Prologue: Standing in the Sunset Glow
I once read an interpretation of an old Japanese television series I watched about child soldiers, and one of the main themes was that you could subject children to extreme brutality and hardship, but for some reason, something in each individual’s inner nature causes them to become different people. Some were honorable warriors, others were bloodthirsty savages. A very big metaphor for the nature versus nurture argument. In my view, nurturing people is what brings out something within them and triggers who they naturally are, which is why the extremes of hardship and privilege will tell you enough about someone.
Another quote I heard best summarizes this:
Two things determine your character: your patience when you have nothing and your attitude when you have everything.
The one argument people in my family use to dismiss the complexities of my life is to point at my younger sister. What they do not realize is their assumptions tell me more about them and what lies my father told them about our life; that people truly did believe we were extremely privileged people. The problem is, they didn’t know my father, and my father didn’t want them to know either.
Part I: Black Sheep, Ugly Duckling, Scape Goat
I’ve had people tell me that coming from an Asian family, especially with both Chinese and extremely patriarchal Philippine heritage, that I should be spoiled and my sisters wouldn’t have gotten spoiled the way they did.
I do not deny my family was wealthy in the 1970s and 1980s, which could be measured by him owning a yacht as one example of what he was manifesting with his charm and intelligence. It’s actually harder to prove this because people know more about my recent history than my past, and the story back then is very, very hard to talk about, in addition to the risks and consequences of putting this all out there.
Dad was a handsome man, a philanthropist, a playboy, and was on top of the world, but he was definitely not a family man beyond the image it served him. There is no doubt that he loved me, and I love him too. Despite how I characterized him before, he remains the man I love and spend every day longing to have back in my life. But he also was a flawed man who believed that because my sister was younger and a girl, she should have more privileges and special considerations, which he hammered in and stayed with me the day she got her first menstrual cycle.
My younger sister endured much of what I did, including moving from couch to couch, seeing father in and out of jail, mother giving us up because she had no money to raise us or care for us, or bring us back when my father kidnapped us and lied to us as children. For some reason, she became a different person, and part of that was the privilege she had, the people she was around, and her own internal chaos.
If she was a popular girl, it was because she did whatever she could, including disassociating herself from me, in order to fit in with the popular crowd, and scapegoating me when I challenged her pretensions, embarrassing her when I refused to let her treat our car as a chauffeur service for her friends and disregard my time, or the driver’s time.
I can only describe her as an avatar of selfishness and evil. I do not doubt she cared for me in her own twisted way, but her actions remain with me up to now, and they are very painful, not because of the privilege she had that I didn’t, but her blatant disregard for other people.
I think of the drivers in the Philippines, whom she would never give money to eat and make them work until the early morning hours waiting for her to finish her late night dalliances with friends at the bars in Manila (at the tender age of 15), and have them come back two hours later to ferry her and her friends away for long weekends, without asking them if it was okay to be away from their families at the last minute, or considering that my father couldn’t afford to both pay for petrol and car maintenance. I cry inside when I remember her yelling and swearing at the drivers and maids, who confided in me about their dislike for her.
I remember how she used to tell everyone that I beat and bruised her, but she made it clear that she omitted how she tried to brutalize me with a golf club, locked me out of my own room to deface my photos, steal my belongings, kicked, bit, scratched, spit on and elbowed me, which were the main reasons I lost my cool with her before our violent altercations.
I can’t blame her, nor can I justify my own ignorance and lack of upbringing as a child before revelations at age 15 when I swore I wouldn’t touch her or a woman ever again, even though many times, I wished I didn’t have that control, because her disregard for animals and humans of another social class were despicable. We both learned from good teachers: my father, and his string of alcoholic, abusive girlfriends who put him in and out of jail, and beat me with dictionaries. This is why my younger sister and I constantly were at odds, and somehow, my dad never understood that because it’s what we saw, it’s what we knew when she would beat me with my own books or grab my radio because she “felt that she liked music more than me and dad gave the wrong gift”.
Despite all these things my dad knew about, he would send her to Malaysia, Korea, France, Spain, the UK, and buy her a car in both America and the Philippines, while asking me to stay home or to take the bus and save money. It puzzles me how he would ask me to save money, but spend money on his women, flaunting it to people whom he would treat every night wining and dining, and vacations instead of buying the apartment we rented or actually paying for our school tuition on time.
My father and younger sister also share a trait that is unbearable: for my personal issues or sensitive matters, they like to bring them up in front of an audience, whether they are family or friends, and do so using very belittling, humiliating language, to encourage the people around them to laugh and join in on the ostracism.
The best example of this is hard to discuss in of itself, because this is the first time I am openly sharing how I survived sexual assault in my first year of college in America. What did my father do? He told me I was a liar and brought it up in front of family and friends over Christmas break, said I was an idiot and dysfunctional, and an asshole who just embarrasses him. My younger sister, however, instead chose to emphasize how I embarrass her and I was probably “doing something weird again like I usually do, and that’s what made some people think I was queer and have no problem molesting me, so it would teach me a lesson”.
Again: the people I am supposed to expect trust, love, respect, and support from, are people who don’t give that to me.
Was it any surprise then that my only friends were the fictitious characters in my favorite books, movies, and video games, the authors, and the artists who played my favorite songs? Friday nights in Manila, when everyone from the international school bubble was out drinking (all as young as 12 or 13) in bars and dancing at clubs, I was at home with the lights off listening to music in my room door locked, air conditioner on, and snuggled underneath the blankets, hugging my pillow.
Part II: Ghosts Haunting Me, Skeletons in My Closet, and Vampires Sucking Me Dry
My father’s ghost still hangs over me because of how I long for him and miss him. I always ask why I left him as he lay dying in a hospital in Manila back in 2010, but then I remember how my family was when he was dying, and how they were when he was believed to have been in good health.
Uncles who in their 40s still were relying on him to find them work and imposing themselves upon him, staying in our home, eating our food, and thinking nothing of it but an easy means of gaining access to drugs. Aunts whom my father put through college when he raised them after my grandfather died–all eight other siblings from his own mother and two other succeeding mistresses my grandfather had children with. Uncles whom he raised, educated, and employed, who turned around and forged his signature to write checks to themselves, the same ones who were as twisted and deranged as my younger sister who had committed atrocities like raping the pretty maids after threatening to get them fired. All of them constantly leeched off of my father, and wherever my father got money, it went to them, his girlfriends, and my sisters often, and I was told many times he had big plans for me.
As he lay dying, it came out that he had no faith in me, seeing that he felt I couldn’t take care of myself. Years of living in a home with a double-standard, abuse and neglect, all while being (mostly) obedient with him as he spoiled my younger sister, and it then comes out that for whatever reason, he indicated to everyone that he trusted her with his affairs, not me, since he saw her as mature and responsible. I smell the smoke that she and the others brought into the apartment, disregarding how I and my father hated nicotine. I remember how she’d dismiss me or whatever I said when meeting with my father’s friends and lawyers as he was in a hospital bed, unable to speak. Then within several days, she left me alone with my father because she “had work” and I was alone for six weeks. She returned only for the last two days of his life on earth. For those days she was with me before leaving, I only saw her a few hours at the hospital and in the office–she refused to spend any time in the apartment that was our home and stayed with friends, leaving me alone, not even with the dog.
During those six weeks, I endured daily humiliation. Family members telling me to keep sending them money as dad did. Friends dad supported. His girlfriend, and her son. His own office staff who disregarded me. Nobody was supportive except for several friends. My mother and stepfather were still estranged from me at the time, and if they were supportive at the time, it was mostly to my sister, but they also had their plan for their annual two-month life in Europe. I wasn’t even given much time alone with my father because his girlfriend (whom I eventually banned from the hospital) and other people were in and out asking for money or disregarding me.
The money didn’t exist…he never had savings. He spent all that money trying to prove to everyone he was wealthy. All my money and belongings were given or sold so I could leave with some cash since everything else went to his hospital bill. It’s just how every time we would be kicked out of a home or hotel room growing up while he was still on drugs, we’d lose our belongings and he’d lie, saying we’d get them back but never did as we moved across cities and countries. I still remember how he stole things from me such as an autographed Willie Mays baseball bat and claimed either they were stolen by real estate dealers or my mother, but he instead sold them to buy narcotics or pay for his girlfriend’s bail whenever he wasn’t in prison. Despite how drugs ruined him, and by extension, our lives, my younger sister still got involved with a few substances here and there due to the pressure of the privileged children of expats and businessmen and politicians in the international school we attended.
My father’s passing was devastating. The aftermath was something I never should have lived with, because even as my family cared not one bit for me, my friends all over just didn’t care about me, talking about whom they were dating, their career plans, or trying to get me to pay them back small amounts without realizing what I was going through (which I still tried to downplay). I only remember what it was like to sleep in New York City’s metro trains or wash myself with dirty sink water in the subways after breaking in, or finding piping systems that didn’t work, all so that I didn’t look homeless. Because yes: I was homeless after a while on the East Coast, and tried not to indicate it obviously, I tried to treat it as a travel log.
It’s even harder to talk about the so-called friend and mentor I had who did disgusting things to me and stole my money in Pittsburgh, after finding him masturbating to me at night or pictures of me he had taken while I was sleeping on the floor, and his eventual order to exile me, especially because I refused to be his financial or sexual accomplice.
Homeless. Starving. Abandoned. Alone. Lonely. Betrayed. Penniless. And in the eyes of my family, I deserved it, for those who believed that this all happened. For those who insist I am lying because of the so-called fortune they insist I should have inherited, they don’t think this could have happened either. But who am I to lie or tell the truth? I just lived this, and what I went through, nobody else did beyond hearsay and the game of telephone/Chinese Whisper.
Until a few months ago, I endured occasional messages from “family” who wanted to catch up with me or see how I was, but I knew they just wanted to confirm their own assumptions and biases by whatever I said or didn’t say. And then–it ended when I just decided I would no longer let anyone near me again. I’m not my father’s son: I’m Johnny. I’m not ashamed of being Filipino, I just have no ties to a country that makes assumptions about me based on my family name, which I no longer use publicly except for official documents and work. Suddenly, I could breathe once I severed the umbilical cord that they were using to pump toxic and bile into me.
Part III: You’re All Dead to Me…Now I Can Live
I never had a chance to live my own life when I was surrounded by family. I never had a place I could call home, and whenever I brought up the life of being beaten brutally by my father or his drug addiction, going in and out of jail, and his abusive girlfriends, my father insisted none of that happened or that it only happened because they “were bad women” and because “mother took everything from us” and put us in a position where we had to move around a lot. He would then get defensive and say we lived pretty well, despite being in motel to motel, in and out of jail, and justified that he was doing crimes like floating checks or keeping us out of school because he was trying to raise us while being on the run from agents of Ferdinand Marcos.
Despite the abuse and neglect, it puzzles me how they expected me to be a perfectly normal person, all because of my genitals. And when they argued that I should go through more because I’m a boy, to make me tough and independent, what does it mean then when they realize by making me independent, I have no obligations to people who are cruel to me? Were they seriously expecting me to treat this childhood as “acceptable and normal”? Or that when everything was briefly better in high school, that the double-standard between my sister and I that was very pronounced was fair?
Like I wrote before, I have plenty of reasons to be far more bitter and resentful than Elliot Rodger was, which all led to him going on a shooting spree in Isla Vista. Yet, unlike him, I made the choice to be better. And the first, most important step I needed to make was that I had to embrace who I am instead of trying to be who I am not, and my family wasted much of my life trying to tell me whom they thought I was, based off of their own toxic breeding and lies and privilege.
I wander this world alone. When I think of my past, I am of course saddened by what I have endured. But at the same time, I look at what I have done and will continue to do, and believe that despite my own flaws and how my past has affected me, I do what I can to help make this world better.
When I returned to America in April of 2014 after two years back in Southeast Asia, a friend told me that I do not need to do this, I need to settle down and build roots for stability. I’ve never known what that was though, or what it feels like. I’m the wounded soldier, gunslinger, swordsman, whatever: all I know is this vagabond life. But I don’t go spreading discord, I use what I have endured to spread peace and harmony, and protect others from injustice, because I lived through it myself.
Returning to the television series I referenced at the beginning about child soldiers, despite this all, why did I turn out the way I did? I’m made of the same DNA as my younger sister and my father, his siblings, and we all went through the same misery mire together.
Who knows what it was? Maybe that’s why I am the black sheep of the family–because I didn’t have in their genes what made them wretched. Or perhaps, whatever I endured, triggered something else within me that still hasn’t awakened within them. Whatever it is, I am who I am now, and they belong in a past that no longer exists.
I’m Johnny C. I travel the world in hopes of becoming better and helping this world remember that we can all be kinder to each other and to the planet. I have no family. It’s just me and a dream. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
Epilogue: I Am The Wind
Just like the wind,
I’ve always been
Drifting high up in the sky that never ends
Through thick and thin,
I always win
‘Cause I would fight both life and death to save a friend
I face my destiny every day I live
And the best in me is all I have to give
Just like the sun (Just like the sun)
When my day’s done
Sometimes I don’t like the person I’ve become
Is the enemy within a thousand men
Should I walk the path if my world’s so dead ahead
Is someone testing me every day I live
Well, the best in me is all I have to give
I can pretend (I can pretend)
I am the wind (I am the wind)
And I don’t know if I will pass this way again
All things must end
Goodbye, my friend
Think of me when you see the sun or feel the wind
I am the wind,
I am the sun
And one day we’ll all be one
I am the wind,
I am the sun
And one day we’ll all be one