How We Came To Be

 

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Chapter One

LIBBY

December 2015

 

It’s New Year’s Eve. I’m hearing the cling-clanging of the plates being set up by Terry in the backyard where we all eat dinner every night before welcoming the new year. It’s one of the many traditions we agreed as a family years ago. One other unshakable custom is our mandatory recipe showdown.

It could be experimental or just something you could easily mock from a cookbook. Mom made the shepherd’s pie she’d been telling us about over dinner. She said she got the idea from the rare Irish cookbook given as a Christmas gift by Tita Raleigh. I’ve yet to know what my dad and Terry had come up with. I like to surprise myself with their concoctions.

“Libby!” I hear my dad call from the kitchen. “What’s up?” I hoist myself up on the counter next to him and look at the Pyrex he’s handing to me.

“Take this and put that thing over there. Layer it nicely please,” he points his lips to the pan and saucepot on the stove. “I don’t think we’re allowed to help each other, ‘tay. Mom’s gonna be pissed off when she knows.”

His eyebrows furrow into a deep pit. “I know,” He says with a sigh as he continues to grate the ricotta cheese on a little platter. I love how my dad is so serious with all the quirky family stuff my mom invented. That’s just his best quality. “Don’t tell your mom, okay? I just really need your hand for this one, Ibyang.” I roll my eyes and stick my tongue out at him. “Mom told you not to go all fancy-schmancy with your dish. Don’t risk your back’s life for this.”

A month ago, we left my dad alone at home by himself to go visit my grandparents in Montana. We wanted to go as a family but since my sister Terry was in school miles and miles away and my dad had work, he insisted to stay at home to watch over the house instead.

We were a few days shy from coming back home when my mom’s phone rang and I could hear a cranky voice on the other line saying, “Your husband came over for some Tylenol. At eleven! AT ELEVEN!”

Mom’s eyes widened in horror. I pressed my ear close to the back of her hand. “What happened to June?” “He crouched down when an orange fell from his grocery bag and broke a bone. Probably his spinal cord. Heard it right from June himself.” Judith the Wicked Witch of the West told my mother and laughed annoyingly like a hyena.

So, the trip got cut short because of an orange my dad had tried to saved. I wanted to go home, anyway. Montana was a little too far from home and I didn’t like being a little too far from home on a school week. The sights around were definitely something to blog about. But, still. My dad might be in interim pain but my mom and I wanted to go home and make sure it wasn’t anything more than just a little yawch for help.

“I’m fine,” he says casually patting his back to check if he really is. “Drop the noodles in the bowl, and pour the sauce in. Toss it around. I’ll put the ricotta and the sauteed veggies later,” dad said. Just as I was scraping the remains of the tomato sauce on top of the spaghetti noodles, I feel my phone vibrate and ding! ding! in my pocket. A notification, probably.

I set the bowl up on top of the counter for a while and reach for my phone. “Ibyang?” I turn my head up to my dad. “Yup?” “Where’s your dish?” “I’m on dessert this year so I made it pretty earlier. It’s in the freezer.” He wipes his hands on the dishcloth and opens the freezer. “Tatay! That’s a surprise. You have to wait for dinner,” I say as I put my phone down and push his face away from the coolness of the freezer. “I was just trying to cool my face down, honey. Ang init!” It’s a Filipino phrase for It’s hot! And, true. It’s a weird and unsettling sticky feeling for New Year’s Eve.

I hurry back upstairs to get dressed. I was worrying about having nothing new to wear tonight of all nights for Pete's sake. Even if I only get to celebrate it with my parents, my sister and sometimes Toby and Kate, which are in fact the oldest people in my life. They won’t really care. But, it’s a tradition of my own that I like to keep up on. I like to wear things I purchased for myself with the small money I get from part-timing as a babysitter next door for the Lopez’s.

Tonight, I’m wearing a skater dress with navy blue chevron stripes, and I let Kate do my hair into a five-strand braid that sits pretty on my left shoulder. I asked her if she knew the twists and turns of five-strand because it certainly looked like it had taken a thousand fingers to be able to get done in no time. Kate only had ten but she did it better than how the hairstylist or stylists from the magazine worked on Hailee Steinfeld’s on the latest issue of Teen Vogue. 

Of all the things my best friend Kate was great at, this was my personal favorite. I wasn’t blessed with hands concerned with hair maintenance and styling. That is why I just often let it down whether I’m in school or at home. When it’s hot, I usually tie it into a messy bun without caring how it looked like on the top of my head.

I stare at myself in the mirror, looking for anything to retouch with my brush.

My phone vibrates yet again, and I reach out onto the center of my bed where it lays. I hit up Frgment, my blogging platform. It has a +2 cocooned in the red bubble on top of the app icon. My eyes gaze at the clock. It’s 10:03 PM. I haven’t logged into my blog today due to the amount of time it took me to finish studying and buying ingredients that called for the raspberry white chocolate mousse I had dog-eared from the cookbook my grandma had given me from the Montana trip. I tap the Frgment icon and my dashboard appears.

My schoolmate Chris signed as imchrislinklater shows on top wishing everyone a happy new year. As well as some not-so-strangers I’ve been following for a while which go by annarodrigo, bedcastleheads, graceyourlulu, bookafillia (a book blog that I like), and a bunch of other names that I see every day when I check into my blog.

I scroll past some greetings and Monthly Favorites posts some more until my eyes are no longer wide awake, a little close to bagging down. Oh God, not tonight. I am not yet tired. My family can’t enjoy the mousse and the other dishes without me. I exit the app for awhile and lay my phone down beside me.

I don't know why, but I get distraught by a number of things brought by blogging. There are tendencies when I repeatedly slide the screen down to refresh my feed even after just a minute of doing it again. I check into Frgment again and see that I’ve left my notifications unopened, still reflecting a +2 inside the bubble. I tap it open and wait at the screen. One of my favorite bloggers slash internet friend Lia who owns lilacskies messaged me after her long hiatus. She’d been gone a while. College stinks, she says at the bottom of her message. It keeps me apart from blogging and my internet friends. I take a mental note to write back to her later before I go to bed.

I gape at the second notification. It was from piercinglyurbane. Oh my god is this real?! I touch my arms. FREAKING piercinglyurbane!  “Piercing me what?” Terry shouts from her bedroom, technically just a leap away from mine. I didn’t know that I literally have shouted that out loud. It’s becoming an unforgivable habit. “Nothing,” I say as I get up and slam the door shut behind me.

It says:  

piercinglyurbane started following you 38 minutes ago.

I’m already following him before he even knew about mine. He writes the most heartfelt short poems and stories you’d ever stumble upon online. His words just feel like a warm gulp of fresh air in my lungs. And his emotions are a little bit out-there but, it’s sweet. There’s nothing to read that’s too overboard. He has this mysterious vibe to him, judging from the words he uses that appears not to be so foreign from his pieces.

I’m happy that he followed me back. But now, I have no idea what to do. It’s like he threw me the ball, and it’s my turn to make a move and do something. Even though it was just a simple follow, it still meant something much more to me. It was piercinglyurbane. It wasn’t just any random blogger pinned on the Recommendations area whom I didn’t know.

So, I decided to pull out the chat box and type in his username. Oh my god what are you doing, says my concerned subconscious. It’s just a little thank you note plus a happy new year. My fingers punch in:

Hey, thanks for following! Happy New Year :)

A few minutes later, the chat box dings. It really amazes me how someone can be secretly alive though they appear dead in public. He hasn’t updated his blog for a while now. His last post was dated 26th of December, and that’s pretty inactive in Frgment.

Maybe he was out on a little follow hunt when he found my blog. I’m hoping against hope that he didn’t backread all the way, though.

It may be a personal blog to be read by the internet public, but there are still pretty much some useless garbage posts that I’m too lazy to budge and throw away in the trash. There are only quite a handful of people who knows about my blog, and I intend to keep it that way. If there’s only seven of them (Toby, Kate and my sister included), then seven remains seven. Having people from school browsing my blog is like having strangers lurking over your drawer of underwear.

I tap open our chat box and it read:

Thank you for following me, too. Happy new year!

Piercinglyurbane replied to me. And, even though he may have already replied these same, plain set of words to a bunch of other people who have thanked him as well for taking a look at their blogs and hitting the +Follow button, I don’t really care. He talked to me. I flopped down on my bed and breathed in and out happily like a kid who’d just known how to ride a bike without training wheels.

I gaze at the clock on my phone. Still an hour before the new year. 

I silently wished that it was past twelve o’clock now, so I could mark it down as the first good thing that’s happened to me the whole year.

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Chapter Two

PEEJ

December 2015

Pearce Jong-soo Kan,

       As one of the most athletic korean swimmer of the previous Gangwon Swim Team, You are requested and qualified for the Asian Swimming Competition to represent the South Korean province Gangwon. The competition is to be held in the Philippines’ Swimming Event Centre on November 2016. Your approval should be sent to this email: chanwon33@email.com. Please have your parents sign below for the permission of attending the said competition. We would be immensely grateful should you approve of being one of the representatives. More information shall be given in the email mentioned.

I read my name for the hundredth time written across the slightly crumpled white paper. My eyes travelled across the sentences and repeated the words “Swimming Competition”. My brows furrowed then I folded the paper back to how it was before. I ruffled my hair back as I sighed audibly. I could just act like I didn’t receive this. I thought idly, throwing the letter on the farthest side of my desk. I leaned back on my dad’s old office chair then covered my face with my hands.

As I was worrying over my silly crisis, Scott walked in casually with a huge smile plastered across his face, holding a package in his hands. “Hey, Peej-boy! What’s hangin’?” He said as he threw himself headfirst on my bed, clutching a brown box with his left forearm as he turned on his back then his other limbs imitated that of making an angel on snow.

“You look happy. Did you finally get rid of your stalker?” I raised a brow as I looked his way. His face compressed into a frown, meaning he hadn’t, but his face instantly held a grin once more, “Guess again.” Then he held up his package. “Tadah! I got a package!” “From who?” I asked squinting my eyes as I shifted my legs on the chair to look closer. “From my dad. It says, ‘Happy New Year, son. Be good to your mother.’ Haha.”.

“His gift is kinda early. It’s just New Year’s Eve.” I said as I scooted closer with my chair to the bed. “Well, at least it’s not late.” we shrugged at each other. Scott sat up then proceeded to open it and I sat patiently with curious eyes. He opened the box and there it had a scarf and the video game that Scott had always wanted to have. We both looked at it with awe as Scott lifted the disk cover from the box and raising it up as if it was a very rare treasure.

“It’s… It’s a—“ Scott looked at it dreamily. “bird?” I laughed and he gave me a cynical look, “No, it’s a plane. Anyway, you wanna play it now?” he asked excitedly. I shook my head, “Nope, I’m good for now. I have to help mum grill BBQs later. You know how she is about New Year’s Eves.” “Ugh, man. What’s with that lame excuse?” he stood up, taking a stacked indoor chair and pulling it towards my desk. He placed his package on the desk gently and lovingly whilst audibly whispering, “I got you love.” to the box as he sat down. I rolled my eyes and pulled my chair towards the desk as well.

“Hey, what’s this?” he asked as he took the letter I was dreadfully reading moments ago. I leaned on the desk. “It’s just a letter about competing in a swimming competition.” I said casually, not trying to sound agitated. “Really? Are you going to compete?” he asked as he looked into the contents. “Nah.” I stood up and reached for the stereo to play some music.

“Woah there swaggie, this is an “Asian Swimming Competition”. It’s a competition of like, the whole Asian continent, or maybe not, but still, this is a big thing, man!” he exclaimed as he lifted the paper to me. “I know. But I don’t want to compete.” I said as I turned the volume up with the song Kamikaze by MØ being played.

“Why the bloody hell not? This is an amazing opportunity! Is it because you’re like, just half Korean and you think that’s not good enough? C’mon man, that doesn’t even matter!” he uttered, gobsmacked. I sighed audibly, “She’ll be there!” I gritted my teeth as I sat down and leaned on the desk again. “Who?” he asked cluelessly, his face scrunched up in the most incredulous way it can get. I looked at him like he said something stupid, then after a while, he seemed to get the idea as he squints his eyes, “Is this about that childhood Eun-ji girl you’ve been yabbering about since you were 9?” I nodded, “She’s still part of that swim team.” I said, sighing as I ruffled my hair back.

“So what, man? It’s been, what, 8 years? I’m sure she’s forgotten all about your bloody barry.” He folded the paper and put it back in the envelope then stood up. “If I were you, I wouldn’t give a rat’s arse if she’d be there. I’d find my cozzie and compete.” He remarked as he took his package and held it beside his waist.

I stayed silent and stared vacantly at the old khakis I currently wore. I heard him sigh, “You can be a bloody stubborn bastard, so my advice won’t hit hard enough. But you still have 10 months to think this through. Anyway, I’m going back. You should come at my house anytime if you’re up to play this new game together.” “Yeah. Thanks man.” I gave him a measly grin as we did what we liked to call our “brotherhood handshake”.

After he left, I leaned back again on the chair and stared at the envelope. I closed my eyes for a minute then opened them again, hoping the envelope was all just a big illusion and I could act like I didn’t read anything. But there it was, still lying, slightly crumpled, on my 12 year old mahogany desk. I sighed yet again like a buggered old man and thought of checking my Frgment account to forget about the letter. It's amazing how doing something can temporarily keep your mind away from your worries. I opened my drawer and took out my laptop and turned it on. The next song playing became If You Will by the Starless Avenue. This is one song that gets to me the most, which is probably because of the way it was so candidly sung, and the way its metaphors are woven into forthright phrases. Like a paradox. Contradicting, but making sense.

As the login page of Frgment shows up and I type in my username and account, I sang along with the song.

Imagine, if you will, the stars burning up at your expense,                                                                                                       As though your existence alone can pay the universe’s price

I logged in and saw +13 highlighted with a red blob on the notif icon. I clicked on it with a grin on my face. They were all about likes, comments and reblogs about my poems.

Smile, if you will, at the way the sun shines to greet you                                                                                                              And then your smile can be your way of greeting it back

I scrolled down more and saw an old notif that someone had followed me some ages ago: auliviamatte. I saw the notif before just as soon as I had to go to sleep, and consistently promised--and consistently forgetting--I’d follow back as soon as I had the chance, and I guess that chance can be now, it's just two clicks away anyway. I clicked the url and checked out their blog. An organized and neat blog filled the screen, with a cool font face that makes the words easy to read. I saw the side profile and found that the blogger is a she. I clicked follow at the upper side of the blog and decided to hang around the blog for a while.

And if you ever find yourself walking my way,                                                                                                                      Please love me, if you will, the same way I shall

The blog consisted of a variety of some reblogs and some personal posts, some “currently” posts and others are excerpts of some sort. I read some thoughts post and I smiled instantly at the accuracy of her words and the simplicity of the whole arrangements. I clicked constantly on previous pages that never seemed to end, scrolling through series of pictures and posts.

“Auliviamatte, huh?” I said to myself as I scan my eyes through her blog. I rubbed my eyes and leaned back, “Auliviamatte… Au-li-via-mat-te? How is it pronounced?” I wondered aloud as I looked back at the screen, squinting my eyes at the blog's small font.

“Pearce! A little help here, please?” Mum yelled from our backyard. I lowered the volume of the stereo to shout back an “Okay!” when I heard clanging sounds, a little shriek, then another call of “Pearce!”.

“Just a minute!” I yelled back as I put my laptop to sleep and turned the stereo off, then briskly jogged through the house, making my way to our little backyard, where we’ll hold the New Year’s Eve BBQ party.

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Chapter Three

LIBBY

 

Auliviamatte was my chosen Frgment URL. URL, according to my trusty ole internictionary is the shorter term for uniform resource locator. But since I’m in no league and of no insane mind to prolong any related discussions by saying that, we amateur bloggers prefer calling it URL. I have been with my blog and my blog has been with me for two and a half years now. I didn’t know what I was doing, until suddenly I did. I was never up for anything serious then, at fifteen. Much any less at school, much more on the internet. I just liked looking at pretty pictures that I scroll past by on the internet which was my entryway to the world of Frgment, Inc. Kate had an account, and she showed it to me once. It was filled with all the things she liked.

Pictures of boys like James Franco, flowers (we share this same love) like peonies by the window sill, and then unicorns and poop-sparkling stuff. The fifteen-year-old Libby thought that it was just a place for sharing random pictures that she fancied on the internet. In my dimension, that ranged from pictures of rainbow-colored balloons, fluffy clouds scattered over the skies like spilled cotton candy, the fiery stars and galaxies up ahead and beyond, wildflowers growing in the sunshine, raindrops on the window pane and car windows, and lots and lots of food porn. (Uhm, whoops?) I mean, mouth-watering Italian deep-dish pizzas and crinkle fries slathered with hot cheese. Oh, man I’m done.

It was my kind of reality in pictures. Day-to-day things that anyone can easily bet on their source of happiness. I was one of those people, and my blog revolved around that side of my life. But then, that was the past me. I’m kinda proud that the present Libby isn’t as weird and too-vibrant on Frgment’s dashboard anymore. She doesn’t need to repost anything to reassure herself that they really exist in the world. Now, I have the guts to take pictures of everything that I want to share with my co-bloggers, wherever they may be. I can even write articles and short captions about it. All up to anything that pleases me. Solely reposting, for me, isn’t essentially the point of blogging. The documentation process is what I live for. I can tell about my days through pictures and small sentences or I could go with a prose or a line from my favorite movie. When I write, I pour my heart out, and all of its content comes tumbling down on the screen right before my eyes.

Every once in awhile, you will need a classic ventilator for all your pickle-jarred thoughts and experiences. With my first blog, I knew that I just really liked luring myself in with the pretty and colorful pictures that caught my attention. It was something that I believed I was good at, two years ago. I was a curator of an amalgam of happy and sad and pretty things.

As much as I like documenting bits of my life on Frgment, I have also delinquently chosen to keep my blog away from limelight which certifiably includes school, some people from Photo de journ and our relatives (especially Brad, mum’s brother). Uncle Brad is the most disgusting person known to mankind. I’m not even sure if he’s human. He’s obnoxious and gruesome. I’d rather watch a twenty four-hour marathon of The Walking Dead than to go hiking with him on a weekend. He dropped off of college two years ago only to find out that all he’d be spending his life doing is to wait tables at a diner near Grotesque Avenue.

It was a fine and eventful summer afternoon ago when Kate and I were in the kitchen chatting over some ganache about the Husby boys, Jack and Fallon, who came over with their parents. They were in college playing for the state lacrosse team. Tatay was friends with their mom, I believe they were classmates in high school back in the Philippines. Not really sure. Jack and Fallon, along with their parents, were in the living room which apparently is only a wall away from the kitchen. We were enthralled to talking and snickering and whispering that I’ve forgotten about Brad in the house, sleeping like a pig in its pen. He had awoken from his deep-fried snooze about thirty minutes since the Husby’s entered the t.v. room. Intoxicated, as always and forever he will be, he walks, a mug with Homer Simpson slumped in a La-Z-Boy in hand, to the back door like a penguin and stops when he sees me and Kate.

I pretend like I didn’t feel him walk in the open doorway to the kitchen, so we go on sharing fantasies like my uncle was Casper. Kate rooted for Jack, whom she believed was stealing glimpses here and there from her when we opened the front door for them. I rooted for Fallon. He could be into modelling. I could see him in a Calvin Klein catalog like being a person is only a part-time job of his. I even drool at the idea of his blue eyes looking back at mine. He’s too much for a person. Maybe he’s not? Maybe there are two kinds of nonhumans. One that’s plausibly an offspring of two gorgeous Greek gods, and one that’s just made of plastic and garbage. Fallon’s definitely the former, and Brad is, well.

Uncle Brad looks from Kate to me, and back again. I mouth and shrug. What? All he does is smile his sneaky-no-eyes-in-sight smile and crawl back to the living room with a peanut butter banana sandwich from the bar and the mug now filled with Coke in hands. Chills run down my spine as I soon realize that aside from being an obnoxious jerk, Brad can also be a snoop given an opportune time. Kate’s endless train of words soon begin to fade to my thread of hearing. It’s like Brad had purposely cut it so that I wouldn’t be aware of the things going on around me anymore. I’m no longer present in front of her but on the scene that my uncle was about to make in the living room. All we did was talk about the boys. And their bodies. “I think I’ve seen a pic of your Fallon shirtless in one of their guys’ parties,” Kate said with wide, tell-all eyes. Oh, God.

Then Brad was gone.

Next thing I know, I’m in my room. Crying from all the mortification and the scene my uncle had caused. Mum and tatay kept on apologizing to Mr. and Mrs. Husby and they kept on saying. “It’s okay, June. They’re kids.” I was surprised that Jack wasn’t even grossed out at Kate after hearing about how she gets orgasms every time he smiles. Although, I could see something else in the way Fallon looked into my direction. He wasn’t looking at me in the eyes. He was petrified. I was responsible for all that. Way to go, blabbermouths. I couldn’t solely blame my uncle for the damage that’s done. I was in it, too. But, he still owes me for eavesdropping and blasts out the living room with his annoying, croaky, look-at-me voice.

I sit in my room, waiting for Terry’s voice by the window to notify me about dinner. My window sill was just a floor away from the backyard, which is neither a good nor a bad thing. Good because I could easily peek at the world behind my mother’s washed curtains without anyone noticing. Although, there’s nothing really nice at all to see other than a swarm of trees outside and the picnic set laid all rustic and effervescent.

I turned my phone away for a while after logging into my Frgment account, and seeing that message from piercinglyurbane. I’m still, sort of, in cloud nine. Maybe, even cloud ten. Or eleven, twelve. . . I blow my bangs out of my eyes and get out of bed. I flatten the now-wrinkled waist of my dress in front of the mirror. My mind goes back to the response from him which caused me to be in an unusually cheery mood tonight. It made me smile, hearing from him even for the world’s shortest conversational time did. I was surprised, expecting a little less from him in communicating with other bloggers in private.

 

***

“Yorkshire’s a little farther from the Upper East,” Terry declares. Dad nods as he continues to ask about her dorm friends’ hometowns. I was gobbling down the last remainder of the mozzarella sticks she’d baked and dipping it into some store-bought marinara sauce. Terry was assigned by our mother for appetizer this year. She did this one better than the past New Year’s Eve cookouts. Last year’s cookout was pesky breakfast food. Eek. How insane were my parents when they decided to try something new by meshing it with something unoriginal.

I stand behind our little row of rose bushes and stare up into the night sky as the fireworks skyrocket into a burst of a hundred different colors. There goes teal, then blue, pink, red, orange and purple, and every hue in between. It was the prettiest fireworks display I have ever seen in my life. I don’t know why, but the past years’ exhibition have always felt glum to me. There’s nothing wrong with silver and gold, and there’s also nothing wrong with the change of schemes every now and then. It’s what the start of the year is about anyway. Starting every big and minuscule thing in full color.

10. . . 9. . . 8. . .

Tatay wrapped his arms around mum and kissed the top of her head. They were out by the fence, while my sister and I decided to watch the display in the back porch. “Look at those two, Lib,” she says, pointing her lips at our parents. “Don’t you wish for a story as riveting?” I stay quiet. Bougie’s nestled in the nook of my arm. I pat her ears as she frightfully closed her eyes to the sound of fireworks crackling around.

Love? What do I know about it? I don’t even remember the last time I’ve been in love or felt like I was on a delve for it. I’m so contented with my life right now. I got my whole family including my friends, the internet world, my blog projects, and my dog. I wouldn’t need anything more from the universe. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this load in my hands. The silence was a little unnerving. I didn’t mean to leave Terry’s question open in the air. No one was here to answer for her other than me anyway. So I crack my mouth open and out goes, “I don’t know. But right now, I couldn’t ask for more.” She smiles her toothy smile and lays her head on my shoulder.

“Happy new year, baby sister."

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