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.

 

A Defense for Euthanasia

(Jonas’s POV)

When I was five years old, my sister, Marianne drowned a lame one-legged chick in a drum-ful of water and pinned the blame on me.

For years, everybody in my family believed that I was the animal murderer who drowned that chick. It was almost a family legend. Told again and again to illustrate how “naughty” I was as a child.

I have believed it myself. Until 3 years ago when Marianne confessed, that, ehem, she was the one who committed the ghastly crime and turned her 5-year old brother into a fall guy.

Maybe I should have been angry at my sister. But when she told me the true story, she was then currently suffering from the throes of severe uterine contractions trying to bring out her first child into the world.

There is an evil part of me that felt gleeful that my baby sister had such a terrible 23-hour labor. Alright, gleeful is a strong word. Let’s use “vindicated” instead.

I think, however, that one should not fault a guy for feeling good that there is some justice in the world.

I am remembering this now, in light of what happened the past year. When I look back on that, an inevitable cloak of despair drapes over me blinding me to anything that is not darkness.

I have not … always been … this way. A rational part of me knows that. I look through stuff that I know I owned: clothes I have worn, the house I bought when I thought I was going to get married; papers and pictures that describe me … or the me that was. But I do not recognize that man. I know that he lived. I recognize his name, his face, his history. But I cannot feel empathy, or any connection to this person, this human being … I cannot claim him at all.

I got a stress debriefing after, it’s probably an SOP. And I have told what I know of what happened as much as I could. I could not confess what I cannot remember.

Forgetting is a relief. My best buddies, Jack Daniels and Jose Cuervo are a huge help as well. There are mornings that I can almost forget my name. Those are the good days.

What gets my craw is seeing her everyday; because she chose to live in my house of all places! Marianne said awkwardly, “She rented it kuya. You can’t throw her out. She has leased it for a year. It’s all legal.”

It has always been my fantasy to strangle my youngest sister. Of course, I couldn’t do that before out of respect for our mother; and I cannot do it now because her husband will kill me. On the other hand … maybe death courtesy of Anton will not be such a bad thing.

She is always straightening things out around the house. When I first showed it to her 5 years ago, what she said was: “I think this is a good investment.” Back then it was a bare one-story detached 2-bedroom bungalow in a sleepy town south of Manila. Now the town has woken up, mostly because of the industrial complex that has sprung up in the city just beside it. With the location and the fact that this house is barely new, I was sure that it wouldn’t be difficult to rent out. What I did not expect was it would be rented out by her.

According to Marianne, her (the tenant’s) job was located in Paranaque; less than 2-hour commute from my house. “Also,” said my sister. “She wanted to be near you. Or at least to your memory.”

My memory. In fairness to my family, for the better part of the last two years, they thought that is all they will have of me. Until I came back from the dead. In a manner of speaking.

My sisters have suggested that I can live in the family home in Quezon City. In my absence, my mother had died (another tragic story), and our house was taken over by my eldest sister, Tess, her husband, their 3 children, our aging yaya/maid/mayordoma Nana Azon and the children’s assorted collection of parakeets and goldfishes. I cannot possibly live in the Quezon City house.

So I moved back into this one, occupying the bigger of the two bedrooms. She insisted on vacating it, pointing out that I am the one who owns the house after all, which makes her my tenant. That was one way of looking at it. She transferred to the guest room out front, the one with the windows overlooking the garden.

Two years ago this house didn’t have a garden. I had to blink when I saw the profusion of sunflowers and gladiolas on the small plot beside my garage. Small pots of flowering shrubs (sampaguita, rosal and santan) scattered over a trimmed and well-maintained bed of carabao grass. The effect was simple but eclectic, cheerful and friendly; giving the impression that someone actually lived here. Before the thing that happened happened, I have used the property as storage area, halfway house, and I have twice rented it to two buddies of mine who have stayed for a year or so. Nobody bothered putting up a garden.

“I didn’t know that you are into gardening,” I told her.

“I wasn’t,” she said, laughing a little. “But I had a lot of free time. What do you think?”

“It’s okay.”

The truth is, I do not know what to make of the fact that she is here. In this house, this town, this part of my world.

Two years ago, when the concept of hope was still something I could understand, I had given up hoping that she will be back to this country. The last time we talked, she had made it clear that she considered it backward, inefficient, corrupt and doomed to failure.

I remember almost wanting to surrender to what she wanted, but goddamn it, I thought, I’m the guy here, and to acquiesce will be to consent in my own castration. I could not do it, I should not do it. So we said our goodbyes, the final one (or so I thought) that would conclude nine years of (seemingly) infinite goodbyes that precede the countless times we have returned again and again to where we started.

It was not very difficult settling down to a routine. I have been here for two months and I feel almost human again. Of course there are the nightmares but Jack Daniels and Jose Cuervo help me deal with them. On most days, I rarely see her. She leaves early and comes back late. I don’t sleep much so I know that she arrives at 9 or 10 pm. I never go out to greet her. When it’s early, she would knock on my door; would ask if I had dinner already or make chit chat about her day. The truth is I can’t bring myself to care. But I still remember how to be polite, so I pretend to listen; go through the motions of normal human interaction and, sometimes, I can even manage to smile or laugh.

What perplexes me is that these days, I can’t feel anything. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. I can’t even feel worried that I feel nothing.

This morning, for example, she came out of the bathroom wearing a yellow towel on her head, an old white t-shirt and shorts (I have never remembered her to wear shorts). She was probably surprised to see me because she immediately crossed her arms over her chest and muttered a (somewhat shy?) good morning and excuse me. Two years ago, if I had seen her looking like that – wet hair, bare legs and nipples peeking out of a thin cotton shirt – and smelling like that, well … it would have elicited some reaction out of me.

But now, nada.

When Marianne told me the story of her drowning that chick, I asked her why she did it. She said that she thinks she did not do it to be cruel. Her four year old self felt so bad for that lame one-legged chick, hopping around unable to catch up with the other chickens, completely wasted. My sister decided to put an end to chick’s misery. Hence the crime.

There are some days (this one is a perfect example) when I wish that 4-year old Marianne is still around to put another animal out of its misery.

Queueing

I hate dealing with government agencies in this – my – country. The insensible queuing, the bureaucratic BS, the leech-minded mediocrity that makes up the majority of the staff of  most public offices. Efficiency is an unknown term where I come from; we seem to invent a thousand and one ways to make things constantly difficult for ourselves.

I was in the middle of another serpentine queue one fine day when I saw Helen. Apparently, she was married now, to a man she met in rehab; a politician’s son with his own political aspirations; and Helen was in the agency waiting for her husband who is in a higher-management meeting at “the top floor”.

She motioned  me to follow her with my papers and we went to an office where she introduced me to Willie, a balding young gentleman in a t-shirt printed with the face of Helen’s husband.  After small talk about his family, his work in the agency (Oh he has no plantilla even after 5 years of contractual work? That will not do! Helen will definitely inform Bong about this.), the project that Helen’s husband’s pork barrel has started.  After all that, she sweetly asked Willie if he could please facilitate my papers and we will just be in the canteen and that I am such an old friend she hasn’t seen in a long time. He can come to us when my documents are finished. Willie answers ok madam; and he was smiling but he looked tired.

***

When I first met Helen, I have never thought that she will be the wife of anybody, much less a politician. I was under the impression that she would die before reaching thirty-five in a motel room amidst ecstacy tablets and shabu paraphernalia strewn all around; a very six-o’clock- news way to go. She was very pretty even when she was an addict, pale-skinned, small build, east Asian eyes, pearly white and even teeth – she could have been a soap opera star from South Korea. She was smaller than me and exuded a very effective damsel-in-distress aura that even I who was – well – a girl, would have wanted to turn butch and kill dragons for her.

Oh, and she was Jonas’s ex-girlfriend.

Seriously! I don’t know how Jonas managed to find  these girls. (And what kind of fate makes me bump into them without meaning to, or even wanting to).  There’s  Gaia — knocked up at 17 and now married to a half-Brazilian half-American venture capitalist. When Jonas and I saw her in Washington DC, she looked like Kim Kardashian; spangly earrings,  tight halter top, tanned all over. She talked to me in Tagalog with an American slang and  told me that her great dream is to return to the Philippines and put up a home for teen mothers.

And now,  Helen.

Looking back, I realize that I liked Helen when I first met her, a decade or so ago. I went with Jonas to the basement of a very expensive hospital in Makati where they  kept the psychiatric ward. Helen had just gone through  a tweaking stage. When I first saw her, she was very calm, sweet and heavily sedated.

Jonas was Helen’s “Person In Case of Emergency” which was very puzzling to me since they had broken up years ago. That time, I didn’t know him very well yet. Jonas is the kind of boyfriend, the rare kind of man, that manages to be real friends with ex-girlfriends.

(I spent 3 months of internship  in that hospital and I was friends with the Training Director of the Substance Abuse division, Dr. Risa Mendoza. Risa gave me a funny smile when I introduced her to Jonas, those long years ago. She was giggling when she told me that she was under the impression that I would die an old maid. But then, she said with a wink,  miracles have happened.)

What I liked about Helen was that she was a very good liar. A charming babble-mouth. A very good storyteller. I could tell immediately that she was even a better liar than I am. I had to respect that. Or … the person I was had to.

They discharged her from the hospital and she went directly to a rehabilitation facility south of Manila, where the air was cool, traffic was rare and where Helen met her future husband.

***

Now here she is (ten years hence) bubbly, sprightly, and seemed  very pleased to have seen me. We are friends on Facebook, but I rarely make status updates so she thought I was still in Connecticut.

“I got back 2 years ago,” I told her. “No more visa, dissertation finished.”

“I have always thought you will settle in America. You are just too disciplined, too smart and bright to you know, stay here.”

“You and your husband stayed here,” I reminded her, bemused at her reaction.

“Yes, but Bong and his family are in politics.” She nodded and did not expound, as if that was explanation enough. “I invited you and Jonas to my wedding,” she said reproachfully. “Neither of you came.”

“I am sorry,” I tried to sound contrite. “I don’t know about Jonas but at that time, I couldn’t get away from the university.”

“Alice, I really feel bad about what happened to Jonas.”

“Yes, well that makes the two of us.”

“What kind of world is it  that horrible things can happen to such good people?” she exclaims.

“A totally crappy world?” I said.

It is a crappy world alright. It is a world where an ordinary citizen like me has to get into a 3-hour-long queue in a government agency just for one fucking crappy piece of paper. It is a world where politicians like Bong and other pretentiously “respectable” goons in the echelons of power lord it over meek/apathetic/frustrated (take your poison) citizens who have long been used to this  feeling of learned helplessness. It is a world where a person I love — a do-gooder tree-hugger of the highest order, who only wanted the best for this country that I couldn’t care less about – now has a PTSD so profound that even I, a psychologist by training, can’t get through to him.

I live in a fucking crazy country … which now (goodbye America) constitutes the sum total of my totally crappy world.

***

I stare at  Helen. Once upon a time I really liked her.

Now I say: “Fuck you, Helen.  Fuck you and Bong and all fucking Filipinos like you. And fuck me because I need your help and I don’t want to spend another hour in a queue and I need this fucking paper.”

Helen gave a screech, shocked that I can muster so many f-words in one statement.

That very second, Willie (bless his soul, government bureaucrat that he is), came with my precious paper, a government-issued certificate.

I mumbled a half-embarrassed, half-insincere apology to Helen. And without waiting for her reply, I left.

I know (just like I know that Jonas will still shut me out tomorrow) that Helen will unfriend me on Facebook and that I will probably never see her (nor benefit from her connections) again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Non-Overlapping Magisteria

Jonas does not believe that he should have to choose between his work and Alice. They are two completely different aspects of his life.

Image from nupe.co.uk

Image from nupe.co.uk

 

You are being pussy-whipped bro, James, his friend from work remarked.

But Gabrielle, another colleague, had a different opinion. What do you expect her to do Jonas? Wait for you to come home everyday and massage your feet after your day at work?

Honestly, Gabrielle’s suggestion is preferable to having Alice 8000 miles away; and him flying back and forth from one side of the globe to another just for them to be together for a few days out of every year.

Women are put into this world to wait on men, James further opined. You have to up your game, and show her that she is not the only pus – sorry – girl in the world.

Let it be put into record that James’s statements were made in the context of him inviting Jonas to join a “boy’s night out” which consists of a visit to a KTV along Quezon Avenue and a really cool spa in Makati where the therapists provide “extra service.”

Jonas was seriously mulling James’s invitation.

Gabrielle intruded on his thoughts because she was concerned that Jonas did not have the correct priorities. Gabrielle is a happily-married mother of two, and she is as worried about Jonas’s erratic lovelife the way she is worried about her own son’s scrapes in the playground.

She is now saying: When you are in your deathbed, you will not wish that you had put in more time in saving our rainforests. What you will regret is that you have not spent more time with the woman you love most in the world.

Gaby, with all due respect, you are not in your deathbed, so I don’t think you are in a position to say what people in their deathbeds are thinking.

Jonas, I may not be in my deathbed, but my father currently is in his. And that was exactly what he told me.

Sex Ed

She had known him for two years before asking him the questions she was really curious about.

These questions are not the ones discussed in school; certainly not in the one-semester health-education-knowing-your-body course she and other public school teenagers in her country generally have. What her high school teacher said about s-e-x boiled down to: 1. Don’t do it while you’re young; 2. It’s okay to do it if you’re married; 3. Children are its worthy by-product; all the rest (and maybe that includes orgasms) are after-thoughts.

That was circa 1990s, of course; and her teacher was a 50-year old straight-laced,  PhD-holding, tenured university professor, who always wore skirts.

Now she wonders, why do grown-ups never tell you the interesting parts about sex like:

* What is it like to lose one’s virginity?

* Why do people  who should know better (being educated and well-informed) claim that they do not want to have children and yet do not use contraception? Is it laziness? Being sucked in the “heat of passion” (a line she learned in a romance novel)?

* What’s the big deal about having children anyway? Does one really need to have one before one dies? For what? To fulfill a biological imperative?

* What do orgasms feel like?

What her skirt-wearing, well-meaning high-school teacher failed to mention; what all those who have had sex fail to mention when they talk about what you are and are not missing when you have sex, is the immense power-play involved among penises and vaginas.

Was it Andrea Dworkin who supposedly said that all heterosexual intercourse is rape? But that was just a myth, wasn’t it?

After Alice and Jonas first had sex (oh the word!), the emotions that overwhelmed her were:

1. feeling owned by and bound to this person who may or may not stay in her life for very long (“owned” and “bound” are such loaded words, very un-feminist, but that’s what she felt, no matter what Andrea Dworkin might say),

2. worry that a single sperm managed to pass through an improbable pore in the condom that they used and she will get pregnant,

3. a sense of wonder that sex was not as bad as they said it can be and that it actually exceeded her expectations,

4. curiosity about “where this all might lead to.”

***

Flash forward to now…

She is holding his hand, or maybe he is holding hers — they are lying down facing each other after you-know-what. And his eyes are closed. And Alice is thinking, his eyelashes look so much more nicer than mine, how can that be.

Alice: So I want to ask you a question.

Jonas: Uhhmm …

Alice: What did it feel like for you the first time you had sex? Were you worried, apprehensive, excited? Did you think it would change your life or change you inside? Did you have performance anxiety or were you just happy you were finally doing it? Were you concerned about getting an STD or getting the girl pregnant? Did you even think about STD or pregnancy at all?

It is a long time before Jonas answers that Alice thinks he has fallen asleep.

“I felt that I was doing something right,” he finally says. “But afterwards, you were crying, so for a moment there I was worried that you will go to the police and report that it was rape.”

Jonas kisses her nose, opens his eyes and smiles.

Alice has her answer.

 

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”.