The Hone Collective | Today I am 28 and Wandering
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Today I am 28 and Wandering

You Should Be Here

by. Janice Lobo Sapigao

“Your body is here but your mind is somewhere else / So far gone and you think I can’t tell / Can’t tell that you’re disconnected / You pulled away and I miss your presence”Kehlani “You Should Be Here”

Today I am 28 years old. My Grandma Lourdes told me to get married at this age. Despite the fact that, at age seven and on a month-long summer trip to the Philippines, my mother told me to get married at age thirty when I was running around an old rice factory left on their land – Grandma Lourdes stepped in to share with me her wisdom.

 

“Get married at age thirty. Your mom was married at thirty-three. That’s too late,” Grandma Lourdes warned, with her Ilokano-English accent jutting out at my ears.

 

Ma winced at our conversation even though she herself had told me that she wished she had gotten married sooner. I might have been seven or nine years old.

 

“Or twenty-eight. Twenty-eight is nice. It’s good,” Grandma Lourdes might have said.

 

Today I am 28 years old and I am drunkenly shouting my relationship woes on the streets of a gentrified San Francisco. My relationship, much like The City and its long-time residents, is hanging by a fiber of a thread onto its rope – its origins fading faster by falling out, or falling down. It’s my birthday and my newlywed friends from Los Angeles are visiting though they don’t know they are keeping me afloat. I am pretending not to be a sinking ship, and I don’t want to make waves, but I don’t want to stay still. That night, I was all liquid and metaphor – a birthday girl, a faded representation of myself in front of the people I’ve gathered as friends, comrades, and colleagues. After nine shots of tequila from nine very loving friends or couples of friends, I was drowning happily. You couldn’t tell how much I was burying by the looks of me. You couldn’t tell how much I needed everyone there by the way I’d run off in the club by myself in search of temporary greetings from acquaintances. You couldn’t tell who I was. And neither could I.

 

Today I am 28 years old and I believe I have a strong relationship with my father. My father passed away when I was six years old – a story I will forever tell – and I have developed an intuitive relationship with him. People always spit their sage lyrics at you when your people pass away, “They’re still here with you” or, “They’re always with you” and I believe it. I know it. I feel it and I have grown to care less if people think that I’m bullshitting.  I am learning how to navigate our relationship above deep and shallow waters: my father had a family before he married my mother and then had my brother and me. I learned this when I turned twenty-five. I wondered if my father had cheated or if my mother was an accomplice or an innocent in his affairs. The love story I thought I knew about them soon became pages ripped and shredded from the spine of a long-lived book. Another sinking ship I am lifting from oceanic depths.

 

“Your whole foundation of who your family is and who you are has been shaken,” my friend Kirstie, my personal expert and explainer of all things human development, told me over the phone one day. “It’s okay to break a little,” I think she said since I had been crying through our conversation, “it’s okay to break a lot.”

 

Today I am 28 years old and broken. I think I am attracted to someone else who is not my partner. The guilt makes me feel like I don’t deserve someone to love me right now. Love was supposed to withstand the storm, the rippling, the rocking and rolling, but I honestly did not ever know how complicated my experiences in love could be high and dry. I have been with my partner for two almost three years and we are going through it. “Everyone goes through it,” a groom at a wedding I attended had declared. “Everyone.” How come he never specified what ‘it’ was? How come no one talks about their own relationship woes? I have done lots of research on The Two-Year Slump, a social and cultural phenomenon I had drunkenly asked my friends about on my birthday, and came to find that it was a completely normal experience. Research shows that it is completely normal to take the two-year mark and decide if it is time for a change or if it is a time to re-commit. It has been two years and I am sitting right in the middle of that exchange. I am negotiating, deciding, choosing, and making an effort every day to work on myself. I am not sure if this means that I am also working on my relationship. I also don’t know what is wrong. I don’t know if I have fallen out of love or if I have somehow given up or if he has.

 

An article I read online this past week stated that relationships come down to two things: kindness and generosity. And that people are categorized into two kinds of couples: masters and disasters. Masters are the ones who constantly take and make ‘bids’ on their partners; ‘bids’ are offers or undertakings generated or received by partners. Disasters are the ones who ignore bids from their partners. Masters are good at kindness and generosity. Disasters are not. Things like asking how your partner is doing, taking out the trash before it gets too full or when it is full, or engaging in conversation are bids that my partner and I had forgotten about for many months. We forgot to bid on each other. I now wonder if that damage is irreparable.

 

Two years is unchartered territory for both of us. I wonder how much of what I know and don’t know is because of what I see in my mother.
When I first met my partner, he talked to me about Returning to Saturn, something that I had been learning about before we met. Simply put, it’s the idea that the stars re-align to the way they were when you were born, now marking a new stage in your life. Returning to Saturn occurs about every thirty years, or so I’ve read, ushering you into adulthood or becoming an elder by asking you to examine important aspects of your life: family, identity, finances, passions, politics, and for me, dating and relationships. I think my partner is still coming to terms with his Saturn. I read that if you put off the work you need to do, life will become more difficult for you – the lessons you need to learn will come with more force. I am reckoning with being in a relationship with someone who may need my help. I want to help him with his relationship with his mother and father, as I know that it has taken and will continue to take more years to heal. I am not sure if I have the energy do this, though. I am not sure if I have much to give beyond what I already have. I want to Return to Saturn, but the difficulty of my Return surpasses my ability to be certain of what I’ve built with myself and the people around me. Saturn is here. And I am at its mercy and loss, and I see this reflected in my choice to be with my partner. Can we return, alone together?

My mother and I are both approaching our first and second Saturns, respectively.

 

Today I am 28 years old and my mom is lonely. She is married to my stepfather who has been unemployed, but trying and could try harder. When people ask how my folks are doing, I say, “They are okay.” If people who’ve grown up with me ask me how my folks are doing, I say, “They are okay. They’re married but not in love.” Next year will be their twentieth anniversary and I think my mother would be more content sitting in her living room watching The Filipino Channel than on a vacation she can’t afford but pays for with my stepdad. An intuitive healer I saw last week asked me if my mom was alone in her house. Yes, I answered. Poet Warsan Shire writes about how women’s bodies are houses. She was – no, she is – lonely. The healer asked me if she was unmarried or single and I instantly wondered if the two, along with lonely, were synonyms. Yes, parts of me answered. She is in alone in her house. I am alone in mine.

 

There are no answers for me elsewhere. I have sought advice from close, close friends and even this intuitive healer.

 

I need advice about how to sustain a relationship, or love, or if those two are even the same. I need songs about how to be a grown ass woman. I need advice about what happens when you find yourself attracted to someone else, and life feels as if you’ve seen or met that person in another lifetime, and you wonder if you need to be with them again, now, in this lifetime. I need rhythm about what happens when that someone reciprocates and intensifies these feelings, and when mutuality becomes dangerous flirtation. I need sound from my mother, yet I also need breaks about what happens and where you can go when you know your mother cannot supply you with the advice you seek. I need a beat when you come to a place of true division. I need to know what happens when you find yourself writing an essay giving yourself advice, when really, you are writing a love letter to the man and the story that never happened to you. I need to know how to carry on when you realize that your letter is an act of forgiving yourself. I need advice about what happens when you make a decision to work on yourself, your partner, your love, but yet your mind and maiden wonder and wander back to what never happened to you. I need to know how other women, especially women of color, work on and live with the nighttime blues, or cold sweats incited by fear and guilt. I need an answer: how can I navigate my womanhood in its complexity?

 

Today, I am 28 years old and I question marriage. This past summer, I have been a maid of honor, a bridesmaid and MC (at the same wedding for one of my best girlfriends), and a guest to two weddings. I’ll be witness to another union in a month from now as a bridesmaid. I love love and all of the feels I get from watching grown folks commit to forever and each other. I love how sincere they are; how their love is matched, bursting, and evident to all.

 

I wonder, though, if marriage is for me.

 

During a rage of wanting more sleep and not liking the pressure of working for my bride-friends for free, I confessed to my partner that I didn’t want it. That I didn’t want to put on a show for my friends, family, comrades, or community. That it is not worth neither losing my sanity, compromising my friendships, nor battling generations-long trauma that I’ve seen my friends experience months, and even minutes, before they say their vows. Boats washed away at shore.

 

I wonder, then, if I am scared or if I think too much. I need to know: how do people know?

 

Today, I am 28 years old and I don’t know shit. I don’t know what it takes to love even though I thought I did, even when I used to do it. A part of me feels upset by the emotions and roller coasters I’ve felt in love. Parts of me feign happiness. Parts of me are sick of myself and my inability to love. How do you know when you are ready for a shift? How do you know when the ship has sailed?

 

When I found myself upset at my partner and turning to others for attention, my homegirl Bel let me know that there must be something about them that I need to tend to within myself. She said that they must represent something in my life that I am needing to work on. She and I talk often about our inner adolescent – the teenage girl version of us inside us – who seeks attention from us as a woman. This is what it means to be in conversation with ourselves and to self-reflect. We women always have emotional work to do so that we can just carry on. I write and talk to my adolescent in mind to calm her, but I can feel her inside me raging. I can feel her misunderstanding and wanting to be wanted.

 

Bel says I am acting out. Kirstie might say that I am acting out. And Shana says I am acting out. Even Jessi says I am acting out. Aileen asks me if I am okay. Caz asks me if I am okay. Melissa asks me if I am okay. My brother asks me if I am okay. Even I have to pause life and tell myself, “You are okay. I am okay.” This game of charades seeks an answer. I am all performance. I am all age and no wisdom. I am honest and inexperienced.

 

Today I am 28 and I started going to therapy. My inconclusive feelings have somehow become too much for me to hold on my own. After earnestly saying for years that everyone should go to therapy, and then delaying my own process, and going back now, I feel like I abandoned myself at sea, in a small boat overlooked in the indigo of night time. I have had an academic counselor since I was 12, and I had kept a counselor in that particular academic program through the age of 17. I strongly believe this consistency, these relationships, kept me in school, and kept me aware of my capabilities as a human being. Counselors and counseling have instilled within me the power of questioning and the reckoning with answers. Questions contain within them their key: quests. These quests have brought me in the past from indigo to black to blue and to the pink of a new day. Going back to therapy sessions two years removed from the practice of seeking guidance – I’m hoping and needing and manifesting – that I can find within me the light I have lost.

 

Furthermore, I even had a peer counselor when I was 18 – a first-year student in college. I worked with adults who were deeply caring and interested in my future and well being when I was 19, 20, and 21. I became a peer counselor for younger, undergraduate students when I was 19 and 20. The toughest times in my life were when I was 22, 23, and 24 – I had to take what I had learned in all of those counseling sessions, so I could counsel myself, as that was the only way I could afford to take care of myself, to survive. I met with a therapist as much as I could when I finally attended graduate school at 25 and 26. Something astounding must have happened at 27, which might have resulted in my unpacking at 28. My counselors saved my life; I wonder if I am capable of saving my own. They are rescue and salvage ships.

 

In therapy, and in reflecting on therapy, I have come up with two allegories befitting of my life. I told my therapist that, one: I imagine my life is a room with all of my stuff sprawled onto the floor. Going to therapy is like picking up each item I own, examining each facet of the item closely, and deciding if I am going to need it in the house of the next room of my life. I don’t want to be alone in my house.

 

I also told my therapist what I told my friends from Los Angeles who visited me on my birthday, two: I feel like there is a fistfight inside me. Each one labeled ‘stay’ and ‘go,’ I wonder if I am capable of fighting and winning. In each allegory, I come up against my own unwillingness to act and react. In therapy, my fingers and knuckles free up a bit. The white of my tensions brown, become tender, become ease. It was only in therapy that I first believed that I would be okay, that I could live without guilt or fear. It was only in therapy that I first believed I could live.

 

Today I am 28 and I write: How many women leave themselves in relationships for people other than themselves? I think about many women who’ve meant a lot to me, but may not have meant as much to their partners or the people around them: my mother, artists and musicians I loved, my best girlfriends growing up, my cousins, my best girlfriends in college, myself – many times over. I wonder when who I am and what I have will be enough. ‘Enough’ is a monster I have been wrestling and embattling since I was fifteen or sixteen. In some ways, I know these monsters better than I know the concept of self-love. It is no wonder why some of us walk into the water. We know our demons, fears, and unwarranted narratives for much longer than we have known or searched for our true selves.

Even my relationships with other women have been difficult as a result. I believe that friendships are our first relationships. I have grown to know difficult girls because I was a difficult girl. Hanging out with other pinays and girls of color subjected me to some of the worst things about my past self: talking shit, backstabbing, bullying classmates, bullying substitute teachers, and other means of acting out. I have learned at a young age from these friends how to be flexible, how to be confident in myself, how to be enough from places of love and inner peace around other girls. Now, when I encounter other women’s expectations and find them unfitting, I assert myself no more than I usually would. I allow them the process to learn and understand why their expectations could be bogus, or more so a reflection of their own needs than my lack. This makes things difficult. I think difficulty is positive. I think it runs in my family.

 

My Grandma Lourdes might have grown up in a very rural area of the Philippines: a tropical country on an island. She might have might have grown up in poverty. I think her world then informs my present. Her suggestion is third world feminist as it is about protecting myself and perhaps our lineage. Being 28 might have been culturally, generationally, and innately different for her from my 28-year-old reality. I know she was trying to guide me – an endeavor that will last lifetimes.

 

I need to remember from here, from memory: islands prove constellations exist on Earth. I am from my grandmother. I Return to her at this channel as I Return to Saturn. I choose to honor her testimonies and her stories. And I choose to create my own.

 

I cannot carry all of these words with me. I cannot hold them in for longer than they were intended. I must forfeit the ocean of expectations, the weight of girlhood, the unrealistic womanhood, and the stories that misfit my world.

 

Today I am 28 and I wonder about how we women think and don’t think to forgive ourselves. How we think ourselves long and short like water. How we are endless and contained altogether. And how keeping secrets is not the same as being quiet; the former is much more intense. The ineffability of being 28 feels like a secret, like I am supposed to be something truthful, put together, or grown-up when I am not. I long to be enough even when I am soul-searching. I am and I am not a little girl unsure of herself. I will let go of the insecurities that no longer serve me. I am and I am not afraid of my body and flesh and how my skin folds or how I hold myself. I will and I will not surprise myself with my intelligence. I am actively working on decontextualizing narratives that are harmful myths requiring my obedience more than my freedom. I am 28 and I am giving myself permission to be okay with not knowing. I will set personal boundaries and goals and backtrack if I need to.  I know, most importantly and unfuckwitably, the intimacy of being here for myself.

 

May I always wander in wind and yearn to be purposeful in breath as reflection. May these answers come. May the questions sojourn. May I always write letters to myself. May I always have homegirls as sounding boards, mirrors, and love personified. May I grow in this process. May I be 28 and at this place: the crossroads, the church, the factory, and the dock of myself.

Slider Image. Trisha Kita-Mah

Photos 1,2,3. Kirstie Mah

Photo 4. Paola Rodelas


  1. Smith, Emily Esfahani. “Masters of Love.” The Atlantic. 12 June 2014. Web.