I’d probably remember very little of Bilbao aside from my hotel room. I’ve been here six days—and yet, I’ve seen very little outside of the room. Every morning, I tell myself I’d walk around this beautiful Spanish town and take a lot of photos, but that resolve lives and dies with the chorizo I heap on my plate every breakfast buffet.
Strangely, my predicament reminds me of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. I know Bilbao isn’t Tokyo; there are no giant billboards, no blinding glares of neon; but I feel just as keenly the loneliness, the displacement, the isolation.
Naturally, Khavn thinks I think too much. He’s right; I do. But, it cannot be helped. Every new city I go to leaves me feeling smaller and smaller, an insignificant cog in the wheel, a meaningless, nameless dot on the map. Who am I? What am I doing here? Do the answers matter to anyone outside of myself?
If there is anything all this traveling amplifies, it’s how lonely I really am. In July, in Paris, all I did was peer outside windows: in the train, hotel room, the Paris Project meeting room. It’s difficult not to be impressed by the city. The walk-ups always looked like they were far more interesting than any in the world. The luxury apartments paris france was dotted with, in particular, were breathtakingly chic, inspiring Iris and I to declare that one day, when we’re old, old ladies, we’d live in one just for the heck of it, and throw typewriter parties for other writer friends.
I used to think I wouldn’t survive living in a big city. There’d be too much noise, too many buildings, and not enough sky. But I’ve been living in Manila for close to a year now, and what that’s made me realize is that I will be okay for as long as I can see the sky. The sky—it anchors me. It makes me feel less lost, less displaced.
When I was ten, Papa taught me to plot out a ship’s route on a map. My father is quite a character. This must explain why I write about him often (here and here, for starters). He is the first man I loved, the man I love the most still, and even though my macho upbringing has made it impossible for me to blurt out, “Papa, I love you!”, I think it all the time.
“I didn’t raise you to just be a man’s wife,” he once told me. “I have high hopes for you, big dreams.” That was the night before my wedding. He felt he had to tell me one more time how much it broke his heart that the child he had dreamed the most for left college, got pregnant, and got married.
Mama died two days before my 10th birthday. It wasn’t the best of times, but it was helluva funny in some ways. Our teachers were always telling my siblings and I to send their regards to Papa. He always had girls after him, always. In high school, my classmates mooned over him. Even now, women I know still sigh over him. I get it—he’s gwapo, but he’s much more than that, too. He has a mind that thrives on learning. He’s always learning something, from judo (he’s a black belt) to using nunchakus (he’s badass at it) to chess (he does tourneys and at once point, was a grandmaster). He tinkers with machines and screws, and is always making something. I’d call them invention, but that’d be too pretentious a word for the sometimes odd, oftentimes weird-looking um, thingamabobs we end up with at home.
I don’t know how I could start out writing about displacement, and end up writing of my father. Maybe I still equate displacement with being far from home. But where is home now, that’s the bigger question. Since my marriage failed and my grandmother and grandfather died, home has been elusive. Those three held my world together.
Anyway, when I was ten, Papa taught me a few things about navigation. The one thing I never forgot was this: if you ever get lost, just keep walking east. You are always going east if you go east. There is no going west when you are going east. This is because the world is round and even if you flatten it out, you will end up on the other side of the map once you hit the edge of the eastern side of the map. You will still be going east—and eventually, you will end up at your starting point for as long as you keep going.
I cling to that logic now, as an adult. No matter how far from home I go, I can always head back east-ward. And for as long as I can see the sky, I am never fully alone because everyone I love is looking at the same sky I see.