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.

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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.

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.”

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.

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.”