Holding Hands and Other Milestones

 

For quite a long time, there wasn’t any. Physical stuff between us is what I mean.

I can chalk up 90% of that to the fact that I am repressed; and 10% to the fact that I am naive. I actually believed him literally when he informed me that he wanted us to “be friends”. Which I interpreted to mean as something platonic.

He does not exactly fit the archetype of male that I usually have a crush on — tall, brooding mestizo types with heavy lidded gazes. He appears average — open, smiling and approachable, dark, school-boyish, straight nose, big ears, cute dimple  … but average nonetheless. That first date we had, he gave out the impression of being an agreeable teddy bear.

Maybe attraction starts with hyperawareness. An emotion that makes one feel unsafe.

I can pinpoint the exact date when this happened. The middle of June, just before a typhoon. He called my cel to tell me that he’s passing by my apartment later that day to return a CD I lent him. I had forgotten all about that CD and I couldn’t have cared less  if he returned it or not.

I was checking papers in the faculty lounge of the Psychology Department, taking advantage of the fact that classes have been suspended and I could catch up with the scut works that come with being a lowly undergrad instructor.

Me: You really don’t need to bother coming over. A typhoon’s brewing.

Jonas:  It’s not raining yet.

Me: But it soon will. Manila might get flooded.

Jonas: I’ll bring a car.

Me: To return a CD? Just take it, I don’t listen to that anyway.

Jonas: Why don’t you want to see me?

Me: It’s not that I don’t want to see you. But I don’t see the point of you being hassled coming here just to return a CD.

Jonas: It’s not a hassle. Look, have you had lunch?

Me: Uhh … no.

Jonas: So I’ll bring some food and we  can have lunch together.

In my culture, there is something about eating with another person that breaks the ice. Something about sharing one’s bread or whatever. And also, I was really hungry.

Now I am thinking, if I didn’t really like him, I could have lied and told him that I had already eaten even if the truth is that my stomach was rumbling like crazy. Or I could have told him that I was really busy. Or I could have told him to drop dead.

Since I didn’t do any of those things, I found myself at 4 pm  alone in the faculty dining room with this guy I dated once almost half a year ago, who appeared seemingly out of nowhere to return a music CD that I  couldn’t care less about.

He looked thinner than I remembered, his eyes sunken and tired. He still had the same smile, though, the one that would light up and transform his face. I could have imagined it, but he looked really happy to see me. Please note that this is is the first time we’ve seen each other in 4 months and that there was no communication between us during that time; save for a conversation over text a month ago when he asked me about withdrawal from amphetamines.

He brought two paperbags-full of Chinese food, the bag had the logo of a well-known restaurant in Banawe.

Jonas asked, “Why are you working?”

“Why should’t I?”

“Classes are suspended. People are either in their homes or in the malls.”

“I don’t have money for the mall, and I can’t finish all these paperwork at home,” I pointed out. By this time I was famished; I had to help myself to a steamed bun inside that paperbag.

I was munching away and he was looking at me like a doting father. “How’s your drug addiction?” I asked tactlessly, half joking.

“I was not the one into drugs.”

“Who was?”

“My uh … a friend.”

“And how’s your friend?”

“She tried to commit suicide last night. I just left her this morning in the ICU.”

I stared at him open mouthed. He sounded flat, toneless, definitely not joking. “Oh god, Jonas, I am so, so sorry!”

Silently, he took my hand (the left one that was not holding a pork bun) , and started tracing my palm with his fingers. “Me too.”

Half Truths

And so to bed. This is where the power shifts. If hes good for you in bed, youre now in trouble. If youre good for him, hes now in trouble. Bed is the fulcrum of the power shift.  (Erica Jong)

***

It is the truth – and like most truths, is only a half of the whole Truth – that the only time Jonas can shut Alice up is when he kisses her.

Alice has been musing about this hard-to-digest fact while reading up on the very dry, very boring topic of myths about gender as proposed by the American intellectual Anne Fausto-Sterling.

Fact: Jonas was the first male to have ever kissed her,  and the first person she has ever had sex with. True, she is probably limiting her education by not exploring other amorous options. However,  it is entirely possible to prove a point using one subject instead of a sample of 100.  Alice just can’t figure out exactly what that point is.

Fact: Sex with another person can rattle someone in a way that masturbation can’t. Maybe it is because of the foreign-ness of having another person’s body-part insinuating itself into yours. She has long dispensed with the requisite Catholic guilt and neurosis that accompanies masturbation. But still, a week, a month, 6 months  after you-know-what happened, she is still not sure if the experience had given her something, or if she’s simply been had.

Fact:  She considers it an act of kindness to have told him that she loves him long before she was certain what it meant to say “I love you”.  Until now, she is suspicious of this entity, this label, this concept that flows so easily from his mouth; and  yet so difficult for her to acknowledge.

Over-analysis has probably been the downfall of many women (and men) who cannot trust the truth that what they feel is what they feel; and, anyway, to hell with psychology!

Last night,  they were working in this apartment; he in his laptop, she in hers.

Kim was out (saving the dregs of broken humanity in the government hospital  where she was on surgical duty) so Alice and Jonas had the place all to themselves. Before she went,  Kim reminded Alice of the electric and water bills to be paid; and told Jonas that the pipes in the kitchen are busted again and can he “sweetie please” kindly see if he can do something about it. As usual,  Jonas was his usual cheerful self acquiescing with Kim’s request.

Alice felt it imperative to point out: “It really is not your job to fix our pipes; I can easily call a handyman;  there are a lot of them around Malate who needs the work.”

“It’s okay, I want to do it.”

“Have you fixed a broken pipe before?”

“No. But it’s pretty straightforward. I can figure it out.”

“Or you will just google it.”

“Correct.”

What Alice hates is the self-assured way he said “correct”;  the self-assured way he barges into her life.  Appearing and disappearing at regularly irregular intervals  with no explanations in between.  Telling her that he loves her and expecting her to believe it. She hates it that he appears to feel hurt when she put that so-called “love” into rational scrutiny.

She hates it that she can stay put when he can’t.

(Teaching oneself to get used to having another person around is as difficult as teaching oneself to get used  to not having him around)

Fact: what Alice hates is that Jonas can so effortlessly make her feel like a “girl”.

About Last Night

Girl Before a Mirror" by Pablo Picasso. Image from nigerianboricua.blogspot.com

Girl Before a Mirror” by Pablo Picasso. Image from nigerianboricua.blogspot.com

Through the cracked mirror, Alice stares at herself and wonders if there is any difference between her and this woman before her now.

An hour ago, he kissed her by the gate. It was still dark outside; even the rooster in her neighbor’s yard had not deemed it fitting to crow out as was its morning ritual. He said goodbye and that he will see her in a week. She said okay and reminded him to stay safe. He smiled and said, always. Then he asked anxiously (again) if she was really alright. This time, she had to roll her eyes at him and there was a tartness in her voice when she answered that yes she is more than alright and that he should stop the Sir Galahad demeanor because she is not a damsel in distress, far from it. She had sex, lost her virginity but that doesn’t mean she got injured in any way. Jonas hugged her and he told her (again) that he loves her. Then he walked away and was gone.

Through the cracked mirror, Alice stares at herself and wonders if there is any difference about the way she feels about him now compared to yesterday.

Of course it would come to this, who was she kidding? It’s not as if they were living in the eighteenth century when remaining chaste until matrimony was paramount.

She was (is) not Maria Clara, after all. Far from it. She detests that woman, in fact. She has never understood the fascination with that Jose Rizal character, insipid weak simpering girl. But Alice, Maria Clara was a product of her time so give her a break. Why — would you be doing things differently if you were in her shoes? If you were the lovechild of an indio woman and a Spanish friar, forever surrounded by chaperones and duenas, cosseted by your shallow social climbing father, would you not have behaved like the way she did? Don’t be so goddamned superior; you would probably have been worse than Maria Clara, come to think of it!

Alice stares at herself. At her shoulder length hair that he kept playing with just a few hours ago. At her eyes, pupils dilated. She read somewhere that the sympathetic nervous system kicks in during sex and that’s the reason for the pupillary dilatation; and that girls tend to look more attractive to the opposite sex when they have dilated pupils.

Alice looks at herself and wonders what he saw in her. He often said that he finds her beautiful; which she just took with a grain of salt. Why? She wanted to badger him: what makes me beautiful? This hair? My eyes? My nose? My lips? These freckles on my face? Just what is beautiful about them?

As far as her physical attributes went, Alice was never vain. Her body, her face were what they were and that’s that. She regards them with a brutal matter-of-factness; so that she cannot understand when someone would regard them (herself) with sentiment or covetousness. She just didn’t believe that there is anything different (or special) about her face, her body compared with that of any other woman.

Alice stares and stares. She didn’t dare touch herself.

Defiance (or The Intricacies of Making Out)

boy&girl kiss

from telegraph.co.uk

There was this point during all  that fooling around; after he removed her bra but before he unzipped his pants. When they both came up for air after exchanging oral fluids for 30 minutes or more.

He saw her face and there was something there that wasn’t there before. Apart from arousal (dilated pupils, skin flushing); apart from curiosity, there was … something.

That moment, Jonas felt that Alice would walk on fire for him or with him, if he asked her to.

***

Years later, she would look back and remember that night. And her memories are the same yet different from his.

Alice can remember, besides the toe-curling, lip-biting, feel-goodness — well besides that —  what she was feeling was defiance. As if Jonas was her very own rebellion against years of self-imposed discipline and abnegation. Like he was that candy that one allows oneself to eat after a month-long low calorie diet. He was like that expensive silk blouse she allowed herself to buy with her first salary.

Making out (and what came afterwards) felt like her just-rewards for being such a “good girl”.

***

from favim.com

from favim.com

There was that point while they were making out; after he took off her panties but before they were completely naked.

(That point, dear reader, was when Jonas stopped using his brain, and we all know that another part of his anatomy was doing all the thinking. Girls, give him a break … he’s a guy!)

That moment was crucial for what didn’t happen: Alice didn’t say No.

She was not drunk, she was not under drugs. She just didn’t want to say no because, what the hell, she had been saying no for 24 years and what did that prove? Besides, it felt fucking great to finally say yes.

Why “Long Distance Stuff Never Works” (or Why it is Preferable for Women to Date Male Virgins)

(Marianne’s Theory of Human Relationships)

It’s like this Alice:  when it comes to relationships men’s learning protocols are different than that of women.

Women are more hopeful … hence we become basket cases who never learn. Take our friend, Manda, for example, she is always falling for men who are attached. Her first boyfriend was gay who was attached to another guy; her 2nd boyfriend was a mama’s boy who was attached to his mother; and now the third one is married, attached to another woman. Sure he will get an annulment. In like what? A million years?

Men are different. What they learn gets imprinted in their CPUs. They are very efficient that way, and hence are not prone to deviations. We should strive to become like them, actually. So Jonas … well he used to be crazy about this girl with the pretentious name, Ligaya or Gaia or something.

Anyway, my brother was in the first stages of puberty, so that explains his bad taste in girls at that time.

His preferences have improved since then, as you can attest.

Ligaya strung him along for two years, or maybe three. She got herself knocked  up by one of their classmates and you know how Jonas is so much into the “knight in shining armor thing”. Yes Starfish Syndrome,  that’s another way of putting it. He skipped school for a year to take care of her. It drove our mom crazy. She had to go and confront Ligaya to leave him alone. Thank god she did.

Ligaya migrated to Canada. My brother wouldn’t give up on her. He wrote her everyday for months. I know, because I used to sneak into his room and read those letters.

And then, the letter writing stopped. Maybe Ligaya finally did something that got Jonas off her back. Or baka nauntog lang ang kapatid ko at natauhan. That, my friend, was my brother’s first long-distance relationship. You will say that the relationship was one-sided and you are right. But it really messed up his head; and you got the nuclear fallout from that one. The Ligaya Incident is the reason why Jonas is not into long distance stuff.

Yeah, it sucks. If I had known you before you knew my brother, I would have told you my theory of the perfect relationship and you would have been spared of going through this drama. But … if my brother hadn’t been your boyfriend, then you wouldn’t have gotten to know  me and we wouldn’t be bestfriends so … the universe has its reasons.

The perfect relationship — I have come to the conclusion that the first women who have the power to mess up men are their mothers. So a girl should check out the mothers first before buying into the men. And then, we should make sure that the guys we date are virgins – like emotionally. Physical virgins are preferable but that’s too much to  hope for.

Alice, don’t laugh. The perfect relationship is the one where two people have the least amount of baggage going in. They can accumulate their own baggage later.

The Myth of the Virgin and the Unicorn. Why is the virgin in the picture always  a girl? Marianne would like to know. Picture lifted from http://manbehindthecurtain.ie/2012/03/24/on-staying-innocent/

The Myth of the Virgin and the Unicorn. Why is the virgin in the picture always a girl? Marianne would like to know. Picture lifted from http://manbehindthecurtain.ie/2012/03/24/on-staying-innocent/

***

Reading Lists: 

http://time.com/117585/yes-all-women-virgin-killer-ucsb/

http://www.thefrisky.com/2014-09-22/frisky-rant-leave-male-virgins-alone/

http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/problem-male-virginity-hesaid/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yourtango/7-huge-mistakes-i-made-as_b_6355374.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/samantha-joel/ten-wedding-vows-based-on_b_4762318.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000035

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/15/opinion/sunday/the-all-or-nothing-marriage.html

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/feb/13/self-discovery-marriage-psychologist-suffocation-model

http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/elizabeth-gallagher-on-free-around-the-world-trip-it-can-t-be-that-weird-1.2153414

http://www.rappler.com/brandrap/stories/68701-long-distance-easier

In Defence of Soulmates

soulmate from FB— Michael Fiore by way of Facebook

 

***

Alice was not into soulmates.

If one’s non-belief could be gauged by the number of times one’s eyes have rolled when hearing about the concept one does not  believe in, then Alice’s eyeballs would have reached Davao by now. It goes without saying, her friends (all females) have totally bought into the soulmate bandwagon.

But Alice was not buying. Why should she?

As the Julie Delpy character in Before Sunset had  exclaimed so eloquently “The concept is absurd. The idea that we can only be complete with another person is evil!

before sunset

Evil indeed. That also goes for Valentine’s day, mushy 1980’s lovesongs, and sentimental Facebook postings on her newsfeed.

The thing is …

…  when she met him, he would (and could) cajole her into watching a play or a movie, or a walk in the park on February 14. Out of principle, she should have declined. However, he would  put on this puppy-dog look on his face, smile so adoringly, and squeeze her hand. And out went her principles. (Thinking about it now, it seemed that she’d shed her principles with him the way she had shed her clothes — one piece at a time).

… when she met him, she was more into Bon Jovi or Nirvana (when she took the time to listen to music, which was not very often). His favorite song is a dopey Tagalog ballad called “Pag-ibig”+. Of course, she had to pretend to appreciate it when he serenaded her with that on their first anniversary. (“Anniversary” is another concept she did not believe in.)

… when she met him, he was not into social media. She persuaded him to put up a Facebook profile. Which he (reluctantly) let her do for him. That was one of the few times she was completely ecstatic in performing him a service.

Soulmate is a word Alice hates because it is just so … uncool … and corny. Acquiescing that it exists would (could, should) make her too … vulnerable.

It is just like that other word that starts with an “L”.

 

***

+ “Pag-ibig” is the Tagalog word for “Love”

The original version of the song was sung by APO Hiking Society

Nong tangan ng nanay mo
Ang munti mong mga kamay
Ika’y tuwang-tuwa,
Panatag ang loob sa damdaming
Ika’y mahal

Nong nakilala mo ang una mong sinta
Umapaw ang saya at siya’y ibang-iba
Sinasamsam ang bawat gunita

[Chorus:]
Hindi mo malimutan kung kailan
Nagsimulang matuto kung papaanong magmahal
At di mo malimutan kung kailan mo natikman
Ang una mong halik/Ang tamis ng iyong halik
Yakap na napakahigpit
Pag-ibig na tunay hanggang langit

Nong tayo’y nagkakilala ng hindi sinasadya,
Ikaw lang ang napansin,
Nahuli sa isang tingin
At sa pagbati mong napakalambing.

A Lesson on Ownership

Courtesy of Facebook. Stuff like these used to appear printed on t-shirts or coffee mugs; now they've gone digital.

Courtesy of Facebook. Stuff like these used to appear printed on t-shirts or coffee mugs; now they’ve gone digital.

They have actually done something like that, dance in the rain that is. One November morning after her shift; he fetched her from Makati and in this bossy manner, told her that they are going to a mass in Antipolo (of all places!).

Alice asked Jonas what in hell gave him the idea that sane people can go up to Antipolo on a day when PAGASA just announced that a typhoon was brewing and the chances of rain was 100%.

Jonas kissed her on the cheek and told her to stop being a contrarian (for once) and go along with him.

I know you’re upset, she then announced. But why are you so affected that he died? The man was what 70 years old? And he had been sick for years! It would have come down to this sooner or later and you know it.

Alice you can be such a bitch sometimes. He sounded angry and she knew he was right. So she shut her mouth and looked out the window all the way to the church.

The sky was overcast, and it was obvious that in a few hours (or minutes?) it was going to rain. Despite the weather forecast, there were still a lot of people around the Church of Our Lady of Good Voyage — vendors of  religious relics and local delicacies, hawkers of suman  and kalamay and kasuy,  religious devotees and local tourists. Parking was difficult and a group of students were having their picture taken outside the church.

He took her hand; they went inside; the mass had just ended. The next one was about to start. They stayed through that one. The homily was about challenges to being a good Christian. Alice sang with the choir during the offertory (she liked the song and she knew the lyrics). Jonas went for communion; while Alice had to pass. Then the service was over and they were walking towards the car.

It was a cool morning. The sun was hiding; but the rain would not arrive. Yet.

Jonas’s mood was improving. He suggested that they walk around to see what the local market had to offer.

Grimy hands started pulling at Alice’s sleeve; a small girl was selling sampaguita garlands, “Please buy Miss. I only have this to sell then I can go home.”

sampagita1

Alice was too tired from her shift to be generous. She started to turn the girl away when her companion offered to buy the whole lot of flower necklaces being offered — all 50-pesos worth of it. The girl was elated and was effusive in her thanks.

“You are so sentimental,” Alice remarked, shaking her head.

“That’s what you like about me,” he retorted, smiling. “They don’t necessarily have to be useful, you know. The things we choose to own.”

“Then what’s the point?”

“Well, take my girlfriend, for example. Eighty percent of the time, she can be a pain the neck. But she’s nice to be around, and well, I like looking at her.”

That word again. That … label. Alice cannot let that pass. “You do not own me, get that through your head. I am not a bunch of sampaguita flowers.”

“Sure I do. And yes you are.”

And that … that voice! His voice; which was so self-confident, so sure of himself — this will not do, Alice thought. “You.Do.Not.Own.Me.” she told him. “I am my own person. Nobody owns me, least of all you.”

“For god’s sake, don’t give me that feminist bullcrap. We both know you don’t mean that.”

“Yes I do.”

“You don’t.”

“Do too.”

Alice realized how childish the conversation they have resorted to had become.

By this time, it has started raining. Small blades of water at first, then fat globules of raindrops. It sent the people around the plaza scurrying for cover. They were still standing there, Jonas and her. Like two gladiators who would not give up in their fight to the death.

And then he said, “Alice, honey, why are you so fucking scared of belonging to me? I own you, so what? You own me too.”