Sunshine After the Rain

How did Rain get here? Her story started years prior, but the passing of her baby brother, Josh, in 2015 is what triggered her to live her life… her way.

No more waiting. Live your life now. Life is too short.

And just like that, “Rain” was officially “born.” This time, legally.

Growing up, Rain always knew she was different. Back then, the LGBTQ community wasn’t as evolved as it is now. It seemed like being gay or being a drag queen were the only options she could choose from. Rain didn’t identify with either. But Rain knew since her early high school years that she identified as a woman, even though her outward appearance said otherwise.

In high school, Rain experienced her fair share of bullying. She felt like she had to hide her emotions. If she was angry or hurt by her peer’s bullying and taunting words, she would go somewhere private where she could cry out by herself. When people would ask if she was okay, she’d play it off and swear that everything was fine. Even though she truly felt like the joke was on her. Rain felt like she was an easy target back then because she was the, “obese gay boy,” that only hung out with girls and focused on academia. High school Rain has been called every degrading name there is to label a feminine male.

Unfortunately, Rain was incredibly shy and never spoke back to her bullies. She just accepted the taunting and knew that it would all eventually pass. The bullying just made it more apparent that she was different, and she was curious as to why she felt so out of place. Through all the bullying and her ruthless peers, Rain does remember one classmate in particular. She remembers him not because he was an asshole to her, but because he was the only one that wasn’t. His name was Jordan. He was one of the popular guys at school. All of Jordan’s friends would make fun of Rain and go out of their way to be mean to her. But she remembers vividly how Jordan showed her compassion and kindness. He would wave to her and say what’s up in the hallways, and would smile at her whenever they saw each other. He was a friendly peer that didn’t give Rain a hard time for just being herself. Unfortunately, Jordan passed away tragically before she graduated, but Rain remembers how his kindness meant so much to her during a very difficult time in her life.

“It meant a lot to me because many can hurt you, but it takes 1 to heal you completely,” Rain shares.

High school was the beginning stages of Rain finding herself. She knew that her parents had a hunch about her sexuality, but she never revealed to them how she identified as a female. That all changed on Prom night. Prom night – a staple night for a high school student. Rain remembers her prom night as the day she came out to her parents.

Right before Rain was going to go off to her prom, her parents sat her down in their backyard in Hayward. Her dad calmly asked if she was gay and liked boys, and if she has ever done anything with a boy before. Rain finally revealed to her parents that she was attracted to men, but she didn’t have any experience with them. A weight was lifted off Rain’s shoulders. She could see on her dad’s face that he was relieved that the talk was quick and to the point.

Her parents accepted her, they already had a feeling that Rain was “gay.” Rain admitted to being “gay” to her parents at the time because she wasn’t totally sure how to identify. All she knew was that she was attracted to men and felt like a woman. She looks back and laughs at how obvious it was that she was attracted to men, and that her parents had to have known. She was obsessed with boy bands like The Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, and is embarrassed at how much money she spent on “those boys.” Since she was open with her dad about not having any romantic experiences with men, she gained her parents’ trust. They were more concerned for her safety and how she carried herself.

You know how movies depict prom night as a magical, important, and life changing event in a teen’s life? Well, that was true for Rain. Not in the traditional aspect, she didn’t fall inlove and get her first kiss from her crush, like how Hollywood depicts it. But prom did change Rain forever. That night, she fell in love with herself.

At the actual event, she dressed in men’s clothing, feeling completely uncomfortable and not herself. After prom, Rain and her friends hit up the after parties. That night, she borrowed her friend’s plus-sized dress and boots, and they took over the night. She felt exhilarated. She never felt more like herself. Rain and her friends took the after party to a strip club in San Francisco. There she was, in a strip club surrounded by men in a dress and boots, passing with flying colors as a woman.

“It was so much fun because I never felt so good about myself,” Rain explains while remembering that night she dressed in women’s clothing for the first time. “I seriously felt like the woman I’ve always wanted to be.”

That night, Rain found herself. She always felt different and couldn’t put her finger on what would make her happy. But this was it. Being a woman made Rain happy. And from that day on, she dressed as a woman. She felt so good about herself, she didn’t want to hide anymore. She wasn’t afraid of what her family would say or think, or how strangers would react. She showed up to her family’s barbecue party in a skirt, boots, and makeup. She felt on top of the world, and didn’t want to keep it a secret, she wanted everyone to know who the real Rain was.

In her early college years, Rain tried to perfect her look. She dressed like a woman, wore makeup, and presented and introduced herself as a woman. Around this time is when she met her community of friends that were just like her. Rain’s uncle owned a restaurant/ club in South San Francisco called, “Solita’s.” A lot of comedians from the Philippines would perform on stage and do live shows at the club. This restaurant/ club scene brought in so many different audiences.

Solita’s is where Rain met a lot of her transgender friends. Solita’s welcomed the LGBTQ community with open arms. Rain quickly realized that many of them struggled to find work because they were being discriminated against because of their outward appearance and mannerisms. A lot of these transgender women were underground prostitutes, and that’s how they made their living. Their clients were usually heterosexual men who wanted to experiment with transgender women. Rain connected with a transgender woman at Solita’s who opened her eyes to the transgender world. One night Rain caught her friend making out with a guy outside of the club, she was intrigued, and wanted to learn more. She pondered on how her friend got a straight man.

Through this transition, Rain’s family supported her. Her mom and aunts bought her clothes, designer bags, bras, underwear, and other material things that showed that they were on board with Rain dressing up as a woman. Still, Rain felt like she had to be secretive with her personal life. She didn’t want her family to think that she was sleeping around and not doing things the “right way.” She never rebelled against her parents, she would sometimes push back with her choices in life, but for the most part she obeyed. Keeping her parents’ trust is something very important to her.

When it came to dating, Rain admits that she turned to the internet back in the day because it was easier to talk to men. Also, it was a lot safer because through her online categories and bio, it would tell her matches who she really was. She isn’t a fan of wasting time, so the internet was a way for her to express exactly what it is she was looking for. However, she quickly realized that the internet dating world wasn’t for her. Nowadays, Rain finds herself trying to connect with men in real life. Rain prefers to meet up with love interests in very public meet up spots. She knows a lot of her transgender friends would rather have an intimate setting, but for her own safety, Rain wants to be in a public area.

“When dating, we text each other to meet in well crowded public places, but then again I really don’t have a lot of experiences on dates,” Rain explains. “It’s mostly with guy friends or one on one with the ones I’ve known for a while.”

When she’s dating and knows something is getting serious, Rain will reveal to her partner that she is a transgender woman. But for the most part, she doesn’t say anything right off the bat because she wants to be judged as a regular human being. However, she plans to be very transparent about herself with future love interests because she believes they should know the truth. In her experience, most of the time they don’t ask, almost a kind’ve known topic that doesn’t need confirmation.

“As I get more confident, those days are so gone,” she explains when talking about online dating. “When I meet someone in person, like at work, they never ask me unless it’s going somewhere. Basically I want to ‘go with the flow’ and just be human. After all I ain’t an easy person – meaning I ain’t a hoe. My motive here is get to know him and see where it leads to. Now, if it’s going somewhere best believe I’ll break the ice and say ‘hey, sorry babe, but I’m transgender,’ so that it’s fair for the men. But nowadays most men don’t ask, they simply respect the way I want to be treated. I know for a fact they know of me, yet they still pursue me in a level of friendship or even intimacy.”

One thing that Rain takes very seriously is how she is perceived. She carries herself with high esteem and refuses to be a man’s fetish. She has heard of countless stories where trans women are used for financial gain, sexual curiosities, and just used to achieve someone else’s fantasies. And that’s not what Rain wants for herself. She knows herself well enough to know that she falls inlove fast. She wants to protect her heart, and guard her well-being.

“I just don’t wanna be jumping around with different men when I only want to focus on one,” she explains. “I want to save myself for someone who deserves me. I don’t want to live up to their lifestyle of just always looking for sex sex sex. I want to be different. I want to enjoy a meaningful safe life where its not all about being desired. I want someone to have deep conversations with, a simple dinner and movie, good laughs, holding hands in public without shame and without having to hide from anyone, and be able to show affection towards him with no hesitation.”

According to Rain, men treat her with respect and like a lady. She believes its because of the boundaries that she sets. She knows that she sets the precident for how she should be treated. But to her, it’s not about feeling desired from men. Rain doesn’t want a man so she can start loving herself, she wants to be content with herself first, fall in love with herself first, and a man’s love can come second. All she wants is to be happy with herself, content with her life, and most importantly travel the world.

Rain is the eldest of 5 children. When her youngest sibling, Josh, passed away tragically in 2015, Rain’s world fell apart. She was very close to Josh, and shared that older sister motherly bond with him. They shared a lot of the same interests, like food and anime. Josh was 16 when he passed away, and this tragedy changed Rain’s view on life completely.

“I believe if Josh was still alive he’d live his life the way he would have (wanted),” Rain says remembering her baby brother. “Imagine, a 16 year old in 2nd year college at Skyline, about to transfer to a university. A BSN major and minor in psychology; a life that I would love to have for myself. I’m so proud of him. I look up to him more than my own self. His teenage years I was there. He was my baby, I helped nurture him, understand him, guide him, and spend time with him. Josh and I were never selfish, we always care for our loved ones. When he passed, I chose to be a little bit more selfish for myself so I can fulfill his legacy, a promise to live the life I’ve always been wanting. When Josh died, I told myself, ‘That’s it, lets make it Rain!'”

After Josh’s passing, Rain decided to legally change her name. Her friends referred to her as “Rain” since high school / early college. However, her parents and family still referred to her by her birth name. When Rain legally changed her name, her parents and family had no choice but to comply. She filed for her legal name change, did her vows, and got the official document. To her, she did it the “right way,” by not rebelling and causing a scene, but by doing it legally and respectfully.

Why the name Rain? In the Play Station game “Galerians,” there is a character named Rainheart. She fell inlove with the powerful boss who is psychic and plus sized. But also because she loves cold weather, water, and the ocean. To her, Rain is a majestic and powerful name that she identifies with. Her family didn’t see it as the death of the man they once knew. They were just happy that they raised Rain to be a respectable human who kept the morals and values that her parents taught her.

Not only did Rain legally change her name after her brother’s death, but she also made the decision to transition. She is taking hormone pills, and plans to get her reassignment surgery done this July or August. Her family was supportive up until this moment. They believed that legally changing her name to Rain was enough. They felt like she didn’t need to do the reassignment surgery. But this is something that Rain has been wanting, and she’s doing it for her own happiness. Her family was against her getting a legal sex change because they are worried for her safety. They’re scared of all the sexually transmitted diseases that are out there. Her family knows people that have died from HIV/AIDS, so they are very weary. They are also worried about the complications that can go wrong during surgery. Not only did her family not agree at first, but her fellow transgender friends were not in favor either.

Her friends believed that Rain should keep her “parts,” and just use anal and oral sex. She is irked at the thought of her fellow transgender friends being so controlling on how the “transgender life should be.” Her friends were encouraging her to just use anal and oral sex to gain a reputation for herself, but Rain refuses. Her decision to have a vagina is completely her choice and something she’s been wanting to do for a while. She remains true to herself and her beliefs, though it might not be what her friends want for her. But she let’s her friends live their lives the way they want, and asks for the same respect with the choices she decides to make.

Right now, Rain is taking all the necessary hormone pills to stay on track for reassignment surgery in the Fall. The hormones in these pills sometimes makes Rain depressed, have mood swings, sweat more, and gives her a period every 2 weeks.

“Besides my high blood pressure pills, diabetic pills, here’s my hormone therapy pills,” she explains. “Spirolactin is a medicine to decrease testosterone level so that the estradiol pills works through my blood stream to increase my estrogen level. That I’ll be taking for the rest of my life.”

Rain admits that being a woman is tough work! Sometimes she thinks to herself why she chose this path, since the transition can be sometimes hard on her. She finds it tough that women have to be so concerned about their outward appearance, whether that be beauty, weight, etc. But then she remembers why she’s doing it. She identifies as a woman and feels the most like herself when she presents herself as a female. Everything she is doing if for her own happiness. And her dedication and bravery is nothing short of admirable and inspirational.

It took her some time to figure out who she was as a person. But that journey is what made her who she is today. When asked if she could give advice to younger Rain, this is what she had to say:

“(For) younger Rain, I’d tell myself: ‘Bitch, live now live everyday you only die once! Rain, so many opportunities you missed because you over think what others think of you… Don’t get stuck, if you feel like a real woman by all means make a goal to make it happen. See the world once you start making an income and while you’re young. Fall in love with yourself first before you fall for someone else because it’ll mentally destroy you! Stay healthy and be wise, research if you have time, if you have time to post on Facebook, bitch you have time to do homework and other important things! Take good care of yourself, pursue the happiness you’ve always wanted! Take care good of your siblings and your parents but spare time for yourself. Rain, me time is very important, it becomes a necessity not an option! Explore your world of adventures. Don’t wait for no one, let them be and they’ll follow once you show them what it is like to be one with the world. Clubs and loud music eventually will get over rated! Don’t get into a relationship just to be happy; be in a relationship with God and he will show you happiness! Always stay positive, always challenge yourself, be mindful before you react, actions are more valuable then words. Be humble, be honest, be nice, be calm, and be brave always… another thing count your blessings not the materialistic things!'”

She knows that there are some haters out there that don’t agree with the LGBTQ community. But her message is this:

“Above all else educate those who lack (knowledge) of our existence. I need for the community to know yes we do exist and will continue to co-exist until we are accepted peacefully. There’s still violence and discrimination out there about my transgender community, but we are doing our best to educate those who want further understanding of our world. Its also our job for my fellow trans to educate ourselves on how to better our future without having a war, remember we are accepted, respected, and acknowledge but to what extent if we ourselves don’t prove to those who want to know us. Let us change history to exist peacefully, in harmony, and in balance for everyone to have an open mind.”

When life threw her a curve ball, she made it Rain, full force. She has remained true to herself, ignoring other people’s desires and wants for her life. She is on a mission to live her life her way, and to do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Kobe & Gigi Bryant : A Loss We Are All Grieving

This weekend I went to Massachusetts for one of my best friend’s wedding. I got to be a part of the wedding I heard about for months. It was such a high highlight of my 2020 so far. I left Massachusetts with feelings of love, appreciation for the friendships I have and made, and feeling thankful for the people in my life. Seeing my best friend take on a new milestone in life made me excited and hopeful for my own future – not only in love, but career wise and life in general.

Christian and I got to the airport ready to head back to San Francisco at the crack of dawn east coast time. I was on cloud nine, you know, that feeling that lingers when you come back from a vacation / great hangout. I kept telling him how much fun I had and how sad I was that it was over. It was truly a fun and exciting little get away to the east coast. It was my first time in Massachusetts, and our Airbnb was a huge house in Salem. There was snow, we explored the area, and I got to travel across the country with my best friend.

We touched down in San Francisco around 11:30 am. Everytime I go to the east coast and return back home, I always make the comment that I’m/ we are time traveling because of the time difference. We got our bags from baggage claim and took the journey to the app ride share area in SFO. Our Uber finally arrived.

A couple minutes into the ride Christian turns around, “Kobe died…” he said in shock.

“What?” A mixture of disbelief and thinking I’m hearing the information wrong. He had to repeat it about 3 more times for it to process in my head.

“Kobe Bryant. He died in a helicopter crash,” he told me.

“What the fuckkkk, damn…” I was incredibly sad and shocked, this can’t be real. The legend I rooted against every single time growing up because he was just too good. I was definitely the definition of a “hater,” because of the Golden State Warriors & Los Angeles Lakers rivalry. At a time where the Warriors were dubbed the worst team in the NBA, I cringed everytime I watched a Warriors game versus the Lakers, because I knew Kobe would do his thing. But my loyalty was/is strong, and I was Golden State faithful all the way, resulting in an adolescent obsession with rivalries and despising the opposing teams. Anyways, despite my past views, I was truly saddened. The news literally made my heart sink. What a tragedy. He was way too young.

My phone was on airplane mode the whole flight. And once Christian told me the tragic news, my phone started to blow up. Group chat after group chat, text messages, notifications left and right coming full force onto my phone. It was the topic of conversation in my personal life, and on social media. My family group chat on Instagram was going off, cousins sending screenshots, and news articles. By the minute, new information was trickling in. This didn’t seem like real life. I could only imagine how his family felt.

I first wondered how Vanessa must be feeling, how in just an instant her world would never be the same. It made me sick. And then I thought about his daughters. I stumbled across his Instagram a while back and stalked. It made me happy to see that he finally got to be more present in his family’s lives after retiring. I remember being shocked that he actually had 4 daughters, because the last time I stalked, B was still the youngest. It was beautiful to see that he and his wife were having a round 2 of the parent life now that he was retired. It made me genuinely happy for them. I thought of how thrilled his wife must’ve been to know that all the traveling and time apart would finally be over, to finally have her husband’s time to herself and to his girls.

Update after update. This time saying that his 2nd eldest daughter, Gigi, was in the helicopter with him. They had reported earlier that nobody survived the crash. My heart was broken. No way. This can’t be real. Please be a mistake.

I was unaware of Kobe and Gigi’s relationship and bond prior to their passing. But let me tell you, when all that media started circling the internet, and I saw their relationship just through photographs, I couldn’t take it. My heart is so heavy. And then I thought back to Vanessa Bryant. The pain to know that your partner and lover is gone is devastating. But to also lose a child at the same time? Look, that’s a new level of pain and sorrow, and my heart truly breaks for her. I pray that her and her girls find strength through this nightmare.

It pains me to know that his daughters have to some how carry on with their lives. That the younger 2 girls will only have photographs. Their pain is all I could think about since I learned of the news. It pains me to know they’re going through such a tragic event in the public’s eye.

My stomach gets sick when I imagine what the final moments on that helicopter was like. A parent’s worst nightmare. Just thinking about it makes my heart race and my stomach turn. Did they realize what was happening? What was being said? Those final moment scenarios are torturing me. I picture him embracing his baby girl, knowing in that moment that “this was it.” How helpless he must’ve felt, how scared and heartbroken he was knowing that he could do nothing.

Everyone I know – fan or not – is so shaken up by this tragedy. Nobody deserves to go out like that. Baby girl was so young and had her whole life to live. Not to forget the other passengers on the plane. I’m seeing photos of all who were on board, and my heart hurts. So many families in pain. So many people around the world grieving.

That just shows the impact that Kobe Bryant had. Strangers who didn’t even know him, but looked up to him, are grieving. Fan or not, you can’t help but be completely torn when you heard the news.

This tragedy is making a lot of people realize that tomorrow is never guaranteed. Unfortunately, we put ourselves in his family’s shoes, and realize that we need to be more grateful for our loved ones. Tragedies like this remind us that we need to leave nothing unsaid, though sometimes that’s a lot easier said than done. There is a veil of grief right now over the world. The passing of all those on board of that helicopter is too much to process. Everyone is feeling immense sadness and really reevaluating what’s important in life.

I was wondering what to write for this week’s blog post. But I couldn’t think of anything because all I was thinking about was this tragedy. I took out my deck of cards that I got for Christmas. I started flipping through prompts. Nothing felt worth while. I didn’t want to write. I wanted to wallow in my sorrows and feel these emotions. I came across a card prompt that read:

“What isn’t fair right now?”

This. This situation that’s unfolding right now. This isn’t fair.

My heart and prayers go out to his wife, kids, family, friends, & the family and friends of those on board. Rest in peace Kobe & Gigi Bryant. Your legacy will live on and be fulfilled through your family.

Soar High Like An Eagle

Dedicated to Paul Taylor

Days before Thanksgiving 2018, I learned through Facebook that a teacher I had as a kid passed away. I attended the same school from Kindergarten to 8th grade, and a lot of the teachers I had at Epiphany literally watched me grow for 9 years. One of those teachers was Mr.Taylor.

My older cousins and older sister also went to Epiphany, so I knew of their current and past teachers even before I had them myself. They would tell me stories about different teachers they had and what to expect if I were to be in their class. So with all that said, I knew of Mr. Taylor way before I ever had him as a substitute teacher. Once upon a time he was the 7th grade teacher (I think) for a long time. My cousins had him as a permanent homeroom teacher, but by the time I had him, a number of years had passed and he was Epiphany’s go to substitute teacher, so he was still at the school very often.

The very first time I had Mr.Taylor as a substitute teacher was in the 1st grade I think. He had the cool dude vibes with his leather jacket, could play the guitar, and had this distinct deep voice that could command a room when needed, but was pretty laid back most of the time. As a little kid I thought he was the coolest dude, and got excited when he would be substituting. I remember my 1st grade class went wild when he tried to explain how double negatives in English makes a positive statement. Probably too advanced for our little minds at the time, and I totally didn’t get it at all, but I thought it was the funniest thing because I thought he was truly messing with us. Like whatchu mean it makes it a positive statement?! I said what I said! Hahaha

When I say these teachers watched me grow, I mean that in every sense. From 5 year old lil chunky ass Marinelle who loved to participate and got the honor roll every quarter, to the 13-14 year old Marinelle who was as difficult as one could be in class, going through that moody teenager stage where my peers’ approval was way more important than school …. still getting that honor roll doeee 💁🏻‍♀️. Some of my friends from Epiphany I’ve known since I was as young as 4. I literally grew up with these people, so the friendship bonds were so tight and strong at the time that once someone in the class went hyphy, it could trigger a whole chain reaction of hell for a teacher. In fact, that’s supposedly what the class of 2009 was known for.

Anyways, I was no stranger to giving my teachers a hard time. I could literally talk to anyone. I think my teachers realized that moving my seat wasn’t gonna really do anything because I would just befriend the person next to me anyways. I was always that talkative kid. It was crazy because by the time I hit middle school, all the teachers I had had a love hate relationship with me. They hated my ass when I talked up a storm in class and refused to take their orders, but at the same time on a 1 on 1 level, I had a real connection with all of them and vented about whatever teenage things I was going through.

So when I got the news about Mr.Taylor passing away, of course I was mad sad. But also, very remorseful. Not saying I was a nuisance to him majority of the time, but me and my friends were definately a hand full. I felt deep regret for my childish ways when I was…well, a child. And I know for a fact if I were to see him within the last couple of years, he’d hold no hard feelings at all, because he really did enjoy my presence.

I thought back to that time where he was about to give me a conduct referral (supposedly something really bad that goes on your record, and it’s basically a note home that your parents have to sign to acknowledge that you were being a little shit in school.) I don’t even remember what it was for, but he said he was going to “write me up.” I was pissed. Livid. Embarrassed infront of the whole class. Luckily, I had to alter serve for a funeral, and had to leave the class anyways. I got up. He asked where I thought I was going. In a sassy tone I said that I had to alter serve and if he could write my conduct referral so I could leave. He told me to come back during recess so he could write it.

When I came during recess I still had that same stank attitude. I had too much pride to apologize for my actions. I was expecting a conduct referral, but instead, he told me he was going back on his word and decided not to give me one, and just gave me a pep talk instead. Instant mood changer. I was so thankful because on the outside I was trying to act all hard with the “yeah whatever who cares, write me up” attitude, but in reality, I was scared shitless to bring that home to my parents to sign hahaha. I thanked him, and always remembered how he did me that solid.

I bottled the sadness and remorse I felt inside. 5 days after he passed away, I had a dream.In my dream, I was talking to April, Lucas, and John, some of my best friends from Epiphany. We were all talking about how we were going to meet up for Mr. Taylor’s funeral, and what a shock it was that he had passed away.

I departed from the group and found Mr. Talor working on a car. For some reason in the dream, I was talking to him as if he wasn’t him.

I told him,”I can’t believe Mr.Taylor died…”

He replied saying that yeah, it was crazy to believe.

I went on and burst into tears, “I just wish I could tell him how sorry I am for being such a difficult kid back then,” by this time it was one of those moments when you’re crying in your dream but also in real life. I was sobbing in my sleep but didn’t realize until after the dream.

He reassured me that Mr.Taylor (Yes, talking in 3rd person) doesn’t even care about or think about all that and that it was fine. He kinda down played it like I was feeling remorse for nothing. He went on to change the subject and we talked about something different.

I woke up. My pillow wet, my face tear stained. I didn’t end up going to his service like I had planned to because it was during one of my classes. But I bet it was a great one, cuz he was a really great guy.

I would like to believe that that dream was more than just my conscience manifesting, but that it was Mr.Taylor’s “goodbye” message to me. Whatever it was, it brought me peace of mind.

His Name Was James

It’s crazy to think of all the little things we seem to overlook when it becomes routine. We’re so used to people, things, feelings, interactions – whether big or small, on a daily basis. Most times, little things in our routine change, sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes it’s not, sometimes you don’t even notice the change, and sometimes you realize it but keep it movin’ because what can you do?

For over 6-ish years, my dad and I literally crossed paths with an old man from our neighborhood almost every day. He was a Japanese old man, probably in his 70’s or 80’s, it’s hard to tell because he seemed to be in good health – being that he would talk to my dad every day during his morning walk. He had white hair, that kind of hairstyle where they’re bald in the middle, but he covered it with a Golden State Warriors championship hat, usually with a matching blue Golden State Warriors Letterman-type jacket. And his most important feature – his smile. He was always in a good mood, with a huge smile on his face. He just radiated kindness. My little sister and I described him as the “cute old man.”

For years, it was routine for me to walk out of the garage to find my dad talking to this man. How did they even get close? I don’t even know. My dad is the type of guy that smiles and says good morning to strangers if they so happen to walk by our house. My sisters and I have crazy schedules, between my older sister’s job, and at the time my little sister & I’s changing school and work schedules, my dad was basically always chillin infront of our house anywhere from 7:30 am to 1 pm, waiting for the next daughter he had to drop off (bless my dad’s heart, he works hard as hell.) before he leaves for work at 1 pm.

When I would walk out of the garage to get in the car, I would already expect my dad to be talking to this kind old man. When they would see me, my dad would say something along the lines of “Well, there’s my next customer!” The old man, with his charming warm smile, would wave at me as I say goodmorning to him, and he would tell my dad, “Ah! Taxi, your next rider is here!” He would say departing words to my dad, and 10 see ya later’s/goodbye’s we would be on our way. My dad would get in the car with a big smile on his face, close the garage, and pull out of our driveway. All the while, our friend would be waiting infront of our house for us to drive away, we’d wave goodbye, he’d do the same, and then we’d drive off. Through the mirror I’d see him continuing his morning walk, going up the hill towards the stop lights. This was routine. Every day.

My dad would tell me little bits and pieces of this man he got to know over the years. He knew he was Japanese, that he had an adult son he wasn’t close to because of the son’s troubled past, his wife had passed away and he was living alone, and he basically had no family in the area. He lived a block away from us, which is why our paths crossed plenty of times during his daily walks. He expressed to my dad that his next door neighbor was his friend, who was on his Will to obtain his house and belongings when he was to pass away.

As the years went by, gradually, things began to change. It seemed that we would pass by him on our car ride to school or Bart, when in the past, he would already be talking to my dad in the driveway way before we got out. It seemed that either our times weren’t lining up, we left earlier, or he started his walks later. All of this was so minuscule to me at the time, but now that I look back, I see that it was his health declining. My dad would make comments that he would see him taking a few steps and pausing. He was getting weaker and older, but still he persisted on with his daily walks. Everytime we passed by him in the car, my dad would honk. The old man would smile and lift up his whole arm to say hello, and we went about our drive. It made me sad to think that my dad and him didn’t talk as often, because it seemed like our times weren’t matching up anymore. Like I said, schedules changed, he was getting older/ walking slower, and we just seemed to see him in passing.

As time went on, it went from seeing him everyday, to seeing him every other day, to seeing him once a week. Gradually, we saw him less and less. This was all over a span of years, so it didn’t seem too drastic as how I explain it now. Like I said, we get so used to routine, that little changes in our day seem so minor, until you look back and realize it’s no longer the same.

The last time I could remember seeing our friend was around November 2018. I want to say sometime after Thanksgiving. It was a brief encounter since I was on the way to school. From what I remember he came walking up our street just as we were about to get in the car. They talked about the Warriors briefly, and that was that.

In February 2019, it had been months since we seen him. I asked my dad a few times before if he had seen the old man recently, and he also said he hadn’t seen him in a while. My dad thought that he had passed away since we hadn’t seen him in months. I brought it up a few more times, and when I didn’t verbally ask my dad, I thought about it everytime I got in the car in the morning and we didn’t see him.

Finally, one night when my dad and I got home, I brought up to my little sister how we haven’t seen the old man in very long. My dad agreed that it had been such a long time, that he’s pretty sure he had passed away. He also told us that he drove past his house a couple days before and saw a big container in the driveway filled with belongings, further explaining why he’s been M.I.A. That thought made my little sister freak out, even though I knew it was a huge possibility. My dad enthusiastically said , “Ok, Marinelle, tomorrow before I go to work, we’ll drive by his house and knock on the door.” This made me happy but at the same time sadness had taken over me. I thought it would be good to get closure on our longtime friend, but I had a gut feeling that it wouldn’t be what I expected. I doubted that he was at home just chillin this whole time, but a part of me still clung to hope that it was a possibility.

My little sister was bummed that she wouldn’t be present when my dad and I planned to go since she would be at school. I asked my dad how he even knew where he lived, and he said, “I’ve been in his house before! In his garage.” My dad also brought up how he would give the old man bread from the bakery, after dropping some off to my grandpa. My dad said he would see him walking by and would give him a portion of our family’s share. All these things we never knew, my dad going to his house, giving him bread, all these aspects of this man’s life that we had no idea of.

“… wait…. do you even know his name…” I asked my dad.

“…….I think its Steven? Steve?”

“Bruh! How have you been talking to him for years and not even know his name?!” Yes, I called my dad ‘bruh.’

“I…… I don’t know it never came up…” My dad said sheepishly.

“Did he know your name?”

“You know, I don’t think so. We might have said it maybe 1 time and we never called each other by name.”

The next day before my dad went to work, we drove the block to the old man’s house. The big container my dad was talking about was gone. There was no car in the driveway. My dad got out of the car and made his way to the house. I lost sight of my dad since the stairs were located on the side of the house. But I did hear a bell ringing. Not a doorbell, but an actual bell that you have to “gong.” After about 5 minutes my dad came back to the car.

“Yeah, he didn’t answer… I think he passed away,” my dad said.

“Was that a real bell?”

“Yeah, he said his doorbell wasn’t working so he just has a lot of bells.”

I felt bad that my dad didn’t get any closure. I looked at the old man’s house again. I saw that his neighbor 2 houses down was outside cleaning her car.

“Go ask his neighbor, or you’ll never know,” I told my dad. My dad’s a shy dude, so I expected him to say Nahhhhhh and drive off and forever wonder. To my surprise he agreed and got out of the car.

I watched as my dad approached the middle aged lady. She was cleaning her car and had to turn off her vacuum. From the car I could hear my dad say “… yeah, he’d be walking all the time.” After about 3 minutes my dad returned.

He got in the car and explained that he asked the neighbor about the old man that lived in “that” house.

“Oh, James? He passed away a couple months ago,” she told my dad.

My dad went on to say that he knew he passed away because it was so long since the last time we seen him. I said atleast we knew for sure and wouldn’t have to be wondering anymore. It was a pretty depressing moment and my dad said how the whole situation was just sad. I tried to brighten up the mood and car ride…

“Bruh, you said his name was Steve.” I said. My dad laughed and shook his head.

When I texted the group chat with my sisters and told them that James had passed away, my little sister texted back that she was actually tearing. He was a familiar face that we saw almost daily. His smile and positive upbeat attitude will always be the first thing I think about when I remember him. Mornings aren’t the same as they used to be. But nothing stays the same. These small routines and conversations were just that at the time – small routines that you don’t think twice about. But now that he’s gone, it makes us think of him everytime we pull out of the driveway to start off our day / morning.

His name was James.

“Infinity Is Forever”

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A year ago, my cousin, Nina, would never have imagined that she would be raising her son and daughter alone. But it’s the sad reality that she faces now. On September 28, 2016, she unexpectedly lost Will, the man she loved and been with for 9 years. Before this, everything seemed to be going in their favor; they got back together and were expecting their second child, they moved into the top level of the house Nina grew up in, and they were finally a family again after some time apart. Their lives drastically changed when Will passed away, leaving her with a son that was almost 5 years old, and a 2 month old baby girl.

The day after Will’s 1 year death anniversary, Nina decided to get a tattoo in honor of him. Before he passed away, Will wanted his next tattoo to be an infinity sign. When he brought it up she told him that she also wanted it too, and that they should get the tattoo together instead of him buying her an engagement ring.

“I told him, ‘I don’t want a real ring, I’d rather [we] have a house, and then we can just get tats on our ring fingers.’ That’s more permanent than a diamond ring,” she said matter of factly.

So I went with her to get her infinity tattoo, and she wanted to incorporate what seemed like 10 other ideas into it. With great thought, Nina decided to keep the tattoo simple, and stuck to the infinity sign with a music note that Will had tattooed on his hand. Music was Will’s passion, and she wanted to capture that in her tattoo for him.

It’s crazy to think that it has really been a year since Will passed away. And in this past year, I’ve witnessed my cousin change. She admits that she finds herself more antisocial, not wanting people to see her or be around others. She explains how even when she is out with friends, she’s not engaged in any of the conversations that they’re having, and her mind is in a thousand different places. After 2 hours of hanging out, she just wants to go home to her babies and call it a day.

Nina tries to keep herself busy to keep her mind off of the fact that Will isn’t here anymore. When she has too much free time, she’ll replay memories from the past and just overwhelm herself with too many emotions.

“What makes me cry the most is the fact that he’s not here to help me with the kids,” she says frustrated. “It makes me mad that he couldn’t stay here to help me and help raise them.”

And when she starts to overthink, she is met with the same feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt. Before Will passed away, and while she was pregnant with Nalia, they were running into financial issues, causing them to fight. The fighting didn’t stop when Nalia was born, and Nina never got to make up with Will again because he passed away shortly after. The overwhelming feeling of guilt takes over her when she remembers how they didn’t talk before he passed. It’s one thing to know that the person you love is no longer here, but it’s another thing to replay in your head what you wish you could’ve said. Nina feels guilty knowing that she’s living a “comfortable” life because he did pass away. When Will was alive, they worried about financial costs, but now that he passed, she’s not in that position anymore. She feels guilty that it took him dying to be in a place where she’s financially stable.

“I wish I could go travel with the kids because [now] I can,” she says looking straight ahead, as we’re parked in the parking lot of Nalia’s daycare. “….But it’s like… who am I going to travel with… and to share these memories with?”

She reassures herself that things could have been worse, and as bad as it sounds, this probably had to happen. This situation has forced Nina to rely on her mom more than she wants to. And though they disagree, she knows that if Will was still to be alive, it would be another situation with him. It’s one of those moments where you look at all the alternate realities that could’ve happened and realize, either way you look at it, you would’ve been put in a shitty situation regardless.

“I always think, ‘well, maybe this is God’s way of telling me I should appreciate my mom, and accept her for who she is and the type of person she is,” she says. “It’s  hella funny because Will would always say that I act exactly like my mom. And I hella see it.”

She wishes that Will could’ve realized what they had. Nina believes that he knew what they had, and knew they had practically everything they wanted, from a house, a family, jobs, and pretty much everything was set in stone. But he didn’t know how to handle it. She knows that he grew up having nothing, and for him to have everything, he didn’t know how to deal with it. Nina knows that deep down Will didn’t think that he deserved all the good things happening in their lives. He had a lot of responsibility on his plate. They were expecting their 2nd child, his 3rd. He had to provide for my cousin and his 3 children. And she knows how much of a hard worker he was and how he would stress over providing for his family.

“I just wish that I could’ve just told him, ‘It’s going to be okay,’ ” she says. “But instead I was always mad. I would always be like, ‘what is wrong with him?!’ ”

She worries for my nephew, Tre, because he is a carbon copy of his father. She prays that Tre finds his way, because she genuinely doesn’t know what to do when he acts up in school. Nina says that he acts exactly like Will, and that’s why she’s even more scared for him. She wishes that Will was still around to help raise Tre, because since they’re so alike, he would know what to do to get through to him.

Since Nalia was only 2 months old when Will passed away, Nina always wonders what he would think of her if he was still alive. A couple months ago, Nalia turned 1. It’s one of those bittersweet moments that you realize she’s only getting older, and will only know of her father by stories and the few pictures they have together.

“Every time I stare at Nalia I’m just like, ‘what would Will say about her?’ ” she said. “Would he think she’s funny? … I always just look at her like, ‘what would he think about you?’ ”

Of course she knows that dating again is somewhere in her future, but she doesn’t like the thought of starting all over with someone else. She worries that a future partner can  be detrimental to the children, and overall just thinking the worst. She realized that she’s probably going to worry for her children and their well being for the rest of her life. And that’s something she despises about herself.

“If anything, this past year has made me realize what type of person I don’t want to be, but still am. ”

When I asked how she’ll tell the kids about how Will passed, she said she’d be honest with them and tell them the truth. Tre already knows that his dad was “sick,” but that he loved him a lot. Will always believed in not sugar coating the truth to his children, so that’s how she’ll continue to raise them. Tre and Nalia will know the truth, but will also know that their dad loved them and did what he could for them.

Though she hasn’t had many dreams of Will, the dream she holds dearest to her is the dream she had of him holding her hand. She loved his hands. She loved how they were that of a hard working man, but his palms were smooth and soft. In a way she believes that that’s Will’s way of saying that he’s still holding her hand through life.

“Infinity is forever,” she said. “He’s forever going to be in my heart.”

 

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“Tanging Yaman”

Screenshot_20170712-193222.pngJuly 12, 2017 :

This day was a rough one. It was the 10 year death anniversary of my grandma, “Mama,” and it hit me hard that it has really been a decade without her.

I remembered early in the morning what day it was, but it really hit me at night. My boyfriend, Christian, was at work, so I was watching Netflix at his apartment waiting for him to get off. I remembered again that it was my Mama’s death anniversary, and as the room started to dim with night time approaching, I decided to face what I was feeling head on.

You see, on her other death anniversaries, I would get a little sad, but wouldn’t get too sad because I know she no longer suffers from her Diabetes and is in a better place, along with her son and my grandpa, Tatay Celso.

But this anniversary was different. It’s one of those milestone years where you’re like… shit, it’s really been that long? Sitting in the dark and turning Netflix off, I played the song my cousins and I danced to at my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary party. The song is called “Tanging Yaman.” I remember my cousins and I practicing outside of Mama’s house, the waltz-like dance we had to perform infront of our family and family friends. It was a surprise party for my grandparents, but close to the date of the party, they were both admitted into the hospital for different health reasons. At that point my family had to continue with the party, with or without my grandparents present, because all the invitations were out and it was too close to the date to cancel. We thought we’d be performing for no one. I mean, the whole crowd of those invited would see, but not the 2 people that mattered. My Mama ended up being able to go to the party, and although we were sad that our Tatay Celso was still in the hospital, we were glad that atleast one of them got to make it to the party.

“Ikaw Ang aking, tanging yaman… (‘You are my greatest treasure’),” the song played on. All of a sudden I’m in tears, sad and angry. It’s really been 10 years?! I texted this to my group chat with my sisters:

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I was getting angry at myself for not remembering as much as I used to. I stayed at Mama’s house 6 days out of the week. Everyday afterschool, my sisters, cousins, and I would walk across the street to Mama’s house and wait for my uncle or my mom to pick us up after they got off work. And every Sunday everyone was at Mama’s house after church. It was like a party every Sunday.

And now here I was, crying in the dark because it was such a big chunk of my life, and now I feel like I don’t remember as much as I should. It made me feel some type of way knowing that from here on out, I’m probably going to remember less and less as I get older. And I hate it. I mean it’s not like I don’t remember anything. I always joke around that my memory is so sharp that it’s almost annoying. But the normal thing of: as time goes on the memories fade a little more, especially since I was like 12 when she passed away.

Christian came back home and greeted me as he walked in.

“Whatsup,” he said.

“I’m being emo,” I said hiding in the covers in complete darkness.

But then I started telling Christian about my grandma who he’ll never meet. And retelling the stories made me feel better. Like the time I was 5 years old and everyone thought I got kidnapped. Mama’s house was right across the street from my school’s church. On a Sunday while the whole family was over her house, Mama walked out of the house in her white lace veil and Rosary. For some reason I was playing on the stairs outside by myself. She asked me if I wanted to go to church with her, and I said yeah. I made the mistake of not letting anyone inside know that I was going with her. I remember being happy that I was going to church with Mama and it was just us 2. But I also remember sitting in the church aisle and staring at the people sitting behind us, and looking at one of the church door open seeing my mom frantically trying to find me calling my name. I have no idea what happened after that 😂😂😂. I remember asking my mom if it was just a dream or if it actually happened in real life, and she looked at me like “no, bitch, that really happened and we really thought you got kidnapped!” 😂😂😂

Or the times my Tatay Celso would drive me and my little sister to pick up Mama from Dialysis, and I would hold her arm and help her walk back into the car. Little pudgy 5 year old me would get so giddy when I heard one of the people working at the Dialysis tell Mama, “oh your granddaughter is a big help!”

Mama would tell me, “Sunog, get food for the Santo Niño,” all of this would be in Tagalog of course. “Sunog” was my nickname, which means “burned/burns” because of the burn scars I have on my left arm. Anything Mama would ask me to do, I would do it. Putting little food offerings infront of her statues of Santo Niño and Mary was something she would do herself, but as time passed and her health declining, I was happy to do it for her.

On her death anniversaries, I try to remember the good. And honestly sometimes I try not to remember because I get upset when I remember I didn’t have a chance to say my goodbyes. My parents didn’t want my sisters & I to be present, so us 3 stayed at home while my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins said their goodbyes at the hospital. My parents didn’t want us to see her like that and I understand their decision. But sometimes I wonder if she noticed we weren’t there.

This post took me a span of a week and a half to write because I kept stopping. I didn’t know how to put what I felt into words. I try to end most of my posts on a positive note or have a resolution for whatever issue I’m talking about. But in this case, there is  no resolution. No matter how much I try to focus on the positive, the truth is: time will still pass. And as much as i hate it,  time will go on I’ll remember less and less. And there’s nothing more I can do to remember things I’ve already forgotten. But sharing a little of what I remember makes me feel better.

I never got to say my goodbyes, but I would say it in my head all the time. I pray that she’s still around during family get togethers and that she watches over us, which I know she does.

Until we meet again

Love, Sunog

The Photograph

**Nancy, I know you said to focus on people that I don’t know, but I promise I will do that AFTER this post… this is a story I HAVE to tell.**

My dad’s mom died over 50 years ago in the Philippines while giving birth to her 8th child. Unfortunately my grandma and aunt both passed away. My grandpa was left with 7 kids, 2 of which were under the age of 7.

Decades passed and my grandpa was alone. He is now 92 years old, going on 93 this July. A little over 10 years ago he remarried. For so long he was alone and single, longing for companionship.

My family, aunts & uncles, & their kids that are free, go to my grandpa and step-grandma’s house every other Sunday. It’s a great way for the family to remain close and for my grandpa to see his kids, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

One Sunday my aunt brought old pictures. She showed me and my cousins our grandmother, who none of us ever got to meet. My aunt was saying how she thinks she looks so much like her mother and how her other 2 sisters also share some features. There are only a couple of photos I’ve seen of my grandma, so my first thought was to take a picture of the photo.

My grandpa wasn’t really paying attention, he’s 92, so he’s always just chillin’ minding his business. My sisters and I like to show our grandpa pictures on our phone of him from previous events or ones we take right in front of him. He thinks it’s so cool how technology has advanced and still can’t believe that we can take pictures of him on our phones. Every time we show him his picture he starts laughing surprised like “that’s me!”

Anyways, I took out my phone and pulled up the picture of my grandma. I showed it to him and his reaction made me happy and sad all at the same time. Seeing her picture made him eagerly grab my phone out of my hand.

Staring at her picture he said to me in Tagalog, “Where’d you get this? Do you know who this is? It’s grandma.”

Other than when he complains about his back hurting, my grandpa is usually just chill and observant at get togethers. So when he reacted so surprised to see the picture, it touched my heart, because I could only imagine all the memories that photo brought back.

I think that’s a whole other level of love. To lose someone so tragically, and to be alone for so long, to get remarried, but to be so excited to see an old photo made me really happy. I can only imagine what he felt when he saw that picture, but I know that’s exactly how I would want someone to look at an old photograph of me. 20141109_190624

The photo above is the exact photo I showed my grandpa.