Born and raised a city girl, moving to the province after marriage peeled me to my most vulnerable. I had no friends here, no familiar face when I stepped out the door. The roads seemed to stretch forever, the stores closed too early. It was always eerily quiet – something I only enjoyed in the comfort of my room in Manila. I had memorized every alley and rode jeepneys to public markets at 8 years of age. I could get to the nearest tapsilogan and 7-11 store blindfolded. I knew who married who, where to obtain what, which store sold paper dolls. Here I had to ease into painful small talk to learn what bus to board, what specific phrases mean, what days bitter gourd leaves and crabs are available. I had to rebuild a universe – and along with it, certain perceptions – from scratch.
It was an enriching, though also hard and heartbreaking, life I lived in the city – my first of all loves. And I left it all behind – first friends, first kiss, first arguments. Being pickpocketed in Ermita; long, dry, penniless periods; sullen, lone moments atop the walls of Intramuros. The fishball soup in Binondo we used to share with my stepdad, drunken nights in weed-smelling alleys in Malate. The soaring buildings, the briny air in Manila Bay and its beautiful sunsets, the golden shower petals in summer in Leon Guinto. The comfort and convenience of familiarity.
All my memories from birth belonged to the city, and it was frightening that someday I might forget them.
But 13 years into pastoral life, I learned willfully abandoning memories, both poignant and sunny, are next to impossible. They are bits and pieces of you. No matter how painful, they got you to where you are now. The wonderful friendships I made in the city remained. Many of my close friends have left their comfort zones as well – some for other countries, some for other cities or provinces. Yet no matter how sporadic and how short our conversations have become, they bring me back to a space of solace and warmth. Even if the reason I came here did not work out the way I envisioned it in my wide-eyed 25-year old days, there are many life-changing fruitions that shaped me the way I wouldn’t have been shaped if I stayed in the city.
Taking a step away from one’s hometown changes you. It shakes and shifts your perspectives. It creates new roads and introduces you to possibilities you weren’t aware of. You rediscover what home means, and it’s not a place or a name. It’s a feeling you carry: friendly arms you soiled with tears, a late night phone call, shared laughter over beer while seated on a sidewalk, the way light peeked into the shutters after a storm, that day when you met a strange human for the first time and placed her onto your breast to latch. Life is short, but it’s also long. There is always time to create as many homes as we like, or be part of other people’s homes too, if we keep our doors open.