Five years ago, I, too, ended up writing about “How do I see myself in five years?” for my graduation essay. Some of the job interviews I had seemed very interested in knowing what I wanted to do vs who I’d want to be.
Back then, I only had a vague idea of where I would be. I also just happened to be one of those post-college, pre-adult 20-somethings who were just trying to figure out the next steps in their lives. That year, I finally got my diploma after 5 years and a semester in college. Failing some courses and pushing back my studies, I had to spend an extra semester to formally finish my University degree. I was not really doing well in my Engineering degree so no sugar coating on that one.
A few months before graduation, however, I already got my one-way ticket to Japan, like how any sane college student living with their parents would do. Apparently, grades didn’t matter to them and all it took was my attempt to build a sign language translator for them to give me an offer. It was only a matter of time before I overhauled my entire life from being my parents’ dependent.
You see, I also made sure I was being extra honest with myself before moving some 3,000 km up north. I didn’t know where I would be, but I knew who I want to be. Three weeks after getting my diploma, I came out to my mother, the first person on the planet to officially know. I wasn’t sure if it was the relief of leaving the country, the relief of finally finishing my degree, or my mom literally walking in on me and my then partner on a date that gave me the extra push to come out. Among other things, I just knew it was time.
Slowly, I came out to my closest friends, my sister, my cousin, my family, and everyone that I cared about. That was becoming my new reality. I thought that I owed them my reality before deciding to move to Tokyo. Five years ago, I did a major overhaul of my life. If you asked me back then if I would have a slight clue on where I’d be now, I would have given you nothing. I was on a fresh canvas, on my way to building a new life.
But it would be a shame if I didn’t tell you that a lot could happen in a year, let alone five years. A global pandemic was certainly not one of those. I thought I’d be at least more ready for more things. I thought I’d at least be more careful. The last five years — cue Jason Robert Brown — had taught me that if anything, life is not a race.
However, it is a daunting challenge when you are in the middle of staying in the past and moving forward. Or in my case, my life back in the Philippines and my life now in Japan. Two different selves trying to understand each other.
It’s not a simple situation of outgrowing one another; it’s an interaction between what is and what was. It is the kind of transition that I inevitably became unaware of simply for not being 100% in place. A limbo where I’m stuck in two parallel linearities that occasionally converge once or twice a year for the holidays.
I’ve never been an adult in the Philippines, but I’ve also never felt like Japan truly is home. It’s about time I admit that to myself. Comfort is not the grand answer to the question “Where is home?” There is so much more than that. Naturally, at 27, the thing you end up asking yourself is “Where to next?”
It’s already been half a year since my 5th year anniversary in Japan, and it hasn’t really changed anything. I spent most of last year at home, making coffee and waiting for the sunset so I can start my next Netflix binge. When I say “last year,” I want to say 2019, not the prolonged suffering of 2020 where we were all just in suspended animation of sourdough and anti-government protests. At this point I don’t which one’s going to kill me first: the virus or the government.
My biggest fear now is not losing time because of the pandemic, but being stuck in the same loop even after it. The cycle of asking “Where to next?” without realizing I prayed hard for where I am now. The fear of not being kind to myself because the steps I have made didn’t do anything for the world.
There’s this sort of anticipated guilt and grief during the pandemic that I can’t simply put my head into. Guilt because I am still alive, and my life is still well sustained amid all of this. Grief because of the collective suffering that’s being amplified in our echo chambers. Guilt because my only suffering is loneliness and boredom. Grief because you had to check in on your friends who have lost their loved ones consecutively.
It is the cycle of wanting to get rid of the sadness that comes with grief, and then feeling guilty at the very first chance of relief. Whatever comes first, you’ll just end up as drained as the next person. Consoling is a mere interaction of acknowledgement that, I, too, don’t have what it takes to keep it together.
I really hoped this essay would have ended with “I finally made it” or a grand life update about doing something new. But alas, it’s far from that. Like everyone else in the world right now, my responsibility is to keep on surviving and to keep on being kind to myself while we all figure out what to do next.