I became a girl alive three weeks into class. Even before I left Manila, I fell into this annual sick mess. Like when you can’t breathe you pray to just remember something you have had for your whole life, over and over and over, with every little glimpse at having that again being some cruel joke until it subsides and you think nothing of it. I am so sick I could die. I am so sick I could wait and wait to be okay again and endure it all.
The first two weeks or so at Yale (and many, many other colleges in America) are an add/drop period, they call it shopping period here. Your classes aren’t finalized until the period finishes but you have to keep up with all the work for all the classes you choose to attend. Being sick and walking around campus with your head spinning and holding back the urge to start coughing out one’s guts for 5 minutes straight is quite possibly my worst experience here so far. The time my mental state lets me go is where my body fails me, and it’s like 2019’s opening trick on me. But it’s okay.
Homesickness usually kicks in around the second semester of your freshman year. You are apparently too busy going around and getting overwhelmed with everything that college freedom has to offer, but I spent much of the Fall doing nothing. I’m starting to get these periods where I wake up in the middle of the morning (I try to sleep at least 6 hours a day now) in a panic, remembering fragments from the dream I just left and then thinking–thinking about the most inane of things. My mind often goes to the fact that I am here. That this was what I was thinking about a year ago, waking up wondering if I would wake up here. Past me must be so disappointed that I’m spending Friday night walking back to my dorm at 10:30PM combing through my Letterboxd “to watch” list to see what my plans for the rest of the night are.
Last night I was thinking about my homesickness. I’ve told so many people that I feel this immense sense of regret (that is completely irrational) about being away because I am no longer really part of the country. The moments where I get to speak a full sentence in Tagalog reading out my essay in English 120, the little bits of Taglish that slip out and I have to say sorry for, or the times when with full intent we converse–apologetic to those who don’t get the bits of slang we say, combed through high school and computer shops and living the life I have lived. These are all my little bits of self that keep me put together. They’re why I continue to walk out, seeking those little pieces of home, my language the only secret I can truly hold in this school where nothing of my culture is taught.
Whenever I check the weather to decide how many layers of clothes I should wear (currently, it’s usually 3-4) I also check on Manila. I could tell you easily how my days go, how everything is methodical. My day is filled with meetings where I can’t wait to move to the next, where I’m often left wondering why I do the things I do–I exchange apologies and “next times” with people who cancel and people who I have to cancel on. My interactions are filled with me trying to find the right words, arranging them as clean and easy as everyone here has bene taught to do and wondering why it’s so difficult to express my thoughts if I don’t intonate in the same way as them.
I can show you a picture of my schedule, the rare times I speak in class to hit that participation cut-off and feign interests and say thank you and go out to buy food and refill the bathroom supplies. And I could ask you in return for yours. But nothing will ever let me see the things I want to see. The slow erosion of the unfinished concrete wall across Daang Hari, the feel of my bedroom with the mattress on the floor in the dead of the nighttime–my air conditioner set to 18 degrees and the ring it does that reminds me to switch it off every 15 minutes. The way the skyway looks and how Manila Bay is now after the cleanup, how food is just better in every single stall and where I don’t have to have empty conversation with workers who just want me to leave. The sky there, where it’s hotter and easier to breathe and where I can speak this secret language and be on the right time again. I still get notifications for gigs that play in Mow’s even though I’ve never been there. I like to think a lot of the things I’ve missed that I can never really experience again, taken away because of age and circumstance and parents and maybe everything at once. It won’t be the same when I come back at twenty-four (or later), and it will really never be okay to me that there are these things that I will ever only experience as a tourist, as a visitor, as someone returned but not home.
I have a long list of everything I’ve ever wanted to go to and do that I’ve compiled since sophomore year of high school. A lot of them I couldn’t do anything about. There are just these lists of things that you will never be able to do again–because they’ve been closed down, because the experience has changed and management moved over, because you’re not with the same people you wanted to experience that thing with, because you’re coming back to your country with people asking you a list of what you want to do for the ten days you really get to do anything like you’re the tourist now and I just answer nothing, really. And you see no one but everything at the same time. Because I’m coming back to the country with a carer and a degree at a school that wasn’t truly my first choice robbed of experiences that I wish I had at eighteen and most things I know will be gone. There will be new things, but there’s this anger in me that this list is something I kept in a plastic folder hidden in my drawer that I cross things out of every few weeks or when I hear something in the news. I just wanted to listen to music and see these pieces that will never be there again or take that class or go on that day that everyone has marked down but me–to have been like this and been there and now I can’t help but to picture myself during the break and think now of how I can’t go back as the person I was. I can’t give a fucking list of what I want to do because everything I’ve ever truly wanted to do was gone.
There will be new things, but that list of no’s is there. I can head to New York today or watch a show alone in Philadelphia, I can bring you here and we would share the same experience because we’re both strangers to this country. But you can’t bring me back to my home and let me have a temporary stay and act like what we have to do is mine. And for this I’m most homesick. I will never truly understand what it meant to live there, in that time. I will never let anything fall apart in that way again. I never knew I didn’t like leaving.
Someone told me that as an international, America is the winning team. San Francisco, wind and hills and fat paychecks. My friend tells me that billionaires earned it at all. I can’t find the same common ground on jokes. I can’t lie on the ground yet for the problems of a country that is still unwelcome to me. How do I sound white on the phone? Where can I find someone who listens to some similar, generic trash as me. You exchange your favorite foods like the only way we can tie ourselves back to the country is through overpriced restaurants in New York, I want the word for my food to mean the same as it did back there for for eighteen dollars less. Can my voice get any more of the American accent but still feel so detached? Tell me the best way to let you know that I can be everywhere and nowhere at once. Told a boy about how I played League of Legends in a computer shop that had papers posted up every three feet about how you’re not allowed to expose your genitals, for a quarter an hour. And yes, League of Legends has its own server in the Philippines. We exist. She’s Only Sixteen is like my secret recommendation but what everyone is tired of back home. Our President is the murderer and yours is, too–but you’re louder for less bodies. Do you really think billionaires got there by hard work only? Is it ethical to be that rich? Your jacket could feet an entire town. Not everyone who works hard moves forward in life. We’re in the Ivy League and all we know is how to lie to ourselves. You want to be a billionaire one day too. How do I.
Does it feel good to work for something for big 0s that people near you could never use? When I give back, is it going to be a charity thing in my name and for the Filipino people that I’ve been so far from? Is my philanthropy learned from effective altruism classes, reports placed on my desk, second-hand smoke, and the noise outside of the people keeping close with full intention? Do I become someone else’s person, continuing to do things I don’t believe in when I got here because of the very fact that I dared believe?
One of the most frequent fights I had with an ex was because we didn’t know what it meant to be alive. I don’t know what it means to be alive if others around me can’t be alive, too–and I latched on to this belief and way of seeing the world. More than this circle or bubble and group and school and something as insane and irrational as love for one person, perhaps even moreso–is love for everything. What can you even do?
Maybe this is why I’m always in a state of crisis.
The rules for student employment allow me to work up to nineteen hours a week, which I do my best to reach. (I’m currently searching for a job to help me hit the nineteen, just a few hours away–when every hour counts.) I find it sort of incredible how we’re a paid a few dollars above minimum wage, and how it in itself is an insane amount of money for someone coming from the world I come from. I get a break from thinking and requests and people I can’t fully commit myself to. I wake up every morning at 4AM to go out and try to find some semblance of routine that isn’t this.
To maintain some sense of self, I decided to start making monthly playlists. Here is January, and this is how February is going. I write down my favorites again in paper, like the last time I did when I was in ninth grade and writing love letters in yellow pad and slipping them into schoolbags. I write little goals again that are the same as years ago, “step out of your comfort zone” when it’s more like enter this war that is not yours. “Be a more welcoming person,” when I have to switch my tongue with every person I speak to. “Give this (at least) the chance to be the best years of your life,” but it is there. It’s getting there and I have no idea why.
New Haven is beautiful and it feels so weird to be in a city that can be namedropped by a song. It feels like I don’t hear my name that often anymore. It’s unfamiliar and not golden and I am average and I walk by Broadway in the mornings for no reason at all and into the “dangerous” part of the town when the sun is rising in the winter and I repeat the name of the state while not knowing where it is on the map because it’s how I call myself now and how everyone knows me.
The other day, before any words could even come out of my mouth, a stranger followed up their question with a “wait, do you even speak English?” and I almost wished that I couldn’t.