Saturday, August 14, 2010

Death and High School


The first time I met Allan, we were sophomores. It was also the first time I met Ron, who would eventually become one of my closest friends. That year was a year of many firsts for me, but high school being high school, it wasn’t easy.

Allan was an interesting guy, funny but insecure. Our relationship settled on that gray area between acquaintances and friends; we joked around each other, but we were never close. Ron knew him better, and they shared many intimate details about their lives and dreams.

One memory stands out among the collage of images that form in my head whenever I think of Allan. It was free period, and we were joking in class. We didn’t have a lot of homework, so we were rowdier than usual. Allan walked up to me. I expected the usual banter, so his bullying came as a complete surprise.

Bading ka ‘no? (You’re gay aren’t you?),” he said, giving my shoulders a little push. I’ve just gone through a growth spurt, so the bullying surprised me on two levels: first, because I thought we were friends; second, because he was a head shorter than me. If it wasn’t so out of the blue, I could’ve kicked his ass.

Instead, I kept my mouth shut. This was a new experience for me, and I had absolutely no idea how to react. How do other people deal with it? I remember Ron once hit a guy because the guy said something Ron didn’t like, and Ron is around two-thirds my size. I wanted to hit Allan, but I felt paralyzed and unsure.

I’ve been hiding in the closet for so many years that the idea that someone may uncover my secret terrified me. And here he was, declaring the truth for all to hear. I wanted to deny it, but I knew it was true, and that I’d only sound insincere. I sucked it up and kept quiet.

The bell rang. I spoke with Ron about the incident, and together we developed several ways to exact revenge. Ron’s more of the physical type, he said he probably would have hit Allan if the latter did that to him. I said I’d rather be subtle, let’s destroy his reputation.

We were only fantasizing really. I don’t doubt Ron would have hit him, but I probably wouldn’t be able to go through destroying Allan’s reputation. It would weigh on my conscience too much. Besides, I had the sinking feeling he was bullying me to impress his friends.

Lunchtime, the same day, Allan went up to me and apologized. I was still with Ron, still cooking up ways to destroy Allan, and here he comes offering an apology. I was angry of course, but I also understood. High school can be hard on those who refuse to go with the tide.

***

We were seniors, and Allan had to repeat a year because he got sick. It was Ron who told me.
“Allan’s dead. He killed himself last night. The last person he spoke to was his sister. He tied a belt around a beam in his room, and hanged himself.”

I didn’t know how to react. More than a year had passed since I last spoke with Allan, so I forgot about him. The lukewarm friendship we shared had easily dissolved into a fading memory. I knew he had a new set of friends now, but I didn’t know anything else. No one was sure why he committed suicide.

Ron asked if he can hitch a ride to the wake. I said yes.

***

The story spread through school as fast as one would expect with news this big. Rumors sprung like mushrooms. “It was because he got caught with X-rated magazines and alcohol during a school retreat,” someone said. “His father beats him up regularly,” a sophomore insisted. “He’s secretly gay,” said another.

The last one struck me, not because it was true, but because I understood why a closeted high school student would want to kill himself. I knew, because I thought about it myself. I know that that part of my life made me who I am today, but actually living that part was a nightmare. Being misunderstood is only fun in hindsight, not when you’re being alienated at that specific point in time when your peers’ approval is as necessary as air, or water.

Someone once said that adolescence is the worst because that’s when you are at your ugliest, in that period where it was the most important thing for you to be your prettiest (or handsomest). It was a joke, but it was also true. My friend Ioanis (who studied in the same high school) told me once that he never understood why I considered myself an outsider.

That’s because I was, I told him. Ioanis had already gone through the process of coming out, and though he lived in the fringes of the high school hierarchy, he had friends there, who knew him and accepted him. My secret forced me in a place similar to the relationship I had with Allan: a gray middle ground that offered few opportunities for real friendship. I was still lucky. I found two.

I wondered what secrets Alan kept. What drove him to that final, desperate act? I remember the boy, always funny, his words always tinged with an unsure quality, and I realized I knew nothing about him at all.

***

We’re at the wake, Ron and I, sitting a few rows away from the coffin. Ron pointed out the father; a short, stocky man in a black Lacoste shirt, eyes red and glistening with unwept tears. We sat for a few moments, unsure what to do. We decided to approach Allan’s dad to offer our condolences.

He was exceedingly gracious, with a voice that was much more composed than what his face belied. He asked if we were Allan’s classmates. I said yes, but didn’t elaborate further. I didn’t think it was appropriate to bring up the fact that his son had to repeat a year.

He reached for this piece of cardboard that stood on the coffin, and showed it to us. Proudly he said it was a poem written by his son, for an English class. It spoke of love, and friendship, and understanding. In that context, a father obviously holding back grief for a dead son, I wanted to weep. Ron was unnaturally quiet. We said it was a nice poem, and sat back down.

Ron was fidgety, and because I couldn’t stand it any longer, I asked him what the matter was.
“You know that poem?” he asked. “I wrote that. I showed it to Allan one time and I never thought about it until now. I can’t believe he passed it off as his own.”

I was stunned by the complete absurdity of the situation. “Well, keep quiet about it. I don’t think now’s the best time to accuse someone’s dead son of plagiarism.” Moments later, I started to find the whole thing funny. “You know what? Think of it as a parting gift. He was our friend after all.”


Photo taken here.

26 comments:

  1. eep. when you're old and you die, it's just like reaching a port. but death at a very young age, it's a shipwreck. high school's really harsh to closet queens. sad story.

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  2. We find realizations in the most morbid of ways.

    Mortality.

    Suicide.

    Pressure.

    Societal Discrimination.

    All facts, all possible.

    All have corresponding resolutions, though.

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  3. This is a sad story. I'm so sorry that you lost your friend. :(

    On the brighter side, thank you for stopping by my blog. :)

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  4. Highschool- grades, clicques and peer pressure. didn't enjoy it.

    death by plagiarism lolz

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  5. just wanna say I enjoyed this piece. I'm fast becoming a fan of your blog!

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  6. @arkin: good metaphor.

    @guyrony: we do indeed.

    @meagoo: your poopie post was LOL. :-)

    @orally: I enjoyed some aspects of high school. There were moments though, especially the earlier part, that was difficult.

    @anonymous: thank you. :-)

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  7. that's why i always say, college is the best part of my life, not high school. i was straight then (late bloomer), so i didn't have any issues than studying and being popular (epic fail at that). hehe.

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  8. It is during high school when we find ourselves, and over college we create our reality based on that definition discovered during high school.

    In many ways, I am still the way I was back in high school.

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  9. @firewomyn: I liked high school, in my own way. College taught me (life) lessons as well. But that's another story I'll tell another time. :-)

    @red: me too. sometimes.

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  10. some misteries in life are made during suicide

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  11. You're Filipino? Oh I am too! I would never have expected that. What you said about adolescence is like an unspoken but well-known maxim. We knew it by heart, but was not really conscious of it. So in high school, we go against our better judgment. As much as I want to say I don't care about my peers in high school, it was a total lie. I wanted to be accepted. Allan had the misfortune of dying without the clarity of who he was as an individual. Forever lost in that gray area, in a quite different perspective.

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  12. @Pragmatic: Yup. Born and bred. :-) Always cool to find another Filipino in cyberspace.

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  13. How come i just read this now? Very great post FC. :)

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  14. This is heartbreaking and true world wide. I wouldn't relive adolescence for anything! There must be some way to make it easier on 2010... shouldn't there be?

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  15. @The Tame One: I hope so. But I sometimes think adolescence, with its accompanying hardships, is just something we all must get through in order to really know ourselves.

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  16. This is a lovely lovely piece. Quite sad... And probably a rather common occurrence unfortunately.

    Also, thanks for stopping by my blog =]

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  17. This is just so sad. Yes, highschool, for me, was the best and worst part. Best, coz my HS friends will be my friends forever. Worst, because of the denial of my being gay and being forced to come out. Pero tama ka, ang mga napagdaanan nating iyon ay yun din ang nag molde sa kung ano man tayo ngayon...

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  18. @Hi: Salamat sa pagbasa at pagkomento. At natutuwa akong naniniwala at may nakukuha ka sa mga sinusulat ko.

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  19. wow, this is very moving and almost brought me to tears then the ending brought back my smile! Thank you for posting this one..I enjoyed reading it!

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  20. I always told my daughter bullies were insecure and jealous and they do it to hide their insecurities.

    Sadly your friend was insecure in his own skin and bullied you once. But all along he was suffering inside and felt he had no other way out and took his life. Such tragedy!
    Thanks for sharing.

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  21. Part of life, I guess, that we have to suffer to have such insight.
    The stolen poem - truth is always stranger than fiction.
    Great blog. Just found you, thanks ;)

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  22. geoff granfieldMay 9, 2012 at 5:43 AM

    hi von, interesting recount of our saint augustine days. although i felt some trimming here and there in your story, it was an interesting revelation nonetheless.

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  23. Sad story, and yes school and most of society can be kind of cruel to people who are considered different I think.

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