Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories. This week Gloria Demillo (they/them) is a poet, researcher and multidisciplinary creative. Their most notable contributions include the Harana Poetry Tour for the Art Gallery of New South Wales; published works with the Australian Poetry Journal, Peril Magazine, Cordite Poetry Review, Red Room Poetry; and performances at the Biennale of Sydney, the National Young Writers Festival, Wollongong Writers Festival, Australian Poetry Slam, and the Bankstown Poetry Slam Olympics. They performed this story at Riverside Theatres in Parramatta.
Gloria: They say that when the spirit of an ancestor visits you, they take the form of a moth. Look-up. Find Lolo precariously perched on your bookshelf waiting by his leather-bound bible. You think for a split second about whether his God was right. You hope to God that Lolo was wrong, that his spirit rests somewhere in Laguna and that he’s plucking notes on his favourite Yamaha guitar.
Notice flittering wings by your bedside that remind you of your Tita Sam. She’s always been good at making sure you have everything you need, and everything you don’t. Can you taste the sweet and sour tamarind swelling at the back of your mouth? Tita Sam’s speciality dish.
Are you in your grandma’s garden sipping tea? If so, count the generations before you, watch them dance among the basil and lavender. Jasmine. You breathe in the scent and recall Sundays in the humid Manila air. You slowly trace sampaguita across your tongue.
If you’re listening to this now maybe I am still here. Perhaps you are trying to reimagine the moth I tattooed to my right shoulder, the moon’s light written into my skin. Maybe you recognised me the other day in the awkward sway of a baby caterpillar. Maybe I am already gone and all you have is the sound of my voice. Wherever you are today, I hope you smiled as a moth passed you. I hope you’re walking towards your favourite coffee shop – maybe you don’t live in Melbourne but are in some other city. I hope it is warm where you are.
Your parents love you very much. And so does your Tita – Tito – I don’t know what you’ll choose to call me yet. It might just be Gloria. One day, you might not want to be my nephew or niece either. You may not want to be Elyan anymore. But know that I love you very much.
When you arrived, I was standing in a bakery in Adelaide. I was so excited I didn’t even want my spinach and feta cheese triangle even though we had walked 40 minutes to get it. I’d flown to see a person that I thought could be the one. I believed in love again. Whatever you want to call it – destiny or fate. A lesson. A glitch in matrix. A memory. A past life becoming present. The merging of alternate timelines. The butterfly effect. Serendipity. The confusion of it all came to me. Before I left, I felt you kicking in Ate Daina’s tummy, and I wasn’t expecting you for another week. You came early. Something we have in common, so I knew that we’d both have the one-up in the family dynamic since everyone – every single person in our family – arrives late. Sometimes audaciously late. Obnoxiously late. So late that of course the only people you’d give a pass on being that late would be your own family. But I’m sure, if you’re anything like your Tita, you’ll still arrive early or on time, with the hope that everyone else is ready.
This time, I wasn’t ready. You came early and you were too small. I was in another city, I was in love again, and I was suddenly confronted with the reality that I might not ever meet you – that you might’ve gone in the night. That all I’d know of you was a black and white ultrasound. You weren’t born, Elyan. You came into this world fighting for your life. I haven’t been religious in a long time, nor had I prayed regularly. But for you, I have prayed every night since you were born. That’s what being your aunt means to me.
When you’re old enough, you won’t remember that I changed your diapers or fed you or put you to sleep. You won’t remember how you’d wake in the middle of the night and that I’d sing until your eyelids became heavy, and your little shoulders would do their last shrug, fighting to stay awake. All the moments you won’t know we shared are the moments that changed the course of my life.
I’m not a selfish person. Although many selfish people wouldn’t admit that aloud. But I haven’t been called selfish – at least not recently. The first night I volunteered to take the night shift, I honestly can’t tell you why I did. I guess I felt bad that your mother hadn’t slept much. I tried to reassure myself that I didn’t need that much sleep and of course being up between 1AM and 4AM was perfectly fine with me. You were 6 weeks old then and it was the longest night of my life.
After week later, I cried to my mother on the phone with a compassion I had never experienced before. I had spent a long time resenting my mother for not being the mother I needed. But I had never thought that she wasn’t the mother she wanted to be. I began to understand the sadness in which she had wished my sisters and I were raised in the Philippines with the rest of our cousins and extended family. She was in a new country and barely fluent in English with no friends or family to help her raise 3 young children. It’s lonely, loveless, unrewarding, and consistently selfless work. For the first time, I saw my mother in a new light. I think that all parents genuinely want the best for their children. I believe all parents want to love their children but don’t know how or don’t have the right resources or support. Without even knowing, Elyan, you helped me heal a relationship I didn’t think was reparable.
I wondered so often what it meant to nurture a child. I wondered so often what it would mean if I became the person I needed when I was younger. My parents failed me. My uncles and aunts. My family failed me. The adults in my life failed to show consistent care and compassion. They failed to instil a sense of safety and love so necessary to a child. Your mother even failed me once. Was I going to fail you?
One day, I’m going to disappoint you. One day, you are going to realise, with sadness, I’m a flawed person – I’m not just the cool rich aunt who writes and performs and buys you niche gifts from all the countries I’ve been. One day, all my jokes will come out wrong and you’ll hear them for what they are: an inability to be comfortable with vulnerability. But that day hasn’t come – at least not yet. At this point in time, I’m worried about dropping you on the soft underdeveloped part of your head. I’m worried about figurately dropping you on your head, where something I do or say flips your world upside down. I’m worried about someone or some devastating situation that makes you forget who you are. I’m afraid I won’t be able to prepare you for how big and scary the world can be.
I thought to myself; I’m really going to watch you grow up. I get to watch you learn how to walk and say your first words. I get to watch you make friends. I get to give you really bad advice about love because I’m a Sagittarius and you’re a Taurus. I wasn’t ready for you. But here I am. Trying my best. I even bought you the ugliest baby jumpsuit, but I genuinely thought it was cute at the time.
I am writing to you today about the future. And in the present, you are listening to this now wondering about the past and all the stories I haven’t told you yet. Or maybe you are sick of the stories I keep telling. The haunting of Nanay’s Mila’s house, that time I was detained at Geneva airport, the car crash that almost killed me and your Tito Matcho. If you by chance, see moth where it shouldn’t be: by your car keys, on your notebook, the photo of us in your living room. Please think of me. Imagine I am there with you.
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