The first time my friend Trisha showed us her room, I was floored.
“You have your own bedroom?” I queried, as I eyed her closet (fittingly labeled ‘MY CLOSET’ with a black marker on taped construction paper), her dresser, her TV. SHE HAD HER OWN TV. We were ten years old. I didn’t know ten-year-olds were allowed to have their own room, much less their own TV.
“Yeah, I sleep here. My parents sleep in their bedroom.” Trish seemed surprised by my question. “I even have my name on the door.”
This blew my mind. I took a sip of juice and envied her luxurious lifestyle.
My childhood was spent mostly in a pink house with a black gate. My parents, my three sisters, and I shared three bedrooms between us. Our rooms, whilst lovingly festooned in the excessively flowered aesthetic of the late 90’s, were pretty basic. Two sisters to a room, with two beds and a closet. No TV’s, no phones. Everything, even the lone bathroom, was shared between us siblings. Everything I used, they used. Everything I watched on the shared television, they watched. Everything I said on the phone, they heard.
The concept of privacy was unknown to me. The idea that I would have a room to myself was preposterous. Ours was a cheery house filled with noise and various hair products. Someone was always bursting into song.
When you live with three sisters, you notice that things tend to go missing on a regular basis. Your favorite top, a backpack, maybe even the bathing suit you haven’t even worn yet. My sister Jeshia and Christa would have terrific fights about misplaced cardigans and dirty pairs of jeans that were supposed to be clean, and in the process they would force my sister Anna (who prefers to read quietly) to slam doors and start even bigger fights. We sisters only had two settings: noisy and combative. We owe all our neighbors 18-years’ worth of apologies.
It may have sounded like we were ready to claw each other, but we were very happy. Our epic blowouts belied the basic truth that we were all joined at the hip. Something about living in cramped spaces breeds eternally sticky relations with siblings.
When my youngest sister Jeshia turned eight, she told my parents that she was going to have all her friends over for a party. My mom prepared a feast for thirty kids. My precocious (ambitious?) baby sister “took care of the invitations”.
Only one kid from next door showed up. I assumed that Jeshia had messed up the invitations. “Where are your friends? You said you were going to have all of them over!” My two other sisters were beside themselves with laughter.
Jeshia looked at me innocently and said, “Well, Mickey from next door is here. Thent there’s you, Ate Aa, and Ate Zay. All my friends are here.”
Aa laughed, “WEH! You messed up the invitations eh.” (‘Admit it! You messed up the invitations!’) She was basically gasping for air while giggling, which drove Jeshia to tears. This effectively ruined the raging party for two. We fixed the sordid situation by playing a very loud Janet Jackson track and convincing the two eight-year-olds to jump in time to the music. We ate all the hotdogs with marshmallows.
I still laugh when I hear that Janet Jackson song.
I had my heart broken when I was twenty-three years old. My boyfriend had decided to leave me for my intern. (PAIN! ANGUISH! DRAMA!) The unfortunate demise of my young relationship was made official by a fantastic crying fit on my sister Zay’s bed. It was midnight and he had just dropped me off at home for the very last time. (PAIN! ANGUISH! DRAMA!) I was crying like I was vying for an Emmy.
Christa woke up long enough to hug me from behind, “Stop na, Ate. Stop na. “ (Stop, big sister. Stop.) She rubbed my back gently with her eyes half closed. “He doesn’t deserve you.” She had school the next day and I was cutting into her sleep time. I was sobbing uncontrollably into her pillow. She rubbed my back like a loving grandmother.
“If you don’t stop, I’ll kill you.”
I stopped crying.
The next day, our whole household had gotten wind of the horrible news. (PAIN! ANGUISH! DRAMA!) I made my way downstairs to breakfast where my Dad was sipping coffee while watching the morning news. He silently handed me my own steaming cup of Batangas brew.
My mom peered at me curiously. “Suot mo pa yan, kagabi. Magbihis ka.” (You’re still wearing clothes from last night. Change.) She slid three pieces of bacon on my plate. My sister Aa handed me the garlic rice. They cheerily ate their bacon as if nothing had happened, and I was grateful. I chewed on the bacon and my pain dramatically. Like Kristen Stewart in that vampire movie.
It took an entire year for me to finish my (often ridiculous) mourning. But at least on those first few hours after the main event, I was given a silent collective push in the right direction. With bacon and grandma rubs, no less.
For the next three years after, I lived in an apartment with no beds.
Suddenly single and unready to mingle, my girlfriends from the womb convinced me that it was time to rent our very first adult apartment together. The studio unit was in an old building near the central business district. I had visions of apple green walls and white furniture (must be something I saw on a Pinterest board), but due to lack of funding we ended up in a garish green room with mattresses on the floor. Bed frames? Who needs them! We had our independence! Full length mirror? Don’t fret. We can always dismantle the mirrored sliding door from the closet! (We paid for that damaged door, mind you.)
We were in our mad mid-twenties and despite the obvious lack of furniture, we felt truly glamorous indeed. We had one tiny TV set on one side of the studio unit, and four mattresses lying side by side on the other. All our clothes always smelled like fresh paint and yesterday’s breakfast. We shared lipstick, dating stories (some good but mostly bad), cheap earrings, rent, and leftovers. We were living like we were in a montage in a bad chick flick. Fittingly, we also watched an episode of Sex and the City nightly. We fought over who among us was Miranda.
We absolutely adored it.
One evening, my friend Trish (yes, the same Trish who had her own bedroom at 10 years old was now my roommate) and I were doing our nightly ritual of smoking in the hallway while staring at our reflection in the floor to ceiling mirror. We clutched cheap mugs of cheaper coffee and watched the smoke swirl around our foreheads. Trish was a lawyer and she shared my ridiculous working hours as a slave to advertising. Our friend Dianne, who produced TV commercials, sat cross-legged on the floor eating cereal for dinner. Tin, who was in real estate, was right by the door listening to our conversation while washing dishes.
Trish stared up at the smoke. “It won’t always be this fun, no?” Trish was so dramatic at twenty-five. I nodded sagely, drunk with hubris. Dianne chewed her Frosties in agreement. Tin laughed at our stupidity. (She won the role of Miranda)
But Trish was right. Life wasn’t always going to be fun.
My 61-year-old Dad was diagnosed with cancer eight weeks before my wedding day.
My Mom called from the hospital. I was three hours away from the city, at an advertising convention. She sounded vague on the phone, but the quivering tone of her voice was enough to deliver the bad news. I drove all the way to the hospital in near tears. The word ‘cancer’ was hanging in the air when I entered my Dad’s room. My sisters and I looked at each other with silent fear, cautious about letting our feelings show in front of the patient. He was to have his right kidney taken out as the tumor was too big. The operation was to happen a week from that first day. He was going to make it, the doctor assured us. It was all going to be normal again soon.
My sisters and I were shown the tumor as soon as the procedure was done. We hugged each other right outside the operating room. We were ecstatic. The nightmare was finally over. Our Mom was to stay with him in the hospital overnight. My sisters and I were sent home to rest.
At three in the morning, my Mom called me up to say that my Dad’s heart rate was crashing. My blood ran cold. I thought this was over. I thought he was going to be fine. I called my sisters at my parents’ house to relay the news. Aa immediately burst into tears.
I was 31 and living in my own apartment, sleeping alone on my bed. At that precise moment, I wished that I could be back in my childhood bedroom. I wished I could huddle with my sisters.
Thankfully, it was just a scare. My Dad fully recovered two weeks after surgery. The day he was sent home, my former roommates and now maids of honor took me out to dinner.
It was my turn to burst into tears. All was well.
What movies don’t tell you about the day that you marry the love of your life is that it all goes by so fast. All that delicious tension you feel years before will be gone the moment those doors open, and you see everyone you care about in one room.
I walked proudly down that aisle with my resilient Mom and cancer-free Dad, ready and willing to commit my whole life to my groom. I wore my love for everyone and everything like a badge that day.
They say that on that aisle, you will only remember your husband’s face. That wasn’t true for me. The image of all my sisters beaming in the front row is something that I choose to keep for the rest of my life. There were six of them on my wedding day: three that shared my DNA, and three more that slept on the floor with me for years.
That’s the glory of shared spaces. It’s shared lives.
Me: I’m having our bedroom repainted.
Me: Do you have an opinion about it?
Husband: Not really.
Me: Hmmmm. What about apple green?
Husband: APPLE GREEN?
Paula is a seasoned slave to advertising, a fierce mother of obese rescued cats, and an overly enthusiastic wife to a man named Paolo. Her full name literally means 'Little Gift', which is exactly what she wants to be for the rest of her life. Apart from being able to move her smallest toe independently from other toes, she has no other hidden talents. Paula is from the Philippines.