My Tita Lyding turned 86 last week. She suffers from arthritis and can barely walk, her hearing is impaired so we all have to raise our voices so she can hear us, but her mind is still sharp.
I first met her when I came to Manila in 1993. I was 13 then, a young lad from the province, a probinsyano, just about to enter high school. I knew little about life in the big city. Tita Lyding, or Tita Deng as I often call her, was not a blood relative but she took care of me just like her own son.
Since she rarely has the chance to go out, I decided to fetch her from Antipolo and take her out for a night in town.
"O, did you take a bath ba?" I asked her after she got in the car.
"Yes, of course! Three times!" she answered.
"Paamoy nga," I said and embraced her. Her perfume smells of lilac, and old roses, just like I remembered. "So are you ready? Baka mapuyat ka."
"I'm prepared to go home by 6:00 a.m.!" she told us.
"Naku! LAX na ito! Did you bring your dancing shoes Tita Deng?" my close friend Georgie said.
"I brought my third leg," she replied, brandishing her cane, laughing.
That's what I love about my Tita. Her humor and zest for life hasn't faded. She refuses to become an old grumpy lady who complains about everything in her life. Never mind that walking is painful. Never mind that she can't hear the world as much as she used to. I would sometimes catch her pretending to have heard something just to spare her the embarassment of having to repeat "Ano yun?" again and again.
"I'm always happy to see you Kane," she told me.
"I'm happy too Tita. Happy 86th birthday my love," I said.
I brought her to my favorite Filipino restaurant, Bistro Filipino, and we had drinks afterwards with my friends.
What do people want when they're 86, I wondered?
"So, Tita Deng, what is your birthday wish?" I asked her as she sipped her mango margarita.
She was quiet for a moment.
"One more year," she said, smiling at me. "And I want another dinner like this next year ha!"
One more year, I thought to myself. So this is how it ends. When you're younger, you dream of wealth, travel, love, a great job, a great man, great sex and a lifetime to enjoy them all. And at 86, all you ask is for one more year.
I suddenly realized the vast distance of almost six decades that separates my Tita and I. She looked at me and at that moment, we both knew she knew she was approaching the end of her life. How does she feel, I wonder? And when that time comes, how would I feel?
Our finiteness being human is what ultimately gives our lives meaning, I think. It is because we know things do not last forever that we value them. It is the time we spend with our loved ones knowing death comes, the joy of watching children grow up knowing they will not be children forever, the struggles of today knowing there is a promise of a better tomorrow.
The years fly by.
As the poet Andrew Marvell put it in his poem, “To His Coy Mistress” – “And at my back I always hear, / Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”
Maybe one day I will be 86 and someone will ask me what is my wish. I would remember my Tita Deng, and smiling I'll say, "One more year".
M and I had just started going out, and all my Upper Eastsider friends were curious to meet him. I always likened him to Lonely Boy, the guy nobody knew, though in truth, he looked more like Nate with his strong cheekbones and high-bridged nose.
"So. What? Now you're dating some guy you don't know?" my friends would ask.
"Well, he can't be worse than the guys I do know," I'd reply, giving them a mischievous look.
That night, I wore a bowtie. I wanted to pretend I was Chuck, sophisticated and polished. But at some point, I knew I had to stop acting and be who I really was: that girl from Constance who ruled over the steps of the Met. I quickly changed into a pair of red leggings and put on a red headband on my head. My friends loved it.
I was very nervous, worried how M would take it. After all, it's not everday you suddenly see the guy you're dating suddenly transform from Bass to Waldorf.
I slowly approached him and said, "So, are you shocked?" I will never forget what he said.
"Kane, I like you. I don't care if you're wearing a red headband or red leggings... I like you," M told me, smiling.
And then he kissed me, in front of everyone, red leggings and all.
That was the first moment I fell in love with M, the moment when you tell yourself, "This boy, this man, he's really something."
Fran, my ever-delightful best friend, and I were hanging out one lazy Sunday afternoon.
"I can't believe it hun. I'm turning 30," I said.
"Hunny!!! You're actually 30!" Fran said.
"Well, don't go looking at me like I'm some kind of relic," I said laughing.
"So seriously, how do you feel?" she asked.
I sat down beside Fran and handed her a glass of Chateau Pauillac.
"Well, honestly, I didn't think I would be happy after what I went through last year," I said "But, surprisingly, I am happy."
"When I was younger, I had fantasies of how I would be like by the time I turn 30. I dreamt of owning an apartment in some strange city in a foreign land. Somewhere like Istanbul or Budapest overlooking the Danube river, perhaps. I thought by this age, I would be in a happy relationship. And guess what? Hahaha. None of it came true," I told her.
"I mean when you're 21, 30 seems so far away. And I told myself, you can fuck 21, 22, 25, 27, but hopefully by thirty, you'd be married to a wonderful man and you'd live happily ever after," I said.
"So none of it came true… but I realized, it's not so bad," I said. "At the end of the day, I may have only myself but I have myself."
"Wow, hun. I am proud of this new fearless you. But then, you weren't really cowering before," Fran said.
"I don't know. Something in me has changed, I have changed. I am no longer afraid of pain, or loneliness. Things that can be difficult to accept," I said quietly.
Fran looked at me and smiled.
"I'm so excited and curious for you hun. You really are in a different place," she said.
"I really am no? I surprise even myself sometimes. And isn't that the best thing of all?" I said, laughing
"It's great how we can surprise ourselves. That we are not afraid to be different from what we we were a year ago," she said.
I have been thinking a lot about age and birthdays and the unavoidable, incessant passage of time. People say age is but a number, but lest we forget, it is still a number.
"But you don't look 30!!!" my friends would tell me.
"Oh, but I feel like 30," I would answer.
It's there, in the lost friendships, and shattered dreams. In the way your heart can ache that never did before. It's in the quiet memories that you struggle to forget.
These things age a man, when he starts to understand the joys and sorrows of life. To find love and lose it. To meet death in its many forms. And happiness with its many faces.
It was the New Year of 2010. I was on a rooftop watching as the fireworks lit the sky like a thousand tiny suns. And I told myself, isn't it a wonder that each one in this city, at this exact moment, is saying a wish.
"I hope my son finishes his college degree."
"I hope I can find a job soon."
"I hope I'll find love."
Each person, secretly wishing that maybe this year will be better than the last. I was one of them.
And out of the blue, my friend and former teacher in college Gad sent me this:
"In the coming year, you will find that, of course, it is possible to give oneself with wild, unbound passion again. And again and again.
Wisdom like that has to make the new year a good one."
It was a Saturday night and I was taking a shower while listening to Big Fish radio featuring David Guetta.
I was scrubbing my back and legs, preparing for a night out in town, when suddenly a song played and I said to myself: "Wait... What is this song?"
I fell into a trance. There were no words to describe how it felt, how the music took me higher and higher, deeper into my subconscious, evoking emotions, memories of things that have happened, and those that are yet to happen.
Roger Ebert describes these moments with the French word frisson: something English has no exact equivalent. It is a brief intense reaction, usually a feeling of excitement, recognition, or terror.
I call these wow moments and these moments become rarer as you grow older. Our threshold to be shocked, amazed, or be wowed steadily rises as we see more and more of the world. But the quest never ends: the search for frisson: whether in food, or art, or music, or literature, or love. Especially love.
Here is the song Beatport says "got all the ingredients of a summer festival smash."
"We are not going home
A million miles away."
I like stories. Whether they're of random strangers or close friends, people's stories hold me spellbound.
Every story leads us to an insight: Who are we? Why do we do the things we do? Why are we here, and not there?
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