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A happy Valentine's Day!

I wasn't planning on going out yesterday, not at all. Traffic is terrible; restaurants are crowded; romance, if not manufactured, is contrived. But I'm not entirely anti-Valentine's Day; I'm just a practical romantic. And single.

Anyway, Valentine's Day had a surprise twist, and we ended up celebrating the day in a manner closer to the life of St. Valentine: It was a little bloody.

I was babysitting Kiara for the day, because on Thursdays, her yaya Ate Lucy, a member of Iglesia ni Kristo, goes to worship. My mother was at a meeting in San Juan, so it was just me and my four-year-old nice. We'd had a quiet day, and I'd just finally convinced her to take a nap by telling her my version of Goldilocks with a lot of "She was very, very sleepy" thrown in.

Then I got a call from her mother.

Keona, who had just arrived from school, had cut herself on the gate, she said. She didn't have all the details yet, but the wounds were very deep and they wouldn't stop bleeding. Ate Lucy was already back from worship, but could I go and check on her and bring her to a clinic, if needed?

I swallowed my panic and nudged Kiara, who was already snugly positioned next to me for a long nap (she sleeps really well after a shower, which we'd just had; my hair was still plopped up in a cotton wrap). "Get up," I whispered.

She sat up, looking confused, and said, "I thought we were sleeping." I replied that we had to go home, because her Ate Keona had "an owie" and we needed to help her.

I quickly packed all of Kiara's stuff--her school uniform and other school things were scattered all over the house--all the while thinking, "Oh my god, please, please don't let the wound be too deep. I don't want to have to do major first aid."

Once upon a time, I considered being a doctor. I was getting on that path too: even if my high school aptitude test placed me on a liberal arts track, I'd asked to be put in a medical science section in my junior year. The interest never waned, but the actionable desire did. I think I have too much of my grandfather in me--he who fainted at the sight of blood. I've never fainted, but I might. That, or I might vomit.

To steel myself, I started imagining the worst: blood, torn skin, perhaps ligaments? Muscles? Surely not internal organs? But my rational brain also said that it couldn't be that bad, if they could still wait for me to come. Besides, how much damage could the edge of a gate do?

Kiara and I took a tricycle. My house and my sister's house are in different villages, but they are connected by a thirty-peso, ten-minute tricycle ride, thanks to what's called the Friendship Route. On the way, my growing panic was staved off by ever-curious Kiara, who, remembering a conversation we'd had the other day, asked, "How are you going to go to driving school, Auntie Dat, if you don't know how to drive?"

A distraught Keona greeted us at the door. She was still wearing her school uniform, and carrying some sort of hand bag that looked like it had been packed in a rush to go to the hospital. It immediately reminded me of the night thirteen years ago when she started being born. Her father picked me and my mother up, and it surprised me to see their bags were packed, ready for confinement. "It's time!" he had said with a smile. I had panicked that time as well.

There was a very visible gash under Keona's right knee, but the bleeding had stopped. It looked deep, but it didn't seem like it needed stitches. She had washed it herself, she said, and they hadn't put anything else on it.

Her accident had been a confluence of unfortunate events. Their house had lost electricity that morning, and a Meralco technician had been called. Whitey, their black and white labrador mix, had to be moved elsewhere, unchained, so the technician could do his job.

Meanwhile, their guard, for some reason, had chosen that day to bar Keona's school bus from entering their tiny subdivision because it didn't have a sticker. Keona had walked from the gate to their house. It's a five-minute walk at my pace, but this small change meant that Keona arrived at their house relatively unannounced and was greeted by an over-excited dog who, wanting to run outside, jumped at the rusty gate and making it scratch Keona on both legs.

I snapped a picture and sent it to her mother. Her father also called and gave Keona instructions on where to find her HMO card. I tried to research nearby clinics for anti-tetanus shots, and we realized it would be easier to go to the Asian Hospital emergency room.

I told Keona, who had calmed down a little, to change her clothes. I booked a Grab Car, then asked Ate Lucy for some Betadine. They had no cotton balls, so we needed to use cotton swabs to apply the iodine solution--something I couldn't bear to do myself!

We agreed to pour the Betadine over the wounds instead, with Ate Lucy catching the drip offs with a piece of tissue paper. I flinched, Keona flinched, and Kiara kept chanting, "It won't hurt, Ate! It won't hurt! It won't hurt!" like she had waited a lifetime for her turn to finally say the small, but necessary lie to someone else.

Of course, it hurt a little. It was an open wound.

I wasn't supposed to take Kiara with me, but she bawled when the car arrived. "I don't want to be alone!" she screamed. I thought of all the disease outbreaks I'd read about and the risk of exposure in the ER, and then I weighed this against my knowledge that the girls were updated on their vaccines, plus the possibility of Kiara having unarticulated anxiety over her hospital-bound sister. I gave in and instructed Ate Lucy to get Kiara a jacket.

As we got in the car, the driver noted the destination and asked if we were having an emergency. I said, "Not really, you can drive normally," and Keona asked if she could borrow his charger. Then, the two girls asked if they could have waffles at Pancake House after.

"I'm trying not to think of my sugat," Keona said when she saw my face. "It smells so bad, like iron. Blood smells like iron."

On the way to the hospital, I made phone calls to their parents, who were already on their way, and my mother, who was already done with her meeting. My mother didn't need to come to the hospital, but I had accidentally brought her key to the house with me. I was planning to put it someplace secret in the garden so she could enter the house, but that someplace secret turned out to be my hastily-put-together bag of first aid stuff and Kiara's dirty socks.

I texted my younger brother, who works in Laguna, in case he could come to us faster.

At the ER triage desk, a nurse took a look at Keona's wound. She pressed the skin together to see if it would close. I felt faint, again imagining stitches, and she said she didn't think they were necessary, but the doctor would confirm.

"What happened?" the nurse asked Keona, in Filipino. Keona's fluent by now, but there's still some difficulty that comes with switching between two languages.

"The dog..." she started. I cut in and explained what happened, making it clear that the dog didn't exactly do anything to Keona, but the gate he jumped at that cut her legs was rusty, so we were there also for anti-tetanus shots.

The nurse brought out a wheelchair for Keona, and Kiara started pushing her big sister into the ER. We were given a bed in the hallway.

The doctor's surname was also Pioquinto, but they weren't related. She wiped off the Betadine and used hydrogen peroxide on the wounds, digging deeper into them to clean the inside and saying sorry to Keona the entire time because it absolutely stung worse than the iodine did. Kiara watched intently, telling her Ate it was okay. Then, the doctor put some ointment and applied some surgical tape strips, covered the cut with gauze, and told us to wait for the anti-tetanus shots to be prepared.

While we waited, Kiara touched everything she could get her hands on, including the CR walls and yellow trash bin, because I told her she shouldn't. It was a small war between us in the making, each battle ending with me fiercely washing her hands.

After about 20 minutes, a nice male nurse arrived to administer the shots. Yes, plural: one on each arm. All three of us are scared of needles, especially Kiara, who'd had to have an anti-rabies shot injected in her face one Christmas Day, but being that I was the only adult present, I had to put on a brave face and look.

The nurse warned us that Keona's arms would feel heavy. After the shots, I asked if we could wait there until her arms felt normal again. He looked confused by my question, but he said yes, since we needed to wait for the doctor to discharge us anyway.

Dr. Pioquinto came again, gave us a prescription for an ointment and painkillers (paracetamol) that Keona asked for. Then she gave us some final instructions to care for the wound. Again, I asked if we could wait a little for Keona's arms to be okay, as she couldn't lift them, and she said yes.

I got a text from my mother that she was outside the ER. Kiara and I stepped out to meet her, and when we got back to Keona, her arms were still heavy. I called the nurse and asked when exactly they would feel okay again, and he replied, "Tomorrow, they should be completely back to normal."

"We can't wait until tomorrow," I told Keona. She promptly got off the bed.

Everyone else was already in the Alabang area when I was settling the bill. Thankfully, everything was covered by the HMO.

There was a cool wind blowing (and the stars were out) when we walked to Festival Mall. It was dinner time, so we decided to have dinner with all the world's lovers.

While waiting for our food, I showed the picture of Keona's wound to her uncle and her father. They both said it was nothing, and that they'd imagined worse. We'd had deeper wounds almost every week, my brother reminded me, every time we'd ride standing behind someone else on a bike.

Keona took the group selfie of us below, having dinner at Teriyaki Boy. Her arms were still heavy, but she managed to eat all her chicken teriyaki and some of her sister's cabbage salad, and take this one picture.

Now that everyone's home and safe, I find it almost hilarious how I ended up being out for dinner on Valentine's Day. But it was also a reminder of how love shows up in the most unexpected of times and demands to be felt in the most surprising of ways. You can't always be ready for it, I guess. Sometimes, you just have to step up, even when you're scared.

I take pleasure in your company

The other day, I read this article, "Loitering is Delightful" by Ross Gay, on the Paris Review, where he explores the notion of loitering and writes:
The Webster’s definition of loiter reads thus: “to stand or wait around idly without apparent purpose,” and “to travel indolently with frequent pauses.” Among the synonyms for this behavior are linger, loaf, laze, lounge, lollygag, dawdle, amble, saunter, meander, putter, dillydally, and mosey. Any one of these words, in the wrong frame of mind, might be considered a critique or, when nouned, an epithet (“Lollygagger!” or “Loafer!”). ... All of these words to me imply having a nice day. They imply having the best day.
I was immediately reminded of college. I was part of a group that called ourselves "the Loafers Club," a variation of the "the Losers Club" from the Stephen King horror novel IT. We'd watched the 1986 movie adaptation together after school, after discovering that we all enjoyed King's writing.

We'd recently joined a school organization for writers, found kindred spirits, and spent a lot of time at the tambayan, initially to fulfill the required "tambay hours," but, soon enough, simply because we liked being around each other.

A typical day in UP would see us and our other org mates spreading a handwoven mat, a picnic blanket, or a re-purposed tarpaulin left over from an event--whatever worked, really--on the grass under a tree in the Faculty Center Grove, then sitting or lying down in the shade, delighting in the often ordinary moment and in each other's company.

Over 20 years later, my favorite people are still people who like to loaf. While I like being organized and working towards a goal, I'm often wary of people who just can't function without a defined purpose--it's as if this need for a reason instantly translates to an evaluation of my company and I suddenly feel pressured to produce.

Going into my 40s, I'm discovering that people who both have time to kill and enjoy doing nothing purposeful are now a rarity. I don't see it necessarily as a bad thing, but I find it unfortunate that we don't get to enjoy each other as much as we ought to, especially without hope or agenda.

Happily, I still have some friends who take their time with me. I hope I never lose them, and that we continue to delight in each other.

And because I think I'll always be the person who lingers simply because I take pleasure in your company, I hope it will be easier and easier for me to let you know.

A throwback Thursday

Last Thursday, I got a message from a former workmate. We used to teach English in an office in Alabang, where I spent a little over two years before transferring to the content development team in Eastwood. I would spend six more years developing blended learning content for the company before leaving in 2015.

The work entailed creating lessons, quizzes, tests, and courses for the company's learning management system (LMS). I mention this because my former workmate was asking me about phonetics, somehow thinking me to be some sort of "expert."

I'm hardly an expert. Phonetics is a subject I had encountered only briefly in Linguistics 101, the only linguistics class I took. And I was only forced to learn a little more about it because I used an old paperback dictionary when I was a newspaper writer. Online dictionaries weren't a big thing yet back then. Besides, I had to share one dial-up internet capable desktop computer with everyone else in our department.

My former workmate told me that she was taking an online test and she couldn't move past the phonetics-related questions because the system wasn't accepting her answers. She'd been at it for hours, she said, and she couldn't figure out why her answers were being marked wrong.

I was on the road when we first messaged in the afternoon. When I was able to reply to her again close to midnight, she was still stuck on the same three questions. Feeling her frustration, I offered to take a look.

Basically, there were sentences written in phonetic alphabet, and you just needed to enter the English words in the provided box. Because I am a nerd, I was instantly curious, despite being exhausted from having just been in an eight-hour car ride.

I spent some fifteen minutes figuring out what the sentences were, switching back and forth from Messenger to browser on my phone, only to discover she and I had arrived at practically the same answers. I started feeling frustrated myself, because I was so sure our answers were correct. I had checked and double-checked.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that the problem was most likely an LMS issue, not a human comprehension one. I asked her if she had tried writing the sentences without any punctuation marks or in all lowercase letters. She had tried the former. She then tried the latter. Et voilĂ ! Problem solved.

She thanked me profusely, and I told her it was no big deal. It was, to her, of course. Finally, she could move on to the rest of the test, she said, after hours of being stumped and not knowing what she was doing wrong.

In a way, it was a big deal to me, too. I had handled a lot of frustrations in that job, the least of which was working with limited technical resources on a quirky platform. I had loved the work with a passion, but the job had started to feel like an albatross around my neck in my final few months.

How many hours had I spent testing quizzes to check if they accepted all possible incarnations of a correct answer in the six years I was handling content development? That was tedious labor, but years later, what little I had learned helped me help someone else. It was hilariously simple, but it also felt so... glorious.

Writing this now, a few days later, it seems like such a small thing, so trivial, even inconsequential. But I can still remember how much my old self craved for even a little bit of this lightness, and I can only be thankful that, finally, it is here.

"Maybe she just wasn't meant for us"

Last week, our stay-out helper's story, told over a span of days, was about a five-month-old baby in her neighborhood who had died because of "tigdas itim." I didn't know it then, but she was referring to German measles.

The parents already had eight (father side) and four (mother side) children before they had this one, she said, and for hours each day, they had needed to leave their new baby at a relative's house so they could do whatever they did to make a living.

Unfortunately for the baby, our helper said, the house stood beside a tree that was home to an elemental. It may have been annoyed by the baby's non-stop crying. The parents were warned by a hilot not to bring the baby back there, but they refused to listen. Besides, they needed to work.

One day, the baby got sick, black spots appearing all over her body. Our helper explained that it was different from the usual measles because the spots were blackish instead of red. The baby also had high fever. They brought her to a clinic, but she never got better and, towards the end, vomited and pooped thick blackish liquid.

There was more drama over the next few days after the baby passed away: about the doctor giving the wrong medicine, about the family not having anyone stay up with the baby at night during the wake, about a cousin having to file for death benefits instead because the baby's parents just moved here and had no IDs, about an insensitive relative roasting eggplant (apparently a huge no-no) while the wake was ongoing, about the baby not having been baptized so she might end up as tiyanak, and about the parents being missing when the priest came for final blessing.

For a few days, our helper said, you couldn't talk to the mother. She wasn't hysterical with grief; it was as if she was stunned by everything that was happening. The father, on the other hand, was resigned to his loss. "Hindi talaga siguro para sa amin," he said. Maybe she just wasn't meant for us.

I wanted to say that while not all deaths are preventable, this one was, but I didn't want to start a conversation with her that would surely lead to what--or who--is killing our children.

Instead, I asked whether her children and her children's children had been vaccinated. She said yes, and I left it at that.

Something about the future

A few years ago, I was in the supermarket wanting to buy some chocolates. For some reason, the Choc Nut was on the top shelf--too high for five-foot (and three-fourths inch) me to reach. I stood on tiptoe and tried to get a pack, just in time for my arm to hit someone else's.

The arm belonged to a man, now faceless in my memory, but I remember noticing he was attractive and well-dressed and a full head taller. He got his Choc Nut with no trouble, while I abruptly suspended all efforts to grab mine. Instead, I simply stood in front of the chocolate shelf and waited for him to leave. I was thinking that I might need to jump a little, with what little grace I had, and I didn't want anyone witnessing that.

But I wasn't as invisible as I was hoping to be, because he turned to me and handed me a pack of Choc Nut with an amused chuckle. I felt the blood rush to my face, and I managed to say, "Oh, wow." He chuckled again. I thanked him and, with growing embarrassment, I left. I could still hear him chuckling as I walked away.

***

I was thinking of you when this memory floated to the surface, and I found myself wondering: Could that have been you?

I could allow myself to believe it, too.

Our paths hadn't crossed yet then, at least not in a way we remembered, obviously, but I can easily imagine that life, with all its side roads and detours, has always been leading us to a future where you smile at me and I think, this is exactly how I wished it would be.

If I could be sweet

As I entered the elevator to go down to the lobby from the 5th floor, a man rushed out. We almost bumped into each other, then we did the dance for a few seconds before we found our way.

A quick glance told me he was handsome; he looked to be in his 40s, going by his hair. But the most striking thing about him--at least for me--was that he was eating a chocolate bar. He held a half-wrapped Meiji milk chocolate bar in his hand, biting into it like a delighted child instead of breaking it into oh-so-proper adult bite-sized pieces.

The doors were closing when he suddenly ran back in the elevator. "I'm sorry," he said, in what I think was a Japanese accent.

I suprised myself by laughing like a girl, then saying, "Oh, you were going down?"

"Yes, yes," he said, with a half-laugh, "I'm sorry."

We stayed silent as the elevator slowly descended to the ground floor. I stared at my feet. It was a small elevator.

When we got to the ground floor, I quickly stepped outside to wait for my Grab car, which was two minutes away. He followed, stood near the steps, glanced around, then saw the vacant seat beside me. He took it. Then he happily continued eating his chocolate bar.

There was a time when I'd wish he had talked to me or I had gathered enough nerve to strike up a conversation with him. Right now, however, I really can't stop thinking about that chocolate bar.

It's amazing


Alicia Silverstone recreated her role in the music video for "Cryin'" on Lip Sync Battle recently, and of course it brought me back to the 1990s, to when I never got to wear flannel and boots and ride a convertible with my bad girl friends. Not that I really wanted to, in retrospect, though back then I was so convinced I did.

Thank god I didn't get that tattoo.

Anyway, hearing "Cryin'" again led me to check out the other Aerosmith music videos featuring Alicia on YouTube. I'm still not into "Crazy," but now I guess you could say I'm a little bit crazy about "Amazing."

Maybe I was too young to appreciate what the song meant the first time I heard it in my teens. Its words didn't stand out in the musical sea of 90s angst and rebellion, at least to me.

Now that I'm older and I've had more life experience, I am able to hear the song clearly. In a way, the message of climbing back up after hitting rock bottom resonates with me, though I've never battled alcohol or drug addiction. Or any substance-related addiction, for that matter.

I guess we all have our own versions of rock bottom and things we get addicted to. As Gotye sang, "You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness."

Maybe I was addicted to some form of drama, or sticking to that singular narrative about my life. It feels so good to cut it off. Sorry, Gotye.

I mean, it's not just good--it's amazing, with the blink of an eye, you finally see the light. It's amazing when the moment arrives that you know you'll be alright.