Personal Thoughts: On Chopping Onions and Homesickness

I was chopping onions for my parent’s omelette, shedding tears all the way. Some of those tears were biological, springing from the onions. But the rest were real tears, wrung out from my insides that cried out for the “home” I missed so terribly, a million miles away. I never knew before that tears could be so double-edged, sharp and acidic. All I knew was that I was just simply chopping onions, and then the floodgates of tears opened. It felt good you know, crying my guts out, purging myself of private pains and sorrows, of the homesickness that is slowly killing me inside. I never knew chopping onions could be so therapeutic. Such a good excuse for crying without being watched.

Nobody noticed me, not even my mother sitting across from me on our kitchen table, reading the morning paper. Definitely not my father, a few feet away, watching CNN while nursing his usual cup of coffee. At one point my mother glanced up from her newspaper and looked at me thoughtfully. I almost froze right then and there, I thought she noticed, but she just chuckled and said. “ Ano ba yan, parang sibuyas lang eh, tama na nga yan.” I managed a weak smile and heaved a sigh of relief. I definitely didn’t want to burden her with my trivial problems. She already has a lot of things weighing on her mind.

I don’t know what it was, what triggered the floodgates to open. Maybe it was the chilly winter air drifting through the open window, or the sappy Christmas song playing on the radio. Perhaps it was the dreary view outside; the sky, a gray sea of dark, ominous clouds, dark and foreboding, perfectly matching my mood. Maybe it was just hormones and I was just PMS-ing I really don’t know. What I know is that once I started crying I couldn’t stop.

This is my first Christmas here in the US, my first Christmas away from “home”. I should be happy right, it’s not like I’m all alone in a foreign land; my parents are here and I have a lot of relatives. They say I should be thankful, that I have the opportunity to live here in the land of “milk and honey”. But I feel like something’s missing. I find myself longing for the things I took for granted before, the noche buena at my lola’s house in Mindoro, the smell of warm puto-bumbong wafting in the air, my lola’s voice waking me up in the ungodly hours of morning for the Simbang Gabi, getting lost in the sea of last-minute Christmas shoppers at Megamall or SM, sitting on the front porch with my cousins; huddled in warm blankets and singing out-of-tune- Christmas songs at the top of our lungs (much to our neighbor’s dismay). All those simple things.

Sometimes, I close my eyes and escape to the past; the memories, like beacons of light glowing in the distance, guiding me back to the past. I have vivid memories of past Christmases spent at our ancestral home in Mindoro. I remember how it was. On Christmas day, carolers would sing from house to house, but the most ardent “suitors” are the children from nearby streets and barrios. They carry with them emptied tin cans, forks or spoons, or anything at all that would make a sound. The sound of banging kitchen utensils plus their monotonous singing of “Jingle Bells,” “Silent Night,” and “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit” would give you no choice but to give them something, either candies or money. I remember the noise, the flurry over the decorations and the noche buena meal, the smell of my lola’s cooking wafting in the air, the excitement of unwrapping a gift, and the laughter deep into the morning.

Homesickness seems to hit hard especially at Christmas. I thought by now I finally got over my homesickness. I stopped crying at night, stopped soaking my pillow with tears and muffled sobs, stopped locking myself in the bathroom for a good cry, so that my parents wouldn’t hear. The first two months were particularly hard, I thought I would die of homesickness. Then the tears just stopped. It was as if a plug has been put on the floodgates and the tears just wouldn’t come out. Now, I’m not so sure anymore. They say these things are all part of adjusting to a new place, and maybe it is. I hope that one day, this place would finally feel like home to me.

Meanwhile, I’ve got onions to chop.

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