I didn’t realize how heavy they were. I smiled at how silly I was to not have gotten out of the bed first before doing all the moving. Then, I gasped. It was horrible. The site before me made my jaw drop. I wanted to scream but nothing escaped.

Gangrenous with splotches of dried blood, there were three sets of human limbs. Brutally decapitated and neatly laid out in the corners of the last mattress were hands, a pair of legs, and something wrapped in soiled cloth. It frightened me to recognize that the legs were those of a ballerina, the toes still pointed in some frozen dance. The severed hands had intricate Elizabethan cuffs attached to their gory wrists. They were delicately placed on top of another as if readied for a sculptor to mold. I couldn’t, I didn’t dare touch the bloody rag.

Questions raged in my head, choking me: Whose were these? Why are they here? What beast had done this?! I began to tear with all the confusion and fear. My body couldn’t stop trembling. Without taking my eyes off the brutality before me, I slumped to the floor and wept.

Even when I had awakened, the horror in the dream was as real as my heartbeat. I couldn’t move. My eyes, unflinching, gazed at the beige wall paper on my bedside. As I traced the insipid features of the wall, the images of the ballerina’s legs, the Elizabethan hands, and the soiled rag flashed before me. I stared at the wall even harder. The questions continued to nag: Whose were they? Why my bed? Who killed these women? Why? Why was this all so familiar?

A chill crept through me.

Oh my god. I knew it! The Fear! The Fear!! I recognized it so well. It was that monstrous terror so powerful that it had taken shape and lain beside me. Somewhere beneath the crumpled sheets, it hid—content, glowing red, and filled with knowing. It had accompanied me through those secret nights, ravenous in my search to kill, to dismember, to keep. I remembered the feel of crimson slippery between my fingers, its rawness smelling like the sea.

I turned to my side. With eyes still wide open, I tried recalling who else I may have killed, where else I might have stashed their decapitated limbs. I stopped breathing. How could this have happened?! Why? Why? Why?!!

I got up, grabbed my towel and rushed to the shower. The cold water slammed against my skin and jolted me back to the womb-like comfort of my bathroom. I closed my eyes and let the shower run. As the water flowed through my body, I imagined it washing away the stickiness of the nightmare. I whispered a chant: it’s gone… it’s over… you’re ok. My breathing eased. My heart took on a steadier pace.

After drying myself up, I sat on my bed and looked around me. The mid-afternoon sun was bright, painting my room golden. My bed was its usual mess: three pillows scattered, sheets creased into some mad swirl. The mattress was soft. The avenue downstairs was alive with buses and jeepneys coursing through it.

In my stillness, I went through the nightmare again in my head. It was a relief to know that it was just a bad dream. I knew that everything was alright, that all would be well.

I touched my legs, I clasped my hands, then I felt the warmth of my cheeks. Everything was intact, everything was in place. I was innocent. I was alive.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Laundry Day (a.k.a. "F*CK YOU")

Just like the dirty laundry hanging on the chairs in my room; like the crumpled sheets and limp pillows on my bed, my feelings for you have burdened me for quite some time now. Folding each piece of clothing, changing the musky sheets into new ones, I seem to have found a clearer view of what had happened between us. I even found the courage to finally write my thoughts down. So here, the bitter bile that I have long cradled deep within my gut:


It took me two miserable months to come terms with everything. My embarrassment at having risked my tender heart to hope and love hard; blaming myself at having asked the question of what exactly we were; my being blind to your refusal to take things further; my sightless understanding at how you can be one cold-hearted and manipulative bitch; accepting your arrogance, your penchant for the high life, and your tight attachment to money and material things.

Yes, each time I recount what was, what happened, I reek of resentment and anger. My voice always seems to swell, my eyes widening in scorn. I even refuse to utter your name. For a time, the mere mention of it made me recoil in pain. I kept whining and pining; even in the silence of my room. I wanted my anguish to be loud enough so that it could reach you. I wanted you to feel me. I wanted you to hear me. I wanted you to understand me. Sadly, that's not how things work. And even if it did, the power to prevail rests in my hands and nobody else’s. After all, you refused to see me when you were here. You refused to answer my call, respond to my texts, and were scheming enough to keep me in the dark. You even had the gall to lie to my friends that you tried to reach me. We both know what the truth really was.

It all exhausted and infuriated me. I can only imagine what it did to my friends, who seemed patient and courteous enough not to roll their eyes at me whenever I would rant. Your cowardice and cruelty couldn’t have been any clearer.

Friends say that this is all so tragic. They said we had a good thing going. I admit, for whatever it was worth, it was great while it lasted. Yes, we had a good thing going. But, you let go and left me gasping. Unfortunate that it all had to end this way. Tragic? No. Unfair, yes. I’d like to think tragedies are made of more honorable stuff. In some ways, we validate our unkindness with stories of our brokenness but it never constitutes cruelty.

Beyond the fluff of emotions, justifications, pointing fingers and regrets, my self-imposed guilt in being responsible for causing it all to unravel, the simplicity was this: you were just not that into me. I asked some questions, you reacted a certain way. We, with our assumptions, blew everything out of proportion by making it mean more than what actually was. That’s all there is to it. In the spirit of magnanimity at having accepted your flaws, I also accept that the way you deal with affliction is that you run away from it, letting go quickly like a hand to a flame. Nothing wrong with that really. That’s just the way you are. That’s your business, not mine. So keep running. You only have yourself to wrestle with.

Good luck. Goodbye.


Lately, I'm glad that my voice has softened, my smile more sincere, and the sheets at home, all neatly folded and hung.