I was nineteen in the summer of 1991 and it was my first vacation home after a whole year away. Looking back, it seemed outwardly uneventful except for a nagging, persistent feeling of disenchantment, of discontent.

After a year of new knowledge and experiences as an art student at a university in Diliman I was longing to go back to the hometown where the people on the streets were faces that I knew, where cars were few and traffic was not a thing, where you could go from point A to point B in a straight line without encountering a one way sign which put you on a loop that took you farther away from your destination, where the hardware stores in downtown Divisoria closed for lunch because the local businessmen had their afternoon siestas.

Ysalina Bridge by Kelly Ramos.

Alas, it was not to be.

In my absence, small town Cagayan de Oro had transformed into a booming city where factories had taken root at the edges of town and commerce was bustling happily in the business district, attracting a multitude of job seekers from all over Misamis Oriental and beyond.

Paradoxically, there was a sense that everything had become smaller. The streets were somehow narrower. The houses had shrunk while I was away, but the population had multiplied as had the cars on the familiar roads.

It was then I realized that on the day I took that step out the door of the family house in Carmen where I spent most of my growing up years to start this journey and make my way to the Macabalan port and get on a boat waiting on the dock that would soon take me and others like me to an unfamiliar life across the islands and to a school dormitory in a campus across the seas, I hadn’t really left home.

Kelly’s Mom, Myrna Eloisa Varias Ramos, with her firstborn Tippi, circa 1971.

Because on that day, I took home with me, clutched to my heart like a precious thing I could not let go of yet. It lived inside of me for a year.

Ironically, the act of coming back is what made this romantic idealization of home crumble to dust and lodge a painful rubble of memories in my soul.

That first summer back in the hometown, all my childhood idols started falling– imperceptibly but irrevocably. And it was up to nineteen-year-old me to pick up the pieces.

Kelly’s dad, former councilor Honorio Boy Neri Ramos Jr, and sister Wendy Garcia and their puppies.

The summer of 1991 was when I discovered that disappointment isn’t a thing you can touch and poke and examine at ease and squeeze emotions out of. Rather, it is a nagging doubt about things which you once embraced with a familiar acceptance: parental authority, the existence of God, blind belief in the faulty system you grew up in.

Kelly’s Lolo Noring as a young man, bathing in the Cagayan River at Tinib.

This then was the real pain; this coming back to something that is not quite there anymore.

This futile attempt to gain back something irretrievable from the past; this pang of dissatisfaction about the way things were.

This wordless thought that I was ready to shed the old life like old skin that did not fit anymore.

This feeling that I was looking for something new, something more. Something that would fit.

What it was, I didn’t know yet. But I was sure that I would not find it in the old hometown.

Cagayan River by Kelly Ramos.

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