It’s a bit dim but there is a beautiful memory deeply lodged in the indented piazza of my childhood recollection.
Like all the other kids, I have godmothers and godfathers. One of them, my godmother, is a couturier. This explains why my clothes back in the 90s were specifically tailored for me. Her husband, on the other hand, is a photographer.
My mom normally commissioned their services each time there was an event in town wherein I was invited to participate.
One time, my mother left me in their house. I don’t remember much about that day but I do remember a long, tenebrous corridor lined with stuffed animals.
By stuffed animals, I don’t mean toys made of fabric and cotton. I mean actual animals, dead and preserved and striking in their haunting beauty.
The trick there, I noticed, was the chip of glass planted inside their eyes. This was what made all of them flare with life.
At the foot of the stair, there stood two white wolves. Their mouths were half-opened; the crinkles on their snout boasted its prominence. They looked as if they were about to jump and slaughter their prey.
At the top of it was a cat, curled and sleeping. Except the cat was stuffed, like the wolves so it was not sleeping but dead. There was an owl tethered from the ceiling, there were rabbits and guinea pigs and other species of birds and dogs, and they all inhabited that long, tenebrous corridor.
I do not remember if there was a window at the end of it, but I remember walking in that musty hallway, lined with dead, stuff creatures and feeling not a nip of fear but a burning fascination. I remember the creaks of the wooden floor and the echoes of my footfalls.
I was five years old, and at that tender age, I have discovered my love for everything that is strange and remarkable.
I’m about to say the surefire way to go against the very grain of expectation: the Young Blood publication tastes bland.
I know, I know. I ought to feel at least some pride in it. After all, countless essays and authors from 2014 to 2015 competed for a space in that anthology. Battle of the best-est and diversity where the weaker entries were trounced, as one of the Inquirer editors put it. I just… don’t.
It tastes bland, if anything. Insipid. Dreary. I don’t speak for the others — what I’m saying here is purely culled out of my own phenomenological standpoint. If it is a journal publication, I wonder if I would have felt elated.
There was so much energy during the book launch — everyone excitedly talked with one another. They introduced themselves, talked about their jobs and schools and course works, have their book copies signed by other authors. I was the reclusive freak who resides inside the glass case and who was given a keen and vivid vision to observe the outside events but not to fully partake in it.
I have always been this way, detached, in some way or another I guess. I feigned smiles in the photos; I nodded and readily offered insights to those who asked for it — but certain distances stood and stretched between me and the others.
Before, it was a wall — and certain people managed to dismember it and get past it. I have learned attachment, that basic human emotion that makes us vulnerable and incredibly human. I have developed fondness towards some individuals, and have injured myself along the way. Now, I have a glass case.
I was palpitating when I left the event. I was not thrilled. My mind was numb and unthinking and submerged in brackish water once more. I walked from SM North to Trinoma, lost my way, and strolled back from Trinoma to SM North and then West Ave. There was a gaping hole on my chest, an arid land that devours everything including my rattling bones. Perhaps one day, it will be kind enough to guzzle my self-doubts too.
I boarded a random bus and found the slow moving traffic not pesky but merciful. I watched the neon signs of Metro Manila businesses and read the endless lines of billboards and finished a book of Margaret Atwood. In my isolation and fragmentary existence, felt solitude and tranquility.
The day after that I was happy. I met my old friends, people I have not seen for 2 to 5 years. We visited strange places and had meaningful conversations. We served as witnesses to the sufferings of the patients in a public hospital ward and the birth of a wedding bow in Manila cathedral.
We talked about achievements and past mistakes, exchange gossips about illicit affairs and risque activities of those we knew. We discussed social issues, argued a bit, like before, and practiced the methods of Zen, like now.
Maybe one day, I would be able to open this glass case. Maybe one day, I won’t. I hazard that life is a ceaseless cycle of recovery and damages and I have decided to roll on with it, patched as I already am.
My few, genuine friends, with their rawness and sincerity are worth it anyway.
We’re literally verging on death and no one even bothered to properly orient us on what it would be like.
There’s the West Valley Fault, ready to strike a fatal blow that will make buildings crumble and set an entire city afire. There is always the Tokhang, a ruthless method that could practically annihilate and gun down anyone through gossips and word of mouth. There’s the brewing tension between the North Korea and the US, the possibility of nuclear war and bioterrorism breathing at the back of our necks.
Earlier today, a friend of mine witnessed an accident. A death, I hazard. Broken bones and crumpled body. A loud explosion, a worker coming face to face with electrocution. He fell from the roof of the footbridge, she said, near Session road. Mortality is easing up on us, she said.
So before any of these befall on us — any of these dooms — as it inevitably will, I would like to ask you to go out with me. We’ll go anywhere, anywhere at all. Everywhere, nowhere, wherever we want. We’ll talk and dance and scream and exist all at once. We’ll build bonfires and watch the stars and roll under the moon beams and in silence and anticipation, we will wait for the arrival of the morning light.
We will savour the last sliver of our days and we will hope. We will carry the splinters of our bones and we will find our way out of all these harms, into sea mists and sunsets in indigos and golds. We will never cease hoping. We will go on living and with each breath we draw against everything that happened to us, each beauty we make out of our sorrow and uncertainties, we will mock this grey, grey world.
Lately, all I want to do is stare at the ceiling and let my consciousness descend in the cellar of perpetual dreaming.
It happens, I guess. Friends vacate their spaces and walk quietly out of your life. Without warning, and sometimes, when we need them most.
All those times you’ve spent together, those nights you’ve skipped sleep just so you could drag them out of their loneliness before sunrise, all those they’ve buried in the farthest corner of their memories, to be left forgotten and cold like ordinary days.
I will let you be. It’s your prerogative to leave. I cannot make you stay, I can only give you a piece of myself as a parting gift — last cup of brewed coffee, a sleepover, random snack, crackling laughter, secret language, and a silent, desperate plea for you not to decamp and disappear.
If you do, do something for me, please? Walk away without noise. Leave a breath of your memory under my pillow where my hand would find them in the morning. Let them live on, in my mind, as you were, as we were.
I will plant trees and seek solace in the uninhabited forest of our bygone days. The olden times will no longer be drifting in exhaustion. In each leaf, I will build a cabin and a home and I will remember the time when you never asked questions, when you never judged, and when you were just kind.
I will remember the look of understanding in our eyes as I unraveled my thoughts and bled out. I will remember, always, when you reassured me that it is human to be vulnerable.
One day, we will find a way out of this harm and regain a kinder hope. And perhaps, in an unloved hinterland, a miracle will happen and the rain will dance, dearly, in barefoot.
Went to the beach today. The place was packed with merry yells and warm sand, gathering dusk and sea foam, last glimpse of the red sun and late afternoon salt water. I walked barefoot on the shore and conversed with people and savoured the wind and read a bit. Oh, the stubborn way we refuse to surrender hope and insist in transforming the pains of this bleak, bleak world into candid portraits of ecstacy.
It’s April. A year ago, I was in Los Baños manically writing my manuscript. Life was neatly laid out — the goals for the next month, the thesis sections that needs to be filled, the diagram of existence that needs to be followed, all idealism burning afire.
Days used to be banal, until the collosal blow of everything hits you hard. Suddenly you are surrounded by weddings and childbirths and deaths of people close to you — the blend of excitement and loss passing through you and leaving cracks.
And there you are, on the bed somewhere, watching the soft, innocent gleam of the morning sun. The ball of your life rolls beside you, patched and pulsating, like the stubborn beatings of your wandering heart.
Another day? It asked.
Another day. You answered.
The inside of my mind is filled with murky water. The scribbles of my thoughts are submerged in a sullen, silver mist. Sometimes I wonder if human existence is condemned to lead a life of phenomenological isolation.
And so we collect memories as we tread on, our days a montage of choices and sacrifices. We savour the strange contour of the mountains, we laugh here and there. We inhale the cold wind, love the innocent mornings, deliberately seek tranquility, and crave for our bygone childhood.
There are things we cannot share, and there are those we can but can never be understood. Still we hold on and nurse our hope — against sorrow and death and anything.
And this is what catches us when we fall.
I think the best relationship I had with someone is the one I shared with my last roommate. It’s almost non-existent.
So, we inhabited the room for more than 9 months — but we never talked to each other. We never asked each others’ names. We never asked how our days were, the progress or backlash in our acads and work.
We never dined together, maybe noticed the slight changes — haircut, slump shoulders — but never said anything about it. We never offered compliments, and we never offered comfort. We never talked, we never listened. We treated each other invisibly, but not in a cold, harsh way.
She occupied the bed near the door; I, the one near the window. Her desk was filled with make-ups and soaps and lotion, all items meticulously arranged and organized. Mine, well, you can imagine the chaos — piles of readings and books, crumpled scratch papers, a pinwheel, old pens, acrylic, brushes, pallette etc.
Her bed was always made, her bedsheet smoothed out, her blanket folded. Mine, not so. Maybe I managed to make it twice in a year but that was the best I got.
She would leave in the morning, and she wouldn’t bother to wake me up. I would arrive in the evening and find the lights off, and I wouldn’t bother to turn it on. I would just quietly gather my readings and laptop so as not to wake her up, and I would head to the second floor and read and work till the dead hours of the night. I would return to our room at 5 AM to sleep. She would begin her day a few minutes after.
We silently recognized each others’ needs and preferences, and we never tried to invade or alter anything.
The kind of association that we had (if any) may sound alienating to a normal person but it was actually comforting, and possess tranquility in its own right. The way we never attempted to breach the rims of our privacy, the way we never cross each others’ existence despite our close proximity in a very intimate space — bedroom. We only shared geniality, and that was all.
So there we were, in one room. Her with her cellphone; I with my books. We never talked, never even asked each others’ name in the course of our time. There were no expectations between us. There were no disappointments either.
Went to the beach again today. In my better state, I would have jumped straight into the ocean and reveled in the current and folds of the undulating waves. I would have screamed in pure delight.
Ruefully, I am in no better state — I have not been for a while now. So I walked and walked and walked under the scorching sun.
I wanted to see the pine woods, and I did. It was brimming with people, hundreds of them, drinking and gawking and submerging everyone in sheer noise. Their tents were scattered randomly, everywhere.
The tranquility I’ve expected was crushed by morbid disappointment.
I feel so disconnected and isolated, and often, when I mingle with others, I find my body exhausted; my thoughts drifting in a far, misty place.
But I do — I do — crave the company of those I can be open and raw and honest with, without inhibitions and walls and rehearsals.
I’ve been reading the journal of Sylvia Plath and the letters of Vincent Van Gogh, and I find comfort in each entry.
I can almost hear the raspy voice of Vincent, his gasps and spaces in between words; I can almost feel the strain in the hands of Sylvia Plath. I can almost see the English countryside, the symmetry of French architecture, the wheatfields and downbridge of Provence and Antwerp.
Suffice it to say I feel less lonely — and less alone. This is the beauty of arts, I suppose, and it’s magic too. It burns, after all these years, from generations to generations, in all space and in all time, and it accompanies us in moments when we feel so isolated.
So, in the hour of our heartbreaks, we stubbornly defy the dastardly acts of this world with all the love that we can master. We refuse to surrender hope and insist in painting our candid portraits of merry yells and growing souls.
I almost accepted defeat, almost, but I realized that the brave thing and the right thing is to struggle, especially in moment like this.
So I will write and write and write — not for me but for anyone out there who may be bleeding and close to giving up and in dire need of a company, of a friend, who understands.