I’ve been staring at this hole above our room for a couple of hours now. I can’t sleep. No, I don’t think I have turned into an insomniac. I believe my body clock was ruined by my three-week long holiday vacation wherein all I did was watch movies and series, read books, eat junk foods and stay up late until 3 in the morning. My clock says 1:31. If I’m lucky, I still have an hour and a half to stare at the ceiling (if I stop typing) since I always feel sleepy at 3am these days. But then again, I took a nap when I got home from work and just woke up at 10pm. Oh, you elusive sleep.

I’m still looking at it and sometimes I wonder what’s inside it: pieces of wood, some electric wiring, dust and insects, perhaps.

Ghosts? Probably. Sometimes I stare at it long enough I wonder if anything but human will come out of it, a Grudge-ish ghost maybe. And then there are days when my niece Poipoi will look at it and ask me, “Tita, wala namang multo dito, diba?” My answer differs depending on her kulit level and my patience level. Sometimes I’d tell her no, ghosts are not true. And whenever I need my peace and quiet, I’d tell her the mumu would come out. Boo! And she’ll be afraid and get out of the room right away.

During the summer season, the hole will emit hot air coming from the heat of the sun. If I sleep late, that hot whiff of air will wake me up, every time. That would be my cue that it’s already noon and it’s time to get up. I hate it.

Maybe you’d ask, why don’t we get it fixed? Or have it covered? It’s because we just rent the house, silly. Our landlady’s a stingy, mukhang pera bitch who’s super fast in getting rent money but cannot be reached when asked for house repairs.

Our family has been renting all my life. In my quarter of a century’s existence, gahd I’m old, I think we have been to six different houses already. Well, five, technically.

We lived at 2723 Legarda for ever since I can remember. It’s an old Spanish house my lolo and lola from the father’s side rented when they moved from the province to the city with their kids and started the ice business. Over time, the couple went back to Leyte and being the eldest, Nanay Luz, took over the management of the house. The 12 other siblings pitch in for the house’s monthly rental and almost everyone never left the big house when they get married and started a family. So it’s kind of like a compound full of Moneses. In front, Nanay Luz runs her own sari-sari store and beside that is my father’s ice business, which my friend Ray would fondly call “Ice Palace” and call me the “ice princess.”

Over the years, they sublet some rooms to other people (who are not relatives, but practically relatives who have seen us grow up). Unlike other compounds, 2723 Legarda has one big public bath and wash area where everyone has to wait for their turn to wash the dishes, take a bath and some wives can wash their laundry together while talking about the latest showbiz and people gossip and stuff. I believe that that area was the most “makasalanan” of all because there are chismis, catfights, and sometimes some instances of peeping toms. Gross. I hated 2723. My mother calls it “bente siete bente tres” and that “siete” stands for chismis. How very apt. I rarely even brought friends over because I was ashamed of where we lived.

When I was in the third grade, my mom got in a big fight with one of my aunts that my father decided that maybe it was time to leave. In weeks, we packed our bags and moved to SAVEDECO building to another street. Life was better. I loved that house. It was clean, my mom is the only noisy person around and the area is too big we can literally play patintero inside.

However, the rent got so high that my parents decided again to move to a house with a cheaper rent in the summer of 1997. This time, we moved at Loreto. We only stayed there for a year because during rainy season, the flood get as high as waist deep. Luckily, we lived at the second floor so our house was never flooded. Unfortunately, we can’t go downstairs either to buy food because of the flood. I remember Ate Fe, our school service driver’s wife, would carry me and my siblings whenever there is flood to and from the service. Thankfully, I weigh like a feather so she carries me like a baby.

By the time I’m in my sixth grade, that beautiful looking house in front of my lola’s house in Sta. Teresita was for rent. That house was a mystery to me then because its door was always closed. I always imagined it to be so beautiful when I was a kid and I was so giddy to even think that we’re going to move in there. Apparently, one of Aling Gloria’s daughters was impregnated out of wedlock they had to move to save their face from humiliation. At 7,000 a month (if my memory serves me right) my parents agreed and we moved in.

I loved that house. It was my favorite among the houses we rented. I remember that I love our (Cat and I’s) room. It was big. During rainy season, we’d hear frogs from the backyard you’d thought you’re living in the province. We also believed that there are ghosts lurking inside. There are the occasional footsteps outside the second sala in the second floor during night time and it was really eerie, I’d tell you. Our terrace gave me goose bumps that we almost never hung out there, and the kitchen sometimes feel like someone’s looking at you; but other than those things, I love it. It was in those stairs I took three steps up and jump to the last step so I’d only have my period for three days. And that’s where we watched N’Sync’s Madison Square Garden concert countless times we already memorized the steps and knew all the songs by heart. Those were really fun memories of my adolescence. Although my parents had their biggest fight in that house I thought I’d be choosing who to live with, I opt to remember the fun memories.

A year after, Aling Gloria said that they are selling the house, if we can afford it, then it’s ours. We didn’t have the money then so we moved back to 2723 Legarda, the hellhole. I also found out that my father had plans of running as barangay chairman at Legarda. The universe had conspired for us to move back.

In 2001, I wrote “May 2001” at the wall with a coal. We’re back. My father lost the election in 2004, by the way. The next term (2007), he did win, but the election returns got switched, he wasn’t able to serve the barangay. Then there were election case after case, I think my father spent almost a million during that time. We could have bought, I don’t know, something tangible, maybe a house, with that money. He ran again and this time, lost in 2010. I thought that was it. If he’s running one more time, I’m not supporting him. I told him that Brgy. 410 is not even worth pursuing, and serving, so why bother?

Since the man in power is not my father anymore, (he won the election case, by the way, but only got to serve for three months since we all know how sucky, dragging and sloooow the system is in the country) by the time 2723 Legarda was in so much debt and the owners are buying us out along with three other houses beside us, the chairman didn’t help us. It was another year or two of sucky, dragging and slooow system. But this time, that pretty much worked to our advantage. Since there is an impending case, we’re not paying for the rent anymore until the court makes a decision. I guess what happened was mismanagement on Nanay Luz’s part. I heard we owe the owners hundreds of thousands. I don’t know how she manages it, but somehow money got steep to everyone living there that before we know it, we are in deep shit.

Life at 2723 Legarda was no fun. I had to “take a number” before I can actually take a bath, pee or poop. We had makeshift sink (we live at the second floor) so we won’t fall in line with the other household’s washing of dishes. I seldom bring friends at home, because our house was located in the innermost part of the compound, we have to get past by everyone and that just sucked, in all levels imaginable I’m too eeked out to even share in this post. I envy my friends’ okay houses. I am itching to get out.

My sister and I’s room usually gets wet from the rain. It’s too small. The entire house is noisy and rowdy and I really think we’re just a foot or two away from describing the house as shabby. But I guess that’s just me. It’s still an okay house compared to other houses, but I know my family can do better.

In December of 2011, I believed we lost the civil case. We were asked to vacate the house one Saturday morning. It was the most humiliating time in my life. We were packing frantically. After we had the kids and the important documents brought over my aunt’s house nearby, I started packing stuff, securing my shoes first.

My father does not want to leave. He just sat at the sofa while we we’re packing. I remember Cat and I had to pause for a while to tell him that it was over. He said we left him hanging there. I told him, we’re never really going to win this battle; we just bought ourselves some time. And it is time. He got up and started unscrewing bolts and carried the big stuff we can’t move. My brothers’ friends came over to help. It was very touching.

Thankfully, my mom, who’s like a supermom that time (and everyday of her life) found a house immediately where we can move in the same day. She wouldn’t let us have a day with no roof above our head.

And now we’re here, at the sixth house. I’m lying in my bed, having a staring game at my room’s 1/8 illustation board size hole above me when thoughts ran through my head and prompted me to share our house rent story.

At this ungodly hour of 2:32 am, I am making it known that I will never let my family have the kind of story we had at 2723 Legarda. I know that it’s not a compelling story worth the airtime, but I think everyone must have an ambition to do better than what their parents have given them. Don’t get me wrong. My parents gave us what we need and what we want that will make us live a happy and comfortable life. And I am grateful and will forever be indebted with the kind of life they gave me, heck, up until now, my mom won’t let me wash my own clothes! I just want to give my future kids a better one than the kind of life my parents give me. I do not dream of having a house inside one of those high-security gated subdivisions. A two storey home in an average subdivision, where there are no flood scares, with enough room for the kids and guests to come over and a home where my kids won’t be ashamed to bring friends over is fine by me.

Wow. I just shared a part of my life that all started with staring at that hole in the ceiling.

Stared for a few seconds again and I wonder what lies in it.

A few days ago, I was able to see 2723 Legarda again. If you must know, a gas station now stands from where our old house stood. The first time I saw it again, I felt a rush of memories came over me. I have spent twenty years in that house. Almost all of my memories are from there. Twenty birthdays, Christmases, New Years, countless fears, tears and joys were witnessed by that house. Now all I can see is this big gas station. I can’t even picture where our family’s part of the house was located anymore. All my childhood memories are gone, lost in oblivion. I wonder if ten years from now, people would remember that Sariling Sikap Carinderia, Armel’s store and Mones Ice Delivery once stood there.

There are days I miss it. But on most days, I’m glad we were able to get out of it. Sure, our families do not see each other everyday now, but our reunions will make more sense now. I’d still have the memories, both good and bad, and then there are photos. Overall, I still have my family with me. And that’s kind of the best thing, really.

Hashtag, cheeseballs during witching hours.