While you were ogling handsome men queueing up for some patio action, I was ogling people and places, period. My adventures these past few months have become even tamer than usual; this morning we spent a couple of hours going for gas and a car wash, with a quick stop for coffee and empanadas. I know, exhilarating. I’d been meaning to visit Super Bakers, a place that makes Filipino empanadas, but never got around to it because it’s rather far from the city core and would’ve entailed at least an hour on public transit. But now, with the car (which I have christened “Car”, I still don’t really know what to call it… Carolyn? Carlos? Carson Daly? Carmi Martin?) it’s accessible. And it being two minutes away from where we get gas doesn’t hurt. It was worth it. The empanadas were deelish – flaky, tasty, stuffed with goodness and not mystery meat. At $21 a dozen they don’t come cheap, but they’re a nice size so it’s fairly good bang for your buck.
The store signage made me giggle. No, it didn’t say “home of the original” or anything like that, it said “Super Bakers” in giant text, and went on to proclaim “Finest Empanadas, Hopia, and More!” underneath. I don’t know what they mean by “more!”, unless they’re talking about the lone cabinet that held UFC tomato sauce pouches, bihon and a collection of Mama Sita’s sauce mixes. All they sell are empanadas and hopia. That is all. There is no “and more!”. False advertising! But I won’t hate because it made me laugh and because they weren’t lying about their empanada being the finest. Not that I’ve tried all that many over here, but so far, I’ll give them the crown and intend to be a repeat customer – if they’ll have me, given all the shade I’ve just thrown.
I wanted to try out an automated car wash because I am an ignoramus and when someone says car wash, this is what I expect:
Which of course didn’t happen, because in the car wash of my dreams, I am Drew Barrymore as a Charlie’s Angel. This was the reality:
Two minutes tops, in and out. Very clinical, totally anti-climactic, but I had fun anyway. Like I said to a beloved professor two years ago: I’ll take it!
We decided not to take the expressway home and ended up driving through the Junction, a neighbourhood of Toronto I’d really only seen the tip (yes, just the tip) of before. It felt like the old Honda 50 days, driving around exploring the backroads of Batinguel to Valencia whenever Noreco II went on the fritz.
You really can’t keep a good Canadian in on a hot summer day, because people were strutting their stuff with no masks on, just shopping or walking about, or lining up at the LCBO. It almost felt normal again. Quarantine? What quarantine? COVID who?
It was nice to observe it all and feel like I was oot and aboot again, without truly being oot. I don’t think I’m ready to risk that just yet.
It’s one of those days that are so beautiful, you forget all the other bleary, grey days that have come before or will follow after. Summer is dying, but it’s dying beautifully, splendidly, a burst of green leaves and green grass, sweet corn, watermelons, strawberries and sunlight, warm and bright enough to make you smile.
Sometimes I think I don’t appreciate life here enough. Today, I had a brief few seconds where I stood on the balcony of our apartment on the seventeenth floor and realized that where I live is breathtaking in its own way. I can see Lake Ontario stretching away into the distance, its shoreline punctuated by apartment buildings, a blue expanse with three bobbing white triangles. They’re dinghys, moored on the water, the Toronto islands beyond them. A few cranes sit on top of buildings so tall they need no further embellishment. The cranes are silent and unused because today is Sunday. The roofs of houses peek through a veil of treetops, red tiles dressed in green, a green that will soon be replaced by the fiery orange of leaves that will start falling in just a few short weeks. I know this will soon fade, that the loveliness of today will end, and soon only the starkness of winter will be all that the eye can see. Snow will blanket all. But for today at least, just today, I allow myself to feel content.
Today, I felt hope. Today, I felt brave. Today, I was the younger self I had left behind, the fearless female who believed the whole world was for the taking. I have been a different me for far too long, letting myself be defined by the needs of others. I no longer want to be that way. If things end (and they do), today will be no less beautiful for it.
This is something I have not realized, or something I’ve known but denied for a very long time. I focus too often on ensuring things stay the same. But they don’t. All I can really do is face each day head on and appreciate what’s around me, being happy for as long as I can be. That is how I felt today, even if it was just for a few seconds.
There is so much to live for. To experience. To smell, to taste, to see and do and revel in. It all becomes white noise, fading in the background in the face of all the boring things adults must do to ensure a roof over their heads and food in their belly. I don’t have the freedom of having someone else to worry about that for me anymore. So I do it for myself.
The sun sets on everything. Everything. It is the one constant in the sea of change we all find ourselves swimming in, as hard as that can be to accept.
So I will try to remember today, and the moment I looked up to find myself surrounded by beauty. I will try to remember it, when times are hard and I question my choices, find myself wishing I could press the reset button, or when I feel so much pain and anger that there doesn’t seem to be anything else to feel. I will remember today and remind myself to stop, take a moment, and look up at the sky, because perfect moments are few and far between… but they exist. They do.
This entry is borne along the strains of RuPaul’s Glamazon, the soundtrack to my weekend thanks to Netflix acquiring all the older seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race and successfully roping me back into the world of wigs, catty bitchfests, cinchers, blending and peanut butter peanut butter peanut butter, all the things my life never really was and definitely wasn’t this weekend.
While I wish my life was that of a glamazon, all makeup and sky high heels stomping around like I rule the world, those days are long behind me. I spent the last day being thirty-six doing laundry. It’s decidedly unglamorous, instead of doing what I’ve made a point of doing on my birthday for the past six years, which is be somewhere else. I usually snap up fall flight sales in August, but this year I spent part of August in the Philippines and the beginning of September in Hong Kong, so I blew my wad too soon.
The tradition started a few years ago, when we ended up with an unexpected overnight layover on our flight back to Toronto due to the mechanical shenanigans of Delta Airlines. I never really mind airline schedule changes, for as long as I get to wangle a free night’s stay and a meal out of it. Anyway, there I was. Pensive on the morning of my birthday, staring moodily out the window at a particularly depressing Japanese landscape somewhere in the industrial wilds of Narita when I realized I liked it. I liked the idea of being somewhere else on my birthday. I’ve since spent birthdays in other places. I think a big part of it is the unconscious urge to escape reality, to run away from facing the fact that I have another year behind me, that I’m not getting any younger and sometimes feel directionless, the usual frustrations that come with getting older, the biggest being the fear of being stuck in a rut, feeling like life is quicksand dragging you down and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s melodramatic and self-indulgent, things I rarely allow myself to be, but it’s my birthday goddamnit. I am entitled to feel this way because once upon a time on this very day, I was happily suspended in amniotic fluid minding my own business, when all of a sudden I was very unceremoniously evicted from my comfortable, rent-controlled apartment, dragged out into the light of day, naked, wet, and forced to start living. I didn’t ask for any of this! I was fine!
So anyway, I spent my last day being thirty-six doing laundry, and online shopping for robotic vacuums. Yes. This is what my life has come to, researching the merits of robotic vacuums and spending time actually reading what people say about Roombas.
This somehow led to an argument with Le Hubs about habits, which turned into an argument about the merits of letting robotic things into the household and the possibility of Skynet and ridiculous bullshit that happens when you’re up at three in the morning, which ultimately got resolved by hugging it out, which I promise is not a euphemism for anything. It’s hard to stay mad at him, he’s a giant cuddly teddy bear. I hug him a lot.
We then ended up talking about going somewhere for breakfast and a birthday cake. If I can’t travel, I absolutely insist on having cake. It was a tossup between Dufflet, La Rocca, or something from Costco, which sounds ghetto, but isn’t. You haven’t lived until you’ve had cake from Costco, hunty.
We found Betty’s, a dive bar that does Sunday brunch buffets. It sounds a bit grimy and shady – and it is – but Betty’s has a character that makes you want to return. The walls are peppered with random posters and framed photos, the floors are dark and encrusted with decades of dirt, the lighting sketchy and the wall sconces are the metal halves of discarded colanders. It looks and feels like the shanty all the villains in Shrek hung out in to sadly play piano and stare moodily into beer pints that haven’t been thoroughly cleaned. It’s like the place hipsters emulate except it has zero pretension for anything other than what it is. That appeals to me. I wasn’t that big a fan of the brunch buffet – regular faves, eggs, bacon, benny, a make-your-own waffle corner, a carving area for ham and a smattering of fruit and what-have-you, nothing to write home about – but Betty’s is the kind of place I see myself hanging out in, playing a board game, nursing a beer (or some other drink because I don’t like beer) and just talking. Or not. Someone on Google reviews called it his own personal Cheers bar and I can see why. When we walked in, the barkeep greeted us with the warmest, most welcoming smile like a scene out of a movie. The servers were lovely and knew just when to leave us alone. None of that smarmy bullshit at most restaurants, the obvious drive-by with an “Everything okay?” that sometimes feels forced, or rote, or worse, disinterested in the actual answer.
I like Betty’s. So did Le Hubs, who said he would be back. I probably will tag along, but not for brunch. I’m trying the nachos.
Waddling out of Betty’s, we eventually picked up my cake (La Rocca, Cookie Butter) and parted ways because I wanted to see The Crimes of Grindelwald. I ended up not seeing the movie but came home with some Christmassy scented candles (White Pine! Juniper!), this years cards for my annual Christmas mailing list (want to be on it? Let me know!) and some loot from Sephora because it was a treat yo-self kind of day and they were celebrating Black Friday week with a 20% off discount on everything.
And that was how I spent my last day being thirty-six. Just being my regular self, trying a new place to eat, a bit of QT with Le Hubs. All very low-key and pared down. I can’t say I won’t overcompensate next year with a jaunt somewhere, but I feel thankful to have reached thirty-seven. I spent the day trying to confront my issues with aging and adulting and I’m not sure I’ve really looked it straight in the eye, but I came out of it feeling like I’m okay. I think I really am. I may not be stomping around like a panther on the runway, but I’m still wild and still an animal, even if it’s more in spirit than in body. And that’s okay. I am thirty-seven. I came through the last year unscathed, I got to make more memories worth remembering with the people I care about the most, and that is a phenomenon worth celebrating and being thankful for, sashay, chante!
“You can’t beat death. It’s un-fucking-defeated. And if you fight it, it will humiliate you. It’ll chain you to a bed and make someone have to wipe your shitty ass. It’ll make you forget who your own fucking kids are. It takes your dignity and it whips its’ dick out and pisses on it. When you’re younger and it comes for you, it’s worth it to fight it and suffer through the humiliation. When you’re older, what the fuck does it get you to go through that?”
My Grandma’s been reminding me she’s ready every chance she gets, and has done so for the better part of the last fifteen years. She’d probably have put it this way if she was a grumpy old coot with a gutter mouth and absolutely no filter, but she’s a retired teacher and a dignified lady, so she settles for “I’m already eighty-seven, you know.”
They say the best guests know exactly when to leave the party. If that’s true and life is a party, then you’re looking at the worst party guest ever because I would be the weirdo peeling herself off the wreckage on the floor of your apartment the morning after, helping herself to whatever is left in your refrigerator.
Being absolute crap at math worked in my favour a few days ago. I’d just come from one of Toronto’s many downtown parks, having taken a few prerequisite selfies and was in the process of deciding whether or not to share them on Instagram, when the reality of it all hit me. I would never be as young again as I was in that photograph. November is looming, and with it my birthday, and the number thirty-eight was flashing on and off. Illi, who is better at math than I am (and actually used his phone to ensure accurate calculations), said the number was thirty-seven. I felt slightly better. Like a stay of execution had been granted. I then realized I’d been living this past year thinking I was older than I really was, which is complete bonkers.
Still, forty is now within shouting distance which is such an intimidating idea. I always thought that I would, I don’t know, be a confident, self-assured other person I wouldn’t recognize. But the truth is, I feel like I am fundamentally the same person I was at sixteen. I might have a bit more experience and have picked up some emotional bruises and scars along the way, but why don’t I feel any different?
Maybe it takes having children – a step I never took – to become someone else, to be different, to evolve. But this isn’t about biological urges and my strange lack of them; this is about death and my strange inability to face it head on.
As each year passes, and a layer of cynicism (and fat, shut up) gets added to my slight and dainty frame, I can see how some have gotten to the point where they’re so sick of humans and the sick, sad world we’ve created, they’re willing to cast off this mortal coil. Not that everyone who’s ready to go is sick of humanity. They could also just be sick and tired of being sick and tired. Or they could also be graceful about the whole thing, acknowledging they’ve lived a full life and are ready to get off the train whenever. Whatever the reason, I think a person needs to be at a certain age and a certain point in life to really hunker down and accept the inevitable.
So here I am, still clinging tightly to life the way Kate clung to Leo in the middle of the Arctic. Although some days are darker than others, the world isn’t nearly sick or sad enough yet for me to want to leave it for the great unknown, not even if it sometimes feels like common sense doesn’t exist and humanity is a ball of entitlement and fakery. Living still feels good. I’m still aging disgracefully, and this whole breathing thing beats the not knowing.
I used to wonder why school reunions made adults so wistful. Why did they keep playing Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko at these things? Why would all the other oldies inevitably scream and enthusiastically make for the dance floor? I couldn’t grasp it. It was incomprehensible to me.
We spend our youth wanting to grow up, and spend our adulthood wanting to be young again. There’s finally enough mileage on the old engine for me to think I get it. Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko was to them what I Want It That Way is to us. Obviously cornball and ridiculously outdated, it’s the soundtrack to our youth – and sometimes music, like smell, evokes memories and emotions. It’s not so much being young, it’s feeling young, truly young, the way we used to feel when we didn’t have to pay rent and each day was an empty page to be filled with new and exciting stories, not a mindless slog to the office.
While I wish high school was the way it was in Clueless, the reality was a lot more grim. Thankfully, not Columbine grim – we didn’t fear school shooters as much as we feared mosquitoes that carry dengue – but teenagers always feel everything so keenly. High school for me was not always a fun time. High school is good to rich, attractive teenagers with seemingly effortless cool. It is very rarely kind to bepimpled, skeptical bookworms who don’t understand why always having the same things and going to the bathroom in packs are necessary.
I have always found it easier to befriend people with wills of their own, who have their own interests and aren’t afraid to pursue them. I felt fortunate to find people who – although way less awkward and bepimpled – were in their own way, iconoclasts. I like to think the friends I’ve made are all iconoclastic in their own way. We were all united in our shared respect for each other’s different interests. The main thing I have in common with all of them is a deeply twisted sense of humour, which we use as a crutch because life is absurd and laughter is the only way to get through it.
So our friendship, formed in our very early teens (and for two of us, childhood) and forged in the highly pressurized crucible we call high school, had miraculously survived the inevitable forces of growing up that cause us to drift apart. Things like college, career choices and immigration. Through it all we had stayed in touch and hung out with each other, but never as a whole. It had been almost two decades since our foursome had been complete, so like the first Avengers movie, we decided it was time. Boy am I happy we got together again.
What we don’t always realize is that high school forms the bedrock of our most cherished memories. The cruelty of it all is that we will never really get it back. One can only try to recreate it, which is why high school reunions are always a thing. We only decided to join this year because it was the 20th anniversary, and we all felt it was a milestone worth celebrating (i.e. join while your body still holds up to some extent and you still look relatively good in pictures.)
You can try to recreate a memory, but it will never truly be the same; the only way to get through it is to make new memories. And that, I think, we accomplished in spades.
I took an Uber tonight. It’s not something I do a lot. But tonight, I did. And it was like being in a time machine.
I wasn’t in Toronto, I was back in Cebu, on one of the many evenings in a cab on my way to work, like Cinderella in the evening, rushing. The driver took a route I had never tried before, cutting through parts of the city I had never seen. As it unfolded before me tonight like a new place to be explored, Toronto was a mysterious city waiting to be discovered and I felt a quiet sort of joy, savouring the sweet, delicious tang of curiosity. For a brief span of time, I was younger, the whole world before me. I was that girl again, and I realized I haven’t felt that way in a long, long time.