Thursday, November 27, 2014

26


You and I.


1.
If time had a taste, you’d be the flavor of every season there is, and they turn into the drops of sweetness exploding in my tongue as the final days of November ease the cold of the night until it touches my skin, and all the more I cannot help but yearn for your hands. And as they give my fingers and palms the warmth they need, I cannot help but realize that this miracle deserves a name. It is yours.

2.
If Ludwig Wittgenstein is right when he said that language is the limit of our world, then you are my final frontier, and your name defines all that there is left for me to understand, for in it I find meaning and sense, all in four words of twenty letters, maybe even just one and three: Kae.

3.
You are as lively as the promise of spring, giving me the life that I have wanted for so long. I taste you in my mouth the way I anticipate the coming of rain: full of strength and desire and all that there is in love. I am as eager as a thirsty river waiting for the high tide.

4.
I nourish myself with your kindness as though I have not eaten since I was born, and you satiate my heart and mind and body and soul the way they have never been satiated before. Your kindness whets my appetite for kindness of the same measure.

5.
You are water, quenching my thirst when my lips are dry and barely able to say a word. You are an oasis, giving me comfort when the days become unforgiving, and for that I am thankful. I love you the way the night longs for sunrise.

6.
Doubtless, you are a little girl with a heart so big I could easily fit inside, like a cast is to its mold, a shelter from the drudgery of this world. But even if you are small, let alone the heart that you keep, I love you just the same.

7.
Whenever I think of you — and god knows how often I do — I just want to split the sun in half and take one to the other side of the world so that there will be no evenings and the days will run twice as fast until the time that I can finally be with you again. But I love the nights when I am with you, and I pray most often that they would not end soon, that the sun would wait a little longer and let the moon have its way through and through.

8.
I take photos of you when you are not looking, or when you least expect me to, because most of the simplest joys in life are too overwhelming they pass us by unnoticed, and so I try to capture them, one image at a time, so that I can look back at them when we are not together.

9.
You say you can hardly carry a tune, but know that when you sing, your voice beckons my heart and then I think to myself “If it is true that she cannot sing then I do not know what else she is capable of doing the moment she is able to carry one.” But you can carry a tune, no matter how truncated or prolonged, with as much as ease as the smile that you make. The modesty you have is a melody on its own.

10.
Know that you are not just my song. You are mine, all of you, as much as I am yours.

11.
When I told you I’ll be right there, it was a promise I intended to fulfill. Eight days later, on the tenth day of the tenth month, I returned to the city, hope swelling in my eyes to the point that everywhere I look all I can see is you. For the first time in my life, I realized then and there that I never wanted to close my eyes again.

12.
You and I share many interests and, most often, think about the same things. It fascinates me. It is as though there is a long nerve that connects our brains, one that spans the distance between Naga City and Pangasinan, stretched out like a massive highway with its center right in Quezon City, and we are the only ones allowed to traverse that meandering road, much to the exclusion of the universe and the strangers that we encounter everyday. It is like a secret between you and I.

13.
But of course, we are not one and the same. You say you can be an impatient woman. Patience, however, is probably my strongest suit, my virtue and my vice. You say you tend to get easily bored. I don’t. You dwell on the bright side of things, as though you have lived all your life on the face of the earth where the sun never sets. I have the tendency to linger where the shadows thrive. In a way, you bear the vitality of daytime, and I possess the melancholia of the night on a winter solstice.

14.
So it is: you and I are worlds apart and yet we have our world all to ourselves. You and I dwell in it as though it is the only universe there is, and I really do not mind if that is the case, for here we are, you and I, proof that there is life and that we need not look further, farther.

15.
All along you were in my mind before we met, like a seed eager for sun and rain, taking root slowly but surely in my fertile imagination, pushing its way through the thicket of my memories until, at last, it has blossomed and all I could see before my eyes are colors where there used to be none.

16.
We first met on the fifteenth day of October, shy but full of unspoken passions waiting to thrust themselves in the air at the right moment that we dared to make. The second I held your hand, I felt my anxieties peel away until all I am left with are the words that I have wanted to tell you, free from the limits of the page and ink, dancing in complete liberty.

17.
And on the sixteenth you and I were one, because we are as unconventional as lovers go, but conventional still in the many other ways that complete us.

18.
You have become the sum of the minutes and hours that I yearn to live, and should the weeks and months ahead compress themselves into a fleeting second, I will not blink. The rarity of finding someone like you, of discovering the closest to a miracle that I will ever be able to encounter in a world that sustains itself through wanton indifference and betrayals, it is enough for me to finally draw my gaze away from the stars and settle my eyes on you.

19.
Gone are the days when I used to wonder how it feels to hold the hand that writes the words that make my world spin, that turn me into a believer, a man who believes that the world can be a happy place if we choose to turn it into one, a place where every tomorrow tastes like every today — full of promise, ripe with possibilities, enduring in its own wisdom. Gone are the days when I used to wonder, for now I can hold your hands.

20.
I trace the veins on your fingers, marvel at how they ultimately find their way to your heart, the source of your life, your life the source of my own.

21.
The way you carry yourself, it is as if you grace the earth beneath your feet with your footsteps, as though the air you breathe will one day find its way to my lungs and nourish my body with the strength of a thousand soldiers, maybe more. The wind lapping against your hair, all the millions of them, it carries your scent and surrounds my flesh, and I surrender myself to it because I do not want to be anywhere else.

22.
If touch is the language of love, I speak with my hands whenever I am with you, and the verses I keep in the hours and days of your momentary absence long to find their way to your skin, envelop you because you are where they rightfully belong. Home is who you are.

23.
It is true: your absence makes my heart grow fonder. But if truth has gradations, what is truer is this: your presence makes my heart grow. Today, I am as big as my heart. I may be a Goliath any time soon.

24.
And now, wherever I go, I walk with a sense of direction, because you are every north and south and east and west that I am willing to take. Forward. Always forward.

25.
Because of you, I am whole again, and so you deserve the best that I can be.

26.
Today is the twenty-seventh and you turn twenty-six. Never reveal a woman’s age, they say. Fuck the world, I say, because in my mind you are forever young. Besides, I am not good with numbers. And as always, math is not my cup of tea.

You are.





Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hello, Love


Us.


Suddenly I find myself consumed by the kind of happiness that speaks a thousand languages my lips do not know where to start. The alphabet is not enough, nor will the numbers ever be. And so I smile instead because I am beholden to this heart equally beholden to the girl, and because an unspeakable joy such as this, a gladness so convincing such as this, can only be felt in the silence of words, rightly so in the muteness of language, even as they graze my mind so that I may finally write them down, revealed in their naked truth. They trickle into my dreams like a river sourcing itself from a place so high it never ends, finding sanctuary in the open waters of the ocean, and as the wakeful world blurs in the distant shoreline, I float, the weight of my worries sinking beneath the waves, dropping like stones helpless against the surge and undertow.

For the first time after a long, long time, I can greet the sun again like an old friend, rising and rushing to wash my body with its light and sweep away the darkness around it. My mornings are no longer the same, tragic as they were before, the nights more so. Where I stand, my world is now a different place, and I look upon it with the assurance, reverence even, that things are starting to fit their proper spot in the universe. I know now where my heart belongs, and I intend it to stay where it is now.

I wish I can promise her forever, but that is impossible. I can only promise her now and the immediate future, and who I am and who I will be in the course of that time. Perhaps that is enough, because this lifetime happens only once. And I am quite certain that she, too, happens only once in the same lifetime, and I do not want it any other way, certainly not twice and yet a different girl the second time. I do not deign an apology, but if the universe will not allow it, may fate be kinder, gentler at the least, because the first day she becomes a part of my life — as she now does — may just as well be the only day that I am willing to live for the rest of the years ahead. Three hundred and sixty five days and more, of her at the start of it all.

I know now that happiness is the province of love, and it dwells in it under the aegis of a desire so strong it commands my life with a sense of purpose. These I have come to realize with the touch of her hand, my fingers trembling ever so lightly even before contact, and as my palms lock themselves with hers I cannot help but wonder how surreal it is, how beautiful the touch of her hands can be even as it mystifies my being, because if that alone is not magic I do not know what else is. These I have come to realize, too, with her smile that seems perpetual on her lips, climbing up to her eyes as though she sees the world from the vantage point of joy, the rest of the world around her drawn to the bliss that her vision casts upon the humble earth, my self most of all, which is enough proof that to be with her is to be satiated with the taste of contentment in life, the kind that never seems to run dry. And through it all, in the things I do and wish to carry out, she is the purpose I live by, for she stirs my life, awakens it every day from the slumber that it used to tolerate. I have never felt so alive than this.

Hello, Love. I am yours twice. Today for tomorrow. Tomorrow for today.





Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Waxing Philosophic, So I Wait


Screenshot of part of the opening credits to The Walking Dead




Or, conversely, waiting, so I wax philosophic.

Wait, according to Google, is a verb that means “stay where one is or delay action until a particular time or until something else happens.” It is “used to indicate that one is eagerly impatient to do something or for something to happen.” The word takes its origin from the Old Northern French waitier, which essentially means almost the same thing as the term wake — “stop sleeping,” or “stir or come to life.” Strange how the concept has shifted in meaning over time. From what once meant stirring to life, the word now means bide one’s time. From activity to inactivity, or passivity. From actual to potential. For the man who was born centuries before, for him to wait is for him to do something. But we live today, and waiting, they say, has now become the closest thing to doing almost nothing, as though one who waits is caught in a seemingly perpetual limbo, anticipating something that has no assurance of ever happening. Manigas ka, as they usually say in common parlance.

I disagree with the part about doing nothing, or the way in which the word has now come to mean, the one about going hard as stone more so.

There are things that — or people who — are worth the wait, and waiting does not necessarily mean doing nothing in the interim. On the contrary, waiting gives us the opportunity to prepare, and it does so while raising anticipation, the same way that one would build a house, brick by brick, eager to see the day when the blueprint will finally take its form, habitable as any home ought to be, visible to the eyes as the good hands that have built it, real to the touch, evidence to the hard labor that will give it the semblance of life it deserves. So we do what we can as we wait.

Waiting, especially the part about patience, is not necessarily opposed to, or mutually exclusive with, having the audacity to go and get what you want. They do not have to cancel out each other. Oftentimes, waiting is part and parcel of the chase, of the struggle. Strike while the iron is hot, so they say, all the while forgetting that you still have to wait for the iron to get hot in the first place. It takes a certain amount of forbearance to dare have an audience with someone who eclipses our world. We wait because we are audacious. We are audacious because we wait.

Timing is everything as everything is a question of time, an inquiry about the when. On its own, there is no right time. Rather, we make the time we choose to be the right one. We select the hour of the day for the reckoning point, and try to turn it into the proper time, which is why it is necessary to exercise prudence and caution in choosing the moment we desire to make proper. For all we know, it, too, is a risk, for there are no guarantees in scheduling things. Which is precisely why we do what we can to make the time we choose to be the right one. This, I think, is the essence of timing.

Because timing dictates the length of the wait, weak emotions are nipped at the bud, snuffed out like the tender flame of a small candle lit up in the midst of a virulent storm. But the strong ones feed on the wind until they explode into a prairie fire. Sometimes, it is not that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Rather, it is that the possibility of presence makes it so, especially if it is for the first time.

Bob Marley has a song where he says, or sings, that he does not want to wait in vain, and I think nobody does. It is for that reason that he asks: “Is it feasible? I want to know now for I to knock some more.” It is his way of saying that he has gambled enough, and that he now wants to know if all the waiting he has done will not end up in futility. He does not want to end up turning into a rock. He is looking for some kind of assurance, a sign to continue, for he has stirred, or steered, himself to life the moment he decided that someone is worth the wait.

I like to believe that my soul was born long before my body first saw the light of day. I might have already lived centuries before, the time when waiting meant doing something. Which is why I wax philosophic and do other things as I wait for her.

Her name is Kae, and I want the world to know. I want the world to know that I wait for her. That I am waiting for her.





Thursday, October 2, 2014

Hues of You

I wish to trace the sunlight on your lips with the gentle touch of my fingers, satiate my wondering at how they seem to make my world spin just by the words that they give birth to. If I can, I would drink the sunlight from your lips, too, so that I may never be thirsty again. You are the water I need, like rain is to the Sahara, if only you would allow. I am willing to risk everything even for a drop.

Your voice is my music, a song I yearn to listen to every day, and my ears do not want it any other way, because in you they hear what the promise of the future brings, what it holds for its secrets, the unknown edging closer to certainty, farther now from doubts, the better things in life just biding their time until, at last, tomorrow has become today.

Oftentimes before I go to sleep I think about the days ahead, and I can always see you there, a presence eclipsing the sorrows I have had. And then happiness trickles in until it turns into a river that rushes forth, carrying the strength of a thousand happy days, maybe more, and at that point I welcome it with open arms, let it consume me because that is the least that a lover can do.

Apart from having to wait, and it humbles me.

I wait with the kind of patience that I suddenly find difficult to measure. I can try to put it in words by saying that I wait the way a seed yearns for the sun as the stars keep vigil over this germ of hope, but that is nowhere near half of what I am feeling. I may say that I wait like a child quite eager to have someone help him find his way home, but the innocence that I bear is the kind that you would expect from someone who knows his way around, never gets lost, and so I will look for you if need be, because now I understand where I belong, where I want to be.

And I think you know where.





For Kae

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I Do

Somehow, I completely forgot about this post. It has been sleeping in my drafts since July. The only reason I can think of as to why I forgot about this is that I have wanted to write about something happy for so long. This is not one of them. Well, better late than never. Today, it will now see the light of day, but still half-sleeping, I guess. Warning: this is one of those not-quite-short drivels that I usually write. You have been warned.

----------------------







One day you will marry, and eleven years of waiting now force me to confront the reality, clear as daylight, that I can no longer deny: I will not be the man waiting for you at the altar, watching you walk at the aisle, closer to God and the man of your dreams, the people you hold dear to witness the wedding you rightfully deserve. I can only wish that I am the groom, and though my life will never be the same again, know this: what you mean to me, who you are to me, will remain, as though the years ahead will be quite like the day when I came to realize that all the people I have known and met hold fragments of you. This I know with all the honesty that hindsight can offer a man so broken. And it is through these acquaintances that I try to gather, one by one, my memories of the girl I once knew, so that maybe one day I can make the pieces whole, cluster them until they resemble your familiar completeness. I will live them so that I may never forget.

This desire, a yoke that sometimes I fear I was born to carry like an inheritance that no one wants, shall be mine to endure until the earth reclaims my mortal coil. But until that day, I will write about you even on days and nights when the right words fail to course themselves through my pen. I will sing songs about you even when my voice tells me not to, because there is nothing a man can do to stop his heart from wanting to be heard, like a bleeding that just would not heal. I will sketch you despite trembling hands, for I have long understood that fatigue comes from difficult and restless labor, oftentimes beyond what tired bodies can manage to sustain, and even then it will have to be done because people who live by the gift and curse of their hands know no other way.

I will run. I will sprint. I will join marathons. One way or another, I will let my feet take me to places I have never been to. For all I know, you might be there, somewhere, or you might not. Nothing is certain, or will ever be now, so anywhere is a good place to get lost without expecting to be found. After all, you are every direction I am bound to take — north of where I am, which is south of my present, west of my past, and east of my future. You are everywhere all at once.

I may not be the one to take you for my wife, nor you the one to take me for your husband, but know that I still do: I do recognize you for who you will become — a woman intent on raising her own children at the right time with the right man, a man who I can only aspire to be; a woman destined for greatness, of which I feel humbled, notwithstanding that fate would not let us share the same path, for as you negotiate the heights and turns to your pedestal I will remain outside everything you will build along the way, and all I can do is to accept my solitude as I am solitary in this acceptance and more, yet hoping just the same that the universe be gentler, favoring your prayers because I understand how it is to live with frustration, and it is enough that you be spared at my expense. I am strong because you are my strength. Let it be that way.

I do. I do take you as my eternal muse, giving wings to my words so that they may take flight, take dominion over the skies, even as they are weighed down by the memories that the world has imposed upon them, as though it is the penalty that my words need to suffer for daring to breach the comfort of silence, for when nothing is said or written, hearts find no reason to move mortals. In the stillness of life, all we will ever need is a pulse. No lovers. No romance. No attention for the greatness in small things. We will live with just our vital signs, and that could be enough. But life is violent, disquiet being its own parlance to dampen our fiery confidence that nothing can go wrong. But that is a tall tale. Some things go wrong as some other things go right, and to find out, we must take risks. I do, or I did, with the words that have found their way to you, and they had to return to where I am, having been read and sent back with urgent dispatch, with a response so heavy and light at the same time that they almost cancel out the plethora of emotions they elicit, until all that is left are my words and the wings you have given them. They still fly, even in my dreams.

I do. I do realize that greater sorrow beckons, the kind that will tax my heart so completely that it will have to plead for its life, question God why it had to suffer the way it had to, beseech the universe to grant it the happiness it probably deserves, no matter how small, no matter how late, because the promise of better days feels so near, so reachable, so possible that my heart can almost taste them, wrap itself around them with no intention of letting go. But promises are neither yours nor mine to give and take for we have none. In sickness. In health. For richer. For poorer. Until death do us part. Or until life itself does, again and again, as it already had a long time ago, and I am yet to see the last of this parting, hoping that it has one. I hope it does. I do.

What kind of man says these things a little too late, I do not know. For so long I have wanted to know myself in your eyes, and for the life of me I am yet to understand why each time I looked at you you always looked another way, as though you were searching for someone else, and it is only now, a little too late for everything, if not a lot too early for nothing, that I realize how right I am, that you have finally found the one you have been searching for all your life. In your eyes I can see a man I barely recognize.

Know that I still hope of becoming your wedding singer, for now I understand that it will be the closest I can get to the altar with you, even if you will be with another man. I will sing your song for him, and his for you, and when all has been said and done it is only then that I will get to sing my songs to you, for you, even if I have to do so all by my lonesome, and I do not really mind if I have to. After all, I have been doing it for years. But one day, I will stop. I intend to do so. I do. I will find peace in my silence.

Or with the woman who deserves all the love I could have given you.





Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Little Learning


At times when I least expect it to happen, I think of her, quick and all of a sudden, like lightning unzipping the night sky, momentarily revealing what lay hidden in the thick of darkness, and as I am not used to the swiftness in which things have to be decided, especially those that have everything to do with forgetting, I let my memories roam, rekindle the life they once have acquired, take the form that they used to have. It is under these unwarranted conditions where I have learned to dream the dreams that make sense, and to nurture the vain optimism they bring with a resolve as unflinching as iron that no force can wrest them from my hands without having to remind me first that I have emptied my world in favor of another, one that I have built on a shaky foundation, like a promise on top of another promise, collapsing under the slightest trembling, yet demanding to be hoisted anew whenever the opportunity presents itself. I think of her, and when I do I sink back to the reality supplanting my conviction that nothing in this world is fair. Nothing is.

You give it your all. You get nothing in return. A broken heart does not count, even if it reveals itself each time I think of her.

I have learned not to stray too far from familiar territory, fearing that I might lose myself along the way, for I have betrayed myself more than I have betrayed others time and again, and as I remain ensconced in the comfort of a house that no longer feels quite like home, my mind drifts, flirting with the temptation of venturing into the unknown, begrudging me of my physical immobility by its ambulant desire to flee, to taste the freedom that flight offers. But then, all by my lonesome as with most other times, I recall hearing her name, parting from the lips of friends and strangers not too long ago, the word floating about in the room like a whiff of an unsettled promise, an afterthought, a whisper not to be dictated neither by the flurry of the afternoon wind nor by the stillness of the evening, and then something inside me starts to awaken and stir despite its innocuous state, or precisely because of it, gentle at first but pulsating with the bold eagerness of a moth drawn to the beauty of something as riveting and as dangerous as fire. I surrender myself to this inner flame, and I feel warm.

That is probably where I belong — in the heat of things.

I have learned to reverse, or unsettle, the natural order, or at least I have tried to turn the world on its head, so that I can jump straight to the happily ever after part and skip the once upon a time standing in my way. Beginnings have their own promises, but I no longer believe in them. I tried. For quite a while, I did. But then again, I have finally understood what they say about promises, or expectations. Permanence, too, is a convenient excuse. The unforgiving truth is that everything changes, some quicker than others, from our preferences down to the smallest of things that irritate us in some way. Like living, or having to live just to wait. Life I can endure even if it is its own punishment, the waiting not so much. Not anymore. So I try to seize whatever I can, take it as though no one else will, and if someone else does, I let the world split itself asunder, for life has left with me with no other choice but to fight tooth and nail. Gone are the days of the kindness that I once knew. They have set like the sun long ago, once upon a time.

We live in a world of contradictions. I have learned that people will tell you one thing and yet, in the same breath, do the exact opposite. We are capable of performing miracles, only the type that no one really wants, like making a fool out of someone. People will make you want them, desire them, and then discard you, dispatch you with haste because there are so many of us, dispensable creatures that we are, and yet there is so little time for their ilk to sample the rest of our species. Trust is passé, it seems. Guilt is flat, unconvincing, like breakfast when you are down with the flu. And again I remember her, the only truth I have known, and I cannot help but question how she remains possible in a world that thrives on deceit, feeds on contempt with an insatiable hunger, the kind that does not leave the bones behind. How many of her kind are left, I do not know. I wish I knew so that my life would be easier, more forgiving than fate would allow, finding comfort in the assurance that this world of contradictions is yet to run out of kindred souls.

I have learned, or I like to think that I have, and in the course of it all I have learned myself, for here I am and this is what I have become: a man conjuring a belated defense for a cause equally late and lost it begs not to be found, preferably forgotten in ways so profound that no one, not even I, will ever remember again, sparing nothing, certainly not the reason why I cling to my memories in the first place, as though I have always walked this earth with my past in front, ahead of everything else, casting the longest of shadows where my feet will have to land themselves so that I may, at least and at last, dignify my solitude to a respectable level by moving forward. Always forward, even if it means that I have to be ahead of myself.

This is a life too lonely I have to learn many things, but I am yet to learn how to forget. I survived unprepared, and so I must suffer.





Wednesday, August 6, 2014

When A Poet is in Love with You


My friend once told me that she isn’t quite sure if the poet she knows is in love with her. I told her I’m not a poet but I think I have an idea how she may be able to tell. I told her that trying to know if a poet is in love with you is like reading Mandarin Chinese backwards with an accent that is half British and half something else, and she was like “What?” and I told her “Exactly!” The poet who is in love with you will try to make you understand even if it means he has to twist his tongue like a pretzel because love is the silliest language of all.

I told her: when a poet is in love with you, I suppose there are things he will say and there are things he will not say. He will tell you that every kiss will taste like all the poems he can write, and yet none can ever be as delicious as the flavor of your lips because there is a greater hunger inside him that no verse can ever satisfy. He will tell you that the dictionary is a list of a million useless definitions expecting a sentence, as though they have been accused of the complex crime of not making any sense because your name, believe me, your name is my favorite word and you alone hold its meaning.

And she was like, “Uh-huh.”

I told her: when a poet is in love with you, there are things he will say and there are things he will not say. The most random truths will surface and race at the tip of his tongue until he can no longer hold them back, so to silence the words he will tell you instead about the sun, of all things. And the stars. And the sky. And the moon. And the ocean and the clouds. And the birds and the bees and the flowers and trees and my God just look at how beautiful you are even if love is blind.

And she was like, “What did you say?” I knew quite well that she wasn’t deaf. I just wasn’t so sure about her heart, though.

I told her: when a poet is in love with you, there are things he will say and there are things he will not say. His lips will talk



but it is his heart that will speak. And all the while he’ll be thinking please don’t look at me please don’t look at me please don’t look at me because if you do he will have to stop in the middle of his sentence because



because in your eyes I can see our grandchildren and the next sixty years of our lives. Or maybe all I’m seeing is my future that has nothing to do with you, and if that is the case I swear to God I really swear I’d be a poet. And. Make. You. The. Story. Of. My. Life.

And she was like, “Hmmm...”

I told her: when a poet is in love with you, there are things he will say and there are things he will not say. He will tell you — no, no, he will remember you and every inch of who you are, like a book he yearns to memorize, so that even after when the pages are gone he will still be able to tell the world your story again, and again, and again, because isn’t it nice when even for once I can hold the love of my life?

And she was like, “Are you hitting on me?” She was smiling.

And when a poet is in love with you, I told her, he will tell you when.

A poet.

Is in love.

With you.

But he will not tell you who this poet is, because there are things he will not say. Because maybe he is not really a poet.

Maybe he is just your friend, pretending to know a thing or two about poets who are in love.





Tuesday, July 1, 2014

If You Happen to Know Her


You see, I’ve met her before, and if you happen to know her, please tell her. Please tell her that by this time tomorrow I would have already prayed for her a thousand sunny days and the shades from the clouds wherever she might need them. Should the wind hum a melody to where she is, and if by chance she had the time to question its probable cause, please tell her that the confession is mine to make, for I have been singing her name as though it has become the song of my life. And once the January snow has cloaked her city with its unforgiving cold, please tell her that she holds the warmth that can melt winter into spring. She can make one feel so alive like never before.

Sometimes I wish I can speak her language because math has never been my cup of tea. Sometimes I try, and the words would just slip from my mouth, because if she is an angle, someone who can bestow meaning and sense to space and numbers and all the axioms and postulates of mathematics, someone whose life can be plotted by way of two intersecting lines, someone who can validate once and for all that geometry is divine, she would be ninety degrees of pure Euclidean magic — everything about her feels so right.

Everything. So right. She’s not even perfect.

And it’s quite difficult for me to fully understand or explain why it is so, the same way that one might want to turn the implicit algebraic function (x^2 + y^2 - 1)^3 - x^2 y^3 = 0 into something so familiar by using the Matlab command >> ezplot('(0.35)*((x^2 + y^2 - 1)^3) - (1.3)*(x^2)*(y^3)');

I know that it doesn’t make sense as much as it does once you’ve tried it. Trust me, Math is not my cup of tea, but I’d drink it every day if only because of her, if only to make her understand.

May she fall in love to her soul’s desire and content, and if not with the man that I have become then let it still be so. But if the world should singe her heart by its own flames for longing and sadness, and for every unwanted memory mangled like a souvenir in her mind, may the course of life rectify something so decidedly, decisively skewed, because she deserves nothing less than the kind of happiness that roosts in the heart with no intention of leaving. This I know like the back of my hand.

And if I can fold the stars into a thousand origami cranes, if only I can, I’d cast them to the air, like prayers aflutter, and they’d come flying before her sleep, settling on her bed like a pillow and a blanket where she can rest her weary heart and mind, because every tomorrow is another day, one that is eager to reach out to her, like a pair of open hands, offering the promise of a dream ready to bloom at her beck and call.

If you happen to know her, please tell her. Please tell her that the proof of providence also lies in whoever owns the heart she will accept, whose dreams in life she will embrace as her own, treat them like blueprints eager for the miracles that her touch can do, trace them with her fingers as though these dreams are flesh and bones on the cusp of birth, for she will build her world around them, too, and it will be a world she will call Home.

Time is rarely on my side, but should the other months skip their turn on the calendar to give way to a year of twelve Julys starting today, I’d be ready. I’d be ready like a seed anxious for the first drop of light, a leaf thirsty for the mist of daybreak. By then, February will be July. So will December, and any difference will be the same, because the days and nights have always felt quite like this: a lifetime stuck in a moment, she at the heart of it all, the living, breathing cornerstone of all the truths I have ever realized, as timeless and as permanent as an eternity held captive by the blink of her eyes, and the stars alone know how much I yearn to look at her eyes again, gaze at them in utter surrender.

If you happen to know her, please please please tell her. Please tell her that I have written about her for as long as I can remember, day and night and night and day, and yet today I still have a thousand other things left to say, maybe more, waiting, as always, waiting to erupt from my heart to my lips, waiting with this kind of patience that only so few dare to understand, because this forbearance, this forbearance is not for everyone.

You see, I’ve met her before, and if you happen to know her, please tell her. But then again, perhaps there is no more use for my plea. After all, she is you.

You are her.





for Roxanne





Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Yevchenko


The dream happened at home. There on the couch by the corner, curled up like an unborn, wrapped in a blanket for an amniotic sac, a house within the house, a room within the room, impervious to the cold of the night, she slept. She slept peacefully. I stood a few steps away from where she was, like a shadow camouflaged in the darkness, a sentry watching over her for some time. But even in the promise of her birth, the place felt empty, like a lifeless womb.

The door creaked ajar, then it swung open, revealing my neighbor sprawled in drunken stupor beneath the awning. Light gushed into the room like blood from a wound, only that it was white. He tried to crawl his way inside as though he was bleeding from the brightness, but I closed the door, forced it shut with my left foot. He kept pushing from behind, outside, knocking and banging his fists like a prisoner of freedom begging to be let back in his jail, in the comfort of incarceration. A dog barking for its leash. The struggle lasted for a while, until there was silence.

Exhausted, I sat on the floor, between the door and the couch, my back against the wall. The noise must have shaken her to wakefulness. She woke up as though finally she decided that she must now be born, delivered by way of a motherless, painless birth. She got off the couch, walked a bit before retiring on the floor, and laid her head on my left thigh. I combed her hair with my hand. Combed it over and over. I told her “Will you believe me if I tell you that - ” but she cut my words off and said, smiling, her lips revealing her teeth, her eyes to the roof, “Yevchenko. He’s such a bad boy, but he’s handsome.”

I didn’t know who Yevchenko was.

It was then that I woke up from the dream. It was 6:45 in the evening, June 21, the same day I first met her eleven years earlier, which was also a Saturday at 6:45, except that it was in the morning.

I got up from bed. Ate cold dinner, or what was left of lunch. Took a bath, the longest one I can remember. Fixed my things in my room. Shaved. Skimmed through the bland television shows. Drank coffee. Pet the dogs. Pet the coffee. Shaved my things in my room. Ate a cold bath, or what was left of the television shows. Skimmed through the bland dinner. And the dogs, the longest ones I can remember. But through it all, amid the clarity and confusion, confusion more than clarity, the question won’t rub off, won’t wash itself away, like a bad memory plastered on my skin: Yevchenko?

I turned on the computer and did a quick online search. Of the many things that somehow made sense, one caught my attention — Valeriy and Alena Yevchenko: Sacramento (California) Wedding Photographers.

“A sign,” I said. I looked around, wondering what the universe was trying to say in its conspiratorial silence at nine in the evening.

A praying mantis clung to the edge of the table. On the floor, the decapitated head of another mantis stood still, the rest of its body nowhere to be found. A dead male, I thought, who had to pay the steep price of life in exchange for something as momentary as mating. Sexual cannibalism couched in the lofty jargon of ‘reproduction.’ In pursuit of his carnal desire, in his attempt to satiate his virility, the male mantis had to lose his head. The female mantis, ripe with the promise of pregnancy, held on to the edge of the table, triumphant and remorseless, as though in the animal kingdom she was the epitome of greatness, the beacon of life and death praying three feet off the floor, praying perhaps that she be cleared of her sin and be spared from damnation, praying with her scythe defiled by the blood of her victim, to which one may say that it was a justified death, an inevitable sanction ordained by the law of nature, and that therefore she was innocent.

He’s such a bad boy, but he’s handsome. And so, by virtue, or vice, of marriage (to which Valeriy and Alena Yevchenko will later have the marital evidence to show for), he had to lose his head. A dog barking for its leash, but a leash without the neck to wrap itself around with.

“Why are you looking at pictures of praying mantises on the internet?”

My younger brother was standing behind me, awakened from his sleep in the bedroom, his groggy eyes at the computer screen. His unannounced presence startled me. “Because I want to be a bad boy,” I said, heart thumping.

He stared at me before walking toward the bathroom, perhaps thinking that I’m beginning to lose my head, and that it’s quite unfortunate for him to have an older brother about to lose his grip on sanity like a block of butter in my palm. Along the way, he stepped on the decapitated head of the mantis, the sound of the tender thorax crunching beneath the weight of his slippers like a faint and dismal echo in the universe that he was not obliged to notice.

A few minutes later, my brother emerged from the bathroom. Before he went back inside the bedroom, he said, his face to the door, “But you’re not even handsome.” He laughed, and disappeared into the darkness.

The praying mantis, too, retreated into the shadows.





They say that dreams are the opposite of things.





Saturday, June 21, 2014

Far and Near, Or the Language of Distance


“What is Far?”

“Far is the distance between our lips that, I’m afraid, may never kiss again. It is the space between your Tokyo and my Manila, and the minutes and hours that have bloomed into eleven years, like a flower thirsty for the rain and sun,” I said. “What is Near?”

“Near,” she said, “Near is the distance that all hearts need to cross. It is the space between your hand and my hand, which is quite like the ocean between us. The seas have different names but they are the same waters. Wherever we are, Near is the day after eleven years of waiting.”

“But Far is the sound of a phone call, the ringing at the other end of the line, the dial tone after we have emptied our hearts with our words. It is my I Miss You for your How Are You.”

“Yet Near is your voice that I remember very well. It is your every sigh, too, and every unspoken word, every second that you are silent I might as well be deaf.”

“I will talk then for as much as you would like me to.”

“When does - ” she paused “ - when does Far end?”

“It started when you left, therefore it ends when you return,” I said. “Where does Near start?”

“It always starts wherever you are.”

“I am where you once were,” I said.

“And so you are Near.”

“Which is just as Far.”

“But not for long,” she said.

I thought I heard the rain over the phone. “Is hope a good thing?”

“It is,” she said. “Most of the time, it is.”

“Like six days a week.”

“Yes.”

“Except,” I said, “except for that one day that feels like forever, when everything feels - ”

“ - Far,” she said, “the way Sunday has to wait because Monday has just begun.”

“And yet no day skips its turn, so they say.”

“Which is why all things have their proper time, no matter how Far they seem.”

“So there is hope.”

“There is,” she said. “Trust your heart the way I have trusted mine all these years. The heart knows the things that are worth the wait.”

“Maybe I can wait for another day,” I said, “but I cannot see myself waiting for another you.”

She was silent for a while, then she said, “You sound so Near I can almost hold you.”

I wanted to hold her so bad I wish I can telephone myself from Manila all the way to Tokyo. I could hear her breathe. “Near can never be that Far, right?”

“Yes,” she said, “never that Far.”

“Even if...”

“Even if?”

“Even if sometimes Near is not near enough?”

“I... I don’t know,” she said, “I won’t know until you’re here. Or I’m there.”

“One or the other. There is hope.”

“There is,” she said.

“Wait for me.”

“I will.”





Saturday, June 14, 2014

What the Weatherman Did Not Say


For the first time, the weatherman was right. Exactly three hours after he delivered his weather forecast over the radio — his voice a guttural baritone permeating the static, punctuating his report with his usual sigh as though time and again he knows beforehand the mistake he is about to make — it began to rain that early Sunday morning, the sudden drumming on the roof the sky’s affirmation of his report, insisting itself on the rusty metal sheets overhead like a million hurried nods gestured before dawn so that, to my mind, the deluge can evade the warmth of sunlight and prove him in the darkness that he was right, as though his prediction was something to be ashamed of, something better kept hidden in the gloom, a belated attempt to begrudge him of this one small but momentous truth in his life, because for once he is finally correct, and for which now I must pay the price.

There was nothing in the previous night that suggested the coming of rain. There was a calm in the air, gently ushering the whispers of the leaves beneath the moonlight. The crickets sang their ode in intervals. I sat on the gnarled roots of the acacia, its dense foliage blocking the stars, and as I let my thoughts wander it felt like I was patiently waiting in the shadow of a memory big enough to eclipse the sun. Only much, much later did it rain. Although the weatherman finally got it right, there were other things he did not say.

Of all things, the weatherman did not say exactly why it had to rain today. He did not say why it had to when he should have known by now that a weather like this, a downpour as unforgiving as any storm quite like this, only reminds me of the girl, of the only confession I was willing to risk that afternoon I held her hand had my brain refused to stand in the way of my heart, and of what could have been between us but which now will never be.

The weatherman did not say precisely why it had to rain the whole day. He did not say why it had to when the warmth from the sun may just as well take the place of the sympathy I need to help me get by, to live this day as if it was a new chapter in another book, less estranged from reality, and far more sensible than the girl’s “No” when I asked her if she ever wished for the clouds to steer clear and always give way to the sun, to which she said “I’d rather wish for rain. I love the rain,” and when I asked her “Why?” she just kept walking and said nothing more. But not once, never, have I seen her want to bask in the rain. She always had an umbrella, or a raincoat, would step aside and seek shelter at the first sign of nimbus. What she loves, she does not want to be a part of — replace the “What” with “Who” and the difference may just as well be the same.

It did rain. It rained all of a sudden, without warning, as though the ocean was dropping from the sky, unscheduled, perhaps not even by god, and that day as with all the other days the weatherman did not say why. I sat by the open window, staring blankly at the silhouettes turning grey, as if the rain was slowly erasing them from view. I kept looking at nothing in particular, as though I was searching for the answer caught behind a thick curtain of needles impaling the ground, because maybe the rain had a better intention than to simply drown me in my reverie. And I remember the question popping in my mind, quick as the rain on that afternoon long ago, the girl standing beside me under the awning of the cafeteria, observing the flowers in the garden a little ahead as though they were the only ones left to be seen in the rain. Then I held her hand. She smiled but she did not look at me. The words were clawing their way from my heart to my lips: “I think I love you, do you love me too?” but just when I was ready to speak, my brain stood in the way of my heart. You’ll lose her if you tell her that, my brain said. I let my chance pass. I let it slip away. In five minutes, the rain was gone. Perhaps my courage went with it.

Why it had to rain today, the weatherman did not say — just like the girl, for when she left for another country before the end of the second semester, she, too, did not say why. Not a letter. Not a note. Not a word. Not a sigh. Only three years after was I told that she had gone to Japan. Somewhere in Japan. “That’s all I know,” my friend said, giving me a pat on my shoulder at the end of the graduation rites, as if to remind me of the weight of the burden I now had to carry, ending my life in college with a yoke on my heart. So it goes, brain, so it goes: I did not tell her that I love her, and I did not ask her if she loved me, too, and yet I lost her anyway. That late afternoon I ran under the rain, my toga flapping in the wind, my shoes drenched, my eyes more so. I ran as fast as I could, not knowing where to go. It did not matter where my feet would take me. It felt like anywhere was as good as any place to lose myself.

And so the weatherman did not say why the clouds have to be cruel first thing in the morning, like a thousand scythes striking my heart before I can have my breakfast if only because my body can feel only half of the hunger in my soul; as if it was their job to drag me back to the past the same day I was ready to let go, returning me to my proper place in the universe without explaining why; as if heaven and all its saints conspired to mock my solitude, the sinner that I have become without her, and deprive me of the freedom I think I rightfully deserve, not because I have suffered long enough, my penance having been spent on eleven years of nothing but regrets, but simply because I still have a life to live. For the hundreds of times that the weatherman was wrong, forecasting rain when there happened to be none at all, and for which I believed him through and through, much to my dismay, he did not say why he had to be right today.

But I think I know why: sorrow is its own surprise.





Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Letter From Tokyo

[Part 6 of 6 of "Once There Was Anne"]


DEAR HERSON,

I hope you’re doing fine by the time you get to read this letter. It’s been a week since I arrived in Tokyo. So far, things are going well, I suppose. I went to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden the other day, and I found out that I was just in time for the start of the cherry blossom season. There’s no other way to put it: it was white and pink almost everywhere. There were a lot of people, mostly tourists I think. Generally, I try to avoid crowded parks — agoraphobia? — but yesterday was an exception. I’m afraid I’d soon get used to being surrounded by a lot of strangers, in parks or anywhere else, especially in a city such as this one, which I now think isn’t so bad. I’m starting to realize that I shouldn’t allow this fear to outlive me. Besides, it’s not as if the people here know who I am.

It’s a lot colder here than I was expecting, what with having lived a large part of my life in a tropical country, and the weather here might just as well be enough fuel for poetic license. No surprise: Tokyo, of course, is not a city without its own army of poets of some kind, and quite a few are more cavalier, or insouciant, than the rest. They thrive here. They seem to feed on the perennial promise of snow. I met one four days ago. Her name is Hinata, which, according to her, literally means “sunny place,” or “in the sun,” in Nihongo. I asked her if she finds any irony between her name and her winter-inspired poems. She said she doesn’t give a damn because a name is just a name. Nothing more. They really don’t mean anything. “Like Anne,” Hinata said, and she didn’t sound like she was kidding.

Which reminds me: Japan seems to have its own brand of humor. I’ve seen parts of it in the television set in the room where I’m staying. Many of the commercials are too funny and too strange that I don’t quite know how to describe them in detail. I get a good, momentary laugh from them, and sometimes I wonder if the occupants of the adjacent rooms get bothered by my guffaw, especially in the middle of the night. No complaints so far, though, so I guess it’s all good. Maybe they know why. Maybe they’ve already had a hearty laugh from those commercials long before I came here, and perhaps they’ve already been accustomed to their own humor that they no longer find it funny or, least of all, amusing. Talk about people getting desensitized. Which probably explains why the commercials keep getting stranger and stranger; they need to keep up with the build-up of callus among the viewers.

Anyway, I’ve just returned from Odaiba, which is an island in Tokyo Bay. Actually, it’s an artificial island built during the 1850s. Artificial. While I was there, though, I didn’t notice. It looked like any other natural island, like the one in Nasugbu. Perhaps a century is enough to turn something artificial into something natural, or quite close to being one. Strange what the passage of time can do. I’ve heard that there’s a lantern festival in Odaiba during summer. At night, the paper lanterns by the beach would light up the place, they say. I think it’s quite a spectacle to behold. Perhaps it’s as if some of the stars have decided to sit by the shoreline at night so that they can understand how beautiful the sky will always be for as long as they’re in it.

And then there’s University of Tokyo. People call it Todai, which is short for Tokyo daigaku. It’s beautiful and strange at the same time — beautiful because it looks just like UP Diliman, which is what makes it equally strange. For the first time in my life I knew what it meant to see something so foreign yet so familiar. It felt like standing in two places at the same time and not knowing what to do. Or worse, it was like being stranded in a rift between two different hours of the day in the same place, like day and night, and not being sure if I was awake or dreaming. Poetic license? Perhaps. Perhaps Tokyo has already gotten into me. That fast. Like a disease. An incurable affliction deep in my veins.

Stranger, still, is that Tokyo seems to have been trapped between the old and the new, as though it can only move forward by dragging its past with it, and for this dissonance alone I’m starting to believe that this is no mere city. It can’t be. It’s an organism. It’s alive, or quite alive, as if it’s always on the brink of being born an old man. Everywhere there are temples from years past. Everywhere there are modern structures that seem to race to the sky, if not the future. Maybe that’s the secret of this city, as in life: the only way to move on is to move with the past, not away from it. This schism is confusing, I understand, but so are the most salient lessons I’ve ever realized.

I wish I can stay here indefinitely, but that would be asking too much. I don’t have much time, which is one of the many luxuries in this world I can barely afford. I’ll write to you again soon, though I don’t quite know exactly when. Ki o tsukete (take care).





Regards,

Anne



P. S.

My hands are sweating too much while writing this, and I feel like I’m becoming water. I hope you’d still be able to understand the parts where the ink seems to have been smudged. My bad. I’m sorry.

Tokyo, Japan
April 13, 1991





Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6


Friday, June 6, 2014

I Told Them So

[Part 5 of 6 of "Once There Was Anne"]


“WHO’S ANNE?”

That was the first thing my mother said when I told her about it.

“Anne,” I said, “the girl you first met in my apartment back in college, remember her?” She placed my slippers on the floor by my feet, and said “I don’t know who you’re talking about. Now put these on before you dirty the carpet with the sand on your shoes. And don’t forget to put those clothes in the laundry basket.” My mother returned to the kitchen where she was preparing lunch, as though the momentary interruption of having been placed at the receiving end of a silly story was the least of her concerns at that hour. I sat on the couch. Confused. Holding Anne’s clothes.

I spent the previous night by the beach until sunrise, leaving my spot only once, at around midnight, to swim to the lonely island, my body against the current as the tide rolled in with the strength and haste of a restless man chasing a seemingly familiar shoreline under a full moon, a man navigating the darkness with his memory for his guide. Reaching the island, I fell on my back. Small waves, these remnants of the vast ocean where they came from, they lapped at my feet, and as I lied beneath the starry sky I couldn’t help myself but say, “Well, here I am, Anne. I’m crazy, sure, but aren’t we all,” and I thought I heard Anne whisper in my ear, “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

For many years I’ve been to different places, and each time I’d ask I’d be told the same thing, as though someone set the answer to my question in eternal playback: “I don’t know who you’re talking about.” Like Nathan, the boy, now a man, whose nose got a good beating from my fists, though on the day I met him again the scar was no longer on his face, as though it has been wiped clean by the same skin that I bruised and broke a long time ago. “Anne? I don’t know who you’re talking about,” he said as we stood by the exit door of the mall. When he said what he said, I was almost tempted to break his face again for forgetting not only his sin that wore down a girl’s heart but also and above all the girl herself no less, as if she never existed. What appeared to me then as his wife and two children soon emerged from the sliding glass doors, so I let the subject go and bid him goodbye, his nose intact.

Then there was Jennifer, Anne’s cousin whose eyes reminded me of Anne’s, though it was only when Jennifer removed her sunglasses did I realize the stark resemblance, as if all of a sudden I was looking at the same eyes that saw Tokyo for a day until the city itself became just like the one Anne left behind for the rest of the six years that she was overseas. “Anne? I don’t know who you’re talking about,” Jennifer said, and no matter how much I wanted to make her remember the day she found Anne and I at Rizal Park when we were supposed to be attending our classes, the same day Jennifer asked if I was Anne’s boyfriend, to which I became as confused as Anne was, muted by a question that was loaded enough to change the course of our lives forever, no matter how brazen I wanted to make Jennifer recall she just shook her head. I left with a heavy heart and an even more baffled conscience.

The last seventeen years have been a long and tiring chase, and it seemed to me like an unending affair of approaching and talking to people Anne and I have met once or many times: former professors, friends, librarians, acquaintances, and the countless faces whose names I can now barely remember. They would all say, as though there was a conspiracy: “Anne? I don’t know who you’re talking about.” It felt like I was chronicling the lost years of my life, searching far and wide for the stray pieces that will at last justify my nostalgia and confirm my hope that, even to the last of my days, once there was Anne. Many times I’ve been called a fool, but not once did I entertain the thought that I was one, for if I ever was a fool I do not know the kind of insanity that they have acquired for failing to understand that it is incumbent upon those who have been left behind to search for the missing ones and only them, never those who are as present in real life as the mortal coil they present before the world as the sum of their lives thus far. I’m crazy, sure, but I’m no fool.

I’m afraid I’ve suffered long enough to warrant the liberty that my heart so desires, but in the back of my mind I know that the rest of this lonely life is just about to begin.

And I was right, because all the same, I knew I was born to prove everyone wrong, and quite certainly because an hour ago a letter from Tokyo arrived. “It seems someone writes to you, after all,” the mailman said, surprised at his discovery, belated as it now were, his forehead visibly aged by the years of tending to letters waiting to be sorted and delivered to their intended recipients, until the birth of the internet began to show him, without the slightest hint of remorse, that nothing in this world lasts, that the time has come for the old to give way to the new at such a delicate chapter in his life when there are only so few things left for him to do during his waking hours. “I told you so,” I said.





Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6


Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Dignity of A Woman's Heart

[Part 4 of 6 of "Once There Was Anne"]


BECAUSE IT’S BEEN SEVENTEEN YEARS since the day I last talked to Anne, some people might start to believe, my mother the first of them, that, perhaps, I have already learned my lesson, as though by some unknown device or artifice time became the greatest teacher the world has ever produced and I am but another willing apprentice. Sometimes, though, I reckon I was born to prove everyone wrong every minute of every day, Anne most of all, because when I told her who I was supposed to be in her life she could not help but smile and cry at the same time. I thought she didn’t believe me.

“I’m supposed to be the only reason in this world why you’re turning into water,” I said. Today, I wish I never have allowed those words to escape my mouth. Yet I’m fairly convinced now, however, that reality will eventually have its way regardless of what I’ve actually told her that day.

The following afternoon, after the day when, under the acacia, I saw her cry for the first time after a long, long time, Anne and I were back in that beach in Nasugbu. She insisted. There was something rather strange about her that day. I couldn’t quite put a finger as to what it was. Perhaps it had something to do with her hair, cut down to her shoulders, which was, as far as I can recall, the first time she ever did so. Maybe it had something to do with the make-up on her face that she rarely ever wore back in college, to which she said, “I want to be the most beautiful girl today.” “You are, Anne,” I said, “you’ve always been.” Or it could have been the way the skin on her hands was unusually soft and moisturized, enough to make one think that there never was a time when she had to lift her fingers to perform even the most rudimentary tasks in life, as though she was born barely an hour ago. And when we reached the shoreline where we once were before she left for Tokyo, the first thing she said was “So, do you now have the name of that island?” “Of course,” I said, “I decided to name it after you.” Then she said, “Not bad for an excuse,” and we walked along the shoreline.

That moment, we no longer talked about her life in Japan. I tried to breach the subject early on, asking her if she ever had a boyfriend there, but it seemed clear that she was not willing to make another excursion down her memory lane about a foreign place that used to be her home for some time. Instead, she preferred silence, and kept walking.

Sometimes it’s unbelievable how several years can undo a place. Small cottages stood near the waters where nothing but rocks used to be, as were the wooden fences in lieu of the mangroves that were few and far between. Flags of different colors flapped like confused wings against the backdrop of coconut trees spread out as though they were yet to take further root underground despite their apparent maturity. In the distance, the faint sound of slow reggae music shared the air with the song of the waves, but nobody was dancing. Certainly not the seagulls that were nowhere to be found, nor the trees that were cleared in order to give way to the enterprise of the times. It was only then that I realized that it was no longer the same beach we were afoot.

Anne stopped on her feet. I turned around, saw a sad look on her face, walked back to her, and when I was in front of her she hugged me. I didn’t know what I did to deserve that embrace other than to be the same person I’ve always been — the boy who was just as confused as her and who was too shy to say anything in the face of her cousin’s question: “Are you her boyfriend?”; the boy who wrote and sent a hundred letters, maybe more, expecting a reply other than the one from the mailman, the perfunctory “It seems no one writes to you”; the boy who bruised his fingers to break another man’s face who broke the dignity of a woman’s heart, and who, in the end, would lay the blame on the stairs that will never be built; the boy who, after confessing that he loves the girl, got his reprieve by way of a sigh. I didn’t know. Only Anne knew.

“Herson,” Anne whispered, her head pressed against my chest, repeating my name over and over. Her embrace was tight. Tighter. And tighter I could almost feel my life escaping through the pores on my skin, my lips on her forehead, Anne sweating profusely but for the life of me they had no taste, not salty, none, and her skin seemed to be losing its color, her body becoming pale, soft, softer, until the last light from the setting sun began to pierce her as though she was becoming invisible, and I saw that she was, her body fluid as the sea, and then she became water slipping through my fingers and hands and arms until all I was left holding were her clothes, wet as though the waves have sent them over from the lonely island across the waters. Like a souvenir. A memento for someone — of someone — who will no longer return. It was at that precise moment when she was finally gone for the rest of my life. But if my mother is to be believed — or just as well, if all of them are to be believed — there is nothing fancy about this even if, all the same, there is no finality in something that is yet to happen.

Seventeen years later, I have yet to learn the lesson they think I deserve.





Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Collision of Worlds

[Part 3 of 6 of "Once There Was Anne"]


IT BREAKS MY HEART to see Anne that way. “I’m sorry,” I said. I sat closer to her, tried to wipe her eyes with my handkerchief, but she brushed my hand away, as though I had no right to undo my mistake. “Tell me, Herson,” she said, “who are you supposed to be in my life anyway?” It felt like I was sucker punched. I thought about her question for a while, not knowing what to say. Under the majestic acacia, sunlight broke through the leaves like a thousand bright needles supporting the weight of the tangerine sky, and somehow I wished they’d disappear and let heaven and all of its saints fall so that they could understand how it is to be a mortal in the presence of someone whose divinity is put into question by her own tears. There was a faint chill in the January air, but the people strolling along the university oval didn’t seem to notice. Then I remembered the day we were in Rizal Park, and to her question I couldn’t help but finally say, as if to recall an ancient memory that just won’t die a forgettable death, “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

Except that I knew, or I knew who I was not. I was not the one who broke her heart at the age of eighteen, two years into college, though on bitter days I wish I was the one. And boy did I break his nose when I learned that he dumped Anne just like that, changing women as frequent as he changes his clothes. “The fuck is your problem?” I said, confronting him with an inexplicable rage forming in my hands like molten iron, as though I was some kind of a hero out for sheer vengeance, and when he stared down at me, just as he was about to spit on my eyes I threw my fist on his face, another on his left eye for good measure, and then a few more, the sound of bones breaking, the world around me a wild blur, until he fell flat on the floor like a vegetable I could have scooped him up, served him on a plate, and quickly finished him off like soup.

I didn’t tell Anne about the incident, though she looked a bit worried when she noticed that I had bruises on my fingers that looked like they’d never heal again. “What happened to your hands?” she said. “It’s nothing,” I said, “I fell from the stairs at home.” I took her out for a movie later that night, if only to console her. But in her silence she kept crying from the start until the credits rolled, and I was powerless, barely able to think of any way to comfort her at that moment. When we were about to part ways, she said “I don’t want to go home yet,” so I asked her if she wanted to stay at my place for the rest of the evening. “OK,” she said. When we got to my apartment, she stopped at the door to my room, looked around, probably wondering. She gave me a curious look. I knew what she was thinking: but there are no stairs. A little later, she slept. I was awake until sunrise, watching over her.

And I was also not the one who introduced Anne to my mother. My mother did that for me, because the following day she paid me a surprise visit, and I wasn’t quite exactly sure what to say when, returning to my apartment after class and upon opening the door, I found her talking to Anne in my room, sitting side by side on my bed where Anne slept overnight and probably half of the day. “Hello ladies, did I miss anything?” I said, proceeding to take a seat by the table, somehow still able to walk across the room in the most normal way I can despite being sleepless with weak knees, aching hands, and a trembling heart. Anne smiled. She said, “I’ve explained everything to Tita, don’t worry.” “She’s beautiful,” my mother said, “I wonder who in god’s name would make the fatal mistake of dumping someone like her.” Anne was blushing.

When Anne went home a little later, my mother said “I won’t be surprised at all if you happen to like her and good lord what happened to your hands?” “It’s nothing, ma,” I said, “someone just made a fatal mistake, I suppose.” Arms akimbo, my mother shook her head in disbelief.

“She didn’t tell me about th - ”

“Because she doesn’t know, ma,” I said. She doesn’t know about the bruises in my hands, the same way that she still doesn’t know who I am supposed to be in her life the day she returned from Tokyo after six years. Or perhaps she only pretends not to know, feigning innocence behind her tears, posing the question so that I can give her the answer that she already knows.

“Or maybe I’m not sure, Anne,” I continued, my eyes to the edge of the shade beneath the acacia, myself imagining where things should begin and where they should end, “but if I tell you anyway, will you believe me?”

She looked at me, wiping her eyes with her hands. With a faint quiver in her voice, she said, “I will, by the dignity of this woman’s heart.”

I held her hands. They still had that characteristic feel that I have grown accustomed to whenever Anne is extremely worried, or very happy, or some other kind of emotion that she finds hard to contain, as though she was a balloon about to burst. Her palms and fingers felt moist, and I have long known that they are neither sweat nor tears. They were tasteless, without any scent, more like water, pure water, as though she was melting and becoming one.





Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Caught Between Summer and Autumn

[Part 2 of 6 of "Once There Was Anne"]


SHE SAID IT WAS only after she walked past Todai gate did she realize that she was finally at the place where she always wanted to be. Ginkgo trees flanked the path that led straight to the Yasuda auditorium, and they wore different colors at such an auspicious moment in her life. To her left, everything seemed green, and to her right the view was golden, as though the sun melted on the plush leaves and spilled itself on earth and concrete. The first day she was at the University of Tokyo, she said it felt like she was caught between summer and autumn. “But somehow,” she continued, “moving forward along that path made little sense. I’m not sure how to explain it.”

I’ve always wondered how it is to live in a country ruled by all four seasons instead of just one long summer that is broken every once in a while by the occasional rain. The day between summer and autumn must be a confusing but lovely time of the year. I can imagine the countless trees shedding off their leaves in anticipation of the promise of winter, as though being completely naked under the sky is the only way to get dressed for the upcoming snow, and the cool breeze insisting itself upon a thousand itinerants who have their own reasons why they are where they are. I can think of a million flowers about to sacrifice their hues and petals to the shifting of the seasons, and a million other shops blooming under the full moon, ready to receive their patrons and guests for another night of commerce. And in the haze and daze of it all, they tell me the same thing in my mind: once there was Anne, as though I was a day too late for the transition of the seasons, for summer is gone and it is already autumn. Or in everyday parlance: Anne has moved on, and of all the things in the world that make sense it is not one of them.

A week after she left for Tokyo, I wrote her a letter. Looking back, there wasn’t much in that missive. I told her I miss her, plain and simple, apart from what seems to me now as the common courtesies one is allowed to ink on paper because, perhaps, distance is always a good excuse to put your life at the mercy of snail mail. I guess there wasn’t really anything of particular significance that I needed to tell her at the time. I waited for her reply. One week. Two weeks. A month. Three months. Nothing. Everyday I’d ask the mailman if there was any letter for me, and each time he’d say “It seems no one writes to you” it always felt like I wrote to someone from another universe and that it will probably take countless light years before I get to hear from her, by which time we’d both be long dead.

On the third month, I sent her another letter, with it a photo of us together in Rizal Park when we were still freshmen in college. “Just in case you miss me, too,” I wrote, “and, of course, the day when we decided to skip our boring lecture class and spend the rest of the afternoon in a place where you thought no one knew us, although you were wrong because, as it turned out, your cousin was there and, surprised that you were with a boy she doesn’t recognize, she asked you if I was your boyfriend and all you could say was I don’t know, I don’t know, and I was too shy to say anything because I was just as confused as you were, and since that day we never looked at each other’s eyes the same way again.” After another three months of waiting, the mailman told me again, “It seems no one writes to you.” I said, “You can be wrong one of these days,” though somehow I was not convinced of what I said myself.

One rainy afternoon in December 1991, I sent her another letter. “I wish it would also begin to snow here like in Tokyo,” I wrote, “though most days Diliman feels just as cold.” By March, I’ve sent her the fourth. “It’s almost summer here,” I said, “but maybe I can live without the sun for another month.” June and the fifth letter was on its way. “It’s been a year. How are you?” In two years I wrote her a dozen letters or so. “It seems no one writes to you,” the mailman said, as always, his smile now replaced by the look of pity. I lost count by the third year. In August 1995 I was ready to tell Anne that I’ve already saved enough money and that I’d soon be able to visit her in a month or two. My hopes were so high I could already see myself in an airplane a thousand feet above the earth, across the sea, with a week’s worth of clothes, four years’ worth of waiting, and a heart I’d rather carry by hand.

But fate had another plan. Giddy with anticipation, I almost had to carry my heart by hand when I suffered from a stroke, the kind that took my father’s life when I was barely ten. The doctor said I was lucky I was still alive. “Yeah, doc,” I said, “fuck my life.” I had to settle the hospital bills, the medicine expenses notwithstanding. It felt like a plane steered off course, saw me as a blip in its radar, and decided to crash, of all places, right smack into my heart. I couldn’t sleep for days. By the time I’ve slept, I dreamed of Anne and Tokyo. Eventually, I had to wake up.

I must have slept for six long years and have only woken up when Anne returned to the Philippines.

“As the days went by, Hongō campus felt more and more like UP Diliman. The buildings, the classrooms, the trees, the people. It’s as if I haven’t left at all,” she said. “Which probably explains why only once did I forgot about y- ” but she stopped there.

“D-Did you receive my letters? Did you... Did you even read them?”

Silence. Then, “Yes and yes,” she said.

“W-Was I not worthy of... of a response? N-Not even one le- one letter, a postcard... a postcard perhaps?”

“I was busy Herson.”

“But of course, Anne! Of course you were!” I felt my blood rush throughout my body, as though another airplane was on its way to my heart.

She bowed her head. Her hands were on her face.





Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6


Sunday, June 1, 2014

How I Remember Her Before She Left for Tokyo

[Part 1 of 6 of "Once There Was Anne"]


THERE ARE MEMORIES I wish I can just let slip through my fingers like water, stubborn as they are like my restless hope that there will be years far better than the ones that went before them. As I look back, these fragments of a time long gone feel as if they have lingered indefinitely, and the more I think about them the more I remember the day when the sun seemed to have been trapped by the sky, a suspended ball of ancient fire refusing to sink far west, which was the day Anne and I were close to the sea. At the time, I thought that that Saturday in 1991 will never end. Looking back, I wish it never started at all.

What brought us there was the handiwork of chance, or perhaps that is what I have led myself to believe all these years. She said she wanted to go to some tranquil place before leaving for Tokyo the following morning. Without much thought I told her “We can go to Batangas. I know a beach in Nasugbu.” “OK,” she said, “though I don’t feel like going for a swim.” I said, “We don’t have to.”

A little later we were at the terminal, inside the bus with not much to say save for the occasional “Are you OK?”, nothing in tow but her purse for her bare necessities and I with a heavy heart for a baggage I was less than willing to haul around, as if heading to the clear waters some seventy miles away was the most normal thing to do before Japan and a master’s degree change her forever into someone who will return six years after, a woman with all kinds of apologies for everyone for her protracted absence but none for me whatsoever, not even a trivial sigh for an excuse. I don’t remember now why, of all places, I had that beach in mind. I have only been there once, a fine morning when I decided to skip classes, two days after that incident when I bruised my hands so bad I thought they’d never heal again. From here I must admit that I am rarely in my best whenever I take spur of the moment decisions. As things turned out, the day I brought Anne to Nasugbu would not be any different.

Two hours after what felt like an agonizing eternity on the road, we had the beach all to ourselves. “It’s nice here,” she said, walking to the edge where the earth meets the sea, hands in her pockets, the wind tossing her hair, her eyes probably gazing at the stretch of pristine blue beneath the sky, as if in search of something that should have been there. A distant memory, too, perhaps, but now gone, sunk by the tempests of our time. I followed her to the shoreline, as I always had wherever she went. Where she goes, there I find myself, like a shadow at the mercy of the sunlight.

She turned around and said, “Do you go here often?” and I said, “Just once,” although what I really wanted to tell her was Yeah I go here often so that I can forget you, at least for a while, or just before sunset, perhaps before you leave for Tokyo, because by nightfall, as with the countless other previous nights, there’s nothing else I can do but to think of you again until, slowly, you creep into my dreams, the only welcome intruder in my sleep, and then I’d be helpless again, overcome by a desire so strong it’s practically pointless for me to resist.

“Just once,” I repeated myself instead.

“What is that island’s name?” she said, pointing at the barren hill that seemed to have risen from the depths of the seafloor to catch its final breath. “I don’t know,” I said, “but would you like for us to swim there and find out? C’mon, let’s go.” I held her hand, tried to pull her away gently from where she was standing, and she said “No no no you’re crazy!” She laughed, and I said “Well aren’t we all?” But she did not budge. Instead, she sat on a large rock in her attempt to dissuade me, convinced as she was, perhaps, that I meant what I said, so I gave up and sat beside her. After all, it was enough for me that she believed, just like the day when I told her that I’d visit her in Tokyo after I have saved enough money for the trip that no doubt will cost me a fortune. To me, the price I had to pay matters least. If a lonely island by the fringes of the sea can surface and gamble for a breath of air, I saw no reason why I should not have mine, in Japan or anywhere else in the world where she might be.

As the waves scurried to the rocky shoreline and muffled the sound of her laughter, her back to the setting sun, I brushed her hair behind her ear, hoping that nothing in the world will mute my words the moment I tell her that I love her.

I told her.

She looked at me, her eyes suddenly amused at something I cannot explain, in them a glimpse that seemed to force itself into my heart straight from her pupils. She smiled, bowed her head, sighed as though, at last, she knew that she was right, a confirmation of what was obvious right at the outset, and I had to repeat myself because, truth be told, there were so few things left for me to say when everything I ever needed in my life was already right in front of me, holding my hand as if to pardon my unfortunate errors in previous years, like a promise that one can hold and has no intention of being let go, and her touch felt so reassuring I could have momentarily forgotten who we used to be before that day. Her hand felt moist, and, strangely, it was as if she was water slipping through my fingers.

The sun seemed to hover over the horizon forever.

I waited but she did not say anything in return, just like the many other times I told her that I love her, a question cloaked as a declaration that grovels for the only preferred response, the pain of waiting in that extended silence almost unbearable, and that is how I remember her before she left for Tokyo. When she returned six years after, Anne told me something that continues to haunt me to this day.

“Of all the two thousand one hundred and ninety one days I lived in Japan, I forgot about you only once, and I don’t know why.”

“When was that?”

“The first day I was there.”





Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6


Saturday, May 31, 2014

End of May

June transition for no Anne.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Ria, The Beloved

I am twenty-seven and she is worth eleven years of my life. By the time I hit thirty-two, she will be half of who I am, and from that day onward she will mean more.

And more.

Expanding. Like the universe, which is probably the size of my heart. Until, perhaps, I can no longer remember. After all, old age is the only cure for this affliction called memory. Of her. Of who she was. Of who she still is to me, even when — especially when — the days are unkind and the nights more so.

I guess it is true: I loved her since the first day I met her, and that was a long time ago.

I do not know if she will love me if I was someone else. Sometimes I wish I was Paolo Coelho so that I can understand how it feels to sit by the River Piedra and weep. I wish I was Gabriel Garcia Marquez, too, at least for a day, so that I may know the unshakable weight of a hundred years of solitude. Or I wish I was Plato so that I might convince the girl that she is the missing half of my body and soul, or that we are the ones we have been waiting for all our lives, and that we should have stopped searching the day we met, though some nights I wish I was her and she was me. By then, she might finally understand.

But I am just another dreamer, and god knows she has been in my dreams like a fixture. Always there. Never going anywhere. Because maybe that is where she rightfully belongs — a place where I find myself in when I close my eyes and leave the restless world. Sometimes I wish I’d just close my eyes forever.

The hardest part of waking up is realizing that she is probably in love with someone else. And here I am, bleeding the words from some kind of wound that might never heal.