Dear Memory

I recently finished reading Victoria Chang’s Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief and it inspired me to write in the epistolary style. This letter is inspired by the photo (below) I took recently of a family friend’s child.

Dear Sister,

The little girl turned two years old today. You should have seen her in her pink dress and ruby-red shoes. Her dress reminded me of the one our mother made for my 7th birthday. Do you remember that dress? The skirt with its layers of peach tulle.

The little girl ran around the parking lot, a flurry of pink and a flash of red. We tried to hold her back but she pulled us along until we resisted and planted our feet. You should have seen how she struggled to lead us to a destination of her choice, how badly she wanted to be free.

She is not mine but there are times now when she glances at me when she starts to play with another toy or makes a move toward the washi tape all neat and ordered in the acrylic box in my office. She looks up at me, her eyes searching, waiting to see if I will say something, or if I will rush over and stop her from touching things that aren’t hers.

She is only two and already I am trying to control her behavior, molding her to be obedient, to suppress her curiosity and playfulness. Is this what happened to me? To us?

I hear Lola in my voice every time I try to stop her movements. I don’t know if Lola would be proud or if she would find it funny that I of all her grandchildren turned out to be the most like her.

Do you remember how she would inspect the dishes after I washed them? This is why I waste so much water and soap, scrubbing more than once, brushing my fingers along every inch of the plate, checking for dried bits of rice I may have missed. Every time, it has to pass her inspection.

There was that moment when you must’ve been 11 or 12 and I was 8 or 9 when you accidentally dropped a tray of drinking glasses in the kitchen of our old apartment by the local high school. I don’t remember what Lola said to you; all I remember is Dad’s anger because she was more concerned about the broken glass than she was about you, centimeters away from bleeding.

We know now that doing something wrong does not mean there is anything wrong with us. Or do I? I look at that little girl’s eyes and I wonder if I ever looked like that (or still look like that), waiting for approval or disapproval, not knowing if one action will fill me with so much shame that I wouldn’t try it again. If all this time I haven’t let myself run and play without judgment like I used to out in the streets of Kawit, the town where I was born.

A free write for the Lunar New Year

My cousins in the Philippines sent photos of their mini gathering a few weeks ago and it made me miss them and being around family so much. That, along with friends celebrating Lunar New Year with their inherited and chosen families, inspired this free write:

At this kitchen table

This kitchen table is the beginning
and never the end. 
New friends are welcomed here. 
Old friends have cried here. 
We yell and laugh here, 
at this kitchen table. 

This kitchen table 
has endured coffee spills
and knife cuts. 
It has heard its share of tsismis. 
It holds the weight of a family bickering
about money, careers, bad behavior. 

Holiday meals have been served here. 
Ordinary meals, party buffets, 
merienda prepared by grandparents, 
the occasional snacks and beer. 

Stories have been exchanged here. 
Stories are being written here. 
Lives are being lived here, 
at this kitchen table. 


Earlier this week I went to the funeral of a dear family friend. Growing up in a tight Filipino American community, my generation called him “Lolo” (as we do with all elders of a certain generation). It means “grandfather.”

I was holding back tears throughout the day and I couldn’t help but think back to six years ago, July, when my own maternal grandfather died weeks before my parents were set to travel to the Philippines to see him. He was the only grandfather I knew. My dad’s father died decades before I was born. Yet I probably spent more time with Lolo than I did with my actual grandfather (whom I called Itay which means “father”). It’s not his fault–or anybody’s, really. That’s the nature of a transnational family. People get left behind. Decades pass until you see each other in person. Technology may advance and be readily available but not in every corner of the world.

My fondest memory of my grandfather was in 2006. I had just graduated from college and the family went on a long-awaited trip to the homeland before I had to start my first professional job. By this time, his health had already deteriorated and he was mostly blind. We really couldn’t understand each other. He was a Waray speaker through and through. Me: English. Maybe a little Tagalog.

I was sitting on a bench outside of his house when a stray cat jumped on the table and I screamed in fright. He was sitting across the table and immediately turned towards me and began to ask where the cat was, waving his arm from side to side to dissuade it from returning. This gesture of protection was one of the rare times I felt so loved by a grandparent. Here was this person who didn’t know me that well and could barely see but none of that mattered. I was scared and he was by my side.

Thanks, Itay.