Early April, I realized that I’ve lost files of e-books, writings, and photographs because the school I attended have gotten rid of their Google Docs program for alumni. They did issue emails about this impending loss, but having been swept up by endless weeks of work (one holiday after another), I had no time to process that information. I don’t think I still fully feel the weight of this loss, among others much more painful and difficult to bear. Recent deaths, anxiety, feelings of isolation and struggle in a new city whose lack of public transit I still don’t completely accept. I think about the photographs, because they were of that sliver of time I spent in New York City on my own. And because it was my return to using film to capture moments and the excess of what I thought (and still think of) as complete personal freedom. I try to conjure some of these lost images, former confidants, with words.

A wall of red ribbons at a 99 cent store on Roosevelt Avenue, Queens.

I walked everywhere. And where I couldn’t walk, I took the train. I saw, felt, and saw everything. In Manila, I spent nights walking around Teacher’s Village, a dense suburb with the benefits of a good city. There are things to do and they are within reach. I would quietly shut the red gates of the townhouse I shared with my mother and start walking down Matimtiman Street to Malingap. Some nights I would pass by where R. lived and say hi. Some nights, often after work, I stopped by the butcher’s place on Maginhawa, head to her apartment (which she shared with her sisters) and cook her a meal in an open kitchen shared by all the tenants on her floor. I used to be self-righteous about my being caring. I believed it was a good thing and because of that I must be a good person. I now know it is quite the opposite. I care and love for very selfish reasons. It is only through the eyes, words, and touch of another person would I believe I am real. Others exist to affirm my existence because I simply cannot be bothered to affirm myself.

R. once told me she would dream of the things I made for her. Just like M. telling me I’m beautiful, it’s hard for me to understand how I’m capable of bringing some form of joy or pleasure to others. I think it’s just a resistance to letting my own feelings of happiness wash over me. Afraid that once I accept to be happy, it will be taken away from me. Afraid that once I accept I am a person just like everyone else in this world, and not some kind of ghost or fog, I will lose the impulse to constantly shape and transform myself in order to adapt. There are changes happening, though.

Three people in a biology lab looking at genetically modified plants. But this is also in an art school, which kind of does not make sense. At the helm of this modest meeting is a white girl with dreadlocks who, I had been informed, was deeply hated by my Polish roommate. I kept a safe distance while taking this photo but the girl shot me a dirty look anyway.

I stumbled upon my constant source of income, cooking, in the dumbest way possible. I was sixteen and felt a little cursed but knew I wanted to do something creative. I was walking on Shaw Boulevard one hot summer afternoon and saw a long line behind a five star hotel. It was perhaps dehydration that led me to think it was a line for free food or, at the very least, water. It was, in fact, a line for cook applications. The next day I was making spring rolls for an Indian wedding and getting hit on by at least three guys. I remember a maze of hallways that led to a glorious chocolate room, and being friends with a butcher girl named Croissant. I wish I was making this up, but this was the Philippines in the mid 2000s.

Brilliant blue sky and the tip of the Chrysler Building. I might have this photograph in physical form but since moving out of New York, old things have been hard to locate.

Wind tunnels in New York reminded me of Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. I walked everywhere. In the book, he writes about getting through a tough moment is like walking through a tornado filled with sand. The wind spins so fast, the sand actually hurts. I could be wrong in remembering. I read books not because I wanted to be smart. I read books because it gave me access to pornography and other mature things without my mother having to walk in on me watching smut on my laptop. I got off on stories like The Witch by Isaac Bashevis Singer, and anything Joan Collins. Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty Trilogy. She walked in on me reading a book and she was proud. This right here—a girl on her sweaty futon, surrounded by lavender walls and sky blue ceiling—is a piece of shit.