2021 – My Emerald Year

Illustration by: Marielle Cabillo

I have a ritual of reading my monthly horoscope when Susan Miller posts them on her website. You see, I’m not one to fully trust and make decisions based off of what my horoscope predicts, but I do like to see what is alleged to happen. You know, kind of like a little fun guide into the near future. The extent of my belief in my horoscope forecasts does have its limits though. I definitely don’t map out my month according to my forecast, but I do like to read back at the end of the month and see if anything predicted was true. I make a mental note of when planets retrograde, if there’s new moons, eclipses, etc., because to me, the stars and astrology don’t lie – the other planets have to affect us in some way.

I remember reading my forecast for 2021. I’m an Aquarius, and 2021 was said to be my “Emerald Year.” The Emerald Year for your sign is said to be when you’re at your luckiest. 2021 for me was “the once-in-12-year visit of good-fortune Jupiter to your Aquarius Sun,” (Miller, Susan). Meaning, 2021 was going to be my year of growth, good fortune, and claiming what is mine. Of course with that information, and being a believer in astrology, you start to get excited that astrologically, your sign is the luckiest sign of the year. I was excited to see what 2021 would bring me. I was very hopeful for the new year – my Emerald Year…

But 2021 was by far one of the hardest years for me. Of course there were great moments as well, but I personally felt like the theme of 2021 for me could be summed up by saying it was a struggle. A struggle to pick myself back up after losing 2 people who were really close to me, a struggle to find motivation to do the things I wanted to do, a struggle to make time for myself, a struggle to balance out my life, a struggle to establish myself professionally, a struggle to push forward, a struggle to correct habits of mine that I wanted to change, a struggle maneuvering through this pandemic, and so forth. But of course with struggle comes a lot of growth and realizations. I guess I had my Emerald Year, but I had to go through the mud for it.

2021 was a really sad year for me. As the months passed into the new year, I slowly, yet quickly, saw my Tatay transition out of this world. I know I wrote a whole ass series on my Tatay and all my feelings that came with his passing, but I still can’t believe it. For the first half of 2021, Tatay’s health was one of my main concerns. I wanted to be there every Sunday to show him that we didn’t just forget about him during the pandemic. The remaining second half of the year I wanted to be at his grave every Sunday to show him that we won’t forget him now that he’s gone.

Tatay passed away in mid-July, but I feel like I’m just now coming to terms with my grief. After he passed, I felt like I was just existing throughout the rest of 2021. I was trying to stay motivated, I wanted to be on top of my writing. I was close to 100 consistent blog posts and I planned to buy my website, collaborate with more people, get stories lined up, and finally get ahead. Tatay passed away a couple week before my 100th post, and all my plans kind of went out the window. I wanted to do all the things that I planned, but couldn’t find the motivation to do anything. I bought my website, but my head was in the clouds.

Even though I had so many plans and ideas that I wanted to accomplish, I didn’t try to force anything on myself. I knew that this was a difficult time in my life, I had just lost my last living grandparent, the one I was closest to at that. Now wasn’t the time to put pressure on myself to produce content when I was simply struggling to just exist and move forward with my life. Of course, on the outside, I was handling shit that I had to handle. But on the inside, I felt a part of me died, that I didn’t care about much, but at the same time I cared about everything. I didn’t feel like myself. It went on for so long that I wondered if this was just the “new me.”

It took months for me to really process what I was exactly feeling in regards to Tatay’s passing. What really helped me sort everything out and get my emotions down was publishing his Series. And I really hesitated on that. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was using my grief for some views. I decided to follow through with Tatay’s Series because I knew I had a lot of unpacked baggage that I needed to let out. Also, he was such a major role in my life, it felt disrespectful not to. Writing was one of the few ways I felt I could adequately pay homage to his life and what he meant to me. But most importantly, it didn’t feel right to not write about something that had cut me so deep. Yes, I could write about other things, but I knew my mind would be elsewhere. I pride myself in authentic writing, so producing other content just didn’t seem genuine – my heart and mind was totally engulfed in grief and anger at the time.

In the midst of my grief, I lost another family member who I was very close to. 4 months after Tatay passed, my aunt / cousin, Rhonda, passed away due to her ongoing health complications. I couldn’t believe it. When Tatay died, I already dubbed 2021 one of the worst years of my life. But when Rhonda also passed away, I thought, “Okay, Universe, are you fucking serious right now?!” I felt like I was being kicked in the face while I was already down. Rhonda, Tita-Lola (Auntie – Grandma), as we liked to call her just to piss her off, was someone I hold very dear to my heart. This was another type of pain. I felt like the Universe was taking punches at me from all kind of different angles.

Tatay was someone that was in my life since day 1. He lived with my family for some time, was someone I saw on a consistent basis, and has been the closest grandparent to me since I was a kid. But with Rhonda, even though we were related, I never really saw her consistently, didn’t grow up around her, and didn’t even have a conversation with her until I was a teenager. Rhonda was someone I chose to get close to. She was someone that chose to put in mutual effort to get to know each other, chose to encourage me, and chose to be there for me to give me advice during the early years of my young adult life. I tried to be there for her as she maneuvered through life’s many challenges as well – her personal shit going on, her health complications, her dating life, and every random thing in-between. We got really tight over the last decade or so, so this was the cherry on top of 2021 being the shittiest year to date.

However, I processed Rhonda’s death a lot differently than I did Tatay’s. Rhonda was an open book, she let everyone and anyone who had access to her social media pages know everything about her life. Social media was like her diary. She showed her dialysis treatments, the medications she had to take on a daily basis, and gave us visuals and documentation of her daily routine. Rhonda would post her true feelings on social media, she didn’t sugar coat anything. At times you’d be reading and think, “Rhonda why the fuck are you posting this online?” But that’s what made her experience all the more real and relatable. I feel like just from her posts, I could see what kind of life she lived on a day to day basis. On top of what she would vent to me about, I knew that this sickness was a lot to handle. Her declining health really took a toll on her life.

Rhonda was such a family oriented person. The way I yearn to see Tatay again is the same way she yearned for my great-grandparents (her grandparents). Her grief for those in our family that have passed away was so immense, she was truly an individual that loved with every fiber of her being. But she focused that grief on trying to educate the younger generations of our family history. She was passionate about our family and keeping the memories of my great-grandparents alive. So when she passed away, I definitely was sad. But I was at peace knowing that she finally got the reunion with all of her loved ones that she so desperately wanted. I was relieved to know that she was no longer in pain, no longer suffering, no longer grieving people she loved. That was my peace.

2021’s biggest lesson for me was realizing in depth the phrase, “life is short.” Of course, this is something I already knew, but it takes on a whole other meaning when you lose people close to you. Death will really have you see things for what it is and see people for who they are. Death made me realize money truly ain’t shit. All that matters in this life is time and showing up for people that matter to you. All you can really give people is your time. At the end of the day, time is the only thing that matters, and how you choose to spend your time is completely up to you.

When you’re at the end of your life, you’re not going to give a shit about how much money you have. Instead, you’ll think of the people that were there, made the effort, and showed up for you. So I’ve been trying to “show up” more for those around me. Like making it to the spontaneous hangouts, the hikes with family, take a drive with my dad to keep him company when he runs errands, and attempting to do things that my partner and I say we want to do but never really get around to doing. I’ve been so used to isolating and sheltering in place that my attempt to put in effort to show up was significantly effected. In order to be a good partner, friend, and family member, I needed to show up and make the effort for those around me. That need to show up definitely came to light because of Tatay.

I had to make the effort to show up for others, but I also needed to realize when I needed space. With all of 2021’s craziness, it was the year I had to learn the hard way that in order to be there for others, I first had to be there for myself. And that means taking those mental breaks if needed. I personally take a long time to recharge after interaction. And with my emotions already drained from personal tragedies, I was made very aware of other things that can leave me feeling drained when my cup was already half full. I love my alone time. I am a homebody by definition. So during my time to recharge, I would find the little things that bring me joy – like eating my favorite food, binge watching a show / many murder documentaries, sleeping, or simply doing nothing. The power of doing nothing when you feel drained is so powerful. Sometimes you need those lazy days to detox.

2021 gave me a lot of set backs. With the pandemic persistent and showing no signs of letting up any time soon, I really had to come to terms with this current way of life. I had to realize that this pandemic isn’t going anywhere, I needed to learn how to adapt and make changes so I wouldn’t get burnt out / bored with the same routine. There’s no use in wishing things can go back to how it was pre-pandemic, because that’s not our current reality. But I did not want to live in fear. I wanted to continue to live my life, but safely. At this point, all we can really do is take the proper precautions and go about our lives. COVID isn’t going anywhere, so we need to learn how to survive and exist in this current age without it being detrimental to our own mental health in the process.

Living through the pandemic another full year has actually helped get my priorities in order. It’s ironic because the whole world is kind of in limbo with the pandemic, and that has added to me feeling stagnant with my dreams and aspirations. But it has really given me a lot of time to figure out what I want to do, what I want to accomplish, and make baby steps to get to those points. With cases rising and uncertainty continuing to circulate, it’s comforting to know that I can at least attempt to build out my future plans. The feeling of life “slowing down” due to the pandemic has helped me tune into what it is I truly want out of life.

A lot of those plans are obviously in regards to my writing career and what steps I want to take next. Like I said, 2021 brought a lot of set backs for me. I’m already naturally a procrastinator, so when life threw in a tragedy or 2, I just didn’t know how to deal. There are still times where I think, “is this just the new me?” But as time passes, I’m starting to slowly get back to feeling like “me” again. I needed that break. I needed that time to allow myself to fall apart. I wanted to keep writing and continue with my content, and luckily it all worked out. But if I’m being completely honest, there were a lot of lazy days. Days where I didn’t want to get ahead, where I didn’t care to work on anything, where I worked on things last minute.

At the start of 2021, I had so many deadlines for myself to meet. But it didn’t go as I planned at all. And usually, I would beat myself up about it. But surprisingly, it was the opposite. I knew that the last thing I needed to do was be angry with myself for not meeting deadlines as I dealt with the death of 2 close family members. I decided to show myself kindness. I needed to feel those emotions, go through the crazy rollercoaster of grief, and sort out all my emotions, because if I didn’t, I know I would just self-destruct.

But through the set backs, I have accomplished a couple of things last year that I’m very proud of. Even though I was in a rut, I never once put my writing on hold. I still connected with so many new people and pushed out a couple of Series. And I’m so glad that I’ve connected with so many people who gave me the privilege to share their stories on my platform. I know that this is just the beginning.

My horoscope said that 2021 was going to be my Emerald Year – where I work hard for what I want, grow as a person, and have the universe in my favor. 2021 was supposed to be when I was supposedly astrologically at my luckiest. When Tatay and Rhonda passed away, I thought, “How the hell is this my emerald year? This is the by far the worst year of my life.” But then I took a step back and saw all that was accomplished, all the lessons I learned, all the realizations I had to come to terms with, and all the growth that took place because of what I went through this year and I think, “I got my Emerald Year… just in the most fucked up way possible.” 2021 definitely challenged me in every way possible. I had to re-establish what matters the most to me in this life and that brought a lot of growth and self-reflecting. And I know that all the seeds I planted in 2021, whether I knew it or not, will start to bear fruit in 2022 and the years to come.

2021 was the year I had to struggle. It was a struggle to even get those seeds planted. But I know they’re there, and I’m waiting for my blessings to come. 2021 was the year I lost people very close to me, 2022 and onward is trying to make them proud.

Estephanie: Motherhood Without My Life Partner

“This is story 10 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is Estephanie’s story, written in her own words:

“My name is Estephanie, but friends call me Juelz. I’m the proud mother of Elían, fiancé to Tone, Founder of Divine Eye, LLC, Licensed Esthetician, and Body Sculptress at Adriana’s Beauty Salon. 

When I first found out I was pregnant my exact words were ‘holy shit,’ as I smiled. This is not something our family knows, but our son was planned per say. We knew our future wouldn’t be easy and that it would be scary, but we loved each other and knew that we would figure it out. My son turns 4 in January, and man he has been our biggest blessing. Being a mother to me means endless amounts of  strength, courage, and resilience. It’s a feeling that no other can ever fulfill. 

You can have the crappiest day, but even when your child is figuring out their emotions, they manage to still make you smile. You sit and observe them, you then realize, ‘My God, you were in my stomach. I created those beautiful hands, that smile.’ And then I think, ‘Damn you sound just like me.’ Like Faith Evans said, ‘I never knew a love like this before,’ because my family is different in many ways like many others. We’re all unique. I’m a single mother to Elían while my life partner, Tone, is incarcerated.

Honestly, my mom was aware of our situation from the beginning. However, Tone isn’t just someone I met 5-6 years ago. I’ve known him my entire life. We’ve been a part of each other’s lives since we were 12. We have history, we dated in high school. Puppy love, right? But I always knew he’d be an amazing partner. My fiancé was fighting a case previous to our relationship’s beginning. My mom knew about his past, and they have an amazing relationship. My family didn’t know about his case, and I was very private about people I dated. So when I finally brought someone to the family they were excited. His situation wasn’t my story to tell. It was Tone’s private matters. We didn’t want the negativity to surround us. People are ruthless sometimes with questions and overstepping boundaries.

 But of course, secrets always find a way to come out. My family became aware of his case while I was 7 months pregnant. By then, they had gotten to know him for who he was and witnessed how amazing, hardworking, and loving he truly is. They witnessed how attentive he was while I was pregnant and after I gave birth. He made sure to stay home and give his son time. By then, it was too late for the judgement. My family loves Tone. I feel like we just didn’t give room for judgement. We focused on ourselves.

We had a lot of court dates, even before I was pregnant. We never knew which court date they would remand him. My anxiety was pretty high. His case is a federal case, and the judge truly had the say if he’s remanded before his sentencing or not. During my pregnancy, all we did was plan and discuss how we would raise our son. We discussed scenarios because we truly never knew which court would be the last one until it was.

May 15, 2018 my fiancé, my son, and I were joined by other family members as we walked into the federal courthouse located in Oakland, CA. The day had come for sentencing and we believed a miracle would happen due to his many accomplishments and life changing choices.

 My life changed in a blink of an eye when the judge sentenced my fiancé to ten years and eleven months. My son was two days away from turning four months old. It was devastating to hear. I dropped to my knees. I couldn’t believe it. It was his first time being sentenced – never missed a drug test, attended all court ordered classes, and worked a full-time graveyard shift (he does drywall). Minimum for each count was 5 years. Tone was just as surprised. 

Life was great up until that point. I was doing amazing in my career. My son was healthy after a difficult delivery. We had just mailed out invitations for our wedding. I was very hesitant to plan our wedding, but I said ‘Why live in fear?’ Tone was waiting for me to give him the okay to plan the wedding. I was afraid this would happen and it became my reality. I don’t regret it one bit. Life had different plans for us. We knew the possibility was high, but like everyone, you pray and hope for the best. 

The people closest to me understand my position of wanting to wait for Tone. There was concern, but in regards to my mental state. They reminded me of all my options. Reminding me that I too matter and that any decision I took, they would stand by it. Meaning if I waited they would support it, and if I decided to walk away they would support me too.

I haven’t wanted to throw in the towel because of the love and respect I have for Tone. I know I don’t owe him anything. I know this case has absolutely nothing to do with me and I know it’s me putting a lot of hope into the relationship. I cannot get up and leave, I say that because I’d be leaving for the wrong reasons. I’d be leaving because I’m ‘lonely,’ not because I don’t love him or because he doesn’t treat me right. Of course I want my family to be complete, of course I want to have date night to get dolled up while holding hands with my partner, but if I walk away, that’s walking away from my family.

The journey hasn’t been easy. Single moms and mothers like me, who aren’t single but due to circumstances have to do it alone, we forget to praise ourselves for all that we do. There are lonely nights where we stay up to cry, wake up with puffy eyes, and handle business. When there’s so much to be done you don’t know where to start but you do. The amazing memories we create with our children, good and bad that you can look back and laugh. 

Motherhood was never supposed to be easy. It is the next step of growth. Motherhood teaches you to unlock those traumas you’ve been avoiding because you don’t want to project it onto your child. Motherhood gets you in a loophole of emotions, but doing motherhood alone without your life partner is hard. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a partner pass away. I’m blessed to be able to receive a phone call, an email, or these days – even a visit. 

The first years I struggled with my depression and anxiety but I managed it. I lost myself in that process. I lost my glow. I lost my happiness because I was stripped away from what I thought was my perfect life. In reality, what is perfection? I don’t think anyone knows what that is. I just knew I needed to fight, and that the fight wasn’t going to be easy. Everyone’s first thoughts are, ‘Oh she’s going to leave him, watch,’ or ‘Oh, she’s going to cheat on him if she waits, watch,’ or even worse, ‘Watch her wait and the relationship fails.’ Like sheesh, can we be a bit more optimistic here please?

It truly takes a village, my support system has helped me so much with my child. When I needed to go back to work, all hands were on deck. My mom, mother-in-law, and sister-in-laws helped me take care of my son. Mondays and Wednesdays my mom would watch him, the other days my sister-in-law would watch him, and when she couldn’t anymore my mother-in-law took over. My cousins would come over to help me so I could catch up with laundry or cleaning while they helped me with my son. They watched me break down crying an endless amount of times. My cousins and close friends gave me a safe space to vent and plot my next moves. My mom motivated me even on the days I just wanted to be alone, she made sure to get me out of my comfort zone.

I found love in food. It was my coping mechanism even when I was a teen. However, I knew I needed to do something different but didn’t know what. I created myself a routine. Every week looked the same. But I grew tired of it. I would begin books and I couldn’t finish them. My attention span was so small and I couldn’t understand why if I truly loved reading books. Then it was time to dive deeper. I knew I needed to go back to therapy. I tried it but I was afraid to open the doors of Pandora’s Box. So I stopped, but I started to journal. Not every day, but I tried as much as I could. I prayed a lot and I cried a lot. 

 As a mother, naturally you  are a nurturer. I love nurturing my family, that means my fiancé as well. Not only do I have to learn to cope with my roller coaster of emotions, but I too have to attend to my man’s needs and his vulnerabilities so he doesn’t lose his mind for not being here with his family and witnessing our son grow everyday. That’s his biggest fear because he grew up without a father too. 

It’s far from easy for Tone. This was his biggest fear: not being able to watch his child grow up every day. He wishes he could be here, but he has his moments of depression and anger. He writes Elían letters and draws beautiful artwork so he could see them. It’s been harder for Tone when we did have visits – to sit in front of your child and not be able to hug them or even hold their hand due to COVID. If you break the rule, Tone can be sent to solitary confinement. Tone has been in solitary confinement many times during this pandemic, caught COVID twice, and was freezing because it was so cold in those cells.

What hurts the most is not knowing how he will come home from the traumas he’s endured during his life in prison. How he will handle the changes I’ve made during the time he was gone. I worry if we will be able to adapt to the new life after the honeymoon stage fades of having him home. How my son will handle his father being home, if he will react negatively when his dad wants to correct him or if it’s going to be awkward for him. 

I can relate with my son because I also had to visit my father in prison until I was 25 years old. I know the feeling when I see my son watch his father enter the visiting room, how his eyes glow, and he cheeses under his facemask. The pandemic has been far from easy – it has been our biggest challenge. As of right now, we have no visits due to COVID-19. The facility is unaware when the visits will begin again due to cases rising. In the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic I organized a protest (#YOSOYTUVOZ Lompoc, CA) with the help of my family and other families to bring awareness to the inhumane acts that were taking place in the prison. 

Not seeing each other for almost one year, and now being able to see each other and not hug each other is difficult. Helping my son understand that his daddy does love him but can’t hug him is devastating. Especially when he compares himself to other children and their fathers. I know that feeling because I also would do it as a little girl – but now as a mother it’s by far the worst feeling.

Growing up without a father was difficult. I didn’t understand why my father committed the same mistake knowing the high risk of being away from us. My father has always battled with addiction and being in and out of prison. The time my dad was home we have great memories of him, but I also have nightmares of him. I would take care of my dad when he was coked out. I would intervene in the physical beatings my mother received while he was under the influence. I worried if he would come home or not, and if he came home, I feared what state he would be in.

 I’m a daddy’s girl 100% however, it does get overwhelming. It made me a giver and a nurturer yet gave me a cold heart. Although my father is no longer incarcerated, he struggles with his addiction. I can’t believe that although I’ll be 28 next month, I no longer have a healthy relationship with my father. When I’m dealing with heavy stuff I switch to survival mode. It’s been a journey to calm down the survival mode because I have a son now and can’t just get up and leave.

I feel that maybe my family is sympathetic towards my current situation because my mom went through the same thing with my dad. But my father was nothing like Tone. My family didn’t meet my father until after I turned 2 years old because he went to prison while my mom was pregnant with me. My dad wasn’t the best partner for my mother, a lot of healing needed to take place. And with Tone, it was peaceful, no drama, loving, respectful, and family oriented. It was a different experience my family witnessed with Tone. He had similarities like my dad given the choice of lifestyle they chose for various reasons, but he has my Papa’s (grandfather) hard working attitude and detail oriented when it comes to family.

The only thing my son and I can relate to is that Tone is incarcerated for mistakes that were previous to our relationship. The way I’m helping my son with not having his dad around is by teaching him coping mechanisms to help with his emotions while being frustrated. We do a lot of breathing techniques, drawing/painting when he’s sad or having an off day. When he’s mad I tell him to go to his room to take a breather, use the punching bag, or to use his drums. I like teaching him things Tone would teach him, and showing him movies Tone loves. I bring him to work with me, I’ve taught him how to fold towels, and help me with laundry. I do things with him that his dad and I emphasized we wanted to do. I speak highly of his dad and I remind him no matter where his daddy is, that he’s always thinking of him and loves him dearly.

Elían wants to know everything about his dad, from what he eats to what kind of cologne he wears. Sometimes at night is when it becomes harder for me. The hardest question by far has been, ‘Why daddy don’t love me or hug me? I miss him.’ Those were the words I heard the first time we visited him after COVID-19. It was a new facility we were going to and the first time seeing him since the last time we visited pre-pandemic. It was very rough for my son. Again, hearing that from a 3 year old was devastating. It was so hard to put the words together as I cried with him because as a child, I remembered that feeling.

My son is very attached to Tone given the circumstances. Their bond was strong even when I was pregnant. When he would hear his dad’s voice, he’d have a whole party in my belly. One thing about my son is he’s very curious and asks a lot of questions. This year we officially told him his dad was at a camp. He knows that his dad is at a camp correcting his actions by having an adult timeout. And sometimes, as adults we make mistakes and everything has a consequence whether it is good or bad, but when it is bad the timeouts are a little different. They have to go away for a little bit to learn new habits.

 However, we emphasize that if it were up to his dad, he’d be at home with us every single day. I emphasize to him how much his daddy loves him. I have pictures of his dad everywhere. My son’s godparents have bought him a Build-a-Bear with his voice recording telling him how much he loves him so he can hear it everyday. Books about his daddy (wonderbly.com), also blankets with pictures of him when he was a baby with his dad. 

Obstacles in life will always happen, no matter how great your plan is, no matter how good of a person you are, life will challenge you. I am learning to believe in myself because of motherhood. Everything life has taught me has led up to this moment. So when I find myself asking, ‘Why me?’ I now say, ‘Okay, so what’s the lesson here and where can I grow?’ Being a mother doesn’t mean having all the answers, it means figuring it out with the answers you do have and working from there. 

It sounds so simple, but trust and communication is how Tone and I maintain our relationship. We are very raw with our conversations. We have conversations that couples find difficult to have – our fears, our regrets, our happiness, our past, our traumas, things we like about each other, and things we find difficult about each other. I am very open with my emotions and I’m like a firework. And Tone is more reserved and quiet about his emotions. But I can sense it just by the first moment I hear his voice. I cry a lot to him if I’m being honest. I get a sudden rush of guilt for complaining to him and he reminds me that I’m his partner and he needs to talk about these things with me. We pray a lot. We read the same books so we can discuss them to create conversation. I bought a deck of cards for couples to ask questions to get to know each other even more. We try to know everything about each other because all we can do is use our words to explain what and how we feel on a daily basis since we don’t have each other physically here.

I am hopeful Tone will be able to come home sooner than we ever expected. I am hopeful that this nightmare will just be a chapter in our story where we can look back on 20 years from now and say, ‘Damn, baby, we did that.’ Where we can tell our future grandchildren and great grandchildren our love story. Like not only did we overcome this sentence, but a whole pandemic too.  

The best advice I can give someone that is dealing with this same scenario is to learn from each other. LEARN EACH OTHER’S TRIGGERS AND LOVE LANGUAGE. Learn to compromise, learn to understand one another. This journey is far from easy, there will be nights that you feel your heart is truly hurting and the tears won’t stop running down your face but it’s during those moments you grow. It’s during those moments you learn that although you feel like the world is against you, it’s not. Never say, ‘Why me?’ Say, ‘What do I need to learn during this time?’ Take this time to truly get out of your comfort zone. Learn to trust yourself because the doubt will eat you alive. Don’t listen to the bystanders, pay attention to the support and love you receive. No one will understand your relationship better than you and your partner.” -Estephanie

The Last Birthday

This is story 7 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

As Tatay’s 98th birthday drew near, I remember basically pleading with God, the Universe, any higher power that would listen to me, to please let him reach his birthday. If he was going to leave this Earth under these unfortunate circumstances, the least they could do was let him celebrate one last birthday surrounded by family. By this point, he was barely eating, his good memory days were a thing of the past, and he lost a significant amount of weight. He no longer went downstairs because he couldn’t walk on his own, let alone sit up on his own. He was completely bedridden.

I remember thinking, “If Tatay can make it to his 98th birthday, I’ll be at peace when he passes.” He made it to his 98th birthday, but of course I still wasn’t content with that tradeoff. It was so ironic greeting him happy birthday as our gut feeling knew that his time was very limited. Everyone’s “happy birthday” greet to Tatay that day was matched with a lump in their throat. It was a mix of emotions for sure – feeling grateful that he made it to another year of life, hopeful that his health would somehow miraculously get better, depressed that we have to see him that weak, and feeling selfish for wanting him to live longer in his current state.

Tatay’s birthdays have always been a big celebration in our family. His birthday falls on July 3rd, so we usually lump it together as a multiple day event since July 4th is a holiday and family usually comes into town. We had a lot to celebrate, each year was a reminder of how resilient, strong, and blessed Tatay was to reach another year of life. With the exception of his 97th pandemic birthday, we went all out every year to celebrate with food, family, and gifts. And for his 98th, we all came over the house despite the pandemic. This birthday was one that I was grateful to attend since his 97th birthday was so downplayed with everyone sheltering in place. But if I’m being honest, it was a really sad day.

We made the usual route up the stairs to Tatay’s room. “Happy birthday, Tatay!” we said happily. He laid in his bed before us, completely unresponsive to our presence and what we just said. His eyes were barely open, he looked the weakest I’ve ever seen him. He was on a new medication that he had started the day before. He was totally out of it, completely lethargic. Tatay looked so small in his bed, and as we tried a few more attempts to see if he’d respond to our greets, he didn’t. We tried to shrug it off, “Let him rest,” as we made our way back downstairs.

It was a “party” but it felt like anything but. The atmosphere was gloomy downstairs as the adults took turns going up and down to and from Tatay’s room to check on him. My cousin’s wedding was the following week in Florida, and the majority of the aunts and uncles had planned to make it, flights booked and everything. They announced that Tatay’s health was declining fast, so they all decided to cancel the wedding trip. They started to plan out a schedule where all the siblings took turns helping Tita with Tatay throughout the week, especially during the night. He was completely unable to stand, sit up, or do anything independently. On top of that, he would get frustrated and would try to stubbornly deny help, making it even harder to assist him. It was a lot for Tita to do on her own. The majority of the siblings are retired, while my dad and Auntie Salvie still work. They all had to Tetris their schedules to be there for Tatay. This schedule would continue indefinitely.

At one point during the night, we asked when we were going to cut the cake. With everything going on, the cake was the last thing on the aunts and uncles’s minds. Tatay didn’t have a cake. This was blasphemy to our ears. This is the first birthday party for Tatay that I can think of where we all got together and didn’t have a cake for him. Sometimes, there were even more than 1 cake. And my gut feeling was telling me that not only was this going to be his last birthday celebrated on Earth, but also some of his last memories with family, it was necessary to get him a cake. My sisters, my younger cousins, and I debated on who would go on the quick car ride journey to get Tatay’s cake. I didn’t want to leave Christian at Tatay’s house alone with all the adults, so I told them that them 4 could go get Tatay’s cake while I stayed back.

They eagerly put on their shoes and headed for the door, excited to go on an adventure together. I’m glad that they got to have a little break from the melancholy toned birthday party. I realized that my dad was missing, so he was probably in Tatay’s room. I told Christian that we should go up and see how Tatay is doing, at the very least, keep him company. We entered Tatay’s room and not much had changed. He looked completely out of it, totally feeling the effects of the medicine. You couldn’t tell if his eyes were slightly open or all the way closed. He didn’t speak much, just groaned every now and then. We sat on the chairs that were lined up against his bedroom window.

My dad and Auntie Lilia were in the room while Christian and I took a seat. I couldn’t help but look at Tatay knowing damn well that his time was coming up soon. He was so different from the week before, such a drastic change for the worst. I remember just the week before we were telling him that his birthday was coming up. He didn’t remember how old he was turning, but he was a lot more coherent than the Tatay that laid before me. The medicine he was on truly had his head in the clouds. I couldn’t stand to see him like that, but at the same time I wanted to be there with him on his birthday. It wasn’t about me, it was about him, and I wanted him to know that we were all there to celebrate him. However, this wasn’t your typical birthday party. This was the saddest birthday party I’ve ever attended. It was celebrating Tatay reaching another year of life, but being slapped in the face with reality that death would be knocking on his door soon.

After about 10 minutes in the room, I couldn’t take it anymore. I started to cry as I looked at Tatay on the bed, so frail, so small, in and out of consciousness it seemed. Christian reached over as his eyes began to water too. I know being around Tatay in that state was probably bringing up memories of his own Grandpa who passed away about a year prior. My dad tried his hardest to fight back tears, but started to cry as well as I had my moment. I could tell my dad was trying not to look at me or acknowledge that I was crying, but the harder he tried to focus his attention on something else, the more emotional he got. We don’t do well with talking about our emotions or expressing them, but I know my dad gets more emotional when he sees his girls in distress.

My Auntie Lilia looked at me, completely aware that I was crying, but tried to change the subject. She let me know that just 3 days before, on Wednesday, Tatay was on his feet and walking independently. She started with, “Can you believe that just 3 days before he was walking outside?” That was news to me. She explained that Tita went to the store to get some groceries, leaving Tatay alone at home. Tatay was resting and most likely asleep, so she thought she’d make a quick run. He no longer could get up on his own at that point, or so they thought.

When Tita arrived back home, Tatay was missing from his bed. Where was he? They found Tatay down the street with his walker in hand, not properly dressed for the cold Bay Area weather. When they asked him where he was going, the answer alone made me clench my jaw trying to hold back tears as Auntie Lilia continued with the story. Tatay said that he was going back home – to Roland’s house. His mind still believed that he was living with my family at our house.

“Can you believe that? He got up by himself, put on his shoes, carried the walker down the stairs, opened the door, walked down the steps to his house, and was down the street!” My Auntie Lilia said in complete amazement.

I couldn’t believe it either. Tatay managed to carry his heavy ass walker down 2 flights of stairs, not a single scratch on the walls. What was more amazing was the fact that before this incident, he couldn’t walk downstairs on his own that well anymore, he needed assistance. I was relieved that Tatay was still close by when Tita realized he was missing. I don’t know what I would’ve done if he was missing for even just an hour, especially during the times when Asian hate crimes were at an all time high.

That was my Tatay – he never failed to surprise you with his strength and perseverance. It was then that they decided to install cameras in his house. They wanted to make sure that he was safe at all times, and if he needed help, we would know. I wondered what was going through Tatay’s head at the time to be so motivated to go back to our house. That was his last hoorah outside, his last adventure, the last time he walked independently. And now 3 days later, he was totally immobile, could barely open up his eyes, and totally out of it. It’s amazing what 72 hours can do when time isn’t on your side.

When my sisters and cousins came back with the cake, they had stories to tell of their own about how difficult it was to get it. But all that mattered was that we had a cake, that Tatay’s last birthday wouldn’t be cakeless. Getting Tatay a cake was really important to us cousins, and I’m glad that we got to give him a cake one last time. Because it was an ice cream cake, they quickly prepared it so it wouldn’t melt.

Since Tatay was feeling the effects of his new medication and was completely bedridden, the whole family came up to his room. The room was dim, adding to the already somber mood. Michael came in holding the cake, the “98” candles already lit. My dad took one side of the cake as they positioned it in front of Tatay as he laid on the bed. We all began to sing happy birthday, hoping that Tatay would at least open his eyes. Tatay laid there, eyes closed, unresponsive to our singing. It was the saddest happy birthday song I have ever sang.

After the cake, they started to give him his gifts. Tatay loved receiving his envelopes during birthdays, so it lightened the mood a little bit when he started to open his eyes as they were putting money in his hands. They joked that Tatay woke up at the right time to receive his presents. However, that was short lived as he got drowsy again.

Tatay’s lethargic state was partially due to his new medication that he started taking the day before his birthday. The siblings decided that night that they were not going to continue to give it to Tatay since it made him so out of it. The next day, we visited again. Tatay was completely coherent, and even though his time was coming soon, at least we got to see him be somewhat aware of his surroundings. We asked him the day after his birthday if he remembered anything from the day before, he said no. That was the last birthday Tatay spent on Earth with us. It wasn’t ideal, but at the very least, I’m happy that he was surrounded by family.

Somewhere Deep in Tatay’s Memory

This is story 6 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This might be weird to some, but sometimes I think of what my life will be like when I’m an old grandma. What kind of life would I have lived? What things have changed? Who are the people closest to me? What accomplishments did I make in life? What lessons have I learned? Will I still be able to remember and recall my past? And as I witnessed Tatay’s mind start to drift further and further from the present day, I started to put myself in his shoes. I wondered what he was thinking, who he still remembered vividly, and what memories played in his mind. Visiting Tatay every Sunday was like a gamble. Was he going to be aware of who we were and what time frame it was, or was he going to ask for people who have already passed on a long time ago? It made me wonder…

Where do people’s minds go when they get older? What memories stick out to them the most and why?

I remember my Uncle Cris sharing that when Tatay first came to America, he hated it and wanted to go back to the Philippines. I wondered how hard it must’ve been to leave his home and family in the Philippines to reunite with his children and in-laws in America. Out of all his siblings, Tatay was the only one who resided in America. He must have felt so torn – feeling homesick being away from the place where he grew up, leaving behind his siblings and all of his extended family, but also feeling “at home” reuniting with all of his children after 7 long years apart. All I know is, I’m grateful that he decided to call the Bay Area his home and vacation to the Philippines every so often, instead of the other way around. Deep down he probably knew that this was a sacrifice he had to make for the future generations to come.

One of Tatay’s last wishes was to be back in the Philippines. But because of a volcano eruption and COVID following not too long after, we were unable to do that for him. Tatay was known for his flip floppiness when it came to where he wanted to permanently reside. There have been a couple of times where he swore up and down that he was going to stay in the Philippines, but with time he always came back. It seemed like wherever he was, Philippines or the US, he always wanted to go back to the other country eventually. His children would take his decisions with a grain of salt because they knew their father too well – he was always changing his mind. Give him a month or 2 in the Philippines and he’ll be ready to willingly come back to the US, complaining about the weather when it gets too hot. Give him a couple of months to settle back into the US and he’s already requesting his next trip back to the Philippines. That was Tatay, he called both places home.

Pre-pandemic and pre-volcano eruption, Tatay wouldn’t back down with voicing his desires to go back to the Philippines. I truly believe that he believed he would spend his remaining days on Earth in Batangas. He was so adamant. By this time, 2019-ish, it was well over a couple of years since Tatay’s last trip to the Philippines. With his old age, he just couldn’t handle the 15+ hours on a plane. But he was persistent. My aunts finally decided to give him what he wanted, a 1 way ticket to the Philippines – not because they believed he was going to stay there permanently, but because they knew that with time he would want to come back home to the US. They were just unsure of how much time it would actually take this time around for him to come back. So they bought him a 1 way ticket there and planned on a return flight with a date that was to be determined. I can only imagine what that might’ve felt like to finally get your wish to return back to Batangas, and then be told that you no longer could go. The volcano eruption delayed it, but they still planned on rescheduling. When the pandemic happened, there was just no way. At one point during the pandemic my cousin tried to get Tatay dual citizenship. It was the only way he could travel to the Philippines during these times – but he was denied.

Tatay couldn’t make sense of it all. Why couldn’t he go?! Tatay took every opportunity he could to bring up wanting to go back to the Philippines throughout the pandemic. And as his memory started to teeter-totter back and forth between present day and the past, the Philippines became a regular topic for him. Some days he would think that we were friends visiting from another part of the Philippines, other days he’d be asking my dad when he was going back to the Philippines, and other times he would ask on repeat why / when can he go back. My dad and Tita would avoid talking about the Philippines or anyone going to the Philippines in front of Tatay. The topic alone could set him off into a question frenzy. He wanted to go home so bad. His mind was constantly thinking about the Philippines, so it only made sense that he talked about it all the time and sometimes believed that he was there.

I’m not gonna lie, sometimes it felt like a blow to the heart when he could no longer recognize who we were. But Tita would share what Tatay would ask and say on a day to day basis. A lot of the time, he still believed that he was living with us. The time frame he was thinking of would have me and my sisters as little kids. He would ask Tita where my dad was, where my mom was, where my sisters and I were sleeping, and when he’s going back to his house, our house. Tita would have to remind him that he has his own house and we live separately. I wondered what about this time frame stuck out to him. Tatay lived with us for about 6 years, and that is a very short amount of time in his very long life. Regardless, it made me feel a little better to know that we were still somewhere in his memory, even if it was more than 20 years dated.

Tita would also tell us stories about Tatay asking for my dad’s mom. She died during childbirth over 50 years ago. He would call for my dad’s mom in the middle of the night. “Conching,” was the nickname he called my grandma. At times he would ask Tita where his wife was and why does she keep leaving. Tita would simply tell him that she was his wife. “You look different,” he would tell her. Tita would have to remind Tatay that my dad’s mother died over 50 years ago and she’s his wife. Tatay and Tita were married for over 20 years. But that didn’t stop him from talking about my Nanay Conching. So many decades have passed, but his memory of my grandma was still there. He never forgot her.

One Sunday Tita shared with us that Tatay woke up in the middle of the night and called her by my grandma’s name, Conching. He asked if she was awake and she told him she was, but she wasn’t who he thought she was – she wasn’t Conching. Tatay proceeded to tell Tita that he had a dream that there was a lot of people telling him to go with them and sit in a chair with them. Tita tried to make light of it and advised him not to go with the people in his dream because it’s a pandemic. Of course we all thought about the Filipino superstition – when you have dreams of people who have passed on and they’re telling you to come with them, you will pass away in your sleep if you choose to follow them. There would be other times where Tatay would ask for random people that he wouldn’t bring up regularly in the past. But it so happened to be that everyone he was randomly asking for had passed away for some time.

There was another dream he shared with Tita, who later told all of us. In his dream, he saw my Nanay Conching. They were at their old house in the Philippines and she had prepared a lot of food. A lot of people were at their house for some type of party. My aunt, who was 2 years old when my grandma died, desperately tried to get answers from Tatay. “How do you know it was my mom? Did she say it was her?” She asked in Tagalog. He said no, she didn’t introduce herself, but he knew it was her. My aunt continued, “If you see her again, ask her how is Merlinda. Ask if she’s big now.” Merlinda passed away with my grandma. She was a stillborn birth. Tatay seemed to be a little uncomfortable with what my aunt was saying and his expression looked a little sad.

As Tatay’s memory began to fade in and out, it brought me a great sense of comfort knowing that he still remembered my Nanay Conching. She has been gone for 55+ years, and he was still calling out for her in the middle of the night. I’d like to believe that those were not just dreams he was having of her, but signs from the other side to let him know that once he passed on, he would be welcomed in by familiar faces. Even though Tatay’s memory went back and forth between the present day and the past, he always spoke of people and places that meant the most to him. I wondered if his life was playing like a reel in his head – reflecting, remembering, reliving – like a movie.

I guess I’ll never really know how Tatay’s memory was working as he neared the end of his life. I just know that at times it made me sad to know that his memory was all over the place. But he brought up so many different people, places, and reminisced on different parts of his life. It just reminded me that he lived such a long life filled with so many memories that of course his inner RAM was getting all jumbled up. It had 98 years to account for!

The day after his birthday, we all visited him again. He was weak, but still managed to give me a smile when I walked into his room. “Hiiiiii Tataaayyyyy!!” I said in my usual tone. “That’s the first time I saw him smile like that!” My Auntie Salvie said. I secretly hoped that he smiled because somewhere in his memory, he remembered me.

F*ck This Pandemic

This is story 3 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

Fuck this pandemic.

That’s what I really wanted to say during my speech. But like I said, it wasn’t the place or the time. I guess I’m at the 2nd stage of grief – ANGER.

I know that Tatay was so blessed and fortunate to reach 98 years old. But I just know his life was cut “short” due to this pandemic. And I can’t get passed the feeling of anger and thinking of what could have been. Pre-pandemic, you could’ve asked anyone in my family – we all believed that Tatay would live long enough to reach at least 100 years old. Other than small complications that come with old age, Tatay was in great health for 98. He complained about his back hurting, not being able to get around like he used to, his memory wasn’t as sharp, but that all comes with the process of aging. If anything, it was amazing what his body could still do in his mid to late 90’s!

When the 3 week mandatory shutdown was called in March 2020, we all didn’t expect that almost a year and a half later we would still be worried about the virus. We knew that the shutdown was looming around the corner, so we decided to go to Tatay’s house for Sunday dinner, even though it wasn’t the week we were supposed to since we go every other Sunday. We were all a little hesitant to go over his house because we didn’t know much about the virus then and didn’t want to put Tatay’s health in danger since he was the most vulnerable. On the family group chat, my cousin joked that we should go to Tatay’s for dinner, the day before the official lockdown, because it might be the last one for a long time. Unfortunately, it was true.

Sunday dinners at Tatay’s were postponed until further notice. When the shutdown kept getting longer and longer, I started to get a bad feeling about how this would effect Tatay and his health. Obviously we stayed away because we wanted to protect him at all costs, but it wasn’t an easy thing to do. In my opinion, being surrounded by family often, getting up to do usual routines, and getting out every once in a while is what kept Tatay young. It kept his mind working, it kept his body moving, it’s the reason why he made it to 98. But literally over night, all of those things changed. He went from being around family consistently, to just being at home with my step-grandma, Tita. Both of them cooped up in the house to keep themselves safe and healthy. And I hate that it happened this way.

It was around July that my family started visiting Tatay every Sunday. A little over 3 months of not seeing him. Except these visitations were nothing like our usual Sunday dinners. Most of the time, it was just me, my dad, my sisters, and occasionally my mom stopping by to say hello. There was no official gathering, no other family members, and not even enough time to catch up. We would come in with our masks on and try to social distance as best as we could. We just wanted to see Tatay and let him know that we’re not neglecting him because we don’t have time, but because there’s a deadly virus going around that’s easily transmissible. In the beginning we would stay tops 2-5 minutes. A quick hello, dropping off food, and seeing how he’s doing. We wanted to make sure that we were being safe about it and not staying too long to protect him.

Tatay’s house used to be so lively. It was the house to be at for family gatherings, and there was never a dull moment. His great granddaughters ran through the house, screaming from the top of their lungs with excitement every time they were present. “Tatay’s house,” to the kids was a place to play with your cousins, scream your heart out, and eat your weight in Puto. It was the house that always had America’s Funniest Home Videos playing since Tatay didn’t have cable, and it was the only thing everyone could agree on. It was the house where you brought your laptop to finish your assignments because school’s the next day, but Tatay’s house on Sunday is mandatory. It’s the house where all your dietary plans go out the window because everyone brings bomb food for a potluck. That was Tatay’s house.

Entering Tatay’s house during the pandemic was the exact opposite – quiet, untouched, dull. It’s a depressing thing to replay in my mind – how we would doorbell, greet Tita, take off our shoes, and head straight up the stairs to Tatay’s room. We would peak in to see if he was asleep, but would end up going in and waking him up to say hello anyways. 95% of the time we visited him, he was in his bed resting. We would stay far from his bed when we greeted him, being sure to wear our masks, not touching anything, and not “blessing” him to be safe. With his old age, not having family gatherings for months to stimulate his mind, on top of wearing a mask, there were days where Tatay didn’t know who we were.

“What part of the Philippines are you visiting from?”

“What day is it?”

“When can I go back to the Philippines?”

“Why are you wearing a mask?”

Explaining the pandemic to Tatay was not an easy task. Tita, my dad, my aunts and uncles – everyone – would tell him why we have on masks and why we can’t have family gatherings for the time being. No matter how many times it was explained, I don’t think Tatay ever really got the severity of it all. He was starting to show signs of dementia, so there would be times where he remembered that a sickness was going around, and other times where he just didn’t get it. And because he couldn’t fully comprehend the pandemic, it broke my heart to realize that there was a possibility that he believed we all just weren’t visiting him. It’s a thought I tried to avoid the whole time we visited him during the pandemic because it made me feel overwhelmed with sadness.

His many questions would be asked on loop throughout our short stay every Sunday. It was sad to see his mind slowly going. But I didn’t know what was more sad – when he was speaking nonsense, or when he was fully aware of everything around him. Seeing what mind state Tatay would be in every Sunday was a gamble. Was he going to be happy? Was he going to remember us? Was he going to ask for people who have passed on already? Is he going to bring up the Philippines – a very touchy topic that nobody wanted to bring up in his presence because of how bad he wanted to go back… the list went on. I would feel sad when he would ask questions that we just answered 30 seconds prior, because it was a sign that his memory was going. He was slipping away and there was nothing we could do about it.

But I think what was more heartbreaking was when he was completely aware of where he was and the situation at hand. There were some Sundays where we would go up straight to his room and find him in his usual spot – his bed. We would ask him how he is and he’d sound depressed. Saying how he’s bored at the house, there’s nothing to do, he can’t go anywhere, and he just wants to go back to the Philippines already. We had to explain to him that he’s not the only one feeling those feelings. Everyone around the world were getting pandemic fatigue as well. We let him know that my mom and sisters were working from home, nobody really leaves the house except to do necessary things like getting groceries, and even if we wanted to go out, everything is shutdown anyways.

One Sunday Tatay was giving us an ear full about how he’s so bored, frustrated that he can’t do anything, and all he does is just stay in the house. “What kind of life is this?! / Anong klaseng buhay ito?!” He would say bitterly. Again we dived into the conversation that it’s a global pandemic, that everyone around the world is cooped up in their house with nothing to do, everything is shutdown everywhere, and it’s all because of a deadly virus. We told him that’s why everyone is wearing masks, why we were wearing masks at that exact moment to protect him, and that the virus could spread without you even knowing it. Typical Tatay sighed and let all the things my dad translated go over his head. He continued to complain – which he had every right to do especially since he didn’t get what the pandemic actually was. My dad went downstairs to help Tita with packing things for the Philippines, so it was just me and my older sister with Tatay. One thing about Tatay, he will give you a mouth full and be stubborn as can be, but when it comes to his grandchildren and great grandkids, he eases up and doesn’t give us that side of him.

“So when you’re at home, you’re doing nothing too?” Tatay said tenderly in Tagalog, as he laid in his bed. He was no longer irritated.

We reassured him that we were bored as hell at home too. We told him schools were closed, everyone was working from home, everything is shutdown, and “lahat” (everyone) around the world is doing nothing. We let him know that his current reality was one of many. This seemed to make Tatay feel a little better, even though my dad had just explained it moments before. I laughed and quietly told my sister, “misery loves company,” to make light of the situation. But it was true, we let him know how boring life is during a pandemic, and let him know that yes, it did suck. He found comfort in knowing that he wasn’t the only one. I could see it in his face – his change of heart, his anger slipping away, his face expression now replaced with a look of pondering. I always wondered if he asked that for reassurance, or if he wanted to know if the pandemic was as serious as we were telling him.

We continued to visit Tatay every single Sunday, and when he got vaccinated in early 2021, we felt more comfortable extending our visits from 2-5 minutes, to about 15 – 20 minutes. We would sit around his bedside and try to make small talk, show him animals on our phones, or show him pictures that would entertain him. We would still have our masks on, and he would still ask why we had them on. One week it would seem like Tatay’s health was super weak and declining, then the next week he would be playful, in a good mood, and seemed to be aware of what time frame he was in. He had his good days and his bad days. Even on days he didn’t know who we were, Tita would tell us the many stories about him asking about us. He would ask Tita the same thing: “Where is Roland and Beth? Where do the kids sleep? Are they cold?”

I wondered what time frame he believed he was living in since he used to live with my family and I until I was about 7 years old. Pre-pandemic he would occasionally ask me where I sleep at home and if I get cold. I never really got why he asked that, but it obviously it seemed to be of some importance to him since he asked that question often. When we would visit Tita would tell him, “Do you know who they are? Here’s your grandchildren! These are your grandchildren!” He would smile and laugh, a little embarrassed that he didn’t know who we were. I would show him pictures of us when we were really young, to jog his memory, hoping he’d recognize me in the pictures.

Little by little, Tatay’s health started to decline. When it was apparent that his health was declining rapidly, the family decided to resume Sunday dinners again. At this point, it was May 2021, a year and 2 months of not all being at Tatay’s house as a family. The damage of not being around everyone was irreversible, he was slipping away. Tita would give us little updates every Sunday, and it all happened so gradually. It started with his memory, then he didn’t have much of an appetite, then he only ate because he was forced to not because he was actually hungry, then he couldn’t walk up and down the stairs all that great anymore, it quickly turned to him not being able to get up and walk by himself, and on his 98th birthday was the cherry on top of the “fuck this pandemic” cake. My aunts and uncles decided to start taking shifts to take care of Tatay throughout the week because he didn’t have much time left and needed around the clock care. Up until that point, Tita was doing it all.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over the feeling of believing in my heart that this pandemic cut Tatay’s life short. It robbed Tatay of his last years here on Earth to be spent mostly isolated, it prevented him from going back to the Philippines, and I personally believe that it stole a couple of good years he still had left in him. This is where my anger stems from. Fuck this pandemic. It took my Tatay away prematurely, and I’m pissed. I understand why we had to stop family gatherings to protect him and his health, but I hate that we weren’t there to keep him consistent company. I hate that we couldn’t hug him, take off our masks, or be in close proximity without feeling like we were putting him in danger. I’m upset that he left under these circumstances, Tatay deserved better than this depressing pandemic as his last 2 years.

I’m simmering in my anger and just letting myself feel whatever I’m feeling. I find myself thinking of alternate endings, what it would be like if COVID was never a thing, if the pandemic had an ending, if we continued with Sunday dinners despite the shutdown, if he had made it back to the Philippines before COVID, would things workout differently? Would there be an ending that I would be satisfied with? I don’t know. I just know that my family and I went into the pandemic with X amount of people, and we’re coming out of it with 1 less… I know there’s no use in dwelling on what could have been. This is the reality of it all. For the time being, I need something to blame.

Fuck this pandemic.

Emotional Constipation

This is story 2 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

I’ve always considered myself very close to my Tatay, “Tatay Jack,” as I grew up calling him. I’ve always looked at him like he was a living relic because of his old age. 98! The things he witnessed and lived through always intrigued me. How he carried himself, how his mind worked thinking things through, where he came from, and how he grew up was so fascinating to me. He was 98 years old, but I expected 98 more. As naïve as it sounds, I never pictured my life without him. Of course I knew that with his old age, and given the life expectancy of your average person, it was childish and absurd to think that we would be on Earth together for as long as I lived. But, it was still my train of thought. To me, he lived against all odds, he was invincible.

With time, Tatay’s health started to decline little by little, and then drastically throughout the pandemic. When we would visit him, I couldn’t help but look at him with a heavy heart and wonder to myself how much time he actually had left with us. I know that’s a wretched way of thinking, but my brain was already mentally preparing my heart for the worst. At the same time, it made me cherish the times we went to see him even more because I knew time was not on our side. We all knew it was going to come one day, but I didn’t want that day to be now – or ever for that matter. But I knew I had to come to terms with the reality of life and death.

I expected to be an absolute wreck because I know myself to be a very emotional person when it comes to death. I expected myself to be more obviously distraught, crying at just the thought of him, and a ball of nerves and emotions. Instead, I find myself numb, withdrawn, and avoiding my feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly sad, angry, and grieving, but my response to the passing of my Tatay is not the reaction I had prepared myself for. I find myself grieving in waves.

After receiving news of Tatay’s death, it’s like I was watching a movie, a total out of body experience. Everything felt like it was moving in slow motion, like it wasn’t even reality. As a family, we all had to process his death, but also go immediately into planning mode for his service. I found it easier to busy myself with tasks like writing his eulogy and looking through pictures to send to my sister to put on his slideshow than to deal with my sorrow and anger. For me, I didn’t have time to be sad. My main concern was capturing Tatay’s life in the best way possible for his eulogy and doing my part in giving him the best service, because that’s what he deserved.

Coincidently, Tatay passed a day before my last day of work before a 2 week long summer break. I was looking forward to this break for so long to finally unwind and relax. I soon realized that I would be using these 2 weeks off to mourn and bury my grandfather. Trying to make light of the situation, I would tell people closest to me that at least I had two weeks off of work to deal with his passing, oppose to grieving while still having to work 8-5 Monday through Friday. Christian and I had planned a week long stay in SoCal to visit his family before Tatay passed. Our Airbnb was non-refundable, so I decided to go for a couple of days instead of a full week to not entirely waste our money. The plan was for me to go to SoCal for a couple days and cut the trip short so I could be present for all of Tatay’s services, and Christian left SoCal shortly after me so he could be there in time for Tatay’s funeral.

It was such a whirlwind of emotions. I was happy that I was on summer break, but I was so sad that it was under these circumstances. On my last day of work I got my nails done at the salon to prepare for my long anticipated vacation, even though all I could think about was the fact that Tatay wasn’t here anymore. I tried to force myself to get excited for the trip and have it be something to take my mind off of my reality for a while. I picked white for my manicure and pedicure so when I came back from SoCal, I was – dare I say – “funeral ready.” My aunts wanted all of us to wear white the day of his funeral.

The whole time I was in SoCal, I knew I had to write my speech that I would read during his viewing service. I brought my laptop and everything with me to type it up. But I couldn’t find the motivation to pull out my laptop and get started. Instead, I was mentally writing it in my head, drafting down nothing. I stalled on writing my speech because that would crystalize my reality – Tatay is gone, this is your last goodbye. So I stalled and stalled some more until I was back in the Bay Area. There was so much I wanted to say, so many memories I wanted to include, so many points I wanted to make, but no words on my screen. All that stood before me was a blinking cursor.

I procrastinated for so long, but it got to a point where I had to finish the speech because his viewing service was less than 24 hours away. This is part of the reason why I decided to write a series for Tatay. I had so much to say, but knew that his viewing wasn’t the place or the time. I wanted to go in depth about some topics and give my honest feelings about my grief, but I knew it probably wasn’t the appropriate setting for it. So I made the speech short and sweet, brushing over the topics I wanted to rant about. Thinking about it now, that probably added to my repression.

The viewing and the funeral was such an emotional rollercoaster. I’d have intense sadness that would result in audible weeping and uncontrollable crying. But then there would be other instances where I’d just have this out of body experience and just be seeing things play out right before my eyes. My grief was coming in waves, and I didn’t know how to let it all out. I felt as though I had an on/ off button for my emotions, but I had no control over it. As they lowered Tatay’s casket into the ground, I remember feeling completely numb. I didn’t cry, I didn’t look away, I just thought to myself, “damn. This is really happening.” I felt emotionally constipated. I had that feeling in my throat where I knew my soul wanted me to cry more tears to relieve my sadness, but nothing was coming out.

And shortly after his funeral, life went “back to normal,” and work started back up again. Only 2 weeks had passed, but I felt like a completely different person. The day Tatay died, I was telling everyone that I was okay, that my family and I were expecting his departure. It took me 2 weeks to realize that I actually wasn’t okay. On the outside, I was continuing with day to day tasks, keeping up with work, doing everything I did before Tatay passed. But on the inside, I was bursting at the seams with emotions, yet at the same time, empty and emotionless. The more I wanted to simmer in my grief and heartache, the colder I got. I couldn’t figure it out. Internally I felt emotionally constipated. And my gut feeling was telling me that all of my buried emotions were about to burst out and surface at a time when I least expected it. I didn’t know that out of all things, my manicure and pedicure would be the thing to set me off. Yup, nail polish is what made me crack.

I usually change my manicure color every week. I have my own gel curating machine at home and a ton of gel nail polish sets. I get tired of my manicures pretty quickly, and the moment I see a chip in my nail polish, I’ll take it as a sign to peel those bad boys off and change the color. My manicures last at most, 1.5 weeks, and that’s part of the reason why I do my own nails and rarely get them professionally done because ain’t nobody have time or money for all of that. I have no problem taking off a manicure and switching it up, it’s something I’ve been doing for years. But the manicure I got the day after Tatay passed was different. I was clinging onto that manicure for dear life.

I refused to change my white gel manicure. It was done with salon gel nail polish, so to be fair and honest, they did last way longer than my gel nail polish that I get from Amazon. This manicure was on week number 3, going on 4. I realized that I was getting fixated on changing my manicure, but brushed it off. “I’ll deal with that later when it actually comes time to change it,” I thought to myself. It’s the longest manicure that has ever lasted on my hands. My nails were growing out, and it was definitely time to change the color. But I was so hesitant. Why? Because time.

For me, seeing my nails growing out and doing a new manicure meant that time was passing. This is obviously a given, but in my head, my manicure was a measurement of time. Since I got it the day after Tatay passed and picked a color that was appropriate for his funeral, to me, changing the color meant significant time had passed since he left the physical world. My nail polish color is something so small and irrelevant, and I didn’t expect to be so fixated on the concept of what changing the color meant to me. Changing my manicure meant that time was passing, that his death was no longer “recent,” that time was moving forward and there was nothing I could do about it. I burst out into tears and started wailing.

I knew I had a lot of emotions that I had to sort through to cope with Tatay’s death. Grief is a tricky thing. One day you think you’re okay, and then another day you’re in complete shambles. I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m worried that I’ll forget him. Writing this series is my way of letting it all out. I know I have to sort out all of my grief and lay it all out on the table or I’m just going to keep avoiding these feelings.

I’ve had enough of the emotional constipation…

Tatay Jacinto P. Cabillo

This is story 1 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

*I had the honor of writing my Tatay’s eulogy. This is an edited version of the original*

“Our Tatay, Jacinto P. Cabillo, was born on July 3, 1923 in Agoncillo, Batangas, Philippines. He was the third child out of six siblings. As a young man, Tatay helped his family raise chickens, pigs, and cows.

 In 1950, he married Concepcion “Conching” Tagle, and together they had 8 children: Lilia, Peping, Luz, Delfin, Cris, Roland, Salvie, and Merlinda. After 15 years of marriage, Nanay Conching, who was 36, passed away during childbirth along with their 8th child, Merlinda. Tatay was widowed at the young age of 41, and was left with 7 children to raise on his own. From eldest to youngest, his children’s ages ranged from 14 to 2 years old. His in-laws, Tarcela and Ricardo Tagle Sr., stepped in and proposed the idea to adopt all 7 children to bring them to America for a better life. 

At first, Tatay was hesitant. But he knew that he couldn’t provide for all 7 children all on his own, so he agreed with one condition. Tatay believed that Roland and Salvie were too young to join their siblings in the States. He feared that they wouldn’t remember him because they were 5 and 2 years old. He wanted the two youngest children to keep him company because he was worried about his mental health – dealing with the loss of a wife and now his children. So the 2 youngest children stayed back with Tatay in Batangas, where they lived until 1974. 

In 1967, his 5 eldest children left to immigrate to America with the help of their Tatay Ricardo and Nanay Tarcela. It was a bittersweet decision for Tatay, but he knew sending his 5 eldest children to plant roots in the States would be the best decision for the generations to come. The saying is true, it really took a village to help raise the Cabillo children. Tatay and the 7 siblings are forever grateful for the sacrifices and help they received from their grandparents, aunts, and uncles after the passing of Nanay Conching.

After 7 long years, Tatay finally reunited with all of his children in 1974 when he arrived in San Francisco. Everyone in the family had to make a lot of sacrifices and do their fair share to make a living in America. To provide for his family, Tatay worked custodian jobs at Riordan High School and Treasure Island. He was also a flower picker in the city of Colma, which was very on brand with his love of nature.

In his long life, Tatay enjoyed exploring the Bay Area, spending time with family, and of course, going back and forth to the Philippines. Even though he was in the States, his heart always remained in Batangas. And on July 18, 2000, Tatay married Adeleida “Tita” Cortiguerra in Pasig, Philippines. From that day forward, Tita never left Tatay’s side. She cared for him and was at his bedside as he took his last breath. 

Tatay lived 98 long and beautiful years. He had the support and love of his children, wife, and family every step of the way. The Cabillo’s are truly blessed to have had Tatay for as long as we did. He had 16 grandchildren, and was fortunate enough to be around while his grandchildren had children of their own. Tatay’s legacy will forever be passed down to the 8 great grandchildren that had the privilege to meet him, and the future generations to come.

Tatay will always be remembered for his signature Rayban aviators, hats, and impeccable swagger. You’d most likely find him sitting on the sidelines of family events observing and finding little things to do to play with his great grandchildren. Tatay always found a way to connect with each great grandchild, despite the language barrier. He was a man of few words, but when he did speak, he did so with intent.  He knew exactly what he wanted. 

Before the pandemic, Tatay longed to go back to the Philippines and live his remaining days in the country he grew up in and forever loved. Unfortunately, due to a volcano eruption, Tatay’s flight to the Philippines was canceled, and shortly after, the pandemic hit and borders to fly overseas were shut down. Tatay never got to return back to the Philippines, but our family is grateful that we were able to spend the remainder of his life with him here in the Bay Area, despite the pandemic. 

Tatay passed away on Thursday, July 15, 2021 at 6:10 PM peacefully in his bed, accompanied by Tita and family. When our family was sending news to Tatay’s extended family in the Philippines about his passing, they had a surprising revelation to share that brought peace to our hearts. As his soul left his body in South San Francisco around 6:10 PM, a blue colored bird entered his house in the Philippines around the same time. Family members who are residing in the house couldn’t get the little blue bird to leave, and luckily, they recorded it. We were all at a loss for words. He finally made it back home. 

Tatay, our hearts are heavy to know that you are no longer here with us physically, but we are overjoyed to know that your soul is back in the Philippines. We will miss you, our bi-monthly Sunday dinners, watching animals on TV, and seeing your face light up when you received gifts. Tatay’s wish for his children, grandchildren, and future generations to come was this: To have unity in the family and stick together. We love you, Tatay. We promise to live out your wish.”

Marinelle: The Journey Continues

Story 10 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

This is MY story, written in my own words:

This collaboration / series is one that I hold dear to my heart because I have been a body positive advocate for a couple of years, and have made it one of my missions as a writer. This is a topic I am very passionate about – having individuals feel comfortable in their body regardless of societal body standards. I would like to add that being body positive does not mean that you are confident and reassured in your body at all times. That belief is discouraging and just all around false. Being body positive is definitely a lifelong journey. And I ask that in your responses / blog post, that you be as transparent as possible. I pride myself in sharing real, authentic, and unfabricated stories – being truthful is key.

Marinelle Cabillo

“Quoted above is a paragraph taken from the original email I sent to all of the candidates who were interested in being a part of this Body Positive Series. I was ecstatic when I finally had all 9 slots taken for this project. It has always been a goal of mine as a writer to focus more on the body positive community and document people’s self-love journeys. Collabing on this series with like-minded, brutally honest individuals re-sparked my interest and passion on this community and reminded me why I write – to reach others and share the stories of your every day person. Reading and hearing other people’s struggles and downfalls made me realize that a lot of us share the same feelings and experiences in different ways. One thing that we all can agree on – our self-love journey is never linear.

The belief that people who identify as body positive are self-assured and satisfied with what they see in the mirror all the time is inaccurate. I try to emphasize that a lot in my writing since I am known for being a body positive advocate. Nobody’s journey is linear. You just don’t wake up one day and realize you want to change your mindset, your beliefs, and everything you believed to be acceptable and unacceptable, and just start off with a clean slate. It takes a lot of highs and lows, learning and unlearning, 2 steps forward and 3 steps back, and so forth. You will eventually get to a better place, but the journey is never lateral. You will have your off days, and that’s okay.

I tried to write this post in advance because it’s the big blog post #100. I was about 10 paragraphs deep, and the writer’s block was ridiculous. I wasn’t in love with what I was writing, and I didn’t like the direction I was going in. I originally was going to start off with how I was in 2016, and what steps I took to accept and love my body. But the more I added to it, the more I hated it. Though it wasn’t my intent, I felt like it was giving off the “I didn’t like this, so I changed this, and now I’m enlightened!” vibe. And that wasn’t true. Yes, I changed my mindset and had to put in a lot of work to get to this point, but I didn’t want it to seem like I had a problem, I overcame it, and now I’m coastin. Nope. That wasn’t the message I wanted to emphasize, because the journey continues… for life. So I scrapped it all and started over.

When I say that it took a lot of learning and unlearning to get to where I am today, I mean it. Deciding to love and accept my body for what it was and simultaneously declaring Women Gender Studies as my minor in 2016, really got the ball rolling on changing my mindset and views. I really had to reevaluate what I grew up to believe was acceptable and unacceptable, and how those views and feelings contributed to my inner turmoil. I had to reflect on parts of myself that I did not want to question or explore, but in order to heal and plant new seeds of thinking, I had to pull at the ugly roots that had planted in me so long ago. The Women Gender Studies classes I was taking at the time really opened my eyes to see that these ways of thinking in terms of beauty and beauty standards, are engrained specifically into the female mind at a very young age. And because of the unrealistic standards media and society places on women, companies profit off of all our insecurities.

I refused to be the foolish consumer that only cared about my outward appearance. I had to remind myself that I was so much more. So much more than my outer beauty, than my body, than whatever version of myself I want the public and social media to see. I refused to have companies make a profit off of my insecurities, and stay in this cycle of self-hate and fake confidence disguised by likes on social media. I refused to fall into this habit of following famous people online who alter their images, and give a false sense of reality. I no longer wanted to support companies and brands that publicly excludes, alienates, and makes people feel bad about themselves for being plus-sized.

I had to be true to myself and admit that at times I could be a hater towards others based on my own insecurities. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I’ve accepted that that’s the reality. I had to stop comparing myself to others. And that was something really hard to do. In the past, I would be jealous of people who had outward appearances and features that I believed to be desirable. It was really difficult for me to accept that someone else’s beauty does not overshadow my own. I had to be confident in myself and my own attributes, and separate that from my feelings of feeling worthy based on what I looked like physically. I had to engrain in my own head that I was enough, that I am worthy of self-love at any weight, and each time I fall victim to the negative self-talk, or compare myself to others, or care too much about outward appearances, I repeat the same cycles that I no longer want to continue. This world profits off of our self-hate, and I wanted no part of it.

And as time went on, I learned to literally not give a shit. I wanted to workout, not to lose weight, but because I wanted to be healthier. I no longer cared about the numbers I saw on the scale because as long as I felt good within my own skin, my actual weight didn’t matter. In fact, I wanted to gain muscle, which would realistically have me gain weight. I felt so liberated to do as I pleased without feeling guilty. Restricting myself from foods, places, and clothing was a thing of the past. I wanted to feel comfortable, happy, and at ease with myself. Doing a social media cleanse really helped me push for this change. Once I eliminated accounts and people that made me question my own self-worth, it was the first step of Game Over. What I do not see can not affect me. What I do not see can not influence me. What I choose to see and internalize is completely up to me. With time, college courses, and increasing confidence in myself by positive affirmations, I learned to dissect social media posts. I can appreciate other people’s beauty, even if it is altered, but still know that it is not reality. When I feel myself getting insecure when I hit that explore page, I’ll try to shut it down real quick. It has brought me peace to know that social media in the literal sense, does not matter. It is not something I need, and therefore, I shouldn’t try so hard to uphold a certain appearance. Basically, I shouldn’t care.

I think the pandemic was the cherry on top of the “I literally don’t give a fuck about my outward appearance” sundae. For a lot of people, the pandemic forced us to be alone with our thoughts – probably more than we wanted. Getting used to the shutdown and restrictions really had me focus on the health of me, my family, and friends, above all. I got used to not getting ready for work, not going out, not putting on makeup, not putting on clothes other than my pajamas and the occasional “walk around the neighborhood outfits.” Everything was more relaxed, even though anxieties of the outside world heightened. The uncertainty and the safety of society really had all of us on edge – from COVID, to social unrest, to targeted violence. On top of that, there were no outlets to relieve that stress, everything was shutdown. It felt like I was watching a train wreck and couldn’t turn away. I was constantly reminded of the realities of 2020.

So for me, food became my solace during the pandemic. Looking forward to a good meal that was usually through UberEats or other delivery apps was the highlight of my day / week. It made me feel good to know that I was helping keep some businesses alive during the unpredicted shutdowns. It brought me comfort to eat foods that I used to eat pre-COVID because it brought back a sense of normalcy. My relationship with food has always been a strong one. I love food. I was never a picky eater, and my parents didn’t have to worry about me not eating enough or not finishing my plate. Their concern was to get me to stop eating. And now as an adult, I’m the type of person that would rather meet up at a restaurant or grab something to eat than hangout at the club. I’d say 100% of my social life revolves around eating good food with good company. When I’m traveling and going to new places, my main focus is what I’m going to be eating. I want to try all the foods that each place is known for, and I will literally plan around what food I want to get. And with the pandemic, eating bomb food went from being a social, bonding, unwinding and having a good time, to suddenly being my comfort and sense of normalcy.

We all know that the pandemic is still going strong today – almost a year and a half later. Relying on food to give me comfort and make me feel “safe” while the world fell apart, mixed with everything being shutdown, meant that there wasn’t a lot of exercising happening on my end. Everyone joked about people coming out of quarantine putting on a lot of weight, and for me personally… where’s the lie? I’m for sure – hands down – the biggest I’ve ever been in my life. I’m not ashamed to admit that either. When the jokes of weight gain started circling early in the pandemic, I knew that I was informed enough to see the humor in some of the memes, but I also knew that there were some people out there that would really be struggling with this topic. When people around me would comment on not wanting to gain weight during the pandemic, I would get defensive and quickly add in that it’s OKAY and normal to gain weight during something as serious as a global pandemic, and it should be the last of our concerns.

It made me sad to know that during a time of crisis, people were already dreading the aftermath of the pandemic’s tole – gaining weight. When I hear people putting themselves down for not working out as much, gaining weight, or not having any motivation, I try to chime in and let them know that it’s okay to be feeling those emotions. Especially with my sisters, I find myself being overly aggressive with my messages of being content with gaining weight, but I realize that not everybody has the same outlook. For me, gaining weight during the pandemic was expected. However, I really didn’t expect COVID to be a problem to this day, I didn’t expect it to last this long. I tried my best to remind myself that my body will be changing along with the state of the world, and it’s okay. I was so used to not wearing makeup, not putting on my regular clothes, and not being in the public eye. Dare I say the homebody in me got comfortable to this new normal? Because I definitely got comfortable being comfortable and not thinking twice about how I looked!

I started working in person again in June 2020, to date, that’s over a year working in person. But during this time, up until recently, my mind is still in lockdown mode – not caring to be seen by anyone, social distancing, not having a social life outside of work, and basically living in workout leggings all the time to feel comfortable throughout the work week. My eating patterns remained the same even though I was back at work because the dreadful news of the world would still stress me out. For me, things were “back to normal” for the last year, given that I’ve been going to work Monday through Friday in person, but I would constantly be reminded of the state of the world every time I looked at my phone, turned on the news, or went out in public. For me, the masks are a constant reminder of the world we are living in. Living day to day for the last year and a half not knowing if you could be the carrier, have the sickness yourself, or infect someone you love is such a stressful way of living. I constantly had to weigh out the pros and the cons of hanging out with people outside of my family. It was a gamble every time, and I hate that to this day, every choice I make to expose myself to public places can result in a horrible ending. On top of that, restaurants remained closed, there were still many restrictions, and it felt like we were far from seeing a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.

When vaccines started rolling out, and things started to slowly open back up, I definitely felt the results of my anxiety filled binge eating patterns that were heightened throughout the pandemic. My friends and I were vaccinated, and started to see each other more regularly again. With time and more people getting vaccinated, restrictions started to ease up little by little. I was very slowly getting my social life back, and that meant wearing clothes other than my comfy workout leggings that I live in every day at work. I mean shit, pandemic or not, ya girl always lived in leggings Monday through Friday, because working with kids, you need to be as comfortable as possible. But it was a huge eye opener when I started to wear clothes outside of my work outfits. I felt like the Pikachu meme where he’s all surprised with his mouth open, even though I knew this was going to happen. My clothes didn’t fit the way they used to.

At first, I didn’t even really care that I was gaining weight. I was like… whatever it is what it is, we’ve been in this pandemic for a long time. It’s what I expected, and I had mentally prepared myself to slowly transition out of the lockdown. I anticipated that my body was probably not going to look or feel the same prior to the pandemic. I had to remember to be kind to myself. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t alone, a lot of people are going through the same transitions as I am. We are all just trying to adjust back to normal given everything 2020 has put us through. I have come to a point in my life where I know that my outward appearance is the least of my problems, that I am worthy and enough at any size, and that negative self-talk will get me nowhere. I know all of this. I’m completely aware. I try to practice this and feel confident and reassured with whatever reflection I see in the mirror. However, I am human, and I still have my feelings of insecurity. I’m not confident and self-assured all the time, and that’s okay.

In the past, I would’ve been deep in my self loathing ways by now – hating my body, restricting myself and then binging at the end of it all, and talking negatively to myself. But I know where that path would lead me – down a deeper hole. I’ve learned time and time again that making myself feel like shit will accomplish nothing. It will just have me feeling bad about myself and I won’t have the motivation to do better because I’m too busy sulking in my misery. There is literally nothing to gain from negative self-talk, but it’s such a common habit. Especially when you are feeling down, insecure, and frustrated with yourself, it’s hard to stop that voice in your head that is tearing you to shreds and dragging you through the mud. But I knew from experience that if I went down the self-loathing route, it would result in me being really hard on myself, which would push me back into the same cycle I tried so hard to unlearn.

Now, my off days / episodes look a little different. I’m not ashamed that I gained weight, I don’t totally hate what I see in the mirror, and I don’t let people’s commentary or opinions affect me. However, my views on gaining weight has changed over time now that I’m getting older. It’s no longer about how I look, I’m more so concerned about my overall health, given that my late 20’s are just over the horizon, and it’s something I should be keeping an eye on. I was aware of how I was using food to cope, but feeling not the best in my old clothes, and not feeling confident with what I saw in the mirror, brought to light my relationship with food. I was starting to see that during the pandemic, I would eat until I was stuffed to “treat myself,” but really, I’m just binge eating for pleasure and because I’m stressed.

I acknowledge my binging habits that have heightened during COVID, but I refuse to call them “bad habits.” Speaking only for myself, labeling them as “bad” just makes me feel guilty and ashamed about how I’ve handled a really tough year, and that’s not my intent. I want to remain kind to myself, but not be totally oblivious to what I want to change. In the past, to try to stay healthy and balance out my love of food, I would try to go to the gym and squat heavy. But gyms are closed, and with COVID going around with different variants surfacing, I found myself not going out as much. Basically my only form of exercise was walking to the grocery store and hiking once a week. I had to come to the realization that I would get winded doing simple tasks, and I have gotten too comfortable being lazy and not wanting to do anything. It wasn’t about how I looked on the outside, now it’s about how my current habits are making me feel on the inside. I feel sluggish, unmotivated, and unhealthy. Acknowledging what I want to improve, without bashing myself and putting myself down, has allowed me to make small but conscious changes to try to get in more exercise to make me feel better.

I know that for me right now, being healthier means being more active, getting more exercise in, and trying not to binge eat when I’m stressed out or trying to treat myself. A common misconception is that the body positive community promotes unhealthy habits, promotes obesity, and glorifies health complication that come with being overweight. This is not true. Just because you identify as “body positive” doesn’t mean you are glorifying obesity. Being body positive doesn’t mean that you are against working out, it doesn’t mean that you hate skinny people, or that you ignore your health. Being body positive sure as hell doesn’t mean that you are always feeling good about your body. For me, being body positive is being inclusive to all shapes and sizes, it’s being kind to yourself regardless of what your weight is, it’s knowing that you are worthy of love and respect at any size, it’s knowing that you are so much more than your outward appearance, it’s trying to love yourself and your body at all stages of life. Being body positive is not letting societal body standards dictate how you live your life, it’s choosing to live freely instead of constantly stressing over how you look, it’s not restricting yourself because you are hyper-aware of your body, it’s being self-assured and confident in being an individual in a world that wants you to conform and feel shitty about yourself so they can profit off of those insecurities. For me right now, being body positive is all that, and at the same time it’s being aware that I have to make healthier choices. And these choices should not be to punish or restrict myself. The goal is to always be loving and accepting of the body that I have right now. This is the body that has gotten me through the pandemic, and is continuing to get me through it.

And doing this Body Positive series has helped me appreciate and see what “body positivity” means to others. What my meaning of Body Positivity is is not exactly alike to anyone else’s definition. As highlighted in this series, being body positive is: not caring about what you see in the mirror, not letting what people say get to you, being your own number one fan, feeling confident without makeup, choosing a Vegan lifestyle, getting back into a hobby, making peace with your past, accepting your body changing to bring in another life, and so on. I appreciate how transparent every single person was during this Body Positive series, and for allowing me to share their very intimate self-reflections.

It’s okay to not feel body positive all the time. I hope this series has helped people see that people go through their self-love journey differently. No two stories are alike, but even then, we still manage to connect and resonate with other people’s experiences. We are all human, and nobody is perfect. We will have periods of progress, but also periods of regression. Don’t feel discouraged if you are not where you want to be yet when it comes to how you view yourself and your body. This is a lifelong process, so continue to learn and unlearn, and get used to the fact that sometimes you will teeter totter back and forth from what you’re trying to outgrow.

I hope that sharing my personal struggles with my forever changing body reaches someone who needs to hear that being body positive does not mean you are confident all the time. That myth discourages people because that is something that’s very unrealistic. Our bodies and our views are forever changing. If you attach happiness to correlate with your outward appearance, you will never be content with yourself. Your self-love and self-respect should never be conditional. ” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

Reaux&Co

Before there was a “Bay Area Collection,” a “Vibes Collection,” an “Established Collection,” and so forth, Reaux&Co was merely a dream tucked safely in Pricilla’s heart. Since a young age, Pricilla knew she wanted to be her own boss, and she had everything planned out on how she would achieve her goal of owning and designing her own clothing line one day. So how did Reaux&Co go from just being thoughts and ideas jotted down on Pricilla’s phone to becoming a full blown business with over 1,300 sales and being sold in 2 physical store locations in just a little over a year? It started with an acceptance letter to FIDM, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

Pricilla was so thrilled that she got accepted into her dream college. Going to FIDM was always the plan she had set for herself. She loved designing clothes – cutting and sowing fabrics on the dress form and letting her mind run wild with what she could create. Her mom had other plans though. Due to the cost of tuition, her mom encouraged her to go the junior college route instead. Pricilla was devastated, she was certain that FIDM was her next step after high school. Still, she took her mom’s advice and went to San Francisco City College. She didn’t resent her mother for encouraging her to go to a junior college, but she was still headstrong about FIDM. She couldn’t let it go, and in turn, it made her lose her drive to go to school.

“I wouldn’t say resentful, but definitely stubborn,” Pricilla said remembering how she felt when she appeased her mom by going to a junior college. “I just had my mind set on it for so long. So when it didn’t happen, I was just so disconnected from even wanting to go to any other school. Even though SFCC had a fashion course and major, which I did take a couple of those classes, I was stubborn and wanted it how I always envisioned it.”

While in community college, she found herself very unmotivated. She had no idea what she wanted to do, or what she was even interested in outside of the fashion route. Pricilla started to feel like she was just going to school because it was something she was supposed to do because that’s what’s expected of everyone right after high school, but it wasn’t something she really wanted at the time. She decided to stop going to college and start working instead. Of course her mother wanted her to stay in school, but her mom also understood that she was an adult who could make her own decisions. Therefore, Pricilla believes her mom didn’t feel personally responsible for her dropping out. FIDM or not, going to school was her choice.

Pricilla felt really stuck in life. She didn’t know what direction to go, what career move was next, or where to even start. And then, she had her “saving grace,” her son, Ronin. She discovered soon after he was born that he was the push she needed all along to pursue her life-long dream of being a business owner. Pricilla knew it was finally time to put all of her marbles in her small business idea because she couldn’t afford childcare and had to find something she could do while still working from home and tending to her son. It only seemed right to name her clothing brand after the person that motivated her the most, Ronin. She took his nickname, “Ro,” and decided to put a spin on the spelling. She liked how aesthetically pleasing “Reaux” looked and rolled with it.

“He just made me look at life from a whole different perspective,” she said, revealing why having her son was so eye opening. “When you become a mom you really feel this weight of wanting to be so much better for this other life you’re now responsible for. I was so stuck before I had him, in terms of what I wanted out of life and the direction I should go in. After I had him, I knew I just had to go for it, for what I always wanted.”

Pricilla was very hesitant to launch Reaux&Co because she didn’t know how people would react to her line. She admits that her self-doubt was just her overthinking it, being scared to fail, and just overall being too hard on herself. After all, she has had these collection ideas in her phone for over a year before Reaux&Co actually launched. She already had the ideas, she just had to finalize her business. But Pricilla knew she had to start, and start it soon, because it wasn’t about just her anymore, it was about Ronin. She even went back to school the same time she dropped the brand as her back up plan and safety net.

Representing the Bay Area was so important to Pricilla, that she decided to have her first collection drop be the “Bay Area Collection.” She is so proud to be from the Bay Area, and wanted to capture that in her clothing line. To her, there is no place like the Bay, and only those that are from here know that. She loves that there is nothing like the Bay Area culture, and really wanted to project that vibe in her first collection and brand as a whole. Luckily, Pricilla never had to go to her backup plan because Reaux&Co‘s launch was a hit! She advertised the “Bay Area Collection” through Instagram and gave teasers on what products she would be selling. Instagram was a great tool to help get word around that she was going to launch Reaux&Co.

From there, Reaux&Co took off. The brand is known for their matching and personalized clothing items for parents to match with their minis, specifically moms. Pricilla knew that she wanted to focus on clothing for moms and their minis because it’s what she liked as well. She is forever matching with Ronin, taking full advantage of it now since she knows he won’t want to match with her forever. That’s how she gets most of her ideas – she thinks about what she would dress Ronin in, and tries to put her own spin on things. Her “Vibes Collection” is especially popular for their mom tees and crewnecks, and she plans on dropping more “Mommy & Me” lines soon. She knows that matching clothes is a customers favorite on Reaux&Co for sure.

Pricilla was so happy that Reaux&Co was doing well. In the beginning, she was so worried about how people would react to her small business, and to her surprise, she suddenly had supporters and customers that loved everything she dropped. So much so, that she had a copy cat. Her “Mom Vibes,” clothing is very popular, it is one of her best selling items. So Pricilla was shocked to see another small business using the exact same font, wording, and shirts as hers. She couldn’t believe that her original idea was being copied, but took the higher road. She knows ultimately, there is nothing she can do about other businesses imitating her products. She takes it as flattery, but knows that she would never try to purposely copy another small business’ work. Reaux&Co does use other brands in their clothing, and Pricilla knows that that’s when things can get a little tricky.

“I know it’s a thin line some brands walk when we use certain logos of high brands like YSL, LV, Nike etc.,” she said. “You just really have to make it your own, and put your spin on it.”

And customers have definitely loved Pricilla’s spin on those high end brands. What surprised her going into the business is the tremendous amount of support she gets from acquaintances and complete strangers. She has met and built relationships with a lot of her customers who have supported her business venture. She also didn’t expect to connect with so many moms through Instagram. Some have reached out to Pricilla, telling her that she inspired them to go for what they want, that she was that “push” they needed to just get started. And Pricilla appreciates those moments because she looks back to the tine where she was in that exact same position.

“It still blows me away to be honest,” she said when asked about people she doesn’t know personally support her in everything that she drops. “I have strangers I don’t know in real life, that will support each and every collection and for that I am so thankful for. The support is everything to me.”

The support she gets from her customers motivates her to come up with new ideas and not be so hesitant with creating. Pricilla explains the process of dropping a new line as hard, but still fun. Most of her ideas come about when she thinks about what hasn’t been done or what she hasn’t seen for kids clothing yet. She knows what will set Reaux&Co apart from other clothing lines is how much they can stand out. Reaux&Co‘s goal is to go against the grain and be the leader at creating trends, not follow them. And when she gets that idea, the next step is to create a mock up on the computer, and make a physical sample. If she likes the physical product, she will take high quality pictures of every item in that line, on models and by itself. Pricilla stresses the importance of marketing, and building anticipation for your drop. This means posting teasers and countdowns 2-3 weeks before you intend to drop the line so your customers can get excited. The last step is to drop the items and make them live, crossing your fingers and hoping it’ll do well.

Thankfully enough, Reaux&Co‘s experience with dropping new lines has always been fairly successful. That means Pricilla is making trips to the Post Office about 5-6 days a week. She’s made friends with all the employees at the Post Office at this point, since she is such a frequent customer. Shipping has definitely been an issue since COVID. When the pandemic hit, Pricilla noticed that that’s when Reaux&Co really started to take off, about 3 months into launching the business. She admits that she still doesn’t completely know why that was – more time for people to be on their phones, being at home with extra time, making a conscious effort to support small businesses during a pandemic – whatever it was, she’s grateful for it because Reaux&Co started to flourish. That meant more shipments with many delays. With COVID, the postal services are delayed and that means a headache for trying to get things delivered and shipped on time.

During these times, Pricilla can get overwhelmed and discouraged, but has never thought about calling it quits. She understands that there are some things that are just completely out of her control, and the best thing she can do is to just stay organized. Things can get hard, like shipping and getting the wrong number of products, but she knows that at the end of the day, it’s all part of the job. She pulls herself out of that stressful funk by allowing herself to take time to rest. Pricilla will do activities with her son, like taking him to the park, order food, and spend quality time with him to get herself out of that hectic headspace. It’s all a balance.

And Pricilla admits that sometimes there isn’t much of a balance when you’re trying to be a full-time mom and full-time business owner at the same time. There are times where she has to work while Ronin is watching Cocomelon, eating his lunch, or going down for a nap. Most days she will set aside time for Reaux&Co so she can give her son her undivided attention. She is a one woman show holding down her business, but she appreciates that there are so many people that help her outside of the business to make sure she has time to work. And staying organized, making sure everything has a place, and ordering from her vendor in time is all a part of keeping the balance and making her life easier. Especially since she does all the creating at home.

All the hard work and the struggle to balance being a mom and her own boss is starting to pay off. Pricilla is starting to see the fruits of her labor, putting in her all into Reaux&Co for over a year. She has seen over 1,300 sales, and is selling her brand in 2 physical store locations. Haven Kiyoko Kids reached out to her to have her clothing be carried at their location. She is especially grateful for Kirsten for seeing the potential in her then small brand. The second store location came to her as a referral from a family member who knew the owner of a shop in Oakland, and now Reaux&Co can be found in “E14 Gallery.”

Reaux&Co‘s goal for 2021 is to continue to reach and connect with more people. They are pushing to try to have Reaux&Co be in another physical store location, and overall just want to keep making improvements to give their customers a great experience. Pricilla hopes to have her own store one day, for that is the ultimate dream goal. And she would want to carry other small brands in her future boutique, as others have done for her. She doesn’t put too much pressure on the idea, and knows that this is an end goal that will take time and hard work. In the meantime, she continues to pray on it.

Pricilla wants her customers to know that she was a mom who decided to go for her dream. When she didn’t attend FIDM, she found herself lost and having no sense of direction. She envisioned her school and career to go one way, and couldn’t reroute her plans when things didn’t go the way she had hoped. Ronin was that saving grace for her. When she had her son, she knew that she had to do it not only for herself, but for him. He was now her reason and motivation to go for her dreams. Without the Ro, there would be no Reaux&Co.

Her advice to other small businesses in her field is to stay creative and stay true to yourself – when people know and see that you’re authentic, they will notice and gravitate towards your business. Pricilla is excited and hopeful for what’s to come for Reaux&Co. She wants her customers to know that they can expect more unique lines for themselves an their minis. Pricilla is content knowing that so many mothers have found happiness, inspiration, and fashion through her small business. What started as just ideas on her phone, quickly turned into her empire in a little over a year. And she knows that she wouldn’t have made it this far without the people that continue to support her and Reaux&Co.

“Thank you for believing in us!” Pricilla said on behalf of Reaux&Co. “Thank you for always showing so much love and support with each collection. None of this would be possible without the support. Every like, share, repost, and purchase means the world to me, truly. We will continue to deliver as long as you will have us. Thank you so much for being here.”

Melonaire Juice

Growing up, Justine remembers going to picnics, birthday parties at the park, barbeques, and other social gatherings on warm sunny days. At these parties, there was always one item that was on the menu – her parents’ melon juice. The ice cold melon juice, with the freshly shredded cantaloupe strings, and square jellies dancing at the bottom of the cup, was the refreshing drink that she craved being in the sun all afternoon. The melon juice always quenched everyone’s thirst at these type of gatherings. She remembers her parents bringing the melon juice to her little sister’s volleyball fundraisers, and it would always be a hit. A lot of people would tell Justine’s parents to sell the melon juice and make a business out of it. They were flattered, but shied away from the idea. To this day, Justine associates all of these happy and fun memories with her parents’ famous melon juice. For as long as she can remember, making the melon juice has always been a team effort amongst her parents.

“It was like team work between my parents,” Justine said reminiscing. “It was their thing. Sometimes if my mom was at work, my dad would make it himself, but for the most part I always think of them together. And then my sister and I would… you know… enjoy the fruits of their labor,” she laughed.

When the pandemic and Shelter in Place orders hit, Justine, like many others, saw small businesses pop up from left and right. She described it as a new age – a Renaissance. She was thoroughly inspired by all the people she saw starting up their own business ventures and running with their ideas. Justine was in awe, she wondered how much courage it took these small business owners to pursue their passion projects and side hustles. She admired how brave they were to not care about the judgements of others and stepping out of their comfort zones. Justine wondered if she would ever have that kind of courage to go after a business venture for herself.

It wasn’t until her little sister started her jewelry business that Justine thought, “Maybe I can start a side hustle too.” Her little sister, without knowing it, was the push that Justine needed to dip her toe in the entrepreneur world. After all, if not during a pandemic – where she had more free time than she’s had in years – then when? COVID-19 pushed Justine to start Melonaire Juice, even though she was very anxious about the whole thing. Still, she wanted to spend her time in quarantine doing something productive, that she enjoyed, and that could make her some extra income on the side.

Justine got the idea to use her parents’ cantaloupe juice recipe since it was always a success anywhere they brought it. She remembered all the good memories that the melon juice reminded her of, and wanted to spread that same happiness to those around her. During the summer time, she asked her parents how they would feel if she used their melon juice recipe and started selling it to people outside of their circle. After all, they only shared it with family and those that turned into family, like her sister’s volleyball team. They threw that ball right back in her court and told her they would support her if she chose to do it. It was her mom that hinted closer to yes and mentioned that maybe it was a good idea because the weather was nice and still warm in the Bay Area. Justine was happy that her parents were on board with her idea, and she was excited to include them in the next steps – like designing a logo, naming the business, and how to advertise.

In fact, that was Justine’s favorite part of the process – getting it all started and deciding the aesthetics of her business. She is all about the vision, and was excited to use her creativity and bring her visions to life. Justine bounced back name ideas with her best friends and parents, and Melonaire Juice was the winner. Finally having a name for her small business made it all the more real. She teamed up with my little sister to create her logo, tweaking her ideas and tailoring them to her liking. Justine would send the progress logo photos to her parents every time she got an update. It was very important to her to keep her parents in the loop because she felt so grateful that they had her back and approved of her using their “recipe.” She wanted to do right by them and include them in the process.

Once Justine had her official Melonaire Juice logo, she was motivated to figure out the packaging. Packaging was very important to Justine because she knew she would have to take product photos to advertise the cantaloupe juice. Being a person with an artistic eye, she already had visions of what kind of shots she wanted to post to promote it. Justine’s goal was to have everything – from the logo, to the packaging, to the photos, to the color schemes on Instagram – be visually pleasing. The colors she used for the logo and Instagram page were purposely picked to have the viewer associate Melonaire Juice with warm weather, being a refreshing drink, being outside in the sun, and to have a tropical theme. Everything started coming together, but Justine’s doubts quickly took over her mind. On top of that, she was on a time clock, was she going to drop the melon juice while it was still summer time, or would she talk herself out of it and would have to wait until after winter passed?

The creating process was Justine’s favorite part of starting her small business. But in the back of her mind she always had doubts about what she was doing. Justine would try to distract herself by just pushing on to the next step to get her business on its feet. But when everything was complete and she had no more steps to take other than publicly announcing a pre-order date, her self-doubt was more amplified than ever. Justine describes herself as a very anxious person, and she went through every scenario possible on why people wouldn’t buy from her. She went back on forth on whether opening up Melonaire Juice was a good business move or not. It was a battle between Justine vs. Justine, and she either had to fight for her small business, or fall victim to the self-negative talk she fed herself. She had no choice but to confront each question of doubt head on, and convince herself that her melon juice was worth a shot. She wanted to make sure that her product stood out, and got discouraged with the idea that people wouldn’t give her melon juice a try because they could easily get something similar at a local taqueria. But she has never seen the Filipino version of agua fresca, especially a cantaloupe version served with the toppings her family recipe offered.

“I would ask myself: what makes me different, and what makes this product different?” Justine said replaying her train of thought at the time. She remembers all the questions she would ask herself, “Are people even going to buy it? What if only my friends buy it? Would it be able to travel word of mouth?”

Every time she had these doubts, she would circle back with her best friends, family, and boyfriend. Justine is grateful for the contribution they had in getting Melonaire Juice up and running. No one discouraged her more than herself. Her support system around her encouraged her to keep going and follow through to see where she could take Melonaire Juice. Justine’s boyfriend, Matt, was very supportive from the beginning and really pushed for Justine to sell her melon juice. Matt is African American, and Justine always wondered if people outside of the Filipino culture would think the melon juice, shredded cantaloupe, and square jellies was a weird combo, but he loved it. He also brought some of the juice for his family to try and they loved it as well. It brought Justine comfort knowing that other people that didn’t grow up on the drink enjoyed it and encouraged her to sell it to the public.

“I know ultimately I have the last word, but for the type of person I am and how anxious I can get, I can’t stress enough how grateful I am to have my loved ones support me,” Justine said humbly.

So, after a lot of back and forth, Justine decided to launch Melonaire Juice and drop a pre-order date. She began advertising her juice on social media, using the photos she previously took at a park. The photo shows the mason jar dripping with cold streaks of water, the orange tint of the juice pairing well against the blue logo. This photo screamed “refreshing,” and as the Bay Area went through a heatwave, it definitely caught people’s eye and attention. Justine’s closest friends shared her content on Instagram, helping spread the word that she was selling cantaloupe juice. Even though her friend group is pretty tight knit and they were each other’s main crew, each friend still had other friends and followers that could branch out the business. She was happy that just a simple post share on their stories could bring in friends of friends.

When Justine dropped the pre-order date, she anxiously waited to see if people would reach out and order. She admits that she set the bar very low for herself because she didn’t want to be disappointed, knowing that this would be her first go around with only her friends knowing and sharing her content. She expected things to be slow initially because everything would be by word of mouth. Justine thought that if she could sell 10 jars on her launch date, she would be very grateful. To her surprise, she exceeded that number by a great deal. Justine couldn’t believe it, and saying she was grateful for the overwhelming support she got from her friends and family was an understatement. She made her round of drop off’s that weekend, thanking everyone she knew personally, with a mask on and some distance, of course. Her orders from her first launch were mostly close friends and family, still, she knew that it could get bigger because each person posted it on their social media after receiving the juice. Little did she know, it was just a matter of time before she would get other customer traffic through her original customers.

After her first launch, Justine eagerly prepared herself for the second drop. To her surprise, she hit a road block she never expected to come by. Justine prepared herself for the change in numbers of people buying, knowing some weeks would be better than others, she prepared herself for people being late and not picking up their order due to schedule conflicts, she even prepared her kitchen and fridge situation, knowing it would get really crowded around pick up weekends. What she didn’t prepare for was a nationwide mason jar shortage one week after her first drop. Justine was baffled – a nationwide mason jar shortage?! She didn’t even know that could be a thing. But it was, and this was her new reality. Due to COVID, everyone was buying mason jars to pickle different items, and suddenly the once ready available mason jar was a hard item to come by. Justine went to different stores across the Bay Area, searching high and low on the internet, and ultimately deciding that she would most likely have to look for another container to house her melon juice.

It was a set back that Justine was really sad about. After all, she is the aesthetic queen. She had a vision for how her product would be packaged, and the second week of orders, that all had to change. She found herself scrambling to find a good alternative. At first, she thought about telling her customers that they can bring their own mason jars for her to fill, but that idea was quickly thrown out because of COVID. Justine wanted to make sure that she was keeping herself and other customers safe. Justine ended up settling for heavy duty deli containers, because it was about the same size as a mason jar, and could still be used after the drink was done. She laughed at the idea that her customers could get a 2 in 1 deal – Melonaire Juice and free tupperware. The packaging was a small hiccup that Justine had to get around, but once she found an alternative, she was back on social media advertising her next drop. She reassured her customers that the packaging changed due to a nationwide mason jar shortage, but the melon juice was still the same great taste.

With the container situation solved, Justine continued to promote Melonaire Juice. Her small business was doing well for being new and just starting up. Justine even started to get orders from people she didn’t know personally, proving that the Instagram promoting, with the help of her friends, was working. Still, she would get so anxious when she would post on her page saying she was taking pre-orders. It was a constant high and low feeling. Justine would be anxious to announce her next drop, and would fear that nobody would order. Once she would get some orders in, she would feel relieved and could finally breathe again. But that anxious dread would always return the next drop after, a cycle that kept repeating, putting her on a rollercoaster of anxiety. Because of this, she would try to prepare herself for orders declining and fluctuating depending on the weather, so she wouldn’t get disappointed.

Another road block she encountered was the pick up situation. Meloniare Juice offered pick up and drop off options to their customers. As Melonaire Juice reached customers that Justine didn’t know personally, she got a little concerned with giving out her address to strangers. Her mom felt the same way, and didn’t want others to know where they lived. Luckily, Justine’s house is close to a well-known park, and she would do pick ups from that location if she didn’t know a customer too well. Still, she is grateful for all the customers that she has had that she didn’t know personally, it’s just a matter of privacy and making her parents feel more comfortable with the business.

With the drops that she has done, she has found a routine that works for her and her schedule. Justine takes pride in giving her customers the freshest products, so she has a very particular system that she follows to ensure her customers are getting Melonaire Juice at its best. She will head to the store a day or two before pick up day, and carefully picks out the ripest cantaloupes available. And she always comes with the intent to be on the safe side, purchasing more in case any last minute orders come in. She does all the prep work the day of pick ups, and starts about 2 hours before the first pick up is scheduled, this way, the juice isn’t sitting in the fridge over night. The night before, Justine clears out her fridge, to make sure that there is enough room for all of her orders. And the heavy duty deli containers have proved to help with the space issue since they can be stacked on top of each other. Once Justine has all of the orders done, she stores them in the fridge, but switches them to the freezer the last 15-20 minutes before pick up so they are super chilled and ready to devour on a hot day. Justine provides a plastic for so all of that shredded cantaloupe and jellies don’t go to waste.

Justine likes to prep all orders the day of and hours before pick up so the cantaloupe is at its freshest. She does this so her customers can enjoy Melonaire Juice longer. It lasts in the fridge for about 3-4 days, and some customers have even reached out saying it was still good after 5 days. Still, she recommends that the melon juice be consumed within the first 3 days to get the freshest taste. The heavy duty deli containers definitely gives Justine the luxury to give Melonaire Juice in generous servings, so it will last more than 1 sitting. Especially on warm days, it is the perfect chilled snack to come home to.

But as time pushed on and the weather started changing, an ice cold refreshing juice wasn’t in high demand anymore. Justine had planned for this, and also worried about it before launching. She knew once Daly City and the Bay Area’s notorious fog and cold weather came around, that her small business would be affected. Melon juice is associated with warm weather, outdoor gatherings, and the summer time, her predictions were true, and she saw that less people were putting in orders as the fall came around. Cantaloupes were also going out of season, and even though they are sold year round, they are at their peak of flavor from June – August. Justine was hesitant on what to do next with Melonaire Juice.

“Since it was my first time starting a business, especially as a side hustle, I was kind of just feeling things out and seeing how people reacted to it,” Justine said. “But when I noticed that the weather had an effect on sales and also knowing it’s not really melon season, I was weighing out the pros and cons to seeing if I should take a break or not. I didn’t really have a plan to sell year round. I guess ideally that’s what I would want, but I also don’t mind taking a little break.”

Still, Justine was hesitant to go on a little hiatus. She didn’t want people to forget about Melonaire Juice since she wouldn’t be promoting it and posting about it as much. She knew that going on a break would likely be the case when fall and winter came, but she didn’t have a set plan on what to do. She didn’t want to lose engagement with followers and customers if she wasn’t selling. But ultimately, Justine made the decision to take a break and open up Melonaire Juice again when the weather permitted. It also gave her more time to brainstorm more ideas for her small business.

On her hiatus, Melonaire Juice did their first catering gig at Justine’s best friend’s COVID safe baby shower. The mama-to-be really wanted melon juice at her baby shower since everyone else would be turning up with alcohol. Justine was thrilled that her best friend wanted Melonaire Juice to cater, and wanted to fulfill her best friends wants and needs since a COVID baby shower with few friends wasn’t the ideal plan for a first time mom. The melon juice was a hit at the party, and guests started to pair it with their alcohol. Many people commented that the sweet cantaloupe juice was a great chase to go with their alcoholic beverage. This discovery gave Justine more ideas on how to promote her melon juice, and opened the doors to more opportunities aside from personal individual sized packaging. Since then, Justine has been thinking of the catering route for parties, events, and other social gatherings.

Justine’s goal for Melonaire Juice is to continue to grow the business. Since discovering that the melon juice pairs well with alcohol from the COVID safe baby shower, she has been entertaining the idea of catering once COVID calms down and more parties and gatherings are taking place. She still has to figure out small things like the container which she will transport the melon juice in for parties, but she’s excited to see what Melonaire Juice will evolve into in 2021. She also wants to experiment with pop-up sales at local parks when the weather permits. Justine’s goal is to open Melonaire Juice back up at the end of February, when warmer weather is expected to make its appearance back in the Bay Area. Customers can expect to see Justine and her famous cantaloupe juice at packed parks like Dolores Park, Gellert Park, and other picnic areas.

Justine’s advice to other small business owners is to be open to the journey. She knows it’s a lot easier said than done from experience, but try not to focus on worrying too much about the outcome. She explains that starting your own business should be fun, and it’ll be something you’re proud of once you push yourself out of your comfort zone. Speaking up about your small business will help get the word around that you are selling and advertising a certain product. If those closest to you don’t know about your small business, how will others hear about it? Also, asking close friends and family to share and repost your content will really help bring in new customers.

Justine decided to start Melonaire Juice during Shelter in Place, a time where she, and many others, struggled with finding something that kept them occupied and brought them joy. COVID slowed down a lot of people’s work, and being cooped up in the house with restrictions was very gloomy. Justine always had the entrepreneurial mindset, but could never find the time to take it seriously because of her busy schedule. Suddenly, COVID gave her the opportunity to test the waters with a business venture she had given much thought to, but never thought of pursuing. She loves that she gets to pass on her family recipe that has brought her so much joy over the years. And even though she plans on having different variations and experimenting with flavors and toppings, she is content knowing that Melonaire Juice was inspired by the fun memories associated with her parents’ original melon juice.

“My work slowed down,” Justine said remembering how COVID and the Shelter in Place disrupted her life. “It gave me something else to do, focus on, put my energy into, and grow it into something I’m passionate about. And I’m excited for people to try it… Plus there’s also the emotional attachment to it, knowing it’s based off my parents’ recipe… I had the opportunity to put out a food item that brought my family together and would start conversations when they would bring it to events where there were people who weren’t familiar with this Filipino food. And also just rep the Filipino culture, I think that’s really dope.”