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.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

One Calm Day

An interesting thing happened on my way to the theater the other day.

The commute was as expected: crowded, rude. I was relieved that I had my music on to calm me. Each time I felt shoved, stepped on, or a damp back lean on me, I tuned in closer to what was playing. I breathed in a little deeper and stared out till the view blurred. No fantasies of me brandishing a shotgun and blasting offenders to pieces surfaced.

Getting down the station’s steps, I lit a cigarette. My music kept on, drowning out all the noise. Beneath the canopy of the train’s tracks was Taft, the cramped avenue teeming with vehicles and pedestrians in some frenzied thicket.

Walking past the whitewashed walls of the World Health Organization, I took several more drags from my cigarette. I caught several people staring, and it made me wonder how I must have looked. Was it perhaps that I may have had a smile on my face? Or did I look intimidating and serious again? Was it because I was wearing black; and, as according to many friends, made me as pasty as the walls I walked beside? Was it my skinhead, pallid under the gray sky? Dare I think that I looked attractive that day?

Whatever. The questions did not seem to matter much. I was calm and that was good. I continued smoking my cigarette. I kept walking, my stride dictated by the beat of Wolfmother’s “Vagabond.”

Then the pedestrian lane began to get uneven. I found myself dodging random holes either filled with gravel, trash, or murky water. The music was still on, but I felt my rhythm beginning to waver. No bother really, I was nearing my destination anyway.

Passing the police station, an old man caught my attention. He was in a tattered yellow shirt, dark and dusty jogging pants that reached his shin, and ashy toes spilling over his slippers. Though he had a dirty red cap on, he seemed bald underneath.

The moment our eyes met, I saw his widen. Not really one to stare at strangers eye-to-eye, I looked away and kept walking.

In the softer parts of what I was listening to, I heard somebody yelling from behind me. I kept walking thinking that maybe some person was having a conversation with someone else across the street. In the silence between track changes, I heard the yells more clearly. It was a raspy bellow; and it spat out the words, “maangas”, “putang ina mo” and “kalbo.”

I kept walking. But the cruel words persisted. My music, as loud as it was, seemed to ebb as I focused on the blatant crassness behind me. He seemed to scrape every insult from the bottom of his gut as I imagined him shaking with each shout. As my steps quickened, I began visualizing scenes of him charging like a bull, maybe throwing stones, or kicking the murky water at my direction.

But I kept walking.

Interesting that, while smoking, I continued my pace. Interesting that I still heard the music. Interesting that I never looked back.

As soon as I got to the theater, past the guard and metal detector, I went straight to backstage. When the doors opened, the smell of coffee hit me and reminded me of home. In the inner corridor I saw my friends, smiling. As soon as I put my duffel bag down, I went to the coffee dispenser for a hot cup.

After the first sip, I smiled. Then I sighed in wonder at such a calm day.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Bald Story

The other day, I was close to making a scene in a department store. Mom and I entered a home store; and as we were checking out the merchandise, I couldn’t help but notice the male merchandisers beginning to gather in a corner. Smiling and jostling, they kept staring at me. At once, I knew that I was their topic of conversation. No, I am not being bigheaded. Well, I have to admit, at first I was. In my round head I was reveling in the fantasy that I was some curious novelty: a good-looking, well-dressed city boy visiting the province. Right. There were dirty thoughts too, but that’s another story. As their stares and smiles drew on, I realized that I was being made fun at.

Beneath their hushed conversations, I could hear the word “DJ” followed by mocking beat effects, actions aping my shaved head, their eyes bright and wide with ridicule. One of them even tried inconspicuously closing in from behind me to get a closer look at my shining glory, the others prodding him on.

Their chiding continued as my mom and I made our way through the plastic ware aisle. While my mom was busy prodding, I stood straighter and kept my chin up a little higher. As much as I tried to relax, I couldn’t help but sweat. Stealing glances, I tried to make sure that maybe it were all just in my head. It wasn’t.

Anxiety rose from my gut and I felt terribly naked. Trying my best to ignore them, I imagined scenes in my head instead. I wanted to approach them with a tepid smile, and ask them to call the manager. So their superior could witness what I had to say, I’d ask the group if they would like to take a picture. If not, to stare at my face and take a real good, long look. I’d ask them to have their fill with my bald head; to remember and get used to the idea that, yes, young, bald men do exist. Yes, one day you will be lucky enough to be bald yourselves.

The other movie was more violent. Still in front of their manager, I imagined grabbing some by their collars, asking them what the fuck their problem was; letting go with a aggressive push. I would modulate my voice to a boom, flare up like a temperamental thespian, and make the entire home store stop and bear witness to the wrath of a bald man scorned.

My heart beat quickly, my temples began to hurt, and the tips of my ears felt sickly warm. I had the devil and angel on each shoulder; one telling me to make my imagined movie a reality, the other to simply back away. Riddled in thought, my aching back still feeling the weight of their gawking, I decided to give up my rage.

While my mom decided to do some grocery, I asked permission to step out and smoke. Exhausted, I sent out messages to several friends sharing my ordeal. Some felt similarly irked and pitied that such asininity still existed, and tried to raise my spirits. Kind words and two cigarettes after, I felt much better.

What really got me was what a dear friend said: “Choose your battles.” Indeed. As satisfying as the movie was in my head, I was glad that I did not charge like a Neanderthal with a club. Or else, that would have made me just like them.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Atonement: A Tale for the New Year

Your emeralds are green, glowing with envy. Your rubies, red, seethe with all your anger. You have diamonds and sapphires too, cutting and cold like your arrogance and pretenses. And those gleaming pearls, your bitterness and self-doubts, strung tightly like a litany of curses.

Through time, you have decorated your armor with many and the brightest of gems, wearing them proudly. You have done so that you may shine and have the right to shun. You have worn them as proof of all your past hurts, traumas, and despairs. They tell of the vengeance coursing through your veins, your heart yelling retribution for all the pain and suffering the world has given you.

Each night, you madly ride through the land on your white horse, glaring at passersby, shaking your fist at the moon. Yet on this night, this particular night, your steed pants in exhaustion. The cadence of your journey grows familiar, and loneliness begins to invade and gnaw at you. Your body then begins to ache under the weight of your rage, your resentment, and your heavy, heavy armor.

Unbearably weary, you decide to stop. You wince at the pain that shoots through your arms, legs, and spine as you get off your stallion. After tying the beast to some craggy tree, you limp your way to the edge of a lake. As heavy as stone, you drop to your knees. Eyes closed, you bend your head back, and the deepest of sighs escape your mouth. A faint breeze begins touching you. You hear the leaves of nearby trees rustle and the rhythmic lapping of the water. You open your eyes.

A multitude of stars is flung across the dark sky. The ominous moon, round and full, paints the lake silver. Calm begins to envelope you. In your stillness, you realize how worn down you have become, your battle with the world having led you nowhere. You become aware that you have adored your own woundedness far too long. It has brought you even more heartache and suffering. Your enemies are but figments of your imagination, tales you concocted to justify your ways; to affirm your hurts and pains. You begin to weep and comprehend the reason behind your solitude.

You cup your hands and try to reach for the lake’s soothing waters, but in doing so, your armor gets in the way. Piece by piece, you dismantle it, flinging its parts around you. Emeralds, rubies, sapphires, diamonds, and pearls are strewn across the shore tainting it with a sparkle. You are now naked as the day you were born.

You knead the flesh of your arms and shoulders, surprised at the novelty and power of your real body, of your true self: vulnerable, humble, human.

As you reach the glistening shore, tears fill your eyes anew. An unbridled feeling surges inside you. It is unfamiliar, yet it stirs you so you welcome it anyway. As you take each step, the cool waters begin to touch your toes, your knees, your belly, your shoulders, neck. You walk on till you are swallowed completely.

A moment passes and you find yourself afloat in the middle of the lake. You savor the million tongues that buoy you. Above, the sky is awash in streaks of deep purple, blue, and orange. Only a handful of stars remain, unblinking.

You marvel at the firmament before you, astonished to witness the birth of a new day. Then, faint signs of the sun emerge; its rays shrouding the world in the gentlest of glows. Softy, you chant: “I forgive you… I forgive myself.”