A Death Moratorium

In the last two years I’ve lost people I know, some more intimately than others. It had been difficult moving from grieving to feeling grateful to be alive and able to enjoy a birthday cake with my daughter or bond with my son while making a vegetarian meal.

For awhile, there was not a day I woke up without thinking about my friend Valerie who died in August 2020, two days before her birthday, our dear Alex who passed away suddenly in January 2021, just a week or two after we FaceTimed with him, and then a few weeks later, my Mango Tribe sister Ann, for whom eloquent tributes have been written that I could not read without bawling, and so I stopped. Then, my sister-in-law Techy, my Facebook friend; we weren’t close but I know she was also loved dearly. My beloved Aunt Belen from COVID in September 2021. She was my second mom, and our family has not recovered from her sudden death. My friend and martial arts guru Chris from a stroke in April 2021, while I was at the airport in Mexico waiting for my flight back to Chicago. Even my favorite frenemy Jeni T, much loved by some and avoided by others for her feisty and judgy nature. Most of them were too young to have been taken, four were fierce women with children left motherless. All of them full of life and love for others.

And then there are the faceless 400K in U.S. alone… mass shootings, senseless gun violence in Chicago… It is difficult not to live in fear that I might lose another human. Come to think of it, I have always had paranoia about losing loved ones ever since I was a self-absorbed teenager. I’m not sure why. Could be a movie or movies I saw. Love Story? Bobby Deerfield? Tagalog tearjerkers? When I was a little girl, I saw my dad die on television, and I cried so hard even though my mother kept reassuring me that it was not true. He’s right there on the sofa! He hugged me tight to prove he was still alive, while I struggled, pummeled him with my puny fists, made him promise to never die again. He did, anyway, in 2009. And then, my extraordinary mother followed, 9 years later.

Now I feel like I’m constantly trying to distract myself from falling into a grief hole and staying there.

I watch mindless movies. I hug and kiss my little doggy. Text heart and smiley face emojis to close friends. Like and love posts. Raise fist emojis to causes I believe in, go to rallies, teach, sing, drink, shop, travel, eat out, clean the house, wipe sticky substance from the fridge door handle left by a son with such a mutant power. All this to keep me from imagining my wrists slashed, the cuts vertical, the flesh raw and bloodless as if I’m already dead.

I think about death and dying a lot while living. I want to say, shhh –be quiet. Be grateful. Stop. I kiss my husband’s lips passionately as if his breath is gold in my mouth because it is. It kills me to think about the five spoons of sugar he put in his coffee, the T-bone steak he ordered at the diner, the stresses he has at work, the kids not knowing their boundaries with him because he never established any. It kills me. I am dead already. But I don’t want to die. Not really. I’ve spent too much on healthcare to just stop wanting to live.

Thank goddess for Wellbutrin, therapy, close friends who check in, some dealing with great losses themselves. And although I am not as brave as I would have loved to be, I am also not weak. I only wish for a moratorium on all the death and dying for now please.

I think about all this as I get ready to go get my mammogram done this morning. Wish me well.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Writing Femme

I wrote this piece for the 2008 Femme Conference that happened in Chicago, where I was invited to make a presentation. I recently found it on Dropbox while looking for old plays that I hope to revisit. It’s really interesting because I feel I have always had to justify or explain why I see myself as queer femme despite being happily married to a man with whom I have been raising two beautiful children. In fact, “queer” is a term I have lovingly embraced, having always wondered where I and many of my dear friends fit in the gender binary that have been imposed upon us from childhood. Hope you’ll enjoy reading it.

The other day while making peanut butter and maple syrup for a six-year old daredevil, I got a call that made the hairs on the back of neck stand.

“Charie? Charie M?” I asked, incredulous. I almost wanted to say, “Is this Charie? The bad mofo who broke my heart in junior high? The short cherry-cheeked soft butch with a swagger that roused my 16-year-old libido?” I felt the heat rise up my face– a much welcomed hot flash, believe me.

When I think of femme I think of butch. Butches make a femme different from a dyke or a lesbian. In the Philippines we used to call them “mars”– the antithesis of “pars” or butch.

Charie’s call made me smile, secure in my femme sexuality. See, I had been doubting myself for awhile, or more like I feel people have been doubting me. Four years ago (18 years now actually) I fell in love with a man. After being with butches for most of my serially monogamous life, I ended up marrying a man, to the delight of my born-again Christian mother and the conundrum of friends and acquaintances. Not just A man, he likes to qualify — The Man– a hard man with the heart of a soft butch. (Sounds like a teaser for a cheesy action flick.) I didn’t think I should give back the toaster, but sometimes I wonder.

Not.

I identify mainly as a queer femme. I will never feel at home in a straight bar where I could never do as a femme does in a dyke bar, moving hips and arms like I’m discovering my body for the first time, eyes closed, sweat swirling in the disco lights. When I write my plays, my heroines are hard femmes. They raise their fists to injustices here and everywhere. They cross borders to be with lovers, defying patrol guards and homophobic immigration laws. They fix broken door hinges, make a mean mac and cheese from scratch, turn into superheroes (or supervillains), and rescue butches from their internalized Gomorrahs.

In my writings it is the femme that makes hard decisions. They move in a straight world that makes oppressive assumptions about who they are. They pass to survive. They pass to win hearts and minds in the battle against small-mindedness and ignorance.

They pass because there is no other way.

In most of my works, being femme is not the central focus. Most of the time, their femme identity is incidental, implied not stated, but it still is at the core of their pain and underscores the decisions they make. In one of my favorite (and most toured) plays titled “Sister OutLaw,” the title character Marina has an expiring visa, but she can’t go back home because her family is relying on her to send money for an ailing mother and to help her sister provide for her son, so she does not have to go back to an abusive husband. But she also wants to stay in America because she is secretly in love with her best friend from high school, Joey. Unbeknownst to Marina, her best friend also has feelings for her (classic best friend-turn lover romantic comedy plot). Marina ends up having to marry Joey’s brother for papers, but in the end, pars and mars get together, and all three of them live happily forever in an overpriced West-Loop condo.

Let me clarify one thing though. My femmes, hard as they come, do fall in love with other femmes, lesbians, men, and trans-folk. Because really, in the end, to a hardcore femme it is all just degrees of butch-ness.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Noemi

Why do we love knowing the pain that comes?I pondered this as I listened and felt the ache of a broken-hearted friend.

I remember pondering this in middle school. Twelve and besotted. A girl with curls and a mean spike. One that parts jerseys on the other side of the net.

Noemi.

She had a kernel dimple on the corner of her mouth. I loved her. Wrote her poems and letters that she returned to me in a pile tied with twine. Letters I wrote in my best English, having absorbed Harlequin language. Might have plagiarized from my mom’s dog-eared collection. How could she just return them, careless, like an overdue library book? I did not comprehend. She never said why. Just left me crying in the hallway. My friends rushing around like a curtain.

We’d all been suckered by seventh graders.

Then in high school a few times more. Hash tags on my arms still visible. (I love too much I love too much)

It’s like a high on a rollercoaster. You scream and scream with your gut in your mouth; then, get back in line. Can I fix how I feel? Is there a pill to stem chest pains caused by an unknown biological agent. It’s like a drug I didn’t have to take.

I tell my friend that everything is going to be alright, but that it’ll get worse before it gets better. The stakes are higher when you’re older. Sell the house? Split the kids? Which friends should who take? How about health insurance?

Much messier than a pile of unwanted love letters.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reading tonight!! August 8, 7pm CST

Please click on the link below! Please be mindful of your time zone 😜❤️

https://youtube.com/channel/UCjPamgCSAffKyPVUIPxUVhg

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bus Ride

Bus ride

When I was little, members of my family would take me on these endless bus rides. Mostly my grandpa, or apo, as strangers and family alike called him. I remember how comforting, as if I am being cradled and rocked gently, sweetly by invisible arms. I’m not the kid who asked if we were there yet. I never did want to get there, wherever “there” may be. I only wanted to stay where I was, seated on the cushioned bench, leaning against a hard wooden back slatted tightly together, the uneven edges pushing against flesh. I loved it! Watching the sun slowly paint the sky red from behind the mountains, the rice fields glowing, the vendors at every stop hawking food and souvenirs – a keychain, a toy with moving parts… Some too young yet faces already weathered, smiling a jaded smile, skin burnt dark by the unforgiving tropical sun.

I remember my sweet grandfather, so full of love for me and I for him. His face beamed whenever he saw me and all the other cousins were resigned to the thought that I am the favorite. So much unconditional love…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Midnight Rumination

The promise of rain makes my body ache. Barometric drop. Barometric rise. Humidity that seeps into my skin and wraps my joints in a pin-studded elastic. It’s like a punishment each time. Trapped in a storybook nightmare with no one to nudge me out of my comic frame. Have you had those dreams? When you wake up before your body does and you can’t move a limb, not even a finger? You see the light from the street lamp peering through the curtains, the vague outline of the clock above the door. You can hear the sound of the fan whirring, your husband snoring like the night before. You are in the room with these sights and sounds, and yet you are not there. I remember sitting on a wheelbarrow as a child, watching my friends play, but my old people joints wouldn’t let me. Juvenile arthritis, the doctor said. Well, even diseases grow up, it seems. I’m old but the pain is new each time.

Some days I can’t fake it. This living like I want it. Can’t access my sane brain neath the pain. All you can do is distract yourself. Breath and play scrabble on your phone. Check on IG posts by your family and friends. Summon that smile. But then another kind of pain rises. The kind you can’t really feel.

Sirens sound like ululating ghosts. These troubles in my head are open wounds, throbbing needlessly, swallowing sleep, decapitating time.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dog Food

Sometimes I want to mix in dog food with your food

saute it in garlic and onion

pour in eggs beaten in milk and cream cheese and voila!

Gourmet dish fit for kings and queens who send cake thieves to the gallows

Just a little, just a bit

to teach you a lesson that

mother does not mean maid,

meal preparer,

or mindless machine

She can’t always be the cheerleader cuz

Guess what?

Happy pills wear off

Mother is tired of looking for things that she’s missing,

feeling guilty for getting sick,

that second cocktail,

buying sad coasters that bow their heads in failure

Even now as you read this you think what?!? No!!! Dog food?!? Are you trying to kill me!?

Who do you think you are???

A person????

You are

ATM,

chauffeur,

nurse,

valet,

believer of bullshit

buffer of blame,

smeller of stinky underwear,

rememberer of things forgotten,

fixer of fractured walls and furniture

beholder of cliche body art, torn shirts, ripped jeans, the rift between time and space continuum

But nooooooo

Mother is also

artist, teacher,

stickfighter,

gardener,

meanderer,

human;

she cannot always fix what’s broken

Mother is sick of this paradigm we’ve mimed for centuries, her body mimicking mothers before her who grew calloused egos, displaced ids, wallowed in drink and self annihilation thinking

this,

this?

This is okay.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Please take a day off and call your senators

This just cannot go on

Can’t keep apologizing for my meekness

I want to stop looking over my Asian shoulders when I walk at night

I can’t keep worrying about my friend when she’s a few minutes late from putting coins in the parking meter

My Asian father who doesn’t like being called Asian

He is Chinese

He is Korean

He is Filipino

He is American

Why should he be called names he doesn’t even have in his lexicon?

My mother should not have to worry that she’ll be bashed on the head when she’s buying fish at fresh farms

Call your senators please!!!

Why must I worry about my Asian ass being kicked?

I know more Spanish than Japanese

My palate may be Asian but I cook Mac and cheese for my kids

I take them to Great America

I walk my dogs at Horner Park

Please call your senators right now

This just can’t keep going on

We are not the virus

It’s the hate we need to stop from spreading.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy International Women’s Day!

On this day of reckoning, when women all over the world should be celebrated and uplifted, when we commemorate the sacrifices of the women who came and fought injustice before us, I just want to sleep!

I’ve been alternating between studying and working and this entails, well, mostly reading. When I encounter text-heavy material with academic research, I want to sleep. When I am grading unimaginative, deathly boring essays, I want to sleep. I don’t even mind the stomach-turning grammar. I just want some imagination, some creative language, por favor. But napping doesn’t seem to be in my DNA. Not since I was in kindergarten waiting for the brush of tassels to rouse me from pretend sleep. This aversion toward napping most certainly came from my mother whom I never saw take a nap growing up. I mean, not that i can remember.

Tell me, have you ever seen your mother take a nap? It seems they are constantly moving under the radar, and if we, for a moment, stop to observe, we will see them in action doing something, like the stars in the nightsky that twinkle and fall unobserved by most folks.

Today, I took my daughter to a medical appointment and after that, we had our little IWD brunch. It was sweet. And the day was usually warm and sunny! A bonus indeed. We talked about how important this day is, looked at some fun tiktoks, then the day passed like it always did, with studying, grading, cooking, streaming, feeding and walking pets melding with loving, laughing, kissing, and hugging my loves. All this, and still no napping. Can’t complain though.

IWD brunch with my baby girl.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If I die tomorrow (Day 6)

Please make a fucking fuss

I traveled halfway around the world to be something

You will not not cry as if my dying means nothing

Once I thought I was

Nothing

I thought I could disappear and no one would even know

Or care

I liked disappearing

I made a career out of running away

when I first discovered the power of flight.

If I die tomorrow I hope it will be easy

I denounce difficulty

Hard work is too hard

Yet I did wash dishes 10 hours a day

I did walk in below zero temperature to get to work

clutching my lungs as if they were going to fall out

I did wait tables and dealt with messy eaters

Filled up empty condiment bottles with ketchup, soy sauce and vinegar

Smiled until my face hurt for an extra dollar tip

I did take care of children who colored their sky pink and their monsters, purple

When first I crossed the border and my savings ran out

I wanted to go back home

There, where people thought I could be something

I wanted to stay a teenager on my friend’s porch

Drink gin and seven up at dusk

Play mahjong all night

Smoke stolen marlboros until my lungs hurt and my throat, torn to shreds

Pray I do not wake choking in puke and blood-tainted phlegm.

Sometimes the things that keep us alive are the things that kill us

Remember the white guy in Kung Fu found dead in a closet?

Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston?

The water was still warm in the tub when they found her

And what about that pretty young thing who inched her way to the brink to catch that perfect selfie?

Did she even get to post it?

If I die tomorrow, sure, say some prayers, although I prefer poetry

Toasts and tales and yes, a little karaoke

My dog would lay on my side of the bed waiting for me to pet her

I know at least my daughter would cry

She always cried when sending me off at the airport

I know my husband would tell jokes

And my son would smoke weed all day and hide his grief in the fog.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments