I grew up in a small house, a bungalow with front windows that extend from floor to ceiling. In that house reside memories of all my joys and pains.
The house was built in 1956, years before I was born. I was told that the land on which it was built had many water wells as it used to be an ikmuhan – the leaf nganga chewers use with bunga (betel nut) and lime or apog. There was also a large swimming hole that extended to the adjacent property.
I have heard many stories about elves and engkantos—even kapres inhabiting the area. Whether or not they were really there, the house provided the shelter I needed then. The house was renovated in the early 70s. The old terrace was converted into my brother’s room and I got to have his old room.
I did not realize the role my room played in my life until I moved out of that house. My father and that room were the only witnesses to how I finished my type-written thesis. Sleepovers with friends in that room never actually involved sleeping as we’d stay awake all night! My closet could tell you which of my clothes first belonged to my mom but became mine when I told her I liked them. The walls witnessed how I argued with my mother and how my father would bring me coffee at four in the morning while I struggled to meet my school deadlines.
I remember once having cried all night because I was convinced that I was right and my father took my mother’s side. It felt like they ganged up on me. A priest I was close to came by to talk to me and he said, “You have to understand, your dad fell for her way before he even met you!”
Yes, that room holds countless precious memories— like a library of vignettes and video clips—of my life. I am grateful for having had that room. I now realize it was more than just a place I slept in, studied and dressed. That room helped define me and how I would later relate to others.
A diagnostic tool used in family therapy involves drawing the family floor plan, from which information across generations can be evoked. According to Murray Bowen, it is the family floor plan or how it is designed that guides the development and life course of the individual and his family. Bowen’s Family Systems Theory considers togetherness and individuality as the forces that cause either fusion or estrangement.
As I understand it, my having my own place allowed me to develop a certain degree of individuality, such that I could stand on my own and make decisions while the floor plan or layout of the house makes togetherness or family bonding inevitable, somehow keeping me attached to them.
When I moved out, my refuge was no longer just my room. Instead, it was the whole house that became “my room”—that place that held wonderful memories and provided comfort, that place that made me who I am.
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