Sa gitna ng walang kaabog-abog ay naalala ko ang isang dating kaibigan. Matagal na kaming walang komunikasyon sa isa’t-isa. Halos dalawampung taon na ang lumipas na napakabilis. Ang huling mga palitan ng salita ay hindi masaya dahil pareho kaming nabalot sa kalungkutan ng buhay. Iyon ang mga panahong ginugugol ko ang oras ko sa pagpapagaling sa sarili gawa ng mga suliraning may kinalaman sa pag-ibig. Sa pag-ibig noon umikot ang mundo ko—pipi at bingi sa mga pagsusumamo ng iba na alamin ang dinaranas nilang pagsubok sa buhay.
“Happy birthday!” bati ko sa text.
“Salamat, pero walang happy sa birthday ko,” tugon niya.
Kung bakit hindi ko masabi sa kanya na nainis ako sa tugon niya. Hanggang dumating ang panahong ayaw ko na din siyang kausapin pa. Mabigat na ang dinadala ko at ayoko nang dumagdag pa siya. Pero hindi ko inasahan na ang katahimikan sa amin ay daraan mula sa araw patungong buwan. At sa bilis ng takbo ng panahon, inabot na ng dalawang dekada ang putol na komunikasyon.
Dumating ang ginhawa sa pagod kong isip at puso kung kaya’t may lakas na akong hanapin ang mga taong naging bahagi ng buhay ko. Ngunit sa loob ng maraming taong paghahanap, naging mailap ang pagkakataon sa akin. Naaalala ko ang mga panahong naging mabuti siyang kaibigan sa akin. Isa siya sa mga nasasabihan ko noon ng mga bagay na hindi ko kayang sabihin sa iba.
Sabi nila, mahirap daw magpakita ang taong ayaw talagang matagpuan. Minsan, napapaisip ako kung isa ba ako sa mga taong gusto niya lang kalimutan. Na baka isa ako sa mga kaibigang dumaan lang sa buhay niya ngunit hindi nakatalagang pumirmi. Sa tagal nang panahon, heto ako at umaasang sana ay nasa maayos lang siyang kalagayan.
Ah, bakit namin hinayaang maging ganito ang pagkakaibigan namin? Napakaraming kaganapan sa buhay ko na hindi na niya alam. Siguro nga ay may mga bagay na hindi pinipilit ngunit kusang darating.
As June is approaching, I can’t help but think about an old friend whose birthday falls in the first week. I’ve known JH since college. He was part of the small group of friends of my then-boyfriend. Once in a while, we hung out as a small group by playing billiards. Both of us were not that enthusiastic about the game so we ended up having chit-chats instead.
In our higher years, he became my classmate in Computer Programming (don’t ask about the programming language, it is ancient). Whenever the instructor was not yet in, I would explore the computer and chat with somebody who was probably a student from another computer class. JH would warn me not to do it as I could be reported and sent to the Student’s Affairs Office for idling. There were times when I wanted to tell him what was bothering me in my personal life, but I preferred to keep my privacy and silence. During those times, he would ask me why I was gloomy.
“Did you fail an exam?” “No.”
“Are you sick?” “I’m okay.”
“Are you and him okay?” Silence.
Looking back, I kept my silence because he was the only person who got along fine with both me and my then-boyfriend. I could not risk losing a friend like him over my problems.
Weeks before my graduation, he asked me about my plans. I told him that I would probably join the company I applied for two months earlier. He gave a piece of unsolicited advice that working in Baguio would benefit my personal life more. I did not give him a rebuttal. Instead, I asked him to go to my apartment a day before my graduation.
Two of us in the apartment would graduate, Jun and I. Jun mentioned that his mother would throw a dinner party on the night of the graduation. I told him that there was nothing to worry about since my mother and aunt would just be cooking pancit the afternoon before the graduation day.
Most of my friends were graduating, it was only JH who was available among my very few college friends. He came at the exact time that I mentioned, surprised to see that there were only two of them as my university visitors. He left at around dinner time, it was the longest time that we hung out throughout our friendship. It seemed that it was a hunch that that would be the last time we would see each other in flesh and blood.
I started with my first job soon after I graduated. We exchanged text messages about my new life. When the time came that I wanted to end my college relationship, we discussed it for almost one hour. He was trying to let me reconsider my decision. He did this for five months until he finally gave up. (As they say, the more you tell a person about something that she must do, the more she rebels about it). He continued to be good friends with my ex and I anyway.
Years passed and we became busy with our personal affairs. I never failed to greet him on his birthday but whenever I did, I would receive a lukewarm reply from him. I received a text message from him one day, asking me if we could see each other in the weekend. He would come over to his ex-girlfriend’s place and he was trying to optimize his stay. The meeting did not push through because I was not available.
We stopped communicating when I lost my phone. There were other ways to reconnect with him but I was busy with my personal life to even bother. Occassionally, I would ask former classmates and acquiantances if they knew any updates about him but nobody seemed to know. He just disappeared from all of us without a trace. His digital footprints were so limited so I assumed that he just wanted his past to belong to the past no matter how good or bad it treated him.
I lost some good friendships along the way. Some were my fault, some were not. I always believe that good friendship has a chance for reconnection wherever and whenever.
It took me to reach my 30s before I finally dared to admit that I have a severe case of biyahilo (motion sickness). They say that Asians are more prone to motion sickness than the other races. My earliest memory of experiencing motion sickness was when I was five years old. It was a long queue of passengers at the Pantranco Station in San Jose, Balanga, Bataan. I probably fell asleep while on our way to our destination so I didn’t feel the motion sickness. But on our way back home, no amount of guava leaves and White Flower oil could ease the motion sickness. My grandmother said that the motion sickness would disappear once I grow older. In between five to eleven years old, I avoided riding on a bus. My jeepney and car rides were equally nauseating but those were short trips as compared to a bus ride. Therefore, my recovery time was also shorter. Because of this limitation, I was never a well-traveled child.
I was in Grade 6 when Ma’am de Dios announced that the top 15 students of the class were invited for an educational trip to Clark Air Base, Pampanga. Of course, I was very excited and forgot about my motion sickness. To boost my confidence, my grandmother gave me some pocket money for the trip. We were traversing the Roman Highway when I felt a little sick. Ma’am de Dios noticed my pale face and commented that I was probably imagining my motion sickness. She knew about my condition because I backed out of a choir competition the year before. The stop-over in San Fernando, Pampanga allowed me to wash my face in the restroom before going back to our bus. While waiting for the coach captain, I told Donna that I was not feeling well. Worried, she asked our classmates if there was anybody who could lend me a face towel. Maybelle did not only lent her face towel to me; she was also the one busy wiping my forehead with the wet face towel. I took a piece of Bonamine tablet and hoped that it would end my misery. It did. The Clark Educational Trip was one of my memorable trips in Grade School. I wouldn’t make it without the help of Donna and Maybelle.
I survived my bus rides in college with the help of total strangers. Those were the days when nobody ever thought that travel time could be reduced to 4 hours when you use the SCTEX-TPLEX-Pozzorubio Exit going to Baguio. Those were the days of lahar and floodings due to the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991. A seatmate asked why I looked pale and I told him that it has been hours since my last meal. At first, he thought that I had no enough money to buy food and drinks. Then I told him that I don’t eat when traveling to lessen my motion sickness. During our stop-over in La Union, he gave me something to eat and drink. Maybe out of appreciation, my motion sickness stopped.
As I grew older, I learned that the trick to not having motion sickness is to take a Bonamine tablet on an empty stomach an hour before traveling. This level of security helped me get through my job interviews in Manila. One time, I got an interview invitation to Kraft-Paranaque. I prepared to wear my black blazer, white blouse, black slacks, black shoes, and some pieces of jewelry. It was obvious that I was a job applicant. My seatmate smiled at me and guessed it right. Her phone rang, answered it and both of us laughed.
“Did you understand what I said to him?” she asked.
“Only that part,” I answered.
“I’m an entertainer in Japan. He is my boyfriend,” she said.
She told me a little story about her vacation and how her Japanese boyfriend kept on checking on her. I told her about my job hunting and she replied with a worried look on her face.
“Why don’t you keep your earrings and necklace for the meantime? Then just wear it back once you reached Kraft.”
She had a genuine concern about how I looked so vulnerable in the city. As soon as she unboarded in Cubao, I removed my earrings and necklace. The passenger behind her sat beside me and asked me if I was going to an interview. I confirmed and asked him if he knew of a jeepney ride from Pasay to Paranaque. He said that he was also from the province so he had no idea about it. He asked for my cellphone number and I gave it to him. He unboarded the bus in EDSA-Mandaluyong while I went straight to Victory-Pasay. After realizing that it was not the right time to explore, I took a taxi to get to Kraft. The seatmate who unboarded in EDSA-Mandaluyong called me up to ask if I was okay.
I was on my way home in April 2007 when my seatmate had to courage to ask me if I was visiting Bataan or going home. I was not in the right mood to be friendly so I just said “whichever.” We were stuck in traffic in Guagua and maybe most of the passengers were either bored or pissed off so I finally warmed up to him. I gave him half-truths of the details that he asked about me. Later on, he asked for my cellphone number. I gave him an imaginary number that he found out right away when my cellphone failed to receive his call.
“Magtiwala ka lang. Alagad ako ng batas,” (Trust me. I’m a law enforcer) he said.
“Ikaw ang wag magtiwala sa akin. Terorista ako” (Don’t trust me. I’m a terrorist) I said.
We became text mates after that. He said that I probably gave him a false name and false address because he looked around for me and nobody knew the name that I gave him. One time, I was on my way to San Fernando, Pampanga when the bus stopped in Hermosa, Bataan for an army checkpoint. If I remember it right, those were the times when the reds were active and even burned down a Bataan Transit bus a week earlier. An army soldier went inside the bus and I heard that familiar voice. Because I was just three rows away, he quickly saw me and went near to where I was seated.
“Ingat ka, Ms. Kung Sino Ka Man,”(Take care, Ms. Whoever) he said.
Aside from nice seatmates, I was blessed to have encountered nice bus conductors. After graduation, my first job was in a company in Subic Bay Freeport Zone. Mang Basalio, the bus conductor, knew that I was already employed yet he always charged me with student fare. When I moved to my second company, I tried to look for him but he was not always around. With my second company, bus riding became challenging because I had to be wary of hold-uppers in the Bonifacio area. The bus conductor never failed to reserve a seat for me.
Chaos and greed are everywhere but kindness still prevails in the hearts of many.
“Tagay hanggang mamatay” is the catchphrase of Sharon Cuneta’s latest movie, “Revirginized.” My story has nothing to do with her movie but of my own experience in the city that never sleeps, Olongapo City.
I was a late-bloomer in anything related to alcohol. Most of my college friends and acquaintances spent their Friday nights in Spirits Disco while I preferred the solitude of fog watching and stargazing in the veranda of my first boarding house. The first time that I felt the kick of alcohol in my system was one boring January night when my equally non-alcoholic roommates decided to buy San Miguel Beer bottles for our consumption. I ended up tipsy but not entirely intoxicated. From thereon, I realized that I would never really learn to love any beverage with alcohol.
When I say today that the last time I tasted alcohol was 13 years ago, I mean it in all honesty. Take note that I have nothing against those who consume alcohol for fun or social drinking; I just went back to my old non-alcoholic self.
Alcohol is nothing new to me, my father was a heavy drinker and so were some relatives. I was exposed to this kind of celebration at an early age yet I didn’t acquire a taste for alcohol. In addition, while my father indulged in alcohol, he was against women drinking it. We had a patriarchal set-up at home and women were expected to behave accordingly. This was for this reason why I was in my early 20s when I first went into a bar.
In my first job, they had this Friday night gimmick wherein the goal was just to go to the bar to bond with their officemates. It was a rainy August night when finally, a friend convinced me to try to go with them to the Subic Hard Rock. More nervous than excited, I followed them and mimicked whatever they did to conceal my amateurish actions. The place was badly lit as most bars were expected to be. The deafening music of the live rock band plus the cigarette smoke in the air left me with a sore throat for days. In my half a decade of stay in Olongapo, I’ve been to the other bars, too like Blue Note, Pier One, Gigolo (hahaha!), and some forgettable ones that were beyond my photographic memory. The only reason why I went was because of “pakikisama.” If I had my way, I would have loved bonding over a tall glass of frappe coffee. This dream bonding happened in my late 20s when I reconnected with some high school friends. Sometimes, we went to the bar in Balanga just for the sake of drinking. I realize that the more you grow older, the less you become excited about going to the bar. Like, when you’re younger, you have wandering eyes to check on who to hook up with but that looks awkward when you’re approaching your 30s.
I stopped my bar life and alcohol bonding when I started a relationship with the boyfriend who became my husband. He had nothing to do with my decision, I just felt that drinking was never really my love language to stay with a friend or boyfriend.
The case of Christine Dacera, a 23-year old PAL flight attendant shocked the morning news yesterday. The poor victim from General Santos City spent her New Year’s countdown in a hotel with three male friends who were also her co-flight attendant. According to the news, Christine called up her family to inform them about her New Year Party. Some reports said that her three male friends are gay and Christine was not aware that there were other guests at the party. The other guests were acquaintances of her friends and were staying in the adjacent hotel room.
One of her friends saw her lying on the bathtub at around 10 AM and thought that she was just sleeping. (Do they intend to wash her to wipe off the evidence?) When he woke up later to check on her, he found her turning blue so he alerted the hotel. The hotel clinic performed CPR but Christine was not responsive. She was declared dead at 5 PM. The worse part of it is there were traces of sperm on her and bruises on her arms and legs. At least 10 people are now considered as suspects. Her cause of death was aneurysm but the toxicology report could tell if she was drugged.
Looking at her Instagram account, this girl was promising and looked hardworking. If it is true that her friends set her up, it reminds us that not everyone who laughs with us is our friend. Instead of protecting her, Christine’s friends allowed her to be violated.
I don’t believe that Christine intentionally took drugs. As what I said, she looked hardworking and promising. Any smart person knows that drugs would do more harm than good. Her case is somewhat similar to a casino employee who died of a drug overdose some years back. I don’t know how much to maintain a drug-sniffing dog but I think it would help if hotels would have one to check on drug-carrying individuals.
This is a developing case.
I pray for her family’s strength and may justice be served the soonest.
Update- January 6, 2021 I mentioned yesterday that Christine’s case is under development, and my reaction was based on the news reports that were available online. Now comes the story from the other side of the fence that Christine died of natural causes. Ergo, there was no rape and drugs involved. I read that there’s going to be another autopsy, as initiated by her family, to validate the initial result. By now, the story says that it was Christine who booked the hotel room for them and that she knew the 11 men. I hope that the truth will come out the soonest so that her family can find the closure that they need. In case the 11 men are not guilty, it’s also a lesson for the media and the police to be careful about releasing pre-mature reports.