Home: the going back, the getting there, the vivid memories of how food really tastes like dancing on the back of your tongue, lending flavour to whatever pale ghost of an imitation it is that you can get wherever you currently are. The sheen of summer sweat on brown skin during dreamily imagined summer scorchers of days taking on moments of romanticism in deep winter. Us diasporic Filipinos, we have a shared obsession with the idea of home. It’s woven into our psyche, thread upon tangled thread, deftly braided into our imaginaries of how the Philippine experience feels. We are locked in an eternal cycle: of wanting to be home, of planning to go home, of flying home. Repeat ad infinitum.
My mom and I went back home to Bacolod last summer, the first time in eight years for me. A kindly benefactor had generously gifted us business class tickets for the journey that would span almost 48 hours, and I had a (dream!) job waiting for me. I was very optimistic.
And off we flew, starting the first leg at the Toronto Pearson International Airport on a flight to Beijing, then Beijing to Manila, and finally, Manila to Bacolod. It was an almost two-day cycle of naps and movies and bland meals and peanuts and waiting in lounges, and many, many rounds of orange juice for me. Once we landed in Bacolod, we hopped into a van for the last hour and a half ride to Pontevedra, where we were met with hugs and a feast. I then lurched into bed and right into the arms of food poisoning: I retched nonstop for about two days and could not for the life of me keep anything down.
Ahh, home. There I finally was, surrounded by the un/familiar: the places, the people, the food, the trauma of my childhood and young adulthood. At the core of homecoming for me, I painfully learned, would always be an inescapably dissonant storm. And the memories and effects of it are violent. In so many words, a biological father who abandoned my family for another; my mother wrenched away from us by the global labour market to work several oceans and thousands of miles away; an emotionally and psychologically abusive aunt as a guardian, at whose actions nobody in the family batted an eye. Having to leave for Canada. Having to integrate into Toronto. Coming back home to the Philippines. Having to leave, again.
It was a near-blinding epiphany that I would never be able to just “travel” to the Philippines for a vacation. Or take the time to find myself in the spaces and places that I used to call home. The geographies of trauma are rocky and injurious, too convoluted in generational trauma for home to be something I can consider a space of, well, home.
But there was no running away now. I hadn’t realised that the death of one of my abusers meant that I would instead channel all my pent-up anger towards the people who bore witness but never intervened. Did they deserve my rage? It’s likely not fair to place blame on them as theirs weren’t the hands that lifted the stick, but the fury has nowhere to go. I was confronted with spectres of families that I did not get to participate in as a child, feeling entitled to participate now in mine. And as it turns out, I resented that.
Neither did I get any closure from my biological father, in part because I belatedly realized that my flight from Manila to Vancouver left at 4AM instead of 4PM, and in part because he chose to spend a couple of hours with us and then bail. For work, he said. But I truly, finally, get to say that there is no reason for me to keep trying to pry that door open – there is no substance to the man, nor are there good answers to any of the questions that I have. I refuse to let it haunt me. There is joy to be had in finally refusing to interact with the ghost of the father that could have been.
Had I made a mistake in coming home? In attempting to deal with the pain by trying to rationalize how being a child of the Filipinx-Canadian labour diaspora simultaneously fucked me up and blessed me? Was I attempting to straddle the line of a hyphenated existence – that active, living acknowledgement of being Filipinx-Canadian – by trying to take those traumas and the blessings together to make something beautiful out of it, and fumbling the line, because I don’t know how to do that, either? All these questions keep floating up my throat, coating my mouth, tasting bitterly like the young adulthood I didn’t get to spend in the Philippines and that I will continue to romanticise until the day I fucking die.
I guess in writing this, I was hoping to find my way through the cloying, sticky sweet feeling of being back home. I wanted to make sense of a homecoming that violently reopened all the wounds I thought had already scabbed over, and why all the anger and resentment simmering for years and years finally exploded out. Most of all, I wanted to know why, despite that, I still seriously considered staying, and never coming back to Toronto.
I flitted in and out so rapidly that there was no time to find a space where I could work through my trauma.
Maybe the Bacolod, and to a certain extent the Manila, that I was interacting with were ghosts, too – so very real to me, but nonetheless an imaginary of my childhood memories. There was no triumph in going home. There was no beautiful revelation of finding myself. Only the land itself remains, recognizable, green and lush, the soil black and dotted with crushed white seashells.
See you when I see you, Bacolod. And maybe next time I’ll be able to focus on the hellos, instead of the goodbyes.