My Symphony: Cold Water by Damien Rice


“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.