September112014

Prologue and Chapter One

An Approximate Account of the First Contact with the Aheno During the Third Year of the Administration of Datu Siksin Sr. of Awanggan

Just in case I hadn’t made the title explicit enough, this account shall not cover the Great Aheno Invasion that came about during the third year of the Administration of Raja Lapya of Ambar, which occurred subsequent to the Contact in question; nor shall it cover the Royal Aheno Visitation following the signing of the Interspecies Peace Treaty during the sixth year of the Administration of Datu Siksin Jr. of Awanggan.

If you were expecting an opening like “They came from the West out of a dense cluster of stars like a volley of meteors, enrapturing the entire tribu, and before we knew it, we had been caught in their talons of conquest,” then you may close the book and go read I Married An Aheno or something. We’ll have none of your romanticizing of history here. My job is to accurately depict, to the best of my capacity for research, an (approximate) account of the titular invasion. And that I shall do, without resorting to kitschy pabulum.

It was a luminous late morning the time the Aheno’s ship broke into Earth’s atmosphere. Only when it had grown large enough in the sky to have blocked the sun’s rays did mankind notice. Their single spacefaring vessel (of course they’d bring only one venturing into a planet for the first time; what kind of sentient race would bring their entire fleet? Sentido kumon, people!) looked to be built from toothpicks and gum but if such a craft was capable of traversing the vastness of outer space, then I reserve no right to criticize its architecture. Being silhouetted against the morning sun was an ingenious scare tactic; to our ancestors the sun was a god, which meant that cutting off its rays was tantamount to declaring dominance over the land.

Response was varied. The highly devout, petrified, dropped to their knees in supplication. Scientists, atheists, and conspiracy theorists showed the utmost curiosity and tracked the vessel’s progress but others resumed their lives albeit with the mildest of apprehension. There was no mass panic. Our ancestors were no stranger to foreign visitation what with the established trade routes keeping economy more or less afloat. Teachers, students, brokers, secretaries, drivers, enforcers, clerks, and clergy—the system was too stable to have been jarred by a single ominous shape. But the system never expected what would transpire once these otherworldly beings made contact.

In the span of an hour, and by precisely noontime, the vessel had grown so large it had to land far from the shoreline of Awanggan so as to prevent damage to infrastructure and the shore’s ecosystem. It sat there, right on the point where the horizon curves downward, like a leafy seadragon larger than any ocean liner or oil platform man had ever envisioned. Datu Siksin Sr. had closed off the shore so that he and his royal guard could receive the newcomers, as they didn’t appear to be hostile. The Aheno rode to shore in a small tender boat carrying their captain a few other notable officers. The Aheno were humanoid, no doubt, but there was something about them that our ancestors thought wasn’t classifiable as human—or at least, not classifiable as homo sapiens as we knew it to be; on average, they were taller by a head and their skin gleamed like capiz under the sun.

No surviving account today has ever shed light on what had been said when the Aheno stepped on Awanggan’s sands. Whatever the first Contact had agreed upon, Datu Siksin Sr. of Awanggan, and Ferdinand Magellan, captain of the Aheno vessel, have taken it to their graves.

A quarter of the populace who had caught wind of the arrival of the sky-borne vessel was gathered by the perimeter of the city proper but as the reception went on, the number of onlookers dwindled; they probably decided it would’ve been on the news anyway, and that they had more pressing matters to attend to, like deciding where to have lunch. And just as foretold, the Aheno made front pages the following day.

Needless to say, the articles chronicling the subsequent press conferences with the Aheno showed an acute lack of understanding of basic quantum and astrophysics, so attempting to locate these scientific concepts in the guise of prehistoric babble was like trying to extrapolate how Australopithecus afarensis could have reacted after her first glimpse of the Internet. Here is an approximate summary of the article: The Aheno claimed to have come from a time in the universe’s distant past, meaning to say that they had come from a space-time in the early phases of universal expansion. They had discovered a way to exceed the speed of expansion (using processes involving dark matter and quantum entanglement that are too lengthy to be explained here so bear with me) and travel to places that not even light can reach. It was in this new area of space-time the Aheno were able to find a planet that had evolved in close symmetry with their home planet. They described Earth’s civilization back then as a mirror image of Aheno civilization a few thousand years previous.

After spending a week on our planet attending various cultural events, the Aheno left, promising to bring back technology that could enable us to skip thousands of years of scientific discovery. The prospect was unfathomable yet undeniably exciting. During the time the Aheno were gone, speculation had gone rampant. All kinds of science fiction literature proliferated like—romance literature, for lack of a better metaphor. Mankind awaited the return of their foreign saviors, strange and magical beings who were capable of elevating our race from the stupor of savagery.

Not everyone was as enthusiastic. But that is a tale for another time.

Aligin Sugbo,

History Enthusiast and Pundit, Self-Proclaimed

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Chapter One

Under any normal circumstance prior to the writing of this—whatever you wish to call it—would I have given you my name without the merest hesitation. It is difficult, coming to grips with reality after having learned that your origins were a complete fabrication but no matter how I phrase it, one cannot skirt around the fact that I, as a baby, had been adopted. The statistical likelihood of it, eh? I’d attempted to step back and look into recent memory for any sort of portent that could’ve saved me the shock but when the life that’s presented to you is far more enticing—and far more convenient than the truth, sometimes, you cannot help but be swept along with it. Of course, I know better than to let this revelation break me. The separation of my parents several years previous may have emotionally distanced me from them but I still do put them in (relatively) high regard. I’d like to say I’ve outgrown my teenage angst even though I’ve recently just hit the twenty mark, so I won’t let this be the final nail in the coffin, not while there are people who still care about me. Family can be a bitch, but it’s often the ones that hit the hardest that are the most important.

Not to say things have drastically changed inasmuch as I still respond when called by my name but I can’t help feeling a tinge of displacement—like I’ve another life yet to be explored, a life that doesn’t deserve a name born of stars: Estrella.

It has been a recent trend in Awanggan to strive to reach back into one’s roots—a difficult enough excavation given the centuries of Aheno technology and bloodlines stacked on top of one another like sedimentary layers. One fruit of such a trend was the passing of a law that granted citizens of Awanggan, no matter the heritage, the right to name their children in the ancient tongue, a right that took five hundred years to gather enough constituents for its existence to be acknowledged by the Royal House, and another five hundred years for the bill to be passed. I was one of the first batches of newborns lucky enough to have benefited from this new law. So it was always told of me by my chatty grandmother that on the darkest night, in the coldest December, as a star shone brightly as it never had in centuries, defying the violent glow of the bustling city’s heart, I was born to Metra and Abi. There I lay, in my mother’s arms, amid news gone viral of the star’s sudden burst of brightness. It was called Estrella. Subsequent studies on the star led to the discovery that it had actually entered its supernova phase.

Accidentally being named after a dying star was a tragic association I nonetheless accepted and thus, the name had stuck, as did the bullying that followed during my formative years. “It could be a metaphorical supernova,” I defended. “You know, close to the end of my life, I’d ignite something within me that sends ripples throughout the universe. I’d like for that to happen.” It was never gonna happen, who was I kidding? Still, I’d learned to love the name. I relished the thought of having been born under the brilliance of a supernova. But I guess something shattered when I learned that everything I’d been told was a lie.

“Iha, I am impotent,” said my father Abi, who had seated me down in the living room for a little talk. My mother was off at her new home. She could have at least joined him in this revelation but in hindsight, I guess she was probably too afraid to witness my reaction.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to his statement. “So—I can’t have siblings? Isn’t it too late for that anyway? You’re like forty five.”

“I’ve been impotent since before you were conceived,” he said, looking me straight in the eye, his chiseled hair and sagging face more distinct than I’d ever cared to have noticed. It didn’t take much mental gymnastics to guess what was coming next.

“I’m adopted?” The words distended my throat as they exited and slugged me like an uppercut. He nodded. Dad would never lie to me about something like this. He’d never made such a terrible joke, so I believed him. “Not even Tubed? Just plain adopted? Mom isn’t barren too, is she?”

“That wasn’t an option back then, anak.”

“What do you mean, not an option?” I was getting agitated. “It’s been around for—”

“That’s not what I mean. I mean your mom was against it. You know how she is, when she comes up with an ideal and sticks to it. She felt that it might not have been true to our marriage if her cell—you know, would have been—with another man’s—”

“Yeah, I get it, I get it. So instead of getting half a cup, you decided to get the empty one?” I spat, bitterly. I could sense my dad’s trouble comprehending what I’d just said.

“Are you saying you’re empty iha? Because you’re not. We still raised you and loved you and the result wouldn’t have differed had I not been impotent.” Well, dad was trying his best to make me feel still loved. But he didn’t have to stress the impotent part, jeez.

Then, the question dawned on me: “So where did I come from?”

And as if he was preparing for it, he gave me the answer: “Twenty one years ago, we were a happy couple. Your mother knew I was impotent but we got married anyway. Having a child was the least of our worries then. But then I guess after a year, something within her changed. You see, your mom wasn’t the most social kind of girl. You know she worked at home a lot but what you probably weren’t aware of was that it took a toll on her. It turned her into a recluse, and she began to feel more lonely by the day, as I would only be home one day per week and oftentimes, I needed to go on months-long business trips to the edge of Awanggan. Wow, that was twenty years ago already?” my dad suddenly cut a segue into his speech. I wasn’t sure this had anything to do with my mom but I listened anyway. “Y’know, our entire department at Transportation and the Royal House have been planning the opening of a road through the Great Barrier for the longest time but those—stubborn Ahenos and their lunatic bureaucracy—” dad sighed. “Well, at least we’ve pushed through and the bill signing the lifting of the embargo on Ambar will—”

I interrupted him then and there. “Dad? What about mom?” The news on Ambar was interesting and all, but that could’ve waited.

“R-right. Uh, where was I?” Absent-minded as per usual.

“You were talking about how mom was a shut-in.”

“Oh uh, right.” He cleared his throat for what was possibly part two of this interminable story. “She got really lonely and I guess that’s what made her decide to get a baby. She thought about it long and hard while I was away. Adoption was our best choice. When she broke the news to me, I was delighted. We began scouting the city for orphanages—but then again, you know your mom. The child had to be the right one. I have no idea how she could’ve passed judgment like that on children that have yet to grow up, but I trusted her. And when it came to a point that we felt like we’d searched high and low to no avail, an opportunity arose as if Bathala had heard our plea.” An intense pause, while dad stopped to organize his thoughts. Why you gotta do this to me, dad?

“Mima Rosa.” the name hung in the air like smoke, encircling my head and momentarily dazing me. “Yes, that was her name—but she preferred to be called Mimar. She and your mom had met way back in college. Back then, oh boy, were they quite the liberated women. Joined civil protests against the Royal House, for advocacies I never would’ve fathomed existed. But what Mimar had that your mom didn’t was an immense social circle, and she was pretty popular with the boys too. Though she might’ve—“dabbled” in excess, a lifestyle that resulted in her early pregnancy.” Dad paused for a bit to catch his breath. I waited, holding mine. “By that time, your mom and I had already been married for almost two years. Mimar was going to have the baby, she had no other choice; the abortion bill had only been passed a mere decade ago. But she didn’t want to keep it, so imagine how happy your mother must’ve been when Mimar made the proposition. Metra looked up to her. I mean, who wouldn’t? Mimar was at the front of every feminist demonstration and picket line. She practically championed that abortion bill I just mentioned. Took her a good ten years to do it, too. Perhaps your mom saw a degree of passion in her that she might have passed on to you.” He ended his speech with a weak smile and a wrinkling of his nose.

So is that what mom wanted for me? I felt that no matter how I was born, I couldn’t live up to any of the stars I was born under—and I sure didn’t I see myself being the Kwisatz Haderach of the feminists, as I could barely write a passable paper on the “male gaze.” If only mom were here.

I haven’t seen her in weeks. The last time I did, she picked me up from school so we could celebrate my birthday at some high-brow hotel lounge with the scarce lighting and the post-jazz live band. It was a silent dinner, save for the usual how-is-school and how-are-your-grades. It didn’t seem like she had much to talk about, either. I wish I’d known about mom’s loneliness earlier so I could have at least—bah, no use getting worked up over what’s done. If only there was something I could do to avoid all these if-onlies and I-wishes—but it appears that irony is my closest and dearest acquaintance. All that said, mom sounded like a completely different person twenty years ago, all gung-ho and radical—and probably happy.

“Dad, what happened to you and mom?” I had to ask the question sooner or later; best have been now when the atmosphere was already heavy and didn’t need much lubrication. But for the first time since he sat me down, a melancholic expression morphed his face, even under that pretend smile. He formulated his words slowly and carefully: “Let’s just say that there are some things we do that we take lightly, and other things we focus on with excess, and when that balance is broken, you may as well have betrayed the ones you love most,” he said shedding light on barely a fraction of what he seemed to be holding back. It was like some nasty burden clung to his heart and he wanted to bear that burden all on his own. I hadn’t the spirit to pry further so I left him to his own devices.

“Mimar,” he started anew, as if preempting my next move, “disappeared after she gave birth to you.”

Wait, what?

“That look on your face says you were planning on looking for her, am I correct? Sadly, Mimar had fallen out of contact ever since. I don’t want to think it may have been the reason for your mother’s, uh—regression, to phrase it in a way, but there is always the possibility. They used to be a dynamic duo.”

Dad continued to talk about the circumstances of my birth, like how I actually wasn’t born on the night of Estrella’s supernova (or more accurately, when the light from Estrella’s supernova reached Earth); I was born the day previous, when the most important thing on the news was some political scuffle regarding Tribu Ambar. That name seems to be popping up more often these days. The rest of dad’s monologue faded into the background.

The next thing I remember was the trek up to my room. As I entered, stared at myself in the mirror of my wardrobe, hoping to unlock the features of my birth mother: irises dark as burnt narra over eye bags galore; scraggly hair that would’ve exploded had I not tied it taut into a ponytail; a small nose and a thin mouth that betrayed a classical Awanggan aesthetic; an ectomorphic body type, characteristic of my longs limbs and awkward posture. I find it hard to believe the boys back then went after this. No, I must’ve inherited my looks from my father. Hmm, it’s funny how I didn’t even bother asking about the father. I understand he’s probably long gone, and I have no business seeking him out—but excluding him from the equation like that—I’ll think about it some other time. Until then, here I am now, in my room, typing the first journal entry I’d ever deigned to in Bathala knows how long. I certainly don’t have the best memory so I hope you’d forgive me if the conversation with my father felt a bit improvised, and a bit too much like fiction.

A huge chunk of me still feels missing, like I’ve been living in a locked room but upon finally exiting, I realize the rest of the house has been stolen, and I feel like I won’t be satisfied until I meet this Mimar, until I track her down and ask her what name she would have given me had she decided to keep me—but if only. If only I knew where to look.

May222014

untitled story excerpt thing.

It was when the story began the unnamed protagonist realized he was in medias res and there was nothing he could have done to mar its rapid onslaught. It flooded into his windows and burst through his door and it was at this point in time he had a sudden unforeshadowed epiphany. As the waves of the medias res came roaring toward him in cinematic slow-motion, he recapped all the events that contributed to his present state of being. He remembered the harrowing experience that one time with the thing on his thing at that place—he thought he’d never be the same! And let’s not forget that moment at the bakeshop, boy was that a big bag of buns! Then there was the image of her face moving away from his, post-kiss, probably the last demonstration of human interaction he’d ever receive. He was unsure whether this memory belonged to him or the narrator’s but it was most probably the narrator’s; the unnamed protagonist had never had a girlfriend nor has had sexual intercourse, the poor sod. Then there were a hundred other flashbacks which, in the foreseeable future, have no bearing on the story and therefore shouldn’t be deigned to mention.

After all these memories raced through his head, he came to new enlightenment, and saw only one path worth taking. He distanced himself from the text and stepped out of the pages of the story.

November192013

"Have you ever been certain that you were going to die" and the origins of my disbelief in the supernatural

I was in between 8 and 9 years old when I was in the 3rd grade. I used to spend my recess time running around, flying paper airplanes, and having pretend-battles with classmates. It was an idyllic childhood, and my biggest fear was having to face circumcision. Then one recess period, while horsing around, a friend and I accidentally destroyed an anthill. At first, we didn’t think anything special about it but one of our classmates saw what we did and explained to us that we’d just destroyed the home of an engkanto (forest spirit), and if it gets mad, it could make us crazy, or worse, kill us. My friend and I apologized to the engkanto, but this didn’t ensure our safety. So for the next few months, I lived my life as if I were being chased by an invisible angry spirit. The fact that death was always around the corner was always present. 

Of course, the years passed, and I was still alive. I came to realize that there was no engkanto. I slowly began to shed and discard all superstitious belief; the last of them to go was my Christianity. I once prayed to God in tears so he could rescue me from the engkanto. He might’ve fended off the angry spirit, who knows? But back then, all that was apparent to me was that I couldn’t see any angry spirit, I couldn’t see God fight him off, and I was just a scared little child searching blindly for feedback from the engkanto and God, feedback which never showed itself to me and fearing for my own life because of a belief in powerful spirits.

All children grow out of superstitions. Santa Claus is the best example of benign superstition, because Santa is of little consequence. He only gives you presents, and if you’ve been bad, you don’t get any. But telling a child their life is at the mercy of another, be it a spirit or a God, and telling a child to believe in something even if they are not of consenting age to decide for themselves are a few of the most cruel and mind-damaging things you can do.

May182013

Elegy: On Tracks

(published September 2012)

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Their words were staccatos; a countdown to sudden loss, and they brought a certain je ne sais quoi to tracks and trainways that filled in the stillness between nightly grinds. They came, on deep eves like this, lumbering through stations and aboard rail cars, clutching black-wrapped sound machines, a slapdash team of crayon marines, awash in their common scheme of hues: cloudspace bleu, earthblood puce, moorspring chartreuse. They were lullslayers—soothe-sayers to say the least, and even their barest footsteps flung ripples of sound right off the ground. They were nameless but on these high rails, they evoked Vivaldi, Stradivari, Petrucci, and Satriani, slinging chanson melodies to all that would care to listen in this closed space of forced proximity. Their weapons flew off clothbare cases, firing gunshot tunes that (and I say this for lack of a better word) pierced my heart.

            Their performances stole everyone’s interest as well as their wealth as entertainment didn’t come cheaply, and instead of roses, people threw their belongings as if to say we are not worthy.

The musicians came and went, at odd intervals like spastic trigger fingers. I worked by stations, hoping to catch them, letting several trains pass before deciding that tonight wasn’t the night. It was, after all, my job to catch them. On some occasions, they arrived early—on others, not at all. But each time they did, I always sought after she, whose voice up to now still clings to the linings of my skull, scraping those painful echoes.

.

I remember the first day I saw them scamper on board. I called them by their colors.

Earthblood played percussion. Hulking yet rhythmic, his fingers rapped at calf-skin drums slung about his waist. He was the thick layer of crust upon which his comrades built over; he was the lifeforce thumping beats in their sixteenths, thirtyseconds, and sixtyfourths tapping at swift tempos that breached onesixty. He was the opening curtain, always being the first one to step on board. At his very entrance, the lights dimmed and the crowd hushed. He began with a pulse, a primeval chant that summoned me and hopefully the rest of the traingoers from our lethargy. Our heartbeats intertwined with the tapping of the drum, and its vibrations stirred our blood. The strange redness of his beat had us completely en-snared, and all the while, his face showed no mercy; no emotion.

Then, as if rising to the call, shrill twangs pierced out of the primordial pool of rhythm, aching to be heard. I had not noticed, for Earthblood had taken the initial spotlight, that two others followed him into the train, under his towering measure. And now, the sleekest and most waifish in his androgyny, whose strings had arisen from the beat, was Moorspring. A romp and twist over Earthblood’s shimmy, his fingers danced over frets and necks. Never have spiderleg ganchos been so utterly uncoordinated—that freeform jazz spurring from a strum of the pick. We were but flies drawn to his vibrant green. His steel strings, a metallic webwork of treble and bass, were wound and taut. Yet like Earthblood, his countenance was impenetrable.

Trigger-happy as they were, they killed without remorse. So easily mistaken for love, so easily misused by those who don’t have it. Passion, passion. What is passion.

And as if in response to my inner musing, the train dove into icy blue—or rather, a torrent of sound gushed from the inside out. It was her. It was Cloudspace.

She had positioned herself near the end of the train, as I could’ve barely made out her features. But she, despite her lithe composition, brought the heaviest instruments of them all: thousands, upon millions, constantly oozing from her mouth, filling the room until I suffocated from the need to understand her pain.

            What happened after they had stopped performing was what always had me irking. They’d done this before, I could see from their systematic movements and the passengers’ tired faces. They each circled around the train car, brandishing their weapons and collecting things from the passengers. Art had no price, I thought. You can’t possibly pay them enough. It was stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. But I guess they had to make a living.

They were wary of me at first, like pop stars in danger of flash mobs and paparazzi. I knew they had their eyes on me; maybe it was because of the clothes I sported. But they kept playing and collecting nonetheless; I held back and let them be. Who am I to stop them? Thankfully, they soon began to treat me like one of the audience. I stood by the doors, guarding their entrance and exit, and I gave them a bit of myself every time they left. They each nodded to me, thankful I wasn’t who they thought I was.

I was not like any of the passengers, after all; I didn’t use trains for the same reasons everyone else did. This trio was the only reason I got on these trains. I had weapons of my own and I knew how to use them, so I could further appreciate skill whenever I saw it. They deserved this collection.

            Commuting was always an astral experience, of lights and blurs and motions in the night. In a world of light and color, where everything in the day stands out, nothing stands out. But in a world of lightlessness, in the sanctity of night, every color your eyes latch on to—phosphorescence, fluorescence, luminescence—is further illuminated by the dark. This is how I came to love trains.

            On tracks, I never felt like myself, and I forgot my job and all obligations. Trains, unlike any other vehicle, came with pacing—a smooth panorama of the metropolis in virtuoso spirit. The train’s rails were the musical staff, the stops were bar lines, the end station a double bar, and the notes were the lights and sounds in between. Hues spoke to me in pitches, and I categorized them from cold to warm, low to high. Seen-things and heard-things had a way of meshing together and forming an indescribable synesthesia of pleasure. One could have said that I loved music, and that might have been true. But although I loved music, it was never a passion, for it never hurt. I could never have fathomed going on the same train without Cloudspace. She is passion. Passion is pain.

            How does one sing about pain? It is the bending of a pitch—it is the bearing of a breath—it is the heave and gasp after every slur, the exact same intake of air heard on deathbeds and fields of war. She sang without modulation: no vibratos, no arpeggios, no shrieks, no growls. Just one long decrescendo in falsetto, like a soprano in mourning or canine in fullmoon. She drew out measures as if she had something perpetually caught in her throat. It hurt her, and I felt her pain in my own throat. She loved singing too much but no matter how much it hurt, she bore it like bullet wounds riddled into her neck. I knew I had to stop her—but I knew that either way, she was bound to perish in her art, whether singing or not singing.

.

Her words were hymns on the battlefield. I remember those sacred melodies sung from horns and war drums. Of raids and plundering in a foreign land. The night was home to the brightness of sparks from sword clashes, Dragunov muzzle flashes and M84 stun explosives. Widows of dead soldiers hummed their chants in chorus to those lights and sounds in the night. Armsmanship was an art, but was violence really necessary? Cloudspace’s voice remembered those; her lyrics mirrored those plains of war. She knew. Her songs were sharp in color and dotted with pauses and gaps. Haunting in rhyme and infectious in rhythm. Most of the time, I didn’t understand any of the lyrics. Most of the time, I didn’t really need to. Sometimes, Cloudspace sang about nothing, and the times she did sing about something, I couldn’t decipher her tongue at all.

The pain was evident on their faces—of commuters. It was the pain of not understanding, and of wanting to understand. But there was also something about her voice that choked us, as if wanting to be heard, but not wanting to be understood. Her howls echoed or resonated even in areas dense with movement. While her accompaniment rattled and sprang, she vocalized, reaching to both ends of the half-empty train, singing and singing, night after night, but even then, the words never stuck. People were afraid of understanding. But I wasn’t. I began to sing along.

It began as a hum—then the notes grew words, attaching each tune to a body that when spoken, got up and danced, wandering the length of the train, stumbling over a few times as if enduring a sprain, but still managing to retain its poise. Common riders, all of whom I’d never met in my life, began to look at me, as if I’d betrayed them. Were it a fa-la-la or doo-wop or dum-di-dum-dum that my tongue spat out, I began to feel less alone; I was connecting with the trio. But I knew this was bad; I couldn’t fall in love. And whether I liked it or not, it had to end soon. I had to stop them. I had to catch them.

.

One night, Cloudspace didn’t come. Moorspring and Earthblood came on board completely unarmed. They both wore black, and proceeded to sing a different song:

            “We come not to perform,” came Moorspring’s words, “but to thank.” Heads turned, sharing the same brand of curiosity. “We have been performing on this train for a long time, and we thank you for continually bearing with the noise we make. But after today, we will cease to bother any of you. Your contributions have been helping her recover all this time.” My ears blocked out any other sound that followed—I knew what was coming.

            When it was time for them to get off, they thanked everyone one last time and alighted from the train. The doors moved in to close, like curtains bidding farewell.

I used to be like them. I knew how to captive-ate people, which was perhaps the reason why I understood them. But in her time of weakness, I’d left Cloudspace for dead.

 

.

From then on, they stopped coming, and things reverted to the same inertia. I look around half-empty trains and see the dense walls around people thickening, as if protecting their emotions and their belongings. It’s quiet, and I feel alone again.

The younger ones have told me off again. Say I relive my past too far often to do my job well enough. Well, I’m tired. What’s a job done when you can’t even enjoy what you love?

I am losing music, as Cloudspace is losing hers. And as I trudge about the usual, I glance out of windows, hoping to hear her voice among the patches of stratus and nimbus. I’m not even sure if I remember her voice correctly, or if their music actually sounded any good. I don’t remember anything they’ve played anymore.

Tomorrow, I’ll hand in my badge and uniform. But tonight, I’ll stand by the same station, waiting for the trio to come—but they probably won’t. I’ll see the night’s last train turn the bend, swiftly approaching the station. I’ll take my handgun from its holster and fill my ears with the sound of music.

5PM

Nervosa

(published January 2012)

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The most gut-wrenching part of telling a story about perfection is having to begin it—and no disclaimer or Platonic epigraph or dedication to some deceased ex-lover will ever be enough to apologize for my scarcity of words. So I won’t say sorry, as if to regurgitate excuses. And no sort of Rorschach image of sick that appears on the tiled bathroom floor will ever form the outline of the story I wish to tell. But what perfection is found in the symmetry of the inkblots—what beautiful patterns formed by the ceramic arrangements I can only hope in my lifetime to mirror. They have no beginning and no end; no top and no bottom like this story I wish to tell. But alas, I resign to imperfection. And in spite of everything, I must begin, like all stories, with the mouth.

            That orifice: toilet-facing, fluid-dripping, susceptible to stimulation. I slide one, then two fingers in and feel the wetness of muscular walls. I’ve been at it for several minutes, in and out, each movement even deeper than the last. I moan once—a low, protracted gurgling followed by incessant hacking, and finally, the inevitable retch.

            “You okay, hon?” a voice calls out from the bedroom as I ejaculate the remnants of tonight’s beef stew and flush it down the drain. It’s hot and acidic, and it brings a burning sensation to my throat. I force myself up from a stoop, wash my mouth at the adjacent sink, and stumble out of the bathroom, heaving.

            “Minus four hundred calories,” I mutter, limping my way to the bed on the side of the room. It’s a compact bedroom for one with minimal furnishings, a shuttered window overlooking the Pasig River, and a single large full body mirror, opposite the window, that stands out among her belongings. This shabby apartelle belongs to the girl who lies spread-eagled on her bed with not even a sheet to cover her.

            “Again?” She sits up as I take the far corner of the mattress. “The roaches in this room are better-fed than you are. Take it easy on yourself.”

            “Not till I’m beautiful.” I refrain from looking at her.

            “But you are.”

            “I’m fat.”

            “You’re anemic and skeletal. Look at you!”

            “Not this again.”

            “Oh, certainly not this again!” She pounds on the sheets with the force of a mother spanking her toddler. “Your vision of beauty is curdled like milk left out for too long. Close the cap, Belladonna.”

            That was it. I told her, never never never never call me that old stage name; it was brutish and ugly and disgusting and I clouded from my memory. My arms shake madly in agitation, desperately wanting to hit something. “You just don’t understand!” I explode, flailing my arms like whips, hitting the plywood wall and bed railing with nasty, bony thunks. What a pathetic display of anger, the pain, the pain.

            “We’ve both changed,” she says. “Changed a lot since the first time we met.”

Silence, then a sigh. “Just tell me what I have to do.” She crawls toward me. “Make me understand. I said I’d always love you to your bones, which is why you don’t have to become a pile of them.” her voice softens as she kisses me, kisses me on the neck, on the collarbone, on the spine, bringing her hands around my ribs, on my sternum, all the way down to the pubis. I know she says these things only because she loves me; lovers will always lie to cheer each other up. It just angers me to know that I fell for someone worth more than my love for her; and unlike her, I couldn’t bring myself to love the both of us.

That was the last night I ever spent with her.

.

Let it be known that it is you I am talking to; you, who had me at my wit’s end; you, so beautiful I could not have stood the pain of seeing you beside me, loving me with either condescension or pity. It is you, Lexa, who made my blood rise in many ways, and you, whom I dedicate this apology to.

Lexa was the name I called out to every morning; Lexa as in Alexandra, you explained. Lexa, defender of man, goddess of sex, love of my life, fire of my tenderloins; a magnificent chef, having held a degree in nutrition and dietetics. You loved health as much as I wished I never needed it, so you barely stood the sight of your beautiful beef stew coming right back up my digestive tract.

            We were delinquents when we met—a travesty that causes me pain to remember. You, a homophobe; I, bloated and grisly, we had gotten into a fight in a bar, and from then on blossomed the worn-out tragedy of first love. Long did I fear your rejection during those times I wooed you but I irk to relay the nitty-gritty of awkward courting phases. We went steady soon afterward. But unsteady was your bed, as the blade-gripping hand, aimed fearfully at the wrist, the night we first made love. And the closer we cut into our skins, the larger the gashes between us grew.

            You body, your body, was the work of Michelangelo. Every morning, how I used to catch you exercising on the padded floor of your room, performing vertical leg crunches and bicycle exercises—things I could never do with this sort of body. I always saw your shape in numbers.

“Thirty one, twenty four, thirty two.” I recited over and over, tracing and retracing the slopes of your image in midair. Your limbs were supple and your skin folded and stretched with the grace of molten caramel.

Those mornings were infallible machinery: you’d be in your usual tank top and short shorts, and in the midst of your toe reaches, your neckline would plunge low enough for me to see straight to your navel; your shoulder blades would move subtly under your skin; your sweat would pool in the recess between your collarbones.

It was such an unsettling thing to know that under your skin, blood moved in cycles, reaching every part of the body though vessels per heartbeat, sprinkled by capillaries, and soaking every organ and tissue in red, juicy life; that under your skin, nerves stuck to muscles that stuck to tendons that stuck to bones, and they all worked in one glorious bio-machinery; a system of lines, patterns and processes that perfectly synced and flowed into one another. I hated you so much—My blood boiled and I hated your skin for being too beautiful, I hated the lines of your body, beautiful, straight and curving lines, and no matter what I did, I could never have owned it, I could never have taken it as my own. Knowing all of this, I fidgeted in uncontrollable hysteria, every time you touched me, every time you sauntered about naked in your room, every time you teased me teased me teased me with so much beauty.

“You are beautiful underneath,” I stammered, voice jittery in my boxed up hysteria, as I observed you in your daily exercise regimen. “How I wish I could expose all your lines.”

.

Lines are everywhere. I have lines on my thighs. Lines on my wrists. Lines in the seams of houses and buildings and lines in the sky when the train goes by. Lines are beautiful; they create the illusion of pattern: of perfection.

            I am sitting on the far end of the right side of the tail end car of this light rail train, model number one two three two—a beautiful number. This is the sixth time I’ve gotten on it at Carriedo station, the station where you live nearest. I left your home at around ten in the evening. It is now ten thirty five and a quarter, and only five percent of all commuters coming from the North end go south all the way to Baclaran, my home. I particularly like this train because it leaks the most water from the exhaust. These light rail lines are what used to connect me to you. Now, I will have to sever those lines. This will be my last line home.

Inside, people dot the seats occasionally like a life sentence—a sentence of lives in Morse code. I converse with them by tapping my nails on metallic handrails:

            Misinterpretation cannot be avoided. These lines on my body are proof of how I do not know how to cope; I have an itch, so I scratch it. I retract the left sleeve of my cardigan, Guess label, amaranthine, one hundred percent cotton, and reveal a bony strip of flesh, adorned with lines, perfectly perpendicular to bulging tendons and perfectly parallel to train tracks and phone lines and the gazes of distant sweethearts. I can almost feel the eyes of the people around me, judgmental in their stares. They reduce these lines to a manifestation of uncontrolled emotion, as though I am incapable of rationalizing my suffering.

But dissatisfaction is a neurosis. And because they are socially-constructed or genetic or both, neuroses will always be meaningless—meaningless in the sense that they should never keep you from living and staying alive. So isn’t our affinity with meaningless things what defines us as humans? Our preoccupation with religion, knowledge, repute, emotional attachment, and beauty, moreover, perfection? I believe that there exists a gene within each of us that pushes us to believe that the things we do and believe in are significant. That existential gene. The faith gene. God. Call it what you will. I say this in my defense: that I aim for perfection not because I want to be perfect, but because I want to be human.

“Baclaran Station, Baclaran Station. This is the last station.” I reach into my handbag, Versace label, saffron, nappa leather. I take out a razor, bloodstained steel, and discreetly bring it close to my exposed left wrist. They say your body regenerates half a liter of blood in 24 hours. They say healing wounds develop an itch due to growing new cells. How many seconds would it take for half a liter to pour from a small incision? I have an itch, so I scratch it.

The train slices across the rails, wheels slowing down in their advance, brakes whining in a stupendous soprano—a symphony of blades making love. The train grinds to a halt and spurts water, endlessly, from its side, as if begging to be made clean.

.

Disorder was like walking into a pozo negro; suffice it to say that I would never have stood a second of the feeling of being unclean. Tables parallel to each other, six chairs each, floor waxed once per week and scoured before opening time, everything constantly bathed in Pledge. My graveyard shifts made sure of the Misericordiam’s spotlessness. Take it that I was no waste manager, though; in that haven of roughly fifteen square feet, I was the mistress Belladonna. Every part of my body flashed under the light of the strobes. I was full, I was beautiful, I was—

            “A fucking dugong.”

The voice rang out in disharmony along the nameless background jazz. There you were, sitting amongst your stagette friends, chortling in a drunken frenzy. “Get a sex change, you fuckin’ fruitcake!”

            That was the first time I heard your voice and those were the last words I understood that night, as I immediately sprang from my podium and lunged at the table, scaring your friends away. Then in a single moment, table number two broke from its bolts and flipped toward the waxing moon, flinging plates of sisig and beer bottles over the faces of people who certainly looked as if they’d seen better days. I took one more leap and landed on your petrified body. Our bodies touched;

You kiss me on the neck, on the collarbone, on the spine, bringing your hands around my ribs, on my sternum. I scratch at your caramel skin the night we first made love and on the last night I ever spent with you.

I claw and pound at you, and moan in ecstasy, chipping off my nails and my sanity. I bring shaking hands to your neck and wring it, wring it like a wet towel, pressing—pressing down harder on your virgin throat. Your body convulses and writhes madly under my dominion. I give one final push then, through my fingertips runs the beautiful sensation of bones and cartilage snapping under a vice grip. You spit blood and gurgle your last attempts at a scream before finally—finally laying to rest.

I withdraw a razor from my handbag on the floor. Lines are everywhere. Lines are beautiful—lines are perfect. Your bones are perfect, my love. Let me unearth it all. I draw the razor close to your skin. I have an itch, so I scratch it.

.

I am not like this because I wish it and mistake it not that I fully represent what I am, and if, by any means, this confession has offended you, then I have done all I can and want.

To say that the apology is nearing an end would be a grave understatement, forgive that I begin my sentences with prepositions, forgive my gratuitous comma splices, but I don’t expect anyone to forgive me for what I’ve done, and even though you said you’d love me to my bones regardless, I only loved you for your bones.

Standing up, I catch a glimpse of a body, silhouetted by the moon in the threshold of the full body mirror: a grotesque, gangling effigy of limbs, blood-washed, swarthy and varicose. It stands naked over your corpse, its eye bags and gaunt face, sunken sallow by bulging cheekbones; its ribcage, ailing for breath, draped in an ever-shrinking veil of skin; its ungodly male appendage throbbing with indiscreet pleasure, erect in its defiant stance. I take blood on my finger and spread it across my lips, a rouge befitting of Belladonna. I am beautiful—I am perfect.

.

The southbound train stops at Carriedo Station. I get on, knowing it would be my last line home.

5PM

Visual Kei

(published February 2011)

.

Caveat for o-reader-san: I am not crazy and I am not repressed. Maybe quite bored and maybe quite stressed. I’m not confused in either time or space. I know my tenses and I know my place. I know my audiences: me, me, me. But nothing is ever free from Xì.

.

Xì. Record that sound onto the VHS cassette of your mind. It is a primitive and essential sound, one likened to the gushing water or the whistling of gusts or the shushing of over-enthusiastic Japanophiles during Eiga Sai. It is a sound uttered by nature and imitated by the human tongue. It is the hiss of tsuchi-no-ko and the chirp of tsuku tsuku boushi. It is the sound of rainy weekend mornings, when you’ve spent the whole night till morning on the internet, for the past few weeks, researching on the different subgenres of heavy metal. It is the feeling of surprise and ensuing ease you get when a person you’ve known for nearly seven years comes to visit far from the usual time. I can tell it’s her as I hear the raspy belching of a trike pull up by our front gate.

            The digital clock on my PC says it’s eight in the morning. It’s pouring outside, for chrissakes; what does she want from me at this hour? Barely seconds later, Shara enters my room without knocking, as per the usual. “I have a problem!” she squeals in her usual falsetto.

            “I know, right? Those Japs are right on top of us!” I ramble in nothing but my tank top and panties, not even glancing at her once. I put my foot up on the desktop and pretend to browse through Napster. “While their heavy metal industry’s booming like crazy, their bands are busy wasting money on custom-made perfumes and jewelry. I mean, it’s stupid how they tour in far away Euroland when their poor ol’ backwards neighbors are left completely forgotten. Or ignored, depending on the country’s economic status. Fuck agriculture. Farmers don’t even know about Slayer. It’s a sad, sad world.”

            An awkward silence. I hear the bed creak behind me and the sound of rain seeping in through the windows. “That’s exactly it, I think,” goes her reply. “We’re poor and I doubt the masses would like music from a band whose name we can barely even pronounce.” Her voice is light and squeaky, like Hello Kitty’s, yet tainted with a slight hesitation.

            “The masses,” I say, eyes rolling. “They’d do good to listen to a little heavy metal once in a while, and I don’t mean the trashy popular crap Metallica and Megadeth dish out. Concerning heavy metal, what do we have in this godforsaken country?” I turn to face her then suddenly wish I didn’t, flinching at the fashion disaster that happens to be sitting on my bed.

            Don’t tell me she was wearing that all this time: a black vest, and under that, a frilly white blouse, a reddish plaid skirt, black stockings, and tiny school shoes only Chinese foot-binding could get me into. Shara scrunches up her face in thought.

            “Wait, never mind answering. I can see your problem and I don’t think it has anything to do with your quaint Marxist perception of society.”

            “Yeah,” she says, smoothing out her skirt, her pussy cat voice now stickier. “Can I ask a favor?”

            “Go shoot.” I get up and sit by her on my bed.

            Her countenance grows tense. She then pleads, “Can you kiss me on the lips?”

            Your best friend walks into your room so early in the morning, with a face that looks as if bearing a horrible constipation, dressed all pretty, and asking you to kiss her. What’s the best logical outcome? “I’m sorry, Shara. I really love you but not in that way. Can we still be friends?”

            “No! No. Eww, no,” Well, at least she’s honest. She shakes her head then says, uttering each word, fearing I would burst, “I just have a date later.” M-hmm. “With a guy.” No shit. “And I’m scared. I mean, what if he kisses me? I don’t even know how to kiss properly.”

            My god, she’s so adorable, it’s infuriating. This is a surprise, indeed. We’ve both been single for as long as we wished we weren’t. And now, she’s telling me she’s got it on with some dude. “Nah, if I kiss you, he might get jealous or something,” I joke around.

            “I know, but I can trust you enough not to butt in, right?” Cue thunder and rainstorm.

.

Xì. Did you feel it slice the air as it slithered past your canal and banged on your drums? Did you feel the sizzle of tonkatsu emanating from the bowels of a deep fryer—or the shrill whirring of highly-coveted Plasma Dash motors as Tamiya mini-4WD cars raced around the wildest track you’d ever seen? And were you, for all that is good and mighty, able to recall the exact moment when your favorite metal band had just hit the last note of the last song of their very last live performance? Xì. The diminishing roll of crash cymbals ended an otherwise godly ballad and lingered on the stage monitors for so brief a second, you failed to hold on to the melody that had once led you to tears, and within the din of frenzied applause that followed, you found yourself falling into a pit with no hope of reconciling the memory with the emotion.

            I have just crushed your fragile humanity, may Izanagi have mercy on your soul, and I am not kidding. Admit that at least once in your life, you tried chasing after something. Cars, trains—even airplanes, if you were that hardcore—dreams, hit singles from Britney Spears’ first album played the first time on air, and whatnot. You attempted to hasten your pace as these things sped up, and then they came to a point where you were both about the same speed. And when they breached the limit of your maximum velocity, when they began to step a millimeter, a second, a decibel out of your reach, when the power of the moment slipped right through your fingers, like your entire life savings, splurged on that new perfect grade RX-78-2 Gundam model, you realized these things were “lost for eternity.”

            And 8:59, as my wall clock struck 9:00, was also lost for eternity.

            Eternity. That was how long it took for Shara to explain how she met Miggo—at some anime convention, apparently, and after an eternity of idle chat over a common interest of J-rock, Shara found herself with a new number in her contacts list, an appointment the following week, and a clean-shaved pubic mound, “Just in case.” The repressed slut.

            I stared blankly at the photographs of what were supposed to be remnants of a live concert, scattered across the bed. They formed a mottled swirl of color, like spilled acrylic. Exactly what coerced me to reach for the stack of photos, I could not have fathomed. Perhaps it was the mention of J-rock in Shara’s retelling. Perhaps it was the mention of Miggo, whose very existence I was afraid could have very possibly heralded the advent of a great loss for Shara—or myself.

            “I couldn’t even arrange them in order; they’re distant and blurred, and they don’t mean a thing anymore.” I shuffled through them one by one, attempting to recall that glorious moment, and came across a dark picture with a small white crescent-shaped figure near the center. “Is that Yoshiki bending over the piano? Looks more like a kappa bending over a rock.”

            No response. “I still don’t get why I have to go with you on your date; I’d only get pissed.”

            “But you have a camera,” she pleaded in her pussy voice.

            “You know I gave that up years ago,” I said, glancing at the two DSLRs on my shelf; the larger, dustier one, beginning to look like Miku Hinasaki’s Camera Obscura. I pointed at the shinier one and suggested, “Why don’t you bring X Japan? It has an LCD screen.”

            “But—I don’t know how to use it. Please?” She approached me from behind and tugged lightly on my arm. I pretend to examine a photograph in front of me. I said I gave up, didn’t I? Sheesh.

            “It’s idiot-proof,” I replied. “Just point and click. Heck, take home the thing and make a sex photobook with your new guy or something. No way I’m getting out of this room.”

            She then let go and I felt her retreat to the other end of the bed. I turned to look back at her—and saw Shara leaning on the headboard, still in her goofy outfit, her face in her hands.

            Shit. Shit shit shit.

            I quickly got up and turned the TV on out of habit. Static from a nonexistent channel greeted me. Xì. I loaded my Last Live DVD into the player and it slipped in with ease. Xì. Amethyst’s violin intro began. In the background, the crowd’s cheering and clapping blended with the hiss of rain outside. Xì.

            I skipped Rusty Nail and head right on to Week End. Toshi’s introductory vocal made out with the thunder.

            “That’s our favorite song,” Shara said, wiping her face. Damn right it is, you cheesy woman.

            Xì. I understand now. I know what I should do: I walk over to the large cabinet on the bedside, take up X Japan, remove its lens cover, and aim at the person, who, through the lens and within the confines of the viewfinder, is beginning to slip away from my world. “Say Xì!”

.

Xì. That is the sound X makes seven years ago, as it adjusts its depth of field.

            The shit-expensive, gargantuan Canon EOS IX E is my very first camera. I peer through its lens for the first time and see the words “Visual Kei” largely printed on a Japanese music magazine; they’re both presents. The fact that I own my very own SLR thrills me to the extent that I read the entire magazine through its viewfinder.

            The crosshairs blaze through the articles, resting on certain passages: “a genre and a fashion sense,” “performance-driven,” “derivative of Western glam rock and hair metal,” and “Twisted Sister meets Iron Maiden and turns Japanese, I really think so.”

            It’s perfect. With that sort of constrained frame of sight, the world outside feels classifiable—even bearable at the least. The viewfinder grows tired of the magazine and wanders around, examining holes in the bedding, the dusty Oishi wrapper by the CPU, the split-ends of the moth-bitten Japanese doll. Through the lens, I own power. I feel like Son Goku on Super Saiyan level four but with a frickin’ camera. Suck my single-reflex dragon balls, Omega Shenron. You have nothin’ on X.

            X. Why X? I choose the name for the sole reason that it breathes immense power. And of course, I name my two cameras after my favorite musical group. X Japan is the name of the band on the cover of the magazine—It is the name that is able to completely obliterate whatever present Meiji Era perception of music I possess and build an epic cross of heavy metal in its stead.

            Our whole family is on vacation at Japan to experience their momentous Last Live—one of the biggest and most memorable concerts being held in Japan before the band’s subsequent tragic break up. Standing at the far back, we are one among the hundreds of people present; we can’t see the band members very well. “This. Is. It,” I remember telling myself the moment Rusty Nail’s metallic keyboard intro bursts from the speakers. “This is Visual Kei.” It’s never about image—heck, Hide’s usual flaming pink hair never decides how well he plays—nor is it about playing; the art is in the performance.” Would you enjoy watching a shoe gaze band gaze at their motherfucking shoes? Would you enjoy watching the anime adaptation of a visual novel, for that matter, if Studio Deen decided to direct it? You have got to be kidding me.

            The setlist is a grueling undertaking of 19 songs but they pull it off. They run across the X-shaped stage, the three guitarists reaching out to every side of the audience, and Toshi, engaging in pre-song pep talks to rally up their rapport. Yoshiki is the best of them all though, and he remains stationary throughout most of the concert. He bangs the piano and the drums; how could you not be turned on by the sweat and tears running down his front as he flips his tousled hair? The man is practically Tuxedo Mask but without the tuxedo and the mask and what remains is 100% hittable hunk and I seriously wished I could’ve licked his body and borne his children.

            The swift double bass beats of Orgasm drum on my chest and hips. I raise X, shaking, and press the shutter release per every elapsing minute of every song, occasionally bringing my arm down to rest. And before I realize it, it is already the last song.

.

            Am I wrong to be hurt

            Am I wrong to feel pain

            Am I wrong to be in the rain

            Am I wrong to wish the night won’t end

            Am I wrong to cry

            But I know, It’s not wrong to sing The Last Song

            Cause forever fades

.

There is no witty or ostentatious way of saying how mindblowingly awesome the best fucking song in the world is. Seeing Yoshiki from this far, huddling over the keyboard as though bearing the weight of the song on his shoulders, is just as painful as the ordeal of the artist who never knew the story he was in, who never knew the story ends.

            I take just one more shot aimed at Yoshiki pounding on the piano before lowering X.

            That final ballad is called The Last Song. It is about turning the page and going on to the next chapter. Listen carefully to the paper flap as it drags past the wind.

.

Xì. Can you, for all that is good and mighty, perceive it now? Can you really?

            This moment is decisive; it is the moment Yagami Light chooses to become a god of his new world. Turn back if you are afraid; else follow him to your end. Recognize your own individuality and impose Xì upon the whole of existence, or relive Xì forever. The choice is yours. Can you hear that rumble coming from the sky? It’s the storm god Sunanoo rolling at your indecision. It’s your fucking theme song and I am the lady Abe no Seimei to guide you on your spiritual path to revelation, like my father once did for me.

            “Do you understand that by taking photgraphs, you steal from nature?” said once my father. A middle-aged otaku who worked for a Japanese-owned software company, he often took all-expense-paid trips to Japan to do Koizumi-Junichiro-knows-what. I never really cared, just as long as he brought home some goodies. Like natto—God, I love natto. Just last year, he bought me an EOS 20D, my second camera, now formally known as X Japan.

            The bulky DSLR bumps softly near my crotch area as I walk restlessly between the two new lovebirds; Shara had her driver bring us to Megamall so we could attend some sort of ongoing anime convention. And wherever there are coventions, cosplayers abound like roaches under tatami mats. Jesus Christ, look at all the dorks wearing costumes. Why waste your money when you have all the comforts of web-surfing at your disposal? Don’t you people have any dignity?

            Now my father—he was a man of dignity and wisdom. “You do not understand Visual Kei just yet,” he once started, after I’d finished reading the Japanese magazine. “Do you think, that by taking into mind its origins and histories, dogmas and definitions, tenets and principles, you are granted full recognition of its essence?”

            I dared not even nod. He took X, which was lying by the magazine and asked me to peer through its viewfinder. I caught a glimpse of father’s lips; I didn’t even dare to aim at his face.

            “In a world as chaotic as the scene you see right now,” he said, highlighting the crosshairs, empty spaces, and lines, “there is no life. There is no order. There is no meaning.”

            “Yes, father.”

            He then took a pen from his breast pocket, and began to scribble on his hand a Chinese character that seemed to look more like a bunch of random lines. He showed his palm and asked, “What do you see here?”

            “A bunch of random lines?”

            “Go ahead, take a picture of it.”

            I pressed X’s shutter release for the first time, letting off a slice and a click. And for a split second, I felt a tingle run up my spinal cord.

            “Do you,” he seemed to relish every word, “hear that? That is the sound of breaking apart order.”

            “Remember, only in the utter chaos of the world can other chaotic things take meaning. Hence, these new chaotic things penned by beings who seek to completely destroy chaos itself—become the new order.”

            I zoomed in at the character on his palm to get a better look.

            

            “A line, a rule, a fashion, a class, a way. It may seem like a disarray of lines, but in the blank space of reality, this disorder creates order. This is Kei. This—is Xì.” As I was busy scrutinizing every contour of the character, I could only remember, from peripheral vision, the image of his mouth, edges bristled with gray stubbles, stretching to almost unearthly dimensions in an effort reveal the true meaning of the word. My father’s words.

            I remember them exactly as I squeeze in between the two lovebirds.

            “When things are stolen,” I break their idle banter, “they don’t mean squat to the new owner. Likewise, when a photograph is taken, the image produced becomes merely the graphos of photo, drawings of light. It loses all its sentimentality; the act of recognition is what strips everything of its natural aura. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to apprehend the world in a state that means absolutely nothing? In a state whereby imposing chaos upon chaos brings about enlightenment?

            “Ah, yeah, I guess,” Shara responds, bowing her head.

            I turn to the anorexic Miggo and ask, “Don’t you think so too?” He nods with intent Keroppi eyes and a taiyaki in his mouth. That’s right, just keep on chewing, you noncommittal douchebag. Suck it up right to your lungs. What a fucktard name, Miggo. Sounds like a cereal brand for spics. Eat your Miggoes with milk; it comes in paella flavor too. Bah.

            As I slow down a bit, the two instantly form their own world together, now that I’m out of the picture. It’s a disgusting, giggling, swooning world. I raise X Japan hanging from my neck and snap a photo from behind them—only Miggo appears on the LCD preview screen.

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It’s twelve noon as I stride behind the couple. It’s twelve midnight as I writhe half naked on my bed. X Japan’s Week End is spilling from the cracks of the speakers, a dam about to blow.

            My room is dark and the storm outside has begun to cease. Developed pictures are floating about me like luminescent windows into the past; I am swimming in memory. As the photos begin to replay themselves, one of them calls out to me. I remember this one: this is the first picture I take of Miggo. This is where I aim the camera at him and begin to erase him from existence.

            Chk chk chk—that may be the sound Pata’s palm-muted Les Paul makes when it croons a steady rhythm. Chk chk chk—that may be the sound X Japan’s shutter makes when it exposes the image sensor for 1/45 seconds. Chk chk chk—that may be the sound a woman’s vagina makes when the middle and ring fingers get in there.

            Oh my Dahlia! The fifth song is a flower. I take X Japan and fondle its shutter release—chk chk chk. A close-up shot of Miggo blooms instantaneously and I can feel the dew on its petals. His sap gushes forth from a bamboo water fountain.

            With X Japan, I attempt to steal Miggo’s essence and render him nonexistent. Per shot, he means less and less to the world. It’s Yoshiki’s drum solo—chk chk chk. Miggo cranes his neck to the side, revealing a candid profile—chk. A torso shot from behind; he twists his body and raises an arm to make an insignificant gesture, like Adam of the Creation or Lelouch of the Rebellion—chk. I zoom in—his ass sways like a wind chime—chk chk. It’s just like hitting the backspace button. He turns about to check on me and blushes madly after having seen my camera. I flush red as well, but I keep on clicking. “Shara, picture,” I call to the forgotten friend beside him. She spins and they both get into an awkward pose, Miggo doing a rendition of the Hitokiri Battousai. I zoom in even closer to his katana—chk chk chk.

            Longing ends. Chk chk chk. Yoshiki’s fast-paced drumming erupts from the television speakers. Chk chk. Here it is—Orgasm! Toshi’s wail ejaculates from the television’s speakers, splashing onto the sick riffs of Hide’s guitar. The insane combination shakes the foundation of my bed, tickling me from head to toe in a sea of photographic paper. Orgasm ends, giving way to the ecstatic drum rhythm made by my double-bass heart and snared breath.

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The photographs form a mottled swirl of spilled acrylic. Miggo’s head, light as paper, lies on my breast, rising and falling after every breath, for what seems like the rest of the concert. My heartbeat slows down to the tempo of Endless Rain. The storm outside has long gone. And suddenly, the song skips all the way back to Week End, as if pre-empting lovers’ aubade. I’ve got nothing to lose, except your heart … Weekend, weekend, weekend. I’m at my wit’s end. The song replays half a day ago over again; a single picture lies on the spot of the bed where I had snapped a photo of Shara in her Gothic Lolita outfit. I pick it up and pause at her bright countenance, her creativity and innovation, at her complacence. Her smile in the picture—that was the ear-to-ear smile she’d never given me. It was like—for once in her life—she was proud to have me as her only friend.

            I take a look at all the photographs around me—of Shara, of Miggo, and of random passers-by—and realize that I’m not in any one of them.

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Xì. Did you hear it then? It was the sound of having betrayed your best friend. It was the sound of having tainted your dearest memory. It was the sound of having erased yourself from existence. It was the sound of having finally achieved Xì.

5PM

To Absolutely No One In Particular

(published March 2010)

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Nothing exists until or unless it is observed.

An artist is making something exist by observing it.

And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it.

I call it “creative observation”.

Creative viewing.

-William S. Burroughs

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If I were to be labeled three things, I would be called a con artist, an irresponsible god and a reckless driver.

            We self-proclaimed artists are, essentially, liars, since we’ve always had a fondness for visual aesthetics. How can I say so? Because, with our eyes, we perceive the reality around us and it is our job as enthusiasts of the graphic to pay homage to reality by making a mockery of it. Or as our slightly peculiar friends, the postmodernists, go, make a mockery of reality by paying it homage. We generate our own universes and toy with life on the canvas. We conceive our own Adam and Eve in whatever shape—and size, if you know what I mean—we fancy. We are the serpent whose forked tongue has hissed truths, though distorted, about good and evil. We, therefore, are weavers of falsities. Con artists.

            But we are also like the Supreme Being who brandishes his omnipotence in every direction. I splurge my own, quite wastefully, like a hundred million microscopic chapters of Genesis down the black hole.

            And I have driven to places you will never touch.

            But enough of that. Now, I don’t claim to be the prophet of some new religious cult, if that’s what you’re thinking. But what I do claim is the possession of powers of creation beyond reckoning, believe me. After all, aren’t we all gods after our own fashion? That divine obligation also means I have to constantly lie my entire reign. Of course, not everyone can be very creative gods; that’s why we see a plague of prudish, truthful people infesting the land. Purely truthful people think less and therefore, create less. Contrariwise, there are secrets we artists, spinners of existence, enshroud within the contours of our oeuvres. There are tales we scatter across dabs and stipples of colors that serve no purpose but to be constant reminders of our fallibility as mortal deities. As for me, I have but one secret, one lie that I engrave onto every canvas: That God has fallen in love with Eve.

            Senseless. That’s what this lengthy bombast is. A futile chronicling of events and emotions on unstable media. I might as well hit the delete button and gone is the secret, like the wind. Then why do we still write journals? Why do we spend hours of our lives reexamining our minds and reaching back into the past?

            Why? I do not know. Or probably, I do not want to know. As they say, curiosity killed the cat and condemned the entire human race to mortality.

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Now, I want you, an imaginary consciousness, to imagine you are standing in front of a schoolboy, about yea high—I bring my hand up forehead-level—and looked as if he had a glint of rodent somewhere in the long chain of his ancestral blood. Imagined him yet? His name’s Fred but if it helps, I say he looks more like a Procopio. Or Norberto Querubin. He’s my best friend.

            I met the jolly sod on the first day of our fifth grade. We were seatmates in an all-boys school and I found him to be exceptional company, as he was easily amazed by my drawings, most of them being only half-assed sketches. Though Fred had a cranial capacity no larger than that of a mouse—do tell me when I sound too believable—we’d spend class hours telling jokes, talking about video games, almost anything we took interest in and, most of the time, found remarkably hilarious like my caricatures of dumb teachers or, if we were extremely bored, even the shapes of stones on the ground and clouds in the sky. Yes, we laughed at the goddamned clouds and we did it believing those grade school days would never end. And just in case you’re wondering, we were just friends who just happened to like looking at clouds together, so fuck your opinion.

            The laughing years passed momentously and come our first year of high school, our young hearts were awakened to a brand new species. We both decided to move to a school that employed a coeducational system. Of course, young boys like us, in the midst of our puberty, were sheltered from the wilderness for so long. It’s no wonder the very first thing that crossed our minds the first day at our new school was: “Girls, maidens, virgins! We are in the courtyard of Ishtar!” Soon, we discovered that females’ sweat wasn’t really perfume and a lot of them looked like they were born in faraway rainforests and raised by wolves.

            Lisa, on the other hand, did not look as though she swung from trees. In fact, she didn’t even look like she could climb one, let alone chop it down. She was the lone daisy in a bouquet of roses, of gardenias and calla lilies. Yet it was her who sparked my, how shall we say, particular neurosis. To be honest, I never noticed her until Fred had pointed her out and said, “Begad, I sayeth! Turneth thy eyes over yonder, mine comrade, and gazeth at the lass that the heavens doth shine upon!” or something that went along those lines; I forget trifles. I have to admit, though, that she did have a certain charm about her. She swayed like a silk curtain. Her movements were like seeds of a dandelion caught by the wind and her smile … was like the flower of the brugmansia, enough to drive men insane to death. I never found her extraordinarily pretty but I commended Fred for his fine taste.

            He was shy as he was daffy so he just couldn’t bring himself to talk to her. So all he—and I, as we were inseparable—ever did during our recess and lunch breaks was to stalk her. And stalk her we did. How much, you ask? We followed her past crowded corridors, round the school quadrangle, into the library, and even out on the sidewalks on the way home. Her favorite snacks were tuna sandwiches. She loved to collect Pucca stickers. She was afraid of dragonflies and moths and her panties were mostly colored light blue. We were thirteen, for chrissakes. Give us a break. Well anyway, one day, Fred turned to me and asked, “Dearest comrade, canst thou inscribeth the lass’ wondrous visage using thine heaven-sent artistry?” he said, as usual, again, not his exact words but close enough. Me? Draw her? I gave it a bit of thought and simply replied, “’kay.”

            This wasn’t really new to me. Portraits were my specialty anyway, so every new attempt was always worth a shot. I bought a new sketchbook specifically for drawings unbeknownst by their subject, Lisa. Wherever she was in clear vision, I would assimilate reality and produce my own interpretation of that reality, my own lies in that very sketchbook. Her hairclip, her dimples, cheekbones, and even her collarbone, which Fred had a strange thing for. “Magnificently spot-on, good fellow! Thine petite depictions doth indeed capturest her to the finest essence!” his amazement went. “Nah,” I said. That’s not her. There’s no way that will ever be her.

            There had to come a point—say, the middle of the year—wherein I was so used to seeing Lisa’s face, I could have drawn her in any position I desired. The sketchbook at that time was nearly full. All one friggin’ hundred pages of it. Then, it started happening, first unconsciously and inexplicably. I started to draw images of her on the back of my notebooks even if Fred hadn’t asked me to. Dear God, why her of all people? Well, she was all I drew for the past four months. Try getting her face out of your mind after that. It was a steady fermentation; too young, you find it bland and tasteless but after a while, flavor seeps in. It’s a strong and tangy taste that’s too difficult to accept at first and needs some time to get used to. Lisa’s spirit was, in the crudest and most forthcoming term possible, an acquired taste.

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I never believed in soul mates; none that existed in real life, anyway. All I ever depended upon were the confines of my own creative intuition. No puzzle ever fit into place perfectly, as though it were predestined. You’d either have had to cut the piece or make one yourself. I found that out one night as I browsed through all the sketches I made of her. I realized … that all of them were smiling.

            She was always there in my drawings like a picture-perfect Barbie doll, sitting upon her little plastic throne on a shelf covered with the most meaningless things. She was one of those gals who always seemed beyond the reach of the typical adolescent male. They came to you, pristine and packed in neatly-designed cardboard boxes. They stared only at the world around them and never at you and no matter how much you cared for or treasured them, they would always remain sealed behind that transparent plastic barrier. Her clothes shone just as luminescent as her smile, and the way her blouse embraced the contours of her breasts and flanks, the way her skirt stroked and barely outlined her thighs shook my entire being and compelled me to grab at her, to own her. But I have been cursed with visions and hallucinations so vivid that I was no longer infatuated with the Lisa I had based my creations on. I had fallen in love with my own.

            Every agonizing day, at school and at home, her face recurred even in the dullest of moments and I agonized at her nonexistence all the while. Her name was a cacophony that resonated off the walls of my mind but never quite occurred to me. Nameless, she strutted about my canvas, interacting with a faceless avatar of myself. We conversed and spent time with each other in impossible reveries. We went places wherever my creativity fancied; if it called for a day in her room, bam, there it was, as though it had been there all this time and nothing else outside had ever existed. Soon, came the nights, under the gingery light of my worktable, we went other places, riding in my paper-colored sedan made entirely out of lead. We drove deep into the Earth, exploring murky crevices never once ventured.

            My breaths were steep at every fluid swerve of the pencil. With difficulty, though harboring a slight conviction, I traced her cherry blossom lips, grazing them like the bodywork of a speeding rattletrap against the steel railings of a highway, before rounding her neck slowly, smoothly. For a while, I paused at her chest but once again regained my momentum as I drove my flaming pencil down the curves of hell. Lower and lower I went, swerving like a madman, taking endless pleasure at the thrill of the ride. Then I arrived at the precipice; the gates of hell were already in sight. My heart was pounding. I felt elated while my hand was gripped tightly on the gearshift; I had to drive on. Here it came! I flew off the edge and for a few seconds, my eyes rolled back and I felt as if my entire body was being tickled by the tongue of Satan himself. And my vehicle came hurtling down, down into the fiery pits and crashed in the blink of an eye.

            After I had come to, I found myself feeling drained of all energy and life and feeling utterly revolted.

.

 

And this brings us to you, New Word Document, and why I even bothered to narrate and systematize a memory I’d rather have forgotten.

            Nothing spectacularly new happened the weeks following my first joy ride. Lisa continued to stroll about the school grounds, following her small quartet of gal friends and still being followed by the smitten gaze of my dear pal, Fred. Nothing spectacularly new, save for the dirty smirk that glints on my face after every other vigorous handshake.

            What have I gained from all of this? Just another pretty face in my artistic arsenal? If God had the power to erase Adam and Eve from his mind, Tabula Rasa, what would have the world been like? Two less lies from the face of the Earth, most probably, and a hell lot more boring. But what if they were just fleeting fancies and God decided Adam was too scrawny and Eve, too busty? Would He sketch another universe with its own Malakas and Maganda? Hey, I just draw and drive. I don’t have a goddamned clue.

            But now, I think I understand why people write journals. On the one hand, curiosity may have given us knowledge. But it also has given us eternal life.

            This is another one of my artworks and in it, I have breathed life. This will be the only secret I keep from Fred and any soul alive, for that matter. I mean, the only thing that knows isn’t even human. So as long as I keep the memory alive, it will continue to exist, perpetually, just like images in the sketchbook and the nameless entity in my mind that was the fruit of Lisa and her tantalizing smile.

May92013

Labels and fashion.

I abhor labels. I have a distinct aversion to anything that could limit my potential as a human being. Calling one’s self simply a writer is like saying you’re not good at many other things. Of course, you could append your profile with a jumble of several other labels that further specify your humanity like you’re the centermost region in a Venn diagram of tens of intersecting sets. Like being a photographer-journalist-bicycle-repairman-writer-publisher-internet-comedian or some arbitrary permutation of a hundred other eclectic hobbies. That is, until you run out of space on your profile description, at which point you are forced to admit that you don’t have the time to be all of those and more in just a singular instance.

But I do not mean to say that all your talents don’t mean anything to how you are as a person. Your perception of the world is just an interpretation based on the well of knowledge you possess. And this knowledge was gained from your experience as a living, observant human being. But experience is far too different from a label. Experience informs you, it builds you. But labels can serve many other functions. Labels can limit you. Labels can focus your attention to bettering one specific talent. Labels can function as handy decoration, something you hang above your shop as advertisement space because you don’t have the time to personally explain to other people everything about yourself. And I believe that is okay. Most people do not have the time to understand you, and a lot of them won’t even make the effort. Labels can be seen as a lazy mechanism that oversimplifies what you believe in. But that doesn’t signify that you treat your abilities with any less regard. Labeling is a fashion statement. It’s something you wear. You didn’t make the fabric and stitch in the buttons and laces, and several other people may have bought the same brand for them to wear, but people wear clothes differently, and their fashion “statement” by wearing Gucci may mean something completely different from my fashion “statement” wearing Gucci (not that I shop avidly at Gucci, and not that anyone still wears Gucci). People may not understand why you choose to don the garments you don. They will obviously judge you for it. But I hope you know why you wear it, and, if they ever get the compulsion to ask you, I hope you’d know what to respond.

I am a writer, I am an atheist, I am a gamer, I am human, and I look good.

May82013

Some introductory codswallop

Welcome to stuff-about-a-thing, a not-blog not-diary fueled by the art of being a complete and utter narcissist. Kick off your mud-crusted flip-flops, don a musty bathrobe and slap your ass right onto that worn chintzy armchair you’ve always wanted to buy but couldn’t because it was all a daydream that never existed to begin with. So you slap your ass right onto your office chair or your bed, because who uses desktops nowadays when laptops are so much more convenient?

This is real fiction—this is the precise moment of falling asleep, the Event Horizon, where life ends and dreams begin. You are falling down the rabbit hole but this is no allusion as much as it is a literary illusion, so when I snap my fingers, you will wake up and believe everything you’ve seen in this journal was a distant untapped fragment of one of your past lives, and it will seem like déjà vu but don’t be fooled by the cunning allure of words. Gaze into the paragraph and it will probably gaze back, despite it having an obvious lack of eyeballs.

Expect nothing and you will receive. Expect anything and I will redirect you to the nearest possible Google.com. I write only for you—not you, the reader, but you, the abstract. You, a variable. You, the incomprehensible and infinite. You, God, but you probably stopped listening during 7th grade. You, the object of my internalization. You, the absolute and undeniable Myself.

Welcome to this travesty. There are peanuts on the floor. Drinks are self-service. Interaction is noncompulsory. I pump up the amp and sing along to Don’t Stop Believing.

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