Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Marriage and the importance of fending for yourself

"Do you ever have those moments when you think, 'Oh, so this is what marriage is like...'?"

My dad had asked while we were in the car, on our way to I-forget-where. I knew that he meant it in terms of discovering things about my husband M that I never knew before, where you substitute "marriage" to "he" so that the statement becomes "Oh, so this is what he's like, really." But I guess the thing about being together for almost nine years before you get hitched is that it's pretty hard to hide your true colors from each other for almost a decade.

No, the thing you discover about marriage is not so much about your partner, but about yourself.

And I have discovered a very important thing: I'm a 32-year-old with no life skills.

I say this after almost three weeks of living in our own place. I mean, I knew this about myself, of course, but just knowing I don't know how to cook becomes an entirely different deal when you're alone in the condo, hungry, and staring at a can of corned beef and not knowing what to do with it.

And it's not just the cooking. I don't know how to iron clothes. I don't know how to do the groceries. I don't know how to prepare a marinade, much less marinate the meat. I don't know how to clean the bathroom. It has become appalling to me how I've reached this age without knowing all these things.

I know it makes me look like some sort of sheltered, pampered princess. And I know that I probably should have made an effort to learn while I was still at home, before I got married. But there was something in me that just refused the idea of learning at home. I didn't want it to be some afternoon of "Oh, I'm not so busy today, I think I'll go learn how to iron a shirt" then I would go back to my "regular" life. And the truth is, I guess I just took it for granted that I had clean shirts and good food.

So right now, what I'm discovering about marriage is that it's a very humbling experience. Now I have to accept that I'm a beginner at everything. I learned to use our washing machine during our first week, so I've been able to do the laundry for us. My first attempt at ironing was a failure (meaning, the shirts were just slightly less wrinkled than when they got out of the dryer), but I figured out where I went wrong and tried again today. I did a much better job today.

I also learned how to cook hotdogs. M laughed when I told him I just followed the instructions on the packet, and his exact words were, "I never even knew there were instructions on the pack! You just put them there and cook them!" My first attempt was okay, but I think I undercooked them the second time I tried because they tasted slightly like paper (still edible, but weird enough for me to think that it didn't taste quite right). M told me, "Don't be afraid of overcooking or burning it. Be afraid of undercooking it." So then I learned to not be afraid of the sizzling, frying sounds and instead trust them as signs that I'm doing it right.

Marriage is a humbling experience because knowing that there's just the two of us now, we have to be able to take care of each other. And the reality is, M has been taking care of me for the past three weeks, largely by making sure I don't starve. But even if I wasn't around, he would survive. That wouldn't be true if the tables were turned. It's humbling to realize how much I need him, and how much I need to work so that we are on equal footing in this relationship, capable of both giving and receiving care.

It's also very humbling to realize that if you don't do it --whether it's cleaning the toilet, taking out the trash, or other equally icky jobs-- no one else will do it for you. So I can't just pick what I want to learn; I have to learn everything. More than once, I have thought to myself that this is probably what I would advise the young-and-single: either live by yourself or help out around the house more. Either way, you really do need to learn to be self-sufficient. I may be a little late in the game, but at least I'm learning now. Google has been especially helpful in this journey.

And so I celebrate the littlest achievements, the ones that people would probably roll their eyes at. Like buying a nice set of sheets at a bargain. Or cooking a cheese omelette successfully. Or figuring out just the right settings in our washing machine and the right ratio of liquid detergent to fabric softener. Because I know that each little achievement is a step to the bigger things. And someday soon, I'll get to the point where I can cook without reading a recipe and I'll be able to do more than just wash the dishes and vacuum the floor.

Someday soon, I'll be a 32-year-old that has the life skills needed not just to survive, but to thrive.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Piano

As I brushed my teeth this morning, I heard a piano play in the distance. It was my neighbor playing. It wasn't anything fancy; I knew it was a simple exercise just to start the day.

I smiled because I remembered myself so many years ago, when I couldn't let a day go by without touching those black and white keys. I would sit on the bench, touch the keys, and forget the world as I began to play.

My music teacher offered to give me lessons after school. I would let myself into the music room after hours, flex my fingers, then begin playing the latest challenging piece she threw at me. My fingers flew across the keys faster than I thought I could manage. My shoulders bore the effort of pounding on the keys as loudly as I could, then relaxed as I settled into the quiet notes that would end the piece. I would close my eyes to savor that last note, and when I opened my eyes, my teacher would be sitting at the farthest end of the room. "Again," she would say, and I would lose myself in the melody all over again.

It was years of putting in an hour every evening to practice exercises and long pieces, of struggling to learn new melodies and perfecting them, of losing and finding myself in the music.

Then life happened.

I entered college and found myself in a new world, new relationships, new interests. I busied myself with things like choir practice and org meetings, and the piano began to gather dust. Before I knew it, years had passed since I last touched the piano.

One day, I found myself staring at our piano. Untouched, unloved. Tentatively, I sat on the bench and found it uncomfortable. I touched the keys and thought the magic would simply come back to me. It didn't. I found myself clumsily trying to get through an exercise I used to know by heart. I tried to read the notes and play along, but my hands refused to catch up to the notes my brain knew how to play.

And I felt a deep shame come over me, as I knew that the same neighbors who would stop during their evening stroll to hear me play were the same neighbors who would now bear witness to my failure. The glory days were over, and I was too proud to start all over again.

I shut the piano with a bang, stood up, and hurried back to my room. I tried to forget how, a few minutes before the final bell would ring, I would shake my hands under my table to loosen them up for the coming lesson. I tried to forget that rush that came with playing a piece perfectly from beginning to end. Most of all, I tried to forget the heady feeling of knowing that I had the power to create something beautiful that I could contribute to the world, if only for a few minutes.

I had forgotten that gifts needed to be nurtured. Now I needed to forget that I had that gift at all, if only to avoid being eaten up by regret for all that could have been.

Eventually, my mom decided to sell the piano. I was moving to my own place and there was no room for it there. In a few years, my parents would be downsizing into a condo unit and there would be no place for it there either. An old couple bought it for their grandchild who was just starting lessons. I wasn't home when they took it. I didn't say goodbye.

As the final notes of my neighbor's piano played, I realized that in all the years that had passed, nothing ever quite came close to the passion I felt as I played then. I looked at my hands, the hands that no longer play, set them on the bathroom counter as they touched the black and white keys from memory, and closed my eyes to savor that last, perfect note with a smile.

Friday, October 2, 2015

What sticks

We hadn't seen each other in 15 years, but we all hugged like the old friends we've always been. M introduced us to her colleague saying, "I wouldn't have graduated high school if not for these two."

Later, after reminiscing about how C and I had rallied M to copy from us and study our notes just so she could pass, M told us how she enrolled in culinary school and graduated with third honors. "Naisip ko talaga, siguro proud kayo sa akin ngayon," she told us wistfully.

More than being proud of my friend, what she said got me thinking about just how much of an impact we can make in someone's life. Not having the right size of paper for a surprise quiz or a long test never became her excuse because I, a walking office supplies store, gave her paper and lent her ballpens too. C photocopied all her notes and turned them into handouts for exams. Together, we came up with codes, gestures, and special ways of sitting in our chairs that would make it easier for M to copy off us. I wonder if our teachers ever knew, and if they did, if they let it slide because they knew we just wanted our friend to graduate with us. And graduate, she did.

We always like to PM each other random things, but when B sent me this screencap of a post by my ex, it really got me thinking. Forget that he's my ex-- what he said about "teaching me to be neat" never happened. I mean, I never actively and consciously taught him anything. This whole business of using a ruler when I highlight passages was just the way I studied then. I never encouraged him to follow suit, or drop subtle hints by giving him a ruler and a highlighter. I just did my own thing. And now, 10 years after we had broken up and now that I'm happily married, I find that my little quirk had stayed with him.

It made me realize that we never really know how we affect people with the things we actively do for them, and the things we do without realizing that they're watching and taking notes. And sometimes, you never even get the opportunity to find out what impact you've made in life. So all you can do is try to be positive, be kind, be good, and hope that somehow you touched someone's life for the better.

The operative word is TRY. The truth is, deep down inside, all the trying can be exhausting. It is so tiring to be good. It's so draining to always be understanding. It's so difficult to keep that positive spirit burning, especially when things don't seem to be working out as they should. It is an immense pressure to be everything for everyone all the time that sometimes you just want to run away from it all. Or break down in a coffee shop. Or throw things. Whichever works at the moment.

How do you get out of that dark place and keep trying? You think of the moments that have stuck with you, the things that others have done for you and have stayed in your heart without them ever knowing. The impromptu slow dance. That hug right when you needed it. The meme that was sent to you at a time you didn't think you could laugh. The people who matter. The dreams you build together. The memories you've yet to share.

And so you take a deep breath, dry your eyes, and walk out of the coffee shop or whatever retreat you've made for yourself, armed with a new resolve to keep trying.

Be kind. Be good. You may fail some days, but just get up and try again tomorrow. You never know whose life you touch by just trying every day to be kind, be good.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Married life, in bullets

So far, marriage has been about...

- towel stealing
- tickle torture
- 24/7 exposure to farts, burps, no makeup look, messy hair, and ratty pambahay
- front-row seats to tantrums and meltdowns
- waking up with a start in the wee hours of the morning to freezing-cold feet pressing against your leg
- being at work very early in the morning or until late at night, depending on the other's work schedule
- not seeing other friends as often as before since you now have someone else's schedule to consider

Then again,

Marriage has also been about...
- laughing at stupid YouTube videos together
- 24/7 access to hugs, kisses, back rubs,  and reassurances that everything will be okay
- being told that you're beautiful/handsome even if you're in ratty pambahay, your hair is a mess, and you've yet to shower
- having someone that waits for you to come home
- falling asleep to the sound of their breathing
- not minding the other person's snoring because it somehow lulls you to sleep, and at least you're sure they're still breathing
- waking up in the middle of the night to put a blanket over the other person, then get pulled into a hug while they're still asleep
- knowing that you've married your best friend
- building a home together
- dreaming together

The good outweighs the "bad", always. ❤️

Sunday, March 8, 2015

What people don't tell you about being married

"So, kumusta ang buhay may-asawa?"

After being married for all of 36 days, I still don't know how to answer this. For now, I resort to "Eto, parang nagbabahay-bahayan lang!" But in truth, it's because I don't know how to explain it.

That everything is still the same as it had been before we got married. He still instinctively holds out his hand while we're walking, with complete faith and trust that I will be there to take it. He still says, right after parking the car, "Kasya ka ba dyan?" as if to imply that I am anything but sexy, because he knows that I will look at him indignantly with my signature pout-- and I do. He still can't make up his mind if he wants to go to the gym, sleep, have dinner out, or stay home, because he wants to do all of the above all at the same time-- and I end up giving him the pros and cons of each until he finally makes up his mind.

It is still the same.

And yet everything is different too. While we're still living in my parents' house and we have only one car, I find myself waking up at 3:30AM so that I can be ready to leave the house with him at 4:45AM, in time for his 6AM shift. And on the days when I don't have to head to the office, I'm still woken up to the sound of him getting ready, and I'm half-awake as he kisses me goodbye before leaving. I never had this before we were married, but now my mornings seem incomplete without it.

It's different because my room used to be my own space. I was comfortable with my own kalat. But now it is his space too, and I find myself clearing the closet, cleaning a corner, cleaning and clearing to make space for him. I find myself thinking of ways to make it a more restful space for both of us, because now I have front-row seats to how tired he really is after work.

It's different because now, we don't have to send links to each other through Viber. We can just watch them together and laugh until our stomachs ache together. We don't have to schedule conversations because we can just look at each other and say whatever is on our minds, right then and there. While I do miss the Viber emoticons, there's nothing like the real thing too.

Everything is different, and yet it's all the same.

Today at Mass, I looked at him and realized: this is our life. This has been our life for the past nine years (36 days of which we've spend married), and we've got a long way to go. Many more years of teasing each other, random conversations, shared meals, sitting in traffic together, and all of the other mundane activities that make up everyday life. This is it. This is our life.

And I wouldn't have it any other way. :)