Monday, August 30, 2010

Gift-giving


A couple of weeks ago, my boyfriend Jt surprised me at my apartment with a box of Royce chocolates. I was studying for the bar examinations then, so I wasn't expecting him at all. Also, in the almost 3 years that we've been together, he'd never done anything like that, so it was a pleasant experience.

(Back story: He told me about an old date who used to surprise him in his apartment with flowers. I jokingly asked him why he'd never done anything like that for me. He said I've always told him I never liked flowers. I told him it wasn't that I didn't like flowers, in fact I love them, I just don't see why you'd give them as presents when they would die in a couple of days anyway. Hence, the chocolate, and the surprise. I think he thought of it as a compromise.)

So, anyway, there he was, and I practically squealed like a little girl (which, uhm, I normally do not do.) Many hugs, many kisses, to the probable embarrassment of my younger brother who lived with me, and his then visiting boyfriend. Still, who cares? It was a nice gesture in a relationship that had existed for practically forever (at least for me, my relationships before had a short shelf life.)

Anyway, I told this story to a few of my friends. My friend Chad told me that that was cool, but then segued into an annoying ritual a co-worker of his did with his boyfriend.

Apparently, the officemate loved to update his status in Facebook with mushy messages and public declarations of love directed to, of course, his lover. Which should be okay, except he did it everyday. They also sent each other flowers everyday, trying to top the bouquet the last one gave to the other, until the most current bouquet grew to three dozen.

My friend said that, though he thought they did love each other, these public declarations of affection were more of a show for other people, and not really a sincere effort on their part to show appreciation for the companionship one offered to the other. I agreed at first, but now I think I must qualify. It is probably both. They wanted to show appreciation, and they wanted to show off. But who cares? That is what happiness does. It makes you goofy and mad.

We also agreed that it's probably not a good idea to do something like that everyday. At some point, it loses its value, and the person whom you shower such presents would stop thinking of them as gifts, but would consider them as entitlements. Which would not be a good thing. It's one thing to show appreciation, and another thing to spoil.

Anyway, a few days later, Jt showed up again on my doorstep, this time with a loaf of banana bread from Cebu from this quaint bakery which I adore. I still appreciated the gesture, but there was less fanfare. I told him about the discussion I had with my friends, and he said he agreed. He confessed that he was debating in his head earlier whether to surprise me or not because he didn't know if I would appreciate the gesture as much. I told him he can surprise me anytime he wants, and that for both our sakes, I would be the appreciative boyfriend every time.


Photo taken here.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Meeting an Idol


In the second year of my Creative Writing Course, I got one of my writing idols as a professor. Huge guy, a popular columnist in a popular daily, who is probably a shoo-in for a National Artist Award 10-15 years from now. I loved reading his books; his writing style wasn't in any way similar to how I write, which tends to be introspective and (slightly) feminine. His was macho and brooding, and the images depicted strength and a certain heaviness.

His class was "A Survey of Contemporary American Fiction", and of course we studied "Catcher in the Rye," "The Great Gatsby", "To Kill a Mockingbird", among others.

(Interesting aside, the moment I read "Catcher in the Rye," I immediately thought, "Oh my god, I am Holden Caulfield!" The idea lost its luster when I learned that every other guy in the English Department thought the same thing. It's not fun to realize you're not that unique after all.)

And so I was eager to go to my first class, knowing that I would reach new heights as a writer under the tutelage of a great master. I mean, and here was what I thought, how can one not learn so much from a man as talented as him? The idea was impossible.

But then it wasn't. The first class was okay enough; we studied Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," where I disagreed in his assessment that it was a great example of a short story that employs the "twist" as a literary device. I said the employment of that tool has to be done gradually, with hints made throughout the story, in order to make the ending surprising but, ultimately, inevitable. I said Jackson used a sledgehammer, when she should have used a chisel. He said I wasn't reading the story properly.

And it wasn't that I disagreed with him all the time. It was just that I disagreed with him a lot: in his point of view, or in his giddy appreciation of writers I do not have the patience to read. But it did not in any way dampen my respect for his talent. It did, however, generate my disappointment. And I learned, not that long after, that disappointment almost always follows from meeting your idols. They can never live up to your expectations.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Idols are human too. In my case, I realize that is what makes them excellent writers.

Photo taken here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Not Alone


I was single when I met Allan on the dance floor of a popular bar in Malate. I was in the middle of my law studies then, and he was an agent in a call center. I noticed him immediately; he was tall, with long hair pulled back into a ponytail and eyes that reminded me of an anime character. I positioned myself beside him, and after introductions and some playful bantering, we exchanged numbers.

I saw him again later that night (or morning actually, I left around 3). The friend I had with me already went home. He walked up to me and we talked. One thing led to another, and I found myself inviting him to my apartment.

He was a great kisser, that part I remember. The rest I don't. That's because I fell asleep while we were making out apparently.

(I was a law student cramming 300-400 pages of text everyday. I was tired. Don't judge me.)

So anyway, I woke up, soft morning light coming through my thin gauzy curtains, and saw him sitting on my red sofa a couple of feet away from my bed. I immediately realized what happened, and apologized profusely. He smiled, and said he didn't mind. He liked watching me sleep.

With any other guy I would have laughed because the line was so cheesy, but he managed to pull it off. I fell a little bit in love with him already.

I asked him if he wanted to have breakfast. He said it was already lunchtime. I looked at my watch and saw that he was right. My face reddened. The whole situation was mortifying.

So we went down to my car, and headed to Shangri-la Mall to grab lunch in one of the restaurants there. He was very charming and easygoing that the whole date passed by in a relaxed and comfortable manner. It was already mid-afternoon when I realized how much time had already passed. I told him I needed to start studying for my classes tomorrow, and he said he understood. I walked with him to the nearest taxi station.

He asked me, quite bluntly, if what just happened (or not happened) between us is a one-time deal, or if I wanted to see if we can take our date further. I didn't know how to answer. I didn't know how to explain to him that, marvelous as he was, I didn't feel like I wanted to pursue anything more. He was lovely, but at the time, I wasn't ready. And after getting to know him, I didn't want him to become just a one-night stand, which was all I could offer.

And for some strange reason, I decided to tell him all that. And he said he understood.

***

I saw him again on the same dance floor a year later. We were both still single, and he was still as handsome as ever. I asked him how he was, and he said that his parents have asked him to move to New York with them. He thought about it, and decided to say yes. I said I was happy for him, and I was. He deserved to be happy. We spoke some more, as if we were friends who haven't seen each other in a long time, rather than strangers who had one date and an (almost) one night stand.

He asked me if I came to the bar with anyone. I said I came with a friend, but he left already. He met someone he liked and they went somewhere else. I told Allan I was alone in a dark, gay bar, which was kind of pathetic. And he said "Of course not. You're not alone. You're with me."

And I smiled and punched him playfully on the shoulder. How he can pull off those cheesy lines, I'll never know.

I never saw him again. But in my head he is always that boy who reminded me I was not alone.

Photo taken here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Like Dogs But Sometimes I Want to Kill Dog Owners


There was a day, not so long ago, when I found myself walking beside the row of commercial outlets next to my apartment building. I just had dinner, chicken fajitas with a side of salsa, and was pretty content with the world. This cute little boy with a gorgeous father (whose shirt said that he was a jiujitsu master) was distracting me. He was making weird faces, so I made weird faces back.

Then it happened. A soft, squishy sound.

I just stepped on dog poop.

And good lord, not even the hard, normal kind. It was watery and gross and well, just plain yucky. There was so much of it that my flip flops were rendered incapable of shielding my foot. I got crap on some toes.

I wanted to shoot the goddamn bastard who was walking his goddamn dog with an obviously upset goddamn stomach and who wasn’t civilized enough to bring a goddamn bag to pick up his own goddamn dog’s crap.

So I walked back up to my apartment and stopped by the parking area to wash some of the stuff off, fantasizing about ways I could get back at my obviously irresponsible neighbors.

There ought to be a law.

One fantasy involved me picking up the dogshit, heading to the perpetrator’s apartment, knocking on the door, and then saying, as soon as he (or she) opens the door, “Hey neighbor, I just realized you dropped something. Here’s your shit back.” Then I’ll throw it at him.

(I can set it on fire first for a more dramatic, theatrical experience).

Something similar happened again a few weeks ago, when JP and I stepped into our building elevator to head to work. This time a woman with a jittery, nervous smile was wrangling with a small, restless and frustratingly excitable dog, which was running all over the small space.

We didn’t mind them at first, and actually thought the whole thing was adorable, up until the small dog decided he wanted to make the elevator his own personal toilet, and started peeing all over the place. Perhaps it was na├»ve of me to believe that the woman would take responsibility for her dog’s, well, pee, but she instead just gave a quiet nervous laugh, offered us a small smile, and stepped out of the elevator as soon as she reached her floor. I wanted to throttle her.

We ended up going to work slightly smelling of dog piss.

I didn’t know someone had to actually publicly say this, but guys and girls, here’s the cardinal rule of pet-ownership: pick up after your pets. If you think that’s gross, or you can’t handle the responsibility, then don’t get a pet in the first place. You’re just giving all pet owners a bad name. And you’re making us non-pet owners want to strangle you.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mediation


We were in high school, a private all boys' school, and my friend Francis had a boyfriend named Jon. It was a weird set-up; a secret relationship, which everyone knew about. Perhaps it would be better to say that it wasn't a secret relationship; more an affair which they denied but everyone knew just the same. Like a showbiz affair, except the people weren't as famous.

I was sitting in a stone park bench one lazy afternoon when I saw Francis. He was flustered, and his movements were slightly manic. I didn't want to impose on his panic, or be part of it honestly, but he walked up to me and started to talk.

"I can't believe this is happening," he said, eyes slightly in tears.

"What?" I asked.

"Jon wouldn't talk to me anymore. I don't know what to do."

Now, being 15, and closeted, I really didn't know what to say. Also, the relationship he was referring to was supposed to be a non-existent one so I didn't know if I should admit I know or not.

"Uhm, are you ok?" I said instead.

"No!" The vehemence was surprising. " He wouldn't even talk to me." There were tears now. "If I knew he would break up with me, I would have hooked up with Jeff instead."

Francis had a lot of secret admirers. Which everyone knew about. The dynamics of high school gay relationships escape me, not being a part of it myself.

I knew I was going to regret saying this, but said it anyway. "What do you want me to do?" My head was really shouting "Damnit, damnit, damnit. You're such a doormat."

Francis, still in tears, told me, "Maybe you can talk to Jon for me."

Ok, so I have problems with talking with people, especially Jon in particular. First, I'm terribly, awfully socially awkward, which was at its peak in high school. Second, I didn't know Jon. I don't even take the time to say hi to him. Third, I've worked so hard to cultivate the image of a snob (in order to hide the feelings of a loser) to throw it away on something as silly as this. But no, instead I said something like this, "Ok."

Good lord. I was such a pushover.

So there I was, in the basketball court. There was a game ongoing. I saw Jon, who, incidentally, was with my classmate Percy. "This is going to be bad," I thought. Not only did I not know Jon, which would make the conversation awkward and embarrassing, I actually knew Percy, so there would be a witness to my embarrassment who can tell other people what happened. I looked behind me and saw Francis a few feet away, eyes expectant. I swallowed my pride and walked to Jon.

"Uhm, hi Jon. Hi Percy."

They looked at me in a weird way, as if I just decided to spit on them. But then Percy smiled and said hi. Jon followed a beat after.

I didn't know how to start so I said this, "Uhm, yea, Francis sent me to talk to you." Percy started whispering in Jon's ear. I had no idea what he was saying.

"Ah right," he replied.

"So, uhm, yea."

"Yea."

"Uhm, uhm, so, I guess you haven't been talking to him?" I didn't mean for that to be a question, but it became one.

"No, I'm just really busy these days."

"Ah, that's fair." And probably not true. No one's busy in high school. Everyone skipped homework except for the few smart ones everyone copied from. "So, you're not avoiding Francis?"

More whispering.

"No, no, why would I?" He smiled. A half-hearted one.

I didn't know what to say. It was too awkward, but I didn't know him enough to see if he was lying.

"Ok great, I guess I'll tell that to Francis then."

"You do that," Jon said. Then he and Percy went back to watching the varsity players play their practice game.

That was it I guess. No more to be said. I was just happy it was over.

I walked back to Francis. I saw him, still slightly manic, eyes expectant and glistening. I didn't want to be the one to break his heart so instead I said, "It's ok. He's just busy. He'll talk to you soon."

Photo taken here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Vajayjays are Important Too

I was having dinner at a very nice restaurant in Greenbelt with Jt and a Playboy (Philippines) model. I was pleasantly surprised by the girl's loquaciousness and intelligence; she even gave me tips on how to prevent the worsening of my eyesight. At some point, as conversations between adults usually do, the topic shifted to sex.

"Oh my god, can I just say..." she said by way of introduction.

"What?" I replied.

"Wait I have to tell the full story," she answered. "I used to date this guy, half European, half African."

"Ok..."

"And he's huge."

"Uh-huh."

"I mean, huge huge. Like my wrist, dude."

At this point, an image that I did not want to see popped into my head. I drank some water.

"So, you know, at the start of relationships where you're both like bunnies? Anyway, after one week of hardcore you know, I suddenly woke up with this tremendous pain in my...vagina."

I looked at Jt, whose forehead began to crease. Playboy model continued, "Apparently, I have UTI, at least according to my OB. And I asked her if size mattered and she said it doesn't. I was just worried that I might be overusing it."

"What's UTI?" I asked.

"Urinary tract infection. Ok, imagine my mouth as a vagina."

That wasn't really something I wanted to imagine.

"And the walls of my mouth, or the vagina, has bacteria right? Well, what happens is..." She looks around. "Think of this spoon as a penis. It scrapes the sides of the wall of the vagina right." She makes a scraping motion. "Then you move some of the bacteria around. If they go back, it's possible that they are already infected. So, that's how you get UTI."

Since my head was swimming with images of giant spoon-penises the size of wrists and mouth-vaginas, I didn't realize immediately that Jt was starting to look sick.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"That's so gross. I can't believe you're talking about vaginas."

"Well, babe, vaginas are important. I'm sure the heteros and lesbians can't live without it." Playboy model nodded in agreement. "Besides, that's where you came from."

"Yuck."

"Oh my god, you're so gay."

"Duh."

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Pitfalls of Dating the Perfect Guy


Jt is not the easiest person to date, especially if you're the jealous or insecure type (just so we're clear, I'm not). He's good-looking, (very) intelligent, and successful. Seriously, everything I've been looking for in a man, I found in him. And he loves me. What more do I want?

At the risk of sounding ungrateful, there are a few pitfalls to dating the perfect guy:

1. It magnifies all of your own insecurities.

I once told my friend that I just realized Jt is everything I ever dreamed of becoming. First, he's a lawyer (and a very successful one). Second, he's an opinion writer for a popular newspaper. Third, he does freelance writing for art magazines, where he interviews up and coming artists, as well as a few established ones.

Now look at me. First, I'm a law student working my butt off to pass the bar. Second, I have a blog. Third, I do freelance writing for random magazines which would take me.

I'm like Jt redux. The diluted Jt. His sidekick.

I'm not an insecure person in general, but there are moments.

2. Eating out can be a hassle, especially if he stopped telling you he knows people in the restaurant who used to court him.

Here's a typical conversation.

"That was a nice dinner," I would say.

"Yes it was," he'd reply.

"The guy next to us was pretty cute."

Pause.

"What?"

"We dated maybe once or twice."

Repeat.

Then he said, a couple of nights ago, that he didn't tell me there was this guy in this restaurant in Greenbelt that he used to date because I might get jealous. Of course not, I said. Then wondered which one it was, and if he was cuter than me.

3. You don't want him to talk about his exes. Then you do. Then you don't. Then you imagine random guys he probably dated and why he ended up with you.

I was at his apartment when I saw a picture of this very good-lucking guy on his bookshelf.

"Wow. Hot guy," I said.

"Oh that's nothing," he replied.

"Who's he?"

"Someone I dated before."

Eyebrow raised, I swallowed a little bit of my own spit. "And?"

"He moved back to Malaysia."

"What does he do?"

"He's a model."

"Kill me now and stab me in the gut," I thought. I looked at the picture, imagined the guy without his shirt off, and I started to hate myself.

"Oh, that's not a real job," I mentioned offhandedly, if defensively.

He smiled.

Then I thought, "Please, please, please, let him be an idiot. Or else I may have to tell Jt myself he could do better."

I wouldn't exchange Jt for anyone in the world, and I do love him, but we have our moments.

In all fairness, another friend did point out that Jt is 16 years older than me. "That's a pretty decent headstart," he said, and I agreed, but that's probably something I should tell in a different story.


Photo taken here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sometimes We are Lost


(4 days ago)

It was midnight, and we were eating Chinese food in a popular restaurant near Makati Avenue. I was treating you because I just asked you for a favor and you, very graciously, obliged. Perhaps it was the late hour, but we were speaking in an almost whisper.

"I just feel lost," you said. "That's what I feel. I don't know how to describe it. I'm just lost."

And you talked about your job. And your friends. And you said that when you were still in love, you didn't feel this thing. But the dissolution of the relationship made the lack in your life more acute.

"It's frustrating. I don't know how to deal with it."

***

(2 years ago)

Another friend. We were chatting over the net. He'd been accepted for a master's program overseas, under a very prestigious scholarship. He just broke up with his boyfriend. He told the latter he couldn't promise monogamy, and the boyfriend would accept nothing less. He was alone, in a foreign place, and he just learned that his ex had no trouble finding a replacement for him. He said (rather, implied) that he found solace and comfort in the countless glasses of red wine he was consuming; the type that came in cheap boxes. He wanted to go home, but he couldn't. There was regret, and loss. His need for a connection felt almost desperate.

And I imagined him, this soul, hunched over a keyboard, in the soft light of a computer monitor, looking for meaning in a life with a future that used to be so bright he couldn't see, now foggy and seemingly meaningless.

***

(4 years ago)

Another friend. He was across the table, talking about a job that was his life. And a boss who told him that he wasn't doing enough. The frustration was etched in every word that he spoke, and he found himself shedding tears he didn't want me to see. I held his hand, and told him this is just one day, in a life that has proven itself, time and again, more than capable of achieving the almost impossible.

"You are special," I told him. "And you know that. There is no need for this."

***

(9 years ago)

We were eating in a fastfood restaurant in Marikina, and you asked me why I've been seeing you so frequently lately. I couldn't tell you, because I didn't know myself. But you were an anchor in a time when everything felt so, transient.

Instead I said, "I missed you. And we've always had a connection. It doesn't happen to me often, so you'll have to forgive me if I tend to abuse the few friendships I've managed to cultivate."

And you agreed. And you never learned how much that meant to me.


For R.

For M.

For I.

Photo taken from here.

*Winner in the 2010 Philippine Blog Awards as one of the Top Three Posts of the Year.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why Beards are Not Important (And Also Why You Need to Listen to the Universe Sometimes)


I was smoking near the stage of a popular bar in Malate when I was introduced to Jt. I was with my friend Toph, who recognized Jt because they had a mutual friend. I made small talk and dropped a few lines I hoped sounded charming. We shared a cigarette. I found him attractive so I asked for his number. He had no problem giving it.

(Interesting aside. I initially thought Toph was introducing me to Jt because he thought we'd be a good match. I didn't realize he was actually hitting on Jt, and that he only introduced me because that was the polite thing to do. When I learned about it afterwards, I apologized, but Toph said he had absolutely no problem with it. He even said, now that he thought about it, that Jt and I would probably make a good couple. I still felt guilty, but that didn't stop me from going on that first date.)

I texted Jt, and we scheduled dinner the next day. I was late because I came from another party which I couldn't blow off. He said he didn't mind waiting, and raised the book he was carrying. We ended up in Kitchen in Greenbelt. I had chicken pandan, while he got tomato soup and a salad.

Here's the thing, I'm clumsy and awkward on first dates. I hate them with a passion. I tend to be too polite because I'm always afraid that I'd say something embarrassing. This, I think, makes me exceptionally boring.

Jt confessed later that he thought the exact same thing. He said he couldn't understand where that amiable person he met at the bar went. I told him that I was charming only because I was drunk, and that the best time to see my charismatic side is when I'm inebriated. Otherwise, he'd have to hang out with me more, and wait until I feel comfortable around him.

Notwithstanding the lackluster dinner, Jt asked if I wanted to have drinks. I said yes. A couple of glasses of wine later, I started to loosen up, and felt more like myself. We had a much better time, which led to several dates after the initial one.

At some point during that first date, I told Jt I've always had a thing for beards, which I found very attractive. Even the scraggly kind. Most people hate it because, when you kiss, it can be rough on the skin. I'm the exact opposite; I actually enjoy the sensation. It's like having a makeout session and a facial at the same time. Which means it's also a time-saver. What more do you want?

Anyway, a month later, I invited him to stay at my place for the weekend. We were getting serious, and I wanted to see if we can take it further.

Friday night, I picked him up at his office. I have this compulsive habit of rubbing my fingers on his chin while I'm driving just because I'm weird like that. I don't even realize I'm doing it sometimes. Jt didn't really mind, so the habit was reinforced. This time I realized something.

"You have stubble on your chin."

"Sort of. I think. Yes. I guess," he answered.

I looked at him briefly, narrowed my eyes, then stared back at the road. "Are you trying to grow a beard?"

Pause. "Yes."

"Why?"

"You said you find it attractive."

"Yes, but only on guys who can actually grow one. Yours is just some weird stubbly thing."

"I know. Beard-growing is not in my genes."

"Obviously. You don't need to do that. I already like you. You don't need to try too hard."

I smiled.

He smiled.

And then it hit me.

I'm in love with this guy.

My brain went into overdrive. He waited for me for almost an hour on our first date, just because he liked me. Notwithstanding our mind-numbingly boring first dinner together, he gave me a second chance. He lets me rub my fingers (which might have touched god knows what) on his chin, just because I want to. He knew he couldn't grow a beard, but he tried to anyway. For me. What more can you ask from someone?

This was it. Silver platter. Boyfriend on a plate.

I realized the universe was telling me something.

I told him I love him the Sunday after.

Photo taken here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

More Sketches of a Year Lived Next to a Red Light District


I was heading back up to my apartment when I encountered an old Arab guy and his Filipino girlfriend on the elevator. I was reading a book, so I didn't immediately notice that the old man was speaking to me.

"Korean? Japanese?" he asked.

"I'm Filipino."

He started to laugh, then began pawing my shoulders with his wrinkled hands. He was speaking in this weird language I couldn't understand. I backed away, while the Filipina took his hands and held it against his chest.

"I'm so sorry. He's drunk." The old guy smiled foolishly.

I gave her a half-smile. "No, it's fine. Don't apologize."

His hands wriggled out of hers and touched my shoulder. I backed off. She held him, and apologized again. I just shook my head, and hoped we'd get on my floor soon. She was smiling awkwardly, and I couldn't help but smile awkwardly back. My irritation melted. It turned into something I couldn't put my finger on until I looked at her. I realized then that I pitied them.

And I thought that it was the saddest thing, to be pitied.

***

One woman in particular broke my heart. She’s this dark-skinned girl who looks like she has Aeta blood, and who’s more than a little loopy in the head. When you pass through my red-light district, it’s almost impossible not to see her. She usually appears like she’s shouting at someone. Her hand gestures are huge, accompanied by facial expressions that would be comical if they weren’t so pitiful. She looked more like a caricature than an actual woman.

2am. I was in line at the 7-11 to purchase a lightbulb since the one in my bathroom conked out and I had to take a shower in complete darkness. Two foreigners were in front of me, while this crazy woman, was dancing, uhm, energetically near the entrance.

One of the guys said, "My friend thinks you're sexy. You should go do your sexy dance for him."

"Buy me a Coke!" she answered.

"Sure, if you do your sexy dance."

The girl shook her breasts and started chanting.

The guys laugh harder. I pay for my lightbulb and walk away, feeling uneasy. Perhaps it reminded me too much of kicking a person who's already down.

I was wearing my Persian-print pajamas. I didn't feel like changing into something more appropriate, and I figured I didn't particularly care if anyone saw me or not.

The bulb I bought wasn't as bright as the one I had before. I'd have changed it, but I figured I'm helping the world fight global warming by using less bright lightbulbs.


Photo taken here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

This Morning


This morning was easier
than yesterday morning,
or yesterday's yesterday morning.
I did not think about you.
Not your scent,
Or your touch,
Or your face.
There was just a vague feeling
Of hunger
and the aroma
of pancakes and eggs.

There was a sense
Of losing
something important.

But I brushed it off
and downed the misery
with honey and milk.

Sometimes there is victory
in forgetting
and defeat in remembrance.


Photo taken here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sketches of a Year Lived Next to a Red Light District


I was halfway through law school when I had to move from my first studio apartment to a smaller space right next to a red light district in Makati. I moved because I was renting my first apartment for an incredibly low price and when the contract ended, the unit owner got smart and demanded 50% more than what I was already paying. I couldn’t afford that, so I moved to a small studio in a fairly decent condotel.

Living right next to several prostitution dens offers a variety of experiences that I probably wouldn’t have encountered in my first apartment. Most of the rooms were used to service foreign tourists who wanted to avail of the entertainment the red light district had to offer. I once shared an elevator with a huge dark-skinned man with doe eyes and a heavy beard, and two young women. The girls were leaning on him, different sides, and I noticed his huge hands, separately stuffed in the back pockets of the girls.

They were talking in broken English. When I realized that the topic was bl*wj*bs, suddenly the wall was the most interesting thing in the world. The small space gave me no choice but to listen, flaunting as that trio did their plans for the immediate future. It might have been okay if they were a good-looking group, but they weren’t, so I stood there wanting to stab my eardrums until I bleed to death.

***

Another time, I was in the internet place downstairs. I hang out there when I’m suffering from an unusually strong bout of insomnia. It was very early in the morning, and the place was empty except for me and two girls.

One girl was shouting, “P*ta, nakita mo na ba yung video ni Hayden Kho at Maricar Reyes? (Wh*re, have you see seen Hayden Kho and Maricar Reyes’ video?)”

“Sino ‘yon? (Who’s that?)” said the other, in an equally loud voice.

“Jowa daw ni Vicki Belo. (Vicki Belo’s lover.)”

“Anong meron? (What’s in it?)”

“Nagkakant*t*n sila. (They were f*cking.)”

“Magaling? (Was he good?)”

“Maliit, parang daliri ko, pero magaling. (Tiny d*ck, like my finger, but he was good.)”

“San yung video? (Where’s the video?)”

“Teka, hanapin ko. (Wait I’ll look for it.)”

They never found it. They did, however, find Hayden Kho and Katrina Halili’s rendition of “Careless Whisper”. As one girl so exquisitely put it, “Mukha silang durog. (They look wasted.)”

***

Another conversation. Same girls. Same place. Same time. Same loud voices.

"Yung customer ko kanina, ang kulit. (My customer earlier was so annoying)."

"Bakit? (Why?)"

"Sabi ko na ngang masyadong malaki, hindi kasya, pinipilit pa nya. (I already told him it was too big, it won't fit, but he was forcing it)."

"Anong nangyari? (What happened?)"

"E 'di pinilit nya. Sabi ko bayaran nya na lang ako ng extra. (Well, he forced it. I just said he should pay me extra.)"

"Tama lang. (Damn straight.)"

Photo taken here.

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.

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