Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ruminations of A School Peon

Where I come from, it is a crime to smile. The force of law accompanies every swing of the sovereign’s flabby arms against the table. Standing as I tow my words from the short distance between my brain and my throat, the professor begins to impose his authority, as if my silence is the birth of an endless and unforgivable mea culpa. And then a word, an incorrigible phrase, a sentence—I was ready to regurgitate and vomit all three hours of what I learned last meeting but I reeled myself. His presence meanders in complete autonomy through the forlorn spaces of the room, clawing my courage with neither mercy nor caution while I stutter in my vain attempt to not sound like him, a lone German fascist trumpeting hate speech before a crowd of Polish Jews. For committing mistakes too stark to be simply ignored, I let things be. The blade must cleave sick flesh and the hammer must break brittle bones if only to purify our less than genteel stock. I smiled, though, and I became an instant convict with a lethal sentence hanging on my nose.

It was not the first time that I died.

Silence fortifies the halls, concealing a vista of prison cells where freedom is a word never spoken. Rules dominate the marble castle to the hilt. Inside, the footsteps of those who drag their heavy heart with their feet to elsewhere—some never to return—are intermittent, as if their life is merely an incident to their being human, if at all they still are. I stood for almost thirty minutes, stealing furtive glances at the sunken garden through the window amid the eternal blabber of the king. Most of the time, I am distressed by the imposing wrath of the institution where I study, leaving me with only the swagger of a cripple to nurse my broken pride before I walk home. The course requires tremendous effort and patience, both of which I rarely have on days and nights too few to count. Include the more pressing concerns of life outside school and you have the perfect noose where people in the same league can hang together or hang separately. The ignoramus can simply choke from his own breath and die with the muteness of the solstice.

I think my brain is as hard as concrete. It is too stubborn. It eschews learning and all its attendant verities. Science and religion might offer a little saving grace but I am afraid I am beyond redemption. Or maybe I am simply afraid. Fear has obfuscated all the reasons for me to cloud my mind with more of the same conventional wisdom. I would rather be a happy fool than a miserable genius. To say the least, I am a school peon truncating his life by living it with regret.

But I usually tremble in awe. In front of the professor, I imagine scenes of medieval fancy. The imperial joke sits on the throne wearing the royal crown that bears the lackluster insignia of regal provenance. It symbolizes the loathing of a thousand people who were born to inherit a thousand sickles. With the ferocity of a toothless gerbil and the impulse of travesty, the monarch commands the mutilation of dreamy heads and the massacre of a thousand and more hearts all weary of their fate. There is nary an exemption from the onslaught. All subjects must yield to a decree so cold and divine even the sun might freeze into a thin icicle. Those who manage to survive will live to witness another day of torment. With madness, we wash our lives. With dry zeal, we rinse our anxieties. But even with everything, armories and all, we are nothing.

The fantasy ends to the recitation of surnames. Attendance, the professor says, must be checked. Never mind if the students are merely present in body. Just stay inside the classroom and osmosis, if not the intercession of the saints, will take care of the rest.

Waking-up to the sight of a pile of unfinished readings is never comfortable. It is not the kind of breakfast I am excited to take first thing before waxing my mind with poetic and prosaic incantations a few hours after sunrise. Crazy enough to try to smash my head against the morning air, my mind would be ruffled with thoughts. They attempt to telescope toward the azure sky if only to prove that there is more to life than grand mannerisms. As if holding a solo concerto with only one patient attendee—my dog—I would sing a rhapsody that is far too bohemian for my taste and begin jostling the first ten of a hundred or so pages.

Confused, I smoke my coffee and drink my cigarette. Three years after and I still ask myself the same question.

When will I love what I study?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

How to Chase Her and Fail

[Last part of "The Manual" series]

Unlike the grand lottery, you are predictable. Every move you make, with or without liquor, is certain to teeter between tragedy and comedy. The closest to consistency you have ever been is being able to commit every lethal combination of imprudence and negligence. Each time, you are able to come out alive, barely escaping with a heavily bruised heart and a badly wounded spirit. Maintaining a stiff upper lip throughout will not change anything. In three months, nobody will dignify your foolhardiness with a condescending remark. It is as if you were never there, a boy whose existence is not even close to that of an unborn dream. By the fourth month, you suddenly take shape—an undignified shape—and for the first time you are noticed. Fueled by solitude and driven by despair, you clamber on.

Clumsy is the first word you breathe, recite and embrace. Disaster is second. With a soul already dented by the pestilence of memory, your youthful blood will append more recklessness to your young mind. But like any game of chance, you gamble with love and bet your life, or what is left of it, every step of the way. Like a resilient soldier always willing to cross every line drawn by unknown hands, you know quite well that you have nothing more to lose but only the girl to gain. For the third time in your life, you feel alive.

Clothe your naked conviction with fibers of courage and filaments of pride. The battleground is as frigid as frozen fields cast in eternal tundra, leaving little mercy, if any, for the underling seeking comfort in skins and bones. Be brave. Send her letters more than you can possibly write. Ink every poignant thought by finding your voice in words. Tell her the things you are dying to say and not the things you are saying in order to die. Offer the love to last three lifetimes after the first ten. She will not believe you. It means three things. One, she is normal. Two, something is wrong. Three, something else is right.

You want her so bad it feels so good. Chasing her is a challenge and help is nowhere. There is no compromise. Right in the murky mire, one thing is as clear as sunlight: she already knows you like her. It is as stubborn as the stain that you have no intention to wipe. Unfortunately, you have no idea if the feeling is mutual, or if it will ever be one. Worse, you remain uncertain if she is even running away from you, or if she is now willing to be chased.

The only girl who broke your heart each day in eight years remains a riddle. She is a cureless affliction, a fatal malady coursing your veins, never failing to remind you of your own mortality every moment you feel invulnerable. Her elegant smile is a hex and her glance is your tormentor. Softly, she kills. Explanations there are none except for one: they are the chisels that sculpt your life by chipping away the crude layers. In all these, she is the artisan. You have survived in one piece, only less than before.

Although all is fair in love and war, assume the role of the pessimist. Without doubt, it is not the most exciting job in the world. So is your life. All unrequited sentiments deserve scant sympathy, if not the exit door. Like placid but dirty water in the kitchen sink, they must necessarily go. The putrid odor of stagnant emotions is harrowing. It does not invite romance. It invites more of the same misery and familiar folly. Unclog the hole and drain everything. Fail in each try, knowing fully well that to love is to linger more than you can, warts and all. Sometimes, you desire to tinker with the stars so that the rest of the universe will conspire in your favor at least for once. But you have short hands and an even shorter imagination to reach the heavens.

Remember to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Do that and nothing can stand between you and yourself because, deny as you might, you are your own resolute enemy. Through eight years, you have struggled against yourself more than you have struggled with it. Stand in front of the mirror and watch the face of defeat and triumph blend in a single reflection. Ogle your severely diminished pride as it continuously depletes, slowly but surely, until, at last, you have none of it left. The chase, though, is far from over.

But one day, you will fail for the last time. Soon, her cheeks will be reserved for the kisses that will be planted by lips not yours. Someone else will hold her chin and you will not be there to witness her surrender to the embrace of a stranger. Your fingers will never trace her face and skin on nights lovelier than anything you can imagine. She will love and it will be the end.

Grow old alone.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5