We Are No Longer Babaylan

Low Tide (detail), oil on canvas, 2014Image: “Low Tide” (detail) by Isobel Francisco, oil on canvas, 2014

TRIGGER WARNING

This is a post regarding mental illness, suicide, abuse, and assault.

Borderline personality disorder affects how you feel about yourself, how you relate to others and how you behave.

Signs and symptoms may include: 

  • An intense fear of abandonment, even going to extreme measures to avoid real or imagined separation or rejection
  • A pattern of unstable intense relationships, such as idealizing someone one moment and then suddenly believing the person doesn’t care enough or is cruel
  • Rapid changes in self-identity and self-image that include shifting goals and values, and seeing yourself as bad or as if you don’t exist at all
  • Periods of stress-related paranoia and loss of contact with reality, lasting from a few minutes to a few hours
  • Impulsive and risky behavior, such as gambling, reckless driving, unsafe sex, spending sprees, binge eating or drug abuse, or sabotaging success by suddenly quitting a good job or ending a positive relationship
  • Suicidal threats or behavior or self-injury, often in response to fear of separation or rejection
  • Wide mood swings lasting from a few hours to a few days, which can include intense happiness, irritability, shame or anxiety
  • Ongoing feelings of emptiness
  • Inappropriate, intense anger, such as frequently losing your temper, being sarcastic or bitter, or having physical fights

– from the Mayo Clinic

 

Seemingly ordinary events may trigger symptoms. For example, people with borderline personality disorder may feel angry and distressed over minor separations—such as vacations, business trips, or sudden changes of plans—from people to whom they feel close. Studies show that people with this disorder may see anger in an emotionally neutral face and have a stronger reaction to words with negative meanings than people who do not have the disorder.

– from the National Institute of Mental Health

 

The babaylan is a medium between heaven and earth, who heals, exorcises and restores harmony to her community. Her path begins with a mysterious call. Babaylan reply to that call initiated by walking miles on their knees, getting buried alive or immersed in water overnight. In mental, physical, emotional and spiritual struggle, like Jesus in the desert or the Buddha’s last temptation, they arrive at the end of their known reality. Then, at the brink of death, the threshold between the powers of darkness and light, comes the last stage: a spirit appears—and the babaylan learns about herself and her destiny in bliss. But she must decide whether to be a sorceress, a healer or a combination of both, and return to earth to fulfill her mission. 

The babaylan is always thought to be ancient, but she’s still here in our complex society. Anyone can be a babaylan. We have just forgotten, swallowed by the stresses of our lives.

Joycie Alegre, Chair of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ Subcommission of Cultural Communities and Traditional Arts

***

Before the story begins, a prayer, araraw.

Sapay ta iti kaaddak ditoy daga
Ket agbalin nga instrumento ti lawagmo, Apo a Namarsua.
Sapay ta dagiti amin a yad-adalko
Ket mangted iti lawag
Kadagiti agbirbirok iti adal ken laing.
Sapay ta ti bileg nga intedmo kaniak
Ket sagidenda dagiti makasapul iti panagsagidmo.

May my presence on earth
Be a channel of the Great Creator’s light.
May all my teachings enlighten those
Seeking knowledge and wisdom.
May the power bestowed upon me
Touch those who need the healing touch.

Virgil Mayor Apostol (translated into Ilokano by Aurelio Solver Agcaoili), Way of the Ancient Healer

***

 

In her early years, she had succeeded in putting countless men under her spell and then discarded them when she felt they got too close, possibly threatening her magic.

In the last decade, her powers have started to fade as she engages in reckless sexcapades with men in love with their ex-wives, who temporarily fall for her only to lick their wounds from their failed marriages while she only keeps them around to prove she is better than the women who preceded her, but her spells fail as she competes with other women for male validation, until she stops caring for them or they stop caring for her, carnal appetites satisfied on both sides, and then discarded like a soiled paper plate. She had also hooked up with a woman and nonchalantly broke her heart, as what seemed to be only a reason to mention it as a juicy avant-garde story, that a woman could also be her option. She calls these sexcapades feminism. I call it self-destruction.

She has the fearlessness and recklessness of an adrenaline-rush junkie fighter pilot, with no hesitation if duty ordered her to be a kamikaze, but also knowing full well she’d come away unscathed.

She has the brains of a mad scientist capable of building the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. She has built weapons of mass destruction.

***

When do you stop or keep stopping someone from killing themselves?

She refuses to get help or be properly diagnosed and is in constant denial she has a problem.

She is suicidal, but not all the time. She is a highly functioning individual.

When she loses a job, gets a new one, breaks up with a lover, gets a new lover, or moves, the world threatens to end every time.

When there is change, even when that change can be interpreted for the better, she has a difficult time interpreting it as such. The glass is half-empty where it has become my responsibility to encourage, persuade, or convince her otherwise.

So, when do you stop or keep stopping someone from killing themselves?

By Friday night before dinner, she had stormed off with the tea, the Mamon, and the other Christmas goodies, which she brought from LA for me to enjoy. In her rage, she forgot a pair of earrings on my desk. She forgot a pair of flip-flops by the door. I still wonder to this day if she left those personal items behind intentionally. As talisman in my house. Her presence forever stamped in my home. I’ve had to get rid of them. Unceremoniously.

I offered to carry her things to the car but she barked at me. Another violent and suicidal tantrum.

She is used to speaking in Shakespearean soliloquys. She does not believe in collective storytelling.

We had broken her rules of Shakespearean soliloquy that morning as my girlfriends and I talked, talked over each other, finished each other’s sentences like really good friends do. We joked. We laughed. We felt comfortable. She did not like how the conversation meandered from one girl to another in our circle, subject to subject to subject. She could not steer the conversation. She exploded without warning. Over brunch. Nothing I said or did could have prevented her tantrum. She had made up her mind after we had thrown our stories into the pot, when she controls the pot. My friends were not aware there was an owner to the storytelling pot. These were her rules. I knew her rules, have always known, have always been scared of the consequences like Alice against the Queen of Hearts, but it had been a while since she had a violent “Off With Their Heads” tantrum that I had hoped the rules didn’t exist anymore. I was wrong. From her bubbly giggle, she immediately transformed into the Queen of Hearts building up the bricks of rage little by little as the day went on, until she could blast them away with me and her and my girlfriends in it.

That same afternoon, she yelled at me in a store on the streets of San Francisco. She made a scene. I did not want to contribute to the scene and held on to calm. But like scenes made in public, when you are pulled in, you are in and cannot get out. She accused me and my friends of conspiring to exclude her when the reality was that my two other friends were just getting acquainted, hardly knowing each other. She insisted on coming to San Francisco with us even after her tantrum at brunch where she pulled out her phone, glued to her screen while ignoring us. I gave her the option of staying in Oakland but she demanded to tag along, her excuse being that she was unfamiliar with San Francisco and wanted to see it with us (this same woman who had traversed the entire world all by herself), even though she was already treating us as if we didn’t exist. She wanted me to beg her forgiveness on the streets of San Francisco. For a fault, I don’t know, except she wanted to be the center of attention that day, and she couldn’t be, because it was my friend’s birthday, and she wanted to make all of us miserable for not making her center of our world.

The day finally ended with her violent tantrum accompanied by her usual suicidal threats where she blamed me if she crashed her car that night. But before she did so, she insisted on inviting herself to my friend’s birthday dinner, the same friend whom she had ignored and rudely chastised in public when my friend tried making conversation with her earlier that day.

“Just tell me when we’re going to dinner.”

We? I told her she wasn’t welcome to my friend’s birthday dinner after her horrible behavior toward us. How could she think it was okay to keep forcing her presence as if it were the norm to endure her abuse all day, and at my friend’s birthday dinner? After I called out her behavior, she replied by calling me a horrible friend and then she stormed off leaving my girlfriends shaken while I stood at the door, shrugging my shoulders. “She does this all the time,” I told them. “Trust me,” I joked, “She’s like the IT monster. She does this every seven years.”

“How can you laugh?” one of my girlfriends asked as she stormed off.

Because I can. Because this is how it has been. Because there is nothing I can do. Because I know there is nothing I can do. Because decades of experience have taught me laughter releases all that is rotting within us.

She had turned forty that year, claiming her life was over. She has been claiming “My life is over” since she turned twenty-five. I can’t remember when her life wasn’t over. She had gone back and forth between wanting children and then not wanting them after she dumped a man who was smitten with her, the same man whom she gushed about months before but eventually dumped him because (1) she didn’t believe him or (2) she was bored with the chase. It was the last time she went into a suicidal rage in front of me, except this time, she was threatening suicide in my house, not her house, but mine, in my bedroom, and I had had enough.

Before she stormed off, I offered to pay for a hotel room as she threatened to drive back from the Bay Area to LA that very night and then told me I would be responsible for her death if she crashed her car. I told her she wasn’t allowed to verbally abuse me in my house. After she stormed off, my friends and I went to grab dinner. My friends were clearly shaken by what had just transpired, but I wasn’t. I was mad and sad and frustrated. But not surprised. I laughed. My friends could not believe I would laugh, but what else could I have done? Her violent tantrums had been happening forever now.

While trying to enjoy dinner with my friends, she proceeded to blast my phone with paragraph-long text messages, blaming me again if she died that night, telling me I was a horrible person for abandoning her and then reminding me where she hid her will as she named me executor of her estate. I did not answer her text messages. I simply read them aloud to my friends and then ignored them. My friends expected me to do something, to intervene like I always had, but after 3 decades of knowing this woman, this was not a problem I could fix.

After dinner, we headed back to my place where my friends got high while I got drunk. Candles lit. Christmas lights on. Two bottles of wine emptied. A joint smoked down to a roach. She would not have approved of the weed.

She never made it to LA that night. And she didn’t crash her car. She manages dramatic threats, something I’m used to, but even I knew she knew better than impulsively drive six to seven hours from the Bay to LA after 8 pm. As I expected, despite the suicidal threats, she paid a visit to one of her friends in the Bay, deciding to stay the night at her house. I’m sure her relay of events from that day to her friend is very different than what actually happened, painting herself as the victim to my malicious intent, but unlike her version, I have witnesses.

From what I learned from her ex years later, she was prone to throw things at him during her violent tantrums. A pen being one of them. Her diamond engagement ring another. She omits these details. She is the victim, gravely misunderstood, her royal highness of walking on eggshells. She doesn’t seem to remember her violent tantrums, and if she does, she spirals into madness, ranting how she is a monster and doesn’t deserve to be loved, which under the impeccable and insidious rules of gaslighting, inevitably becomes the listener’s responsibility to convince her otherwise. And then she forgets again. Many years later, her ex still remembers. And of course, I do too. 

Over the next couple of days, she sent me emails and text messages threatening to kill herself on New Year’s Eve, leaving once again a barrage of threats that wallowed in self-pity, when in actuality, numerous pictures of her at her friend’s New Year’s Eve party would surface online. She was laughing and smiling as if she was having the time of her life.

This is the public face she wears – unstoppable, charming, funny, quirky, beautiful, ambitious, successful.

I can tell you if you really knew her, she doesn’t believe she is any of these wonderful things except fat, ugly, sad, and a failure. But no one believes me after they have met her and think I am the one being crazy, unless you happen to witness her tantrums which are rare but real, and oddly the very big suicidal episodes do seem to occur every seven years. Sometimes over a break-up. A bad day at the job. Or a milestone birthday.

So, when do you stop or keep stopping someone from killing themselves?

I do not hold her knife, her pills, or her steering wheel. She blames me, screams at me, yells obscenities, accusing me time and time again that I am the one responsible if she does harm to herself when all I have done is answer her suicidal late night phonecalls, stand and weep and watch. She stabs me with her words, with her suicidal threats when I fail to answer her phone calls.

She says, “You don’t love me.”

She says, “I feel that you feel that you don’t love me. And that’s how I feel. Don’t tell me how I feel.”

Even though I point out that she’s telling me how I feel. She yells at me screaming tears and bloody fury, “Well, that’s just how I feel. I feel that you feel that you don’t love me. Don’t judge how I feel.”

Can you see how her statement gravely fails but you can’t argue it even though it makes absolutely no sense, but it makes all the sense in the world to her?

Six years before when she last threatened suicide, it was after a break-up. Collapsed on her bathroom floor, weeping inconsolably, she had called me. Two years before that, another break-up with another man and she was again collapsed on her bathroom floor, weeping inconsolably, on the phone with me. That was a week after she threw her diamond engagement ring at him, but she never told me that detail. I wouldn’t know of the ring throwing incident until her ex and I would speak several years later, sharing stories of emotional abuse that we suffered under her. But I digress. Both break-ups triggered trauma of childhood physical and verbal abuse, of abandonment. Not even childhood, but babyhood, where all the evil began.

(Darkness. Three-year-old arms being lifted and body being thrown against trash cans for not having eaten her dinner. Locked outside. Being told by her parent after he threw her against the trash cans, “You are not worth the food!” (She will recall this memory over and over again when she is triggered. She will measure her value against a plate of uneaten food. I wish my spirit could fly back to that night and protect her, when a demonic force raped her in the dark against the trash cans, claiming her three-year-old vulnerable soul. They say souls are at their largest during babyhood and very early childhood, when we are still fresh from the previous realm we originated from, so that baby souls are so much bigger than what their bodies can contain. The demon smelled her pain and loneliness and perfect innocent fear, invading her at her most vulnerable. I now understand why she returns to that moment: it was the very last time her pure self existed sans demon, and her adult self can see her pure soul then. She wants to time travel, reach back to the three-year-old, and save herself. It’s been devouring her ever since. I wish I knew how to exorcise it)).

Six years before when she last threatened suicide, she had sent threatening emails over the week saying she was going to kill herself. At that time, everyone closest to her thought, “This is it. Elsa, you have to do something!” 

I had called the suicide hotline for advice. They advised I call the police. I didn’t like that idea. I didn’t live in the area and had to assign our mutual friends who lived in the area to call the police. It was one of the most uncomfortable decisions I’ve ever had to make in my life: involve the police. I had talked to a police officer over the phone as he stood outside her apartment building. 

He asked me, “Did she specify how she was going to kill herself? Did her suicide emails say when and how?”

“No, Officer, she just said she was going to do it.” 

“She’s not answering her door after we’ve knocked several times and announced ourselves. I’m sorry but we can’t forcibly enter her home unless she has specified the method of taking her own life.” 

Huh, I thought. The officer’s response was definitely not what I expected like the movies where they break down doors when someone threatens suicide. I learned something that night. 

Through her slightly open blinds, they could see the lights on. She was sitting on the sofa watching television. She was clearly home but she would not answer the door. The officers continued to knock but not once did she come to the door. The officers were under no legal obligation to do anything else. It was late. Around 10 pm. Our mutual friends, a couple, who were there on the scene with the officers, confirmed she just continued to sit in her living room watching television. They, officers and mutual friends, had continued to knock on her door, but she would not answer them. I tried calling her cell to alert her, but she had it turned off, all of my calls going straight to voicemail. I felt terrible as the couple had to tote their 2-year-old son whom they had left asleep and buckled in his carseat while the wife was nine months pregnant. I hated having to drag them into this mess, but I knew no one else in the immediate vicinity whom I could confide in as it was unheard of that she would ever act this way, even though she had been acting this way for as long as I could remember. 

After a few more minutes of deliberation with the officers and our mutual friends over the phone, they decided to leave the scene. The officer was very kind to offer I call him again if there were further developments. I was in the Bay Area so there was not much else I could do. 

I couldn’t believe it had come to this: having to call the suicide hotline and the police, only so she could lounge in her living room basking in our obvious panic. Years later, she would deny or deflect the incidents of that night as if it never happened. 

You’d think I would’ve given up but I took an emergency flight the next day costing me almost $500 when I was barely making ends meet just to do some kind of intervention. 

I remind her what I had done out of love. I present the facts. I present the evidence.

And still, she simply scoffs and continues to adamantly claim:

“Whatever. I feel that you feel that you don’t love me. And that’s how I feel. You don’t care about me.” She doesn’t budge and continues to accuse me of being a terrible friend who gives up too easily on “friends-in-need.”

“You have better things to do than care about me and my problems.”

Infamous words I have heard time and time again when I miss her phone calls.

I told her to seek professional help.

I told her to call the suicide hotline. To this day, she has never called them even though I’ve called them several times in the past on her behalf. 

I told her to seek help from the shamans in our Motherland, learn from the descendants of our matriarchal ancestors, the babaylan, the high priestesses and healers who could teach her to rein in her powers with their ancient instructions (even though they have been forgotten or ridiculed by Western modernity as passé quacks).

She denies she needs help. “I have been doing fine without you.”

We do not speak for a long time.

She eventually apologizes almost a year later saying it was just a phase, that she’s gotten over it like she always does. She never apologizes to my friends whom she treated like crap that day. She cries, “I miss you.” Her human dumpster. I refuse to wait for the seventh year for the next big suicidal explosion that will send both of us reeling out of orbit.

Since childhood, we’ve posed as unstoppable, loyal forces. We are the descendants of babaylan whom Conquistador colonizers forced to mask their trauma and suppress their gifts, making them pose as if colonization saved them from their savagery and cultivated these “happily-ever-afters,” when it was out of survival and love that our babaylan ancestors silenced themselves for the survival of their children, and then their children would never know their gifts, and then their descendants would be born with powerful hands not knowing how to heal with them. 

People may wonder why and how I stuck around for so long. Why didn’t I just leave this woman who emotionally abused and gaslit me for decades. Sometimes having known each other forever doesn’t give you the choice you want to make for your own well-being.

I have realized, I can’t do this anymore.

I have realized, she nor I have the babaylan magic to fix any of this.

Since then Robin Williams and Izabel Laxamana have killed themselves while white males, generously coined as “lone wolves” have still been able to purchase guns and massacre hundreds of people at schools, churches, concerts, and nightclubs by reason of insanity. And people still wonder why. Helpless in their search for an answer.

We remain owners to giant airplanes who just need to learn how to fly.

**Follow up poem, Canyon

Categories Creative NonfictionTags , , , , , ,

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