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No Two Sunsets Are the Same

Lara Aurea Lubag


Table of Contents Acknowledgements

Preface || 1 Before Faith Ran Out || 3 Revisions || 7 Afterthoughts || 11 From Fiction to Non || 13

No Two Sunsets Are the Same || 15 The Aftermath || 17 The Final Approach || 19 Apostasy || 31 Monophobia || 37 Inadvertency || 47 Casual Determinism || 53 A Self-fulfilling Prophecy || 61 No Two Sunsets Are the Same || 67


Acknowledgements My heartfelt thanks to the following people for making this collection possible: Sir Timothy Montes, my beloved adviser, for all the understanding and support; Ma’am Lysette Narshall-Sandoval, for being my friend and mentor; Ma’am Claire Dy, for the late night chats; Ma’am Jhoanna Cruz, for seeing me rightly with her heart; Ma’am Genevieve Jorolan-Quintero, for believing; Sir Nino de Veyra, Sir John Bengan, and Sir Ricky de Ungria, for the criticisms and words of encouragement; My Blockmates, for the memories—good and bad, you guys will always be remembered; My Betan Family, for being my family in school, Cheers to the UP Sigma Beta Sorority and the UP Beta Sigma Fraternity; The Domingo Family, who all changed my life; My Family, for keeping me sane; Walter Domingo, for all the love that’s still in me; And my Momsy, for being with me through everything.


To Papa who had given me life To Walter who made that life worth living


Preface 1


2


Before Faith Ran Out You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

LIKE AN ANSWERED PRAYER, it all just came to me. For months and months, I have been thinking of what to write about. I was on the verge of quitting. A number of days were spent reminiscing how my life had been for the past twenty-one years in search of something interesting, but nothing seemed significant, nothing good enough to write about. Until, it all came to me in an instant-- an ordinary instant. "Each of us is a book waiting to be written, and that book, if written, results in a person explained." Thomas M. Cirignano, The Constant Outsider. The night of August 15, 2010; as I was sitting at the boarding lounge of NAIA, it occurred to me that I wanted to write about Walter. I wanted to explain myself. I just knew I had to. That was the start. It was when I acknowledged pain that I set off to write. I had barely a month, not that I thought about it. I just felt the need to write, really. 3


Fluoxetine (Prozac) 20mg/tab to be taken once a day. It kept me going at that time. It was nothing I imagined it to be. Grief, I mean. It was at first, very difficult to welcome. Not that, it asked for it. It paved its way right through me, even without my permission. According to Samuel Oliver, author of, "What the Dying Teach Us: Lessons on Living", there are two kinds of grief. “One is mourning. The other is grieving with hope. Mourning is a deep heartfelt experience of loss. This is a kind of grief that expresses itself in the body on an emotional level. The body may become flushed, weakened, very tearful, and much more. Grieving with Hope is faith based. This usually means that a person believes he or she will meet their loved one in heaven again someday.” I don’t know which of them came to me, or if it was possible that both of them were ever so present. I knew he was dead. Everyone else did, but I was in no way ready to accept it. It took some time before I could understand that death was irreversible. At the time I really began writing, I couldn’t think of any author or any writing style to start with. I only had memories, like little sketches on exhibit right there in my head. One by one I tried to pick them out. There were occasions when I was incapable of thinking rationally and I got all the scenes messed up “Which happened first? Who was it again?” I couldn’t remember. This bothered me. Usually, when something troubles me, I Google it up to seek for comfort. I found out that when one has been faced with something traumatic, he or she may experience “cognitive deficits”. “Research during the past decade has mainly focused on cognitive functioning in the severe phase of depression, and today it is widely accepted that the disease is characterized by cognitive impairment in the acute state. There are reports of findings in different cognitive domains, such as executive functions, attention, memory and psychomotor speed.” Hammar et al., 2009 4


This was the most difficult part. Since I was writing non- fiction, I had to stick to facts and this meant bringing the experience back, once again. It was my most difficult writing experience, by far. I had to check my planner, my journal, and my little notebook of scribbles to make sure I got all the scenes right. It felt like I was reliving all that had happened, all that I wanted to forget. What surprised me through the process was that I found it easier to write about my dad who died three years ago, than to write about Walter who was just about to celebrate his 40th day of life cessation. I remember most of the details of my father’s existence, from the days he spent up to his funeral. It all came to me like a movie that I could pause, rewind and fast forward anytime. Walter’s story was different. There were times when I couldn’t remember how he was. It was very stressful, plus the fact that I was writing with a deadline. I pushed my mind and body to do it anyway and I felt ill. Until, I really was ill. Literally. There were instances when my body refused any intake of food. I usually threw up at the mere idea of it. I remember writing inside my room after dinner and vomiting a few minutes after, my mother thinking that I was drunk. Without food, I cannot think. Therefore, I couldn’t write. It took me another week or two before I could write again. Everything was still so fresh I had to wait for my emotions to calm down, at least a bit. “No emotion, any more than a wave, can long retain its own individual form.” - Henry Ward Beecher As a wave expires into tranquil waters, emotions naturally wane into a placid composure. And surprisingly, it did. The story of my life slid down my fingers with ease. I just needed time to really get a hold of what happened. 5


Even my thesis title No Two Sunsets are the Same, was purely accidental. Although it’s a cliché, I think that it best represents what I had underwent. I was sitting at the NAIA Boarding Lounge, looking out blankly when I noticed how beautiful the sunset was, but despite this beauty, it brought about sadness as the sky slowly fades into a sea of black. The very same thoughts I have on death. I like the contrast it has and the drama that comes along with the light and darkness, the waking up and going to sleep. I tried to change my title to a better metaphor, something stronger as suggested by one of the panellists but I didn’t have the knowledge and the heart to do so. I, for one, am not a fan of metaphors so I know only a few and second, I felt so close to the experience in the airport I wanted it to remain just the same. It took me some time before I figured out what my central theme was about. I noticed that in most of my essays, there were a lot of scenes wherein I was either at the airport, in Manila, or in Davao. That was the time when I thought of how departure was evident in all the essays. There was always a packing and repacking going on. I thought I was never going to finish this collection as I was close to losing my faith. I used to have faith in love and life, that in every loss there is gain, that God had made the world equal and that it is worth living. But all these experiences had taken that away from me. I came to a point wherein truth was the last I could take, because it was the last that life had taken from me. I was so close to giving up until I realized that there was still a way to keep my dead alive and that was through writing. I could keep them as close to me through this and I did. So now, I’m keeping the faith that there is a place that time cannot reach where everyone and everything has always been and never was, and it is within my reach. 6


Revisions THE REVISING PROCESS was very difficult for me. It took me at least three months before I could revise my essays. There were nights when I tried to work on it but I only came close to removing it from the envelope. There was always the next day, or week; I often thought. I always used my work as an excuse to postpone my rewriting. I tried to convince myself of this, too. But I knew it wasn’t work. I was just tired, and scared of reliving the experience once again. But then, I had to deal with the deadline. The first I had to change were the titles. It was evident that the first draft was hurriedly written, the titles being too revealing of what each essay was all about. It took me some time to pick out a suitable title for each essay as I myself got lost at the redundancy of words from the previous titles. So, I decided that I wanted shorter titles. In my first draft, I had an essay entitled My Perfect Company. It talked about my relationship with Walter, how it came to be and how it was bound to end. So in 7


the revision I changed the title to A Self-fulfiilng Prophecy. I thought it was better if I describe the relationship in the title than to describe the person I was in a relationship with. The Final Approach which was originally entitled A Song Without Words was changed for two reasons: First, the previous title didn’t make any sense at all as it only described my love for playing the violin which is not the core of the essay and Second, since I started it with a scene at the airport, I wanted to be consistent. I gave it the new title basing it from the flight attendant’s spill on the plane: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached our final approach.” Packing: Moving to Manila was an essay about how I was when I was in UP Diliman, how it changed my views on life. In the revision, I wanted the title to focus more on what I had become because of the experience. I ended up giving it the title Monophobia, or fear of being alone which I developed from the experience. Repacking: Moving to Davao was changed to Casual Determinism based on the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature. Since this essay talked about unforeseen events that came to my life and how it changed the fate of my relationship with Walter, I thought the title best described it. I had more revisions in this essay compared to the rest because I tried to put more dialogues in it to make the experience more understandable and real for the readers. The essay Inadvertency was originally entitled Moving in with the Domingos. I chose that title to replace the previous to describe how I ignored other responsibilities as I focused only in our relationship and his family. Apostasy was changed for its original title Packing: Moving to Davao to emphasize how our moving to 8


Davao had changed my principles and beliefs about life like a departure from a religion or some sort. It wasn’t until I re-read my collection and after the comments had been made that I noticed how much details I missed to include. The experience was so close to me that I thought the readers had the same level of understanding as I did. Like for instance, I missed to put how Walter had died and why he committed suicide. So on my last and final essay that carries the thesis title, No Two Sunsets are the Same, I added the article about his death which appeared in Manila Bulletin on the 6th of August, 2010 entitled: Man Hangs Self Over Family Problems. It was easier for me to do that than to write about it using my own words. My essays appeared to be more like journalism than creative as it was more on telling how things had happened and how it had an impact in my life, so I tried to put some emotions. In the first draft of my last essay, I placed the letter I wrote to Walter during the cremation. In my revision, instead of just putting the letter outright, I added what was going thru my mind at that time I was writing. So I ended up writing it like this: Dear Beb, (I stopped. Do I really have to do this? People were starting to arrive. Soon enough, the chapel would be filled. If I continued, I know I’d just end up crying again. I wouldn’t want that. What’s wrong with me? Why am I even considering what other people might think? This should only be about us.) You had always been my saviour. From the days when we started out as text mates, progressed as friends, lovers, live-in partners, you had always saved me from 9


everything that hurt me. When my father died, I didn‟t lose only him but I lost my family as well. They were just as shattered as I was, and had their own lives to piece together. In my last essay, I tried to be more true to myself and write about what had really happened and not how I wanted the people to know how it did. It was very humiliating for me, but there was also a sense of liberation. I felt like I was able to conquer not just my fears, but also I had really grown to be a non fiction writer. I did little revisions in the other essays, most of which were only to correct grammatical lapses and add details that I missed out on. However, I placed quotations in the beginning of some to make it more “creative” and interesting in a way. I also wanted to have the feeling that some people have already written about what I was also feeling at that time. It gave me some sort of sympathy in a way, knowing that I wasn’t alone on this endeavour. I tried to put realizations in each as suggested by my panellists. True enough most of the essays in the first draft didn’t say anything at all aside from what happened so in the revision, I placed what insights I have learned from each experience hoping I give justice to it.

10


Afterthoughts “The sun now low in the west rises for mornings and for noons continual; To frozen clods ever the spring‟s invisible law returns, With grass and flowers and summer fruits and corn.” — Walt Whitman, Continuities JANUARY 8, 2011. Five months after Walter’s death, I went to Manila to meet with his family once again. I walked inside the orange gate of K-6 west Kamias, and at some point, I questioned which of the two weighs more: the tragedy of leaving or the tragedy of returning. Up until now, I haven’t found the answer. But what I did know was that in order to return; first, leave. As I write this now, I realize that there really is no ending. I do not want to finish this account as I am certain that there will never be a time when I can unpack my bags one last time. People always leave— 11


whether it is a short trip to the grocery store, or an hour and a half plane ride. It may be an exit form one place to another or simply just an outlet in thoughts or feelings. “There‟s always a time for departure even when there‟s no place to go.”—Tennessee Williams Eventually, one will let go and sometimes the only available transportation is a leap of faith. You just have to believe that there is a place for you and that you can do it on your own. I had bought another ticket, but this time I’m bringing a parachute with me. Just in case.

12


From Fiction to Non I’M A DAYDREAMER; day or night, whether at home or in school, in a car or in a jeep, I always dream. Come my third year in college I was certain that my thesis would be on Fiction over any other genre for that very reason. I enjoyed reading it and writing stories for the young adult category. I loved my fiction class under Prof. Gerry Los Banos of UP Diliman that I thought it was worth pursuing. I didn’t care about writing novels or flash fiction, the length didn’t matter at all. I just found it really empowering to be able to manipulate characters and change their fate. It was really either fiction, or poetry. But it occurred to me on my fourth year, after having poetry class under Prof. Ricardo de Ungria, that poetry was out of my league and it’s funny how I even considered it. I wanted to write stories about growing up and getting in love for the first time, simple things like that. I wanted to write about different people, places 13


and anything really. I was very much influenced by my classmates in Diliman who were free-spirited and adventurous. I originally planned to write about them thru characters in a story. That was how my thesis would’ve been if I hadn’t taken up Creative Non Fiction under Prof. Timothy R. Montes in UP Mindanao. It wasn’t until the second semester of what should’ve been my last year in college that I had second thoughts. I read a lot of non fiction essays by prominent writers like both foreign and local-- Joseph Epstein, Ian Frazier, Jhoanna Cruz, Christina Pantoja Hidalgo, etc. but what made me fall in love with CNF was Resil B. Mojares’ I Never Sang for my Father: “You cannot contain in words the fullness of what a person means in your life.” I could not explain the connection I felt with the author at that time. I felt him so close to me like we really knew each other. It was probably because we had the same experience with our dads. He put into words what I have known in my heart but was never able to formulate myself. I wanted to be able to do the same. I wanted to write about what I feel and be able to touch people by doing so. I wanted people to know me, and not judge but see themselves in me—even just a part of them. And that was the start of it. My original plan was to write a novel about a father and a daughter. It was only later that I realized, I really wanted to write about my dad and myself in a different character. So it was really still about me, and my experiences. Selfish as it may seem, but I guess I just couldn’t write about something I haven’t done myself. Not yet. In the end, I realized it was Creative Non Fiction all along. That was the genre I really wanted and I couldn’t be more thankful to the circumstances that led me to discovering it. 14


No Two Sunsets Are the Same 15


16


The Aftermath

T

he sun still, surprisingly, came up and shone down onto the cold of the day. No loud noises. No screams. There is no music, just the sound of the wind and the leaves it touched-- just silence and sunshine. I continued to walk to the end of our street. It was another day for work. The same people were waiting for a jeep. I preferred to take a cab so as not to get late. But, I got caught up in traffic anyway. It was already 7:45 in the morning. Fifteen minutes more to being late. The earth was still in tact. There was nothing unusual, same old route— Puan, Ulas, Bangkal, Matina, jeepneys cut over small cars in the streets. I checked my watch, ten more minutes left. I text my coordinator that I will be a little late again. She said “okay”. I replied “thanks”. I got to school. I turned on the air-conditioner. I got twenty one hugs from my small nursery kids. It felt warm despite the low temperature of the room. I switched the lights on, got my students’ text books. I gave them fifteen minutes to play. I checked my teaching materials for the day, had them ready the afternoon before. I told my students to pack away the toys. We reviewed yesterday’s lesson on plants and animals. I tried to teach them new words. And then, we had Reading and Math. Soon, class was over. I sent my students home. I checked my lesson plan, had the materials ready for the next day. Again, I was done with today’s work. I went home thinking about how long it takes to heal a heart. I walked in the accommodating quiet left behind by all that had 17


wilfully banished. Nothing remained but the thin white strip in the middle of the high way even that will be erased soon. But I, I was still alive.

18


The Final Approach

I

recognized it even before I stepped out of the airport door—the aroma, the sensation. Everything about it was old and familiar. The growing restlessness was inside me once more, negotiating with the tableaus of past, present and future. And I knew that sooner rather than later, I’d come to terms with movement, another depreciation of some kind or a silenced dissatisfaction of the present. And so I was back in Manila. The thought of it made me shiver. I didn’t know what would happen next. All I knew was that I was already running late to a meeting with Walter. With one last sigh from all the thinking, I finally stood on the side to take a cab that would take me to St. Peter’s. The rain fell out in all its rage and it drenched everything in sight—the road, the people, like an emotional outburst that threatened what once was calm. I felt sweat beads running down my face despite the air conditioner. As the cab drove past the streets, I could not remember the buildings and its names, but I felt it. I felt it again—the irreverent irritability that I have for this place. It was the same old scenario three years ago, only this time I was alone. I felt the scars as they ripped open. Midnight, August 13, 2007. I got a phone call from my sister. From the tone of her voice, I knew 19


something was wrong but I shrugged off the feeling and went home as instructed. What seemed to be the longest cab ride of my life was actually just from Ma-a to R. Castillo in Davao City. The streets were almost empty; the cab drove past the red lights but it felt like forever inside the old white Kia Pride. I was caught in a traffic of emotions—confusion, worry. I took small breaths as I heard small drops of rain sliding down the window. The cab stopped in front of the small magenta gate with the number nine. I was home. I was welcomed by the sight of mom opening the gate. She was wearing the same dress she wore to work that morning. I was sure to have not seen that look before-- the crumpled forehead, the teary eyes. She went inside the house. I followed thinking “What could I have done now?” No, mom wasn’t angry, neither was she worried. She looked everywhere, but never to my eyes. I could not decipher the situation, really. “Ma, are you okay?” It took her some time to actually say the words out loud “ Your dad is gone.” I thought I heard the words wrong, but I was too afraid to hear it again. I stole a quick glance at mom’s face. I had never seen her so sad, yet she remained passive and calm. I was too, or so I thought.

~L~

I

t never occurred to me that my father would die before everyone in the family did. I have always believed in the Filipino saying “masamang damo, matagal mamatay”; not that I thought my father was evil, but he was far from being a saint either. The only vivid memory that I have of my father was the weekends-- which meant only two days in a 20


week, four in a month or barely forty eight in a year. Forty eight days in a year, or even less; that’s the only time I had him. He was the missed birthdays, recitals, and holidays in my life. In other words, I could do without him. On Sundays he would arrive at around nine in the morning. While we were obliged to welcome daddy at the door, mom would always be busy in the kitchen preparing for our brunch. He smelled like lemons, or sometimes oranges and it always gave my nose the itches. On hot days, he would even smell like leather, and lemons, and oranges. I hated how the scent of his car always stuck to his clothes, or maybe I really just hated his car. My father had an old model of Mercedes Benz which he loved so much. It was a shade of cream, like off white and looked like an old version of what they now call as the SUV. He cleaned it every weekend, and tried to modify its frame from time to time. “That car is one lucky car to have my dad‟s attention all the time,” I often thought. The vehicle was with him everyday compared to our more or less forty eight days in a year. I knew that somehow being jealous over a car was crazy, but it was true. That was how I felt and I was only twelve. One Sunday morning, instead of the Benz, father used a brand new Toyota GLI in silver. We stared in awe at how it shined under the sun and hurriedly ran to the garage to check it up close. Dad handed mom the keys and I’ve never seen mom as happy thereafter. My siblings and I could not thank dad enough. Finally, he knew how to think of what we needed as well. But then, just about a month after, we found out through friends and some relatives that my father had only bought the car for mom only because he had bought one for his girlfriend first. How thoughtful could he be? 21


Yes, my father had a girlfriend; or girlfriends. They came in different shapes, sizes, skin tone, hair color; all of which I was witness to whether I came across them through pictures in his wallet, or he would take me to the mall and introduce me to them with labels such as “office mate” or “client.” My mother was already immune to his philandering. If fatherhood was a course; my dad would’ve failed in a lot of areas. But then, at times, he tried. On my seventh birthday, he threw me a big party at Club Filipino. It started with me waking up to a big box beside my bed and him singing me the birthday song. I opened the box with much excitement and saw two lovely dresses, one in pink and one in blue. He asked me to choose which one to wear for the day. I felt so special. It took me some time to decide which was better. The pink dress had little fishes sewn to it, and at seven, I loved any form of animal that looked cute and harmless. But I ended up choosing the blue dress for two reasons—one, it was in blue and more casual; second, I could match it with my favourite pair of denim sneakers. We arrived at Club Filipino at around three in the afternoon. My party started with us playing in the pool. The weather was perfect. The sun was up but the sky was cloudy. Everybody was shouting and laughing, enjoying the lukewarm water of the pool. The oldies were enjoying the snacks on the side and were also noisy from all the catching up they had to with themselves. I wore a neon green swimsuit with white dinosaur prints and little frills in orange. I didn’t know how to swim so I had to stay inside my red floater. Nevertheless, I was happy to see everyone enjoying my party. Dinner followed at around 6 in the evening. I entered the room and saw how big it was. On the left was the buffet table with at least 4 different viands and on the right was a long table full of gifts. Beside it 22


was the biggest cake I’d ever seen with my name on. Seated in the middle were the guests. I thought it was funny to see them in their nice clothes which were wet from the water, and their hair dripping. I was called to sit in front, like a debutante. It was certainly the best party ever, and also the last. Although it was hard for me to admit it, my father and I had a connection other than blood. We both liked music. When I was in third grade, he enrolled me in a violin class and bought me my very first violin. I remember stepping inside JB Music Store liking every wooden piece hung at the left corner amongst all other instruments, but daddy carefully inspected each until he finally found the one that best suited me. It cost a fortune, but he looked happy to have bought it for me. He didn’t stop there: he bought me musical cd’s, books, etc., anything that would foster my love for music. My violin classes were thrice a week—Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The weekday classes fell under the Music subject in school, which meant it was graded and was part of the curriculum. The Saturday classes were merely for practice, lessons were taught on weekdays. On Saturdays, dad would bring me to school at eight in the morning and pick me up at around 11.30. On days when he was tied up with work or had too much to drink the night before, mom would do the dropping and fetching. I took my classes seriously and practiced almost everyday. My brothers would tell me to shut the thing up but I couldn’t. I would play the fiddle for hours and hours without even noticing. I locked myself in my room because nobody else appreciated my music in the house, except for dad and of course mom who supported everything we were into. At times when I felt like I was trying too much, I would ask myself if I really loved what I was doing or if it was just an excuse and the real 23


reason was because daddy loved it and I was using it to get his attention.

~L~

O

n my 19th birthday, dad was already in the hospital but he managed to have someone send me money for my birthday bash which I never really had because I chose to spend it on drinking, getting wild and getting myself an expensive white polo I never thought would be of use. I didn’t think dad’s condition would worsen. For one, he had always been healthy and if I’m not mistaken, that was the first time he got confined. From the sound of his voice, I sensed how happy he was when I told him I got the money. He told me to enjoy my party. That was the last I heard from him. I hate how I can be apathetic with a lot of things. While daddy was in the hospital, I was either, out partying, drinking, skipping class, or doing some damage. I didn’t even bother to ask my sister if there was any progress with my dad’s condition. Daddy was brought to the hospital on the 7th of August 2007, because of a heart attack from too much drinking the previous night. I wasn’t surprised, neither was I worried. I don’t know why, and I could not forgive myself for being indifferent to his death.

~L~

M

y mother, Kuya Mart and I took the afternoon flight the day we found out that daddy had died. We wanted to get the first flight but it was fully booked and so was the next flight. It was the worst feeling ever—we wanted to go to Manila as soon as possible but there was no other 24


way and we felt helpless. Then there was the fact that a dead body was to welcome us once we get there. We arrived at around eight or nine in the evening. My sister and my other brother, Kuya Mike fetched us at the airport. It started to drizzle the moment we stepped inside the car. After so many years, I was back in my homeplace. I wanted to feel excited, this was just about the time for me to see people I hadn’t seen for the longest time but I couldn’t. I felt numb. I didn’t feeling anything. The rain poured harder. We had to meet with my uncle and cousins at Mc Donald’s to arrange things for the convoy. Daddy’s remains were brought to Malolos, Bulacan; the place where he grew up and spent his adolescent years. I was hungry and I focused on eating my cheeseburger matched with large fries and coke that I didn’t hear what the grown-ups were saying. It turned out that we were to leave that same night for Malolos. I was tired—emotionally and physically. Emotionally, because I forced myself to stop feeling anything and it was difficult; physically, because I’d been travelling the whole day. I felt restless and hesitant. I didn’t want to leave that night. I was still in denial of everything but I chose not to show it. However, I felt successful at the same time for they were buying my act. I was in control of my feelings. I have this attitude of shutting anything that does not please me. Daddy’s death was certainly not worth ravelling about. I didn’t want to hear anything about it. The whole trip I pretended to be asleep. While all the others kept talking about how dad was before he died, I chose to keep quiet. It was a long drive and the i-pod failed to entertain me. It was low on battery. I had no choice but to listen to their stories. Before I knew it, we were already in Malolos. It was around three in the morning. This place has changed a lot, I thought. The paint had already worn 25


down, the wood looked like it had been soaked in water for a time. Even the neighbours’ houses looked awfully familiar, but not quite. The garage was full of people so we had to park outside. A voice in my head was saying that this was not right. It was three in the morning for crying out loud and people were still playing cards. The people stared at us the moment we stepped out of the car. Some of them my mom knew; but mostly were strangers. Their faces remained passive and vacant. We heard them talk, some mistook my cousin Ayie as me, and vice versa. There were a lot of people, but no one gave us their condolences. The house was noisy. I was hesitant to go inside. The smell of candles and flowers was overpowering. I was scared. I took a deep breath; it still smelled like candles and flowers. Mom was the first to enter. She looked at dad and held out a sigh. My brother went straight to the couch. I did too. My cousins went to the kitchen for some coffee. Suddenly, the people started going home and the only ones left were us. I didn’t cry at the sight of dad lying there inside an intricately carved white box but I was lonely. I tried to hold back every emotion from showing on my face. It took some time before I could finally peek at what was in the coffin. It sure looked like dad but he had awfully long hair, longer than what he had in life. He was in black pants and an off white barong. Pinned to it was his Masonic pin. His face was blank. The moment I saw dad, I remembered everything. A flashback is what they would call it--only mine started from the recent up until when I was a kid. I remembered the last time I saw him a t my sister’s wedding, the day he gave me my first violin, the nights we spent singing on the karaoke, everything. I knew this was the part where tears should be running down my eyes and I’d need all the comfort one could get, but I refused to be in that sort of drama. I stared at 26


him for minutes, trying to control every emotion— there was guilt, fear, hatred, but mostly it was love. I felt guilty for not having talked to him before he died and for not having felt that connection. You know what they say, when someone close to you, like someone you love was in some sort of trouble, you are supposed to feel it. I didn’t have that connection. I felt nothing, absolutely nothing. I feared of what may happen next after this. Fear of the unknown. Maybe. I was afraid of financial obligations, of social changes. How were we to pay his hospital bill that was nearly close to a million? Now that dad was gone, who would give me more than what I needed? I feared of crying. I feared of depression. But the greatest fear I had was on how I was going to move on. This event was something I knew would scar me forever. I hated him for not having been more careful. We had been telling him to cut down his drinking and smoking but he just wouldn’t listen. I hated how he could be stubborn at times and how he could not say no to his friends when they asked him out. I hated the fact that he was living with another girl who didn’t even take good care of him. But mostly, I hated myself. I hated myself for not being able to tell my dad how much I appreciated him. I had 18 years to do that. I hated myself for having lost the chance to talk to him. It wasn’t until I saw him lifeless had I felt so much love for him. Why did I love him? I didn’t know and it wasn’t only because I was his daughter. It was something more than that but it was too late. The night before the funeral, my cousins and I decided to get some booze. There was an overwhelming supply of Jose Cuervo, Baileys, and beer thanks to Jiho, the Korean business partner of daddy. While we were having some drinks, we overheard mom talking. What sounded like a casual conversation 27


soon became a commotion. We went downstairs to check what the noise was all about. There she was. Yuan was the last of the many girlfriends my father had. They had been cohabiting for a time. Mother requested that Yuan should leave and give due respect to us, who were the real family. She refused and insisted that she had just the same right to be there. There would not have been too much drama if she hadn’t brought a nun and the Barangay police with her. The room was then filled with people— relatives, friends, bystanders, and neighbours. My sister had a lot to drink that night and started crying her heart out in front of 50-60 people. I just had to do something. I thought of pulling Yuan’s hair, just like how I see the protagonists in movies do when the antagonists had overstepped the bounds, but I realized she was bigger than me, I didn’t know what she was capable of doing and it scared me. I pulled her hand anyway, and motioned to the door. And then, she was gone. There was just too much drama that night I decided to end it with eight bottles of beer that resulted to a hangover the next day. It didn’t dawn on me until the very last day of the wake that I should be mourning for my father’s death and not spending every ounce of my energy controlling emotions and putting up this strong image. This was family; there was no room for indifference. I woke up early that day with my head heavy as lead. I thought taking a bath would make me feel better, so I did. The water was freezing cold. I started wetting my feet, then my arms. It took me only five minutes to finish bathing. I couldn’t stand the water. But I felt colder inside. In a few minutes, daddy would be gone. He had been gone for a week but the thought of not being able to see his face again as his body gets buried to the ground was too much to bear. 28


I only had a few clothes left to wear. I took out the white polo I bought on my birthday. It looked good. It had pearl buttons, and a ribbon at the back. My sister bought one that was similar to it and she wore it on that day too. On a normal day I could’ve ranted on how she should not wear something that resembled my dress; but I felt too weak, too weak to even converse. Everyone was busy preparing for the mass and the Masonic Ritual. The environment was so heavy, I felt it difficult to breathe. There were last minute errands, preparations. Some were preparing the food, while others were making sure the things were all set. I, on the other hand, was just sitting there. Mom came up to me and asked me to help out. I just stared at her. And for the first time, I felt that she understood. My mom cried when the Masonic Ritual took place. She felt the solemnity in it. I wanted to cry too but I couldn’t. I was so good with holding back my feelings that I could not cry anymore. I felt desperate. I sat there looking at them. I envied the looks on their faces after crying. They felt better each time. At the cemetery, there were only a few people. My father was placed on top of my grandmother’s niche. Everyone present cried so hard. Everyone had their own “Gani Story”. My heart was so heavy, I thought my lungs would burst. It was pounding and pounding like a drum on my chest. I felt the sadness but there was no outlet for it. I squeezed a tear, only a tear. And it took me over a year to overcome everything.

29


30


Apostasy

I

grew up seeing my parents’ marriage fall apart and knowing that the only reason why they were still together was because they had us, their children. When I was in sixth grade, my dad filed for an annulment. It didn’t come as a shock to me, but I never expected they would reach that extent and it did hurt me—a lot. They could’ve have just kept it within the family, I thought. There was no need for a court trial. They owed God an explanation, not a judge. They walked in the church together, they should walk out of it together. But it sure looked like only dad wanted to walk out. It took a lot of family meetings before I was finally convinced that it was for the best. As matters stood, I would rather have my father out of the house with another woman than see him spend his leisure hours fighting with mom over simple things like who would do the grocery, or who would fetch us in school. It was already a blessing to see them simmer down to little arguments. When I was a child, I almost lost my mother over a locked room. It happened around nine o’ clock in the evening, just when we were about to sleep. Mom was already in their room, when daddy came dashing right in. I couldn’t understand how they got into a fight, what it was all about, and who was really at fault. All I could remember was the screaming and asking for help. My sister who was already in high school at that time, jumped from her bed and ran out door. She came back sooner than I expected and was with Ate Beth, our household help for thirteen years. She tried to 31


confine us--my brothers and I, all inside one room. The commotion took so long that we fell asleep not knowing how it went. We only knew of what really happened come the day after. We were sitting on our breakfast table when mom came out her room full of blue patches on her skin. We asked her what had happened but she gave us a filtered story. I could hardly picture it in my head. Either that, or it was just difficult for me to believe what dad had done. She said daddy came rushing in the room and sked her some questions. But since mom was already half asleep, she wasn’t able to answer him. He took this as a sign of disrespect, and then the hitting started. When mom retaliated, he got a pillow and stuffed it on her while she was lying down their bed. She struggled for air, but he was too strong. She was able to throw the vase beside the bed, reason for him to move a few inches away and for Ate Beth to wake up. She screamed for help and Ate Beth came right away, but the door was locked. I figured then, that that was the time my sister got up to and we were all put inside one room. Lucky enough, our house had spare keys for each room. The year 2001 welcomed us with papers. There was my parents’ annulment and the other, was my dad’s forced resignation at work. It wasn’t long until my mother had decided to move all of us out from Manila. Where to? She had no idea; all she knew was that we had to leave fast. One day, she gathered the four of us to ask whether we would like to stay with my father or would we rather go away with her. My sister, since she was already in her fourth year at the University of Santo Tomas, had no choice but to stay in Manila. I was in my 7th grade in Zobel. I wanted to finish it just the same; but I couldn’t leave mom and with my father jobless, I was left with no option. We had no idea whether or not dad had savings. His new live in partner kept it from us. My mother had stopped caring. 32


Mom had to sell her car and some of her things before we could set off. The leaving was a secret we kept from dad. He knew we were moving out of the house but we didn’t mention where to. It took us months to pack everything and sell some of our furniture as it took most of the space in the crate. I finished packing all my things in more than a week’s time. To think, all my things summed up to only two big balikbayan boxes. I guess it was because I didn’t want to leave and, as much as possible, wanted to delay it. My brothers did the same. While mom was busy wrapping plates and cups in newspapers, my two brothers were either watching T.V. or talking to someone on the phone. It all felt unreal. I never knew of Davao until we finally moved in. I even thought it was in the Visayas region. I wasn’t really good with Geography. I did, however, hear of Durian and Mangosteen. Since I’m not exactly a fan of both, I still thought the moving was a bad idea. I thought I would rather have a hard time in Manila, as I would never be able to accept somewhere else. I didn’t know what I was talking about. We stayed with my mom’s friend until she was able to find a job so we could get a house for ourselves and pay for the rent. It was a small house with two rooms and a bathroom. Yes, one bathroom for all five of us! It was awful. It was really awful. I remember having to wake up early to avoid the line for the bathroom. We had to wait for our turn to use it. What’s worst was having to clean it—pick up the hair on the floor, and scrub the soap suds that stuck on the wall. My two brothers and I often fought as to whose turn was it to clean. One room was occupied by mom’s friend, and the other was for us—yes, all three of us! Our lives took a sudden detour. It was degrading for us as we were used to living a comfortable life, even more. We had our own rooms and never worried about having to 33


share the TV. We were never allowed to take any form of public transportation, not even a cab. It was devastating to undergo all the changes, probably because we never saw it coming. The absence of maids was the worst part of the adjustment. We had to do our own laundry, wash our own plates, clean the bathroom, sweep the floor, etc. Those little things, for us who weren’t used to doing them, weren’t so little. Slowly, our self-esteem had been crushed and it left us afraid and defensive. Not long after our arrival in Davao, my mother landed a job with Davao Central High School formerly known as Davao Chinese High School. She was given the position of Administrative Assistant. It was all God’s plan I guess, for her to work in a school because a year after, my brother Leo and I were given scholarships and it did ease our expenses big time. Luther, on the other hand, wanted a school not too far from where we were staying so he enrolled himself in Mindanao Kokusai Daigaku. We didn’t get into our dream schools, but it was better than being out of school. At least, we felt like there was still hope. My mother knew we were having a hard time but she was helpless. She had to stick to her decision that she would provide for us and dad was already out of the picture. Since she was new at work, her pay was just enough for our daily needs and enough was never enough for us. We were used to having more than what was the necessary and she knew she couldn’t provide for that anymore. That saddened her. We wanted to help by at least showing her that we were okay with the whole thing and we could manage. But my brothers and I were bad actors. On my first day of school, I cried. My mother said she was enrolling us in a private school. She did enrol us to a private, non-sectarian school that only had one door, two electric fans to be shared by more than 25 students, unpainted wooden chairs, and walls that 34


needed some scrubbing. When you’re left with no options, you eventually learn to accept things. I managed to get over the physical arrangement of my classroom after a few weeks. Just when I was about to be thankful that I was still in school, I found the people in it difficult to get along with. I often felt like I was standing under a lamp post with the light focused on me. They saw every bit—from the clothes I wore, the bags I had with me, even the language I spoke. Trivial things became an issue. After some time, our financial status finally became stable and we were able to rent a house for ourselves. It wasn’t that big but it was good enough for the four of us. It had three rooms, one kitchen, and a bathroom. It wasn’t as grand as our house in Manila but we tried to make it as homey as we could. It was through that state of chosen poverty that I got to know my family more. For instance, we only had one room where we could watch TV; so we often found ourselves there intact like we never did before. The drastic change in social status hurt us but it also brought about closeness in our family. Except for my dad. My mother had cut all means of communication that we had with him. She refused to accept financial help, or any kind of help for that matter. She reasoned we needed it to move on. I saw it as running away. It took us four years from the moment we moved to Davao to finally be able to see dad once again. I wasted four years to knowing my father more. The last time I was with my father was during my sister’s wedding in 2006. He was almost late for the ceremony. He was dressed in a well-tailored barong and looked the same as how I had always pictured him in my dreams, only a little more fat. He gave me a kiss on the cheek and said “Buti umaga ang wedding, kasi kung hindi; hindi kita makikita sa itim mong yan.”. I simply answered “Nagsalita ang maputi. Itsura mo, kahit 35


anong make-up pa yan mukha ka na talagang matanda.�He refused to believe me and continued to find more of my flaws, but was cut short by the need to look serious for the start of the ceremony. He walked my sister down the aisle. While he was walking past, I thought of my own future wedding as well. I wanted him to walk with me, too. But some dreams are only meant to be dreams, I guess. The wedding reception took forever to end, that my dad and I decided to ditch it along with my brother Leo and my uncle Toto. We headed to a KTV somewhere in Malate, I think. The place was owned by Tita Grace, my uncle’s second wife. There were lots of beer and food. While Leo enjoyed how dad allowed him to smoke, I watched how my dad carefully chose songs from the oldies to the latest. He was so cool, I thought. Mom could never do such things. It came to me then, how important it is to have a father. For the first and last time, I saw him as my dad and not as our provider. Shortly after that five day vacation in Manila, I was back in Davao once again. I have always had that weird feeling whenever I came back to it, like a two time lover asked to choose which of the two is a better partner. It was like that with Davao and Manila. But going back as to how my family and I had come to deal with living in Davao, at some point I cannot help but be thankful that we ended there. Although, Davao was always about us sitting in a circle of mostly strangers where we had to go around introducing ourselves, I cannot deny that it was in a way or another, our home. I feel like we were little orphans who had nowhere to go, and there was this southern city with open arms ready to accept us. Despite its welcoming arms, I chose to have a detached relationship with it, ready to say goodbye and leave at anytime. 36


Monophobia “If you don‟t know where you‟re going, any road will lead you there.” —Lewis Carroll

I

was deeply hurt by the loss of my father. For one, it was new to me. I didn’t know how to handle it. While I was growing up, pain was a constant companion; but when I lost dad, it was more than bearable and pain became more or less, unfamiliar. Sure, a lot of people had died before him—my late grandfather, family friends, an aunt-- but none of them was really close to my heart. When my father died, I died with him. I went back to Davao with two pieces of luggage, one filled with clothes, and the other full of regrets, guilt, and more and more pain. The next few days were spent on skipping classes, getting caught for plagiarism (I copied my mother’s signature to get excused for not passing an important paper), failing my exams, bitching people around and worst, losing all my friends. I had never felt so alone. Each member of our family had his own mechanism of coping with daddy’s death, so I couldn’t count on them. Mother had always been busy with work and it would break her heart to see me wasting away, so as much as possible I stayed away from her. Two of my siblings were based in Manila, and the only one who was left with me was my brother Kuya Mart. He learned about love too 37


early, so at the age of 19 he already had a daughter and a “wife”. Bottom line, I was really alone. My only hope was my friends, but they turned away from me sooner than I expected. I found myself going to class alone and worrying whenever the teacher asked the class to group ourselves. By this time, my block mates had already established their own set of friends which meant I had no other choice but to be my own group. I thought it was okay, I would rather do things alone than force myself to their little groups anyway. But everyone knew, even myself; that I was just putting up a face. I couldn’t blame my friends for I was at a lost. I took them for granted and made their lives miserable as much as possible, in every way I could everyday. I was angry with myself and I guess the only way I could release it was through them, but instead of understanding; they chose what was easier to do—leave me. As much as I can say that it felt like there was an entirely different person doing that action, there is still no denying the fact that I did what I did and it will forever be a part of who I am. My sorority was always there for me though, but at that time, we were at a stage in our life wherein we thought that drinking was the coolest and most practical way of forgetting all your problems. So we pretty much did all that and we fondly called it -- the drunken nights of Sigma Beta. They were the only ones who kept me company, and I loved them for that. But we all know that alcohol never solves anything. Neither does a hangover do any good specially when you’re still a Sophomore. After some time, I found myself wanting to go back to Manila and reconcile with the city, like I needed to be close to her again after the bitterness she once had brought me. Maybe it was the only way I could be one with dad once again, to know him better 38


by going to places he’s been to and being with people he was with. It was either that, or because I knew I had no one in Davao I could count on and it was the perfect escape from all the pain it brought me. On November of 2007, I took the last flight to Manila with a heavy heart. Mom was not so sure about my decision and kept convincing me to back out even the minute we landed on NAIA. The hour and a half on the plane felt shorter compared to the last time maybe because I knew no cold body was waiting for me there. Nobody could fetch us so mom and I took a cab ride from the airport to Quezon City. The traffic was just too much. EDSA was a parking lot. The cars weren’t moving and mom grew more impatient by the minute. “Sa Davao, halos walang traffic. Ewan ko ba kung bakit gusto mo dito”, she said. I looked out the window, and tried to familiarize each landmark. By the time we arrived at my sister’s place the cab meter read Php500. Mom thought this was horribly expensive and resulted to days and days of ranting, more reasons to convince me to stay in Davao. By the time she was to go back to Davao, the convincing had stopped and her lines became more of “naglayas ang anak ko,.” I had made a decision and it was final. I was going to enrol in UP Diliman. I was excited and scared at the same time. When the day of the enrolment came, I asked my favourite cousin, Ayie, to accompany me thru the whole enrolment process. I was unfamiliar with the place, I thought I needed some back up. The sun was up in all its glory. I had already prepared what to wear even the night before. I didn’t want to look like I came out straight from the province. It was UP Diliman, the melting pot of every ethnicity there is and I wanted to look just right for it. I wore a black shirt with a bedazzled heart in the middle made up of red and blue studs paired with my tightest skinny jeans and black doll shoes, perfect for the semi39


rockstar image I wanted to portray. I got up earlier than usual. I couldn’t sleep from all the excitement. Ayie and I met at Mc Donalds Philcoa at around seven in the morning. According to her, we should already be in school come eight or else we’d be caught up in a traffic of people, waiting for a slot in their chosen subjects. And so, as planned, we were there early. By the mere sight of the Oblation in the center of Quezon hall, I knew I already fell in love with the place. The next few hours, it was either Ayie and I were looking for buildings, scratching our heads, massaging our feet, or trying our best not to cry and shout at the unfriendly assistants in the offices. The enrolment was so depressingly difficult, I should’ve known earlier! We went home at around 5:30 in the afternoon with no accomplishment, aside from being able to get my cross-registration form signed by the needed signatories. I was really frustrated but I didn’t have second thoughts of going back to Davao. The next day, I was able to get all the subjects I needed. The sight of my Form 5 all ready was total bliss. I proudly went to the cashier to pay my tuition which took me 45 minutes to figure out the directions given to me by the not so friendly guard at CAL, only to find out when I arrived there that I had to go back to the Registrar which was just at the back of the building were I was originally at. My love-hate relationship with that building started from that time. Since I was taking up subjects under the BA-English Program, most of my classes where held at the College of Arts and Letters. Being a cross-registrant meant having to go to the Registrar from time to time. The Registrar could be found at the back of the CAL building and going there was too far of a walk to and too near to take a jeep. In short, its location sucked but it wasn’t the only one. UP Diliman was just too big 40


and it had too many buildings, one could make a list of which things to hate. I wasn’t used to being in the North. When I was in gradeschool, I practically lived down south— Alabang and Las Pinas. My family and I only visited the North to spend the weekends at Club Filipino or whenever we wanted to go shopping somewhere else aside from ATC or SM. I was a Southern suburbanite and Diliman totally trained me for urban independence. Soon enough I mastered the “I’mminding-my-own-fucking-business-maybe-youshould-too” kind of attitude and the face that should go along with it. If I thought I felt alone in Davao, it was nothing compared to Diliman. I knew no one there and no one wanted to know me. In UP Min, I’d be itching for the teacher to say that the class would be dismissed early, but in Diliman, I felt the exact opposite. Break time meant sitting alone in Katag, the cafeteria wherein tables for four were often occupied by just one person. Seeing that I was not the only loner around should’ve given me comfort, but it made me more depressed each day. So on long breaks, I would go to my sister in DBP Philcoa and take a nap there. I’d wake up to attend my last class and head straight to DBP again afterwards, or if my sister was to work overtime, I would go to SM North to buy some clothes, convincing myself that it could be a source of happiness. For a time, I lived up to SM’s motto: “We got it all for you.” In SM North, they sure did. They had an array of very nice clothes for reasonable prices. If I couldn’t make myself feel better, I sure could make myself look better. After some time, that ritual didn’t work for me anymore. I was still wallowing in self-pity and loneliness. I had to divert my attention to something and DVDs became my new best friends. After class I’d go home to watch the series of The OC. I was 41


definitely Summer Roberts but maybe after the third season, I was so Marissa Cooper. I was always up until the wee hours of the morning trying to finish all seven seasons. My lack of sleep all the time caused my body to be restless. I had poor performance in school. I wasn’t getting any better. So, I had to give up that up. There was nothing left to do. I felt hopeless. I wanted to go home. It wasn’t until a professor invited me to have lunch with him that I knew of Casaa, a bigger and better cafeteria located beside Palma Hall; which I later found out, is also known as AS. I was often mistaken as a freshie because of having used the term “Palma Hall” instead of “AS”. From then on, I ditched Katag and found myself enjoying the food in Casaa. I was happier. You know what they say—“there is no love more sincere than the love for food”. For some time I was able to convince myself that I had found the thing that would make me happy—food. I spent all my money on it. I’d eat Salmon on butter sauce, steaks, etc. I enjoyed it because I wasn’t used to having such a wide variation of viands for lunch. UP Min deprived me of having a good lunch, and lunch for me is the most important meal of the day. But then again, at the end of the day it was the same old banana. I still felt alone. One lazy afternoon, I came across a sorority sister from UP Min who had transferred to Manila for work. That was the end of my sober days. I spent most of my time with the Diliman sisters—we’d go to Sarah’s on long breaks and have a few bottles of beer. On lazy afternoons, we’d go to Tomato Kick and stay there until midnight, or until someone passed out. We enjoyed each others’ company. At least now I had something to do. Actually, I barely had free time. My life started to revolve around school and the sorority. I sure was busy, but this didn’t mean I was happy. This was when I realized that even the company of people 42


cannot relieve the pain of being permanently alone. I had always thought that I only needed people to be with. Even in the best of relationships, there always comes a time when our friends and family are not available and we are still left alone. It took a few nights of listening to alternative music and a diet that consisted of margaritas and beer until I finally had the ability of feeling alone without seeking for anyone to fill the void. I don’t know if time had to do something with this. Maybe it’s just that it had been a long time since I’d been feeling the emotion that I have come to terms with it. It had been habitual, and strangely familiar. But if there’s one thing I learned from this “paglalayas”, it is knowing that one must not deny his or herself of an emotion. If you’re hurt, feel it. If you’re angry, embrace it. They won’t be there forever. There will come a time when eventually you will let go and soon enough good things will come your way. You will never know when something negative as being broke with barely Php 200 to get you through the week would turn out to be an avenue to something that could change your life forever. It was only halfway through the week and I was already financially drained from all the extra expenses I had to spend for the sorority and socializing. I have earned by then that in order for one to survive in the city, one must always find ways. The easiest I could think of at that moment was to browse my phonebook to look for someone I could ask to treat me to lunch the next day. I was thinking of Cathie, my best friend, but she was a scholar in Ateneo. I may actually have had more money than her. I scrolled down my phonebook once more, down, down, from the letter C... to F... to G.... until I reached W. It read “Walter”. Walter had been my friend for years and he owed me a date. Perfect, I thought. I sent him a message that night. Without hesitation, he agreed to my offer. 43


At exactly 11:30 in the morning, Walter fetched me at the AS stairway. He wore a pair of khaki shorts and a purple shirt that read “Fantastic Porn”. I found him cute except for the fact that he had earphones glued to his ears the whole time. He escorted me to his car and introduced me to Kuya Francis, their family driver. He said we were taking lunch at Katipunan. I had never been there, but I wasn’t scared. I was hungry! The whole time we were together, it was either I was talking to Kuya Francis or the waiter at Chiggy’s. At first I found it funny how one could be so shy, until I was full enough to get back to my senses and realize that this person was plainly boring. “You have plans after this?” I asked. “Work. Mayang 4. He answered. “Ah. San pala?” I questioned further in hopes of having a long and interesting conversation. “Diyan lang sa Ateneo.” That was it, I thought. I just had the longest 30 minute lunch ever. But I couldn’t be more thankful for the free lunch so I tried to be kind. He still had to bring me back to UP after all, might as well keep up with the boredom. The weather was perfect that day. It was cold and yet the sun was up. I wanted him to leave already (so I could do my assignment) but he stayed. I felt a little hope when he asked me about my next class (thinking it was his way of giving me a signal that he would soon ask to leave). I said, “4:00”. He smirked. I asked him if he had to go. He said his work wasn’t until 4pm. I was screaming “two more hours of struggle just to have a conversation!” in my mind. I asked him to keep his i-pod. “Since you‟re staying with me for the next two hours, can you at least keep that? Ang daya kasi ikaw lang nakikinig.” He laughed and said, “Ang bossy lang.” “San ka nakakita ng nakikipagdate ng naka i-pod pa?”, I said. “Even if it‟s a friendly date.” I added. 44


He laughed some more. I joined in the laughter. We then talked about his work and other things. I found it cool that he was a coach. Just when we were really getting to know the nitty-gritty details of each others’ life, my sorority sisters came. Upon seeing Walter, their faces changed. Their eyes started teasing me, and their smiles meant other things. I was sure Walter noticed it, but he didn’t say anything. That “boring lunch” was followed by more boring occasions—until they didn���t become so boring anymore. And better yet, I was never alone since then.

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46


Inadvertency

I

t was still eight in the morning. He came to my old apartment in Teacher’s Village. We didn’t have the luxury of time to plan on things, neither was there time to pack. My sorority sisters and I had to move out of the apartment because our landlady was in some kind of a scam. Walter took this opportunity to offer me to live in with him. I understood that what we were going to do was socially wrong, but it just felt so right. He got my bags and drawers as it was and placed them inside the car. If there was one thing I was afraid of at that time, it wasn’t the fact that I would be living with a person whom I had only known for months; it was more of having to go through the same experience again. I had always wanted a place on my own after that horrible experience of living in a house that wasn’t ours. There was no sense of security-- you would always have to worry about the time when you will be kicked out. It would also mean trying to please the people around you, and I was far from being that. I surveyed the room for the last time to check if I had left anything inside. There were magazines on the floor, unwashed dishes on the sink, and bed sheets all over. The place was a mess, it had always been like that; but I liked it that way and I was going to miss it. We were welcomed by his father, Tito Bingbong. Walter excitedly got my things and placed them inside Macy’s unit where all of us would be staying. I entered the room and saw Macy sitting on her bed. She gave out a smile, and I felt relieved. I wanted to 47


thank her for offering me a place to stay, but I felt nervous. I gave her a nod instead. #14 K-6 Street was my fourth house to transfer to in a span of a year and it wasn’t just a 3-storey apartment, it was a home. For the first few months, I had to stay with Macy (Walter’s sister), Kuya Jake (Macy’s boyfriend), RN (Jake’s brother), and Walter; all in one small room. There was a kitchen, and a bathroom, all of which we had to share. At first, it was awkward since Walter and I had only been together for months and Macy and I weren’t really talking much. I never thought I’d find a family in the four corners of that room. I was already living alone in Manila. My sister had abandoned me for matters of the heart (another story), while my brother had to leave for Cebu for work. What supposedly should’ve been the biggest downfall of my entire stay in Manila turned out to be a blessing after all. On early mornings, I would wake up to the sound of Kuya Jake taking a bath and Macy, preparing his things. It would be followed after an hour or so by RN, who would be off for duty. I was always the third to be leave the house. It was difficult to live in the same room with five people. It reminded me of our first house in Davao and how we had to wait for our turn to use the bathroom. The only difference was, I didn’t have to clean it. The maids took care of that. As time went on, all five of us had learned to get along pretty well. On times when Kuya Jake was on leave from work, we would go out, all five of us for some drinks. We all shared one interest—food or alcohol. We also liked watching movies together, but what to watch was often a subject to debate upon. And more often than not, we end up not watching; or we would opt for the better choice which was to drink. Slowly, I found a sister in Macy. Yes, there were times that I would get annoyed at how obsessive 48


compulsive she was and how she wanted things her way most of the time, but I loved her not only because she was Walter’s sister. I had a lot of sorority sisters that could’ve filled up for what my sister had left, but it was only Macy who felt like family. When she was pregnant and couldn’t binge out when Kuya Jake was around, Walter and I would spoil her and give her anything that she craved for. We would have late night talks on anything over bags of chips and soft drinks. We also got addicted to watching DVDs and would even cross EDSA just to go to Video City and rent some movies. This would then be followed by a trip to Zagu, Chowking, or Mercury Drug. We were into anything, really. We could spend a day in Divisoria, just the two of us. Or we could also dress up and go drinking on lonely nights. When we’re at home, we would stalk people on networking sites and laugh at our exes. She liked neon colors, I preferred earth tones. She introduced me to R&B music, I made her love alternative. We were often opposites on a lot of things, but we went along well through time. Walter was happy when I get to do things for her sister, aside from that, I was happy doing it myself. When my father died, I died with him; but with Tito Bingbong, I was reborn. The moment I first got to talk to him, he instantly reminded me of my father. He was funny, easy-go-lucky, and had an undeniable love for alcohol. Before I would leave for school, I would pass by his room everyday and see him staring at his computer with a cup of coffee on his hand. I’d tell him I’d be going and he’d ask me what time I’d be back. It was our daily routine. I couldn’t be more thankful for those short talks we had. I was never able to do that with my father. On nights when I wasn’t busy, he would ask the maids to buy us a bottle of Tanduay. We would spend the whole night drinking. At times, even if had some things to do, I would lie to him just so we could have a few drinks to talk. He 49


liked talking about his relationships, or his past relationships. And I, on the other hand, liked listening to him. My father and I never had such talks. On occasions when my friends where there to visit, Tito Bingbong would also invite them to join him. He would even buy us some drinks. He was cool like that. He filled up the things that my dad failed to do, and I have loved him for it. He’d tell me some of his secrets, and I would share mine too as I knew he wouldn’t remember itt the next day. I would always remember his though, and would bring it up the next time we drink. He would often say “di totoo yan ah!”, in his defense. And I would laugh so hard. Walter had two baby sisters namely Elyssa and Summer. When Walter and I were given a unit of our own, Summer stayed with us. Since Walter was on graveyard shift and I couldn’t sleep alone in the room, Summer would sleep with me and her yaya. I remember how I’d long to come home from work so I could still play with her before she slept. There were times when I would be the one to prepare his milk. I liked the attention she gave me; how she was nicer to me than to others, and how she would listen to me. She liked saying “I love you, Lara. Love mo din si SumSum?” I would then say, “syempre naman!” to which she would add,”buy mo nako lollipop”. She outsmarts me most of the time. Walter and I would sometimes even pretend that she was our very own. I loved the thought of it. Aside from Walter’s immediate family, I also grew close to Tito Bingbong’s friends. Since Macy was still pregnant at that time, Tito would bring me to their parties and get togethers. I would be in charge of his wallet. He gives out too much money when he’s drunk. We’d make it look like it was I who was going to pay for the bill first, and he would just pay me at home. It was one of our little secrets—something only the two of us knew. 50


I had lived the life I wanted, and felt that I deserved for more than a year behind that little orange gate. Everything was going well, untilTito Bingbong moved to Daet to pursue the love of his life and to be able to manage their mining business well, everything at home changed. Macy was left by her boyfriend Jake. She refused to talk to us and was always pointing fingers. It felt like she was a different person. She found us fault every time and started doing things on her own. She would bang the door and close all her windows. I saw this as a sign that she wanted me out of the house. Perhaps she didn’t like the sight of Walter and I being happy together while she sulked in loneliness. That one thing I had feared most slowly turned into a reality. I didn’t belong there anymore. I had to be somewhere else. UP Diliman confirmed my fate when they refused to accept my application for transfer to BA English. I knew I had to go back to Davao. It made it easier though—knowing that there really is a reason for me to leave. I was to leave early in the morning for Davao so I made it a point to say goodbye to Macy the night before. I knocked on her door. She opened it. I told her I was going and gave her the “Thank you” I owed her the day I first came. She wished me a safe flight. And that was the end of it.

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52


Casual Determinism

T

he summer of 2009 was unfriendly to both of us as it left us jobless, without even a single peso we could spend that came from our own sweat and blood. I also had no reason to stay in Diliman as I already took up the maximum number of units a crossregistrant could take. I was left to make a decision on whether or not shift there or go back to Davao. Of course, I tried to take the first option; but I guess I should’ve listened to my mother when she said that I should make my grades in first year college look as impressive as I could. I wanted to stay in the same course, but my grade point average didn’t make it to their cut-off. It was devastating, but I didn’t lose hope. I tried to shift to another course that required a lower GWA. From college to college, I went searching for courses that I could shift to just so I could stay in Manila. I even considered taking up Tourism. I did find a few. I was even set for the interview. But then, I found out that the only course I was willing to shift and had the highest chance of getting accepted to meant having to extend for at least two years or so in college and take 21 units per semester for two years. No, thank you. I came home with bad news. I didn’t know how I would break it to Walter as I wasn’t even sure if it would crush him or me. I spent the whole trip going home thinking. Life had become so perfect here but I have to leave him. It was like having a colored 53


television—you never want to go back to black and white. And then I felt scared. I didn’t know what I was more afraid of—if it was having to face the life I left or having to face the kind of life leaving him. I arrived home at around five in the afternoon. He was already sleeping as he was on graveyard shift the night before. I carefully opened the door and lay next to him. He opened an eye and gave me a hug as he tried to get back to sleep. I just couldn’t tell him yet. I had to wait for the weekend, give time for the situation to sink in to me first. My first few lines were mostly on how we knew that mistakes from the past are irreversible. He asked me to tell it to him straight. I told him I had to leave and that he needed to wait for a year. Only a year. He said I need not worry, but his eyes said otherwise. That very same night, after much talk and planning; Walter came up with the idea that he would follow me in Davao. We didn’t know how; but we were sure to make it happen. Penniless, with only faith at hand; I left him in Manila on June of 2009 with a hope that he would follow me not long after. I felt like it was already getting to be a new hobby: packing, unpacking, repacking, as after a couple of months or so, I was to repack everything up again and go back to Manila as planned. I had no qualms about it. I guess I am kind of an expert already at what to bring and what to leave behind at wherever my next stop would be. I have, since time immemorial, considered myself a traveller. I knew right from the start that I don't really belong anywhere. And so, I come and go, moving in and out of material spaces, liminal spaces, ellipses and parentheses. I have come to terms with fate and that instead of going against its course, I decide to ride its swells. I guess I was braver this time because I had faith that I was not alone: he was to follow. 54


It was difficult to be back to Davao. Two years ago, I had left it in a flicker of an eyelid before I could internalize my emotions. It had been unfamiliar through the years but the idea of moving in with Walter was promising. It meant a blank new slate for both of us. We were hopeful that everything in Davao would be the same as it was when we were in Manila, or even better. I waited a month until he was able to save enough money to send himself to Davao. Although they weren’t vocal about it, we knew his family was not in favour of our decision and it made it more difficult. He couldn’t ask his dad money for a plane ticket, not even for pocket money. When they learned about our plans, they remained silent but their disapproval was quite clear. They were slowly cutting their communication with me. Water tried to make it appear as something else- his dad was busy with his upcoming wedding, Macy was preoccupied with her faltering marriage, etc. I knew subtexts very well. I pretty much understood what was going on. Walter had to wait for the back pay he was entitled to from his previous work before flying to Davao. When I said he had enough money, I literally meant he had just enough for the plane ticket, the house rental where he was to be staying and transportation allowance until he could find a new job. We were optimistic on a lot of things. I saw him standing at the airport door and I felt disoriented by mixed emotions. It was the first time I waited for someone to arrive. Most of the time, it was either me arriving or I leaving; never I waiting. We were reunited and the first few moments were awkward but it was soon shrugged off by an embrace that masked our emotional shortcomings. We didn’t know it would be very difficult and that it was mark of a relationship that was never meant to last. We thought we already had things figured out by the time he arrived. But we soon realized we had 55


miscalculated on a lot of things—the amount of money to be allotted for house rental, the timeframe of being jobless, the extra expenses, etc. Before Walter got a job, he had already exhausted his money on daily needs like food and toiletries. It could have been okay, but we could not ask help from anyone. Although mom tried to help us out financially, this only went to paying his bills. We were drunk on love, and we decided to go against fate. We soon felt the gravity of our decision, but we had to stand up for it--even if it meant starving ourselves just so we could have enough to sustain the both of us. It was on this struggle that I learned a lot of things. Like for instance, there were occasions when I had to wait for a friend to pick me up or, worse, walk to school just so I could save up for an order of extra rice for Walter. For people who know me well, this was already a big sacrifice on my part as I’ve hated walking ever since I knew of the different kinds of transportation. Never in my life had I thought that an unfinished cup of rice could result in a fight. “Beb, ubusin mo nga yan. Sayang naman. Kung ayaw mo, iuwi nalang natin.” “Huwag na noh, nakakahiya.” “Eh hindi naman kasi ikaw nagbayad kaya okay lang sayo.” “Grabe! A matter of Php8.00! Hayaan mo pag nagbigay si daddy, babayaran kita sa lahat!” We had to wait a week for us to get over this incident. Lesson learned: Never underestimate the power of rice. Walter spent a lot on cigarettes. He reasoned that it helped him get through misery. I thought it was a waste of money. “Eh kailangan ko nga kasi „to.” “Sa dami ba naman ng problema naiisip mo pang maging miserable. Eh kung solusyon kaya ang isipin mo.” “Tumigil ka na nga.” 56


“Ikaw ang tumigil.” It was later on that I found out how smoking can be the unhealthy alternative to eating. When you’re hungry, a stick of cigarette could already be equivalent to a meal. What is Php2.00 as against Php25.00, right? Lesson learned: Smoking is cheap but it still is dangerous to your health. After a month of waiting, the heavens finally heard our prayers and Walter got a job at Concentrix, a call center in Lanang. It became an imperative that on the 10th and 25th of the month, we would eat at Mcdonalds. What used to be our staple food back in Manila had turned out to be a treat for 15 days of hard work. Now I know why the Happy Meal is called a happy meal. Lesson learned: One deserves a treat once in a while. Also, avoid being late at work so you could afford a Sundae to go with your regular meal. Walter and I barely even saw each other. Since UP in Mindanao was an hour away from my house, it was more practical to stay in a boarding house. He, on the other hand, opted to stay near our home because it was close to where he was working. So just like dad, I only had him on weekends. I would sometimes have self-proclaimed holidays on Fridays and go straight home to see him. I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do as I always get academically shaky come the next meeting but it was the least I could do to save our relationship. There were also times when I would sneak him in our boarding house on not so busy weekdays. The thrill of it was something I enjoyed specially the look on my landlady’s face when she catches us. There were nights when I would ask him to stay with me and skip work. He would, but we often end up fighting and regretting how much money was wasted for his absence. Normally, when he brings this up; I would pay up Php500-Php700 (Manila rate of call center agents per day) to make up for his time that “I wasted”. He would never get it, of course. It was 57


just my way of reminding him that money wasn’t everything. But I couldn’t do that anymore because we knew that his day already meant a week’s allowance to me. And by then we already knew that yes, money isn’t everything but it sure is something—a lot of things, actually. We were able to keep up with the changes for more than six months. And then I got tired. We both did. I was tired of trying my best to be the best girlfriend and at the same time excel in school despite the fact that I knew I wasn’t doing well in both. As for Walter, he got tired of working and the intensiveness of labor that it required considering how small his salary was. Eventually, he resigned from work (without my knowledge, not even my consent) and we were back to square one. March the 14th 2010 was the mark of a two year old relationship. It also was the end of it. I never thought that would be the last time I would see him. We wanted to keep it working, but it was as if the universe had conspired to give us the message that we shouldn’t be together. We were left with no choice. Having a long distance relationship was the last of our cards. We gave it a shot, anyway. I tried to reason with my heart that it was the best thing for both of us as he wrote: Bebeb, If you‟re reading this now it means natuloy ang pag-alis ko and my heart is being crushed into a million pieces. Sobrang sorry that things just won‟t work out for me or us here in Davao. If only I could just make it work. I really hate the fact that I‟m going back to Manila sooner that what was planned but as you said, it may come out as a blessing and turn us out 58


into better individuals. I love you Beb. I love you so much. -Waltz The day after our second anniversary, he left without us knowing where we were in our relationship. He only promised to see me on my birthday and I wanted to believe him. But, by then I had come to terms with the reality that no matter how much you plan on some things; fate can instantly turn it the other way around. Yes, I don’t believe in the saying that “You design your fate. Probably because up until now, I couldn’t accept the fact that we made mistakes and we weren’t so perfect after all. No one is.

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60


A Self-fulfilling Prophecy “So how does it happen, great love? Nobody knows. But what I can tell you is that it happens in the blink of an eye. One moment you‟re enjoying your life and the next you‟re wondering how you ever lived without them.” —Hitch

O

n the 14th of March, 2008 Walter and I became a couple over a few shots of rum, a gag show and a lunch I threw up soon after. As I was busy surfing the channels of their cable TV and ended up watching a corny noon time show, he asked me if I’ve had boyfriends who had the same hairstyle as his. “Mahilig ka ba sa kalbo? Or ngayon ka lang nagkaboyfriend na kalbo?.” “Nyek. Ngayon lang noh.” I carelessly answered while concentrating on what Willie Revillame was ranting about. “So, tayo na pala. Hahaha Wow. Nauto kita bebeb. Bawal na bawi.” I didn’t know if it was the alcohol but I soon felt as if the lobes of my brain had short circuited. Much as I wanted to take my words back, my bodily functions soon claimed the beating of my heart as one and I was more than willing to have committed that impulsive act. I knew that if someday there would be 61


someone to blame, only two would be liable— Tanduay, or Willie Revillame but I couldn’t care less. Walter and I had only been going out for a month when we became a couple. At that time, I was still living with my sister in Fulgencio St. San Francisco, del Monte near SM North. Since she was working at DBP in Philcoa, just a ride away from UP Diliman; I was obliged to ride with her to and from school. Bottom line, I was well guarded. I remember having thought of the craziest and lamest excuses just so I could meet with Walter after class. There were sorority meetings, group projects, research works, plays to attend, and best of all a change of schedule for a subject I wasn’t even taking. It wasn’t long after, Walter became part of my daily schedule and I was to his as well. My break time was from 11:30 to 4pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 11:30-2:30 on Wednesdays and Thursdays. He would be there to meet me right after class always ready with my lunch on hand. He was silent at first and would let me finish the lunch all by myself. “Kumain nako sa bahay.” He would say. My sorority sisters were witness to how my relationship with Walter grew faster than expected. We first met when I was in my second year at Davao Central High School. According to his story, it was I who accidentally sent him a message; but truth is he was the one who did. I thought he was someone I knew who wanted to throw a prank on me. I was bored, had an awful day at school again; so I gave in anyway. We did exchange messages for months until we grew apart. I lost his number; he lost mine—not that I really cared. One day, as I opened my Friendster account, I noticed that I had a friend request and a message-- all from him. He explained how he had lost his phone and that he tried to contact me but he could not remember my number, only my name. 62


He was there for the friendship, and the distance was no hindrance. He always kept me company when insomnia struck. From late night exchange of messages, to midnight phone calls-- talking with him was like therapy for me. But, we didn’t talk everyday. I only had him when I wanted to, or mostly when I felt the need. I would text him when I was bored, lonely, or when I had too much cell phone load that I felt spending. Come my fourth year in high school, our conversations started to become minimal. I became preoccupied with a lot of things and maybe he was, too. Both of us had changed our networks, lost our numbers, yet we still had our connection intact. He switched to Smart for some time, while I was on Sun. And when he changed to Globe, I was on Smart. He never failed to check on me though, even if it was once a month or once in two months. There were times when we got to talk and he’d mention of places he’s been to, or parties he attended and we’d realize how both of us were in it at the exact same place, at the exact same time but we still didn’t know each other then. Of course we thought it was amazing when you think of it but we never really saw it as a sign and it never really got into me, until we actually met on that fateful day of February 2008. There came a time when I actually questioned his purpose of being in my life. Was he God- sent or everything was just purely coincidental? Walter had always been present in the lowest times of life. High school was really tough for me considering that I was born and raised in Manila most of my life. The adjustments I had to make upon moving out of it were traumatic. The people in my school hated me for not speaking in their dialect--Bisaya, and even how I dressed up was an issue for many of them. I never really had friends in high school except for Joy, who was also Manila-born and raised. She underwent the 63


same mistreatment years before I did. That’s probably why she understood what I was going through and opted to be my friend. Otherwise, I don’t think there was reason for her to do so since I’m not exactly the friendly type. I tried to look for comfort outside school. Teenage hormones and the absence of having a dad led me to having boyfriends. Most of them were already in college at that time and having someone younger was the “in” thing back then. I was stupid to have been subject to what seemed to be like a science experiment. And then I met Walter. I just really needed someone to talk to—no judging. And that was what he did. Maybe it was a two-way thing. Maybe he needed me just the same, I didn’t really know. But every time I felt like crap, he was always just a text away. He was all the while eager to be my echo chamber for my personal misery. When I moved to study in Diliman, I tried to contact him but I couldn’t at first. He had lost his phone again (to no surprise) and had lost all his contacts. It took months before we met again. This time, it was I who found him. On an awfully boring night, I browsed Multiply, an online album/networking site. I clicked on the names of people, just anyone who seemed to have an interesting site name and came across one named “hominosnocturna”. I had no idea of such word so I clicked it out of curiosity. At the right hand corner of the page was a picture of a man wearing a bonnet. Under it read “Walter Domingo, kyusi Philippines”. In my lifetime, I’ve only met two people named Walter. It was not a common name in a country like the Philippines. I checked the pictures to see if this Walter known as “hominosnocturna” was the same boy who has been texting me for years and had lost touch with. He only had a few albums. The Walter I’d known from Friendster had no hair, but this one had 64


long locks. I didn’t want to lose the chance so I sent him a message anyway asking him if he was the same Walter. It wasn’t until the third day that he got to answer me. Jan 9, '08 7:13 AM by walter for users sunburntandlonely and

hominosnocturna

as in lara from up?? lara txtm8? lara in diliman?? whaa.... i lost my fone kc... ...then sum1 knew my friendster password so i deleted my account... .....lara kaw b yan???

Now that I was in Manila, our communication became more constant. We talked almost every day since then. I invited him to attend Sisfire, a concert sponsored by my sorority in UP Diliman. He said he would go. I was excited to see him for the first time, but come the day of the event, I couldn’t reach him. I felt like I was stood up. After a week from the Sisfire event, he sent me a message in Multiply apologizing for not being able to contact me. He assured me that he was there at the concert. Feb 17, '08 9:20 AM by walter for users sunburntandlonely and

hominosnocturna

sorry...i was there...i lost my fone kc....padala ko n lng number q ulit...sorry tlga....\m/peace 65


Feb 19, '08 10:26 AM by walter for

users appleboll, ayaskidoodledoo, bratchique, carlitobading, chariray, creampuff018, erwindomingo, ganjakrackz, goldencoupleetc, herx, itschaicoming, itslikethatgelli, kalogmommy, kareemaetherese, keisha4, kelseyyyy, lillegalamb, malenalegarda, nixnixnix, paulbucud, pinkdotevents, prettybarbs, princessmia26, raem, riamiranda3, sophiarecuenco, stephmaree, sunburntandlonely and hominosnocturna e2 bago q n number....f*ck tlga mga holdaper na yan.... ......hassle....wala n nmn 2loi laman fon buk q...txt nyo aq... .e2 number q...0905-3591301.... or kng yaw nyo gumastos sa pagtxt....send nyo d2 number nyo...... \m/ peace

And the rest was a series of finding and losing, and then finally being together. I’ve always thought our story could pass for Fiction. It doesn’t happen everyday that someone sends you a wrong message, you become friends, you lose that person, he finds you by chance, you lose him again, you find him again. I could think of it as normal if it happened in one place but ours was of seas apart. Doesn’t it bother you how purely coincidental it had been? They say that love should be between two people and God. I couldn’t agree more. It’s up to Him to bring you together, but it still is up to the two of you to make it happen. 66


No Two Sunsets Are the Same “What is Life? It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

F

rom the airport, I headed straight to St. Peter’s Chapel and arrived at exactly twelve in the morning of August 8, 2010. The night Walter left me in Davao; he assured me that we’ll be together on my birthday. It was a promise fulfilled and the story that broke the cliché of happy endings. I was hesitant to enter the chapel where he lay, dead. The room was well-lit. Like the lights were alive. I saw familiar faces, people I knew; most of whom were neighbours from Kamias. They looked at me intently--face to face with eye to eye questions. What were they thinking? What am I even doing here? I felt like I was Yuan, the girl from my father’s wake. Had I lost the right to see him now that I am labelled as an ex? But I‟d rather be called as the “recent ex”, or am I really? I suddenly felt like I didn’t belong and there was a sudden inertia of exhaustion. I couldn’t move. I wanted to leave, but it was too late. Do they want me to leave as well? Exactly a month before he died, Walter and I had stopped all means of communication. Just like how most good things come to an end, ours did too. It is said that absence could make the heart grow fonder. 67


But, sometimes it could also make the heart forget. Our relationship had gone to the point at which I had left everything all up to fate. I had no idea what had happened to him after. Did he start dating someone else? Did he even try to contact me again? Our last conversation played in my head like a bell resonating after it had been struck. I couldn’t help thinking that I was the one responsible for his death. I stood at the chapel’s entrance. I saw Macy. She looked at me like I was just “one of the visitors”. My friends went inside ahead of me. I needed an ocular of the place, first. Macy went up to me, gave me a slight push and motioned me to the coffin, a moral imperative I suppose. “Ayan o.” She said and then left. I looked inside the coffin. He was wearing black pants and a barong just like how I saw dad for the last time. There was no instant epiphany as I expected, and I still couldn’t verbally sort out the things that were going on in my head. All I thought of was how he lay there quietly, like how he used to sleep when he came straight from work. I had cried on the plane during the whole trip that I felt my eyes were too dry to squeeze out even a tiny bit of water from it. I talked to him that night. I told him how he never failed to surprise me on my birthday—on our first year he threw a party for my sorority and me, the next year he prepared dinner with my closest friends and now, this. I tried to wake him up like how I always did when we were still living together. I knocked on the glass several times but he just wouldn’t wake up. He wouldn’t even greet me on my birthday. I thought I had gone crazy for having done those but when you’re put in a situation like that, one would take every chance there was to get one last conversation, sense and logic were the last things that mattered. I guess everyone in the room didn’t know that. They looked like they were sorry. But none of it can make the pain go away. 68


This was one of the moments in my life when I would’ve rather had my ass kicked than have to deal with the pain that comes with being emotionally involved in something, or someone. There is just no tangible resolution to it. From the corner of the room, I watched closely as people passed by to take a glance at him. I wondered how each of them knew Walter and how they saw him as a person. I looked at the flowers, the Mass cards, everything from the biscuits that lay on the table, the cups of coffee left by people all over the place. I never thought I had to undergo this once again, and it came too soon. I never really felt like I had mourned enough over my father’s death and now, here it is once again. In the past, I would stare at him and have the feeling that he wasn’t there. This could’ve been a premonition that he wasn’t going to stay in my life that long. I should’ve known. I have always thought of him as alive whether it was on boring classes in school or when I dreamed at night. For months, I had been picturing of how our next meeting would be like and this was definitely far from what I was expecting. I wanted to see him on my birthday but I didn’t want to keep my hopes up on that so my daydreaming were mostly on our plans on my graduation and after it— how he would be there shouting my name as I marched with all the other graduates; and we’d go straight to the airport after to go back to Manila and get married as soon as possible whether it was civil or church-- private or not, we didn’t care; how we would name our son Hyan; and I’d be in law school after which when I graduate we will finally have our dream wedding at Canyon Woods. I looked at him one last time before going home to change my clothes. That was my worst birthday by far and it was the end of the many happy birthdays for I was sureI died with him that day. 69


The morning after my birthday, I decided that I wanted to see Kamias again. I entered the room where Walter had died. I felt as if time had stopped for eternity bringing me back to the time wherein we used to live there. I pictured how we used to be, how I lay on his king-sized bed as we spent hours on conversation, late night movie marathons, and drinking. I saw as he laughed at how I jumped up and down his bed like a bored kid and remembered the first time I finally gave myself to him. That room used to be a happy place, our escape from the bitterness of the world, a temple where we found peace after a long day from school or work. It was more than our escape, it was heaven. I looked at it again and saw the truth this time. It was far from how we left it when we moved to Davao. The walls were dirty, the floor was wet from rain the previous night, his clothes were scattered all over the room. It was horrible. I surveyed the room carefully. I saw his favourite picture of me on top of his drawer. There were cigarette boxes, receipts, knives of different shapes and sizes, towels, shoes, letters and there it was—the site where he had hung himself, the chair he used, and the holes he made for the blanket to hold on to. I stood at the very site where I imagined him to be standing that night when I lost him, in hopes that somehow I would feel his presence there, that he would be with me once again even for just a minute, a second. I waited but there was nothing. The longer I stayed there, the more I felt like the room was slowly losing what it had inside. One by one, the things in it, the memories, they were slowly moving out until the room had nothing but myself and I, was alone again. He was wearing his favourite Kobe Bryant jersey, the one we had bought at Trinoma, as he hanged there lifeless entangled in a blanket. It circled his neck four times; there was just no chance of survival. His feet 70


and hands were black as coal but his face remained fair, just a little whiter than his real complexion. I looked at the picture once but it seemed like the image had been tattooed in my head. Every time I close my eyes, I see him hanging there. And I tell you, it’s not a beautiful sight. When you’re not a whole to begin with, there is possibly no way for you to be broken. And so, I thought. Whenever I was with people, I had a strong exterior—not because I got strength form them. There was no strength, really. I had just mastered the art of keeping my emotions to myself. I felt tired and nothing surrounded me but all the things that I tired about. I felt like screaming. I had to explain his death over and over again, try to make it look as if I was in no way to blame for it. But I knew, I believed, that in one way or another; I was also at fault. My friends showed their sympathy by letting me read Manila Bulletin’s article on him. “It wasn‟t you, Lar”, they said. As I read:

MAN HANGS SELF OVER FAMILY PROBLEMS Manila Bulletin, August 6, 2010 FEELING TAKEN FOR GRANTED by his family, a man hanged himself and was found dead inside his home in Quezon City Thursday afternoon. Investigator PO2 Joycelyn Marcelo identified in her report the suicide as Walter Domingo, 28, single and unemployed, and a resident of 14 K-6th St., Barangay West Kamias. Marcelo said that Domingo was already dead when he was discovered hanging inside his room at 5:30 p.m. Domingo had a blanket looped around his neck with the other end tied to the beams of the ceiling. Police also found a suicide note inside the victim's room that read "sorry mamatay nako galit pa 71


din ako kay Macy (Sorry, I am going to die still angry with Macy!)" Macy was found to be the younger sister of Domingo and is currently in their home province. "Kasi ako yung matanda ako yung nata-take for granted nyo (I am the older brother and yet I am the one being taken for granted)," the suicide note also read. Jesus Garcia, a housemate of Domingo, was the one who discovered the body of the victim. Garcia told police that he had not seen Domingo come out from the room the entire day so he decided to check the victim. Since Domingo did not answer his calls and knocks on the door, Garcia decided to take a peek at the room window and was shocked to find his friend hanging. Garcia and the victim's other friend, Rodolfo Commandante, told police that they last saw Domingo alive when they drank liquor in front of the house on Wednesday. They recounted that Domingo, who was already drunk, left them and went inside the house where the victim started smashing glasses and plates in the living room. Garcia and Commandante tried to pacify Domingo but their friend who brandished a knife told them to leave him alone. Garcia told police that just last week Domingo and his sister Macy had an alleged fight over their shares in the earnings of the apartment units their family owns. Domingo also argued with Macy as to why their father bought her a brand new car, Garcia claimed.

(COPYRIGHT 2010 Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp., http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/manilabulletin/mi_7968/is_2010_August_6/hangs-familyproblems/ai_n54724887/)

I know I should’ve felt a sense of relief having read that Macy was the one being blamed for his death, but I couldn’t get over the fact that he never 72


mentioned me in his suicide letter. Never. I would’ve understood more if he wrote how much he hated me for our failed relationship, but not being written at all was another thing— was it really easy for him to forget me? Had he really? I tried to check my email accounts both in Yahoo and Gmail hoping that he had left me a message in my inbox. I found none. I wanted to see his phone thinking that he could’ve had an unsent text message to me saved in his drafts. I couldn’t get a hold of it as it was still with the SOCO. My questions were left unanswered. At around two in the morning, the people would’ve left the chapel already and no one was there but Walter’s family and me. I constantly found myself standing by his side, singing his favourite rap music, talking to him, and crying when everyone had already fallen asleep. I wanted to lie beside him, fall into a deep sleep never to wake up again. But I couldn’t. For three straight days, I had been wide awake—no naps; like as if he wanted me to just be there with him for the last time. It wasn’t until the night before the cremation that it finally got into me. I went outside the chapel. There were more visitors that night. I looked at the list of people who came to visit. I had never seen one so full-from first page up to the last. I marvelled at the sight and started counting the names. I came to a hundred, a hundred and fifty, and more. I stopped counting and looked at the people once again. Some were in quiet sobs; the others were exchanging their own stories of him. If only he knew how much had cared for him, then maybe, just maybe he couldn’t have taken his own life. That night, I opted to be alone so I could process the things that had happened, were happening, and was going to happen. I felt like my system was like a computer on “sleep mode”. I let the past days pass, like it was a blur. There was nothing I could grasp. I went to the parking lot, as it was the only 73


place there without people. I cried over dad, over him. I knew from then that I only have myself to live my life. On the day of the cremation, I wrote him a letter—a short letter that took me more than an hour to finish. I wanted to tell him a lot of things, but my hands shook as the pen went... Dear Beb, (I stopped. Do I really have to do this? People were starting to arrive. Soon enough, the chapel would be filled. If I continued, I know I’d just end up crying again. I wouldn’t want that. What’s wrong with me? Why am I even considering what other people might think? This should only be about us.) You had always been my saviour. From the days when we started out as text mates, progressed as friends, lovers, live-in partners, you had always saved me from everything that hurt me. When my father died, I didn‟t lose only him but I lost my family as well. They were just as shattered as I was, and had their own lives to piece together. (I took a look around. Tito Bingbong had just arrived with his wife. There were familiar faces too. I believe I saw them on the first night of the wake.) And then there was you, out of nowhere, offering me your whole self, your family, and everything that was yours. I remember the first time I looked into your eyes and saw my future there. But why is it that I have to face it now without you? So much for our dreams of a happy 74


married life with three kids, of a house in the South, of a peaceful family we would strive hard to have because we were never blessed with one. I look at you now, lifeless. I don‟t know what to do with these dreams. Please tell me what to do. I was not ready for this. I only need you to tell me that you want me to follow you, and with no hesitation, I would. (I felt my eyes become heavy, like life would soon seep out of it. I went to the comfort room, went inside the first cubicle on the left and continued...) I am sorry I wasn‟t enough to make you feel like life was worth living, if I had screwed up on a lot of things and when at times I lost the faith in you, in us. But this I tell you, never did I question the love we both had. I am sorry I failed to let you feel how much I loved you and how much I love you still. I know it‟s too late and I am going to miss you Bebeb. (I checked my watch, ten more minutes before the mass. I wanted to write “goodbye” but I couldn’t. It sounded so final. It’s the finality that I couldn’t take. So, I wrote this instead...) On this day, I leave my heart with you. I will see you soon. I love you. And may you finally, have the peace you have always wanted. Love, Lara On the final viewing, we asked that the casket be opened. I wanted to hug him one last time but I found 75


it difficult to. The air was filled with formalin. It was slowly taking over my lungs, as I inhaled it. I felt like vomiting as I pushed myself towards him. The fumes got stronger, but I wanted to say goodbye and be with him for the last time. I held his hand, looked for the scar caused by a fight we once had before I left for Davao. I wanted to make sure it was him. I saw it. It was really him. I pounded his chest. It sounded like wood—dry, hard wood. It was hollow. I suddenly remembered how he made me rest my head on his chest on nights when I found it hard to sleep. I felt the rush of memories coming, but it was cut short by the men in suits. They slowly pushed me and the rest of his family to the side as they wheeled him inside the crematorium. No one was allowed to go inside. We were asked to view him through a small window on the door as they placed his body on a big pan. The big oven was stationed right in front of the door with its opening facing the small window. We saw how the big pan was placed inside the oven. They threw in our letters, as well and then they closed the window. It was when I lost sight of his body that I felt he was really gone. It was traumatic. Sometimes I could still hear the sound of the pan as it hit the oven’s bed and then I remember everything. We waited four long hours for his ashes. We were invited to enter the room by then so we could put his bones inside the grinder. It was very hot inside the room, but I couldn’t take my jacket off. I still felt a certain kind of coldness within me. I looked at him again--small pieces of bones and ashes in white. It was a blinding sight. I couldn’t stare at him, or “it”. We had to wait another couple of minutes for the grinding. When it was finally done, they placed him in the urn. I took a little of him and I had carried it with me ever since. 76


I almost missed my flight back to Davao as a lot of mishaps came unexpectedly. I had lost my ticket and found no place to have it reprinted, there was no available driver to bring me to the airport, Tito Bingbong had a fight with his wife (another cause of delay), and when we were finally on our way to the airport; we got caught by the traffic police for being on the wrong lane. And I didn’t even care. Somehow, a part of me wanted to miss the flight as I was already tired from all the packing, unpacking and repacking. I wanted a place where I could, for once, just stay put and heal. I suffered so much from Walter’s death that I felt my own life had stopped. When my father died, I tried to keep myself as busy as possible. I involved myself in a lot of activities in school and in the sorority. I surrounded myself with people, a lot of people. It was my way of forgetting and moving on. I tried it again. I tried everything, but nothing worked— not even inaction. Playing dead became an instant hobby for me. Three years ago, I found myself dreading the nights as I was scared of sleeping. This time, it was the shock of awakening that I feared most. I felt empty with absolutely no sense of belongingness. The world had no warmth in store for me. The playing dead game I had with myself slowly started to take over me. First, I thought of it, and then I wanted it, until I finally believed in it. Instead of trying to move on, I tried to kill myself in every way—literally and figuratively. I would lock myself in my room, all day thinking I was already dead. I could go on a day without eating, like I was immune to feeling hunger. But there were times when mom would call me for lunch or dinner, I would lose my concentration, and I would realize that my senses were still working. I was still very much alive. I would then postpone my being dead for another day. 77


The people at work and even my friends noticed how dysfunctional I had been. They had been telling me to let it out, cry if I must so that I could finally move on. I chose to keep silent. I do not speak because every time I part my lips to say the things I really want, a sob escapes instead and I knew no matter how I try to explain how I was feeling, no one would understand how it really feels like and their sympathies weren’t enough to make me feel any better. I was afraid of accusing voices for I knew that in spite of our aspirations and beliefs, we are judged more for what we actually do. I was afraid of that. I was afraid I would be judged by them, who never really knew how Walter and I came out to be. I felt like I was in a place where the center of everything that hurts is just beyond my reach. I found my mom crying not because of what had happened to Walter but because of what was happening to me after. She would secretly go inside the room and I would hear her. She never talked to me about it. She gave me time to process my emotions, until I could let it go. Unlike the others, she never asked me if I was okay. Of course, she knew I wasn’t. I knew she understood with the kind of understanding I was depriving myself of. She too, had experienced this with dad and I just couldn’t let her experience it again with me. I just knew I had to stop. I saw my self packing once again but this time, I had nowhere to go. I’m still in search of that personal escape from the place where everything is hard. I watched the sunset from the glass door of the airport, and how in a few minutes, the sky was already in darkness. In more ways than one, these deaths were like sunsets, putting me in a world of darkness anticipating for the next sunrise but not knowing when it would come. No two sunsets are the same. I had different ways of coping, or have I really? 78


No Two Sunsets Are the Same