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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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.

 

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.