He Will Always Be Fourteen

Young boy, I wish your life was taken from you from the first stab. I pray that you didn’t feel the other thirty merciless wounds on your young, frail body. I only hope they taped your head after your life was taken. I wish you didn’t have to fight for your breath.

I can only wish you didn’t have to die a painful death.

I hope you didn’t suffer long. I could only hope. Because you were alone in the hands of merciless monsters. You were probably too young to understand, yet it happened to you.

And when I look at your picture, a young wounded body, head covered in tape, many faces replaces yours. Familiar faces, faces I wish I would never see on such picture.

I do not know you, and you do not know me. But in the gruesome way you went, you touched many. In the closing of your eyes, you opened many others.

Say his name. Say his name out loud and let it not be forgotten.

His name is Reynaldo de Guzman
He was a boy from Cainta, Rizal.
Yesterday, his body was found at Nueva, Ecija, with 31 stab wounds
He was fourteen years old.

He will always be fourteen.

http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/09/06/Reynaldo-De-Guzman-dead.html

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Shine

You want to turn the heads of the many

Have your own spotlight when you walk in

Hush the room with your ways

And all the boys down on their knees

 

You’re probably tired of being invisible

Set to the sidelines and ignored

You watch from the shadows and watch them sway

Blending into the background and forgotten

 

You wish to be just like her, so you eat less

And run until nothing is left

Still, you can’t get your size down to two

And the spotlight is still not on you

 

There are so many things you want to change

Your hair, your weight, and your face

You don’t see how beautiful you are

I wish you can see through my eyes

 

The twinkle in your hair

The smile that reaches your eyes

The blush on your cheeks when you’re shy

Oh darling , don’t be shy

 

And when you finally open your eyes

You want to be loved, not admired

You don’t need all the boys after you

Choose the one who will give his heart to you

 

And soon, my sweet, you’ll realize

You’re the only who who can turn on your light

And when you finally see how beautiful you are

You’ll shine like the stars in sky

I Am Not Yet Done, Not Today

I have thought a lot about it. I thought about simply dropping everything and simply not give single damn. Caring too much can be so burdensome.

I thought about simply closing my doors, locking and staying in my house for a week. I thought about cutting my lines, turning off my phone and simply live in solitude for a while. Maybe I’ll gain a different appreciation of the world outside.

I thought about buying a ticket, flying to a place, anywhere, where nobody knows my name. Perhaps there I can find a fresh start. Perhaps I can finally leave everything behind.

I thought about forgetting a lot of things in my life. I thought about cutting ties with a lot of people. I thought about ending everything sometimes. And sometimes, I can’t even tell why.

There’s a darkness in me, perhaps in all of us, that we cannot simply explain. Dark thoughts that looms over our heads, some can silence it, some listen and act on it.

I’m still trying to save myself. I am trying. I am trying to make something good out of this pain and sorrow. Don’t call the lines just yet. I am not done fighting.

Kian Didn’t Have to Die

Can you imagine his confusion when  men in uniform came rushing in? He was alone, unarmed and vulnerable.

Can you imagine how he felt, when they handed him the gun? Can you feel it? The fast beating of his heart? The cold feeling of fear taking over? Can you imagine his freezing realization of helplessness? The tears that ran down his youth, begging for his life?

Can you imagine his fear when they told him to take the gun, run and start shooting?

Can you imagine how he  felt when he realized he was about to get killed?

Can you imagine? Can you imagine if this was your son? Your brother? Your friend? Your neighbor? Can you feel it? Can you feel the pain of knowing an innocent life was taken? Can you feel that gut wrenching pain of seeing their lifeless body being dragged like a slaughtered pig? You  birthed him, loved him, fed him, worked to raise him and he was taken away unjustly.

Was it worth it? Was it necessary for him to die? Why must he die? Why did you take away a life of a seventeen year old?

He was a boy and they killed him like an animal.

Kian Lloyd Delos Santos did not deserve any of this.

http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/08/18/Kian-Loyd-Delos-Santos-war-on-drugs-Caloocan-police-operations.html

 

#3

My love, you don’t have to cry anymore

Learn to forgive, take a step forward

Too afraid? Take my hand

I promise I won’t let go.

But if you feel like you can’t just yet,

That’s okay.

At least for now let me stay with you

Until you feel like you don’t need me anymore.

 

My love, you have nothing to fear.

I am clumsy, but I am strong.

I won’t promise that I won’t hurt you

But I promise to make you happy.

If you just let me.

 

Will you open your doors for me?  Will you let me in?

I will not tear down the walls you built

I will let you decide when the time is right

For you to step out into the light

 

You’ve been in this darkness for too long,

Carrying too much, you can’t let go

Will you let me give you a hand, a home and a heart?

Together, we can wander down this path

 

My love, it’s okay. I can handle it all

A life without you will be unbearable.

How can I convince you not to fall?

Hold on, my love, hold on.

Understanding the Struggles of My Teenage Years

There is a lot of news going on about 13 Reasons Why. It tackles major issues such as mental health, bullying and suicide. It has become highly controversial for many reasons.

The digital media has made it easy for everyone to voice out their opinion about an issue and be heard. Everyone makes a good point, which is the point of a discourse.

You have to understand that not all teenagers are capable of dealing with school bullies or pranks. Not that they are not raised to have a sense of humor or to be strong enough to handle such situations. Some things and some people will break you and you will fall.

Not everyone is capable of just shrugging things off. At the age of 26 I still get affected by what other people think of me. But then I will process things internally, learn if I should take your opinion to heart and then I will move on. A lesson you learn as you grow old, especially when you have dealt with a bully—but for teenagers, they’re still learning. In fact, we never stop learning. As we grow older, we deal with more difficult problems and more are expected from us. People might think that as an adult, you should already know what to do. You should already know how to level your head.

So keep that in mind. In our teenage years, we were still learning not to care about everything. We were still learning how to filter the things that should bother us.

So let me tell you the story of one of the most damning bullying I’ve ever experienced.

A little background. I went to an all-girls catholic school run by Good Shepherd nuns. We were sheltered and we don’t get a lot of interactions with other schools and boys. Every year our class gets shuffled. You meet new people and you make new friends.

I was thirteen at that time and an incoming sophomore. The friends I made the previous year weren’t in the same class. I just happen to live quite close to 2 of my classmates and this one girl who’s always with them. They’re quite popular. Pretty, cheerleaders, liked by  a lot of people. So when they started hanging out with me, I am not going to lie, it made me feel quite good about myself.

I treasure my friends deeply. I tell them all my secrets, all my insecurities. So one day, I told them about this crush of mine who lives in our neighborhood. He had a girlfriend back then, a friend of my sister. It was a stupid crush. Again, I didn’t really see find myself attractive and had very low self-esteem so I never really entertained the idea. But they encouraged it, told me I had a shot and should just go for it. But I never acted on my feeling.

Then one day, I got a letter. It says open your Friendster and I’ll find a message there. And so I looked, and there was a message from an anonymous sender. In the letter, the sender pointed out how ugly I was. Every single thing I was insecure about was written there; my weight, my skin color—this person just went on and on listing everything that she found ugly about me—things I didn’t know I should even be insecure about.

By the end of the letter, she warned me about my intentions to make a move on my crush because he was her boyfriend. If I do, she will post embarrassing things about me and my friends online.

From an adult’s point of view, the logical way of looking at it is to simply delete the message and ignore it. But for a teenager who lives in a world where status is a big deal and self-esteem is as fragile as an egg-shell, this is pure destruction.

I’ve written a reply, I can’t even remember what I wrote. And this anonymous sender sent another one. It went on for a while, until one day, one of my so-called friends broke down and admitted that they were behind the letter.

My sister saw me crying the night I found out the news. She was furious and asked me how could I be friends with such horrible people. It didn’t make me feel any better. It made me feel stupid for not seeing it.

I became cynical towards everyone who tried to get close to me. I thought everyone was horrible, even the guidance counselor who had nothing better to say but “believe in yourself” and that I shouldn’t be affected by what other people are saying about me.

What a load of crap. It didn’t help me whatsoever.

And do you know what’s crappier than that? After their apology, I started hanging out with them again. I endured months of a toxic friendship before I finally gave up.

I let go. I wasn’t the person I am when I was with them. I wasn’t cool. I wasn’t sexy. I wasn’t girly. I was awkward and brute.

When I finally did, when I finally embraced the true me, I found people who accepted me for who I am. 11 years later and we are still the best of friends.

What am I trying to get across here? We were all young once. We were fragile and we were trying to discover ourselves. We all encountered bullies, and we had different reactions. Some are fortunate to have a good support and others have to find their own way. Not everyone is built to shrug things off and walk. Some needs more support. So just because you were able to walk away fast, just because you are able to care less than others, doesn’t mean everyone can.

It is important to listen and to show genuine support. I think more than anything, at that time, I needed someone to tell me that what I was feeling was valid and it was okay that I was hurt and angry. I needed someone to listen.

I didn’t get any of that. I had to stand up for myself and find a way to get over it. It wasn’t easy. That feeling of isolation and wanting to belong, yet too afraid to trust and open yourself to someone is not something I would wish on my worst enemy.

All I wanted was to get out. I wanted everything to stop, but I couldn’t. I know that the world will not stop just because you did—the people that surrounded me certainly showed me that.

In a way, I was lucky that there was a competitiveness in me. I wanted to show that I can get out of this hell hole and live my life the way I want to. I wanted to show that this will not get to me. In the midst of that struggle, I discovered the strength in me. This is something I hope I could help others with. Whenever someone comes to me with a problem, I take their every word seriously. I try to be there for them as much as I can and listen to what they are trying not to say.

Pay close attention to the unspoken words.

Curfew

4:45 PM

Ana was just finishing up an email she was sending to one of her clients. The radio was on and the DJ announced that traffic is relatively light. She was thankful for that. These days the nights are getting long and sun sets pretty early. It will take her 45 minutes to walk from her work to her house. If she takes the cab, it will only take her 20 minutes max. She expects that by the time she gets home, her husband Miguel and their two daughters Clary and Dale are already home.

4:50 PM

She needs to type faster if she wants to leave 5:00 PM sharp. No one stays late in the office anymore. Everybody leaves at 5:00 PM sharp, not a second later. You are lucky if you manage to leave earlier than that. Otherwise, you’ll have to spend the night in your office and explain to the area captains why you decided to stay in the office and you must be persuasive and believable. It’s not like she has anything to hide. After all, she is a good, law abiding citizen of this great nation.

That’s something she got used to saying and hearing every morning. Every time the clock strikes 6:00 in the morning, all radio and television channel will broadcast only one thing: the pledge of allegiance:

I am a citizen of this country, the home of my ancestors
this land nourishes and protects me
I offer my heart, mind and body
to this great nation

I am the citizen of this country, the home of my ancestors. Ana was sure this is not how her parents remember this country. Democracy was truly practiced; citizens are free to speak their minds and to rally on the streets to express their defiance against the government. But three months ago, after the bombing at the plaza where 89 people during the light festival, the government declared a State of Emergency. Two days later the country was under martial law.

4:59 PM

“Oh fuck!” she cursed, slamming her laptop closed and rushed out of the office, forgetting to clock out. No matter, her boss is nice enough to understand. Just as she got to the terminal, the last cab left.

She looked at her phone: 5:01 PM. Twenty-nine minutes before sundown. She started walking briskly, not something she wanted to do in heels. A minute passes and her toes started begging for life.

She heard a ring behind her and sharp break. She jumped back just in time, but broke her heel the in the process.

“How’s it going, Ana?” asked Jared, a local newspaper delivery man in his 40s. Jared doesn’t deliver the newspaper approved by the government. In fact, not a lot of people know that this is Jared’s job. Some would say it’s a crack newspaper full of conspiracies and a paranoid’s theory. But for someone who’s coming from the lower middle-class, for someone who runs away in fear from men in uniform, she knew better.

“You made me break my heel, that’s what,” she sighed as she took off her shoes. Buying a new pair of shoes is not in her budget for another six months.

“Sorry there, love,” he scratched his graying hair. “Need a ride? It’s almost sundown.”

“Do you plan on staying in our house?” she chuckled as she took off her other shoes. Hopefully, she won’t look too suspicious running without any shoes on. “Get going already. You don’t want to get caught now, do you?”

5:02 PM

And with that, he saluted her and pedalled away.

This land nourishes and protects me.

 She has a lot of things to say about that. Ever since martial law was declared, people started disappearing like bubbles left and right. People like Jared who voice their dissent to the government are in constant danger. They must learn to hide, else they’ll disappear. If they’re lucky, they will find them—but they will be broken. They’d made sure you are. They will break your spirit and your strength, and when they’re done with you, you’ll finally be a good citizen of this country. Her former co-worker Lena learned it the hard way to be a good citizen.

Lena was one of the first people who stood against the government last election. It was the dirtiest election in history and people, well people have voices back then.  After the plaza bombing and the state of emergency, the government pointed their fingers at those who activists—blaming them for destroying the peace in this great nation. The following day they, one by one, people got picked up by the military. Lena came back after two weeks. Her eyes are dead, black and blue spots all over her body. After one month, she found out she was pregnant. She never left the house again.

Ana wouldn’t say that Lena is lucky to be alive. In fact, she doesn’t know who are luckier; the survivors or the dead. Some of those who survived went underground. Some even say that they went to the outskirts of the city to join the rebellion. Wherever they go, it can’t be any worse than where they are now. Miguel’s brother Gabriel, was one of them.

She doesn’t know if he’s still alive. According to the news, the government is relentless in hunting all of them and will not stop until the rebellion has disbanded.

She looked at her watch.

5:15 PM

She passed by a small supermarket owned by Mike and remembered that she needed to buy cabbage for tonight’s dinner. She bit her lip, looked at her clock and decided not to. The store looked almost empty now. Mike might close the store soon.

With a 40% income tax, everyone is barely making ends meet. Almost half of her salary goes to the government. Miguel had to sell their car in order to keep the house. Even though they want to leave, they didn’t have the money to do so. Every day, they have to ration their food and come up with creative ways to find food. They learned how to plant. Their backyard is a small vegetable garden where they grow tomatoes and potatoes. But they had to keep it from everyone. They don’t want any unwanted attention.

For a country where 90% are Christian, it seems like God, or whatever deity they believe in, has abandoned them.

This is a cruel world to live in. This is a world where you are beaten down the moment you try to stand—where you are killed the moment you start to fight.

It’s been three months. There isn’t any form of media available for the people. You can only hear the static sound and the cries of the family.

5:20 PM

She’s only a three blocks away. She started running. Eyes were on her, she knew. They’re just waiting for the time for it to be legal to pick her up. They’re like vultures waiting for her to crumble and die.

5:25 PM

She finally reached the gates of her house. Beads of sweat drips down her cheeks, nonetheless she is grateful she gets to spend the night with her family and survived the day.

Miguel greeted her at the door, but there was something wrong. She can see the darkness behind his glasses.

“What is it?” she asked, but too afraid to hear the answer.

“It’s okay,” but his tone wasn’t. “Everything’s fine.”

Silently, she entered her house. There was mud on her floor and too many shoe prints.

“What happened to your shoe?” Miguel took her shoes from her.

“Jared made me trip,” she suddenly became very aware of how raw her soles felt.

“I told you not to talk to Jared anymore,” he said in a low voice. “You never know who’s looking.”

Her husband, unlike his brother is a very formal man. He’s always in a suit and he keeps his nose in his own business. When Gabriel left, he didn’t come to say goodbye. He was afraid for their safety, he explained. She didn’t press on the matter. She thought they’d never hear from him again. So when she found him sitting on her couch and six other strangers scattered all over the living room, she felt all the blood from her face drain.

“Hey there, Ana.”

He looked scruffier than the last time she saw her. His beard is unkempt, shadows are under his eyes and blood stains on his clothes. The men with him are all injured. Bloodstained bandages are wrapped their heads, arms and legs.

“Gabriel,” she nodded and turned to her husband.

“Where are the girls?” she whispered.

“Upstairs,” he answered. “I told them to lock their rooms.”

“There’s no need to keep my nieces away from me,” he interjected. “I won’t harm them.”

“The people looking for you will,” she snapped. Miguel held her arm.

“Gabriel, what are you doing here?”

“They found our base,” he explained. “They bombed it. Our people are dispersed. I figured the closer we are to the city, the lesser chance they’ll find us.” The bandages and wounds suddenly made sense.

“Your face is all over the city,” Miguel explained. “Wanted poster signs of the rebels are posted everywhere.”

“I just need the night, Miguel,” the desperation was clear in his eyes. “Just to rest, we will not wait for sunrise to leave.”

A loud siren blasted outside. Everybody was on their feet. The strangers in her house took their guns and checked the windows. Ana checked her watch.

5:55 PM

It was the five minute warning before curfew.

“Stay away from the windows,” Miguel warned the strangers. “And put those away!”

Gabriel asked his men to calm down. It was too late. They can’t ask them to leave. The security is tighter at night.

“One night,” the words made everyone look at her in disbelief. “One night and before sunrise, you leave,” Miguel took her arm, trying to silence her.

“Do you understand?” she looked at Gabriel.

“Yes,” he lowered his head. “Thank you.”

8:30 PM.

The additional five mouths to feed threw off her budget for the month. Seems like buying a new pair of shoes must wait for four months. Her vegetable garden is almost empty now. Did she do the right thing, she wondered. They were fighting for the freedom, for the democracy they used to have. She thought it was the least she can do for the men who do what she can’t. But there’s no way Miguel will understand.

He fixes a lot of things, like the financial problem and currently her broken shoes. But he’s a man of peace, at least that’s the way she’d put it. He’d avoid fights and confrontations as much as possible.

Clary and Dale joined them for dinner, but not before Gabriel and his men were sent down to the basement. Miguel insisted no one shall look at their daughters. Not his brother, not his neighbors and certainly not the city guards.

Miguel created a system. He memorized the patrol’s route. Every morning when she walks them to school, he’ll cover them with big coats and a baseball cap, whether it’s  summer or winter. He created mapped the route where they can avoid the eyes of the patrol. Not that he had anything to hide, he just doesn’t want any eyes on their daughters.

Miguel also asked Ana not to wear any make up and loose clothes for work. Moreover, he asked her to gain ten pounds. Again, to avoid unwanted attention. She simply complied. The fear on her husband’s face was enough for her to fold.

“How was school today?” Miguel asked thirteen year old Dale.

“There was a school project,” she answered. “I would’ve done it if you didn’t drag me out of the school.”

“You did what?” Ana asked.

“We already three minutes behind schedule,” he explained. “You know how important it is for us always be on time.”

“I heard uncle Gabriel’s voice earlier,” eight year old Clary said. “Where’s Uncle Gabe?”

“Uncle Gabe’s not here,” Miguel said.

“Enough of that girls, lets—” a knock on the door disrupted an almost peaceful dinner. She could feel the tension of the men in the basement and the fear of the ones with her.

“Go upstairs,” Ana whispered to them. Without another word, they went.

Another knock. It was louder this time. Miguel took a deep breath and went to the door. He fixed his glasses and opened it.

“Evening Sir,” said the man in uniform at the door. “Ma’am,” he nodded at her. He is big, she thought. Twice the size of Miguel.

“Is-is there something we can do for you, officer?” Miguel tried desperately to keep his eyes on him. But the officer looked at the living room, at the couch, at the floor, at the ceiling and at the dining table.

“Sorry to disturb your dinner,” he answered. “We just want to ask if you’ve seen anything unusual in these areas.”

Miguel was frozen.

“We have some witnesses claiming that a group of heavily injured men passed by here.”

Three officers entered their house. Normally, people can say that it’s trespassing. But these are not normal times. These men have too much power, and no mercy.

“Sorry, we didn’t see anything,” he simply answered.

The leader looked at him, examining him from head to toe.

“I think our daughters go the same school,” he said. “Yes. I saw you at school today. You were eager to get home this afternoon,” he chuckled.

“My wife was waiting for me,” he didn’t miss the shake in his voice.

“How are your girls?” he asked. “Maybe they saw something. Where are they?”

She felt her heart drop to her stomach. She could almost scream and run upstairs to bolt the door. She looked at the kitchen knife. How fast can she kill him, she thought. Can she kill all of them?

“They’re at my mother’s,” his voice is a lot calmer now. “Outside the city.”

“Oh, well, that’s too bad,” he said, unconvinced. “Perhaps I could visit some other time. Get a good look at your girls and see what I can do for them.”

Miguel was pale and sweating.

“Maybe I can babysit for you sometime, what do you say?” he tapped his shoulder. “Officer Kirkpatrick here is a big fan of little girls.”

The malice was clear in their faces. She felt tears building in her eyes.

“That would be nice,” Miguel chocked. “But we got it covered. Thanks.”

“Well then,” he motioned his men to leave. “Have a good night, Sir. Madame.”

None of them answered. He simply closed the door and locked it. Her knees gave out and realized that she was holding her breath. The basement door opened, but didn’t reveal the man hiding in the shadows.

“Stay in there,” she whispered. “They’re patrolling the house now.”

“I’m sorry, Anna,” said the voice. It was low and sincere, but provided no comfort.

“Close the door, Gabe,” she picked herself up and fixed herself. “I’ll bring you your dinner.” She checked the clock.

8:40 PM

10 minutes felt like an eternity.

***

10:00 PM

They all ate in silence.  A single light bulb illuminated the dusty dark basement. It wasn’t ideal, she was sure,   but nonetheless, they expressed their gratitude. She also changed the dressing of their wound and injected them with antibiotic. The perks of working in a hospital. She just needs to come up with a convincing reason why she had to use hers.

They were all asleep by the time she finished cleaning Gabe’s wound. She slowly rested his head on the pillow and silently walked upstairs. Miguel was waiting for her in the living room.

The room was dark. He’s sitting on the couch, elbows on his knees and hands clasped together over his lips. He’s staring at nothing. Even in darkness, she can see the intensity in his eyes. It wasn’t fear. It was something new Ana couldn’t figure out what it was.

“Are they still out there?” she said lowly.

“I heard three patrol cars pass by in the last 30 minutes,” he said, still staring at the darkness.

She sat beside him and placed her hand on his lap. “What is it?” she asked.

He shook his head and pressed his index finger on his temple. “He always does this,” he said. “Involving everyone his problems. He did it to mom and dad, and now us!”

“It’s not just his problem,” she said. “It’s our problem too.”

“Yes, because he barged in here without any consideration for our safety,” he met her gaze for the first time since she entered the room. “I have done everything I could to keep us safe and I have. He ruined everything.” He sighed, holding back the tears. “And now they’re after our daughters.”

“It’s always been our problem,” she cupped his face. “We just chose to ignore it. And now—it just came knocking at our door.”

He laid his head on her lap, searching for any sort of comfort in the night. It was over, they both knew it. The attention they both tried to avoid has found them.

“So what do we do now?”

He didn’t answer and simply stayed on her lap. Ana turned on the radio, listening for any news about the rebels in the area.

***

5:55 AM

Neither of them got any sleep. Five minutes from now, they have to put on their uniforms, the most innocent face they could muster and face the day.

Miguel’s head is still resting on her lap. They could stay home, she thought. But that would seem suspicious. It might raise questions.

The radio didn’t say anything about the rebels. They reported about bombing their base and encouraged anyone to come forth with any information. Anyone who can point in the direction of any rebels will be rewarded. She figured that maybe, one of her neighbors is desperate enough to turn them to the authorities. She couldn’t blame them. These are desperate times.

Both of them jolted when they heard the basement door open. They looked better than last night. They had more color in them. They’ll live another day, Ana figured.

“It’s not yet safe,” Miguel said. “They’re still patrolling the house.”

“Once the street is busy, we’ll sneak out in the back” Gabe explained. He didn’t move and held their gaze.

“There is still time,” Gabe continued. “You don’t have to bring a lot. Just the necessary ones.”

They knew what he was suggesting, but that meant leaving this comfortable house they worked so hard to protect. But it wasn’t safe anymore. It never was. The night had shattered that illusion.

They had to make a decision fast. How far can they get? How long will they survive? How will they survive.

The clock is ticking.

6:00 AM

The radio went static and a familiar voice came

I am a citizen of this country, the home of my ancestors
This land nourishes and protects me
I offer my heart, mind and body
To this great nation