To the men who had found a home in me

For as long as I could remember, I thought I was looking for a home
But what greater privileges are there in the world,
than being a safe haven for someone to remove their armors for a while?
A nook for them to peel artificial layers of patriarchy,
one self-imposed expectation after another?

Through the curves and in-betweens my body provides,
men would rest their mind, and sometimes their heart
The bravest would even build a temple
an encanto territory to wish, to accept, and sometimes to cry

To the sharp edges of my thoughts,
some dared to wander, and to wonder
The humblest would turn it into a dance floor,
a festive room to tango, to box, and to finally see

When I let you in, know that its because
You have seen me for what I am

But when you mistook me for something or someone else,
I will politely ask you to leave

When I let you all the way in, to the deeper corners of me,
know that it means I trust you too

Though I know better than to make you home
or to let you make me a permanent one

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Madrid at Midnight

“Velázquez is amazing, but Goya—Goya is my hero.”

You said this while looking up to the names of Spain’s greatest painters carved on the wall in the entrance gate of Museo del Prado, the very building where I spent hours being awed by both of their many deeply inspired paintings just the day before.

“Do you think you admire Goya more because his paintings capture the essence of humanity?”

I asked this because you told me that your deeply held belief is that people have an ‘essence’, and they won’t be ‘fulfilled’ until they have truly connected with it. I wasn’t sure I was sold on this idea, because I always thought the self is an ever-evolving being.

Velázquez (well, his statue) was right there sitting behind us, minding his own business. It felt a bit like we had the whole building to ourselves.

At that point we have spent at least five hours talking to each other, althought it barely felt like a couple. Earlier that day, you suggested that we meet by the El Retiro Park main entrance gate at 8 PM—the one by Plaza de la Independencia, you added. Upon entering, take a left—said you’d be easy to spot.

You were. Somehow I knew I would be spending my last day in Madrid with the right soul.

We walked from one end of the park to another until we found a bench and were too engrossed in our conversation to even realized it was 15 minutes to midnight. The moon had moved from the left end of the horizon to the right, I told you. To which you replied, “You know it’s the Earth that rotates, right?” (Señor, and there I was thinking mansplaining was beneath you.)

We talked about how capitalism fucked us all, how it yielded an education system that numbs everyone, and whether when we meet again in 10 years we would’ve survived climate change. We talked about why people are addicted to religion, or any system that doesn’t require them to think on their own, because quite frankly, a world with too much uncertainties gets really scary really quickly. We talked about a lot of other things in between.

Alas, we had to move; some of the park’s gates were closed already (thank the universe we found one that wasn’t) and most restaurants were closing already even though we haven’t had dinner.

After being in denial for almost a good hour, we finally succumbed to the reliability of fast food chains that still open past midnight. We went to a KFC place nearby even though you took us to the wrong direction at first (it was when you admitted that I will always be right and if I wasn’t it’s all your fault lol). You hated crowds in general, so we took the food to the steps right by the Grand Via square and talked some more while munching chicken.

This time we talked about privileges, families, and guilt. And that the only way to deal with guilt is by using your privileges to help as many people as possible, the same way living people deal with their guilt towards those who passed before them by living their life to the fullest. Beware of the slippery slope towards the messiah complex though, you reminded me.

We didn’t get much sleep that night, and I couldn’t help but felt like we were literally in a Before Sunrise movie. Nothing about that evening was ordinary—you were a stranger but felt a lot like an old friend. I laughed a lot, and yet can’t get enough of our non-stop banters.

It was short but really sweet. The night did become good (what was it in Spanish again?) and I think for a brief time, our souls connected, which is always rare. For that, I am grateful to the universe.

Good bye for now, Seńor.

I haven’t been home in two weeks

The moment Mom texted me that Eyang’s condition had plunged, I packed for three days and left for Bogor in a heartbeat.

That day was chaos: I remember two ambulance rides, two emergency rooms, six hours of being worried because we couldn’t find a single HCU in town, panicking because we couldn’t find type A blood for Eyang, and mild shouting across the hospital because one extended family member thought we didn’t need to take her for this procedure that medicine clearly dictated she badly needed.

I remember having to make a lot of medical decisions that day. I remember not feeling like a granddaughter but a parent, not only to my Eyang but to her son and daughter, who probably were just as worried but slightly more desensitized to the worst possibilities. I remember wondering whether all the medical TV series I watched had helped me or made things worse.

I remember feeling scared of losing Eyang. A lot.

I remember being sent back to exactly a year ago, on Feb 25, when Bapak passed away. Or a few months later, when Wikan left. I remember the pain from losing them. I remember fearing the feeling of losing, perhaps more than losing itself.

On the other side of the city, that weekend there were two happy occasions: one engagement, one wedding—one big wedding. I scrolled my Instagram, looking at pretty, happy faces (oh so happy). Then I looked around me, and the mess that prevails, of the sick family members, of all the fighting that we had that week. And yet how minute that is, when you put it next to a whole war going on in the other part of the world. Children losing parents and homes.

It is so peculiar how both happiness and sadness are true, how they could both happen at the same time, in parallel.

I packed for three days but was away for almost two weeks.
Two whole weeks of pure chaos.

But c’est la vie, my friend.

To the nudibranch with a blue whale’s heart

I asked if you were real.

You told me, “Baby, I’m more real than those politicians’ commitments at COP 26.” (Points for making a climate joke, by the way.) I chuckled, although deep down I wondered if you did mean I’m basically self-deceiving—the same way everyone remains calm as we’re on track to a 2.5 degrees Celsius warming.

Risen or not, you remind me of a calm ocean—steady, never in a rush. (Except maybe for that time you were almost late to go to the office.) You always take your time: to listen to my stories, to respond to my philosophical riddles, to wait for me before dinner. Next to you, I might even believe that there’s an everflowing well of seconds, minutes, or even days.

Perhaps this is why with you I’m capable of letting things unravel, instead of frantically taking control like my brain normally instructs me to. With you, it feels like the universe has set its course, and the only thing left to do is let ourselves walk down its path. Nothing feels forced—we didn’t and never have any agenda: I just was, you simply were, and we just be. The salted pretzel grew organically into a blob of something else, too whole to be contained by names or labels.

I hope you know I wasn’t looking for a cure. Yes, you found me when I was badly hurting (not talking about the time we were in an actual accident), but I have learned my lesson that the only way to heal is inward—sitting down with the pain, embracing it, maybe even licking it, letting it leave slowly when it’s ready. You’re not some magic herb that will wash my trauma away—you’re the superfood with rare nutrients that I didn’t know I needed.

I am worried about inadvertently projecting my ideals on you, instead of seeing you for who you really are. I have been guilty of doing the former multiple times before—my record was over 2,000 days straight. But how can I not, when you keep saying the right things, at every single turn?

The way you reached for my waist like you’ve done it a thousand times before.
The way you nuzzled my neck as though it breathes the air that keeps you alive.
The way you lifted and pressed my body to yours like it’s their natural state of being.

For a brief second, you touched my soul, despite it being deeply buried under layers of trust issues and insecurities. We may not always speak each other’s language, but words often fail people anyway, and are dwarfed at the presence of inexplicable bonds.

Your stories brighten even my darkest days—a lotus flourishing after the storm, the mandarin fish showing itself out even though it wasn’t sunset, the fish that camouflages as pretty corals yet turns out to be deadly, how green turtles were sacrificed in Balinese rituals, the sunflowers that die slowly right after they bloomed, the Jewish tradition of betrothals and weddings, the dolphins in captive who… had to unlearn about not having to please anyone and live for themselves.

You make me laugh, excited, and smarter—not always in that sequence, but sometimes all at one go.

My favorite part about you, which I ironically forgot for a second, is how you remember the little details. How I couldn’t stomach beer, my birthday after I mentioned it one time, a random thing I told you I was gonna do a couple of weeks before (muay thai), something you read in my manuscript dozens of pages ago, the exact outfit I wore the first time we met, the list goes on. I also enjoy all the arbitrary references to specific Big Bang Theory episodes (plus that time we played the pilot and first episodes simultaneously to compare how they’re different).

You said you will never take me for granted, but I heard that before, and this time around I’ll just nod and smile, too trained and intuited to impose expectations.

Besides, we’re just being.