Higher Education (excerpt)

On the opening night of California Sushi & Grill in downtown San Jose, two blonde college girls, most likely from San Jose State, walked in and said they’d like to sit at the sushi bar. Isabelle, the elderly Japanese hostess, asked them what they were going to order.

“Oh, we just want some California rolls and some sake.”

The only two stools available on the busy night sat empty, chairs number one and two, closest to the sushi’s chef’s toaster oven at the right end of the bar. Not the prime spot—not seats three and four, right in front of Hiro-san and with a front row view of the fresh fish. Isabelle looked at the girls and glanced at the empty stools. Back at the girls, and then the empty stools. And what she did next is something I’d never forget.

“No, thank you,” she bowed.

The girls, confused, turned around and walked out of the double doors of the restaurant while looking back at Isabelle and me and the patrons having fun at the sushi bar. They even looked in through the oversized front windows of the shop as they made their way down San Fernando Street. As pretty, young blonde girls, they didn’t know what to make of the situation. Never in their lives has anyone closed a door on them. Isabelle then walked over and propped stools one and two against the sushi bar counter to indicate the seats were being saved.

“What happened?” I asked.

“They wanted to eat California rolls,” she said, in a tone that said many things about the girls, like ‘How dare they’ and ‘No class’ and ‘Don’t they know the sushi bar is reserved for high spenders’?

Those bar stools stayed empty for the rest of the night. I imagined the college girls telling their friends about what’d happened to them at the new sushi bar. This incident early on in what would be a years-long job showed me how Isabelle deals with people, sizing them up for what they’re worth, their bank account size, whether or not they’re worthy to be in the company of the wealthy and powerful Japanese businessmen sitting at the sushi bar. Is this the restaurant I wanted to work for? I imagined the sushi bar would be a hopping, exciting, and welcome atmosphere, not one of exclusion. I could’ve been one of those girls coming in with a friend for a sushi snack. By turning them down, she dismissed a whole demographic of San Jose State students, even though the university was just a few blocks away. Did the owners know she did this? Did they ask her to do this? What kind of restaurant did they want this to be?

I felt really bad that the girls were turned away and knew how confused they must’ve been. They could see the empty stools at the bar, they could see everyone else eating sushi and drinking beer and sake and having loud, boisterous conversations over the music. They could imagine themselves fitting right in. I felt at once sorry for them and also in awe of how Isabelle handled the situation. She didn’t explain why they couldn’t take those stools, she didn’t say they were reserved, she didn’t say, ‘Come back another time when it’s less busy.’ With three words and a shallow bow, she managed to convey that they weren’t welcome and she was under no obligation to provide them with an explanation, that the house had invisible rules they didn’t understand, and that their business wasn’t needed. It was a masterclass in subtle yet effective communication. I wanted to know how she did that, I wanted to be able to do that. Like with many contradictions, that scene left me both unsettled and intrigued by Isabelle’s actions.

Limp Tail

For my fortieth birthday, I had a pool party at my sister’s house in El Dorado Hills. Friends from the Bay Area made the long drive up to celebrate, but none of us ended up swimming because, ironically, it was too hot. The temperature peaked at around one hundred ten degrees, and no one wanted to be outside. I had Mexican food catered that day, and felt badly about that decision when one of my friends commented, “What, no lumpia?”

Parties have always been a source of stress in my family growing up for the massive amount of cleaning and cooking and prepping that had to be done. Filipinos, including my family, felt the need to put on a big show, to have an impressive spread of everything from lechon and pansit to homemade desserts like kutsinta with fresh coconut and bibingka. Part showing off (we have a lot of money (even if untrue) therefore we can afford to provide this much good food), part cultural (food brings us all together, it’s nourishing, and there have been times in our lives or our ancestor’s lives when food was scarce, particularly during war), part prevention (if we don’t make enough food, which in Filipino culture means enough for people to eat twice or three times and take leftovers home (god forbid anyone leave without a paper plate covered in foil containing piles of food), people will tsis mis about how we’re kuripot). By the time the actual party started, we’d all be worn out.

Determined to end that practice, I kept the party as low maintenance as possible, which meant no cooking by anyone. We almost don’t know what to do with ourselves when we’re not chopping and slicing and frying and baking and boiling and steaming. In making that decision, I was aware that I was having a more Western-style party; white people cater all the time. Why couldn’t I? Why couldn’t I just throw some money at the problem instead of sweating and toiling away near the stove? I had a good job at Stanford, I could afford it. But the uneasiness of the decision, the feeling that somehow I’d let myself and others down by not putting in ten hours of work for a party, stayed with me the entire day. I’d taken the easy way out, the first generation to do so.

Isso wasn’t allowed in my sister’s house (too big, sheds too much) so he must’ve been in the casita with the air conditioning on during the party. (I can’t imagine he would’ve been anywhere else in that heat.) That’s something always difficult to navigate—when your dog isn’t allowed in the house. As if they’re not family, as if they’re not an important part of whatever social gathering or party or celebration. I don’t blame my sister, it’s her house and she can decide whether large dogs are allowed inside, but, still, it’s hard to take knowing your best friend can’t be with you during a milestone birthday. He’s the one who stayed up until 3 a.m. with me as I worked on my stories or critical essays for my MFA program, the one who greeted me with so much love when I returned home from work in the evenings, the one who slept on my bed every night, sometimes at the bottom of the bed near my feet, sometimes right on my legs, preventing me from moving even if I was in an awkward position, and, a few times, right next to me with his head on the extra pillow. How do you describe this bond to a non-dog person? It’s inconceivable to me to leave the dog out of a party or celebration. They are the party, they are the celebration.

Once again, I found myself single on my fortieth birthday. I’d been dating someone casually, superficially, the worst kind of dating for me. Definitely not someone I could invite to the party, someone my entire family would scrutinize. To make myself feel better, I wore cute short shorts—black with a red medieval cross stitched on the back pocket and gold angel wings on the back waistband. I paired them with a shimmering gold bikini top with braided straps, my way of saying, Yes, I’m single but I can still get away with an outfit that some 20-year-olds cannot. That I exposed so much skin that day makes me uncomfortable now. That I felt the need to compensate in that way makes me sad.

The next day, it cooled down enough to spend the day in the backyard swimming. Relatives and a few friends had stayed the night, so, in true Filipino fashion, the party continued. With a dozen kids jumping in and out of the pool, Isso joined right in. He loved to swim, but mostly he loved to fetch. I’d throw a ball in the deep end of the pool, he’d madly circle around the perimeter, staring intently at the ball, blocking out all other distractions, noise, people as he made calculations in his mind on the best way to get at the ball. First, he’d pace back and forth near the deep end, and then sprint all the way around to the shallow end to see if perhaps this was a better way to get it. And then he’d make his way back to the deep end and propel his 70-pound body off the ground and into the water, keeping his focus on the ball the entire time. Once he retrieved it, he’d paddle his way to the pool stairs, jump out, find me, drop the ball at my feet, and assume his fetch position like a runner in crouch pose ready to start the race. If I weren’t available to throw the ball for him, he’d find anyone—a grandmother, a toddler, anyone capable of picking up a ball and throwing it for him. If the person didn’t throw the ball to his liking (not far enough, not fast enough), he’d abandon them in search of someone who could.

I made the mistake of leaving Isso to play with the kids in the backyard while I sipped cocktails inside. I could drink a lot back then, maybe three to four martinis or margaritas, and still hold my own. Never or rarely did I get sick from drinking, and never did I cry when drunk. I’m a happy drunk the whole time, socializing in a carefree way, unable to stop talking, laughing constantly up until the point I fall asleep or pass out. With quite a buzz on that day, I forgot to check on Isso regularly. I could see him playing in the pool with all the kids and knew they would watch over him or let me know if he needed anything.

In the early evening, after swimming all day, Isso’s tail went limp. In the five years since I’d adopted him, I’d never seen anything like this. His long black tail with the slight bend in the middle lay flat against his hind legs. I tried to lift it but it just dropped back into place. He showed signs of pain when walking and couldn’t sit down. I panicked and called the nearest vet to schedule an emergency appointment. When we got into the examination room, the first thing I said was, “His tail’s broken.” To which the vet replied, “His tail isn’t broken.” I felt so relieved. Still, I at once felt worried for Isso, bad that he was in obvious pain, and guilty that I’d been drinking all day and not checking on him. If I were a better dog mom, this wouldn’t have happened. If I were a better dog mom, I wouldn’t have drunk so much. If I were a better dog mom, I’d be a better dog mom.

“He’s got limp tail,” said the vet. He explained the condition as one that large dogs are prone to get when swimming in very cold water on a really hot day. Isso would need pain medication for the soreness and a bland diet for at least a week, which stressed me out knowing I was supposed to leave for Slovenia in a few days for my MFA residency. Do I cancel my trip? How could I in good conscience leave for Europe for two weeks when my dog needed care?

I brought Isso home to Potrero Hill, where I was living at the time with a roommate and her dog, and she promised to take good care of Isso so I could go away. After many hours of travel, I arrived in the small town of Škocjan, population ten, only to learn there was no internet access except at the local library that had very limited hours. So once a day, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., I’d make my way there to try to get online, sometimes successful, sometimes not, to get status on Isso. It was hard to concentrate and stay present on my trip knowing he wasn’t well. He occupied my thoughts on the plane, in my B&B at night, and during workshop during the day. It hurt being so far away from him knowing how much he needed me, not just for care but for the special comfort I give him by singing personalized songs that have his name in them. Only I could take care of Isso in the way he needed—physically, emotionally, spiritually. That’s the real bond between a dog and their person; the daily feedings and walks are the tip of the iceberg of an extraordinarily deep connection that gets formed.

After a week in Škocjan, I got the wonderful news from my roommate Kyrsten that Isso’s tail started working again! His pain had subsided, he could sit down and resume his normal diet. My Isso was fine. The news made me so happy, and I finally settled into my trip without worry or guilt.

Wake Up (Duck) Call

I started a Google Sheet to track the animals I’ve encountered so far since my move from Lake Merritt in Oakland to rural Cameron Park, a place few, including myself before relocating, have heard of. After sheltering-in-place with my sister’s family in nearby El Dorado Hills for most of 2020, I’d grown used to the expansive space, smaller crowds, and slower pace. The few times I returned to Oakland to check on my place and gather personal items, I noticed my stress level increase due to the noise, crowded lake and concentration of people and buildings. When an opportunity to buy a home in rural Cameron Park presented itself, I put in an offer, had no competition, and closed escrow in three weeks. I realized after I said goodbye to my native Bay Area that I’d actually checked out long ago. The only thing really keeping me there were my clients, and the pandemic made them realize I (and most people) don’t need to be there in person anymore.

Cameron Park is a small town of about 20,000 people you might pass through on your way to Tahoe from the Bay Area, just when you’re about an hour and a half away from the lake and need to rest or eat. In fact, one of the two exits for Cameron Park offers just those amenities—motels, gas stations, a Denny’s, Carl’s Jr., McDonalds, Taco Bell. It’s one of those towns whose names you don’t need to remember after you’ve checked out or filled up and headed back on Highway 50 on your way up to the Sierras. You need Cameron Park temporarily for what it can offer you during your travels—a transactional relationship and nothing more. There’s a man-made lake and a neighborhood with extra wide streets and homes with hangar-sized garages to accommodate the private planes flying in and out of the local airport, but these places aren’t enough to attract tourists.

So far, in my Google Sheet, I’ve recorded:

  • 7 deer
  • 1 coyote (panicked)
  • 4 wild turkeys
  • 1 bald eagle (cried)
  • 4 ducks (3 living on my back porch)
  • 1 black swan (enamored)
  • Descent of woodpeckers
  • Countless squirrels
  • Dozens of turtles
  • The sound of a bleating fawn (YouTubed to confirm)

The number of wild animals caught me by surprise, which I now realize is such a naïve thing to say. Of course, when you have a heavily wooded area, there’ll be animals. I just didn’t realize how many, and close they would be, and that they’d be knocking on my window, peering in as I sit on my couch. In the first month of living here, I did online searches for mountain lion and bear and coyote attacks. I bought mace and a loud whistle for protection. My neighbor is whittling by hand a walking stick to help me feel safe when I take my dog out. I’ve stopped nearly every dog person on the back country roads to ask if any wild animals have attacked their dogs (they haven’t). It’s been months of paranoia and fear and constant awareness of my surroundings. Friends have joked that I was safer in Oakland than Cameron Park.

And then a month ago, about four months into my move to Cameron Park, I had a talk with myself. I’m an animal lover, I’ve studied animal communication and can talk telepathically with dogs and cats and horses, I love nature. How do I channel my fear of the wild into something else, something more accepting and loving? How do I learn to co-exist with wild animals and appreciate them, even befriend them (without interfering in their lives)? I set my intention to embrace the wild animals around me, and suddenly things started to change. I started to research how various animals stayed warm in winter, what they hunted, when they mated. I’ve a lot more to learn but have discovered a newfound commitment to understand their world as best I can and use my tools to communicate with them.

I headed out to North Carolina for three weeks on my first trip since the start of the pandemic. Upon my return, a female mallard duck and two male mallards rested on the shady slope of my back porch. A neighbor had put out water for them and threw breadcrumbs their way in the morning. I knew they’d come from the lake across the street and was surprised to see them looking so comfortable. While sitting in my living room that day, the female mallard walked up to my sliding glass door and peeked in between the blinds of my plantation shutters, her little brown head bobbing up and down to get a better view of me. I caught her on video and posted it to Facebook. Soon after, two male mallards (drakes) decided to play voyeur as well, but instead of just looking into my living room, they began to knock loudly on the glass door with their bills—nature’s way, literally, of getting my attention.

It didn’t take me long to order a large bag of cracked corn for them, the same feed I’d used for ducks at Lake Merritt. Over the past few weeks since the ducks arrived, there’s been some drama. Once, I had to stop working in the middle of a tight deadline to break up a fight between three drakes who were trying to mate with the female (Esmerelda). By break up a fight, I mean screaming, “Hey! Leave her alone!” and opening my door wide to coax the female inside for safety. In my subsequent research I learned this is their mating ritual, and that they mate for a season and the female can get hurt. The next time it happened, I had to stand by and watch without intervening no matter how much I wanted to help the female, reminding myself that she could fly away if she really wanted to. She has plenty of opportunities. Still, I viewed those drakes as abusive monsters for a while before accepting once again that nature must takes its course.

Last week the female went missing for several days. I knew ducks mated for the season, so it worried me that she hadn’t come by. The two drakes fighting for her would turn up and look around, confused. They ate the feed I gave them in the morning, drank the fresh water in their bowl, and waited for her, nothing else to do with themselves when they had no one to fight over. When she turned up after three days, I found myself asking her, “Where have you been?” and “Are you okay?” and telling her I’m so happy she came back.

They’re outside on the grass as I write this. I’ll keep feeding and enjoying them for however long they plan to stay. I’m hoping I’ll wake up to little chicks one day, peeking through my window.

More American Than You

If ‘being American’ is defined as someone who’s flexible, bold, risk-taking, fluid, adaptable, and innovative, I’m more American than you.

Just like you, I attended (public) school here. As a kid, I learned to read through a subscription to Walt Disney books, watched Romper Room, New Zoo Review, Mister Rogers, Might Mouse, Rocky and Bullwinkle. I ate Campbell’s soup from a can, Lipton soup (with rice), made peanut and butter jelly sandwiches, drank soda, chewed Bubblicious gum, slurped snow cones in summer, played jump rope, dodge ball, tether ball, ding dong ditch, swung high on the swings and jumped off at dangerous heights. Played in empty barns, swam in public pools, rode my bike, roller skated all day, played with Barbies. Owned a pet rock. Walked around barefoot.

Just like you, I watched Little House on the Prairie, Mutual of Ohama nature shows, The Brady Bunch. I played monopoly, with yo-yos, hoola hoops, Atari games, foos ball, Centipede, Asteroids, Space Invaders. I studied hard, made good grades, got on the honor roll. Took family road trips to LA, San Diego, camping trips to Yosemite, Lake Camanche, KOA Campgrounds. Had sleepovers, attended sleepovers, had crushes, signed slam books, made prank calls, listened to The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Motown artists like Mary Wells, metal bands, rap, punk rock, ballads. Got addicted to General Hospital thanks to my grandma.

Just like you, I celebrated Fourth of July, President’s Days, recited the pledge of allegiance every morning, know all the words to The Star-Spangled Banner, This Land is Your Land. Jumped off the couch screaming during any Superbowl with a Bay Area team. Worked at a McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr. during high school. Had crushes on Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon and, later, Matt Damon. Hung out at Great America, Disneyland, Magic Mountain, Universal Studios.

Unlike you, I navigated this childhood with immigrant parents, one with a heavy accent and broken English. It once took me hours to explain to my mom that I needed her to sign a permission slip for school so I could join my first-grade class to see bunnies in someone’s back yard. She didn’t understand what a ‘field trip’ was, why I had to leave the school grounds (dangerous), why we needed to see bunnies. It wasn’t until I cried and said I’d be the only one left behind in school if I didn’t get a signed permission slip that she eventually signed it.

Unlike you, I excelled in my kindergarten class even with a racist White teacher excluding me from games and pinning a note on my shirt everyday that read, Teach Your Daughter English. Excelled when a third-grade teacher sat me down to say I needed to slow down on my SRAs, that I was reading them too fast and moving too far ahead of the rest of the class, and I ignored him, and continued to read the stories, answer the questions, and move up to the next level.

Unlike you, I watched my older sister get pulled by her long ponytails while wearing skates as the neighborhood kids called her a ‘gook’ and a ‘chink.’ Unlike you, before I even started school, I watched my dad fistfight with a big White man on our front lawn after he’d been harassing us for months about not parking on the street in front of our Navy housing. Unlike you, I watched my parents pour time, money, energy, and tears into petitions to bring relatives over from the Philippines, seeing my parents wait patiently for five, ten or more years until the petitions finally got approved.

Unlike you, I had to explain to my newly emigrated grandpa that he couldn’t barter for the cost of grapes at Alpha Beta. That I didn’t want any of the broken pencils, run-over combs, rubber bands he’d found on the street while walking or riding his bike.

Unlike you, I had to grab the phone from my mom when bill collectors talked down to her, confused her even more with their lengthy explanations of what was due, only to change their tone completely when I, her daughter with perfect English, got on the phone.

Unlike you, I continued to love bukayo from the Philippines even when I brought a bag full of it to school and all the kids said it looked and smelled gross.

Unlike you, I ate rice with eggs, put heaps of bagoong in my rice to eat with fried fish, grated fresh coconut in the backyard for the kutsinta, crushed the ice for halo halo in summer, ate pigs feet, tripe, and lechon while everyone thought my food was disgusting.

Unlike you, I listened to story after story about the war, starvation, disease, death, Japanese occupation, losing everything, martial law.

Unlike you, I cussed out a Harley Davidson motorcycle rider who told me and my mom to go back to our country after his claim that she almost hit him with her car.

Unlike you, I get up and get to work trying to raise money for low-income communities even when someone at the BART station stalks me after a client meeting and tells me to go back to my country.

Unlike you, I and my Asian brothers and sisters have found a way to be both American and Asian at the same time. If being American means being adaptable and flexible and moving forward even in challenging times, then I, and we, are more American than you.

Make Your Own Rules: On Long-Distance Dating During a Pandemic

After a few months of dating, my boyfriend relocated to North Carolina to be closer to his mother and stepfather, and to leave behind San Francisco—Frisco—his birthplace and where he has spent most of his life in its schoolyards, bookstores, on its streets, on muni and BART. The move had been a year in the making. As a longtime poet and housing activist, he, along with many locals, witnessed his beloved city turn into a tech playground, a place he no longer recognized, a place he could no longer call home. It’d been clear from the beginning that this move would not be temporary, did not serve as a break from the city, but a permanent relocation across the country, never to return except for occasional visits.

The anticipation of his departure two weeks before his scheduled train ride across country proved to be harder than I thought. In fact, the anticipation of his departure was harder than the departure itself. Counting down the days … 9, 8, 7. Not really knowing how things would play out. Whether or not he’d like it out there. Whether or not we’d stay in touch.

For the past year or more, I’d experienced a similar feeling—anticipatory grief. A term I learned from Meghan O’Rourke’s memoir The Long Goodbye about her dying mother. My beloved dog and best friend Isso whom I adopted at eight weeks old had turned sixteen, and although he didn’t have significant health problems, or any health problems, really, I knew the chances of him making it another year would be slight, especially since he’d already blew past the expected life span of a 70 pound dog. I tried to prepare myself for what his decline in health might look like, but it only gave me anxiety. I tried to imagine him no longer around, but I couldn’t. It turned out that all the anticipatory grief I’d experienced didn’t help; that time would’ve been better spent being with my dog in the moment. I embraced each health challenge as I met it. I had to put him down exactly two weeks ago as I write this, just ten days before his 17th birthday.

As soon as my boyfriend got on board the train, the text messages and pictures and audio clips and video clips started to fill my inbox. I’d been wondering about how much we would keep in touch once he arrived in North Carolina, never really imagining that I’d be along for the train ride to his new home. Our communication got stronger with the distance. After a few months, I went out to visit for the first time. The weather in western North Carolina was in the process of turning to fall. He introduced me to his mother and stepfather, his uncle, and a few new friends he’d made. A few months after that trip, he came to visit me in Oakland and we attended a literary festival and took a trip to the ocean, something he missed being in a landlocked place. I got to meet both sets of grandparents at their grave sites, which he cleaned with much respect as he told me about his memories with them. I returned to North Carolina in winter for the holidays. And then again in March to throw a reception for him as the newly named Carl Sandburg Writer-In-Residence.

During the reception, he disappeared for a while. When he came back, I could tell something had happened. We said goodbye to our lovely guests, and on the car ride back to his place, he said his residency got cancelled due to Covid. No reschedule date. No further instructions. Just cancelled.

Just two weeks prior, I had attended a 400+ person gala at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco for one of my clients. It seemed impossible that so much could change in just a few short weeks. That Covid could affect our lives in this way.

When we said goodbye at the Asheville airport in March, I knew that it’d be a long time before we could meet again. No one knew what we were in for. I’d be flying back to the Bay Area on the first day of the shelter-in-place mandate. To make certain we’d meet again, I left behind a rosary my mom gave me, one that I carried in my purse always (if I changed purses, I moved the rosary to the new purse). Wrapped safely in a small leather pouch I’d purchased long ago in Venice. It now sits in his living room near his TV.

For the past seven months, we have kept in contact through Facebook Messenger, SMS texts, video calls, audio clips, email, cards. We send each other small things in the mail. Together we attend readings and workshops on Zoom. We have date nights with sushi and wine. We’ve argued, made up again. Sent each other ridiculous pictures of ourselves with graphics from our phones like two teenagers. In the time since Covid began, we would’ve met two or three times, but events got cancelled and flying became a scary, and even foolish, thing to do.

I’ve been reading up about how other people are managing with a long-distance relationship. Lots of tips about how to keep it fresh, alive. And when I read these tips, some resonate with me and others do not. I’m finding that two people must figure out what works best for them. For example, many sites recommend having at least one meal together every day. I don’t like eating when I’m on video. When I’m eating, I want to focus on my food. When I’m on the video call, I don’t want to be chewing. Other tips say to watch a film together. That’s something we would do together in person, so it makes sense to transfer that to the virtual world. But that hasn’t really worked for us. What works better is reading the same book (not necessarily at the same time) and discussing it. What seems to work for us is spontaneity, not previously scheduled video calls. I get video calls in the morning when I look like hell, and then video calls when he’s on his daily walk through the streets of Hendersonville trying to get home before the next rain, and when he’s picking up a sugar-free dessert at the local bakery on Main Street that we both love and turns the camera around so I can say hi to the staff. Some days like on a Sunday, we might communicate very little or not at all. Even we need a break. For me, this lack of schedule has kept our communication alive. I never know when we’re going to see each other virtually, but I always know it’ll be soon.

Lately, we’ve been breaking down all the different scenarios on airline travel. If we should do it, how we should do it, who should travel, what precautions we’d need to take regarding quarantine once the person who travelled arrives. I’m dizzy from reading articles on the topic, where some experts say the risk level of getting Covid from a plane is low, and other experts say they wouldn’t dare get on one. Every time I read one article that makes me think it’s okay to travel, I read something else that cancels that one out. For now, we don’t have a plan, and maybe not having a plan will end up being the plan. Neither one of us is comfortable flying right now. Winter is coming, the flu season is coming, so travel during those peak months will definitely be out of the question for us both. The desire to see each other is there, and hopefully that’s enough to carry us through this pandemic.

Ghost Candy

This morning, as I sat down at the oversized island in my sister’s kitchen, eating a bowl of fried rice my brother-in-law made, picking out the bits of sausage in the dish—the only dish I’m willing to do that for as a pescatarian, I noticed a handful of Werther’s Originals in a bowl in front of me. Enough to catch my attention. Enough to distract me from my breakfast. The shiny golden foil wrapper resembling the color of 18 karat gold covered in yellow-tinted cellophane. The candy’s unique oval shape. Its recess in the middle where the groove of the tongue fits nicely. The other side smooth as a mirror glaze on a cake on the Great British Baking Show.

I used to carry Werther’s in my purse all the time but stopped a few years ago after I read the obituary of my ex-husband’s girlfriend of two years (may she rest in peace). My ex-husband and I had dated for three years before getting married. The marriage lasted less than two years, the same amount of time it took us to finalize our divorce in 2015. Not because it was contentious, but because neither one of us knew how to deal with the matter at hand. The paperwork from the agency handling the divorce would arrive and sit at our respective places unsigned, unreturned. At one point they checked in with us to see if we still intended to dissolve the marriage. We’d meet up as friends over dinner, sharing meals and a bottle of wine, looking like a couple to anyone who would’ve been watching. Our friendship confused my sister and my family. If you’re still friends, why not stay married? They would’ve done anything for me to stay married. Anything to avoid bringing the disgrace of divorce into our divorce-free Filipino family.

She had passed suddenly. They’d just moved in together after dating for a few years. She was his first serious relationship since we finished. I had yet to have a relationship as serious as his, so I felt behind, as if it were a competition. She came from a famous, wealthy family so unfortunately the gossip columns took hold of the story. My humble, gentle, innocent ex-husband suddenly on the pages of tabloid magazines. Nothing could be more disturbing to me.   

I knew nothing about her. Knew nothing of her personality, interests, likes or dislikes. But when I read about how she was known to carry Werther’s in her purse to distribute randomly to friends, I felt like I knew her. Because it’s something I do, too. Well, something I did. I’d buy a pack of the Werther’s hard candy (not the chewy caramel ones, yuck), a pack of Butter Rum Lifesavers, and would often have a Heath Bar tucked away somewhere as well. My boyfriend says I like old people candy. He does, too. In fact, when we first started dating, he pegged me as a Butter Rum Lifesaver person. Without saying a word, I got up, grabbed my purse in the other room, and presented him with an opened roll of that exact flavor. Once, I offered my niece, a teenager, a Butter Rum Lifesaver. She looked at me and said, “Who buys that??”

My love for old-fashioned flavors must’ve begun in childhood when my maternal grandfather, who’d emigrated from the Philippines with my grandmother to live with us in San Jose, would pull them out of his pocket like a magician and inconspicuously place them in our hands like we held some great secret. He’d cycle to Alpha Beta, the local grocery store, and buy the Brach’s butterscotch candies in bulk. Back home, he’d wrap them in a plastic bag, and then place that bag in another plastic bag, wrap a dozen rubber bands around it, and store it in a dresser drawer. To get at the candies became a small project that took several minutes of undoing and unwrapping and unwrapping again.

Right after my ex-husband and I got married, his mother (may she rest in peace) passed down several items to me from my ex-husband’s paternal grandmother, who had raised him. The items included fur and mink, which I had to respectfully decline given my love for animals. One of the items, to my surprise, was a vintage Heath Bar box that contained jewelry. His grandmother loved Heath Bars too? At the time, I took it as a sign that we were meant to spend our lives together. Without having known his late grandmother, I knew a lot about her through her candy choice.

Just like his late ex-girlfriend who I knew nothing, yet everything, about. People like us who are drawn to old-fashioned candy are nostalgic, (overly) sensitive, domestic, deeply loyal, honest, giving of everything we have, appreciative of small things, aware of the subtle changes in moods and emotions in people when others are not. We can be reflective, interior, grounded, yearning for simplicity, and seekers of silence and solitude. Werther’s and Butter Rum and Heath Bar aren’t just candy, a way to satisfy a sweet tooth; they’re a way of life.

The fact that my ex-husband’s late girlfriend used to carry them in her purse like me shook me enough to stop buying Werther’s. In my mind, the candy has been redefined and in some ways is no longer mine. For now, the ghost of the candies rest in my purse, knowing that they’ll always belong.

Awareness

A kidnapping isn’t really the ideal subject for me to be writing about right now as I grieve the recent loss of my dog Isso, who has been my best friend for the past 17 years. But as I took a walk alone in my sister’s neighborhood this afternoon, part of my grief ritual, something about the scent of fresh tar that had been laid down in large square spots on the streets by maintenance workers reminded me of home—of East Side San Jose, the Evergreen area where I grew up. It reminded me of walking home after school from Quimby Oak Junior High, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. Passing the homes of friends and acquaintances along the way, like the Perales home where I spent many nights with my close friend Carmen and her family, the Sato house—a family of mixed race (Filipino/Japanese?) and a boy my age, Jeff, who would never look me or anyone in the eyes, Jimmy’s house—a Filipino guy who frequently could be seen in his driveway cleaning the louvers on his Trans Am and driving his mother around in it, Harry’s house, my Black friend who lived with his older brother Terry and their kind, gentle father (no one knew where his mother was or why she wasn’t in the picture). More Filipinos like us closer to our home, on the same side of the street, across the street, around the corner, up the road. Filipinos everywhere.

Fresh tar, so thick and dark. The darkest black you could ever see. The temptation to step on it, to stick your toe in it to see if it had dried yet, was always there. Before you could even see the tar, you could smell it. Like burnt tires, but deeper, smokier. Much thicker. It brought with it a feeling of renewal, of newness, a reminder that someone (the city?) kept watch over us, and just when we got used to the faded, sometimes crumbling old tar that made up our streets, they’d lift our spirits with a new fresh coat. That new fresh coat could shock with its contrast to the worn color of the washed-out street we’d all grown accustomed to. It reminded me that we could get used to something less than, something mediocre, and forget that improvements were possible.

During this time, a girl at my school named Jeana Rodriguez got kidnapped. I didn’t know her. She was a year younger than me—a sixth grader—the grade that seems to be forgotten in a junior high school. (Why anyone would choose to go to sixth grade at a junior high school and be invisible instead of going to an elementary school and be top of the class I never understood.) Sixth graders wouldn’t be welcome to hang out with the seventh and eighth graders at break and lunch. They wouldn’t be seen hanging out on the oversized cement steps watching people in the courtyard below. They wouldn’t be moving their heads and snapping their fingers to “Start Me Up” by the Stones at lunchtime, a makeshift DJ station taking up space in the defunct locker area behind a chain link fence—an idea a student came up with and somehow got approval for. I wouldn’t know Jeana if she walked right in front of me.

The flyers featured a big black and white school photo of Jeana with the words “MISSING.” It described where she was last seen (walking home just blocks from the school), what she wore, and offered an award for any information on her whereabouts. Flyers covered the school (classroom doors, bathrooms, girls locker room, administration office, on the ground and stepped on as students shuffled to class), the neighborhood street lamps, the community bulletin board at Alpha Beta and other stores in the strip mall at the intersection of Quimby and White. Her kidnapping was all over the local news and then the national news. Front page of the San Jose Mercury News. The picture showed a young Latina with long, straight hair, big eyes, a shy smile. I imagined she had a soft voice and could harm no one. A part of me felt bad that I had never known her, had never noticed her.

It didn’t seem possible that a kidnapping could take place in our neighborhood, with its new tract homes at the base of Mount Hamilton. We were the first neighborhood to have cable (which meant we had MTV before our friends did), to have underground electrical lines so you could no longer see the so-called unsightly crisscross of wires, some taut and some sagging, connecting our homes to power and telephone systems. Nothing remarkable ever happened in our neighborhood. Parents went to work, some on the assembly lines in companies located in what would one day become Silicon Valley. Kids went to school, hung out at the new Carl’s Jr. or at 7-11 across the street. Great America on weekends, riding The Tidal Wave and the giant carousel. Middle-class immigrant families keeping it honest and real. All the neighborhood kids on my street, Winwood Way, playing together until sundown.

Jeana’s kidnapping would be my first awareness of the serious dangers that existed outside the home. (Inside my own home, I felt the danger of an impatient, violent father.) The strangers lurking, waiting and ready to take you when you least expected it. Like my parents who experienced the brutality and suffering of hunger and war as children during WWII Philippines, the children today who run safety drills in school to prepare for active shooters, whose lives have been disrupted by a global pandemic and who bear witness to nationwide and global protests against police brutality, kids in California and the West Coast wearing masks to avoid COVID-19 and unhealthy air levels as smoke from hundreds of active wildfires burn out of control due to climate change. The same year of Jeana’s kidnapping, 1981, we’d had some alarm when the Mediterranean fruit fly began to devour crops in California, leading to nightly sprayings of malathion from helicopters flying low and close to our homes (cover your cars and keep pets inside). The pilots so clear in their cockpit I could wave to them from my bedroom window. But this was nothing compared to a girl gone missing.

And yet school continued as normal, as if one of us wasn’t missing, hadn’t been home in months. As a cheerleader, I attended basketball and football games, both at home and away. I sang in the choir. My parents had arranged a Filipina piano teacher to come to our home every Wednesday for piano lessons. Sometimes I remembered, sometimes I forgot. Slam books still circulated and people signed them. I’d had crushes on boys like John and Edwin and James—all Filipino boys, the younger siblings of the boys my older sisters hung out with and had crushes on. In some ways, it felt as if we were safe; the kidnapper certainly wouldn’t be as bold to take another kid while he had Jeana. I stopped noticing the flyers around school and in the community; they’d become background noise, the same picture, the same word “MISSING” in bold across the top of the page. I don’t recall our teachers talking about the kidnapping. Perhaps they were instructed not to bring it up, not to cause panic. But you think they would’ve done the opposite—scared us shitless and told us to walk with friends—never alone—and to stay aware of our surroundings and avoid any suspicious people. So on top of this newfound awareness of the dangers outside the home, I also learned that something as horrible as an abduction could occur without any significant change in our daily school lives.

Five months after she’d been taken, Jeana showed up to the front door of her family home. Rumors went wild on campus. She’d been molested. Her kidnapper was a creepy loner. He’d held her in an underground dungeon. She’d carved her name into a wall in the dungeon so that one day she could prove to police that she had in fact been held captive there. She didn’t return to school that year. Most of us thought she’d never return after what’d happened to her. That she’d switch schools, move far away, maybe out of state. And then she turned up for seventh grade. The innocent girl on the flyers had changed. Jeana had a short pixie cut with long bangs in blue and purple streaks. She wore low-cut tops, tight jeans. Walked around holding her books close to her chest. In many ways she’d tarred over her old image with a new, provocative one. The innocent Jeana no longer visible under this protective façade. She watched people from the corner of her eye, head down, knowing we were all looking at her and wondering what had happened to her. I could feel her silent rebellion, see her I-don’t-care-what-you-think-about-me mannerisms. The shock value of her new look didn’t match her inner fragility. Conscious of fashion at the time, it felt like the equivalent of pairing my favorite pink houndstooth Guess jeans with my bright rainbow sweater. A complete mismatch.

People wanted to know the worst treatment, they wanted to know exactly what had been done to her and how many times it had been done to her. None of us (as far as I know) had been sexually active yet. I didn’t really know how sex worked except on a theoretical level. So for someone to be among us who’d had sexual experience already, even though it wasn’t consensual, made her somewhat of a celebrity. But also broken, tarnished, loose, a whore. Kids didn’t gather around her in a protective circle welcoming her back; instead, they (and I) watched her actions, movements, and behavior, wanting to see the effects that a kidnapping could have on a young girl. How much psychological damage this man had done. She’d been outcasted by the very students in her school who should’ve been protecting her, helping her heal.

When I look back, I’m not proud to have been one of those students who said nothing to her. I didn’t know how to even if I wanted to. My friends, a tight circle of Pinays, had been insular. My whole family insular within the Filipino community. To me, it would’ve been obvious that the only reason I was trying to befriend Jeana was because of what had happened to her, and that made be too embarrassed to even say hello. Perhaps another awareness occurred: my ability to blend in with the masses who chose to stay silent when silence was the last thing Jeana needed.

Media coverage on Jeana Rodriguez’s kidnapping:

https://www.upi.com/Archives/1981/08/06/A-kidnapped-12-year-old-girl-who-suffered-repeated-sexual-attacks/6679365918400/

https://www.upi.com/Archives/1981/09/16/Four-minutes-after-a-12-year-old-girl-had-begun-to/2807369460800/

Letter on Animal Communication

Dear T–,

I would love to tell you all about it. Animal communication has changed the way I move in the world. I didn’t think I could do it, although I had aspirations to be an animal communicator for many years now.

One day in 2018, I just signed up for the beginner’s class with well-known and respected teacher and master animal communicator Marta Williams, thinking, I’ll give this a try, and if I’m no good at it, at least I can say I tried! 

I first heard about animal communicators when Isso was about two years old (back in 2005). I hired one as a birthday gift for him and was amazed by the reading–his insights, thoughts, feelings, wishes–all available to me in writing. There are things the animal communicator picked up on that she could not have known about. For example, I started closing my bedroom door when I left for work because Isso and my housemate’s dog would have what looked like a wrestling match on my bed each day. I’d come home to discover sheets and pillows and the comforter all topsy turvy. Well, during his “talk” with the animal communicator, he said, “I need access to my room. I need to be able to go inside my room.” From then on, I kept the door open and came up with another solution: I covered the bed in a fitted sheet so they could play on it all day without disturbing the bedding below. Without the animal communicator, I wouldn’t have known that access to our bedroom was so important to him. I was hooked! There are many, many more examples over the years when various animal communicators I worked with provided me with information I would’ve never known. 

Learning animal communication is something anyone can do. We all have intuition and it can be cultivated. It’s telepathic communication, the same process psychics use to read people. (In fact I can read people, too, now.) The process to me is very similar to writing–you open up, connect to your inner core and universal knowledge, let yourself express whatever comes to you without judging or filtering. The information can be accessed/conveyed in several ways–through a voice, an image, a feeling, taste, touch, smell. In the very first class, I got really nervous when Marta said we were going to read her cat. I thought, I don’t know how to do this! But on my first try, I was able to connect with the cat based on a picture Marta shared with us and talk with the cat. Marta was able to verify our findings and it turns out my reading was spot on. This gave me confidence so I continued taking more classes a la carte and am considering signing up for her master certification program. All the information is on her website below. Because I have a day job as a freelance grant writer, I don’t really need animal communication to be a source of income for me, but many people who take Marta’s master program do go on to build their own businesses and are quite successful. Right now, I’m doing readings for friends and family pro bono so I can practice and improve. If you want me to read any of your animals, please let me know. 

Marta did ask me if I had any family history of healing, spirituality, psychics, etc. My maternal line is all healers, including my mother. I’ve grown up used to (and comfortable with) living partly in the physical world and partly in the spiritual world. I’ve been seeing mediums, psychics, dousers, healers, chakra cleansers, reiki masters–you name it–all my adult life. As a child, my maternal grandfather did all the healing with Latin prayers and coconut oil right in our home. We only went to the hospital for emergencies. And as a creative person, I’ve always been a daydreamer and have experienced an out-of-body experience at least once. So I’m a good candidate for animal communication. Perhaps even natural at it. 

Anyway, it has opened up a whole new way of being in the world. I get immense satisfaction by talking to animals and helping their person better understand what they need and want, what they enjoy, their hopes and fears. Animals are incredibly wise, generous, loving souls. We almost don’t deserve them 🙂

That’s a lot, and perhaps more information than you need, but I really wanted to express how learning this skill has changed my life. I want to get better and better. And as I mentioned in my previous email, one can learn to read animals in spirit. I took that class and have spoken to a few animals in spirit and will be speaking to my Isso. I had a beautiful reading with him just 30 minutes before he was scheduled to be put down on Tuesday and the advice and gratitude and love he shared is the most wonderful gift I’ve ever received.

Here’s the link to Marta’s website and also a link to an interview I conducted several years back. 
https://www.martawilliams.com/

Much love to you, Beverly

Mini-Interview with Patty Enrado

I first met author Patty Enrado via an online introduction by Tony Robles, and then had the pleasure of meeting her in person at the 5th Filipino American International Book Festival in October.

Recently, Patty posted on social media about an award ceremony she and her family would be attending to accept the bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf and in honor of her father Henry Empleo Enrado, from General Major Eldon P. Regua, U.S. Army (retired).

I wanted to know the back story for this award, and reached out to Patty to learn more. Below is our email exchange. What I learned from her responses is that her father was not only brave, but also humble about his military contributions.

***

Beverly Parayno: What was your father Henry Empleo Enrado honored for? 

Patty Enrado: In 1946, Congress passed the Rescission Acts, which revoked veterans benefits and payments to the Filipino soldiers, and denied them their U.S. citizenship, which had been promised to them in exchange for their service. Public Law 114-265, signed by President Obama in December 2016, recognized the Filipino veterans’ “outstanding wartime achievements and honorable service to the U.S. during WWII.”

My father served in the First Filipino Infantry Regiment as an automatic rifleman. He was a scout in New Guinea and fought in the Battle of Leyte. He was also the recipient of the following citations: WWII Victory Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, American Campaign Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. I wish we had them, but my sisters and I never knew of their existence and don’t know what happened to them. We only found out about these citations from his honorable discharge paperwork.

Beverly: How did this award come about? Were you/your family involved in the process of making sure your father received recognition? Also, how long was the process?

Patty: I belong to two chapters of FANHS, and one of the chapters forwarded information on the award application. You can access the application from this link: https://www.filvetrep.org/application. We submitted the application in November 2017 to the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project. We received word in May 2019 that our application had been verified. But it was another five months before the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony took place.

My sisters and I took turns pinging our contact to find out the status of the application. Given that there were 260,000 Filipino veterans, and this is a volunteer, community-based national initiative, we remained patient throughout the entire process. I’m not sure how many have been recognized nationally, but in the state of California, some 880+ veterans have been officially recognized. So there’s a long way to go in outreach and getting all 260,000 Filipino veterans recognized.

Beverly: What does this award mean to you/your family?

Patty: It’s a great honor for my two sisters and me and for our children. Our father sacrificed the quality of his life in service of his adopted country. He suffered PTSD, which was not diagnosed at the time, and even our family didn’t realize fully this until after his death when we spoke to his first cousins and they let us know that he was not the man that we all knew before the war. So, his sacrifices were great, but he was very patriotic and proud to be an American citizen. And I know he would be so proud for this achievement.

***

Patty Enrado was born in Los Angeles and raised in Terra Bella, California. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California at Davis and a master’s degree from Syracuse University’s Creative Writing Program.  She writes about healthcare information technology and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two children.

Divorce Triptych

This essay appeared in Bellingham Review (2019).

I.

Auntie C—, my mom’s eldest sister, lived in a bahay kubo on Tondaligan Beach with her son and his several children. Somehow they’d dissected the small hut into four or five separate rooms: tiny bedrooms with bamboo mats on the hard floors and a front room where Auntie C— sold chewing gum, cigarettes and offered gambling such as blackjack. The house always won. 

When I met her for the only time, on my first visit to Pangasinan, Philippines over twenty years ago, she might as well have had a large “D” imprinted on her smooth, brown forehead. Growing up, that’s one of the few details I knew about her: she’d gotten divorced. Or she lived the life of a woman who’d been divorced if such thing were legal in the Philippines. 

Perhaps that’s why she lived in squalor compared to her younger sisters who owned homes on Gonzalez Street. Homes with proper floors, walls, roofs. Without a man, she lost whatever value she’d had as a person, a family member. A dilapidated hut on a littered beach mirrored what the rest of our family, and the local community, thought of her. 

My grandmother had despised C—. That’s the word she used— ‘despised.’ As an eight-year-old hanging out in my grandparents’ cramped bedroom in San Jose, California, shortly after they emigrated to the US, I couldn’t have known the meaning of the word, but from the tone she used whenever she said it, I knew Auntie C— was no good. The mention of her name made the corners of my grandmother’s mouth turn downward as her eyes grew wet behind her oversized glasses. 

Once, as a young girl, my mom overheard me say ‘divorce,’ and immediately seized upon me to say that that word, THAT word, under any circumstances should never be repeated. A rare viciousness in her eyes and voice made me take her more seriously than I usually had. And so I worked for years to erase it from my brain, to act as if the word didn’t exist in the English language. Not a difficult chore to do when no one else in our family or community ever went through one. To erase the word is to eradicate the possibility of any serious marital problems between two Filipinos. 

When I felt bold one day, I asked my grandmother why Auntie C— had gotten a divorce. “Her husband was a drunkard who beat her up.” I waited for an explanation, some expression of sympathy for my Auntie C—, but none came. The story goes that he just walked away one day. An image in my mind of a thin, brown man staggering down a dusty street at dusk with a bottle in his hand. He doesn’t look back. No one ever sees him again. Auntie C— meets another man, with whom she has several more children. So in addition to being a ‘divorced’ woman, she’s also a cheater and a whore. 

For three days in a row during my visit to my mom’s hometown, Auntie C— turned up at the front gate of the family home where I’d been staying, her hands outstretched, asking if my missing balikbayanboxed had turned up yet. “Come back tomorrow, Auntie,” I’d say. 

By the time she passed away, years later, I felt some relief. For her. The whispers would finally end. People could focus on something else besides how she ruined her life by telling her abusive husband to go. Now that she’s gone, I overhear my mom and her sisters talk about how her son continues to have children, so many children he can’t afford to support, so many children they’re spilling out of the makeshift windows of the bahay kubo. It must be his mother’s fault, I hear myself think. 

II.

Cousin A— and I share the same age. When my maternal grandparents left the province to emigrate to the US and live with our family when I was eight, A— cried and cried. Letters on see-through onion skin paper arrived on a regular basis. My grandparents would let me read them, but it always felt like a violation: they left her behind to live with us. I stole my grandparents from her. I shouldn’t be reading her most intimate writings about how much she missed them, how she’s taking care of their German Shepherd for them until they return. My grandparents, in their lifetime, would never return. 

Sometimes we wrote to each other. But these letters felt forced. They weren’t actually letters to each other; instead, they served as letters for our grandparents, especially my grandma to see. Pieces of paper with ‘Via Air Mail’ written across the envelopes to prove that my cousin A— and I had formed a new friendship despite being thousands of miles apart. 

When I thought of A—, I thought of a small girl like me, sitting on a fence in the barrio. Surrounded by carabao and trees filled with coconuts and mangoes. Expansive fish ponds in the background, one of several of our family businesses. 

Eventually the letters stopped coming. Years later, my grandparents would eventually get stolen away from my family by my auntie in San Diego. I understood the deep loss A— must’ve felt. 

And then complete silence. Did A get married? Did she have children? It’s as if she’d never existed. No updates reached me. Not that I sought any updates. I’d run away from home as a teenager. By the time I returned at age twenty-one, I focused on school and work—nearly killed myself with trying to get ahead, to make up for missed time. To catch up with everyone who’d somehow done life right. 

From years of no news about A— came big news. Really big news. She’d met someone in Saudi Arabia, or whatever country in the Middle East she’d left the Philippines for to work in as a domestic helper. Or a nurse? Either guess leaves a fifty/fifty chance of being correct. I don’t have any details about her affair, but can fill them in for myself: she left the province in search of better opportunities, to send remittances to her family, to put her children through school, to help pay for the education of poor cousins and neighbors who wanted to study, to help her adoptive (within the same family) mom with daily expenses and household needs. I wasn’t there and no one told me so, but I know they regarded her as a hero on the day she left. She and her husband cried, laughed, promised to write, and call although not always possible due to the expense. She’d taken her paycheck and sent as much as she could back home. Perhaps after several years of saving up, she could afford to go home. And her employer let her. And when she got there, the one place she really wanted to be, everything had changed. Her children had grown, she had to get reacquainted with her husband—mentally, emotionally and physically, she was expected to share her experiences living in the Middle East but could find no real words to explain what it’s like to have one life but live another. 

Back in Saudi Arabia, it started out as a prolonged look. She looked away. He didn’t. And wouldn’t. No one understands how lonely it can be. No one knows how alone you can feel. When she started the affair, she knew it’d never get back to her family. How could it? She edited her life like a well-crafted essay, only showing them what she wanted them to see. 

The remittances continued while the letters and phone calls became less frequent. I’m busy. I’m tired. As long as she kept up her end of the deal—to send money so everyone else can have a good life—why couldn’t she have a good life as well? 

(Sometimes I wonder if the innocent girl from the barrio who longed for her grandparents could’ve ever imagine she’d grow up to have a lover in Saudi Arabia.) 

Somewhere, as I write this, she’s in the arms of another man. People act shocked. And stunned that she won’t be coming back. I imagine her husband back in the Philippines in a house she bought. Her children educated thanks to her ability to pay their tuition. Our family and her neighbors labelling her husband a cuckold. 

Somewhere, as I write this, she’s walking to a Western Union, or opening her Venmo app, to send her hard-earned money back home. As their bank account fattens, she turns to her lover who she can never marry for more reasons than one and says Kiss Me. 

III.

The psychic, a Filipina who we’d never seen before, sat on the living couch with my mom, whispering predictions as my mom nodded. My sisters and I lay on our stomachs, looking down from the second floor, through the railings, as they spoke. When the medium left, my mom came upstairs. She gathered the three of us in front of my bedroom door and delivered this news: “She said one of your daughters is going to get a divorce.” It’s going to be me. At twelve years old, I don’t know how I knew this, but I did. I had no doubt that this would happen, and that this most taboo of acts would fall on me. 

Thirty years later, when I delivered the news to my oldest sister over the phone that my husband and I were having problems after just over a year of marriage, she said, “Marriage is forever. You have to make it work NO MATTER WHAT.” Her fist pounded the oversized granite counter in her giant kitchen. To my surprise, my parents showed sympathy and understanding. When my dad said I shouldn’t stay in a marriage if we weren’t happy, I let my sister know that dad’s opinion trumped hers. And that was that. 

“Don’t tell Auntie you’re divorced,” said my dad, whispering in a corner at a party at my brother’s house. The news was fresh, the idea of having a divorced daughter hadn’t settled in yet. I kept the news to myself. Separately, my mom approached me at the same party, but in a different corner, and delivered the same message. I know I know I know. 

Now, it’s been five years since my separation, three years since my divorce. In January, I’ll be travelling to the Philippines with my parents to see relatives and take care of family business. Without having discussed it with my parents, I know when relatives ask why my asawadidn’t come, I’m going to pinch myself hard and say, “He’s working Auntie.”