Sabi mo sa akin umuwi na ako. Mga isang buwan na rin noong huli tayong nagkita. Mga isang buwan na rin naaalala kita sa mga maliliit na bagay.
Umuwi ka na.
Bakit mo kaya sinabi ‘yon sa akin? Ang dami kong pinag-iisipan na nagawa ko sana. Sana hindi na lang ako kumibo nung nararamdaman kong nag-iiba na. Sana hindi na kang kita pinaniwalaan. Sana hindi na lang ako nadala. Sana hindi na lang ako naghanap pa. Sana hindi na lang kita tinext. Sana wala na lang akong paki. Pero sa rami ng sana na gusto kong mangyari, nangyari pa rin ang nangyari: Nagkita tayo at nagkakilala nang kahit saglit lang. Dinaan natin sa sayaw yung gabi hanggang umabot tayo dito. Tumagal ng tatlong linggo hanggang may bumitaw. Ako pa rin. Ikaw pa din.
Umuwi ka na.
Siguro never ko malalaman ang dahilan mo. Siguro hindi naman yon mahalaga. Dahil naka-isang buwan na rin naman. Siguro tama ka nung sinabihan mo ako na umuwi na. Siguro nga.
It’s 2:00 am! A lifetime ago, I was thinking of a big mistake I had committed that almost took a friend away. But she thawed and we were back to status quo. No. She isn’t what I’m thinking about.
I’m thinking about them. One was a pretty old memory while the other was a pretty warm one. Who knew they would converge on this rotten frame of mine?
Yes, we were friends. But that came much after. It was such a long time ago when I first heard the timbre of his voice, a warm baritone that annoyed the life of me. Overly eager, I venomously thought. Overly eager? Look who’s talking.
He looked smart. Then I found out he really was smart. Maybe because he spent most of his time classifying things. It was music, if I remember correctly. He couldn’t move on without assigning everything he hears a genre. Pop, rock, classical, indie. So I let him listen to my song and he said that it really didn’t belonged to any one place. He knitted his eyebrows in concentration and I laughed. Music is just music.
For his birthday, I gave him a canvas. He said he was an artist. I want to say I gave it in spite, but that would be a lie. I wanted him to be an artist, like how friends wanted each other to be astronauts—or batman, whatever superhero you watched when you were young. In return, he gave me a photo. Black and white. I was confused, ’cause who returns gifts? But I liked it a lot. I didn’t hang it. My family doesn’t hang things up.
Yes, we were friends. It was because I felt that we were always in the same page. We wanted to understand the same things. But we didn’t live the same paradigms. Like I’ve said, he wanted to classify music. But music is music.
Years after we saw each other again, though time had stretched us thin. He did become an artist.
December. A dare. A wooden surface. Bottles. Dim lights. The dirty floor. Black shirt. Adam’s apple. Hands on the table. A deck of cards. Smoke. An empty pitcher.
A tap. Black eyes. Slurred words. Knees. A wooden bench. Hands. An invitation. A smirk. Ceiling. Forehead. Eyes. Nose.
March. A dare. A wooden surface. Hands on the table. Dim lights. Empty bottles. A single plate. Smoke. Knuckles.
A rap. The door. Black shirt. Ceiling. Hair. Adam’s apple. The dirty floor. A pair of shoes. The stool. Hands. Black eyes. Ears. A smirk. Shoulders. Neck. Knees. The door.
The artist and the dare. Though my mind raced for the first while my hands for the second, I kept none of them. And this is what I’ve been thinking about.
I am 21 years old and the desire to run has never felt so right, never so much needed in the moment. It has never felt so required. Selfish as it sounds I feel like my person, which has been formed from the countless corrects and mistakes I have dealt with my entire life has finally reached an impasse. Actions have matured into attitudes. Likes have turned into preferences. Strangers have turned into friends or kept frozen as acquaintances. I desire to thrust this person into the unknown and see how strong of a body it has become.
For the last few weeks I have been closely monitoring my reactions and my motivations and I have realized one thing — that I have rooted myself too firmly among people, almost feel like they have entrenched too deeply into myself that I cannot bear but feel their combined weight across the horizon. My actions have shifted from being truly mine to being enlarged as to become in conjunction with others. I guess that is part of becoming an adult — the understanding that the years have turned you into an web of relationships that to move a finger in the wrong way would break it all together. But wasn’t it ironic when I realized that what I thought had been the strongest string of my combined existence actually turned out to be the flimsiest? It was only the matter of extending my finger as if to reach some new unknown that I had forgotten that these strings existed and now I have threatened my sanity as I try to pick them up and try to stitch them together.
See, this is what I want to avoid. I fear that I may not truly reach adulthood because these obligations — these contracts that we unwittingly sign with others — have neither provided me security nor stability. Instead they have turned into tethers that are too immaterial for me to take a knife and cut off. I want to go back when my actions were too infinitesimal to bear burden.
And this is why I want to run. Despite the fact that I have maintained a monotony that has provided me reprieve, I want to have nothingness. I want to hear the deafening silence against the harangue of my thoughts instead of incessant, insipid chatter. I want to be able to move without causing ripples I do not intend. But to get there I must claim the journey of Sabina* as my own. I must betray. I must betray every attitude, every preference, every person. To reach the cool feeling of possibility, I must betray everything that prevents me from being. Honestly, I am terrified. But the chance to be beyond what I am now — to be what I am not — exhilarates me.
*Sabina from “The Unbearable Lightness” by Milan Kundera
You called me selfish and you’re right. All I care about is my self and my self-preservation. I want the easy things out of life because life is so fucking hard already. Why do we have to complicate things? Why do we have to take things and process them? I suggest we take everything at face value and be rid with them at once. Thinking hampers progress; makes us feel insecure. Decisions are final and should not be questioned.
I’d find you by accident. You’ll be hiding by the white paneled walls, away from the too big crowd on New Year’s Eve. You wish you could paint the town red with that smug face of yours. Sometimes it’s me who says hi first. Then we meet eye-to-eye and laugh at the sheer coincidence. We’d never known it would be under the pale moon. You take the drink I’ve been holding too long and take a swig. It was cold outside but not anymore.Half-baked we’ll lay ourselves on the ground and cover the dark grass.
It’ll take a while for us to get up. Time’s too short anyway as we doze around, pointing stars and making wishes. It’ll surprise both of us when we realize that we don’t even know each other’s name. But it doesn’t matter, I suppose. Beneath the blaring music, the jostling bodies, and the intoxication of the night, we didn’t need names to know each other. When I close my eyes, everything stops and I feel as if the entire universe centers itself. But when I open them, you’d be gone.
I’d scream at the top of my lungs, louder than the stereo. People will join in but they can’t mirror the anguish in my eyes. It’s almost as if I’d drowned right there and then. I couldn’t stop the itchiness, the wrongness, the betrayal. I couldn’t stop anything. And as I shout every imaginable thing, it finally dawns on me. It takes me a good five minutes to calm down. When I do, I finally see you back at the crowd while I’m here by the white paneled roof thinking. Did I really find you? Or did you find me?
It was a weird turn of events. We started off as enemies. It was a series of misunderstandings that led to your hating me and my being entirely oblivious about it. You wouldn’t even let me near you. Then miraculously, we were whisked to the awkward land of Almost-Friends. Or was it the equally mysterious land of Friends-of-Convenience? Either way, we weren’t complete strangers any more. As time passed, we grew closer to each other. We grew up beside each other. It was you who mostly talked, while it was me who mostly listened. You said you didn’t like being the talkative one, but honestly, I didn’t like being the quiet one either. But we were predisposed to who we are. And so we continued.
For a few weeks, it was the same old story. It was a pattern we’ve mastered. It always started with a rant, then a joke, then another and another until we end up chortling our entire lives onto each other. No one complained. No one told the other to stop or say, “Hey maybe we should shut up for once in a while because this looming proximity isn’t something I’m used to.” I guess we couldn’t control it. It — us? We were too much a part of each other’s limbs, too much a part of each other’s words that stopping it would mean stopping the world.We looked at each other and saw ourselves. There wasn’t anything we could do about it but keep laughing at nothing and anything and everything in between. And so we continued.
Maybe it was my fault. I didn’t mean to push the boundaries of friendship any farther than it’s supposed to. But in my defense, we were getting extraordinarily comfortable with each other. Friendship turned into a dotted line that spiked with instances of more-than-friendship and less-than-whatever-lies-beyond-friendship. It was a poisonous thought. To think that we could reach any other place than where we are. But I am only human and human have dreams. On second thought, it was a gross thought, but I kept it at bay, letting it simmer at the back of my mind. Every day, I denied its existence but every night it kept creeping back. And so I continued to live the weird double life and pretended to be normal.
Now you’re unfair. You knew all along and you’ve kept shut. I thought you were the talkative one. And now you’re threatening to leave me. You’re threatening to leave your twin, your sibling, your person. I know I’m being melodramatic but look at what you’ve done. Or what I’ve done to myself. Or what we’ve both done to ourselves. You’re my life-support, and you’ve made me believe that I’m sick with an incurable disease that only you can make better. But the truth of the matter is, I’m not sick and you’re not the cure. You’re just a friend that I share common interests with. Actually, let’s not downplay it. You’re the friend that I share common interests with. I’d take a bullet for you, or a shot glass, whichever comes first. And being that friend doesn’t mean I’d have to with you. It doesn’t mean anything at all.
So maybe, it’s not my fault, that we’ve turned into such misguided hooligans. God knows it was your idea. And God knows I didn’t stop you from doing it. So God knows everything. All I know is that what we are is something we should be.
I’ve always regarded myself as a genius. Secretly, quietly, never boastful. But I’ve always been.
I don’t mean to toot my own horn but I survived grade school and most of high school without studying much. By much I mean spending longer than an hour on subjects or reading the book more than once. I would just listen to the teacher, take a few glances at my notebook and voila, a perfect or close to perfect score on the quiz. I worked less, played more but still got great results. It was my secret, my pride. But ultimately, it became my weakness.
From the day I realized French bread didn’t come from The French Bakery down in Greenhills, I’ve wanted to visit this otherworldly place called Europe. And I did get my wish in a tight but expensive package called World Youth Day. In exchange for classes, I flew to France along with other pilgrims. The place was a feast to the eyes, mouth, ears and touch. After experiencing a legitimate French dinner, which was c’estmagnifique, we took a train to Lourdes. I never imagined it to look like Disneyland for hardcore Catholics. It took us two days to refill the numerous Lady of the Grotto bottles we bought. Finally, we took a bus to Madrid and that’s where the World Youth Day started.
It was the best twenty-something days I’ve ever had. But I took it so, so for granted.
When I came back, everything was out of place. Everyone had taken their exams while us pilgrims were given a week to prepare for our make-up. And because I believed I was a genius, I studied like one. Come report card day, I certainly didn’t feel like a genius any more.
I got my first C in Math. Getting a C disqualified me from receiving honors that term. I cried serious tears. Graduating with honors was a goal I set for myself since Freshman year and for the first time, I periled it.
But as said by Jonathan Iwegbu, from Civil Peace by Chinua Achebe, “Nothing puzzles God.”
The first thing I did was approach the guidance councilor. After our lengthy discussion, all that stuck to me was I could still make it. Nothing puzzles God. There were still two terms left in the year. So I promised myself I will do it. And I did. 227 days later, I walked up the stage, shook hands with our principal and received four medals. I graduated with second honors, an honor higher than I expected. Again, nothing puzzles God.
I’m not glad of my hubris; I could’ve had a breezier time if I wasn’t so confident. But I am thankful that I had the taste of failure, that I knew how to deal with it. In retrospect, I always believed in myself. So maybe I am still a genius but just in a different way.