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…

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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.