The best thing about studying in the East Coast is the fact that it has four seasons, Kim gushed, practically a poet (poetess) in how she described the changing leaves from green to yellow (or maple) to brown (or tan) as the summer gives way to fall; and then winter when everything is white and still, as silent as the stars.
I stare at Kim, at her enthusiasm, her utter love of this place called New England. I am fond of New England, and found Connecticut to be a most delightful place. But I cannot love it, hard as I want to. My heart belongs to somewhere else.
It was our first Christmas together. I couldn’t yet put a label on what we actually were. I would introduce him to my friends as Him … Jonas. No labels, just his name.
“Sooo …” Manda, a classmate asked. I had to attend the college reunion, if only to show my support for Kim, gregarious Kim, a member of the organizing committee. “So Jonas and you have been together how long?”
Manda was one of the most prolific gossips in our class. I had to watch my tongue around her.
“Kim introduced us last February.” I said carefully.
Jonas being Jonas had that small smile on his face. Which I found both adorable and irritating.
“Really!” Manda exclaimed. “Wow! I’m so happy for you both. And here I am 23 years old and still NBSB.” Giggles. Sometimes Manda could be so sympathetically pathetic. I had to laugh with her.
“Oh God. I hate reunions.” I told Jonas when we managed to escape from my college crowd to a secluded area of the multi-purpose hall. I was having a bottle of Tanduay Ice, while he was nursing his iced tea. Jonas was adamantly against having alcohol when he knew he had to drive.
“I actually think it’s fun. I enjoyed meeting your friends.”
“Which of them? Manda?”
He nodded. “She’s ditzy, but she’s nice. We should introduce her to somebody. She seems to be fixated on her having no boyfriend since birth.”
“So we’re playing cupids now, huh? Who among your friends would you suggest can take on Manda?”
“I think Eric will like her.”
“Isn’t Eric like … gay?”
Jonas stared at me for a second then laughed as if I just made the funniest joke in the world. “Honey … Eric is not gay. He just dresses … more fashionably than other guys. But he’s definitely into girls.”
The first time I met Eric, he was wearing a fuschia Ralph Lauren top and Guess whitewashed jeans that just hugged his ass. What could be gayer than that? “How do you know?” I asked feeling lighthearted, I didn’t even correct Jonas for the endearment he used.
“Eric uhmm … we uhhh … I had to accompany him once to a KTV and … no he’s not gay.”
“So you accompanied him to a KTV.”
“Yup. There were a lot of us. I think it was Eric’s birthday.”
“And so what did you do?”
“The guys each had a GRO and … you know …”
I could see that this was making Jonas uncomfortable. Maybe he was careful about saying something that would make me upset or jealous. But I was just amused.
“So they each had a girl … And you?”
“Well … ”
I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing at his discomfort.
“So was it fun?” I had to ask.
“Not as fun as drinking this iced tea and being with you.”
The lights were not so dim that I couldn’t see the most tender look on his face. And I knew it was for me. I stopped laughing. Suddenly, I was the uncomfortable one.
So that was maybe 6 Christmases ago. Not a white Christmas. More of a smog-filled one. We had to navigate the EDSA traffic to reach my apartment after the party. The stifling heat of the metro was only momentarily relieved by amihan winds that blew into the car as we passed through Roxas Boulevard.
I have to admit that I was a bit tipsy during the ride home. Yes, 2 bottles of Tanduay Ice could do that to me.
Jonas, the ever cheerful driver, had to park by the Baywalk because I felt that I really really had to throw up. He rubbed my back, as mortified me hung my head before the Manila Bay. Thank god, the vomit did not come. And thank god I had a very reliable and sympathetic … friend to take me home.
So yes, he kissed me.
We were standing there, me leaning against him for like eternity. A lot of things can happen in an eternity: like he can kiss your hair, then your forehead, then your nose, your cheek and then your lips are touching and then time has no meaning.
We were alone along that long stretch of coconut lined road and the ocean was still and the night was full of stars. There were no clouds at all.
And that is why I can never love this perfectly beautiful New England Christmas as much as I love that imperfectly balmy-cool Christmas in Manila.