A love letter to a friend

The author (right) with poet Hossannah Asuncion

By Laurel Fantauzzo

I want to pluck the chill from cold gardenias and place it in your hair. I will be what you want of me—shadows of clock hands, the remaining drop in a coffee spoon. Anything, except cruel. — Hossannah

Dear Hossannah,

I’m writing this letter to you the week of Valentine’s Day. But in my heart I’m writing to you from that moment on January 1, 2012. Forgive me if that’s confusing, but here I go.

On January 1, 2012, I’m cold. Because I have just returned from Manila, I’m walking down Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn, and I have no jacket. Just a thin blazer and a sleeveless hoodie from Trinoma Mall in Quezon City.

On January first it doesn’t feel right, yet, to say that I’ve returned from Manila. I don’t really know where I am. Therefore, as I walk, Hoss, I have so many questions for you. Like:

How many departures and arrivals can possibly exist in one person?

Do we each have a quota?

What happens if we reach it?

Vanderbilt Avenue is so quiet.

I’m going to make a sweeping generalization about us, now, Hoss, and I hope you’ll forgive me for that too. I know you’re more precise than I am because you’re a poet: your careful lines instead of my sweeping sentences. But sometimes being FilAm feels so noisy. All of the questions attendant to the diaspora speaking inside of us. What do we owe the country our parents left? What shows, or hides, in my face, in my complexion? How American am I? How Filipina am I? What are the requirements for each? What do I owe the family I was born to? What do I owe the family I chose? What language should I have known? What language should I know? Where do I go home?

Why use that word at all? Home?

As I walk down Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn I’m cold and I’m trying not to think about how hot and noisy Quezon City is in comparison. Do you remember the heat and noise in Metro Manila, Hoss, when you visited the motherland back in 2003? Or did your family guard you too closely, keep you in the air conditioned malls and the family compound?

The heat like another skin. The diesel engines buzzing down every street, no matter how fancy the neighborhood. The vendors selling ‘balut’ and ‘taho’ and fish balls. The trash collectors. The scrap metal collectors. It’s not a matter of trying not to think about it; the sounds still echo inside of me. I feel them.

In a sense your family was right to protect you, Hoss. The Philippines can be dangerous in the way that a family can be dangerous. I could recite the list of crimes to you. The startling robberies, the close-quarters violence, the confusing series of courtesies and discourtesies and the vacillation between both that compose the experience of delicadeza. But as in a family there is that healing counterforce—the intimacy, the sense of community, the joy of self-disclosure and warmth and welcome I’ve found nowhere else in the world.

I’m still walking down Vanderbilt Avenue alone, Hoss.

I know I’ve told you a lot of things already, typing and clicking and Skyping to you from my little room in Quezon City. You were the constantly available name on my GChat list, the bespectacled listener from your little room in New York, the one to gently but fiercely correct me when you knew I was being too self-correcting. You are my Brooklyn Ate. “You’re Laurel,” you said to me knowingly once, when I was angsting over something I thought I’d done wrong, some delicadeza I thought I’d breached. “Of course you have to worry. You have to be anxious.”

Hoss, you are the only reason why I’m walking down Vanderbilt Avenue at this hour on January first, even though I’ve been up for 26 hours straight, never able to sleep on planes.

When I spot you two blocks away—your dark hair, big and majestic as it always is, even under a cap, and your strong, sure way of maneuvering the city, even though you’re shorter than I am, at five foot two inches, “rounding up,” as you say—I don’t call out loudly enough for you to hear me. I say your name, of course, the full praise and hope of it—Hossannah!—but I can’t seem to raise my voice on this quiet street. It’s as if the noise happening inside of me is making my voice mute.

I pause and I hesitate, but you’re still moving across Vanderbilt at the intersection of Prospect Place. I remember suddenly that I used to live on Prospect, six years ago. I follow you at a distance down this street I used to know. There is so much I want to say, Hoss. I look at your shoes, black high-top Vans, and I like them, they’re my style, and I know you know that. So I whisper to your shoes instead.

Hoss, on New Year’s Eve, my whole cul-de-sac in Quezon City filled with fireworks smoke. At 12:02 on January 1 in Manila, seven hours before my flight to the States, I coughed my way back to the front gate of my borrowed home. “Hey,” said an old man I’d seen every day in the neighborhood. “Where you from? Where you from?” I didn’t know how to answer him, so I didn’t.

Hoss, will all of my homes always feel borrowed?

Hoss, when I went back into the front gate to my borrowed home in Manila, I went upstairs and finished watching a terrible movie with two of my favorite Ates in the whole world. I think you would like them very much. They helped me weigh my luggage so I wouldn’t be charged extra. They helped me shift my things from bag to bag until everything felt equal. I fell asleep in between the two of them, all of us on the same bed, each curled under our respective ‘malongs,’ away from the fireworks smoke. Then they woke to take me to the airport.

Ate Hoss, how much does my luggage weigh?

Ate Hoss, how much will my luggage cost?

How many departures and arrivals can possibly exist in one person?

Do we each have a quota?

What happens if we reach it?

I’ve almost reached you now. You’ve paused in the intersection, at the somewhat dangerous center divider in the middle of Vanderbilt.

I don’t say anything, still, but you sense me behind you, and when you do, you reach up in your Hoss way that’s both warm and unsentimental somehow. You hug me hello for the first time in a year. You repeat, “You’re okay. You’re okay.” I know you’re right, and I think that’s why I hang on to you and cry.

You notice right away that I’m cold. You say the blazer and the sleeveless hoodie aren’t enough. You take me to Brooklyn Industries, and for my birthday/Christmas/welcome-back gift you buy me a black down jacket with a little water tower on it. You brush the shoulders and have me zip it up all the way. You have me lean forward and backwards in it and declare it the right size. You won’t let me choose a thinner, cheaper jacket. “You need down feathers,” you say. “You need to be warm.”

Hoss, thank you for welcoming me home.




  1. M. Matthews wrote:

    This is a love story, indeed. I cried when I finished reading it.

  2. CJ Surita wrote:

    I loved it so much. You’re an excellent writer.

  3. Laurel wrote:

    Thank you so much for reading!

  4. […] February of this year, I wrote a love letter to my friend Hossannah. I read it out loud for the last episode of the semester, then my pal Yuly […]

  5. Keira Cornejo wrote:

    I see interesting content here.

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