Photo by Katrina Ginete/THE FLAME

Editor’s Note: This piece is one of the works in a nine-part series in line with the Dapitan 2023 theme Panopticon. All works are written by The Flame‘s Literary staffers.

In Norse mythology, a colossal tree binds the nine realms. Its branches are bridges to the rest of the cosmos. Yggdrasil is the center of the Norse universe.

During a family dinner, I watched my younger sister flinch at an unsolicited remark from a relative. I knew she would cry alone later by the sudden shrug of her shoulders. She was trying to regain her composure, and I was there observing. The clash of utensils against the porcelain plates clouded her distress.

A non-expressive household sows vigilant eyes and ears. It bears hushed young lips. You have to be cautious to reap them open. 

The hand, sometimes in fists, is the prime herald of everything. I had to maximize every human sense to decipher the world within these walls. 

Ironically, a house that does not convey things through words yielded a writer. 

“Are you okay?” I asked when supper was done. We talked behind a closed door. She looked at me and knew I was not oblivious to what she felt. The agony stored behind her eyes started to trickle down her cheeks. She nodded and left the room. She proceeded to hers and locked the door. I let her be, perhaps silence would ease the clamor of insults she harbored that day. 

It was another interlude of sowing seeds of pain buried deep in the silenced ground.

One time I witnessed my five-year-old nephew dance to the television. His kuya, who is only two years older than him, played a remix song from a soundtrack of a Marvel film. The two expressed themselves through the movement of their limbs. Their laughter was in harmony with the rhythms the speakers made— something they do not perform in the presence of an old relative.

It was a view to behold: a glimpse of what lies beneath their skin under the music’s command. They tend to bow their heads and firm their shoulders around old people. There were times they had to comply with some deeds because they think it makes them more manly. They fear the bakla accusations without knowing what it really means.

These children were taught that an expression of their emotions, like a sudden shriek of excitement or a dance to a song, is a feminine trait. The same earth that taught us to be silent also established that expression is for the weak; and for males, it is an abnormality. This notion is such a contaminated soil to grow up in.

However, they must have realized that they are safe under my shade and branches. They paused the moment they saw me. “No, don’t stop. Just lower the volume, please. Your ate is studying.” My nephew pressed the volume button and chose another song. 

They did not stop. I hope they do not have to every time. 

As an older sister, this silenced earth cultivated me into a Yggdrasil. Despite having roots that limited me to reach farther, my sinews extend themselves from one world or identity to another. This is the only form of sensibility I had to be accustomed to.

Nevertheless, Yggdrasil also trembles under Ragnarok. Sometimes, I loathe having this kind of responsibility. It is tiring to notice everything: the weight of footfall on the wooden stairs, the pressure of the door when it is closed, the tone of old voices. It is exhausting to be the median of children within this household just because no one understood me and listened to me when I was younger. It is draining to know and comprehend things that are out of my control. 

Not every tree can withstand a storm no matter how strong and old it is.

Nonetheless, this is how a wheel is broken, is it not? It has to start with me, and I have to cut the harmful branches off. F

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