Everything changed when I watched people die or hover at the verge of the proverbial thin line.
Human beings are so frail, so breakable, so finite despite of being on top of the food chain.
Just one degree of difference in our body temperature, and we lay on our bed weak and miserable. Feverish. Incapable.
But we all live like we will never run out of chances, and we left the special scented candles around the house unlit, gathering dust, waiting for a special occasion, until that fateful time where someone else lights it, for us, on our dying day.
One minute, gasping for air. The next, no longer.
I was never really the one who had a lot of biblical knowledge. Everything was whispered in passing. My father was not a religious man. What he had were principles and the will to survive. He had to provide for his family, 9 siblings younger than him, his father, my grandfather, died when he was 10. Ever since then, there was no longer any room for political correctness or curtsies and silver cutleries. He had a role to fulfill and there was no excuse for the starvation that predated his family. He was only 10, but he was already forced to act like a man four decades older than he really is.
There was a knife against his throat, and his mother’s, and the 9 more young children after him. He did what he do.
25 years after that, everyone in the family graduated with degrees.
But that was a very long time in between a boy of 10 years old and a man of 35, and in the underbelly of those spaces, lived the dirt and footprints of blood and sin.
My mother prayed often. She had papers of prayers plastered all over the walls in my parents’ room. She wrote them painstakingly, in that beautiful cursive of hers and I’d hear her murmur her prayers before she went to bed.
I remember how she smelled each time. She smelled of her Olay whitening cream, menthol toothpaste, and her vanilla scented lotion. She always smells divine. I remember her back hunched, whispering her prayers, eyes half closed, a booklet on her hand. Her hair was always short then.
Her lips didn’t stop moving even after I can no longer hear what she said.
I was too young to understand, and they were too busy to make me. I had never attended religion classes before. I was told to pray, but never how, except by a few titas, mother’s workmates, who diligently asked me to pray for their finances.
“A child’s prayer is strong, so pray, and pray this ha? So tita can get through this trial, okay hija?”
I lived in a place where Catholicism was banned. Practice and you shall be lashed, jailed, and sent home.
She always told me that one day I would find out what it’s all about. Until then, I did my homeworks alone, fed my curiousity myself, and topped almost all my classes.
I seemed to be doing fine. I didn’t need a miracle or an intervention.
I have watched my family go through struggles. My parents, like every parent from their generation, bragged about their past like some proud battle scar they have won.
I sat through so many painful evenings with my parents trying to outdo one another of who had it worse.
My mother had to walk to school with worn slippers full of holes after spending the entire morning planting rice, my father had to sleep starving and tired from working construction labor at 15 before his evening classes.
It was almost a spiteful circumstance that life turned out completely different with mine, and that me and my brother were too lucky to have been brought up eating chicken nuggets prepared by our au pairs.
In the unfortunate event that something happened, especially anything that involved money, we were never too young to be told. We were always told what they were going through, what they had to do, and that we needed to survive this rough patch.
I saw them do things for the people they love. Questionable things for the sake of survival.
I didn’t know the biblical truths, or the rules, but if I had to make a decision, I do not ever think that God would send my parents straight to hell for the things they did, for the people they protected.
—-I can’t believe 2016 is almost over. What happened to this year? I swear I just blinked and now it’s December.————-
Life began as darkness,
and then there was light.
For that reason, we forget about the hues and the colors. We can make the mistake of believing there is only black and white. I challege this notion, not everything has to be inside the lines, the people who changed the world decided to violate whatever law society carefully laid out.
They deviated from the norm.
The rebels and the misfits are so necessary, that our hope of living a better world, or correcting a previous prejudice lays on their hands.
No one is completely one thing, and not the other. We are degrees of certain circumstances, and a fluctuating percentage of principles. There are unshakable portions, and there are negotiable bits. That is how we survive in this strange and challenging world. There is no shame for the arsenal of weapons and defenses we all keep for the storms and earthquakes that shall come, to remain alive.
Life is messy, it’s how we clean up after it that matters.
Our mistakes are what makes us interesting, how we dealt with it, after our knees bled in painful agony from a hard fall. How we stood up is who we really are.
It is not the failed marriage, or useless college degree, or that time you stuttered on stage. It’s not being 30 and having no know-how of where to go next.
How many wounds do you have? That part is interesting. Rush through it, if you can’t look me in the eyes while you say it, we can pretend it’s another person who disappointed his family and himself. How many of your wounds are self-inflicted? Spill it all, I’m listening…
Oh, but, how did you heal?
Tell me how you did, and pleasure me with the details, we can talk all about it until the morning light, because nothing else should matter but that part.
With a smile, I’ll wonder, how beautiful it is to see you, alive despite all the things that tried to kill you inside.
I had to wing everything I know about God and how He thinks. All I know is God is Love, and I thought that should be sufficient. Definitely lacking in knowledge, but enough to get by.
Mother used to believe the things she read at the internet. One time she printed this long story of prophecy typed in Comic Sans with no proper paragraph judgment, like how it was in the early 2000s. The internet was infested with chain mails built on fear.
She made me read it, thinking the best way to teach a little girl religion was by terrifying her and tales of horrors would be satisfactory in instilling values in me, substituting anything else.
That piece of paper told me about the devil’s sign in the future and how only those who have it would be granted the privilege to eat.
I can’t forget the look my father gave me. He was smiling, sitting on a banged-up old chair, the foam already flat against his back. “If that has to happen, I’ll get marked to get you and mommy the food. You will stay safe. Hell is nothing to be afraid of, compared to seeing you scarred.”
Ever since then, I refused to believe my father’s soul would burn in eternity for that. Surely, we can write outside the lines of a ruled paper, however thick they were? Surely, we can turn on an empty road with straight yellow lines in between and drive?
Surely, we can paint outside the circles, we can spill the watercolor out?
“God Himself, sir, does not propose to judge a man until his life is over.
Why should you and I?”
― Samuel Johnson
He has been a White for a long time now, and being White is quite alright. Admirable even. Until the time being a White at everything became flat, and instead of contentment, it was unsatisfactory settling. In a world of endless possibilities, he wondered how it is to have a bit of Black.
But can that happen? Is that okay? Can he still be pure even after he dabbles with Black?
Well, who’s watching, and standing in his shadow, scribbling a long list of the things he did that could have made him a lesser White? Where is the tribunal? Who is worthy among men?
No one was, but he had to be told. So she came and gave him red, and revealed that it’s okay to have more colors than white.
We always feel like we need someone’s permission or approval to choose to be happy. How silly.
What if the only permission we need, is from ourselves?
Science and Faith. Fitting.
The first time I met Zee, I had a cup of melting Baskin Robbins ice cream on each of my hand. I figured that if we had any awkward silence at all, it would be over our mouths full, filled with dessert.
Mine was strawberry cheesecake, my favourite, and the other, one intended for him, was the chocolate chip cookie dough because I thought he’d like cookies, chocolates, and ice cream crammed in a single course.
It was too late to re-think anything.
I tried not to, as I shake off all sort of antsy emotions welling up. All roads lead to this.
It was the kind of afternoon where it was too impossibly hot outside. I woke up to a phone call saying he had landed. It was 10 am.
“I thought we were going to have some ‘late lunch’?”, I said, my voice cracking and groggy.
“Well, I’m still going to Uber.”, he justified.
I took the phone off my ear, glanced at the watch, and made some quick calculation. “Even if it took you 2 hours, which you won’t, that would be about 12 noon. That’s not late lunch, that’s lunch.”
I started panicking, which is hard to do, mind you, being in deep sleep just a few minutes before.
“Take your time.” He calmly told me.
I suppose I did just that because 3 hours later, a carmaggedon of at least four vehicular accidents in the highway I traversed, cursing my luck in vain, starving and desperate, I have finally only just arrived.
It was a blur the moment I opened the glass door of the donuts shop, and by the time I was standing in front of him, fervently hoping I did not commit any mistake in identity, instead of reaching out my hand to shake his, I extended towards his open palm a cold cup of delicious ice cream, and smiled.
It wasn’t too long after that when we couldn’t shut up even if we tried.
I’m embarrassingly unaware of current events. Yes, I confess, there are times where I slept too late and fought against strangers on the internet over an issue I was passionate about, but these days aren’t any one of those.
Every day was like a Sunday morning stroll in Makati for me. I liked it that way.
It started after a shameful bout of self-pity and some Bridget Jones-worthy proceedings, extending for at least a couple of days, I was emotionally high and messaging a friend, another member of the tribe, the person I call S. If life was a movie, I guarantee Tina Turner would be playing in the background. I felt really awful for my trading mistakes but he was patient, as sweet as the first honey of summer. Telling me that all I needed was a break and that I should probably enjoy myself for now.
So I did. I convinced myself that I had to take care of myself first.
I couldn’t spit out any of these around Zee. He always tried more than I did whenever I was giving up. Most of the time, he listened to my lamentations and then would quickly decide to forget all about it, pretending he didn’t hear anything, cracking a joke once in a while to make me laugh. He’d carry on, and I trudge along behind him. I don’t know where he got his patience, because mine was used up by Manila’s traffic and devilishly reckless drivers– which has improved, by the way, what ever miracle they used seems to have worked.
So on another day, a few weeks after we first met, I was standing in front of another glass door, late again. I didn’t even have any ice cream on my person this time.
I was carrying my laptop with me, pink and at the verge of an eventual breakdown from 5 years of abuse. I entered the Korean cafe along Carlos Palanca, the first wash of air-conditioned air providing instant relief. The wind chimes announced my arrival. A few people turned their heads, but he didn’t. He was tucked in a corner, already prepared, too absorbed to even notice.
I was making my way towards him when he saw me. He stood up and asked me to sit down. Already in the middle of trading, the music wafting over the atmosphere, I sat perpendicular next to him, ready to apologize.
“This is really good.”, he suddenly started, smiling and shoving something cool in my hand. “I bought an entire box.”
It was ice cream.
He was drinking a tall glass of mango juice while furiously clicking at his laptop. He has jet black hair, hopelessly alive on their own, no matter how much he tries to run his fingers across it at any particular time of the day. He wore a black shirt, some generic dark blue jeans, and his favourite tattered shoes he lugged around from weeks of traveling and living on his backpack.
He didn’t look anything like the curious no name character he was known for, and though I should have known this by now, it still caught me off guard every time he was more of a 20-something adult, prone to bad decisions, missing toiletries, and oversleeping. I enjoyed it.
We joked for months before that we have to make a super play trade. It was only fitting that we walk that way. He was flitting through his browser, enjoying his ice cream, watching the ticker and clicking– endlessly clicking– something somewhere.
“So…” I started. “Teach me?”
“Syempre.” He smiled back.
We started with looking at the top gainers and losers, giving only a few significant ones the attention. That’s when we saw WEB.
WEB looked clear as daylight, I began charting in front of him, feeling anxious. I’ve been his bastard for a year now, it would be embarrassing to miss out.
It was a very basic application of the system. The candles were all sitting on top of 20 MA and 50 Ma was comfortably below. The 100 MA was very near, poised to do a ZS. The RSI were at bullish levels.
“This looks good.”, I cheered.
“Good? Mmm… It looks very, very good.” He replied.
I sipped on my juice innocently while watching him. One second later, I understood what was going on, and I started frantically buying my own shares.
He tried to fight his sleep off as we cruised through the night.
My radio was busted, there was nothing but the sound of wind howling as I stepped on the gas 100 kmph trying to get him home as fast as I can. He was tired yet he wouldn’t admit it.
I looked at him, his hair a mess again, his breathing deep and slow, chest rising and falling against the seat belt. We were so different from each other, and yet so alike.
Zee had his principles set on stone. He lived a quiet life away from the city. His childhood was so raw and innocent. Life must be spinning for someone who never even thought he would become who he became. His test was the power he was given. I shudder at the thought of what could have happened if it was someone else.
Instead, he sent kids to school and hesitated to squander what he made on designer clothes.
The red light flickered before it turned green, glowing on his face. How peaceful. How much do I owe this man? Yet he never asked for anything. Not a single thing. No indecent proposals even, which I kept getting everywhere else. Not even to mentor my own bastards.
It’s been a year since I told him of my ambition, and ever since then he never gave up on me.
The city lights looked so beautiful that night.
It was starting to rain.
I was beginning to get lost.
I decided to slow down. One day, I realize, I have to let him go, because if I don’t, he won’t.
He already did enough—more than enough— to help. I cannot remain helpless, I need to stand on my own two feet. I need to show him that after everything was done, that it was all worth it. All those late nights of teaching, all the times he prayed for me too, all the times he tried to protect me.
It will all be worth it.
There would be another soul, dying to live again, regaining the stars in her eyes. There will be much laughter. There will be no more trouble to be free barred by the realities of the rat race.
I’ll repay you, I thought while I looked at him one more time. One day, you’ll see. It will all be worth it with me.
This journey is long, this story winding. People have watched us to see how far Zee could push a normal, generic, non-financial girl climb the exhausting mountains of her dreams. He never for one second stopped believing in me.
Even when I made mistakes after mistakes
I will get there, but I will not let you worry about me any longer, because you already have for a whole year now, and that is more than I could ask from anyone– Especially for a man who trusted me even before he knew me.
It could have been easy to just let me slip away. He didn’t have to take any of us in, he didn’t have to push when I was giving up but he did, and he carried my burden as if it was his own.
He stirred now, half-awake, smiling. “Are we there yet?”. His voice traveled the small space between us.
I looked at him and smiled.
I made 60% on that WEB trade. It did turn out to be a super play after all. Sold most of my position, leaving only 1/3 behind.
The calm before the hurricane turned the land.