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  • There is always a story of ourselves that we hang on to.

    Mine is how I came to be.

    I was born in Manila, Philippines, in a public hospital near where our family lived, which was near an estuary of the Pasig River. I was the last of eight, with the one before me dying in the crib with SIDS and the one after me, miscarried. My mother was perimenopausal when she had me.

    The night I was born, there was a storm and a flood. My only sister, three years older than me, was home with my father. As the flood raged, my father had to put my sister on the dining table so as to keep her safe. She rolled into the water, and she almost drowned.

    When I was five, my father would put me up on the dining table to sing, and he’d give me ten centavos when I’d reached the high notes of “Ave Maria.” My sister could not carry a tune. Note, though, that these days, I always hear her hum on those rare moments that I visit her. I don’t think she realizes I notice how happy she is.

    At age seven, I remember hiding under the same table on those times that my mother would come in from the market, in a rage upon finding my village of home-made paper dolls strewn across our two-room house. The paper dolls were cut out from my school paper pads. In a third-world neighborhood, a child is lucky to have such school materials. I didn’t care much for using them as note pads.

    At age eight or nine I wrote a school composition explaining what my name means. My middle name (which is my mother’s maiden name) means “to tell” in Bicol. My and my father’s last name means “to fly” in that same language. When my father learned of my essay, he sat me up on the dining table so I can read what I wrote, “I guess to fly is to tell my stories.” again and again. I don’t remember how much money he gave me for that for making him proud.

    My sister now lives in a suburb of Chicago. She can afford to buy as many tables as she wishes and is very generous to family, sometimes extending her reach so they can keep their roofs above their heads.

    I am now middle-aged. I “tell my stories, so I can fly.”

    The picture is that of my great-niece, Rachel, 15 months old, learning how to use pencil and paper, on the day my brother, Rachel’s grandfather, was buried. I, myself, have no baby pictures.
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