I’ve felt words slip from me like sand seeping through cracks between fingers, but there are grains stuck under my fingernails, in the skin of my knuckles, in the crease of my life line, like small gemstones caught in a sieve. These hands hold more than language will ever know.
I am an ocean. I hold bodies close like islands floating in the warmth of my belly, tethered to my limbs and crevices, nestled in the depths of my collarbone, in my palms, stretching out to my fingertips. I want to carry these islands with softness, but my tides rise with the moon, my waves crash, my waters boil, enveloping you until you are too far to see. Sometimes my winds break bones. I promise I am learning to be gentler to myself and to you.
As the plane touched down at the airport this afternoon, I could feel my heart in the pit of my stomach. I let out a sigh, not of relief, but of what felt like grief - like coming back here shuts off parts of me that I was only barely able to uncover in the last week while I was away. I’m quickly trying to find every excuse to get out of this city. It’s simultaneously the most overwhelming and underwhelming place, and really only good for sleazy old white guys and their young Filipina wives, or if you really like malls, traffic, and smog. Being here is like submerging yourself in a murky puddle. Like drowning in your own phlegm.
When anyone asks me if I’m here on vacation I want to tell them “no, I’m here on a perpetual emotional breakdown.” Instead, I nod politely, as if saying I’m here to spend time with my nanay isn’t a valid enough intention for being on these islands.
I am anxiously awake in bed, of course, unable to sleep past 7am, and I am thinking about the full moon in Cancer. Full moons in general are a heavy emotional time. A full moon in Cancer only means that this emotional state is heightened and multiplied by about a thousand percent. For me, the moon holds more than I will ever know. For me, the moon is a mother, a nanay, a lola, a goddess, a healer, babaylan. She is a warm light cast upon us to hold us through times of grief, mourning, trauma, transformation. The moon is my heart, a container for what makes me sob tears of sadness, of pain, of joy, of ecstasy.
I have been here for exactly one week, but I can’t help but feel like I am not quite here. This isn’t quite a new feeling for me, I’ve experienced this many times before, but something about this feels different. I have been falling, drowning even, and perhaps I have never felt so afraid in my entire life. I feel a level of shame that is difficult to pinpoint, like I am not supposed to be here, like this place is not one that I can ever call home, as if my roots have never reached far enough into the ground, my soil left unwatered, and my leaves left to fall from my branches, now limp and cracking. The Philippines became a part of my body that I had to learn how to nurture by myself.
I have felt so terrifyingly out of my body since I arrived in Manila, and any grasp of grounding has felt unbearably far, until right now. There is a full moon tonight, and I’ve been feeling her pull all week. Like, she’s trying to tell me something. I woke up the other morning and talked to my mom and I cried. She said to me “I feel like in your heart you know the main reason you’re in the Philippines is to see Nanay” – and she is exactly right. I’ve known this all along. I planned my trip to the Philippines back in August, in hopes of seeing my Nanay (my great grandmother) one last time. Everything was falling into place – I would see my Nanay, and have this trip as the basis for my Div III. I would not be coming here to live out anyone’s story, but my own. This is my relation to these islands, these bodies, this blood. But something still felt off, unclear, unattainable. It felt like a state of mourning. I was aimless. I still feel aimless, maybe even more so than before, but I am okay with that.
My Nanay passed in November and everything came to a halt. I considered canceling everything altogether, but I knew that would hurt even more. Something had to change. Something had already changed. Where would I go from here? Where would my body take me? Where would the moon take me? Where would these islands take me? This was a moment for me to release any preconception of a “plan” that I had, and just fucking go, with soft intentions and the willingness to listen and to be guided by what is around me.
I am here for my Nanay, and I am letting her guide me.