I don’t know. I am getting used to saying that: I don’t know. I do not have all the answers, most especially for what I feel. So when I wake up in a room that isn’t mine, to the smell of hot chocolate and the hazy outline of a forehead and hair and the slope of a nose…at first, that feeling of an expanding warmth scares me.
I don’t know what it is. But I know what I don’t want it to be.
I don’t want it to be love. I’m an old hand at falling in love and know that most times–since it’s always the wrong time–the fall means crashing into something that inevitably breaks or breaks down. And anyway, falling would ruin the easy-as-breathing of what we merry six have: a rambunctious puppy-brood energy spelled out in raucous shouting and low laughter. We were constructed never to feel those sorts of things for each other, and small wonder–romance is complicated, and the way we all fit together is supposed to be simple, elemental. It’s why we’re a modern orchestra, all mathematics and physics wrapped up in emotion. We move as a unit. We are a unit. We are family and that’s why the things that would be weird elsewhere are fine between us–hugs, swapping shirts, sharing this bed because I’ll be damned if I have to share with my ex-MU on the floor, even if the cot is wider and promises less likelihood for contact.
I forget my gender. They all forget my gender.
The warmth expands. My breath catches. For a second I’m afraid but then I realize by degrees that the feeling reminds me instead of sharing a bed with your cousin and best friend when you’re young and sleeping over. Before puberty makes things verboten. I make a noise loud enough to wake the dead then push the earphones I shared out of the way, get up, greet the day.
Breakfast is a loud affair, even though we are all half-awake. We scramble for rice, pork, eggs, hot chocolate. The guy I used to like–an interloper, a friend–is on my right, but it doesn’t feel awkward. This scene feels infused with rosy, ambient light, radiating outward. It’s blurry and perfect, and that’s when I put my finger on it. The feeling is tenderness, a sensation that these are memories I will look back on and smile at. Slotted into my place in the configuration of that blue bedroom, I wasn’t falling at all. Instead, my seat at the breakfast table, my pillow in the twin bed, my arm grazing our drummer’s head and my heels kicking our bassist’s leg–these are as surely mine as the space in front of the mic stand, at the edge of the stage. This is falling into place, the feeling of belonging, like a seat in the van that’s always yours because you’re the long-awaited girl in a brood of brothers.
Running with them isn’t always ideal. They forget themselves and me and familiarity always breeds a healthy degree of contempt. But over time it’s clear that we’re bonded: a pack, in a strange sense. And that sensation of long-term belonging explains the warmth I feel. Tenderness. Gratitude. For a few minutes longer our artificial family exists. The bubble does not burst. We laugh through breakfast. I am childishly proud of my friendships.
There are things from last night I’ll remember without having to write them down: driving at illegal speeds down Katipunan in an ancient car. Our rhythm guitarist yelling names of over the counter medication out the window. Leaning into our bassist’s bony shoulder. The drummer having to jump the fence to get in the house. Our lead guitarist’s grumpy expression that comes in lieu of a blush whenever his crush is named. These tiny moments are big adventures to me, as I build, slowly, the family I never expected and always wanted.
Tenderness. It sounds about right.