Today, I Turn Twenty-four

My Symphonies: Home / Day Wave

Wasting Time / Day Wave

Semi-rocking the guybun in 2016 (*Not a recent photo, thank god!).

So today, I turn twenty-four. 

I remember typing out almost the exact same words back in May 2013, when I wrote Today, I Turn Twenty. This time is different, though. When I turned 20, I felt a lot of uncertainty and discomfort towards aging. In fact, I used to be a self-proclaimed ageist. The mere thought of being a year older always made me feel nauseous and quite anxious. Every year, when I “celebrated” my birthday, I would always try to hide how upset I was with the fact that humans have to naturally age. I hated the concept of getting old.

But this year is different. For the first time, I actually feel very at peace with turning a year older. And not just that; I also feel very at peace with the fact that every year, everything and everyone else turns a year older. It is finally safe to say that I have come to terms with the way the world works – Things and people age; there’s nothing we can do about it.

I am writing today not just because it’s my birthday, but also because I want to acknowledge change. Change, who comes when it’s time for it to come. Change, who is the master of beauty and tragedy. Change, who is the initiator of bliss and chaos. And Change, who so effortlessly comes with aging.

When I think of my life from the beginning leading up to this point, I see it in chapters. And what’s great about chapters is that they tell us that apart from the end and the beginning of every book, there are tiny little ends and beginnings in between. And these little ends and little beginnings create something beautiful – something worth reading, worth telling and worth living. This has been my life:

The Childhood Years, when I first learned to take life one step at a time (literally); when I played in playgrounds and scratched my knee like every kid did; when I looked at grown-ups around me and wondered if I, one day, was also gonna be as big and as complex and as successful as they were; when life was a never-ending cycle of naps, tantrums, school, lunch boxes and Cartoon Network…

The High School Years, when I tackled so many things for the first time without much knowledge about life and the world I lived in; when I fell in love for the first time, got my heart broken for the first time, failed an exam for the first time, topped the class in something for the first time, made great friends and mortal enemies for the first time, and played in the field of teenage angst, romance, betrayal and overall drama for the first time; The High School Years was that one chapter that gave the first definite shape of my personality…

The University of the Philippines Years, which gets a special chapter due to the silent but steady impact it had on me. This chapter was when I learned that I can handle change (a major change) for the first time. I learned that simplicity doesn’t have to mean boring, and that modesty doesn’t have to mean defeat. I learned to take matters into my own hands, stand up for myself and carry on through the tough days without having to cry for help. This chapter was when I started to really genuinely appreciate sunsets, deep meaningful conversations and the importance of getting to know people outside of my shiny little bubble…

The Great Move, the chapter that tells of my move to Canada with my family. This, more than anything by far, has been the greatest teacher. This chapter was when I found myself in a world so different from where I grew up in. I learned so many things about other cultures especially when I was in Vancouver Film School. I learned so much about the sad realities of life, and how we all have a choice to bounce back from them. This was the chapter when I went through depression triggered by an unrequited love, and later on realized it was all just a lack of love for myself. I would say that without this chapter, I wouldn’t have been able to handle the next…

The Dark Ages, was a chapter that started out so magnificent, and so daring, and so adventure-filled and exciting. But I give it its chapter title due to the overall draining energy that surrounded it from the beginning, and more so towards the end. I fell in love with a guy that was ready to give me the world, but wasn’t ready to love me for who I am. I experienced physical abuse, verbal violence and worst of all, emotional manipulation. I learned that love isn’t enough – a relationship has to have friendship, compromises, acceptance and most importantly, respect. I learned that I am resilient, and that no matter what life was gonna throw my way after this chapter, I can absolutely handle it…

The Renaissance, cheesy, I know, but whoever said “There is light at the end of the tunnel” is hands down a genius. It’s true! Now I find myself in a place happier and brighter than anywhere I have ever been. I can definitely say that I am right where I am supposed to be in life right now, feeling exactly what I am supposed to be feeling at the moment, and being with the people whom I am most precisely supposed to be with at this chapter in my life. I am grateful for the genuine love I’ve found, blissful for the friends and family I have been blessed with, and ecstatic to take on the coming months and years of this journey called life…

I look at where I am today, and I realize that I should be happy about turning a year older. Turning a year older means I am still alive right now. I can still do whatever I want to do with my life, and go places, see new things, meet new people. Turning a year older means I have survived all the years before this; that I have embraced change time and time again, and that I have triumphed over obstacles and challenges that went my way.

Chapters. That word is subtly synonymous to “hope”, to “life”, to “change”. And today, I would like to celebrate turning a year older by thanking everyone in my life (literally EVERYONE, including those who are no longer a part of it in the present) for making me who and what I am today.

Because, girl, I’m slaying. ❤ ❤ ❤

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Life, Three Days Later

My Symphony: Ships In A Bottle by Butch Walker

The house

After an unbelievably stressful and gruesome travel, I have finally arrived in Bacolod – safe, but not entirely sound. Eek! I feel like a sore loser already for opening up this blog entry on a slightly negative note. But hey, I just said I’m safe, and that’s one positive thing! But I believe there are always two sides to every story, and this is me refusing to ignore either one. And having had spent at least 72 hours here in my hometown has been very eye-opening. It’s only Day 3, but there’s already a lot to take in.

Let me start with the most obvious one – my old house in Mansilingan, Bacolod City. The pictures above show an honest presentation of how the house looks like today. Six months ago, a bunch of money-hungry freaks (or as most people call them, “professional robbers”) stealthily managed their way into the house, wrecked the ceilings, took all the electrical wires, stole the water tank motors and ruthlessly ravaged several other properties from our washing machine down to our old photographs and my brother’s high school yearbook.

This afternoon was my first visit to that house after almost three years. It was supposed to be a very painful experience, but I have to admit I forced myself to not feel anything. If I were to give credit to where credit was due, I would really offer myself a good pat on the back for at least having the guts to walk into that house without anything but an aching, longing heart filled with story-heavy memories. I mean I could have cried like a fucking baby for all I know. I could have stood there inside my purple room, reminisced, and wept out loud. I could have watched the bitter reality sitting right in front of me and dreamt of ways to make it sweet again. But I didn’t. I didn’t because it’s too hard.

It’s hard to know that the very place I used to call home is now this abandoned concrete structure with remnants not just of bad memories, but of good ones! And that’s what’s so hard about it – that house, despite its being a witness to a couple of heartbreaks and momentary familial discord, had actually seen and heard more love, more laughter and more unity within and around it. And to see it look so old and so tired in spite of its young age is just heartbreaking.

So it’s not just hard; it is also heartbreaking.

It’s heartbreaking to remember the things that took place inside that orange house; those big and little moments that were all filled with a captivating magic. It’s heartbreaking to learn that the living room in which my brother Clayton and I spent hours and hours talking and playing with our cat is now empty and essentially covered with dust. It’s heartbreaking to look at my mom’s walk-in closet and no longer see the wide mirror which used to be always there. It’s heartbreaking to set my ears wide open and no longer hear the sound of home, but the sound of desperation, of this ten-year old place screaming for help.

And my room! Oh, my room.

It hurts to walk inside my room and see nothing but a violent darkness, because I know that that is where I technically grew up. That room was where I spent a lot of time being honest to myself. That room had seen me smile over texts from my crushes; it had seen me wrestle with History and Chemistry textbooks and with endless homework and projects; it had seen me fall in and out of love time after time, and it had seen me move on and start over. It had also seen me dance to Backstreet Boys songs and emotionally sing to Taking Back Sunday’s music and lyrics. It had seen me as I formed my alter egos inside my head, and it had seen me talk to myself – literally. Simply put, that room had seen the best and worst of me. And it hurts to come back to it and find that there is almost nothing left to come back to. I am now surrounded by the fact that indeed, nothing is as long-lasting as we’d like to believe it is.

Every living and non-living thing is constantly deteriorating. People grow old, things change. Nothing new or surprising.

I’m sure I will keep on coming back to our old house over the next two months. I’m sure that next time or the time after that, I will no longer be able to successfully block the feelings that I’m supposed to feel. I had lived in that house for ten years; I know that pain will become inevitable at one point. But I’m ready for that. I’m ready to feel pain for the nth time.

Then there’s this thing with the city itself, Bacolod. Being back here still feels surreal. I’ve only met three of my friends here so far, and I have to say I’m quite happy – happy to see them, happy to be with them, happy to feel like the high school version of myself again, to a degree. But there is this dizzy state of disbelief that’s somehow creeping in. I don’t know if it’s the jet lag or just the extreme and sudden change of weather, but the whole being back in Bacolod thing hasn’t sunk in yet. All I know is that this afternoon, at around 4PM while I was walking to my grandma’s house, I saw and felt something I’ve been wanting to see and feel again. It’s the sight of my neighbourhood’s narrow roads and the feeling of being free. And maybe this is just an illusion of mine, but it feels very real. Life isn’t always like this for most people, but I’m glad to say that for now, this is the way it is for me.

I’m liking this.

I like taking cold showers without feeling like I’m being murdered in the middle of Antarctica. I like walking around our neighbourhood in just board shorts, a tank top and an old pair of slippers. I like waking up to the sound of roosters and maya birds declaring that it’s morning. I like to hear the sound of loud public jeepneys and tricycles coming in and out of my silence spectrum. And I like the possibility that the home might still be around even though the house has turned to ruins.

Because maybe, just maybe, it’s true. Maybe home isn’t a place but a feeling. Maybe after all, home is never between the walls and the corners of a man-made structure, but within the confines of the heart.

Maybe it’s anywhere and everywhere in which you feel not necessarily sound, but safe.

I don’t really know. I guess I’m about to find out.

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…

IMG_20131128_193206

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. 

Agape

My Symphony: Cold Water by Damien Rice

Family

“I don’t care about whose DNA has recombined with whose. When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching – they are your family.”
― Jim ButcherProven Guilty

I’ve been meaning to write this one honest piece since that day in 1996 when my mother was reading me one of the first children’s books I ever came to know. Well maybe “meaning to write” is not the right phrase to use here; I was only three, and of course I didn’t consciously know that I was going to want to write when I grew up. But it was my mom’s voice – the way that she managed to shape every word with absolute love and conviction – that touched me in a way that just instantly made me fall in love with words and stories. When people say, “Moms are the first teachers you have in your life”, my brain jumps with a heartfelt excitement because it is true. Mom taught me everything I had to know, and she still does.

I believe that this day was mapped out in my life ages ago. It is this day, this moment when I am here sleepless and alone in my room at exactly 9:13pm, that marks a milestone in my existence. Today, I have awaken the child inside of me. And he’s beautiful.

This is it. That one honest piece I subconsciously wanted to write when I was three.

When I moved to Canada, it was a given that the cultural norms and traditions will be vastly different from what I had grown used to, and that I was about to sit face-to-face with societal realities that are strangers to me. When I was in college, it always sort of felt awkward everytime I said that I live with my family, or that I still sleep beside my brother, or that I was gonna go home early from a night out because I already missed mom and dad. There was always this energy of question and wonder beaming from my classmates’ eyes. And each time I wrote about something even mildly family-related, at least two North American natives would comment saying things like, “Kenn, I never really understood the amount of love and the seemingly overwhelming connection that Filipinos have with their families and relatives”, or “My God, you’re so cute, you still sleep beside your mom?!” And then they would go on implying how this is a totally different world I live in now, and how they also know other Filipino families whose profound intimacy they never quite get. It had bothered me for a while not because they were saying a lot of things and asking a lot of questions, but because the enigma that was present in the air started to make me wonder a lot too. 

My family has just always been there. Always. They’re one of those things in my life which have been with me since the day I was born. And just like the air that I breathe, just like the water that is oh so essential to my survival, I have never come to know what it’s like to be without them and, more importantly, what it’s like to be with them in the full sense of the word. You know, when you constantly have something, you don’t really take the time to ponder on it and to really comprehend its value simply because you feel like you don’t have to. You’ve had it for the longest time that you can imagine, and sometimes you get so used to the constancy of it that you don’t fully notice its presence anymore. And I had always felt that way, until two weeks ago.

Kenn:  You know, I wouldn’t want any other people to be my brothers.
Nathaniel:  Aww, that’s sweet.
Kenn:  No, not in the sweet sense. It’s just that I feel bad for my brothers already, and I cannot imagine any other people taking their place because, well, it must be fucking hard being my brother. You know, having to put up with me and my shit.
Nathaniel:  LOL

Two weeks ago I was talking to my friend Nathaniel over the phone. I was drunk and exhausted, and it was close to six o’clock in the morning, and suddenly it just hit me: How do my brothers do it? I mean, I’m financially reckless more than half of the time, I have a caustic tongue which is innate to me, I get these ‘episodes’ where I’m so selfish that I won’t give them a single potato chip, and I don’t take out the trash. Ever. And on top of that, I am defensive, demanding, moody, self-centered and argumentative to the point of screaming with matching hand gestures and eyeball rolls. Oh, and the fact that I tend to have these allegedly exaggerated reactions whenever I’m shocked or surprised, like by a slamming door or the sight and sound of bread loaves popping out of the toaster when they’re cooked. Even get annoyed at myself occasionally. 

But somehow, they manage. They have managed. Twenty years and counting.

There are moments when I collapse on my bed after a minor debate with my brother, and I would just laugh silently. It’s usually partly because I won the debate, but it’s also the fact that I am so amazed at the reality that this has been going on since we were kids. And the amount of stamina, the quality of endurance, that it takes for three brothers to live under one roof for more than twenty years of their lives without killing each other (and actually loving each other instead) is almost unfathomable. I am fully aware that not all people have the same kind of bond with their siblings. I, on one hand, consider myself lucky. Because despite all of the negative things that come with my sheer existence, Clayton and Matthew are still there. They’ve seen the worst in me. You would, too, if you lived with me 24/7. But they’ve also seen the best. They see the whole package with full-on bravery and kindness. And for that, I love them.

And then there’s my parents.

I don’t even know where to begin. They’re one of those entities that leave me speechless most of the time. It’s just that I feel like I have so much memories with them that sometimes it’s as if they’re always with me wherever I go or whatever I do. And I’ve always known that I love them. But now, I guess it’s safe to say that I have transitioned from a mere lover to an informed one.

Everything I have in my life, I have because of my parents. Education, money, clothes, even time and freedom. I could be wiping off the ninetieth drop of sweat on my forehead working my ass off in Starbucks right now, but instead I am here sitting on my comfy computer chair, freely writing my thoughts away, with my pet cat sitting cozily on my left foot as I listen to Damien Rice. The point is, I am not a successful individual by society’s standards. And I am just so blessed to be able to do what I have been doing in the past five months. I admit I also have those times when I go, “WTF am I doing with my life? I am not making my parents proud at all”. But the thing is, those five months I’ve spent unemployed since post-secondary graduation aren’t entirely an epitome of Wasteland Escapade. If anything, they’ve been an epitome of life lessons I’m certain I wouldn’t have learned elsewhere doing Zeus-knows-what. In those five months, I read a lot, watched a lot of films, listened to great music, gazed at street art, wrote, slept and dreamed. And all those things brought me to realize several things. This is one of those realizations.

See, the thing is, I used to view my parents as, well, parents. Two parental figures that act as my mother and my father. The foundation of the home and the light of the home. The male figure and the female figure. But as I grow up, I have gradually opened my eyes wide enough to see them beyond their institutionalized roles in the family. I see them now not just as “mother and father”, but as two human beings who have a past,  a present and a future; two people who have strengths, weaknesses, insecurities, successes and failures; two living organisms who, just like everything else, grow old and eventually wither. When I stare at their faces now, I feel so much respect for them. The mere fact that they have successfully raised my brothers and I, with minimal heartaches and minor mid-life delinquencies, already brings joy to my heart. I know you’re always the ones who tell me that you’re proud of me but Mom, Dad, I am so proud of you both. Words cannot even express the depth of my reverence for you two. You’ve made it! You got through the crisscrossing jungle that is post-adolescence, and you did it with flying colors! You figured out what you wanted to do and create in life, and had gotten to the verdict of building up the family that we now are. You both did it with dignity, courage, perseverance and most importantly, love. If there was some sort of a Nobel prize for parenting, you deserve it, Mom and Dad. And I know that there are nights when you can’t sleep, nights when you are tossing and turning, just thinking of how much you failed, of how many things you wish you could’ve done, or things that you wish were different. No. Don’t do that. Don’t lose sleep, because I (and I’m sure Matthew and Clayton feel the same way) can attest to the reality that the both of you have made it. You have succeeded a billion times in our lives. I mean, here we are. And there you are. And we are all together. It simply does not get any better than this.

Over the years, you have become multidimensional in my eyes, my dearest Mommy and Daddy. And I have nothing but love for you. Let it be known that it will only be Mother’s and Father’s Day everyday for the two of you from this point onward.

And there you have it. That one story I knew I just had to write one day.

My family is the largest blessing I have in my life. I am unto myself a walking disaster. I get lost in life for at least twelve hours each day, but my family is that which pulls me back. They are my home. And I know that no matter how disastrous the world gets, I will always find peace with them. I will always be the baby of our home. And I will always come home running, crying for love.

For Giveness

My Symphony: Iron Doors by The Lighthouse and the Whaler

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When I was 13, the shallow, naive, vapid person that I was, I would get myself in heated fights and arguments and I would always say, “I don’t forgive and I don’t forget, so don’t fuck with me”. I don’t really know what I was thinking, except that I wasn’t really thinking. Who am I to be so cold and bitter? Who am I to be so mad at the world and the people in it that have disappointed me? Who am I to live a life of hatred, anger and coldness? I am nobody. And for this, I forgive.

I forgive my brother for being utterly annoying and self-righteous.

I forgive the people back home who haven’t made it to my present life – I forgive them for being a thing from the past.

I forgive my English teacher in Eleventh Grade for not buying me the lunch that she promised me, and for not returning my favorite Greek Mythology book that I let her borrow.

I forgive all of the fucked-up drug addicts in this world. I know it is not entirely their fault. What happened to them and to their lives could have happened to anyone of us.

I forgive Nicholas Sparks for writing novels that have caused millions of people to get confused about the real nature of love and its naked identity.

I forgive my Mom for not being in my life physically for the past twelve years. I forgive her for not being around when I had my first zit, or when I flunked a test in Elementary School for the first time, or when I had my first crush, or when my voice started to get a little deeper. I forgive her for being away from me all the time. I forgive her; I do. Because she’s my mother. And at the end of the day, she’s the one person I love the most.

I forgive my Dad, too. I forgive him for being so thrifty. He wouldn’t even consider a three-dollar cup of coffee cheap. I forgive him for his dishonesty and his being secretive and closed off. I forgive him for thinking that I am too weak and too prissy to be his nail boy when he was building that tree house when I was six. Because I do know how to use hammers and nails! But I forgive him for believing otherwise. I forgive him because he’s my dad. And at the end of the day, he’s the first guy in my life. He was the one who made me stand on his wide, strong palms and carried me around the house and the streets, making me feel like I was the best thing that has ever happened to him and mom.

Lastly, I forgive  myself.

Kenn, I forgive you for being such a disaster right now. You are like, I don’t know, Magnitude 8.6 earthquake, but I forgive you. I forgive you for feeling totally alone, lost, scared and vulnerable. I forgive your non-stop drama, and the way that you see the world. I forgive you for not being so proud of yourself these days, and for not having a backbone ninety percent of the time. I forgive your flaws, and your heartaches, and your romantic-idealistic take on life. I forgive you for the way you handle your emotions. I forgive you for almost killing yourself because at one moment you felt like life was not worth living. I forgive you for your weaknesses and for feeling like you’re never going to be good enough. I forgive all of your mistakes and your shenanigans. I forgive you if sometimes all you want to do is to just run out of the room in the middle of the class and go to the Sea Wall and watch the birds do their thing as the sky falls in closer and closer to you.

I forgive you. I do. Because at the end of the day, it is what it is. At the end of the day all of this is your life. Nothing more, but definitely nothing less.

Today, I Turn Twenty

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

two_trees_by_bennybrand-d3aw1ne

“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.

Charlie, Eduardo and the Lights of Downtown

My Symphony: Grey Room by Damien Rice

Daddd

Dear Friend; I don’t know if I will have the time to write anymore letters because I might be too busy trying to participate. So if this does end up being the last letter, I just want you to know that I was in a bad place before I started high school and you helped me. Even if you didn’t know what I was talking about or know someone who’s gone through it. You made me not feel alone. Because I know there are people who say all these things don’t happen. And there are people who forget what it’s like to be sixteen when they turn seventeen. And know these will all be stories someday and our pictures will become old photographs and we’ll all become somebody’s mom or dad. But right now these moments are not stories. This is happening. I am here and I am looking at her and she is so beautiful. I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story, you are alive. And you stand up and see the lights on buildings and everything that makes you wonder, when you were listening to that song on that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment, I swear, we are infinite.

– Charlie’s Last Letter, Perks of Being a Wallflower

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9trfrpEDtY

I woke up at exactly 5:05pm today, grabbed my iPod, skimmed through the 1,234 songs on my library and played Charlie’s Last Letter. To those of you who are not familiar with it, “Charlie’s Last Letter” is a one-minute-fifty-one second spoken letter from the movie Perks. The character Charlie, played by actor Logan Lerman, has provided me with a sense of self-acceptance and getting by in the past months. I easily relate to Charlie in terms of his struggle in life and with the world that ultimately, is actually a struggle he has with his own thoughts and his own mind’s voices. But today, Charlie surprised me. Today Charlie made me cry.

I do not know if it was the letter’s pensive background music, or if it was Lerman’s epic acting voice, or just the melancholy-inducing vibe a mixture of the two creates, but that was one of the many times in my life when I cried a lot without knowing the exact reason. So there I was in my overly dark room, bawling my eyes out with Logan Lerman’s voice on replay, wondering if there was in fact a particular cause of the rushing of those tears. After ten replays, I finally decided to hit the stop button, wipe the tears (and the mucus) away, turn the light on and get myself together. That’s when I knew and felt just how much I missed my dad already. In that moment, I knew, Charlie has brought back the little boy in me.

This is the part where the typical Kenn Tenorio in me would say, “I never thought I would be sitting here today, writing about my father.” And this is very true. I have written about a lot of things since I was a kid. I remember writing about a mermaid and panda bears when I was five, four sisters who disliked each other to death when I was seven, the excitement and lust of being a junior in high school when I was fifteen, the not-so-flattering thoughts I have on Vancouver when I was eighteen, and so on and so far. I have written about things that I believe are full of mystery, wonders and questions; things that I know I will only be able to understand and let go of when I continue to chase them and wonder about them the way I wonder about stars, the milky way and ostriches. But Dad isn’t one of those things. Dad had always been just there. With me and my brothers. Not moving. Not withering. Unfading.

Throughout the years, I had lived life with the conscious knowledge that no matter how tough and rough the day is, I would always be able to come home, see my dad, and feel safe again. I always knew at the back of my mind that each wrinkled cloth would be ironed and each spilled milk would be wiped out because Dad would always be there. I was always confident and comfortable in being a bit of a hot mess because I knew that right when the monsters were about to slice me in half, Dad would always come to save the day. And so I never thought I would write about him, simply because I never thought he would move an inch from where I was. But three days ago, he did. He moved not only inches, but miles from home, for yet another job that pays well, in yet another place where “it” can happen. What can I say? It’s, uhm, sad. It’s sad. It really is. I was seven when Mom left to work abroad, and I might had been too young to process goodbyes the way I process them now, but at the end of the day it all hurts just the same. At the end of the day, no matter how hard I try to live the dream, party and act like an adult, I will still be blindsided by the reality that I’ve always been both a Mama’s and Papa’s boy. I know that now. I embrace that now. And it is scary.

Last night I went out til 7:00am with my friend Yuji. We went on bar-hopping after Audrey’s intimate birthday party. And just like I did with Daniel, just like I did with Jason and just like I did with Toni, we ended up having unplanned long walks along the streets of downtown. Now here’s the thing: downtowns, for me, are an epitome of a kind of life I’m not so sure I want to live anymore, or that I’m ready to face just yet. Last night, while Yuji and I were walking down Davie street and while he was talking about something I’m sure was quite entertaining, there were these moments when my eyes met the lights in the tall buildings, the bartenders in different bars, the employees at Denny’s, some office workers heading home after a long day and everything else that has always made me wonder, and my mind just went drifting away as I thought, “this is how my life will be someday (if I decide to go with the flow)”.  I thought: this is it, right here– living downtown on my own, with room mates I might or might not click with, making my own money and my own rules, getting high and wasted with my post-adolescent spirit, living the wild life like normal twenty-somethings do. On that walk, I remembered how much I always wanted to grow up. I remembered how in front of me was the exact kind of life I always thought I wanted for myself. But I also realized how much I regret wishing even just a tiny bit of that life for even just a second. On that walk, it wasn’t what I wanted anymore.

Right now I’m looking around the house and I see chaos– garbage everywhere, the floor getting dusty, unwashed plates and glasses piling up in the kitchen sink, spilled water, empty pizza boxes still on the dining table, dirty shirts on the couch and socks missing their significant others. The tidiness and the orderliness I used to live in on a daily basis have disappeared in a blink of an eye. And it’s not just the tidiness and the orderliness that was due to the fact that my brothers and I grew up with housemaids and a super dad that were always there to the rescue; it is also the over-all spirit of togetherness that is slowly fading away. The delivery of Dominos pizza for dinner last night, my brothers constantly saying they miss dad, Matthew still going to school yesterday morning despite of his severe allergy, and me still wide awake right now (3:00am) are just a few of the many evidences that my brothers and I are still kids; that without Dad, we have no idea what we’re doing. At least not yet.

It’s weird. I mean, Mom was there, and then she had to be away. Dad was there too, always. And then all of a sudden he had to leave. It’s weird. Being so used to seeing someone every day after you wake up and before you go to bed and then just waking up one day and he’s not there anymore? It’s weird. And it’s weird in a way that makes me think of the relationships I have with other people in my life. Friends, lovers. How many of them will actually stay? How many of them have actually been real, existent, or essential? I guess, lucky for me and my Parents’ Boy heart, it’s one less question with Mom and Dad. Because I know they will always be there. Physically, not so often anymore. But with every heartbeat, I feel that they are present.

I am aware, especially in the Western world I’m in right now, that all of this doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. I mean, a 19-year old boy whining about his dad leaving him for work?! SERIOUSLY? Well I admit there are times when I wish I had the heart and the courage of a boy my age who grew up in North America. There are times when I wish I was more dangerous, more self-sustaining, more independent; times when I wish I had Naomi Clark’s every-man-for-himself living in 9O21O; times when I wish I was more of an island, or a well-shaped brick that could stand on its own without needing to lean on something. But I’m not. I am instead a seed that constantly requires nourishing; an injured kitten that seeks warmth and shelter on a rainy night. I am a bunch of cumulus clouds in the hot blue sky in summer. A glass of pebbles held up to the moon-lit outdoors. And despite the seemingly depressing fact that I haven’t quite grown up as much as I wanted to just yet, I find a great amount of solace and comfort in knowing that my heart is still buried deep in my parents’ love, and that beyond my years, I continue to seek the kind of care and safety only home can offer.

Life is different for everybody. Today I found out that life, for me, is a great deal of love, friendships and family. And I might grow up tomorrow, or I might grow up ten years from now. But no matter what happens, I will remember this cold night in March of 2013, when I was nineteen and missed Dad this much. And I will remember that Charlie didn’t bring back the little boy in me. Because I am a little boy. I will always be. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.