Not there.

Yesterday, my youngest sister finished junior high school first in her entire batch.  A few months from now, she's going green, heading to that bourgeois university in Taft- all smiles from the ecstasy of moving to the city, leaving traces of wasted youth, yet still carrying the burden of proving herself to the people she will eventually leave behind. There's this certain pressure, so haunting and skin-deep, nobody talks about in the family. To parents, relatives, family friends we only know by face, church members who think they know us because we used to sing to gospel, and even random strangers who my parents used to teach- we are trophies. We are but self-operating robots surrendering to the ons-and-offs of the makers, subjected to their will.

At 8, after Sunday school in the church, people would flock over Jay and his treasured achievements while I sit in the corner being asked questions about him in class. On the way home, comparison was inevitable, and I crumble deep inside only to mask the frustrations and agony by watching a quiz show on the television until the maid calls me for lunch. At 12, when people started realizing I have something ahead of me, I expected a truce, a plateau. Instead, I get more of the shitload. I only got a runner-up trophy in a provincial competition when last year, the school's representative won the grand prize. That's great, you were good, not just good enough. At 15, I wanted to take film, but no, there's no money in that craft. No one is spending thousand of crap for an art so unappreciated in the country. You're wasting your life, they said. I can always shift, I said. There was negativity in the air, coming up with the compromise that I take a course they want, in turn I get the electives I prefer.

Ten years ago, I left the silent, suffocating sanctuary of my parent's home for the city. But the lingering echos from all the talks and expectations still resonate from one hundred miles away. It was so ingrained in my system, and it seems that there's no escaping. I used to ask my sister every end of the academic quarter her standing in class. Now, the question, rather, focuses on what she did not get. It is easy to blame my parents, all the shitty people who made me feel worthless, who instilled this self-imposed mantra of always proving myself better than what a crappy cousin said a few years back. But at twenty five, there should be no excuse.

Two weeks ago, both my grade school and high school invited me to give their graduating classes commencement remarks. I gave the lamest excuse- taking advantage of this new job, the pesky persistence to please the new boss, to blend with the crowd. But I know. How the heck can impart wisdom to the unadulterated yet stubborn minds of today's youth when I am on the peak of questioning the decisions I made in the past, so abrupt and uninspired, that make me doubt whatever glint of prosperity possibly lies ahead. No, I cannot move others when I am stuck. And the pit is so deep, it will take a miracle to get out of this hell hole.