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My quest of battling the gift I’ll never have

My quest of battling the gift I’ll never have

Editor’s Note: Christmas is labeled as the season of many things. It is called the season of family, of love, and interestingly enough, of gift-giving.

This December, we explore what it means to give and to receive— and what that exchange could imply— in a series of personal essays. Here, Jelou Galang describes how gifts can be skills we try to attain throughout our lifetime… for different reasons. 

2015

I swing the goggles hanging around my neck, like I had taken over the pendulum of the biggest clock in the world.  I stop when it clashes with the collar of my cerulean dress. Fueling my suffocation. “Okay, I’ll follow in a few minutes,” I say.

I’m trapped in a scene where I have to belong. People have cinematic smiles and peculiar leg attributes that make them jump up, down, and into this blue void. As if there’s a gold jar at the bottom of this.
Closing the car doors, my relatives rummaged through the dusty back storage: skin essentials, extra clothes, and sets of salbabida.

Oh, a salbabida.

“You can do it, anak.” I look at my mother, surrendering my inhibitions to her dainty summer dress with kaleidoscopic patterns. The talking hues make me hold my pendulum again—and firmly so. The breeze, brought by the waters full of people in sunscreen and social media, might take it away. It’s Labor Day. We’re in the most gleaming part of Batangas. Sunsets love to flaunt their patches of oranges and if lucky enough, dabs of violet. Nothing is wrong.

Sunsets love to flaunt their patches of oranges and if lucky enough, dabs of violet. Nothing is wrong.

I decided to change into my swimsuit in the restroom.

2013

“Come on. Join us.” My classmates seemed to have forgotten the ground rules of this resort. After a day of pushing each other during the tug o’ war, we’re spending the remaining field trip hours in the swimming pool. The rest of the games were a flicker of memory.

Half of my friends went to the restroom, while the other bought merienda for the whole gang. I’m here with the remainder of my batch, feet flat on the pool tiles, the end of my shirt getting all bubbly—probably reassuring me that I can finally do it.
“Come on,” my eyes squint, avoiding the splash coming from all directions. “Let’s chase each other in the swimming pool,” someone tells me.

This is great—someone I’m only acquainted with wants to hang out. In the swimming pool. Maybe I’ll enjoy this day after all. I’m trapped in a scene where I have to belong. People have cinematic smiles and peculiar leg attributes that make them jump up, down, and into this blue void. As if there’s gold jar at the bottom of this.

“Okay, let’s go!” What made me say that, I don’t know.

“Uy kayo talaga, bakit niyo siya niyaya? Baka malunod pa ‘yan.”

“Oo nga.”

And they swim away, giggle marks sailing at the tip of their eyes. Why did I even bother?

I decided to change my clothes in the restroom. Merienda’s coming soon anyway.

2012

“Come on. Try it.”

I try remembering the image of my progress card tucked in the smallest pocket of my sports bag—is it really just the third day?
Inches below the surface of the water, I lift my fingers up and down. Dance them around in circles. I could be holding a magic wand.

It’s Tuesday and the blank benches are—in my head—filled with people gazing upon my next act. Make-believe murmurs are tangled with my hair.

“I’ll assist you. All you need to do is stay calm and relaxed in the water. Then carefully…” My swimming teacher’s voice gradually becomes muffled, meek, messy.

“Just imagine you’re on your bed. By the time—“

“Teacher, did you see me? I did it!”

I rub my eyes to stay still in the middle of the splash. In your face, the water says. I’m drowning in a scene where I have to belong. People have cinematic smiles and peculiar leg attributes that make them jump up, down, and into this blue void. As if there’s a gold jar at the bottom of this.

And to think that a four-year-old—making strokes I’m not familiar with—has more progress than I do, proves it.

I tried changing my mind. Yet fear kept haunting my progress card for the next two weeks.

2015

By the time I changed into my swimsuit, I knew what to do.

Walking on sand is scary—it’s like navigating the unknown. How can you possibly depend on something constantly moving? It looks full, but when you put yourself into it, it’s empty. It shrinks. You shrink. You need to get another step quickly to feel the pseudo-stability. On top of that, every step feels like putting your foot on uncertain entities. The 22nd step is a shark’s fin. The 34th is a bundle of bad luck clams. The 41st are large, glossy tentacles. The 43rd is a deep hole. No gold jars, just the end of these all.

Walking on sand is scary—it’s like navigating the unknown. How can you possibly depend on something constantly moving?

What made me think of these, I don’t know.

My relatives are nearby, either in their salbabidas or proficiency. I see my mother’s satisfied face.

I’m finally here; no need for changing.

2002

“Come on. Please tell us.” 

Persuasive eyes. Rubber bracelets. Barely ironed uniforms. 

It’s the anatomy of a bully in Little Blossoms Academy. Teachers don’t notice. But I do. 

“Only for #3 and #7. We’ll give you a chair.” 

I’m trapped in a scene where I have to belong. People have peculiar attributes that make you want to twist yourself. 

God knows I hate sitting with people I don’t like, but God also knows I hate sitting on one table alone, while the rest of my classmates shame me for being alone. 

I promised to never let myself get behind in any way in the future, even if it’d mean battling with my fears.

I promised to never let myself get behind in any way in the future, even if it’d mean battling with my fears. 

(I wish I didn’t, though.) 

“#3, jellyfish. #7, lifeguard.” 

2015

“Come, dinner’s ready,” while removing my goggles, I walk on sand. Soaked in Batangas waters, I head to the clubhouse with my family—still wearing my fears, but perhaps smart enough to know where to place them.

Swimming has never been my gift—but how I try to wrap it for different people—probably is.

Art by Cathy Dizon

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