18 September 2013

Letter No. 26

I’ve been thinking a lot about how alone we all really are. It’s something I’ve believed for a long while, but the feeling of loneliness that usually comes with thoughts like, We really are alone, has been heightened in the past month or so.

My brother Mikko is now in Spain to study, and that makes me, once again, the only member of my immediate family living in Manila. Even though we went to the same college and lived in adjacent dorms for a year, I never really made an effort to see or talk to him. Today, I wish I had, but I guess I was too consumed with senior year, then the struggle of figuring myself out and the challenge of the first attempt at a grown-up relationship.

When I think back now to those years of tears, I wonder, Why didn’t I just head north then to see Mikko? If I missed my family so much, why didn’t I seek him, my own brother, out?

I guess I thought he wouldn’t understand. I was the older sibling; I was supposed to know what I was doing. So I was surprised to find, after he moved to Makati and we started meeting for church every Sunday, that he could actually be a good influence on me.

I put something like this in the letter I gave him shortly before he left: Being around him helped to ground me. I'd spent the past couple of years alone, making decisions about the kind of person I wanted to be. Mikko's presence allowed me to check those decisions and that person against my family's attitudes and expectations. He didn't ask me these questions; just hanging out with him, walking around, and chatting about his own post-college adventures led me to ask myself: Am I really okay with how different I'm becoming? Am I being good; am I a good person?

I only saw Mikko once a week, but the clarity I got from those Sundays was such a great addition to my life. I decided that I wanted to elicit with my life the kind of pride that I already felt for my younger brother.

(And when it comes down to it, having family around helped me deal with how I felt after that first grown-up attempt at a relationship crumbled like a soggy cookie.)

Now, I'm on my own again.

The thing now is, for all I've learned about my brother, and for all the time I've spent with Cris, I can't help thinking that you can't really know somebody 100%. There's always something about yourself that feels like something known by you and you alone — you are alone in your knowledge.

For all I know about his dreams and his quirks, I know that there's still stuff going on in Mikko's head that I will probably never see, just like there's stuff going on in my head that I wonder if anybody else can see. When I'm in the car with Cris and we are quiet, or when he's watching TV while I'm playing a computer game, I feel as though the hands of my brain are trying to reach into his skull and his chest to try and get a hold on some of the mysteries waiting in there.

When I peel away layers and layers of my own identity — childhood memories, sense of humor, favorite colors, love of pizza and sashimi, family ties, anxiety upon anxiety tied with a bow of anxiety, scars self-inflicted and not, my oldest friends, grammar, languages, left-handedness — and see what's left there, staring back at me, I wonder if anyone else can see that, especially if I can't describe it to them anymore. So it makes me wonder if I see other people the way they'd like to be seen — if I ever can or will.

And even if I must accept that I'll never see another person 100%, is there a certain percentage of them I should be able to see, to be able to say that I know them? Why is it that, for all the lunches, blankets, hopes, and fears I've shared, I still feel like I can't be seen 100%?

Or should it be enough that, despite how little or much they do see, the people I love make me feel that it's okay to be 100% myself? Is it better to be content to give and receive that kind of compassion than to keep picking at all the layers in the hopes of finding whatever's really underneath?

As an early birthday present to myself, I bought a copy of The Sims 3. I know the game came out years ago, but I haven't had the right computer for it until now — and it's not even my computer; Cris just lets me use his every now and then.

I find the game eerily realistic in that the Sims claim to have good relationships with one another yet spend nearly all their time on their own pursuits. The family founders had a whirlwind romance and then barely saw each other after they got married and had kids, yet whenever one entered the room, the other's mood would rise. The eldest child is grumpy, neurotic, dislikes children, and spends most of her time writing or jogging, but she seems to enjoy family dinners and isn't above changing a niece or nephew's diaper if necessary. The son-in-law knew his mother-in-law for only a Sim week or so, but he bawled like the rest of them when she passed away. Should I aspire to be more like the people I've made, happy to simply be with each other, even if they don't seem to actually know each other?

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