When your little brother knocks

When your little brother knocks on your bedroom door,
(sobs wracking his gangly frame)
open it & sit beside each other on the floor.

“What’s wrong, bro?”
“That’s not very specific.”
“I think you…”
“I would what?
“…would be better off without me.”

When your little brother’s eyes are bloodshot,
(a never-ending stream of tears flowing)
hand him the tissue box & wring your hands.

“That’s not true. Why would you think that?”
“I’m a burden. I’m always messing up.”
“You’re doing great in band! Your grades are decent, too.”
“If I was dead, no one would have to worry –”
“I’d have to go to a cemetery to see you.”
“But — “

When your little brother teeters on a ledge,
(more often than not these days)
carefully pull him back to safety.

“Dad thinks I’m worthless. Mom will never be proud of me, either.”
“You can’t leave Brie & me.”
“It’s all so pointless.”
Promise me.
“I know, Sam. I promise. I won’t.”

When your little brother’s confidence flourishes,
(years later, but it couldn’t have happened soon enough)
let go of the breath you didn’t know you were holding.

Disney World family trip

After work last Tuesday, I flew to Orlando for the family trip to Disney World. I was (mostly) dreading it because extended time spent (really, any time spent) with my parents is always stressful. Still, I was looking forward to spending time with my siblings. We stayed at the Disney Wilderness Lodge, which is a nice hotel with a log cabin motif.

On Wednesday, we did brunch at the Lodge, then took a boat to Magic Kingdom.

Boat from the Wilderness Lodge to Magic Kingdom.

Boat from the Wilderness Lodge to Magic Kingdom. 07.31.13.

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How I survived family vacation

Godiva liqueur-infused strawberries. Disney Wilderness Lodge. Territory Lounge. Orlando, Florida. 07.31.13.

Godiva liqueur-infused strawberries. Disney Wilderness Lodge. Territory Lounge. Orlando, Florida. 07.31.13.

Not pictured: my friend Michele, who I shared these with, or my awesome siblings, whose company made the trip fun.

Hugs amidst chaos

sibs '93 xmas

Matawan, New Jersey. December 24, 1993.

When you grow up amidst chaos, siblings either stick together or fend for themselves. My siblings and I chose the former. Birthdays, holidays, and weekends were our parents’ potential battlegrounds. Instead of physical aggression (against each other or us), there was constant psychological warfare.

Our parents screamed about each other’s families, parenting techniques, and money. They cursed in English and Tagalog. Mom slashed handbags that Dad gave her and ruined his silk ties into the bathtub. Dad punched walls and drove away, ignoring speed limits and traffic laws.

We retreated to my and Brie’s room to play. Raf read “The Spooky House Old Tree” aloud. Brie smiled, waving her toy ice cream cone in the air. I wrote in my Beauty & the Beast diary. On the few occasions that Raf and I would bicker, our mother protested.

“That is not how good siblings act. You love each other. Hug it out.”

There was rarely ever peace. Raf, Brie, and I relished the quiet moments. The fleeting laughs. We were conditioned to be on our best behavior at all times, lest our mistakes set off one of their fights. By the Christmas of 1993, I had assisted my mother in packing our clothes up three times, each time waiting on those steps by the door with my siblings bundled up in coats.

In spite of the fact that our parents couldn’t follow their own rule (if you love each other, you hug it out), we did. As adults, we’ve become each other’s confidantes and friends. I wouldn’t trade that for the countless days ruined by a volatile couple we begrudgingly called our parents.


July 24, 1991: Matawan, New Jersey

Kicking off my sneakers, I sat cross-legged beside my mother on the hospital bed.

“Sammi, this is your sister Sabrina. Your dad and I decided that we’ll call her Brie.”

“Can I hold her?”

“Just be careful.” Mom warned as Brie squirmed in her swaddle.

I cradled my newborn sister. “Hi Brie. I’m your big sister Sammi.”

My little sister wrinkled her nose.

“When you grow up, both of us can make Raf play Barbies. When you come home, I’ll read you my favorite books — I know you’ll love them, too. And we can share clothes once you’re not a baby!”

Brie promptly fell asleep.

Summer 2004: Birmingham, Alabama

“Brie, no running!”

I sprinted after my thirteen-year-old sister through the Wal-Mart toys section. Brie grabbed a large bouncy ball and galloped toward the cashiers. I caught up to and linked arms with her. Once in line, two white elderly women clucked disapprovingly behind them.

The taller woman shook her head. “It’s a shame when foreigners let their kids run wild.”

Her shorter companion nodded. “Though, it’s not their fault. Where are their parents?”

I rolled her eyes and turned to face the women. “Being brown and speaking English aren’t mutually exclusive.”

The women gasped, poised to insincerely apologize.

“Our parents are at home. My autistic sister wanted to go to Wal-Mart to get a new ball. She has the mental capacity of a toddler. Don’t even think about saying bless her heart, because people like you are full of shit.”

Brie giggled and tugged my arm. “Sammi — play ball?”

“Yes, Brie. We’ll play when we get home.”

Fall 2012: Alpharetta, Georgia

“Sammi’s room!” Brie hugged me and gestured upstairs.

Once in my room, I asked, “Brie, are you okay?”

Brie’s brow furrowed. “Yeah — Sammi’s room is fun. No Mommy.”

I stifled a laugh as we sat beside each other on my bed. Brie turned on her iPad and pulled up a photo of her with a black boy a couple of years younger.

“Who is that, Brie?”

“Dylan from Speech. He is nice and cute.”

As my little sister showed me more photos of her crush, I couldn’t help but laugh. In spite of our differences, we’re sisters. We don’t just share the same DNA; we also share the same taste in men.

The Golden Rule

Holy Saturday, 2011

“We’re going to hell, bro.”

“Let’s toast to that, sis.”

I tapped my glass with Raf’s — bourbon & Diet Coke and rum & regular Coke respectively — and drank. We delivered the tithing envelope to St. Benedict’s earlier that evening. Rather than staying for Mass, we went to TJ’s, a sports bar, instead.

Our parents were never the wiser after these excursions. Raf always picked up a weekly bulletin from the vestibule and I kept Febreze in my car to neutralize the lingering stench of bar smoke. Reasoning with our parents about our lack of connection to the church resulted in the same monotonous lecture about faith and tradition.

“A toast — to our tradition –”

“– of having fun, instead of sitting through Mass.”

A random Sunday, summer 2012

Starbucks was surprisingly empty for a Sunday morning.

“How about a table on the patio?”

“Will we be able to hear anything?”

“You brought your earbuds, didn’t you?”

“Yeah — plus, we don’t wanna be those people watching a show while people are trying to do work in peace.”

“Watching and reacting to the show, you mean.”

Initially, I was skeptical. Game of Thrones sounded nerdy as hell. However, once we started watching the day before, we only stopped the marathon to eat and sleep. Somehow, we were more compelled by these fictional storylines than by any sermons we had heard.

Easter Sunday, 2013

“What is this — you guys get drunk so you don’t have to go to Mass?!”

We shrugged at our mother, wine glasses in hand.

“Too bad, you’ll just have to sober up. We’re going together as a family.”

An hour later while driving to church, we ignored our parents’ typical pre-church conversation.

“Stupid asshole just cut me off, Ting!”

“He’s probably a Korean. You know they can’t drive, Fran.”

“I hope it’s not Father Charles today. His sermons are so boring.”

“His Nigerian accent is hard to understand.”

I finally cut in. “You always fall asleep during his sermons. So what’s the point of going to Mass, when you get nothing out of it?”

“It’s important to go to Mass, anak.”

We exchanged exasperated looks. Our dad’s Filipino accent suddenly materialized, as it did whenever he was trying to impart wisdom. We tuned out the rest of the lecture. Today was no different from any other Sunday.

Still, we had hope. Treating others the way you wanted to be treated was the message we internalized from years of being dragged to church. Perhaps one day, our parents would realize the same.