The Cuyo Detour ends

A ship’s horn blows in the harbor, a long, melancholy sound, piercing through the rain until it reaches me as I curl up in bed. It is the same ship that brought me here more than two months ago. It is also the same ship that will bear me away in four fleeting days.

I came to Cuyo to put my heart back together. I did not know that I would also be leaving it behind.

In return, though, I will take with me healing. I will take with me joy. I will take with me the courage to set out again on a road where I’ve stumbled before, knowing that at the end is something worthwhile.

The transition will take some time, I suppose. Eventually, however, I will immerse myself again in the life I took a break from, pick up where I left off, and catch up with loved ones who have waited patiently. I will learn to keep pace again with rhythms more complicated than the wind and the tide and blinking of fireflies. Still, it won’t be the same. I won’t be the same. A part of me, at the very core, has been changed. The island has changed me by making me more like myself.

Come to think of it, it all makes perfect sense. I will leave my heart in Cuyo. But I will forever carry Cuyo in my soul. My escape from the real world has led me to something more real than anything I have ever known.

So goodbye, for now, to all that I have come to love. When I return to Cuyo, however long it takes, I will no longer be seeking an escape. On that day, I will be coming home.


It’s time to fly

On July 28, I was captivated by the sight of a kite surfer leaping among the waves as his kite soared high against the setting sun. One month later, I found myself harnessed to a trainer kite, savoring the thrill of playing tug-of-war with the wind. I knew then that I’d been earthbound for too long.

Now, I’m not the world’s most athletic person, so I was rather nervous at the start. The first time I held the handle bar on my own, I was stunned by how powerfully the wind pulled at the three-meter self-launching kite. The slender strings were also deceptive; each one was strong enough to lift 300 kilos, and when I learned that, my overactive imagination immediately concocted visuals of me being lifted up and flown out to sea. So holding on tightly, I tried to play it safe, moving the kite as slowly as possible. My instructor Jing, however, was having none of that. He wanted me to revel in the wind, to relish its power rather than fear it. Taking a deep breath, I decided to give it a try.

What a difference a little courage makes. I set my nervousness aside and moved with the kite, savoring the tension in my body as the wind and I took on each other. It pulled at me and I pulled back, laughing when I felt the kite respond to my commands. I was far from being in total control, though, and the wind was bound to win the tug-of-war now and then. During my first lesson, I accidentally shifted the kite into the power zone, a position which harnessed the wind’s maximum pull. Startled by the sudden burst in the kite’s speed and strength, I lost control and found myself getting dragged across the beach until I tripped over something and slammed into the sand. But oh, it was worth it. In the few seconds before I fell, the thrill was like nothing I’ve ever known, an encounter with nature’s most capricious element. Jing was a little worried that I may have been hurt, but I wanted more. I wanted more of the excitement of the power zone, more of the exhilaration of seeing the kite wheeling bright and fast across the sky. I knew I might fall again, but I was willing to risk it.

When I got home that night, all my muscles were aching. I had a stiff neck from looking up at the kite for hours, as well as a large bruise on my hip from my fall. But I felt wonderful. I learned how to stay in control while putting the kite in the power zone, how to take on the wind and win. Most of all, I learned how not to fear a crash. It can happen any time, but while the kite is up in the air, I’ll launch my soul along with it and take flight. There’s a difference between caution and cowardice, and kiting is teaching me to be smart but take risks. If I fall, then I fall, but while I’m soaring, I’ll forget about gravity and make every second worth it.

I’m daydreaming again. There’s just something about this place that makes dreaming so easy.

I can see it now, babe, our life together.

Like the first morning I wake up with you. There will be that odd feeling at first, you know: disorientation. Something’s different, I think to myself behind closed eyes, still sleepy but puzzled. Then it dawns on me.

“Oh my God,” I gasp out loud. “I’m married.”

Wide awake now, I turn my head to find you beside me, smiling. You’re trying not to laugh, I can tell.

“Good morning,” you whisper, in that voice that I’ve had the biggest crush on from the start.

“I’m your wife,” I inform you, like this is news somehow.

You give up on holding the chuckles back.

“Yes,” you laugh, pulling me close. “And I’m your husband.”

That vital piece of information gets lost in the pleasure of snuggling deeper into your arms. My favorite place in the world, sweetly familiar on this life-changing day.

“It feels strange,” I admit to your chest, the only part of you that I can see. You’re holding me so tightly I couldn’t look up, but I don’t want any space between us. Not even the tiniest bit.

“Being married?”

“Yeah,” I sigh, but the feeling is wearing off as I focus on the beat of your heart. Another familiar thing.

“Bad strange?” you ask, ready to reassure me. You’ve always done that, calmed me down when I over think myself into a panic. You’ve talked down my walls until the only thing keeping me safe is the certainty that you will never, never, never take your love away.

I consider all of that, as well as your question, and I realize that there’s nothing to over think. This is you. This is us. We get to keep each other forever. And on the heels of that thought comes a great big booming burst of joy inside my chest. Fireworks, babe. Cheers and confetti and a big brass band. The biggest smile of my life growing inside my heart. I’m married. To you.

“No,” I say, wanting to jump up and bounce on the bed, except I don’t really want to leave your arms. “Wonderful strange. The bestest and happiest kind.” Can you feel my smile against your skin?

And then you turn my face up, and you see it for yourself, all the happiness in my eyes. It has to show — I don’t think my body can keep that much joy a secret. I don’t  mind. I want you to know all the deepest things written in my soul. I love you. I choose you. I choose you over fear, over self-protection, over doubt. I choose you for the rest of my life, for always. Completely. Irrevocably. No one else.

When you kiss me, I can feel those same words in every touch of your lips. All the words you’ve said over and over, even long before I was brave enough to say them back. I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you. Never stop believing that I do.

As I start to lose myself, I realize one thing. Every morning, from this day forward, will begin like this. And suddenly, that doesn’t feel strange anymore. It feels right. It’s the rightest thing in the world, waking up beside you. It’s the only way I want to wake up for the rest of my life.

Until someday, my love.

Wait for me as I wait for you.

Island time

An old man sets his traps among the mangroves, praying for a good catch. It is an ancient craft, the weaving of baskets, the luring of crabs with expertly baited traps. He does this in a siran, a salt bed, unused and flooded with sea water during the rainy season.  During the summer, the siran is a busy place, bustling with people making salt the same way their parents and grandparents did before them. Today, it is quiet, serene, with nothing to scare away the myriads of crustaceans that make their home in the mud among the roots of the bakhaw. The old man is hopeful.

Such is the rhythm of life in the siran: in the summer, they make salt, in the monsoon, they harvest the abundant marine bounty flourishing in the shallow waters. Year after year, season after season, the sea, land, and sky support and nourish life in a finely tuned cadence that the islanders have learned how to dance, generation after generation.

In the cities, skyscrapers are being built higher than ever, information is transmitted at lightning speed, and whatever natural rhythms are being played are drowned out by blaring noise and bright lights. It is exciting for some, I suppose. Certainly convenient, and these days convenience is the holy grail. You pick up a cup of coffee from a convenient drive-through window, check traffic reports from your car for the most convenient route to work, and off you go to the office, where you offer a product or service that you promote as the most convenient in the market. The city does have its own rhythm, and it’s fast and ever-changing. There’s a wild adrenalin rush to be found in keeping pace.

But I find it soothing here. I love the sense of continuity, the feeling that some things do stay the same. Yes, Cuyo is gradually moving forward into the 21st century, and that’s also a good thing. There is, after all, nothing romantic about stagnation. But for the most part, the years turn more slowly on this island than anywhere else.

There’s comfort in that. Heaven knows there’s enough instability in my own life, with bipolar disorder drastically changing my world from vivid to gray several times a year. I wake up from my depressive slumber to find myself left behind, scrambling to catch up with people and things that have moved on without me. It’s disorienting, and more than a little lonely.

So while I’m here, I’m soaking up the rhythm of the island, letting it permeate my skin and settle into the center of my body. When I leave, when I have to keep pace with a more frenetic beat, I can pause for a while and remember that somewhere else, in my somewhere else, the world is moving to the slow and steady beat of a peaceful heart.


You know what I found this morning, in a long-unopened compartment of my wallet? It was a letter from you, dated several years and a lifetime ago. Tucked into the folds were three balayong blossoms, dry and fragile from being pressed for so long. You loved me then, I remember. You recorded these promises for posterity, so that I can read them over and over again and know what I meant to you. And then you changed your mind.

Dammit, David. How can I still be hurting over this now? People’s hearts get broken every day. People get left behind, and people move on. So why the heck am I here, plenty of time and plenty of adventures later, crying over sheets of paper that no longer hold anything real? It’s not like I spent my days wallowing in heartbreak. Eventually, I stopped missing you or even thinking about you. I loved, I laughed, I engaged. I did things that matter. I grew up a little every day, and I stopped wanting you back. You are no longer a part of my life — most of the time.

But some days just catch me off guard. It could be the little details, like the sight of my own palm, messy with squiggles and lines whenever I write with a ballpoint pen. I can almost hear your exasperated laugh,  almost see you trying to figure out why the ink that should have landed on paper ended up on my hand instead.  Or it could be the big things, David, the wounds received in the process of living.  Somehow, every goodbye is still an echo of yours, every person walking away steps in your footprints until they are out of sight. And suddenly there would be tears flooding my throat all over again. After all this freaking time.

So here I am today, writing on tear-soaked paper, thinking that’s enough. That’s more than enough. I want to love again like I loved you, in spite of risk, in spite of fear. Loving you taught me just how much I could give and how far I can go, and I don’t want to lose that. I want to offer myself again to someone, the right someone. You didn’t stay, David, but someone else will. Someone else deserves this misguided intensity of emotion that I wasted on you, long after you didn’t want it anymore.

I’ve always been the one who remembers. In a way, I’ve come to accept that, the inability to really forget what was once important. The memories will remind me to be careful, but I could stand to let go of the souvenirs. It’s been over for so long. This is the part, I think, where I stop letting it hurt.

Story of a boy

“Manang, anuno imong ingbubuat?”

I pulled myself away from my thoughts and looked up at the kid, around 12 years old, who appeared in front of me as I sat on my usual spot at the beach, writing and listening to music. It took a bit of effort, with my limited Cuyonon, to figure out that he wanted to know what I was doing.

“Nagsusulat lang,” I replied with a smile, recognizing him to be one of the two boys who had shyly hovered around the other day until one of them got up the courage to come up and ask my name. Apparently content to discover that the newcomer who was always sitting alone by the sea was named Abigail, they’d both drifted off eventually.

But  this afternoon, there were more of them, and they huddled in a group at some distance behind me, animatedly conversing in rapid Cuyonon as the representative returned and reported that I said I was “just writing”. After a while, he reappeared.

“Anong sinusulat mo?” He was switching to Tagalog now to make it easier for me.

They wanted to know what I was writing. I discarded the idea of trying to explain the concept of blogging, so I stuck with, “Yung mga naiisip ko lang”. Just my thoughts.

His forehead creased at this reply, and he went back to the others. I waited to see what the next question would be. After some time, and some laughter and teasing (boys’ mischief sounds the same in any language), he was back.

“May gusto raw makipagkilala.” Someone wants to meet you.

Ah. Apparently, the issue of my literary endeavor has been abandoned for something more interesting.

“Okay.” This answer earned a grin, and he was off again like a shot.

A little later:

“Pwede raw ba ngayon?” Could he do it now?

I laughed. I couldn’t help it, this was too cute. “Sure,” I smiled.

He returned, sooner than I expected, and alone. “Pwede raw ba siyang lumapit?” Can he come up and approach you?

Adorable. I tried my very best not to laugh again. “Oo naman,” I assured him. Of course he could come close. The ridiculous image of Queen Esther and the king in reverse popped into my head.

While I was waiting for whoever it was to get his fill of encouragement from his buddies, MYMP’s Torpe Song #5 came up on my phone’s playlist. I looked at it in disbelief, then hurriedly set it to mute. The poor kid might think I was mocking him.

The footsteps that came up behind me were heavier than I expected, and I turned to see a teenaged boy older than the others. He sat on the grass with me and extended his hand.

“Ako nga pala si Manuel San Diego*,” he said, blushing furiously. His hand was cold and more than a little damp.

Tall, dark, and lanky, Manuel so strongly reminded me of my 14-year-old brother Joshua that I wanted to give him a hug and ruffle his hair. I wanted to lend him my handkerchief for his perspiration. I wanted to give him pointers on how to talk to girls. Instead, I settled for smiling and telling him my name, though I’m sure he already knew.

Manuel floundered about for a while, trying to make awkward conversation that I gamely joined in. His resemblance to my little brother was giving me a funny sort of tenderness, and I didn’t want him to be embarrassed. However, when his supporters behind us started calling out the words “cellphone number”, I decided it was time to make a graceful exit.

Taking my leave as nicely as I could, I told him I had somewhere to go. “It was nice to meet you, Manuel,” I said sincerely, hoping he could take a sense of confidence from the encounter.

Heading towards the sea, I remembered being that age, not too long ago, when attraction was awkward and embarrassing, but also simple and fun. The games that grown ups played, the games that I could never master, seemed needlessly difficult and complicated.  I was sorry to leave my spot on the beach, and sorry to feel disappointed eyes on me as I walked away, but I was the wrong age for Manuel. I’m the wrong age, I think, for anyone right now.

 * name changed

Wildflower chains and the things people forget

Some things you forget. Like how to make a chain of wildflowers, how to twist and tie the stems so that you don’t break them or crush the petals, until you have a long enough string of blooms to loop into a necklace or a crown.

FOUND: yellow and white pieces my of childhood

You can always go back and learn it again. Remembering how much fun it used to be, you gather flowers on a handkerchief, already relishing the childlike, uncomplicated pleasure of the task. You try to be careful, but it’s trickier than you expected, and the stems keep breaking in your hands. But so what? There’s a whole field of wildflowers around you, and there are hundreds to spare.  You lose nothing by letting yourself fail until you get it right.

These poor things had to bear my clumsiness.

Sometimes, though, you forget bigger stuff, things that are more complex and so much more important. Things like how to let yourself be loved.

It takes a different kind of courage, you see, than simply loving someone. Accepting love comes with the risk of relying on someone else’s heart, someone else’s understanding of who you are and what you’re worth. They might be mistaken, or  they might change their minds, but if you’re brave  you’ll believe them anyway and let them love you. You’ll let them love you on the good days, when you know how to love them back. And you’ll even let them love you on the bad days, when you feel unworthy or empty or self-destructive, because you trust that it won’t scare them away.

It used to be so effortless for you before, but it’s surprisingly easy to forget something even as essential as that. All it takes is one too many mistakes, one too many times when you realize that vulnerability isn’t safe. Heartbreak happens, and you learn the devastating lessons of fear, which crowd out everything you knew about being brave. Self-protection is an easy habit to fall into, and a difficult one to break.

I wonder how you can go about relearning courage. There are no hearts to spare, no infinite number of breaks that you can endure without consequence. Too much that is fragile and precious is at stake. So how can you do it, then? How can you learn how to let yourself be loved all over again?

I think I might be slowly starting to get this right.