In Memory of Izabel Laxamana, May 30, 2015
I’ve been looking at old pictures of Izabel Laxamana this month. Izabel, posing with her sweet signature smile with family, as if her family were the pinnacle of a perfect happy family and that whatever happened to Izabel was a fluke, some mere accident to make you think, “How could she have done such a thing? She came from such a beautiful, loving, picture-perfect family.” That is, until you see the YouTube video and wonder what kind of father, the same father in those beautiful, loving, picture-perfect family photos, would cut off all his daughter’s hair for flirting with a boy.
I know what it’s like to live inside that beautiful, loving, picture-perfect family when all is not what it seems. Particularly as a Pinay, you are never to shame your family, where you must be obedient and never break, never defy, that image of the beautiful, loving, picture-perfect family, when it was never any of those things to begin with, as if everything wrong with you is only you. “It’s you – not us.” Izabel, the eldest girl in her family, the first who would have to go through the trials and tribulations of blossoming into womanhood, where flirting with a boy would be a natural rite of passage, where one’s changing girl-body into a woman would be something the world and herself would notice, and where testing out the waters of independence would be shaky and full of mistakes.
Her father would feel like he could control that blossoming and punish those mistakes as if to remind her: “No. You do not own your body. You do not post pictures of yourself and send it to boys.” And then proceeded to confirm his ownership over her body by cutting off one of the most beautiful and intimate parts of her body – her hair.
In her suicide note, Izabel made it clear that she was not blaming her father for her suicide, and she assured him how much she loved him and clearly stated he had nothing to do with her decision, as if the note automatically absolved him of any prior wrongdoing he committed against her, and thus, this absolution would excuse him from the ultimate act of wrongdoing, the suicide of his daughter. It’s interesting in death how she remains humble, forgiving, and in a strange way, obedient, that even in death, she fulfills the prototype of a good Pinay daughter. Despite her ultimate and extreme form of what could be called defiance, her letters reveal her unwavering obedience – excusing and still loving the very person who committed one of the greatest grievances against her.
Regardless of who is to blame, she lost her beautiful hair.
Regardless of who is to blame, her father recorded that video.
Regardless of who is to blame, that video was posted to YouTube and garnered 4 million hits.
Regardless of who is to blame, her father blamed her for having to cut her hair.
Regardless of who is to blame, she stayed obedient to her father and never blamed anyone but herself.
Regardless of who is to blame, she isn’t here today.
Do we blame Izabel for resorting to taking her own life?
Do we excuse all other factors that brought her to that moment on the bridge?
Does her father understand the gravity of his actions?
Or does he believe that his little Izabel’s fatal response was just some fluke?
Does he sleep at night?
Do we stop talking about this?
Do we keep asking ourselves why?
Izabel would have been Sweet 16 today. What kind of 16-year-old would she have been – rebellious, flirtatious, popular? Posting pictures of herself and her friends on Instagram? Maybe not always obedient? Maybe dating a boy behind her parents’ back? Maybe breaking rules like the average teenager? But she isn’t here to break any rules. As evidenced by her father, she was never allowed to break any.
I never met Izabel, but after hearing her story, and remembering her three years later today, I still think of what 13 looked like for me over two decades ago, and it saddens me that some fathers never change. It still makes me feel helpless to think of her while I wish, I wish I could’ve been there to hold your hand and say, “You are going to get through this.”
The following is a video poem I recorded in memory of Izabel in 2015, the same week I found out about her death.
love and peace to Izabel and for others whom we do not know their names
The first time, the edge of a coat hanger.
An old metal one.
The one I imagined women used before Roe.
The edge usually curled around the bar in your closet.
Its curled metal wire
holding the weight of a dress,
a folded pair of jeans,
I straightened the curl,
slashed the tip against the inside of my forearm
the skin thin and soft
when too cold or too hot.
A smooth pink path was lifted across.
Hundreds of tiny red dots
rush to the surface
and didn’t break through.
The pointy edge wasn’t very sharp.
I had to push hard, even then,
a moment of hesitation,
stopping myself from teetering too close
to the edge.
I couldn’t get that far.
The pink raised path along my arm was enough.
This time the hanger.
Next time more blunt objects like dulled scissors
never sharp enough to prick skin,
but dull enough to ride the inside of my arm
like a bumpy dirt road,
leaving its tracks in the sand.
I always stopped myself for more. Out of
- fear of falling too fast without having the heartbeat to change my mind—
- hope that tomorrow will be better—
we sit for the longest time,
we straddle the f e n c e
but one of us always returns home before
the second leg would make the final leap
to the other side.
You and I both want to choose what cannot be taken away.
But you, Izabel, choose ultimately what I could never accomplish.
I think of you, Ms. Izabel Laxamana,
your beautiful long hair,
your smile that could be my sister’s,
that could be my own.
I see you straddling the fence, maybe 100 times,
you, who didn’t need much to grow into her own.
I wanted so deeply to hold your hand. Magbalik ka,
I would’ve whispered to you. Magbalik ka.
I would’ve pleaded.
But I wasn’t there to hold your hand.
I only was there to hear of your fall
with no one to catch you on the other side,
except you meeting relief release.
Does your community think you a coward? Blame you for not taking life’s knocks?
You are fucking stupid.
That was mine without YouTube.
Ukininam. Fucking stupid.
Anak ni diablo.
Our folks making rhymes
to sing us to sleep,
to tear us apart.
“The consequences of getting messed up, man, you lost all that beautiful hair,” a male voice can be heard saying from behind the camera. The video pans down, where long locks of black hair are scattered on the ground. “Was it worth it?”
“No,” you respond quietly.
“How many times did I warn you?” he asks.
“A lot,” you reply, barely audibly.
How many times?
How many times?
How many times?
How many times?
How many fucking times?
Hiya, Hiya, Hiya.
Not studying hard enough.
Getting that C- in Social Studies.
Having a boyfriend too soon.
Getting caught smoking a cigarette.
Filling up the gas tank with 87 octane rather than 92.
Holding the pencil wrong in your fingers.
Not knowing how to count change.
The reasons are endless but are they ever good enough?
I’ve seen those reasons explode
leading us to that bumpy dirt road on my arm
leaving its tracks in the sand
or you with your second leg
making the final leap to the other side
Let’s stop this, please.
How many more of we are out there?
I love you, more
than you know.
I love you, more
than I know.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you’re in crisis or feeling suicidal, please call 1-800-273-8255. You can also chat online with someone from NSPL at any time, day or night.