Episode 16 - A Christmas-Y Origin story


 (Music starts)

            Hello everyone! Kumusta ka! Welcome to today's episode. And welcome to the holiday season, I guess. I'm a bit late to the party, but it is what it is. Which is time. And that's an incredibly unforgiving thing.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            And this season can be fairly unforgiving too. For one, every time my family has had a funeral it feels like we're locking away a bit of potential to be jolly in each casket. On the other hand, like I said in an interlude episode back in August but about July, I will not be returning to the Philippines this year due to some logistical issues at a job that is otherwise perfect. Not that perfection is ever truly possible, but that really just justifies this podcast more than anything else.

            But yeah, I'm in an overly sentimental place right now. And look, there are a lot of holiday traditions worth talking about in Filipino culture. It's just maybe a little too early for that or not... I don’t know that feels like a bit of a conundrum. So how about we avoid it? Will you take a story instead? A story about the time I felt the most Filipino? That seems kind of, sort of fitting to the ongoing theme of origins.

            Because, honestly, this moment was foundational. I might have never started this endeavor or even cared about my heritage if this all hadn't happened. So it's just as much as an origin story as anything. Maybe consider it part 2 of the pilot. A very delayed part 2.

            Also, it’s kind of like a Christmas story. Because this happened in the Christmas season. Yeah that’s not a great justification, but it is what it is.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            I was sixteen when this had all happened. Sixteen years on the planet and three years without a father. So it sometimes felt like I was both sixteen and three. After all, his death had plunged me into a new and unforgiving world, and it felt like I was learning everything all over again. Also, I was in the terrible threes. As an adult looking back I can admit that as fact presented without a clear explanation but a suggestion that one turns to the academic literature for more. As a teenager, on the other hand.... Well, I liked lashing out. It made me feel good in the moment, so I kept doing that. And I mean, I could have always been a lot meaner about it.

            But that's not the point. Largely because I was actually on the tail end of all that. The sadness was starting to set in. Now, the 5 stages of grief you might have heard about aren't completely accurate. On a more daily level, you may bounce around a lot, but there were overarching phases for me. And I was entering into the depression stage right them but I wasn't quite there yet.

            I was mostly holding onto the bitterness related to the observation that life had moved on from that horrible moment. That the entire world didn't come screeching to a permanent halt because my dad had died. Not that any of that would have been practical, but it would have made me feel better for the brief moment before everything imploded. And yeah, it's hard to be future-minded in a time like that.

            But as a part of this cosmic "moving on," my cousin had met a nice young woman, fallen in love with her, and they were now getting married. And if that seems overly simplified, well, on one hand, you aren't entitled to any details. On the other, I wasn't keeping track of them. Mom would talk to at least one of her sister's every day, and she would try to relay any and all stories, information, and gossip to me, but I wasn't paying attention. Wedding talk did interest me, though, and suddenly I was roped back into the events of a family an ocean away that I hadn't seen in quite some time. But in a very impersonal, “isn’t that dress neat” type way.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            That being said, despite now being tuned into things, I was still taken aback when my aunt proposed my going. Alone. Alone because my mother still had my grandmother, her mother-in-law to look out for. And the nuances of that relationship didn’t matter her, my mom wasn't going to let my elderly grandmother fend for herself. So for a while, the conclusion was that no one in the American branch of our family was going to go. But my aunt persisted. After all, I was sixteen, old enough for some responsibilities, but not the type of responsibilities that would root me at home in the same way my mother was. I could manage. Especially when you consider most airlines have protocol for anyone under eighteen travelling alone.

            My aunt gave herself plenty of time to make the argument. It was her son getting married, after all. She probably knew what was coming long before the question was ever raised, allowing her to work without my mother's knowledge to convince her to let me fly out to the Philippines by myself and stand as a bridesmaid at his wedding. Sure, it was not a plan without its problems, but that didn't make it the worst possible plan. I could handle it, she swore. The flights wasn't that long compared to some of the school trips I had already taken, she argued, and it was only during those flights when I would be alone unlike my school trips.

            Most importantly, neither of my grandmothers were getting any younger. And their mom was constantly asking about me. And for me

            With that and the assurance that the airline would assist, my mother permitted it. Reasonable, one would think. But there was one problem we didn’t foresee. Not all airlines take all their responsibility seriously. And I had to travel with two different airlines to get there: one on a domestic flight to Los Angeles and one for an international flight to Manila.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            Now, this was happening in winter. If I had to take time off school there would have been no chance of my going. At all. Non-negotiable. So the wedding was book to be in my Christmas break. When snow was falling in other parts of the country but not my own. In fact, it wasn’t something I understood so much. But I knew the weather could cause problems. And it did. Which is all a long way of saying that the predictable happened: my first flight was delayed because the plane never got there, being trapped by the snow in a different city across the country. Delayed to the point that I missed my second flight.

            But in theory it’s something that can be fixed. An airline representative can rebook you on another airline’s flight, presuming they are partnered airlines, and that was the relationship between the two airlines I was going to fly on. Not the same but not strangers. Just able to get along.

            This is where things start to come undone. Because here's the thing. That first airline was not great. My mother was able to get passed security to sit with me at the gate, but that's all they gave us. There was no promise or a mention of an escort once I got to LA to navigate the very large airport, no plan to notify the flight attendants that I was an unaccompanied minor, and no thought that rebooking me standby on a new flight from LA to Manila during the busiest travel season of the year was probably going to cause problems.

            Because, yes, there was no getting me on that flight, and because I wasn't formally checked in with the second airline, I wasn't the (quote) responsibility of the airline that actually took responsibility for me in a latter part of the story that I won’t get into but maybe, technically, the responsibility of the one that dropped me off, who refused to assume it, arguing that sixteen was old enough to take care of oneself even if it was too young to check yourself into a hotel.

            Yeah, at that point, you're sleeping in an airport. Except I didn't sleep that night. For obvious reasons.

            With the numerous weather delays, it wasn't until the next morning that my mother was able to fly out and get me. Your perspective will dictate what adjective is appropriate, but it was about 10 hours that I spent alone in the airport. Ten hours anxiously awaiting for what came next, mentally debating just giving up and going home.

            That was Mom's idea. And I don't mean go home for a few hours and try again on a flight in which I would for sure had a guaranteed seat on the international flight waiting for me. I mean go home and stay home.

(Music gradually fades out and new music fades in)

            Yes, there was a few moments, probably those first few hours when all I wanted to do was be home, safe in my own bed and to be done with all of this. But then I thought about it again. Because what else could I do besides sit next to an outlet waiting for my phone to charge, which I was already doing.

            I thought about my family or what I remembered of them, of my grandmother in particular. I did miss her. I always missed her. I missed the way she’d hug me. And I missed the games my cousins and I would play. And I missed the way we’d get in trouble together. And just like that, a spark was renewed. I wanted to go. I wasn’t going to let some weather or some terrible airline employee take that from me. This trip, this being with my family, was mine. Truly mine. And I was seizing it.

            And maybe it was only out of spite, but that's not nothing. It was a valid reason, I think. Because really, does it matter why a door was first opened? Or that the door is open.


            I did make it onto a flight to Manila. After another day and a half. And that leg of the trip went far more smoothly. For me at least. The second airline was nice enough to secure my luggage while I was waiting at the airport. And it was so secure that no one put it on the flight with me, and it took a couple extra days for me to get it.

            And that's where things get interesting. Because—obviously—I now had no clothes. Only homework, and while an education may be important, there was certainly a problem there.

            So my aunt, the one who had started all of this... All of this. Not the problem part. Took me shopping in the big shopping center in the town a short ways away. Two in fact because the days when I wouldn't have my luggage were actually fully packed days and we couldn't (or decided we wouldn't) find everything we needed in one store.

            And so, she and I along with two of my cousins we had picked up along the way jumped into a tricycle: the preferred way of travel for some Filipinos, or I think it is. It is mine. It’s one of my favorite things to do when I go see my family. Not even go anywhere. I just want to be in a tricycle driving around. If you don't know, a tricycle is a bit like a motorcycle with a side car. There is some nuance therein that I'm missing. Like decorations, the cover overhead, and the frequency of religious symbols, but I think you get the picture.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            We crammed in and sped through the town with the wind blowing on our faces. It felt chaotic, for lack of a better word. Though it wasn’t. It was just that my heart was pounding like I was riding a theme park ride. Something I don't particularly enjoy doing, but I made do when I'm with my friends.

            But out there, I was laughing and smiling with my aunt cheering my joy and my cousins amused by the idea that there were places in the world without tricycles. Without that sense of freedom that comes with riding one. (Music fades out and new music fades in) Without, well, a lot of things... Like each other. After all, it had been years since we had last been together as a family.

            And yet for a moment everything clicked into place. Not in a grand way, but in a way that mattered.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            This has been a production of Miscellany Media Studios. Thanks for listening! If you like what you heard, consider subscribing, we’re on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Player FM, and other players. Find us and transcripts at miscellanymedia.online or on Twitter @miscellanymedia for updates on current and future projects, including Night and Ink. Do you want to maximize your productivity? Do you want to create all the things while balancing your day job and personal wellbeing? Let us sort through the advice found across multiple dimensions and bring you the best and the worst, if it’s funny.