The girl is a girl of wonder: sits by the window on most days, but never for too long. Her heart is always singing a song, always coming up roses, always aching to be touched and to touch in return. In this story, she is both princess and hero.
It starts like this: her mother, asking. Always asking. After all, Filipino women so often know what they want. Mother says, Don’t slouch. Says, Don’t you dare. Says, Don’t. And it always ends this way: her silence. Always silent. She doesn’t say a thing in return, doesn’t make so much as a sound. Instead, sits by the foot of her mother and waits for her to calm down. When all has settled, only then does she open her mouth to sing a song. The song she sings only to her mother.
sana’y di nagmaliw ang dati kong araw / nang munti pang bata sa piling ni nanay
Her mouth is a tragedy’s song, but her mother smiles. As she sings, her mother combs through her long dark hair and feels young again. Youth tastes a lot like betrayal here, tastes like leaving a little bit of herself behind, tastes like sin. But her mother is happy. For the longest time, that is the only thing that has mattered.
The girl is a girl of wonder: learns to take her mother’s joy and forge it as her own. The days go by like this. Always, always, always.
Days before her eighteenth birthday, on the first of December, the girl says, Mother, I want to see the lights.
Mother says, No. Of course, she does. What other answer comes from the mouth of a woman who has not known any other word?
And the girl says nothing in return. The girl never says anything in return. But, in all her silence, there is something seething. After all, Filipino women so often know what they want — and she is no different. Her heart, a loud beating thing in its cage. It sings the song of freedom, of the night sky swallowing every firework. These lights are calling her, calling her home.
In the middle of the night on her birthday, the girl steps out into the unknown.
And, perhaps she is silly. Perhaps, foolish. And oh! Her heart, a loud beating thing in its cage, thumping the song of a rebellion that should’ve come years ago. She takes baby steps across the front yard, then walks out of the gate unscathed. And then, for the first time in a long time, the girl laughs whole. Her laughter is hers, but oddly a sound she has never heard. It is real and raw and frightening, but she does not shy from it.
She laughs! The sound stems deep from within her belly, forms tears in her eyes. Happiness is so foreign to her that she cries at the sound of it. Happiness is so foreign to her that she starts to fear it. Her laughter turns to tears, and she is left on the sidewalk wiping at her eyes.
In this story, the only thief is fear. The girl finds her happiness and fear takes it away. Leaves her crying on the sidewalk, blocks from home. Makes her ache a tender kind of guilt for leaving her mother behind. Scrutinizes her for choosing the lights over obedience.
Her mind, a fearful thing.
But the girl is a girl of wonder, see: looks up at the sky when the firework display starts to show, and finds a new dream. Somehow, finds herself in the midst of being lost. Somehow, finds peace beneath the dim light of the moon and the explosion of colors in the sky.
At last, she sees the lights.
When it ends, she finds herself silent in awe. If this were any other story, she would’ve found some place else to call home. But this is the way the story ends: that the girl finds her way back to her mother, after multiple stops in several streets she does not know the names of.
She enters through the front doors, and the lights turn on. Her mouth opens into an apology, speaks into existence what she has done and how much she aches for it. Her mother, stock still and silent, crosses her arms across her chest in anger.
And she knows, she knows what this means. But she speaks. For the first time, she allows herself to speak first.
“Mother,” Rapunzel says, “I know you’re angry. I know I shouldn’t have gone out. But, please, listen. I am eighteen, and I have never lived. I know you think this is you protecting me, but I have long stopped being afraid of what the outside might hold. Tonight, I laughed out loud for the first time and cried at the sound of my own laughter. Look me in the eye and tell me that isn’t pure joy.”
Her mother doesn’t say a word.
Rapunzel continues, “Mother. I know your love is a love that protects, but please also allow it to be a love that grows.”
This is a happy ending in and of itself: that her mother uncrosses her arms, takes one of Rapunzel’s hands, and shakes her head. This is the happy ending: that her mother forms an apology mouth, opens it to whisper words she has never said before. And, perhaps, this is not grand. Perhaps, this is not the story where the girl runs away and finds her true love. But it is a story where the girl finds freedom in her own home.
I have to believe that is enough.
Keren Chelsea Guevara is a poet, student, and creator from Laguna, Philippines. Her writing revolves around the presence of god or the lack thereof, girls, depression, and love. Her work has been published in MELANINcollective, Sula Collective, Germ Magazine, and The Fem Lit Mag. She has written other longer works such as Nowhere in the Middle and Self Apologies. You can find her poetry here and her heart here. One day, she hopes to make enough of a difference in the world. For now, she writes.