Of Colored, Dignified Tongues Conference:

the last one

Maria Vallarta

Image: Maria Vallarta

Image: Maria Vallarta


The first time I disobeyed her was the first time I kissed a boy. I never asked for her permission, just like how she never asked my permission for getting straight A’s, sparkling report cards, and so many “wonderful's," “spectacular's," and “good work's" scribbled on my assignments. It’s not like I didn’t want to get straight A’s—there were certainly benefits to it—I just didn’t like how she expected them, like it was a requirement or something, a requirement for being her daughter. And in order to do well in school and keep receiving straight A’s, I was not required to have a boyfriend—forbidden, in fact.

Scheduling my first kiss wasn’t that difficult. I was a smart, good, and cunning Filipina girl after all. Tuesdays were the best days because we were always released two hours earlier from school. Two less hours of a public education, as if that was what bored, robotic, disobedient teenagers needed. I lied to my mother and told her I needed to stay after school to work on a project. Of course, she believed me. Projects were important. They got me more A’s. And A’s were a surefire ticket to higher education, as my goody-two-shoes older sister already demonstrated.

I told him to meet me at the gate at 1:30. When the bell rang, I walked at a normal pace. I didn’t want to seem too eager, too determined to be breaking my mother’s rules. Of course, I was eager to see him too. It had been too long since eighth grade, too many phone calls, IMs, and MySpace messages that separated us from each other. It was only a few weeks ago—during a chat—that we proclaimed ourselves to be “together,” a truly appropriate word for a truly juvenile relationship. We didn’t go to the same high school. He went to Marshall—the Magnet school located in the midst of cute, colorful middle-class houses and a wide, grassy lawn that made my school’s dirt plots and rusted gates look like complete crap. Distance didn’t stop us though. Because we were “in love.”

I saw him. He was leaning against the gate, a sheen of sweat shining on his forehead and glasses glaring in the hot sun. It was a hot day. My palms were covered in sweat, but I could feel their temperature dropping steadily as I walked toward him, my teenage heart beating at the prospect of what was to come, of this one bad thing I was about to do, and the thousand of other bad things I wanted to do now that I was a rebel.

He saw me. He waved hello. I waved back, a goofy smile plastered on my face. This was it. I was gonna do it. I was gonna plant my lips on him and have the best damn first kiss anyone has ever seen. And the best part was that he wasn’t expecting it and my mother would never have to know about it.

I didn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to date. When did having a boyfriend have anything to do with my grades? How exactly would a boy distract me from doing well in school, from fulfilling my duty as her daughter? 

It never will. It never has.

Image: Maria Vallarta

Image: Maria Vallarta

the last one

gregoria, you were the last
of the manalastas girls,
the last of a long line of
sweet, undistilled kapampangan,
not bitter and brittle like the english
you heard your granddaughter
in america speak. through the phone,
your voice always sounded like
a dancing dragonfly—a whir, soft
buzzing—i remember your voice lulling
me to sleep as you sang about bahay
kubos in the breeze with hums
that sounded like talk stories.

but now, i will never again
hear you speak. will never see a dragonfly
and not be reminded of the faint,
broken buzzing i heard the last time
i skyped the philippines. will never forget
the withered skin, its yellowish tinge,
and how your eyes failed to recognize
the short, bespectacled girl begging you
to get well. i will never ever forget how
i wasn’t there.

i’m sorry i never learned you
as gregoria. i only knew you as 
inang. my little old lola who always
smelled like a catholic church,
who would pull me into her lap,
put chocolate in my hands, and slip
five pesos in my pocket. i’m sorry
i only got to know you when we came
to visit. if i knew i would never again
see you, i would have held your hand
until it became limp, kissed your forehead
pink, and sang and talked and cried
and laughed with you about everything.

but now i can only imagine.
can only write.
can only keep chasing

Maria Vallarta participated in the Of Colored, Dignified Tongues: Writing Conference in Spring 2013. She was an editorial staff member for {m}aganda Magazine and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley.