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?

 

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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.”

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

(Marianne’s Theory of Human Relationships)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Reading Lists: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Defence of Soulmates

soulmate from FB— Michael Fiore by way of Facebook

 

***

Alice was not into soulmates.

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

But Alice was not buying. Why should she?

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

before sunset

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

The thing is …

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Lesson on Ownership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sampagita1

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

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

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

“Then what’s the point?”

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

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

“Sure I do. And yes you are.”

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

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

“Yes I do.”

“You don’t.”

“Do too.”

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Faded Pictures

Alice knew she had to find work. The kind that pays a steady salary. The one that can translate to a career.

Surfing the net and going to government agencies and writing letters and emails to people asking for information regarding a certain missing person is not a job. Okay, she had been doing ODesk and Freelancer projects (the wonders of the Internet!) but it is not enough. She had always perceived work to happen in a “real” world; not in a virtual one (whatever that means).

But first: she had to realize that her return — this return — is (probably) not a short-term (not even a temporary?)  hiatus. She may have to stay in this godforsaken country of her birth for a loong time.

Her aunt was beginning to ask her the question that Alice had been dreading to hear: “What are your plans dear?”

Her preferred answer was: “I initially planned to come here; look around, perform a quick, painless extraction mission (and maybe get laid); then leave again, back to my cushy New York job that offered an H1B visa.”

Of course she did not say that. But if she were a bitchier person, she probably would — but, she was only beginning to realize, frankness is never the best policy when dealing with her people.

In her country, progress is perceived as more skyscrapers and more salaried jobs and more cars in the streets and more people who can afford to shop in malls. Alice defines progress as: a country where there are no missing persons.  Image from www.rechargenews.com

In her country, progress is perceived as:  more skyscrapers and more salaried jobs and more cars in the streets and more people who can afford to shop in malls. Alice defines progress as: a country where there are no missing persons. Image from http://www.rechargenews.com

She reads the news everyday. And everything can be summarized into a Charles Dickens cliche: it was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

The Philippine Stock Exchange is moving up; constructions are beginning to sprout; the Philippines is second to China as far as economic growth is concerned; her Aunt Juliet, after 54 years of being a bachelorette,  married a 60-year old widower who adored her.

Jonas is still missing.

So things are looking up — except for Alice’s depression.

She tells herself: he is probably dead. It has been months and there’s … nothing. Just clues that lead to a series of disappointments. You have practically traveled the whole archipelago that you can write a Lonely Planet guide about it (she has actually done something like that in one of the freelance internet ghostwriting jobs that came her way).

In sequence, these are what happened: 1. Alice would not answer Jonas's question so he informed her that she is a coward who is afraid commitments (in so many words). 2. Alice shots back, if she was a coward, what does that make him? 3. Jonas does not say anything for a long time. 4. They see this apple tree and in an attempt to make up and be friendly, Alice persuades Jonas that they have a selfie taken with this tree. 5. Then Jonas agrees when Alice wheedled him to let her take his picture. 6. Jonas did not look very happy in the picture Alice had taken. Image from http://wallpapertags.com

In sequence, these are what happened: 1.) Alice would not answer Jonas’s question so he informed her (in a manner littered with exclamation points)  that she is a coward who is afraid commitments. 2.) Alice shots back: if she was a coward, what does that make him? 3.) Jonas does not say anything for a long time. 4.) They see this apple tree and in an attempt to make up and be friendly, Alice persuades Jonas that they have a selfie taken with this tree. 5.) Then Jonas agrees when Alice wheedled him to let her take his picture. 6.) Jonas did not look very happy in the picture Alice had taken. Image from http://wallpapertags.com

She still looks at his picture. Every night … well almost. The last one she took of him when he visited her in Connecticut. It was spring and she hustled him to pose beside an apple tree. Jonas was usually averse to having his picture taken, which is weird because he does photography as a hobby. He could do selfies with Alice and he has taken thousands of pictures of her. But he would usually refuse when she offered to take photographs of him solo.

That day was an exception. Maybe it’s because they almost fought that day. Because Jonas asked her a question she did not want to hear from him: “What are your plans Alice?”

 

***

Readings Lists and References:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/opinion/sunday/from-sports-illustrated-the-latest-body-part-for-women-to-fix.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

http://www.rappler.com/entertainment/news/85003-kris-aquino-herbert-bautista-proposal-relationship-breakup-blog?utm_content=buffer68834&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/issues/gender-issues/84768-menstruation-poverty-health-girls?utm_content=bufferc98bd&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/675290/biff-on-afp-all-out-war-we-will-die-fighting

http://www.rappler.com/nation/84925-sc-religious-schools-cannot-fire-workers-pre-marital-pregnancy?utm_content=buffer64ed5&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

http://www.rappler.com/technology/social-media/84916-netizens-react-alan-cayetano-exchange-iqbal-senate?utm_content=buffer9dc5a&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

http://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/84900-oxford-university-wharton-school? utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=referral
http://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/investigative/84397-bongbong-marcos-degrees-oxford-wharton

Girl-Power (or How To Double-Team a Boy and Win)

Jonas was in Mindanao during the 2001 all-out-war against Muslims (who prefer to be called Moros in this part of their world) instigated by an actor who was playing the role of “president”.

It was not an experience that he would care to repeat.  He and his friends were stranded; and his mother was calling everyday, embarrassing him. At that time, cellphones were rare; and his mom would call collect on the landline. His friend, Arnie, would be merciless whenever handing Jonas the phone.

Jonas loves his mother (he doesn’t have a choice about it). But she drives him crazy!

Today, his mother is in cahoots with Alice. Their project is to persuade him to accept an NGO project that is based in Luzon.

The Magat River. Picture from http://www.snaboitiz.com

The Magat River. Picture from http://www.snaboitiz.com

 

Mrs. Endriga: For a change, right Alice? What is in Mindanao that cannot be found in Luzon?

Alice: Right Tita! I mean, they have mountains and so do we!

They talk to each other as if he is the Invisible Man.

Mrs. Endriga: We even have rivers!

Alice: True. In fact, the Magat River is the longest in the country and it’s in Nueva Vizcaya!

Mrs. Endriga: That is near your town, right iha?

Alice: An hour or two ride away.

Mrs. Endriga: There are so many beautiful places one can explore in Luzon …

Alice: Right! Like there’s Mount Banahaw …

Mrs. Endriga: And let’s not forget the Cordilleras …

The last time Alice checked, headhunters are already history in Sagada. Maybe. Picture from www.wayph.com

The last time Alice checked, headhunters are already history in Sagada. Maybe. Picture from http://www.wayph.com

 

Alice: Tita, they have headhunters there.

Mrs. Endriga: Is that so. Well, Sagada is civilized, I heard.

Alice: The Southern Tagalog region has Laguna lake, we don’t have to go very far …

Mrs. Endriga: But Laguna Lake is already polluted.

Alice: That is a challenge to any environmental geologist worth his salt.

The Laguna de Bay is the largest lake in Luzon. Too bad it's very polluted. Picture from deviantart.com

The Laguna de Bay is the largest lake in Luzon. Too bad it’s very polluted. Picture from deviantart.com

 

Mrs. Endriga: That’s true, that’s true … I must say that I have raised my children not to run from any challenge.

Alice: Well, your girls are wonderful mam. I love them!

Mrs. Endriga: I love them too, iha. Now the boy …

Alice: Is a dork … sorry I know he’s your son. But we have to be honest here.

Mrs. Endriga: Well, he’s not that bad. When he was one-year old he used to eat my lipstick.

Jonas has to draw the line when he heard the the word “lipstick.”

“Mother, you have to shut up. And you too Alice. I am going to take that job, if that will keep you two from yapping like harpies and driving me into a mental institution.”

 

***

Reading Lists or References:

http://jonas.ph/blog/2014/06/06/places-in-the-philippines-na-parang-pag-ibig/

http://manila.coconuts.co/2015/02/06/6-cool-coffee-shops-found-quezon-city

http://manilastandardtoday.com/2015/02/20/pnoy-scolds-saf-widows/

http://raissarobles.com/2011/10/24/what-would-an-all-out-war-in-mindanao-cost-us/comment-page-1/#comment-244765

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/02/father-murdered-jordan-pilot-demands-harsh-revenge-150204100838183.html

http://www.rappler.com/world/regions/middle-east/83188-jordan-queen-rania-isis?utm_content=buffere5407&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

http://www.rappler.com/views/imho/83196-presidential-resignation-matter?utm_content=buffer5f258&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer