Editor’s note: The writer is a 17-year old college student at the Ateneo de Manila University. An Igorot, she always longs for the mountains when heat turns up in Manila.
When the student leaves home for college, she remembers pieces of home in the smallest things and collects them to form a picture — to remind her until she returns.
1. It is a James Taylor track that sets it off. One in the morning, and she is still caught in the struggle of wanting to be productive and the inability to be. She goes back and forth between Facebook and Twitter, and by 2 A.M. she has written approximately 1,260 tweet characters and only 140 actual words for her ten-page paper due in two days. “One more hour and one more cup of coffee,” she tells herself, as if inspiration and intelligence could be found in the dregs of her stained coffee cup. Her playlist is composed of Boyce Avenue covers (a.k.a.white noise) and “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor comes on. Struck by the strange phenomenon known as memory (or is it the caffeine?), she immediately searches for the original version (but of course, she tweets about it first). The smooth voice of James Taylor fills her ears and immediately takes her back to lazy Sunday afternoons in the warm Baguio sun and cool breezes, with the radio crackling as the family lunch winds down and each member finds their own napping spot before church service at 5 P.M. The radio DJ is always a little overexcited (she never could figure out whether his American accent was fake or not) while announcing the next song, with the annoying chorus of “99.9…Country!”.
Fade in. “Country Roads” by John Denver was almost always one of the next classics. She remembers falling asleep to the chorus and dreaming soundly: “Country roads, take me home, to the place where I belong…”But then, all dreams have a waking point. Here, there is no pseudo-American radio DJ, no warm sun and cool breezes, no family lunch. It is 2:30 A.M. on a Sunday, and she has a paper to work on. During that afternoon, the Manila sun will be unbearably hot, and the breeze will carry with it the exhaust and fumes of hundreds of thousands of smoke-belching vehicles. Her lunch will most likely be at a fast food place — her tastebuds feel like they haven’t tasted real food in months. But anyway, back to her paper: stuck at 140 characters and she can’t seem to type anymore. “Country Roads” has already begun to play in her head, and the screen seems to blur — as if some liquid has veiled her eyes. She blames it on the caffeine. Bangsoy !2
2. It is when she moves away that her sister, S (the middle child), starts not-so-subtly begging for a cellphone. When her parents are asleep, she “borrows” their phones and starts texting. There is always only one recipient. And that recipient is always busy finishing a paper —almost always too busy to reply. hi. ate. it. is. me. s__ (smile emoticon) So. do. you. want. to. talk. about. my. day it. all. started. this. morning. and. it. was. hard. i. had. pagbabaybay. and. guess. what. i. got. ……perfect. (happy emoticons). omg. The concept of spacing and punctuation in text is still very alien to her. As is the fact that Ate won’t be home for sometime. Her siblings have the magical power to make 5 minutes before nap time turn into 30 minutes, but they can’t make 5 months turn into 1 week. In the meantime, they plan a homecoming (ate. we. made. a. welcome home! party.). And Ate’s heart aches a little, all over again.
3. She wonders once, while in the shower, trying to lower a fever that came out of nowhere and missing the cold remedies of home — can you have homesickness attacks like you have asthma attacks? Inhaler Medication: 1,000 mg of Baguio fog, taken at approximately 3 P.M. The same time that it rolls over the hills and covers everything with a comforting chill. Take once a day. Lotion Medicine (for skin asthma): One tube of Baguio sun, should feel warm and cool against skin. Apply liberally, as needed. The truth is, you can’t. Because she realizes (while downing countless cups of green tea with lemon and overdosing on vitamin C) that homesickness isn’t a sickness at all. It’s a longing. And, as centuries of poets will tell you, there is no cure for a longing — you can only write about it, as she always does, as if words had the same power as scientific medicine. But when she writes about a longing, words do not heal. They cut deeper and deeper — the pain becomes almost satisfying then, and her heart becomes numb. The attack is over; there is nothing left to bleed, and for a while her heart is silent, undisturbed. There is no cure for a longing. There is only a poem, and a brief reprieve.***