Nothing on Us
Eye contact is not my forté
especially when my own are staring back at me.
They are not so much void as they are quicksand
disguised as cacao and gold -
Drink in the vision like a cup of coffee.
Today, I see more than a 24-year-old
wearing her boyfriend’s oversized tee and mismatched pajama pants.
I see the little girl that cringed every time someone said
“You look just like your mom!”
The same little girl that cried for a father who wouldn’t claim her
Inaanak of guardians lost, mentors mourned
Apo sa papaya, ensaymada, pecan, and sili pepper
The gardener, the “dodo bird,” the masayang kalbo, the rebel
Ate si peaches at frozen pizza
You have lived a long life in a very short time
Memory slips from us more than we would like
Child of Saturday morning cartoons and Catholic schoolgirl uniforms,
I wish I knew you better
But I am thankful for the life we’ve shared.
I imagine this mirror, less as a wall and more as a bridge.
It is my hope to honor you
By being brave enough
To lift my chin until our eyes meet again.
Growing up in a broken home means that
everything can change in an instant. I got used
to dissociating at will, adapting to any
situation. I did my best to find the happiness
in everything, to find my own light in
someone else’s dark. I didn’t know what
self-love was back then; only
Some instances were easier than others. When
I was bored, I wrote fan fiction on Internet
forums (Teen Titans-themed boards on
Neopets, mostly), imagining every possible
fantasy I could while my realities fell apart.
Entertainment was my escape. Other
situations were more challenging, less
avoidable. When my mom left home because
my father made me tell her I didn’t love her
anymore. When my father made me exchange
foreign money from past trips because we had
no money to our name. When we got evicted
only two weeks after I had just started making
friends at a new school and moved away from
everything I knew on a moment’s notice.
One place was constant: Jacksonville, Florida.
I had way too much family there. My
grandparents and their brothers and sisters and
the children of their brothers and sisters who
were my age but somehow not my first
cousins. I remember getting so annoyed at
family gatherings when they’d push me to
sing “Paper Roses” on karaoke, to be sweet to
the elders. I was overwhelmed by the amount
of attention and generosity and excitement
they so freely gave. But what personal
discomfort I felt was irrelevant when we had a
brick house. When we had a pool and a pool
table. When we always had something to eat.
And when we had a calamansi tree.
Calamansi fruit are a staple in Filipino food.
Another constant. Yet even calamansi endure
subtle change with time. The look and sour
tang of a lime, evolving into the color and
sweetness of an orange when ripe. They were
smaller than my palm and grew in bunches.
In high school, my cousins and I were
together more than we were with our own
friends. We would call each other up and meet
for everything. Super Smash Bros.,
Chick-fil-a, Steak n’ Shake, Bowling,
Swimming, Walmart, Modern Warfare. Then
senior year my cousin dated a girl younger
than us, who started a rumor that I started a
rumor about my cousin getting her pregnant.
For months, I was isolated from the one friend
group I never realized I could lose. I wasn’t
allowed in their carpool to and from school,
and if we crossed paths at family parties or at
church, we’d barely acknowledge each other’s
I would pick them but seldom drank their
juice. I think I just enjoyed having something
useful to do. The finished product rarely
mattered to me. I always wanted to feel like I
was accepted because I was useful. That I was
loved because I was needed because I was
helping everyone else - that alone was more
rewarding than the reward.
There was a time I didn’t help. At 8 years old,
in our two-bedroom apartment on 125th
street, I fought every impulse to be the hero.
The bottom of our bookshelf gave out when
my sister went to grab one of her favorite
books. She was being crushed by layers of
literature, years of knowledge, before reading
age. All I did was watch. Something inside
told me not to move. I knew better, but I
thought I had something to prove.
I’d watch my grandparents take whole bowls
of calamansi and eat them after meals as a
dessert or use as a seasoning when they
cooked. It didn’t make sense to me that the
fruit were so small but so flavorful - why
didn’t God just make the fruit bigger so it
could last longer? Why did we have to pick so
many to be satisfied?
I’m told I suffer from impostor’s syndrome.
There’s a direct proportion between how
much I accomplish and how terrible I feel
about myself. The more I do the less it feels
I’ve done. I got lucky. I don’t deserve the
praise - it must not belong to me. Lately, I’ve
been working on being more definitive. I
replace “I think” with “I know,” I make more
of an effort to articulate and express even
when it frustrates me. I’ve always pushed to
make things better, but now I’m learning to
accept what might not be.
People would even pay us for a batch of
calamansi if they didn’t have their own tree.
When my grandparents would visit NYC my
parents would request a box full. This is
actually a common indicator of a traveling
Filipino family. The funny thing was being at
baggage claim and trying to figure out whose
box, torn open by TSA inspectors, was
leaking on the carousel - hoping it wasn’t ours
that had been ravaged by the journey.
At 22 years old, I went with my friends to get
tattoos in the Lower East Side. Originally, we
were all going to get three of the same tattoo,
something in Baybayin or connected to our
culture, as a symbol, an attempt really, of our
shared Filipino heritage.
That didn’t really work out, but I ended up
coming back two days later and picking a
mockup of three fruit side-by-side with the
center split open. Oozing with life.
In December 2018, I went back to my
grandparents’ home to spend the holidays
recuperating from workforce burnout. It was
80 degrees and sunny most days, but even on
rainy days I’d go outside to the backyard,
inhaling the air my chest too often learned to
live without. I could finally breathe. This
habit of sitting by the pool for a long time,
unprompted, unmoving is not new. I try not to
think too much or let my mind wander when I
do this. I can exist in a space I’ve always
known to be my own. But I notice the
calamansi tree is gone. I remember, really.
The hurricanes and flooding of the year prior
had killed it off and my grandparents chose to
unroot the remains of it. Their hugs still smell
of citrine clarity.
Ink haters always advise against getting
tattoos of arbitrary objects, things that lack
meaning. Funny, ironic even, how someone
could glance at the vibrant shading of my
fruits and assume it nothing more than an
impulsive stain, a piece of art for the sake of
aesthetic. That this was all for the likes, for
the image of whimsicality. She was just being
random. She got it to look cool. It’s just an
orange – maybe she takes her vitamin C
Roxanne Lim (she/her), also known as "REAL" or "Renaissance Roxy," is a third-generation Filipina-American from New York City. She is a filmmaker, poet, storyteller, and artist. Her work strives to empower and uplift marginalized communities, specifically through the arts. She is the host of Suplada Pod (a podcast centered on the intersection of Filipinx culture and pop culture), and co-director of a visual poem series called GLIMPSES.
You can follow Roxanne on Twitter and IG @renaissanceroxy.