by Elaissa Bautista

I was asked to describe the smell of love without using words of smell. I did not know how to start because all my love had been craved and made in the comforting stench of my bedroom in my small, honest hometown in Batangas. Unlike the bouquets of graduation sunflowers and morning hotel coffees that my friends tell me about, my idea of love is a little less different and a little more shameless. The love I am familiar with is the guilty cum on my sheets caused by a man 346 kilometers away from me. It is difficult to wash the desperation whenever I do my laundry every Sunday knowing that the succeeding week will be exactly the same: an endless search for temporary internet strangers who are just, if not as sleepless, as empty as me.
When I was asked to describe the sound of love without using words of hearing, my entire world suddenly, unwillingly, deafened in silence. My idea of being wanted has been reduced to a notification: every buzz has been half of a heartbeat, notifying my entire bathroom with a temporary bliss. The notification sent an alert into my shivering body as I stood in the shower, letting the water wash away my previous lover’s empty promises. Summer is already starting so I shower twice a day now, and sometimes, I spend an hour or two in the bathroom until my shoegaze mixtape runs out of songs. This is a confession: I like my music the way I like my lovers—violent.
I was asked to describe the touch of love without using words of touching. I answered by saying that it is my language—or at least I thought it was. When I was in my late teens, I did not know how to show my love except offer my warmth. At 22, two years into the pandemic, I have forgotten what it feels like to kiss and hug someone without solely leaving it up to imagination. Shopee is kind enough to suggest some substitutions for my constant lack of touch: a razor—allowing me to feel a heat in my skin in the way I shave my hairs, and temporary water tattoos—giving me a sense of cold in the way I ink them around my breasts. I stare at my bare self for a little too long in the mirror as I follow the instructions of my lover through the phone telling me how to touch myself. The rest of the night, I remain unsure if I like how I do it.
In describing the taste of love without using the words of taste, I am reminded of my older sister who sells fruit wine for a living. I once stole a bottle from her stack in the kitchen when I first got my heart broken two years ago. The half-full bottle remains aging in a quiet corner in my room, waiting for me to open it and drink again. But I never liked wine that much. For me, it is the emptiest way of drinking the night away. It reminds me of my mother who always does things in moderation, unlike me, who prefers the temptations and burns of other stronger sips like gin, vodka, and soju. My family’s idea of love is like the bottle of wine we sell: best when untouched; best when the night is young.
I was asked to describe the sight of love without using words of sight. I closed my eyes to allow the darkness to fulfill the gaps between hours, hours that are supposed to be for sleeping. Shoot, I think I am an insomniac. I looked around my room to see that there are multiple calming light sources that I received from friends and family as generous gifts that were supposed to help me get some sleep. I spent the rest of the night scrolling through my lover’s dating app profile as if it is an art gallery. He’s a photographer, and I am amused by the way he captures loveless dirty cities at night. I am missing Manila in the most desperate way.
Whenever I exit my bedroom, the world becomes a cemetery. Everything outside reminds me of a love that I did not get to smell, hear, feel, taste, or see. In the morning as the sunlight surprises me with a reminder that there is life beyond the four corners of my radiation-filled bedroom, I realize that I have been mourning all the time I thought I had been loving. All my men are ghosts—and their deaths are the only thing within my reach.