Written on May 3, 2014.
This is kind of all over the place. You have been warned.
Its been a month since I published anything online. For most of May, I carried a legal pad around with me and started writing essays. Real essays. Essays that weren’t about me but, instead, were about people and moments; about stories that had intersected with mine or that I had watched from afar with wide-eyed wonder. (And sometimes, if I were to be honest, shock and disgust.)
Towards my last days in Manila, before I set out on my unintentional month-long hiatus, I had stared feeling heavy on the inside. It was the kind of heavy that makes you tired of people and burnt out from life. The kind of heavy that stops your pace, sinks you deep into the questions and traps you into a certain kind of death.
So I wrote. I wrote in beds, on the grass and in libraries. I wrote ’til my fingers were sore and my hands missed the ease of a keyboard. I wrote until the heaviness lifted.
Some things only register in hindsight. Looking back, I was kind of unhappy. I just didn’t know it at the time.
I arrived in San Francisco on May 13 and flew out to New York shortly after to visit my best friend, Barby. It was a reunion that fully characterized our friendship — not tearful or dramatic but rather, so like us: me showing up at her stoop in the dead of night, her accidentally punching me in the face, us hauling my big ass luggage up three flights of stairs and, afterwards, pizza. I did not know how one year of not seeing each other would change us but I needn’t have worried — the important stuff (humor and silliness and the personalities we had grown to cherish) remained.
On the days that Barby was at work, I wandered through Astoria and Manhattan, through subway stations and park trails, looking for something. I think I was looking to be found by the unexpected. I was looking, as most of us are, for my life to be changed.
I have friends who swear their lives are changed after each trip they set out on. I sometimes wonder what it takes to have a life so pliable, so malleable, that it could be moved and shaped so easily. (And why was mine so frustratingly rock hard?)
During my last few weeks in Manila, I held a couple of creative writing workshops, one of which I co-taught with my awesome friend, Bea.
Bea introduced me to the concept of a ‘candy bar scene’ — these are the moments in writing that are so distinct, so clear and so absolutely fun to write because of the vividness of their details.
Here are a few that I witnessed while in NYC:
- A homeless man along 5th Avenue. He was dressed in a dirty trench coat holding a cardboard sign. He’d seem like almost any ubiquitous Manhattan hobo except he was sobbing. A real sob, true anguish gushing out of him. He was not pleading to be noticed. In fact, his face was turned towards the concrete wall. “I have no one!” he cried, grief rattling through his bones “No one!”
That’s how a stranger broke my heart.
- The male receptionist of the building where Gotham Writers School was refused to get off the phone. He was laughing and talking while I threw dagger looks at him, waiting. The word ass played on repeat in my head. When he finally hung up the phone, he asked me to show an ID. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I don’t have any. I’m not from here and I forgot my passport. Um……. will a credit card do?” He laughed a surprisingly charming laugh. “Alright, lemme see.” I handed him my credit card which he glanced at for approximately two seconds. “Okay, you’re good.” I thanked him and made my way to the elevator.
“Miss,” he called out. I turned around. “I mean no disrespect when I say this.” He paused. “But you are beautiful.”
- The rain came out of nowhere and it poured on the Lower East Side with fury. My tiny umbrella was getting weighed down in a neighborhood I was so unfamiliar with. “Screw it,” I thought. “I’ll cab it back.”
Finding a cab, however, was impossible. The rain had secured most of the taxis within the vicinity with passengers who, like me, refused to get drenched. I stayed in a corner, hand held up in desperation, waiting for an empty one to come to my rescue.
Suddenly a car stops in front of me and a man — Caucasian, in his 40’s, slightly balding — rolls down his window, puts a finger to his lip and stares at me seductively.
I am repulsed but instead of giving him the finger, I tighten my hoodie over me and brisk walk far, far away, fear banging against my chest.
It is a secret dream of mine to one day go off the grid for good. I know that I can’t, that it’s impossible to just disappear from the internet forever. But for the brief time that I lay in hiding as I soaked up life in the States, I felt a certain kind of free. It was awesome.
I’m back and settling into the daily grind, assimilating myself into the city I call home.
While in San Francisco, I spent a lot of time with a newborn named Titus. Titus has the most wonderful smile you will ever see, all joy and eyes that actually sparkle. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see that smile all the time because while I was there, he started having his growth spurt. I’d wake up to mornings where all he would do was cry and cry and cry. The change was invisible to the human eye but beneath what we could see, a lot was happening. His cells were changing. His anatomy was on hyperdrive, re-arranging, making him bigger and stronger so that he could be ready to make his mark on the world.
I know now that I was unhappy because I had outgrown my old life. I was going through the same change as Titus — things were re-arranging and falling apart so that I could do more, see more, be more.
Contrary to what I had originally thought, I wasn’t waiting for something to change my life. I was waiting for me.
I’m ready now.