Posts by manangbok

Thirty something who is still groping around finding her place in the world. I thought that by the time I'd reached 25, I'd know what my life is all about but I was wrong.

Polarization

What worries me is that these days we are often “preaching to the choir” as the idiom goes.

Do our words matter if we only end up reinforcing convictions that are already stubbornly rooted; and alienating those whose outlooks we want to want to win to our side?

What is the point of being right if we end up being more divided anyway?

We are so like this Juan Luna painting … a bunch of gladiators killing and torturing each other. Do we really know who (or what ) the enemy is?

****

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

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Killing Time with A Blank Page

She has lost her voice. Which is what usually happens when she is concentrating on doing this profession that she had trained on.

The truth is: she is an excellent faker. She had convinced everyone that she is a competent doctor even if the reality in her heart makes her break in sweats every time she gives advice or performs a procedure on another human being.

There are a ton of paperwork attesting to her qualifications. Diplomas, certificates, letters of recommendations. But what do they prove? For her, nothing really. But they were her key to getting this high-paying job, her passport to leaving her life of financial drudgery.

She has always detested poverty of the material kind. Of course, there is a part of her that romanticizes poverty… the virtue of sacrificing a cushy life for a principled one — and all that BS. She appreciates having a full stomach; the capacity to buy the clothes, accessories and gadgets she wants;  even the presence of a hot shower in her flat. A part of her, though, wishes that she had been born with more backbone. So that she can withstand the inconveniences and indignities of standing up to her dreams.

She had given up dreaming (she thinks). Mostly because she lacks the time. Typing away random nothings on her laptop seem like a luxury. Stories used to come from her “random nothings”. But one has to be practical. Her stories have never brought food on the table. They have never helped her pay her taxes or given her a mode of transportation. Certainly, they have made her happy — the same way sex makes one happy, the anticipation, the dance towards an orgasm, but …  after one is done, after one types THE END in Microsoft Word, what then? “Post-coital ennui” — if there is such a  term describes her writing much more than it describes her sex life.

She used to treat her stories like her children. Each one a product of her dreams, characters and images lovingly nurtured in her head. She used to think that writing is her reason for being; much more than medicine, much more than her non-turbulent lovelife. Putting words on paper (or typing them on a word processor)  has always made her feel connected, less alone; a part of the universe and all its mysteries.

Writing has always made her feel … alive, renewed, reborn.

In fact, she once made a poem that boastfully claimed that she had given birth to herself. (She probably would not have written that poem if she had actual physical kids. Human progenies tend to make their mothers consider them as the ultimate performance of her life, beyond any other creative endeavor. A singer may have made the most beautiful song in the world; but if she had a child, she would consider the human as far more important than the other product of her dreams. Which is, maybe correct, depending on how one looks at it. After all, a human progeny has the capacity to make other progenies … a song will never beget another song.)

Acts of creations are tricky things. Sooner or later, they will find their own agency. And when that happens, the god that created them is fucked. One can never have one’s life again when one has a child. One is forever bound to that entity which one has created. (So, there is a part of her that pities, or empathizes with God — the one that created Everything.)

***

The problem with her is that she took Khalil Gibran’s poem too seriously. Specifically,  the line that says: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself … etc etc

Seriously! She believes that. Between believing in the Holy Trinity and that poem, the latter would win hands down. She feels more affinity towards this poem than towards any genetic imperative to propagate her chromosomes.

The irony is that she specializes in a field that helps women propagate their chromosomes. So it is always an awkward question when practical strangers ask her why she does not have a child (as if it is any of their business). To avoid long-winding explanations, she often lies and says that she and her husband have not been married very long (in the grand scheme of things, considering that the Universe is 5 billion year, her 9-year marriage is not that long.) Or she would be flippant and say: God has not willed them to have any kids yet (that reason would usually shut anybody up — nobody wants to argue about God’s will). Or she would say jokingly that she is too lazy to go through the efforts of having a kid.

In any case, today she has no genetic progeny and no literary opus to her name. What she has are a ton of books; a  collection of mishmash in her hard disk drive; a bunch of letters after her name;  a decent and steady salary (something that she can pat herself on the back for); and a patient, and kind husband who is the love of her life.

Taking all that into account, maybe she has not done so bad after all.

But she still, as yet, has to find her voice. She has to find it or else she will be that drowning person groping for her life-vest, flailing and gasping in the middle of the Pacific ocean.

She has to find it, a voice — her voice — otherwise what will be the point?

from pinterest

 

 

If This is A Filipino

Jose Rizal is the Philippines’ national hero. Some say he is an American-invented hero, but I still believe that the honors accorded to him are well-deserved. He died for love of country — which is probably a hell of a lot more that I can muster. He is a nationalist and a polymath and his work and whole life is something that a lot of  of his countrymen can emulate. Sad to say, they do not. (photo from Wikipedia)

 

Jewish writer and concentration camp survivor, Primo Levi once wrote a book called “If This is A Man”. The title came from this poem:

You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who does not know peace
Who fights for a scrap of bread
Who dies because of a yes or a no.
Consider if this is a woman,
Without hair and without name
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter.
Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children,
Or may your house fall apart,
May illness impede you,
May your children turn their faces from you.

 

It is a heartbreaking poem, for it compares a free person from someone who is locked up in a concentration camp. The most powerful words in this piece are these: “meditate that these came about”.

***

Why am I writing about concentration camps and that archaic event called holocaust (which is being denied by a lot of people who disagree with Israel’s occupation of Palestine — holocaust did happen, my dears, which is not to say Palestinian occupation is a fiction, those two are not mutually exclusive; it is heartbreaking when victims close their eyes to the humanity of others) ?

The Philippine president once said that it’s okay to kill drug addicts and criminals because they are not humans. It is an outrageous thing to say; but which Filipinos (or at least the 16 million who voted for Duterte; note: there are currently over 100 million Filipinos) totally love.

They love the president, despite his bad mouth, shoddy accomplishments, crooked and squabbling deputies, and his very vocal support for violence to solve the country’s problems (number one of which is drugs — according to him, whether that is supported by facts is another matter).

Filipinos love him — the recent survey shows over 80% approves of his presidency.

They love him and his policies enough to wish other fellow Filipinos who disagree  total ill will. For example, the social media is replete with Duterte supporters who will post statements that you deserve to be raped or killed or your family massacred if you point  out how morally wrong the president’s pronouncements are.

***

Which brings me to the title of this post: If this a Filipino …

…. would I want to be one?

…. would I be proud to call a country that produces such people as my own?

…. would I want to go back?

****

What is frustrating, what makes me feel more sadness than anger towards fellow Filipinos who voted for Duterte is how willing they are to dig their own graves.

Talking to them is like talking to an addict who consciously knows that it is ingesting poison — i.e. Duterte supporters’ willingness to sacrifice innocent lives for this so-called war against drugs — when someone loses one’s moral fiber by supporting a policy that reduces innocent human lives to collateral damage, that is poison. (And please, they are aware that not all who are killed in OPLAN Tokhang are drug pushers,  just like not all who were killed in the Marawi airstrikes were terrorists.)

Despite this, they are willing to ingest poison because the option of stopping (for them) would be more painful.

Oh well,  I know I have the alternative of leaving the Philippines if (when?) it gets fucked up; a lot of the 16 million Filipinos won’t.

And that probably makes me sound unpatriotic but, fuck, I am beginning to  disbelieve Jose Rizal and all those heroes that think our country is worth fighting for — 16 million Filipinos just showed that I am probably not one of them (insert sad emoji here).

GOOP’s misogynistic, mansplaining hit job

GOOP = Goliath (hello! this is Gwyneth Paltrow with her army of publicists and really, am I supposed to believe that her very polished, very merchandising blog does not even have one professional multimedia expert at the helm?),
Dr. Jen Gunter = David

goop.com = alternative facts,
drjengunter.wordpress.com = evidence based facts (or at least she is honest about where her claims come from; and I think honesty, above all else, should be the core value of every scientific endeavor)

***

I am re-blogging this as my contribution to stopping the spread of pseudoscience and ridiculous ideas from people who think that they can away with it because they are Big Celebrity and have the advantage of multiple media platforms to infect others with their toxic memes*.

* “meme” is a very recently invented word, defined as “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture” (Wikipedia). It was coined by Richard Dawkins in his book “The Selfish Gene”. Recently, the Internet has been the culprit of propagating highly infectious memes — goop being one of them.

Dr. Jen Gunter

GOOP and Gwyneth Paltrow have a case of GOOPitis, which according to Dr. Steve Gundry is due to my potty mouthed facts. Or tomato skins. Or something. I find it all very disjointed, inadequately researched, bloated, and mansplainy.

I first saw this GOOP letter thing on the train back from a wonderful day in Manchester visiting with family (I’m over in the U.K. on holiday) when my phone almost blew up with Twitter notifications, partly because GOOP dedicated their first ever fighting words to little old me (apparently I have some gall suggesting women should not listen to second hand health advice from a ghost) and partly because even High Priestess Paltrow herself had descended from her bespoke, wooden vagina steaming throne to tweet about it among the mortals.

Screen shot 2017-07-14 at 10.31.34 AM

Apparently GOOP thinks I am a “third-party” who critiques them “to leverage that interest and bring attention to” myself. Thisopinion…

View original post 2,147 more words

Another Cut-and-Paste Blog Entry

The following words are from this website.

And while the details of the author’s life are different from mine, I share the sentiments she has towards her significant other.
*****
I Could Do This Without You, But I Don’t Want To (A Letter To My Husband)

by Amanda Elder

Image from Marriage.com

Image from Marriage.com

There were times I felt bitter toward you, especially when you were a medical student, and I was transitioning to being a stay-at-home mom. You didn’t understand my struggle. I ate, slept, and breathed our child, and felt consumed and alone.

You had a life outside of parenthood to continue, and while I stopped mine, I accommodated yours. For a period of time, we moved often and lived out of suitcases. Once, we even resided in a single bedroom of a Staten Island basement. For years, I manned the night wakings and offered my breasts around the clock as the only consistent comfort amidst constant upheaval.

Whenever you were off from work, I took our toddler out the minute he woke up so you (and our roommate) could sleep, but not always without resentment. I remember one morning, as I walked to our local bakery yet again, killing time with our little guy attached, I muttered, “I can do all this by myself.”

Because of life’s inherent uncertainty, I’ve actually considered the truth of that statement. I’ve now been a stay-at-home mom for five years and have wondered if I could actually survive on my own. Emotional well-being aside, would I even be able to provide food and shelter? I never thought I’d ask myself that question, being the self-sufficient woman I thought myself to be, but the honest answer is yes, I’d be fine. After all, I’m a go-getter, and that’s the reason all this staying home has been hard in the first place.

I’d make it, although there’d be details to figure out. You’re the dreamer, and you build our lives on the fantasies you manifest. Your doctor job is the one that would allow us to live a life of freedom and adventure in Costa Rica. I don’t have a vision for life without you, and the only notion of home I have is wherever we are. But I certainly wouldn’t head for the jungle on my own, and I wouldn’t do New Jersey either. Even though my sister lives there and I miss her when a single day goes by without conversation, I’ve been in Florida too long and have grown accustomed to bare feet and outdoor play all year long.

You’re in your residency now, and because you sometimes work 26 days a month, and 27 hours a day, I know that technically I can do this by myself. I pack bags and load babies like a boss. I clean toilets and play hide-and-seek simultaneously. I disguise trips to the grocery store as outings for cookies and have prepared many a meal with one hand. But despite my capability, I count down the time for you to come home, not because I so desperately need you to change the next diaper or fill the next sippy cup, but because I want you.

I don’t necessarily need you to carry scooters and tell the boys when it’s time to find a new climbing tree while out on family walks. I need you to hold my hand and talk to me.

I can put all the dishes away and find the missing shoe by myself, but with you, farts are funny, and coffee tastes better.

I can certainly walk the kids to sleep by myself, but when we stroll together, the full moon looks fuller, and I’m inclined to admire it longer.

I can take our son to karate by myself, but when that cute little girl beelines to be Javin’s partner, and another boy helps him perfect his jump kicks, I notice the sweetness, but I don’t giggle like I would with you.

I don’t need you to share parenting responsibilities with me out of fairness or survival, but for the joy of doing so. With you, the funny moments are funnier, the cute moments are cuter, and contrary to the pattern, the terrible moments are less so. Life is simply better with you.

We don’t only co-parent, we co-experience life.

We create and reflect on the same reality, and that somehow deepens the meaning of it all. When I see a beautiful sunset, and you say, “Look at that!” you validate what I see, and all of a sudden the colors become even brighter and more captivating.

I don’t necessarily need you for practical or worldly reasons, but I need you to know me. When I laugh, you’re aware of exactly why. And when I don’t say anything at all, you read my mind. You love my insecurities as you do my strengths, and your understanding gives me confirmation of myself. We’re like two beings from the same source, who get to witness more of themselves through each other.

It’s true that I don’t need you to survive. I need you for so much more.

 

A Story in Tagalog

Sorry for the lack of translation.

This is something I have written about 2 years ago. The characters have different names but they are really Alice and Jonas … and my obsession with things that are lost. 

The infinite times and ways we say goodbye to something (or someone) and yet return to it (or them) over and over.

 It is also maybe about hope — the  hoping that, really, someone can come home again … maybe …

 

Mga Iniisip Ni Gemma Habang Nakasakay sa Eroplano (o Para sa mga Nawawala)

 

“I do not delude myself that what I am doing is something revolutionary. But it is the best thing I can think of at the moment.” Ibarra Gutierrez, 2005. http://archives.newsbreak-knowledge.ph/2005/01/03/ibarra-gutierrez-jr-his-e-mail-blew-cynics-away

***

image from httpweheartit.com

image from httpweheartit.com

Minsan naiisip ko. Sa mga panahon na may oras ako para mag-isip. Kung ano kaya kung hindi ko siya nakilala. Kung nagpatuloy lang ang buhay ko nang wala siya.

O kung nagkakilala nga kami pero hindi ko siya pinapasok sa puso ko. O kung nangyari na wala siyang interes na pumasok dito. At  sa  iba’t-ibang parte ng katawan at pagkatao ko.

Umalis ako pero alam ko na meron akong babalikan.  Na kahit nagpakalayo-layo ako ay hindi ako mawawala dahil nandiyan siya  na parang tanikalang palaging humihila, pumipilit, nag-aanyaya, kahit sa mga panahon na pagod o suya na ako sa paulit-ulit na pagbalik, pagpasok, pagsakop  niya sa buhay ko.

Hindi ko alam kung bakit ko siya mahal. O maaari na ang tanong ay: sapat na ba na mabait siya, at hinahanap-hanap ko ang yakap niya kapag wala ito, kaya ko siya mahal? Tama bang dahilan na kaya ko siya mahal ay dahil hinahangaan ko ang kanyang paninindigan (kahit hindi ako naniniwala dito)? Sapat bang dahilan na kaya ko siya mahal ay dahil mahal niya rin ako?

Umalis ako at ngayon ay bumabalik. Sa paniniwala na sa pagbalik ko, sana naman (Diyos ko) ay ibabalik din siya sa akin.

Wala, wala akong pinanghahawakan sa kanya. Walang pirasong papel, walang kasulatan, walang pananagutan. Liban sa mga alaala at sa mga salitang binitiwan namin, sa paminsan-minsan at maikling mga panahong magkasama kami.

May minsan na ang pinakamahalaga para sa akin ay kalayaan; o mas partikular, ay ang kalayaan ko. Isa itong abstraktong konsepto at maraming maaaring kahulugan. Pero importante siya sa akin, sa kahulugan niya bilang pagpapahalaga sa integridad ko bilang indibidwal. Ang mapatunayan sa sarili ko na ako ay ako, na hindi kinikubabawan ng kahit sino, mapa-lalake man o babae.

***

Sabi ni Henry, meron daw akong “daddy issues.” Sa maligoy at intelektwal niyang Ingles (American English na produkto ng Yale University), ang konklusyon niya ay hindi ako lubusang makapagtiwala sa sinumang ibigin ko dahil sa murang edad ay umalis ang aking ama, kasunod  ang kamatayan ng aking ina.

Sabi ni Henry, sa kanyang boses na buo, malinis ang diction tugma sa isang WASP: “You mistrust commitment Gemma. You are afraid to love even while wanting it with all your heart. You step back and push away people who want to love you; then you use rationalization to keep yourself away. But you are dying baby. You are dying, and you won’t even admit it to yourself.”

At ngayon naiisip ko: Henry putangina ka, ang sakit mong magsalita. Pwede sana kitang mahalin. Pero hindi ako masokista. May daddy-issue man ako, mas matindi ang superiority complex mo.

Nakilala ko si Henry habang nagsasaliksik para sa aking doctorate degree sa isang Ivy League na pamantasan sa East Coast. Research fellow siya sa departamento kung saan ay postgraduate student ako. Magandang lalaki si Henry, Caucasian ang kaputian, reddish brown ang buhok, parang Alex Petyfer ang mata. At matangkad. Pag pinagtabi kami, mukhang akong dwende kahit sa taas ko na 5’2”.

kung-saan-natapos-ng-postgrad-si-gemma

Noon ay ika-dalawang taon ko na sa Amerika. Wala akong bakasyon sa Pilipinas. Hindi dahil hindi pwede kundi dahil ayoko. Iniisip ko kung mas mabuti kaya na maghanap ng trabaho pagkatapos ng aking dissertation at nang mabigyan ng H1B. Ano naman ang dahilan kung aalis pa ako ng US? Narito ang oportunidad, ang growth, ang career at life advancement. Narito si Oprah, si Rob Schneider at si Amy Tan, pawang mga kasama sa grupong minoridad. Hindi sila puti pero sa kanilang pagsusumikap, ay nagawang mamayagpag sa “land of the free” at “home of the brave.”

Isa pa, paborito ko ang “Sex and the City” at nakikita ko ang sarili ko matapos ang aking pag-aaral na parang Carrie Bradshaw at makakahanap ng kanyang career sa New York.

Hindi ako kasing ganda ni Sarah Jessica Parker (no way, seriously!). Siguro ka-level ako ng itsura ni  Jasmine Trias (pero mas maganda siyang kumanta kaysa sa akin).  Pero nang sumapit ako sa university kung saan ako nag-aral, nalaman ko na maraming American guys ang tinatablan ng beauty ko. Sa umpisa, hindi ko alam yon, pero nang makilala ko si Henry, siya ang nagsabi sa akin.

Progresibo sa unibersidad na iyon sa New England. Vibrant ang student activities. Maganda ang kampus. Masaya, masigla ang palitan ng kuru-kuro sa mga postgraduate seminars na pinapasukan ko.

Sa unang taon ko doon ay lungkot na lungkot ako.  Hindi ko nga maintindihan. Maarte lang siguro ako. Katulad ng maraming taong walang kasiyahan, marami na ang biyaya ay hindi pa sapat.

Sa kalaunan, nagustuhan ko na rin ang rigor ng university life, ang pagiging aktibo at engaged ng mga estudyante. Ang malalaki at  kumpletong gusaling pang-aklatan. Ang kalinisan, pagmimintina ng mga pasilidad katulad ng silid-aralan, banyo at mga laboratory. Ang university grounds na pang-postcard ang dating.

At naaliw ako kay Henry, gaya ng pagkaaliw ko (sa kalaunan) sa unibersidad na pinasukan ko. Madudunong ang mga propesor ko na pawang may mga PhD. Ang marami sa kanila ay nakapaglimbag ng kanilang mga libro tungkol sa disiplinang kanilang itinuturo. Ang isa nga, si Prof. Percival Framing, ay ang sumulat ng textbook tungkol sa cognitive psychology na “bibliya” naming noong undergrad. Nakakatuwa na naging estudyante niya ako.

Nagustuhan niya ang ginawa kong paper kung saan ni-relate ko ang Stanford Prison Experiment sa mga isiping kolonyal o colonial mentality ng mga dating satellite states ng US (kasama na ang Pilipinas).

Binigyan nga ako ng gradong 4.0 (ang pinakamataas na maaring makuha ng isang masteral student) at nilagyan pa niya ng komento na “very thought provoking, your insights  on history and individual psyches are fresh and original”. Siyempre, humaba ang hair ko.

Si Prof. Framing, actually, ang nag-imbita sa akin na magtrabaho sa isang prestihiyosong NGO na naka-base sa New York. Ginawan  pa nga niya ako ng recommendation letter. At hindi ako gaga; kaya’t nag-apply ako at natanggap naman. Yehey!

Tatanungin ninyo: ano itong katangahan na ngayon ay bumabalik ako sa Pilipinas?

Ang pinaka-tangang dahilan sa mundo …

O sige na. Babanggitin ko na ang pangalan niya. Matapos ang 1000 na word count sa maligoy na istoryang ito.

Si Tristan.

Sabi nila (kung sinuman ang “sila”), first love never dies. Shet, totoo nga yata yon.

***

Una  ko siyang nakita 9 years ago, sa isang conference na pinilit-pilit akong isama ng kaibigan at noon ay roommate ko na si Kate. Kagagaling ko lang sa trabaho at pupungas-pungas na dumating sa 32-square- meter naming apartment sa Malate.

Sabi ni Kate, kailangan ko siyang samahan dahil mas techie ako kaysa sa kanya, wala siyang alam sa Macintosh na siyang gamit ng kanyang boss. Desperado ang gaga. Pinangako niya sa akin na siya ang maglilinis ng apartment namin (kasama ang banyo) sa loob ng limang buwan (gusto ko sana isang taon pero tumawad siya) kung gagawin ko iyon.

Ang totoong dahilan  kung bakit ako pinapasama ni Kate ay dahil gagawin niya akong pananggalang sa mga diskarte ng consultant niya na si Dr. Juban na noon ay puspusan ang panliligaw sa maganda kong kaibigan.

Sa  Shangri-la Makati ginanap ang conference at aantok-antok akong paumpog-umpog ang ulo sa bintana ng minamaneho niyang Toyota Corolla. “Gem, gising … nandito na tayo. Favor naman, paki check kung compatible itong powerpoint ni Sir sa LCD na gagamitin. Alam mo naman ang Mac, minsan may mga hindi katugma na LCD. At nag text si Jubes, nagpa-park na daw. Kailangan ko tulungan sa mga visual aids niya.”

laptop

Kinuha ko sa kanya ang USB at Macbook; pagkatapos ay tumungo ako sa mesa kung saan nagse-set up ang noon ay inakala kong miyembro ng technical committee ng conference, o janitor.

Isa siyang lalaking mahaba ang buhok, lagpas-kuwelyo sa suot niyang brown na polo. Naka-itim na jacket na medyo kupas na; naka-jeans din, katulad ko.  “A manong, pakitulungan naman po ako na ayusin itong presentation ng kasama ko.”

Sa totoo lang, hate ko ang nai-ignore at kinailangan ko pa na lakasan ang boses ko bago siya mag-angat ng mata. “Miss?” blangko niyang tanong.

“Itong powerpoint po kasi ng kasama ko, kailangan naming masiguro na compatible sya sa LCD.” Inabot ko sa kanya ang connecting cable ng laptop. Ang slow ng reaction time ng mga staff ng kumperensyang ito, sa loob-loob ko na medyo naiinis na. Parang tuod lang si manong na nakatingin sa akin. Nagpaliwanag ako, “Sa Mac niya kasi ginawa e minsan hindi siya nagwo-work sa ilang klase ng LCD.”

“Okay. So  ano ang gagawin ko?” May kalituhan sa mata ni manong.

Malapit na akong maimbyerna; inaantok na ako at sa totoo lang, hindi ko naman talaga type na maging parte ng kumperensyang ito.  May talim at suya na ang boses ko. “Pwede mo ba akong tulungan? Technical committee ka diba?”

“Actually …”

Naputol ang susunod nyang sasabihin dahil sa boses ni Kate. “Dr. Endriga, hi! Ang aga mo naman dumating.”

Dr. Endriga? Paano magiging Dr.  Endriga ang lalaking ito e magkasing-tanda lang yata kami. Ano siya, Doogie Howser?

“Gemma … si Dr. Endriga. PhD sya, hindi MD. Isa sya sa mga local experts natin on environmental health. May tatlong lectures nga sya mamaya e. I’m Kate Lecciones, doc, intern ako ni Dr. Juban. Doc gusto mo ba tulungan ka na namin mag-set up ng presentation mo?”  helpful na tanong ni Kim.

Tutulungan? Namin? Sya? Parang gusto kong ilibing ang sarili ko sa marmol na sahig ng hotel.

“Ah Kate,” sabi ko. “Alis muna ako.” Tumuloy ako sa CR at hinamig ang sarili. Napagkamalan ko bang manong ang kaibigan ng boss ni Kate?

Sabi sa programme, graduate si Dr. Tristan M. Endriga sa kaparehong unibersidad na pinagtapusan ko. Pitong batch ang tanda nya sa akin. BS Geology major in Mining, may masteral degree at esoteric sa pandinig ko ang thesis nya. Nag doctorate sa University of Michigan. Isa ngayong associate professor sa alma mater namin at affiliated sa isang environmental NGO.

Sa luncheon, magkatabi kami sa bilugang mesa at tinanong nya ako kung nagme-medicine din ako na kagaya ni Kate. Psychology major ako, sagot ko, college instructor sa araw, call center agent sa gabi.

Ngumiti siya sa akin. Ang sipag ko naman daw.

***

Hindi ko inaasahan na makikita pa  ulit si Dr. Endriga kung hindi dahil sa pesteng si Kate.

“Hoy Gemma,” mga isang buwan matapos ang conference ay sinabi nya sa akin, “gusto mo bang mamatay na old maid?”

Isang umaga iyon na alas-sais ulit ang uwi ko. Tutuloy sana ako sa kuwarto para matulog na nang kulitin ako ni Kate.

“Anong klaseng tanong yan?” tanong ko.

“May ise-set up ako sa yo.”

“Set up, as in date?”

“Oo.”

“Bakit?”

“Dahil natutuyot ka na ‘day. Trabaho, eskwela, bahay na lang ang buhay mo. At ilang taon ka lang? 23?”

Yada yada yada, hyper  na naman si Kate, naisip ko. “Ano na naman ang tinira mo?”

Hindi nya pinansin ang tanong. “So okay lang sa ‘yo makipag date ha? Ise-send ko na sa kanya number mo. Siguro tatawagan ka nya mamaya. Or ite-text. Be nice ha. Hwag mataray. Mabait at matalino itong lalaking ito, magkakasundo kayo.”

“Whatever,” ang muffled na sabi ko bago nawalan ng ulirat.

***

“Hi .… uhmm …” Ano na nga ba ang pangalan nya?

“Tristan.”

“A yes, Dr.  Endriga.”

Ang pangalawang pagkikita namin ni Tristan ay halos katulad ng nauna – walang spark. Sa loob-loob ko, isang pagpapaalala: Be nice, at least may manlilibre sa ‘yo ng hapunan.

Isang Miyerkules yun ng gabi, Valentines. Yuck talaga! Nasabi ko na ba na hatest ko ang Valentines lalo na kung kaliwa’t kanan ang PDA ng mga magkasintahan, o kahit hindi magkasintahan, at nagnanaknak sa kapulahan at ka-rosasan ng paligid?

“Igi-greet sana kita ng happy valentines, kaya lang sabi ni Kate na allergic ka daw dito.” Nakangiti ang mata ni Tristan, inabot nya sa akin ang isang papel na rosas. Obviously, nasabi rin sa kanya ng roommate ko na may allergies ako sa bulaklak.

“Biodegradable,” nasabi kong tatangu-tangu.

“Recycled yan, actually. Naglilinis kanina ng bahay ang sister ko at itatapon na sana niya… pero naalala kita.”

“I see. Dapat ba akong ma-flatter?”

“Isipin mo na lang na nakakatulong ka sa environment.”

Corny ang linya nya ha, may pagka-nerd nga kung iisipin. Pero hindi ko napigilan ang mapatawa. Ewan kung bakit.

***

Ano nga ba ang ginagawa sa isang “date”?

Sa totoong lang, wala akong malay dito. Hindi ako nagpunta sa high school JS Prom namin at noong graduation ball naman ay ang mga bestfriend ko na si Kate at Maya ang kasama ko; wala kaming kapareha. Hindi ako pangit at presentable naman ang personality ko (nagbuhat daw ba ng bangko!), pero kung tatanungin niyo ako kung sa edad ko na 23 ay nakailang date na ako …

Hmmm, siguro ½? Mayroon kasi yung isang  beses na inaya akong mag-ice cream ng kapitbahay namin na si Howie (2nd year high school kami) sa bagong bukas na Dairy Queen. Magpapatulong daw siya ng assignment sa English. Pag-uwi namin, inaabot nya ang kamay ko (baka pakikipag-holding hands ang pakay); ang akala ko ay yung apa ng ice cream ang gusto nya. Naghulas sa kamay ni Howie ang double scoop na chocolate marble at hindi na niya ako ulit inayang mag-ice cream pagkatapos noon.

“Meron ka bang gustong puntahan?” tanong ngayon ng ka-date ko.

“Wala naman. Saan mo ba balak pumunta?” Pa-pilosopo kong sagot.

Naglalakad kami, baku-bako ang daan sa parteng iyon ng Malate (road repair na  iniwan na naman na nakatiwangwang ng DPWH) at malamig pa rin ang gabi, kahit kung tutuusin isang buwan na lang ay summer na.

“Magandang pumunta sa lugar na hindi mo pa napupuntahan,” sabi niya.

“Okay … so kailangan ko pa ngayon na mag-isip kung saan tayo pupunta? Teka sino ba ang nagyaya sa atin?”

“Bad mood ka na naman?” malumanay na tanong ni Tristan. “Baka lang may gusto kang puntahan. Kung wala, eh di mag-dinner na lang tayo.”

Actually may isang lugar sa Maynila ang hindi ko pa napupuntahan. Ang Star City ay isang lugar na hindi magandang puntahan nang mag-isa.

So ferris wheel, roller coaster, caterpillar, octopus, bump car … corny sya, pambata. Sa kung anong dahilan, mukhang nag-enjoy naman kaming dalawa.

***

Syempre, date yun kaya may portion na “tell me about yourself.”

Nag-iisang lalaki daw si Tristan sa limang magkakapatid. Dati binu-bully siya ng mga ate nya. Sabi ko, buti ka pa may mga kapatid ka kahit bully; mas malungkot ang nag-iisa.  Sabi niya, kung gusto ko magpalit na lang kami ng pwesto, palit na lang kami ng pamilya. Sabi ko, sige ba. At tumawa sya. Cute ang loko pag nakatawa; meron siyang dimple sa kaliwang pisngi.

Noong araw, parte ng dagat itong tinatayuan natin, kuwento nya. Yung dating first lady natin na maraming sapatos, siya ang nagpasimuno para   i-reclaim at i-beautify ang parteng ito ng Maynila.

Mas gusto mo na pag-aari pa rin sya ng dagat ano? naitanong ko, pabiro.

Hindi naman, kaya lang ang gusto noon ni Imelda ay matulad sa mga lugar na katulad ng Miami, Florida ang lugar na ito. Gusto niyang yung mga arkitektura na itatayo ay naka-base sa kanluraning oryentasyon.

So yang CCP hindi ka bilib dyan?

Hindi, sagot nya,

Oo nga e. Ako rin. Ang laki-laki at ang lawak-lawak pero hindi napapasok ng karaniwang Pilipino. Ako nga hindi pa nakakapasok sa CCP.

Talaga?

Oo.

Sige, minsan manood tayo dyan ng play.

Ano yun, second date? Yan ang tanong na gusto kong tanungin pero hindi ko nagawa.

***

couple-holding-hands

First base (or no base?).                                   Image from http://drawingimage.com

 

Usually (pero hindi palagi) ang second date ay sinusundan ng third date at fourth date, etc etc. At syempre, hindi madalas (pero minsan), sa isa sa mga date na iyon ay  pupunta kayo sa first base. Na susundan ng second base. At third base. At (maaaring sa malaon o madali, depende sa personalidad ng nagde-date) home run.

Matagal bago kami nakarating sa first base; siguro nine months. Kasing-tagal ng isang pagbubuntis. Yun yung panahon na parang nasa limbo ang relasyon namin na hindi kami magkaibigan pero hindi rin magkasintahan. Gagamitin ko sana ang term na MU (mutual understanding) pero napaka-old fashioned at corny nun kaya hwag na.

Tulad ko, teacher din siya. Lecturer ako;  associate professor sya. May PhD kasi sya at ako ay Bachelor lang (pero magna cum laude ako ha). Parehong state universities ang pinagtuturuan namin – pero mas jolog yung napasukan kong eskuwelahan na nasa university belt. Maraming extra-curricular activities si Tristan, madalas kinakailangan niyang pumunta sa mga liblib na lugar sa Pilipinas.

Naitanong ko sa kanya minsan, “Geo major ka. Mas maraming pera kung sa mining industry ka magta-trabaho. Pero mas pinili mong magturo.”

“Gems,” yan ang tawag niya sa akin. Siya lang ang tumatawag sa akin nyan, ewan kung bakit. “Nasubukan ko na ang mining industry. Nung kakatapos ko pa lang ng MS ko. Yun ang first job ko. Hindi ko siya nagustuhan.”

Malalang eksploytasyon daw sa kapaligiran at korapsyon ang norm ng mining industry sa Pilipinas sa kasalukuyan. “Hindi nababalita dito Gems pero alam mo ba na may mga lugar sa Pilipinas na nagpapatayan dahil lang sa ginto?   Yung dating trabaho ko, sa isang multi-national company. I-expect mo sana, may mataas silang standard diba. Pero pera pa rin ang bottomline; pera na ang kapalit ay buhay.”

Napapanganga ako sa kanya pag ganito na magsalita si Tristan. Never kasi akong naging advocate ng social issues. Para sa akin, we all do what we do to get by. Kung magkakaroon ng mas magandang oportunidad, kukunin ko (hwag lang illegal). Pero si Tristan. Sya yung klase ng taong iniiwasan ko noong college: yung tipong sumisigaw ng slogan at nagsusunog ng effigy.

“Hindi naman ako ganon,” natatawa nyang denial nang banggitin ko yun sa kanya. “Ang sa akin lang, may mga bagay tayong pinaniniwalaan at mga prinsipyong pinaninindigan. Masarap magkaroon ng maraming pera; pero mas masarap matulog nang mahimbing sa gabi.”

Okay, may kasunod pa ang statement nyang yan. Pero private na sya, kaya hindi ko na babanggitin. Eto na lang: nang sabihin niya yan, nasa third base kami, going to home run.

***

Limang taon din naman kaming magkasama bago ako pumunta ng Amerika. Masasayang mga taon; frustrating din minsan, dahil si Tristan yung klase ng lalake na hindi tinatablan ng mga tampo-tampo o sabihin na nating emotional blackmail.  Frustrating din siya dahil wala sa kanya ang konsepto ng “self preservation”—ang mga gustong niyang gawin ay ginagawa nang ayon sa paninindigan, pahapyaw na konsiderasyon lamang sa pansariling kaligtasan.

Minsan, sa isa niyang “project” sa katimugan ng Pilipinas, napag-tripan siyang i-harrass ng isang pulitiko dahil sa napaka-outspoken niya na pagki-criticize tungkol sa pakikipagsabwatan nito at ng isang undersecretary ng DENR para mabigyan ng permit na  minahin ng mga negosyanteng dayuhan ang itim na buhangin sa lalawigan. (Blind item: yung undersecretary ay significant other ng isa sa pinakamataas na lider sa Pilipinas.)

Ang hirap kay Tris, ang bongga talaga ng mga pinipiling banggain. Seventy percent of the time, kinakabahan ako (pati na nanay nya at mga kapatid) para sa kanya. Pero magbibiro lang yan kapag pinagsabihan mo.

Katulad  ng dialogue naming ito:

Gemma: Alam mo honey  (Ang linyang ito ay dineliver ko mga 4 years sa aming relasyon, sa panahong hindi na ako nabibilaukan sa pagsasalita ng mga terms of endearment.), sa palagay ko dapat mag-mellow ka sa pagki-criticize kay (insert name of powerful politician here).

Tristan: Bakit?

Gemma: Kasi, diba may pina-salvage yan na isang journalist na nag-feature ng tungkol sa pandadaya niya nung eleksyon. Iniisip ko lang na sana iniisip mo rin yung safety mo.

Tristan: (tatawa-tawa) Honey, safe ako palagi, as you should know …

Isang araw, buwan ng Hunyo, tinambangan ng mga armadong grupo ang  convoy na kinabibilangan ng ilang katrabaho ni Tris sa environmental NGO na nagpapasinaya ng proyekto nila. Patay lahat ng military escort. Dalawa sa limang researchers ang malubhang isinugod sa ospital. Mga rebeldeng grupo daw ang may pakana ng insidente. Hanggang ngayon, halos anim na taon na ang nakakaraan, wala pa ring nahuhuli sa mga salarin.

***

Mahirap yung walang pormal na break-up … sabi nga ni Toni Gonzaga sa pelikula nila ni Piolo Pascual: walang closure.

Parang hindi na kayo, pero hindi pa rin maka-move on.

Isang kakatwa na nagpaalam ako sa kanya sa mismong araw na pinili niya na yayain akong magpakasal.

Prestihiyosong  scholarship iyon sa isang prestihiyoso ring unibersidad sa Amerika. Malaking oportunidad, lalo na isang katulad ko na ilang panahon na ring nabuburo sa trabaho ko sa Maynila, walang direksiyon ang career.

Traditional si Tristan nang mag-propose; on bended knee (sabi nga sa isang kanta) at may singsing!

Hindi naman naging tahasan ang pagsasabi ko ng “no.”

Ang eksaktong sinabi ko ay: “Mukhang hindi ito ang tamang panahon para pag-usapan natin ang kasal.”

***

Ngayon uuwi ako. Matapos ang apat na taon.

Nang umalis ako, akala ko ay doon na rin natapos sa amin ang lahat. Pero hindi nagtatapos sa paalam ang kuwento naming dalawa.

Mga apat o limang beses kaming nagkita sa US habang nag-aaral ako.  Sabi ko sa kanya: hindi ka ba nanghihinayang sa pamasahe? Ang sabi sya sa akin: Ano ang gusto mo? Kalimutan kita?

Facebook, email, YM, Skype, paminsan-minsang snail mail. Nakakamangha ang mga modernong paraan ng pagniniig. Minsan nag-FB sa akin ang kapatid ni Tristan na si Marie:

Gemma, pagsabihan mo nga si Kuya Tris. Wala namang masama sa environmental advocacies nya. Pero ang dami nyang nababangga. Yung isang mayor diyan, may private army. Tinatawanan lang ako ni Kuya pag pinapaalalahanan namin na mag-ingat. Si Mama nga sabi nya, dapat pinikot mo na lang dati si Kuya. Baka kaya nasosobrahan sa pagpapaka-bayani ay dahil wala ka.

Sa huling pagkikita namin, 4 or 6 months ago, masaya siya para sa akin. Kasi natapos ko na rin ang dissertation ko at ga-graduate na ako. Sabi niya, marami daw akong magagawa sa skill-set na natutunan ko sa pagbabalik ko sa Pilipinas.

“Tristan, may possible job offer sa akin dito. May H1B visa na provided.”

“So hindi ka uuwi?”

“Ano ang uuwian ko?”

“Tangina Gemma, anong klaseng tanong yan?”

Yun ang huli naming pagkikita.

***

Si Marie ang nag-message sa akin Facebook  na nawawala si Tristan. Isang araw ay kumakain daw ito sa isang restaurant sa Puerto Princesa kasama ang isang kaibigan nang may dumukot sa kanya na di-nakikilalang mga lalaki.

 

Perspective

What is life if not a process to get from one moment of time to the next.

If in that process, one finds happiness, joy, satisfaction, fulfillment — well and good. If the path contains despair, uncertainty, fear, pain — well that is something one must accept.

Our struggles give meaning to our victories. It has been with great difficulty that I remember that now. I must also remember and accept that struggles are, by definition, painful. They are our frustrations, boredom, impatience, seeming incompetence, defeats that happen over and over again.

Indecision is the devil that hovers on my back. It paralyzes me because I am afraid of being wrong, of looking small, of bothering others. Indecision happens because I lacked preparation; because I have not studied enough; because I was lazy; because I was afraid. One gets tired of being afraid — but fear returns again and again, like grassess and weeds in one’s garden. It probably will never be completely vanquished. But one has to control one’s fears. That is the hardest thing that one must learn.

I must remember that when I was a child I was less fearful. At that time I knew a lot less too. One can not un-know things, one cannot be a child again; nor is it an acceptable position to be in. Fear must be conquered using the things that we know. Being ignorant and brave can be a recipe for disaster.

I am trying to reclaim my life. Retracing my footsteps back to when I was more enthusiastic and less diffident. I want to see her again, that woman who decided to leave despite her misgivings …. because she knew that she will learn more by leaving than by staying behind.

Where is she? Where is she?

I am praying that she is just here somewhere. I am praying for her to have the fortitude, the will and the bravery to see through the challenges that she will face in this path that she has chosen. I am praying like a mother prays for her child … I am praying the way my mother would have prayed for me if she were here … I must remember to pray.