My Friend For Life, Gina

I went to an all-girls nun-run Catholic high school in the Philippines, very strict and narrow-minded. I was a good student but something as trivial as my asymmetric hairstyle got their granny panties in a bunch. What made high school life worth living was Gina. She and I connected on an artistic and literary level. She was a huge The Cure fan, so I drew her a portrait of Robert Smith. She wrote me a fantasy article for Town & Country magazine, in which I am a fabulous art curator and married to Johnny Depp. We talked endlessly about ideas for stories we wanted to write someday and we talked about sex. Sure, we had no experience whatsoever, but we were teenagers. Sex was an obsession.

In college she went to UP and I went to Ateneo. She partied hard with her sorority sisters. I got sucked into music and theatre. She invited me to an Upsilon event once. I felt out of place. Our paths divided for the time being.

She tracked me down in the mid-90s when I was in New York. I was performing Off and Off-Off-Broadway. She was a young single mom, making it as a writer and editor in Manila. She found out I made my own body products so she asked me to write an article for her fledgling magazine, Earthian. It was granola and green long before it was a thing. I accepted. It was my first published piece.

In the mid-2000s she discovered an obscure anonymous blog I was writing about my pregnancy and home birth. She asked if she could publish it on Working Mom magazine. How could I say no to celebrating my infant’s birth on the pages of a glossy magazine? Gina made me feel like royalty or at least like a celebrity.

When she found out about my porn, she stayed on my side all the way. She defended me against attacks behind my back from people we went to high school with and if you knew her, you’d know she unleashed a fury on anyone who crossed her or her loved ones. I flew to San Diego to catch up with her when she visited in 2010. We were regulars at her pub, Fred’s Revolucion in Cubao X in 2012. A few years later, she and her family were guests in our old farmhouse in Maine. We shared stories, beer, and laughter indoors while our kids ages 11 and 12 built a bonfire in the backyard because that’s the kind of parents we were and that’s the kind of kickass kids we raised.

May and Gina at Fred's Revolucion

She roped me in to write for Agam, the book of photos by her husband, photojournalist Jose Enrique Soriano. As executive editor, she included me among 24 contributing writers – accomplished poets, journalists, anthropologists, scientists, and artists from the Philippines. I felt like the black sheep among those luminaries, but Gina was my champion. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. She autographed my copy of the book: Will always be your friend, fan, and supporter – living vicariously through your groundbreaking work. Love you.

Tuesday night I got a message from her husband. Gina was in a coma in St. Luke’s ER. No one saw it coming. He asked for prayers. When an atheist asks an agnostic to pray for a Catholic, you know it’s serious. I prayed. I used all my mental energy to summon her back. “Come back, Gina,” I commented on a recent Facebook post in which she had tagged me. Come back, Gina, I thought constantly day and night. Come back to us. Thursday around 5 in the morning I woke up with a cramp in my chest. It pinched everytime I breathed. My heart literally hurt. I messaged her husband, “Tell me something, anything.”

She’s gone.

“She loved you and we were looking forward to visiting again.”

I had a difficult loud ugly cry by myself until Jay came out of his studio and held me and we cried together. I am so glad he got to know her. I’m glad I have somebody to grieve with and celebrate her life with.

Gina recently posted a fabulous profile picture across all her social media channels and even more fabulous photos of her and her kids at a kiki ball. Just last weekend her kids thanked her for giving them “a rich uncommon childhood.” She said she won the “lotto of life.” Her latest piece, my favorite yet, the crass and soulful Patricio, was published online on Esquire posthumously. I joked to Jay that it was a memorial-worthy social media presence, one to aspire to. He asked me not to die until my profile pictures got really old and ugly.

I got out a bottle of beer from the fridge, spilled some in her honor, and drank to my friend. Gina had a sharp wit and a fiery nature. She was a fierce mother and a fierce friend. She burned brilliantly, my friend for life. Gina burned fast, but she burned exceptionally bright.

Love, Lust, & Liberty,
May Ling Su

I remember NYC on 9/11

May Ling Su at Ground Zero of the World Trade Center on 9/11This photo was taken at Ground Zero of what remains of the World Trade Center. On September 14, three days after the planes crashed and burned the Twin Towers, it rained. By nightfall the rain ceased and dust settled in the city. It was time to go to the funeral.

I headed for East Village. St. Mark’s Place was bustling. People were in shock but in good spirits, a camaraderie that graciously emerges when tough times unite a group of people. I had Japanese noodles at a hole in a wall so crowded it felt like the end of the world. We all slurped our noodle soups like it was. After that I knew I was ready for my pilgrimage downtown.

I walked around the barricades to make my way closer to the ruins. Even in shattered pieces, the World Trade Center was impossibly huge. First responders worked round the clock. I took a good look and got out of their way. I bought an American flag off a vendor and tucked it into my bag as I walked away. The subway smelled of Lysol and burnt flesh. Firefighters off their shift slumped in their seats on the train. They stared dead ahead of them in between nods at people who thanked them for their service.

I had a ticket for Rocky Horror Picture Show on Broadway in my pocket, purchased weeks prior. The show was going on that night and I wasn’t about to miss it. Dick Cavett was the Narrator. He talked about life and death and life going on. Each one of us with beating hearts do our part to keep life going.

Back then, New Yorkers were in it together, regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation. How did that same event that united a city become the catalyst to a war with no end in sight?

Love, Lust, & Liberty,
May Ling Su