An actual status update including things I have trouble saying out loud

  1. It turns out my foster kitten, Marcy, may have been hit by a car before I picked her up. Her wounds aren’t healing, instead they’re peeling away to reveal something even more acute than something she caught from the shitty weather we’ve been having. And she’s slowly deteriorating beside me, but she’s also in that awkward space between being in too much pain to get any rest, but not enough for her to just pass out. Tomorrow we get x-rays done and find out if we have to put her down gently. The decision is already overwhelmingly painful, but what else is there, really? I mean, what favors would I be doing her by letting her live a life wherein every breath causes her so much pain.
  2. I’m turning 27 in a couple of weeks.
  3. And two things I’ll be doing for the 2nd time around: a biennale and a trip to South Korea, also in a couple of weeks.
  4. My sister’s coming home in October to get married!
  5. Then Jogja and Regi Lhaynn’s wedding in November! Hooray for beginnings!
  6. It’s easy to see ahead when you’re on top of everything you’ve mapped out. Then there are the things outside of your control. Most of these things involve other lives: Marcy, Friedrich, my nonexistent significant other. I like happy endings, but all of this is forcing me to reevaluate the terms. 
  7. It’s true what they say about your twenties just whipping by like dog years. Something about raising a glass to life or to health. I raise my glass to having choices, because not everyone is as lucky. Even worse off are those who have choices, but also fail to see them.
  8. I’ve also been closer to my Mom, who goes out of her way to be kind to the animals that now share this place with us. I’ve been meeting people who feel the same incomprehensible tug towards being there for a sick cat or a dog that’s about to be turned into meat. A while ago, a girl whose name I didn’t catch gave me a Denta Stick and taught me to offer it to Happy (her dog with behavioral problems) with an open palm so she wouldn’t snap. I have so much to learn about being patient and being kind and being brave. I’m turning 27, but I can’t remember the last time I felt this small or this helpless, just waiting for the hours ’til we can get Marcy’s diaphragm checked. 

The Horizon of Our Concerns, pt. 2

Right now, Marceline (the kitten I picked up last weekend from the corner near Councillor Marcel Rillo’s house, before the floods hit full-force) is sitting up. I’m watching her closely. By closely, I mean I’m about a foot away from her, making sure she doesn’t knock over the bowl of steaming hot water I’ve placed next to her bed, as a makeshift vaporizer.

Parts of Metro Manila are still underwater. Last week, we had more rainfall than we typically experience in a month. I stayed in and made blankets from bits of fabric and unusable clothes, and I still haven’t donated any of them, as originally intended.

But I have read every article out there on kitten breathing problems, respiratory infections, and asthma. I have been losing sleep from sitting next to her, lightly tapping her chest until her breathing returns to normal and making sure her hot water bottle stays hot. Before that, she had an eye infection which just cleared up completely a couple of days ago after double daily doses of Erythromycin. Within a week of zero trips to school, we have been to the vet twice.

I now watch things like this.

And on top of that, I’m exhausted from preparing myself for the possibility of losing her. I don’t know how much more of these little heartbreaks I can take. But I’m just as exhausted from the little celebrations that come with seeing her sleep soundly (almost), or seeing her eat after a whole day of not touching her food. My heart does strange things for every hour of peace she gets, when she’s able to sit upright and breathe easily. I wake up and see that she’s still breathing, and I find myself praying for another morning like this one, for more resiliency, for normal kitten things, like playing with yarn and jumping and running without losing her breath. I find myself praying for the other eight lives she’s due, because dammit, she’s supposed to be a cat. The point is I find myself praying.

There’s a line in George Saunders’s “Manifesto” (2005), it goes: “holding the broken body of his kitten, a man felt a sudden kinship for all small things.” And that’s it, I guess. The possibility that Marceline will lose her life distracts me from living my own, but this is hopefully only for as long as it takes to get her on her feet.

And there’s that other point: maybe she isn’t distracting me from living my life, but maybe this is me living my life, away from the implication that devotion defaults to bigger, higher things – not a kitten that’s barely even the size of my foot.

Now I’m a little scared of how I’ll deal with raising a child.

The Ghost of Rockschool

I’ve seen God in the sun
I’ve seen God in the street
God before bed and the promise of sleep
God in my dreams
And the free ride of grace
But it all disappears and then I wake up

There’s a story behind these pictures of Karl. They were taken on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. My mom woke me up that morning by telling me that there would be no school that day, so could I please take our dog, Ginger, to the vet to get her bald spots checked. I asked, what about college? And she said she didn’t know if classes were cancelled at the college level.

I got my breakfast ready, and took it back to my room to check online if classes really were cancelled that day. This is where it gets blurry. It seems for the past month, Metro Manila’s been in the middle of a storm, and our house–being built to take natural light and natural air–has become a life-sized experimental arrangement of doors slamming backed by the wind rushing through. We knew this could prove fatal for the kittens, so my mom bought doorstops and hooks to prevent any accidents.

My sister’s room is different though. I’ve been staying here for the past few months, since she left, and sometimes the kittens stay with me. The hallway is elevated, with the door opening inward, gliding on air, so there’s no way to put a doorstop it. It used to be ideal when the kittens were smaller, because the step was too high for them to climb out.

That morning, I opened the door, and what happened next I can’t really remember, but with all the force it took to shut the door, it did not shut. I turned around and saw Friedrich, Karl’s brother, writhing on the floor, mid-seizure. He had been attempting to crawl out when the door slammed shut. I scooped him up and started yelling all kinds of unintelligible things until I just grabbed my car keys and drove out barefoot with Friedrich in my lap, in search of a vet. The nearest one was closed, the next one did not have any oxygen with which to revive him. He died within minutes.

I got home with his tiny body wrapped in newspaper and buried him next to his sister. It was only 8 am, but by the time I got to school I no longer had the energy to teach or anything to tell my students because of the crushing guilt that was weighing so heavily on every fiber of my being. I think of all the tiny moments that cost him his life, the seemingly innocuous little details that could have changed the course of that day (and consequently, this one). Even earlier that morning Friedrich had been running around my room with my headphones strung to his foot by the cord. I got up to untie it so he could play, unencumbered. Less than half an hour later I would be barefoot in my vet’s office, pleading for a way to pull him through.

Everything hums as the blue heart turns
And the blue girl’s dawn
Is when the sun goes down
My story tonight
Is from your solitude heights
I got a window on your constellation

Driving home, I remember congratulating myself for not crying. I thought maybe I was over it; maybe I finally absorbed the practical realities that accompany dealing with very fragile, very small lives. Or that very small lives come with very small deaths. But none of those ideas held water for very long. I cried on my way to school. Cried on the phone with my dad. Cried every chance I got to be alone, and have relished every minute of it, because tomorrow would have to be another day. Tomorrow, I might not get a chance to be as honest with myself about how all this really feels.

The logic of Tomorrow comes with focusing my attention on Friedrich’s brother, Karl, pictured above. I’ve been a foster parent for a little over a year now, and Karl is one of the most unique kittens I’ve ever had the chance to care for. He sings to his food. He literally makes this prolonged high-pitched buzz, similar to a dial tone, while he’s eating. Sometimes he crawls onto my chest then puts his paws on my cheeks and his general nose area against mine, like an Eskimo kiss. On Saturday, Karl and Friedrich were supposed to go to their forever home, but I guess it’s just Karl now.

I spoke to my sister about it this morning. There’s nothing like losing a pet to make you feel indescribably alone in your grief. There’s a very personal bond between pets and their carers, an extended inside joke. My capacity for emotional derailment and full-scale meltdowns are no match for the unforeseen circumstances in which I lost Friedrich. But she also told me to stop blaming myself, to learn to forgive, and to listen to Belle and Sebastian’s “The Ghost of Rock School,” which I’ve been doing all day. She’s right, but it won’t change the fact that there’s no life too small to grieve over.

Master I love from the ground above
As the stars below as my memory flows
Every picture frame is beating
Louder than time
Every clock in the hall is bending slowly

Going for Broke

A good friend from college wrote me a letter about being in limbo. There are worse things than being in limbo, but you can’t tell this to someone who is still there. I’ve been lost in every sense of the word. I was in college when I saw how futile it is to embark on a project that I couldn’t first see clearly in my mind’s eye.

On the other hand, a dress is just a dress. In which case possible failure is hinged on persistence and imagination: are you willing to try again or would you rather do something else altogether.

Maybe it’s too easy for me to say this because I already knew how to sew and I had access to cheap fabric. I have however made a few mistakes: disappointed clients, bitten off more than I can chew, etc. etc. What made a difference was that fashion and making clothes never meant the world to me. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything mean the world to me, and this could be a bad thing, this could mean I’ve missed out. But I know it has worked, and looking back I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I only started to travel after graduating from college. I was 23. I had no idea what ambition was, I just believed in having nothing to lose from executing a stupid idea.

Right now, I think I have more stupid ideas than smart ones, but even the smart ideas are questionable when we realize how different we are. It became a lot easier to let things be after I admitted to myself that there are some things I’ll want to do that will only make sense to me. I met a woman in Busan who said something to the extent of “I don’t know why everyone has to congratulate themselves for playing it safe.” I guess we all have a practical or sharp retort to that statement, but it makes sense once you realize that safe constitutes one way to live.

I’m not going for broke. I guess I’m at a comfortable intersection because I keep trying. Having kept on trying means understanding what you love to do and why you love it or why even in the midst of all that love, you need to leave. Maybe trying in sense means going for broke? I do know I desire less–not as a symptom of depression, but I want things as the necessity or opportunity arises. There will always be things to need and opportunities to come, and I’m trying to be smart about choosing which to entertain.

Right now I want to revive a kitten, but that can never happen. I can only apologize profusely and sincerely, forgive myself, and move on. Right now, I’m on the fence about going to Singapore to pitch the business plan for a brand, but that would mean derailing myself from two other papers, and I have to be realistic about what I can afford, in terms of time and in terms of finances.

I can’t be completely sure how a person should be because I’m still getting there, myself.