15 December 2011

To Architect a Heart

Two years ago, I was in the middle of what I can now, from a distance, identify as a nervous breakdown.

I had just taken on a new, more challenging job that I wasn't sure I could handle. I had just moved to a new place that I hated. Around the time of my 22nd birthday, I felt myself being pulled apart, by my family telling me not to tie myself down too soon and by Martin asking me to take our still fairly new relationship more seriously.

I also felt that the megacity was swallowing me whole. A cab ride from Martin's house in ParaƱaque, through C-5, back to Quezon City would freak me out. I was riding on the rim of Metro Manila, and the sight of ParaƱaque, Taguig, Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasig, and Quezon City all whizzing past within minutes heightened my alienation. Where in all that concrete, steel, and slumland was I supposed to be?

I think that feeling, more than anything, sparked my later interest in real estate, urban planning, and architecture. I wanted to understand how people used and moved in their spaces, how they decided whether to put up walls or to set pathways between one another, and whether the shape of a window changed how one looked out and others looked in. Would how we went from point A to point B, and what we saw, be somehow different through a triangle instead of a square?

Thus, the simplicity and order of moving from point A to point B in Singapore, and the beauty of even the lowest-cost housing, appealed to me when my family and I went this year. Getting from me to you did not have to require a jeepney ride, a train ride, an FX ride, another jeepney ride, and a ten-minute walk. And when I got there, we could have room to move, light to see, and air to breathe.

Before I learned about buildings, though, back in 2009, I knew that I needed to adjust and change. I had to accept the city if not embrace it, because it was the only place Martin wanted to be, and I wanted to be with Martin. Yet I was terrified at the thought that when it was over, I wouldn't recognize myself anymore.

God, what a wreck I was. Poor Martin, having to carry me through that.

Then, at the start of 2010, his leg broke, literally and figuratively. So I somehow snapped out of my stupid crisis and tried to carry him.

It really was a snap; I remember answering the phone, hearing those two small words ("It broke."), and feeling my gears fly into place because there was someone more important than me and in much more pain. It was time to put the wrench down.

What followed was difficult and painful, to say the least (and I want to say only the least). Everything was put on hold while Martin recovered his strength.

And then, when he could stand again, he walked away.

He walked into a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity, grad school, and life without time or energy for anything else, much less for picking up where we'd left off. I told myself to just wait a little longer, be supportive, work on improving myself, and just be there for him.

So I worked at my job and learned to enjoy it. I never quite got to love the city, but I accepted it, the way one accepts that they must work with an enemy against an even greater enemy.

For me, this enemy was disorder and decay. And because I couldn't set a wrecking ball on the megacity, I set it on the unsound structures I'd built inside me. I gave my emotional squatters more productive outlets and settled them in a tidy high-rise overlooking a lake, which I dredged and cleared of invasive thoughts. I made myself bike paths and got myself new trains, so that getting from problem to solution would be simpler, quieter, and even enjoyable. I restored the park as well as the crumbling theater and museum, the places inside myself that made me feel safe, whole, and progressive. I planted tree seedlings, dreams I hoped we'd get to nurture once Martin was better.

I wanted to be stable, solid, and strong for him. I wanted to be at once his Taliesin West and Fallingwater, Hundertwasserhaus and the Guggenheim de Bilbao, the Manila Met returned to glory and the Parthenon lovely even against all erosion.

I wanted to be the home with the gentle staircase and the treetop view, the quiet study armored with full bookcases, the sunlit kitchen window lined with potted herbs, the bedroom overlooking Central Park--the dream home, in other words.

So, I worked. I can't say I reached the ideal, but God damn it, I worked to become a balanced, loving, lovable, worthy person.

But as the months passed, I doubted that he noticed at all. He talked about work and school all the time. When I asked if we could talk about something else, the conversation died, and when it picked up, it felt forced and hollow. When I asked if we could talk about us, he got defensive. He wouldn't even let me touch him, because it meant more lost energy, more time away from whatever was on his desk.

I told myself to wait for later; he had no time right now. After months of this, though, I finally asked if he could possibly make time, make room, or if he had any room at all.

In a nutshell, he said no.

So until fairly recently, I felt that all I'd done since the breakdown, all I'd built, had been a waste. I was angry, because he'd asked me to make a place for us in all my plans--he'd even gotten mad about it several times--and now he was the one who got to walk away.

And he couldn't even say why. That's why, for the past couple of months, I've been questioning everything I've done in the past near-three years, looking for cracks that I'd missed, and picking up old guilt over the old breakdown.

I think I'm done now. I felt another snap, maybe three. I finally found the gap in the bridge, the loose cables, the one car causing the jam.

It's a little hard to explain, or, at least, it sounds a little stupid. These are things I've been telling myself over the past few months, things I myself would tell other people in the same situation, but I guess these things just didn't sink in until now.

The longer I hang on to my anger, the harder it is to just let Martin keep walking. The more I look for cracks, the harder it is to admire my handiwork and the good it actually, still, has. And the more I question whether I'm ready, the longer I'll wait before I reopen the gates.

I could hide inside myself and chip away at my own foundations until I implode like poor Christine Chubbuck. Or, I could pick up my hammer and build again, better, stronger, higher, until I scrape the sky.