Two months ago, I made resolutions the same way I do every year except this time my biggest decision was to take these plans and turn them into tangible things. When I was younger I would write these down as a way to keep myself closer to my dreams. The act of writing seemed proof enough that whatever that’s written becomes fact but as we all grow older, something about that seems lacking. I can’t just sit here and wait for things to happen. For the longest time I also believed that happiness is a choice consciously made. Unfortunately, life can sometimes kick the will out of you. These past four years (including senior year) have been the most trying of times. The mess we make when we’re younger seems unbelievable in hindsight–and it’s truly a mess. At present, I’m catching deadlines, breaking all sorts of rules and learning how to not please everyone.
But I’m also doing my best to find myself and thrive in my own skin. That’s what this year’s resolutions are about and because I’m not content to sit on my laurels, I did two of what were for me the most daunting things on my list:
- I stayed long enough in the North to find myself in the care of this wonderful spirit lady, Fang Od. Ever since I found out about her and her art I’ve been convinced that our paths must meet. She forged a centipede on my upper left shoulder a day before Valentine’s day and everything seemed to fall into place. I didn’t want to make a spectacle out of it because the act itself of bloodletting and being part of something larger than myself seemed pilgrimage-worthy. It was also the first real act of independence on my part. The first time I attempted to go, my mother threw a fit and it didn’t happen. This time it was deliberately done because I knew what I was doing and surprisingly, I also knew what I wanted even if I felt unsure for the most part. It was the calmest chaos (if you can say that!)
- Sharing one of many laughs with the spirit lady at the very beginning of our morning. There is something about her that makes me giddy with happiness. She lives a quiet life and often has her boat rocked by those who want a piece of her to take home to their concrete jungles–yet, she doesn’t seem at all unhappy or disturbed.
- Adding the tail way down there is a sexual allusion (at least to my friend). On our way to Buscalan, a tattooed Kalinga woman told us stories about the men of the region and described how they were endowed with hook-shaped penises. My friend hopes that this tattoo might lure the men and improve my sex life (despite the lack of one.)
- You go for the experience of having this woman calmly maneuver her tools while you sit and chat with all the random people who sit with her and welcome a new addition to their family. It’s quite moving. The hand on the upper right belongs to El Capitan. He’s Fang-Od’s younger brother.
- One of my favorite images of Buscalan. Sometime in the middle of getting tattooed, we had to stop so these pigs could pass. I also wanted El Capitan’s scarf. 🙂
- Falling into a meditative pose where surprisingly, despite all warnings, there was really no pain. I’m convinced that it has to do with this incredible woman’s presence. It was also raining when this took place which debunks the myth that it’s more painful to get this done when it rains.
- A cup of coffee and a wooden block to rest my head. The picture of calm. Owing to great timing, there were no other tourists when we went. Kalinga was celebrating an Obaya which is a celebratory day when no one is allowed to go in or out of every village.
- The finished product signaling something special…maybe the beginning of many great adventures? Know what you want and stick with it, I kept saying to myself. Nearing the end, Fang-Od began to chant and I started holding back tears. I yearned so much for a spiritual experience and this was finally happening. Afterwards she said, come back so we can do the other side and your arms.
Two and a half hours later, we form a tight embrace. The camera is finally handed to me and I stare at the images in awe. I am so elated I feel like hugging everyone present at this moment. We hug for a good two minutes and she squeezes my hand, turns my palm upward and begins to read the lines. “Come back with a husband,” she quips. “You’re destined to have one.” “Of course I am…maybe I’ll find him here,” I reply in half-jest.
What I haven’t told you yet is the more pertinent question: why did I do this in the first place? The answer is simple. Balance. Two years ago, when I removed my eye, I was afraid that I would lose myself completely and for good reason. For the first time in my life, my blind spot was really totally out of light and in darkness. Placing the Gayaman (centipede) on my upper left shoulder is like having something there to protect me. On the bus ride home, I also thought about the hundred legs of a centipede and the hundred steps it takes to get from one place to another. We share that in common but I’m most thrilled by the motion of it all. To travel far and wide in those hundred steps means that the world is just that much closer and within reach.
- I am also scheduled to move out. Telling my mother was one of the most painful experiences ever. I took her out to dinner in high spirits and rode home with her in a tense silence where I could make out the tears welling in her eyes every time the car moved past a street lamp. But again, these are growing pains. Signs of the times. Ways to grow up.
So far so good, 2012. 🙂
(ALL PHOTOS ARE BY RUEL BIMUYAG)