I’m Going Home

My Symphony: Home by Daughtry
I don’t regret this life I chose for me,
But these places and these faces are getting old…

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Maybe that’s the best part of going away for a vacation – coming home again. ― Madeleine L’Engle, Meet the Austins

This is it. In less than 24 hours, I’ll be on a plane back home. 

Damn. Typing that out just literally sent chills down my spine. There is something about the word “home” that is very powerful in a comforting way. And that’s what I am feeling right now – this almost indescribable feeling of danger and safety. It’s been a long time coming, and now here I am. My bags are all packed, and I am more than ready to go.

The weeks and the months that have led me to this moment hadn’t been smooth-sailing, though. There was a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety, a lot of reckless daydreaming and a lot of uphill battles with the people around me and with myself. But I have to say it was all worth it. We take every experience, big or small, and learn from it tremendously.

When I left the Philippines two and a half years ago, I left with one goal in mind: to find whatever it was that I was always looking for. Halfway through high school, I developed this irrepressible longing to leave – leave the city I’m in, leave the people I’m with, leave the life I live. My “past life” (for a lack of a better term) was byzantine, to say the least. I made a lot of mistakes, disappointed loved ones, broke my friends’ trust, caused a lot of emotional trouble and took for granted all the things and moments I now wish I could have back. And instead of facing the world and trying to repair the damaged, I decided to walk away and leave everything behind. And I did that because that’s what I had been wanting to do all along; I wanted to start over, strongly believing that there was another place out there for me which I could call home.

I was wrong. 

I think everybody should leave his or her hometown and go somewhere far at least once in his or her life. Not only is there a myriad of things and life lessons to learn Out There, Out There also makes you appreciate In Here, in a way no other place can. And to me, it’s been an exhilarating ride so far.

Everytime a friend or a family member asks me ,”So when are you visiting the Philippines?” or “Hey Kenn, are you going back here in Bacolod for a vacation soon?”, there’s always this part of me that cringes for some reason. It’s like my heart turns gray and my entire upper body shrinks, and all I want to do is run away screaming like a lunatic. I don’t know, I guess up until now I’ve never really accommodated “visiting the Philippines” as an acceptable oxymoron. Phrases like visit home and vacation in Bacolod sound disturbingly self-contradictory to me. So let us make one thing clear:

I’m not “going on a vacation”; I’m going home.

It’s as simple and as truthful and as accurate as that.

I look at Vancouver and the world that I’ve somehow built here for myself. I look at the bed I’ve been sleeping in for many months; I can see its edges and its weight take up a portion of the wooden floor. I look at our kitchen and then I look inside the refrigerator; I see a dozen eggs with one that’s broken, along with my brother’s sliced cheese which he always reminds us is expensive. I look at the living room; I look at the ceiling, my mom’s new carpet, the big red cushions and the television, which has started to look noticeably old despite its newness. I look inside my closet; I look at the big black bag in which I carefully stuffed all of my notes and physical memories from college. I look at my cat, Dunkley; I see him in the biggest and fattest he’s ever been; I see him groggily walk towards his favorite spot on one of our red-and-white dining chairs, and I see him yawn, stretch, stare devilishly into the air and lull himself back to sleep. And then I look at my pile of luggage sitting tall and proud in one corner of my room. For the first time in a long time, I feel like myself again.

This is why this chapter is very important to me. The farther I’ve been from home, the closer I’ve felt to it. And at these times when I often feel lost and unsure of who I’ve become, I find it crucial to go back to my roots and refresh things a little bit. The people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had here have all been climactic, and I can never be grateful enough for the opportunity to get to know life and the world around me from such a different perspective. But the time has come. For at least the next two months, I will be in my hometown, the small city of Bacolod. For at least the next two months, I will be breathing a familiar air under a familiar sky. For at least the next two months, I will be storing my clothes and my books in a room inside a house which my feet and my heart have known since I was little. And for at least the next two months, I will be not here, but there.

And there is waiting.

See you soon. 

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Today, I Turn Twenty

My Symphonies:  Baker Lake by Sera Cahoone | Nothing Left to Lose by Mat Kearny

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“But it does make me sad that we’ve forgotten our names. Out of everything, this seems to me the most tragic. I miss my own and I mourn for everyone else’s, because I’d like to love them, but I don’t know who they are.”
― Isaac Marion

May 24th, 2013 [Philippine time]

Today, I turn twenty. And right now, I cannot believe how much happiness and sadness typing out those four words brings to me. Although I actually like how “twenty” sounds, I still haven’t digested the fact that I’ve walked on earth and breathed its air for two decades now, and that 1993 is already twenty years ago. It’s quite fascinating to me, how quickly life turns its pages. What’s even more fascinating is the amount of fear and nostalgia leaving the teen-age bracket has given me.

My fear doesn’t involve the future, though, which is unusual for me. I used to always think about the future when I ponder on life and the world I live in. I used to spend days just wondering how tomorrow was going to be like. I had tried and worked hard to participate as a normal functioning member of the society. But the whole future-chasing has done nothing to me but make me weary. I have divorced the future. The kind of fear that I had in what is not yet there has carefully transferred to what was, and possibly is, still there. 

Before any of my loved ones who read this get worried about me again, know that this fear I’m talking about doesn’t necessarily state that I’m depressed. No, this isn’t one of those fears. This is a good fear. It’s the fear that makes me feel more alive than I have ever been. And it lies both in the past and in the present. How so? I’ll tell you…

About two years ago, my family and I moved to Canada. Surrey, British Columbia, to be specific. It was 6th of July in 2011. I remember. I just finished saying all my good-byes both at home and in the airport. I was holding tightly on my sky blue travel pillow as I used its shaft to wipe my tears. Going through security, removing my shoes and all and still sobbing, I said to myself in a semi-whisper (and I will never forget this), “H-h-home… I’ll a-always… b…be”.

Thinking about that moment today still sends shivers down my spine. I was younger then, and I didn’t know a lot of things. I was only trusting my feelings based on the experiences I had in the places and with the people back home. But I always knew inside of me that I could never escape something so bold and real in my life just like that. It’s actually very paradoxical, how being away from something actually puts you closer to it. And I’m grateful that I get to be here in Canada, I really am. This was what I wanted so badly when I was still in the Philippines– to be away. To be somewhere else for some time. To take a break from the world I was in too deep. To learn, to grow, to see. And today, I am happy to confirm it to myself that all of the things I wished for is now right in front of me.

I’ve learned. I’ve grown. I’ve seen.

I’ve learned, in the past two weeks that I’ve been reconnecting with my friends and family back home, that real relationships are supposed to stand the test of time and distance. I’ve learned, from hearing their voices and seeing their faces, how strong a memory can be; that we are ultimately interwoven no matter where life takes us. I’ve learned that truthfulness is rare, and it only lives from a place of love. I’ve learned that as a person, as a human being, my highest goal isn’t to build castles for myself, to have monuments dedicated to me or to possess a power akin to Zeus’ or Hercules’, but simply to give; to find what is real in my heart and to offer it to people in ways that I can.

I’ve grown, so much so that I’ve managed to reach out to the clouds and to the loneliest plankton on the seabed. I’ve grown slowly, but I’ve grown meaningfully. I’ve grown in a way that has made me ask a lot of questions to the air even when I know it’s never going to give me any visible answers. I’ve grown enough to see both below and above me; I’ve grown to stand beneath a marquee knowing that mountains do move and that the sunset is the most romantic lover I have in my life. I’ve grown not just into a man but into a child, which is far more important and remarkable– I’ve grown to love my parents more and more, my brothers like they are those mountains and my friends like they are the whimsical wind in front of the sunset. I’ve grown in a way that makes me feel okay about not being okay, and great about not being great. I’ve grown with the little things, and these little things have made me grow bigger.

I’ve seen that the best things in life aren’t things. I’ve seen the desperation of a student, the heartbreak of a girl and the melancholy of a writer. I’ve seen the ways by which a boy follows his heart’s dictates. I’ve seen the falling down of the world and the rising up of the citizens. I’ve seen every bit of sorrow that takes place in seventeen-minute intervals within gloomy coffee shops. I’ve seen the coldness and the bitterness of society. I’ve seen the anger in people’s chests and the compassion in their mere little fingers. I’ve seen the hunger for light and the quest for beauty. I’ve seen emptiness and rage, loyalty and condemnation. I’ve seen the escape from the labyrinth, and I’ve seen the best thing of all.

So where’s my fear in all this? My fear is that somehow, my learning, and my growing, and my seeing have managed to take me face to face with who I am. It’s overwhelming, nonetheless exhilarating, and nothing short of enlightening.

Last week, I was reading the scrapbook my friends made for me when I left my university back in the Philippines. I was just shocked by the way I felt upon reading the individual letters and the pieces of sentiments written in that scrapbook. I haven’t read it since I left the country, and reading it again sort of put me in a time machine that brought me back to my brief college days in Miag-ao, which is a place I hold dear to my heart. Each word in that scrapbook (which they entitled “Kenn”) means so much to me. What I love about it is that it isn’t centered primarily on me but actually on the kind of friendship we all had. We all became so close to each other in so little time. I wish they could read what they wrote in this scrapbook right now. That way, they’ll clearly remember. One of the letters there, written by my friend Lester, succinctly narrates a night spent in Bentoy’s (a super cool, laidback resto bar that serves really aggressive drinks for such a low price and whose owner lets his pet dog named Shabu meddle with the customers) along with Esther and Nikko. We did some really fun, though not completely appropriate, things that night and as freshmen college students, we didn’t really care. That’s what got me about the letter. It took me back to that night, and I could clearly see the four of us sitting on the bamboo floor, drinking, smoking, talking about life not really knowing it was right there sitting with us. And I could see everything else– the road leading to the resto bar, the color of the night, the shapes and the cracks of tables, even the color of Esther’s shirt (it was her olive green shirt which she wore best during nighttime). 

Remembering. Today, I give myself that. I know society forces us to always look ahead and move forward but really, sometimes I think that’s a trap. I think it is fantastic to be able to go on with my life especially now that I am two years away from home; I think it is awesome that I’ve made few great friends in Vancouver whom I know I will continue to be friends with for the longest time, and I think it is so, so nice that I embrace this place for all that it has taught me. But to treat time and distance as an opportunity to escape eighteen great years of my life? That’s simply unjust. I know for a fact that I would never be able to grow as the person I am today if it weren’t for my family and my friends and the real-life moments I spent with them.

I guess, after all these musings, the fear I am talking about is only the fear of remembering. Remembering my roots, remembering my values, remembering myself. And like I said it’s a good fear. Well, I think that fear is generally a good thing. It makes something real.

Today, I turn twenty.