Searching for Antidotes to Bad Places

One should not love something that one cannot own. Loving entails dreaming for that which one loves. And what would be the point of expending energy dreaming for  that which one will never be a part of?

****

Alice stares at Jonas while he was sleeping. She cannot help feeling like a voyeur; but since  this is the only time she can permit herself to be with him without being defensive or guarded, she relishes such moments.

She stares at his eyelashes — the ones she had, once upon a time, found so entrancing — resting peacefully against his wasted face. She still loves his eyelashes; and as she remembers how he used to get annoyed when she teased him about them, she smiles.

Alice wonders how a man who possesses such lovely eyelashes can turn (wittingly or unwittingly) into a monster.

*****

She remembers the time he held her hand, that far-off time; a stormy June at the faculty lounge. 

He brought her lunch at 4 pm: siopao, dimsum and chinese noodles. She was grateful, nervous and hungry. And he was looking at her with a mixture of fondness and amusement as she was eating.

He was telling her about Helen. His ex-girlfriend who was a drug addict.

“I haven’t heard from her for years. Then she called the university looking for me.” Jonas was tracing random figures on her palm. It felt ticklish but he was so absorbed in it that she let him go on.

“She was in trouble,” he continued. “She got into a group that was really bad for her. She quit her job and was not living in their house.”

“Where was Helen staying?” Alice asked, not that she was particularly interested.

“A bad place,” Jonas answered simply. “They uhmmm, they were blackmailing her. She had photos with them and they were threatening to release those photos and humiliate her and her family.”

“Why did she go to you for help?”

“I don’t know. She just did.”

“Do you always remain  friends with your ex-girlfriends?” she teased him.

He smiled, “I try.”

*****

Years later, after that conversation, when Alice was Jonas’s pseudo-ex-girlfriend, he told her that he really really wanted to kiss her then, in that faculty lounge. But he was afraid that she might bolt or slap his face. Given the person she was, Alice agreed with his conclusion.

****

How often can a person  change in one lifetime? Now Alice wonders.

She so wants to reach out and touch Jonas.

But she is afraid that he might bolt, slap her face. Or worse.

*****

 

Author’s comments (not that I matter in this story): I have always been  more partial to Nat than to Betty. So I choose to believe that Alice will turn into Scarlett Johansson and save Jonas from himself. Or, will it be the other way around?

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Case of Puppy Love

Alice stares at Gaia’s receding back, the long Revlon-fair hair, the swaying hips, the arching curve of her spine. She is not a lesbian; but Alice can understand Gaia’s appeal.

“So she was your first love,” she tries to sound as non-chalant as possible

“Are you jealous?”

“Definitely not. My boobs are bigger and my ass don’t sag.”

“I was so young when I knew her.”

“Young, like fourteen?”

Jonas nods.

“Wow! You were like Juliet. As in Romeo’s girlfriend, Juliet.”

“Thank you, darling, for comparing me to a girl.”

“Juliet was 14 when she lost her head over Shakespeare’s fictional rendition of a boy,” Alice points out. The truth is, she cannot bring herself to even feign jealousy as it is pretty obvious that whatever Jonas had felt for Gaia is as dead as the two star-crossed lovers. She cannot keep herself from baiting him, though, because it’s so much fun. “So was she like in love with you too?”

“No, she was in love with a jock from school.”

“Why?”

“I guess because I was fourteen and pimply and she was three years older than me.”

“But she didn’t end up with the jock.”

“Nope. She got pregnant. He left her and went to the US. And I thought that was my chance to win her.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No. She migrated to Canada with her little boy.”

“You must have been devastated.”

“Not really. But she taught me lessons about women that I will never forget.”

Now Alice is jealous. She has always believed (in her vanity) that that woman is her. “So she left and you just gave up.”

“I wrote her for a year, actually. Snail mail, 300 of them I think. She didn’t write back.”

“Like ever?” Alice is really jealous now. Three hundred effing letters for Gaia-with-the-sagging-ass? And Jonas couldn’t even bring himself to email Alice without  prompting!

“Well there was this mail I received from her just before I graduated from college. It was a wedding invitation.”

“She did that?” Alice exclaims. “That’s horrible. That must have been the worst thing a woman has done to you.”

Jonas stares at her, half smiling. “Actually, the worst was when I asked a woman to marry me and she chose to go to Connecticut instead.”

Alice felt her face take on the red shade of the sunset behind them.

alice could never stop while she was still ahead. Which is why she was now as red as this sunset. Needless to say, Jonas hasn't been this amused for a long time; he is surprised that he can still enjoy seeing Alice get embarrassed .

Alice could never stop while she was still ahead. Which is why she was now as red as this sunset. Needless to say, Jonas hasn’t been this amused for a long time; he is surprised that he can still enjoy seeing Alice get embarrassed .