When I was a student at Miriam College High School, my friends and I used to pass our lunch breaks beneath a huge, twisted balete (read: banyan) tree. It had about three main trunks and was bounded by a crescent of three stone benches. There were other benches beneath much prettier calachuchi trees on the other side of the path that separated the Mini-Forest from the rest of the school, but I’d always been drawn to that spot. If you stepped between the trunks–which I only did once or twice–it felt like crossing a portal into another world. Not Narnia or Hogwarts–that was for the friendly grove of bamboo down the field–but a realm as sacred as a chapel and as feral as a stray cat. I began to draw at the backs of my exam papers a humanoid woman emerging from between the balete trunks during a dark night (I wonder what my teachers must have thought, haha). My friends and I only stopped hanging around the balete after a friend contracted dengue toward the end of our senior year and the administrators made the area off-limits.
That same year, I read for the first time one of my absolute favorite anthologies: The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. In it was a story by Holly Black titled “The Night Market,” in which a young Filipina with an ugly birthmark must acquire a medicine that will cure her sister’s mysterious illness. However, that medicine can only be acquired at the dangerous and elusive night market, and she may need the help of a fae boy to get there.
This story was a good read. I was amused to find Tagalog words here and there–I even remember showing it to one of my seatmates, an avid reader herself. In the notes, Black said she had help from her Filipino mother-in-law. But even after reading it, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing from the story–as if someone had showed me a broadstokes, barebones painting labeled “Antipolo.” I didn’t know it yet, but my heart was whispering “I can do better.”
I attempted to do better during my last week at school, but I didn’t get further than false starts and a few research notes about the Campus Ministry Auxiliary’s annual sleepovers at school. Looking back, I think it was because I didn’t have the maturity or technical mastery to tell the story I wanted to tell.
Fast forward four years later. I was a senior Creative Writing student at Ateneo de Manila University, fresh from a magical three weeks at the Silliman University National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete. I’d had my heart broken twice before meeting the boy who would become my first and current boyfriend. And while dating him, I met someone whom I had a strong bond with, but whose feelings for me continued to throw monkey wrenches into our friendship–wrenches that I naively thought we could push past. I was just thinking about one of those wrenches when my fiction writing instructor announced that we couldn’t submit old stories for workshopping. I had to write a completely new piece–and suddenly, I knew what story I wanted to tell. And this time, I was ready to tell it. What’s more, the letter format afforded me the space to freely comment on, annotate, and summarize events, as well as a raw honesty that I felt could not be achieved through simple, straightforward first or third person.
And I suppose the final ingredient came from, surprisingly, Sita Sings the Blues, which I had to watch for one of my literature classes. As if I needed any more pain, haha. But Sita’s pain upon Rama doubting her faithfulness to him touched a nerve in me. I definitely had this song on repeat while I wrote the story.
“To Megan, with Half My Heart” is part autobiography, in that I freely cannibalized many different parts of my life and poured it into this story. Vince was named after a little boy who used to follow me around in pre-school. Leni’s school and Vince’s school were modeled on Miriam and Ateneo. I borrowed the name Megan from a friend I consider to be wise and discerning–just the kind of girl Leni is hoping her daughter Megan will grow up to be.
Finally, “To Megan, with Half My Heart” has been published in a special Heights issue, and reprinted twice: once in the Silliman Journal vol. 54 no. 2, and then at Expanded Horizons. I’ve revised the story significantly with each printing, the biggest change being Vince’s kapre father as the denizen of the balete tree instead of a fae mother.