Since smell is the closest sense tied to memory, I hope I never forget the smell of the Philippines. The vast range of unique scents are forever imprinted in my consciousness: fresh bedsheets and handwashed laundry, cozy breakfasts in the morning, the tropical flora and fauna. The sea and dusty air, fruits en paraiso, nightclubs and cigarettes, the inside of taxi cabs. The musk of men’s bodies and brown skin on mine. For this reason, I haven’t unpacked my things. I almost don’t want to. At least not yet. My clothes still carry the scent of the room I stay in at Lola’s home. Five days later, my luggage still holds my clothes, keeping the familiar scents embedded in them, and I am lovelorn — this is a process of deflation and unwillingly falling back into reality.

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If you’ve ever visited family in the Philippines, you know this cycle: we say goodbye, we believe in “see you later.” Then they’re simply on Facebook, lingering in the back of our minds. A year or two later, out of the blue, you’ll start browsing Kayak for an undeniable deal. No force can keep you away for much longer. As a Filipino-American, the first time you visit as an adult changes your life forever. You meet family you’ve never known. You make memories that last. You realize how important relationships with your family are and seek to deepen them. You continually add new colors and strokes to the evolving portrait of what family, identity, and the Philippines mean to you.

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My family is irreplaceable. We are unforgettable. We’re a force for good. You’ll never forget us. You’ll always remember. The silver stars will twinkle and the dogs will always roam. The hearts that I’m surrounded with will always be home. With you, I could never be angry, I could never be hurt. My spirit wrapped in your tenderness all the times you washed my shirt. Pink sorbet New Jersey skies stay pleasant, bringing me to the present. They make me miss where I belong: memories pure in soft rock songs, lilting on the radio; Yeng Constantino. I wish I didn’t have to go, that instead we could promise, “See you tomorrow.”

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My soul yearns for my forever home. Teardrops fall with every prayer of safety, health, success, and happiness for us all. Lord, forgive me for not knowing how quickly everything would come to pass. For not taking every chance to show my appreciation. I will always be grateful for their love, big or small, smothering or invisible, distant or close, silent or loud. I will always pray for us — just like Lola every morning at 4 AM. I don’t ask what she prays for, but I hope she says some for me. And I’ll say some for her.

Every time I arrive in the Philippines, my soul expels a sweet sigh of relief, love, and familiarity; I know that I’m home.

I’m not the best version of me at the moment, but I’m trying, and I know you are, too. You deserve everything and I honestly don’t deserve the love you show me. But thank you for loving me anyway. You’ve all inspired me to try and love the same.

Love always,

Nikko.

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