2 pm, I had thought earlier, would mark the happier part of the day. Classes were going to be let out early because of an award ceremony or something. It didn’t really matter. My friends and I were going to an art fair in Makati, and, seriously. Art. Friends. Two of my most favorite things.

It began going downhill in the car.

He didn’t mean it, the one who started telling the stories—I’m certain that if I’d spoken up, he’d have stopped immediately. Somehow or another, the topic shifted to high school, and he began narrating anecdotes of a classmate that had transferred from Oman. The classmate was weird and awkward and cried at the smallest things; the anecdotes were funny, or else they would have been if they hadn’t reminded me so much of myself when I first came to the Philippines. They made my other friends laugh, though, so I squirmed in my seat and kept quiet. I don’t know what I should have done.

We arrived at the fair.

You know that oft-repeated Eleanor and Park line? “…Art isn’t supposed to look nice; it’s supposed to make you feel something.”

What it made me feel was desolation, complete and utter. Just. It wasn’t bad, and that was the point. It wasn’t cold, because all of the artists seemed to have spit fire in their hands and made their pieces come to life. So many of them, so many, were so very desperately sad.

I felt like I was walking through a street of beggars. Help us, pleaded an art piece that told of the forced machismo of our culture. Please, added carefully arranged Bench ads smeared with sexual exploitation. On the ceiling were a pair of legs on the ceiling literally sucked up by the corporate vortex; in a corner, an exhibit saturated in bright colors and bitter irony. At one point I lost the others and wandered around with my gut twisting.

All that art, telling the truth, and asking the same question over and over: How do we fix this?

I hated that I was nearly crying, and that I didn’t know.

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But the real mystery was why their shoe laces weren’t tied. 

***

I think we all get that feeling sometimes, of being cold and helpless and broken. It doesn’t need masterfully-crafted art to trigger it, though you could take that as a testament to art’s power.

It’s at this point, when you’re reeling from the shock and sewing the snapped pieces of your heart together, that you get the choice: stitch it back bruised and callused, knowing it can’t be the same as before, knowing that it’s going to get broken again—or turn it to stone already. Dear Lord, does the latter sometimes look tempting.

But I don’t pick that option. Not today.

***

Eventually we headed back to the car. My friend was telling his stories again, and I tried very hard not to listen, and I think that was what tipped off the others that something was wrong. At least two of them asked outright. I smiled slightly and evaded. I don’t like lying.

But they don’t like giving up.

My friend’s younger brother was there with us and had just finished a field trip to a decrepit prison, and I sensed that his day had been as motivating and inspiration-filled as mine had been. He started talking about living conditions and strengthening the justice system; and I perked up a little, because politics and communication, two other things that I deeply adore. The conversation lasted all the way back to Katipunan.

And when I got to my friend’s café, behind my phone’s screen and no vague half-grimaces to answer for me, they asked again. Was something bothering you earlier? What’s up, Clary?

I told them, and part of me was a little scared. Sometimes I’m with emotions the way some people are with difficult schoolwork; understanding the principles of self-care, that I should ask for help when needed, and still thinking that I should handle it for fear of judgement. But they are the best. They persisted, listened, and offered the advice that they could. They made me smile, and at the end of the day, they are why I know the world can be better.

I don’t have to do it alone.

***

When the world is grey and bleak, what gives you hope? How do you demonstrate self-care? I ask the imaginary audience. The next post shall hopefully be analysis instead of emotional upheavals. (If someone is reading this though, please answer! I’d love to know.) The title, by the way, comes from the song lyrics of the Beatle’s song Hey Jude. 

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