The set of Love It & Leave It stinks of pennies and actresses. We’re sitting in the director’s booth when Chazrick Villarosa decides that being the lead dramatic-reenactment actor for a local talk show about Los Angeles-love-gone-sour is not good enough. He wants to leave with me for Manila. Barely twenty-five, he’s fed up with playing the Disgruntled Hispanic and he believes he deserves creative control.
I was destined to do things grand, he says, I don’t wish to die like this.
You won’t die, I assure him. I refuse to hold you back. What if I never write again?
We’re destined for greatness, he says. Your ideas. Your words. Your scripts. My talent.
I refuse to hold you back.
I promise, Chazrick says as he reapplies globs of gel to his hair and firmly kisses my eyelids. I’m not tired of you yet.
Optimism is tiresome.
2. american smile
It’s Chazrick’s final day at Love It. His very last scene concludes in the bedroom. At the foot of the bed, Pretty Novia (playing herself in this reenactment) is performing violent yet critical oral sex on the Other Hombre when Hispanic Novio (Chazrick in muscles and khakis) bursts through the door and with his .22 caliber shoots out the ceiling lamp, the fan still spinning wildly. Pretty Novia approaches the camera, brushes the disheveled horsetail from her face, and says, baby boo, if you still there, mi amor, I’m single for real-for real. Cut.
Chazrick’s going-away party is nothing special: red streamers, slices of leftover chocolate cake from one of the actress’s recent weddings, balloons taped to the props, and cheap vodka. Morgan Renoir, the producer of Love It, embraces Chazrick and me at the same time.
I hate to lose you to your own, he says.
His necktie is made of stiff denim. His knuckles are bushy. And his alligator shoes are flimsy and elfish. Morgan Renoir is plugging Chazrick into the Manila scene.
You’re talented, he reminds Chazrick as he punches his arm. A word of advice. Wear your smile proudly. The American smile is contagious. Even in the provinces. The worst conditions there. War. Hunger. Typhoons. But the people know happiness. Man oh man, do they know their happiness.
3. love is
If he were happy, Chazrick would never leave L.A. for Manila. But lately, he’s been hard on himself. In the last four months, he’s attempted suicide at least five times. Charcoal. Aspirin. Charcoal and aspirin. The last time, just last week, he came home from Love It and attempted to drink himself to death.
Why? I asked.
God doesn’t trust me, he said. With anything.
He passed out on the couch after a mere eight shots of tequila.
Our relationship is the depression Olympics. Whenever I write, he loathes himself. And whenever he’s successful, I sleep off my anxiety for hours upon hours. Usually these spells simply pass. But when I faked the miscarriage, stopped writing, muted myself, and wanted to die, I felt hollow for weeks. Then, Chazrick saved me. He made things like eating, combing my hair, and brushing my teeth monumental events.
God, he would say as he’d tuck me in, trusts in your existence. God, he would say, believes in you and believes in me. Maybe not in the baby. But in us.
For this alone, I love him. And for this alone, I owe him.
I just don’t want to hold you back, I often say now. I just don’t want you to resent me.
I promise I won’t.
Yes. God. Positive. Don’t get caught up in semantics.
Like god? Or like love?
Yes. See. Stop.
4. the humidity of it all
Soon, we’re in the back of a cab snaking through Manila traffic. Manila is like an apology. Brown faces. Brown clouds. Billboards acting as sky. Shopping malls swallowing all. Rows of hotels competing for tourists. Floral prints walking and walking. Sweat trickling. Beggars in faded Gap T-shirts.
This is us, Chazrick says. This is us. I can feel it. Can you?
Feel what? I ask.
Chazrick doesn’t answer. Instead, he daydreams.
Manila is simply overcrowded. It’s not humidity, my mother would say, it’s the people breathing on you. Next to tall churches and gas stations, shanties collapse onto brick walls. And everywhere there are clothes stiffened on clotheslines, resistant to the breeze, as if the garments had been abandoned for some time.
There’s not enough air, I say.
The cabdriver rolls down the window, inviting the scent of sizzling pork and fruity perfumes. Chazrick ingests this swollen city. He’s always had a thing for crammed spaces. It’s the attention. His face glows. It seems as if I no longer have to worry about him.
This was a good idea.
The cabdriver turns up the air and lights a cigarette. Up ahead, schoolgirls in green and cream uniforms cross the street. Nine hunched nuns trail behind. No one uses a crosswalk. Everywhere along the road, someone is selling something. Dodging buses and cabs, kids peddle sampaguitas and cigars. Some push chewing gum. An orange-haired lady strolling along the storefronts sips the Coca-Cola she has clearly failed to sell to thirsty tourists. Flashes of white people with maps and high socks remind me of home.
We finally arrive at our motel: Wow! Beds & Cable Available.
5. beds, cable, and those koreans
The faucet in our bathroom is angled slightly so that water spills onto the floor and dampens the chili-pepper carpet in the bedroom. Most of the room is taken up by three side-by-side twin beds covered by one gigantic green comforter. A turquoise mosquito net is stapled to the window frame.
Sundown is bronze and reeks of damp bark, bleach, and mints.
We’re on the beds, watching TV.