Monday, January 26, 2009

Sunflowers



(Published in Sinag in January 1996)

They’re the first things you’d notice about her. She has them on her dainty hair clips, flimsy blouses, tight, tight jeans, cutesy purses, sexy thongs. Sunflowers from head to foot. Sunflowers everywhere.

The second things you'd notice are her perfectly straight, flowing black hair, her thanks-to-the-orthodontist kind of smile, her pinkish cheeks the likes of which have never been acquainted with acne. And then, the supermodel figure, the slow almost lazy way she talks, as if to keep you in the suspense for her next precious word, and her long, feline steps.

She's the epitome of all that is bright and wonderful.

Bacause she’s all these things, she’s most qualified to end up No. 1 in every lesser female's list as The Girl I Love to Hate. She ended up in mine, mainly because I’m your every lesser female. I have spent countless lunches with my friends enjoying not my food but the rumors that she makes out with every guy she dates, her politician Dad’s a jueteng lord, she didn’t really pass the UPCAT, and all that stuff. These rumors make us feel gleefully better, never mind that we made most of them up ourselves.

If you ask me, the most unfair thing about her is not her fashion magazine looks nor her long-running and still going family treasures – but her boyfriend.

He’s a golden girl like her, in the physical and the material. There are so many of them rich kids hanging around the campus, anyway. You’d think we weren’t in a public school. They dress alike and sound alike – for all we know they could all be twigs of one and the same illustrious family tree.

What set him apart was that he was .... funny, I guess. While most others of his social standing go around acting like the earth revolves around their salon-pampered fingernails, he seems to just take himself lightly. He’s always smiling, always making wisecracks in class. And he doesn’t joke out loud to show off, but he kind of mumbles everything to himself, like he's only beng silly to amuse himself.

In fact, I heard his witticisms only because I happened to be smushed beside him in the small room that contained our mammoth class. That was the first time I ever noticed him, and tragically, the Venus sitting by his other side and draped all over him.

From then on I kept my eyes on the two of them. They're one of those couples so inseparable they almost become like a single entity. In class they always sat in the front row, rightmost corner near the windows. Sometimes when the professor’s lecture becomes seemingly a mere unintelligible drone, I catch them looking out dreamily, hands clasped together. From out of the blue she would whisper something in his ear, and he would let go his hearty laugh. Or he would run his fingers from her nape down to her back, and in one sensuous movement she would writhe.

Yuck. How gross.

Funny, but in fourth year high school, about the only thing I looked forward to in college (aside from getting rid of those drab blue uniforms) was the prospect of a mature, happy relationship, with a sincere, enjoyable guy, who will make me laugh and feel loved. I had found that person, all right, but our love affair was still the one-sided variety that I thought I already had more than my share of as a bumbling teen.

Sad, that I had yet to graduate from having to be content to watch by the sidelines, and pine every waking second, and some nights have no other resort but to sob silently on my pillow. For the guy my stupid heart chose to care for is a dream that cannot be for me, because he’s rich and handsome and worst of all taken.

By a vamp who devours sunflowers.

I never liked them myself. They don’t have the delicate loveliness of roses or tulips or carnations that makes you want to be very gentle and careful with them. Sunflowers on the contrary stand there proud and intimidating. When I look at their vast brown middles I get this creepy sensation I’m about to be sucked in alive. And I bet they even smell and wilt within five minutes.

You can just imagine my revulsion when she was with the abundant graces showed up in class with a baby shirt, pausing by the doorway as if to allow the rest of us blemished mortals a peek at the sunflower the size of a saucer tattoed on her navel. It was probably the kind that washed off, but even so it looked so loud and real. I was so disgusted I almost threw up on my desk. I was so incredulous that any decent female with half a brain would pull off such a cheap, pathetic attention ploy. I was so angry that same afternoon I bought myself a blue fan – printed with monstrous, orange sunflowers.

I had no way of knowing that in our next class something even more devastating than a floral-enhanced bodice was going to happen to my world: the two of them didn’t show up. And when our professor noticed, his friend said he thinks they had eloped.

My room could have used earphones that night, for all the bawling I subjected it to.

I didn’t attend our next class, nor the class after that. You see, even hearts broken by unrequited love take time to heal.

When I finally regained my sanity and went back to class, I was surprised to see her seated way at the back, heavily made up and completely composed as ever, but her eyes looked sort of irritated. Or maybe pained. I don't know. It's hard to tell about people you don’t usually flock with.

I took a seat and as inconspicuously as I could glanced around, trying to locate her other half, who, after all, was the one who mattered to me. And at that point someone sat down beside me. Him!!!

I was confused at first, but then it hit me.

They broke up.

Omigosh.

In my utter shock I dropped my fan. He picked it up, and as he gave it to me he mumbled something like, “Ha! Sunflowers! One thing I could never stand about her.”

And I can’t exactly figure out why, but you know, I no longer loved him so much after that. And I no longer hated sunflowers so much.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rain



(Published in Sinag in August 1995)

I think the rain is amazing. It can do so many things all at the same time. It makes the flowers bloom and the plants grow. It gives free shower supply to children and the perfect romantic backdrop for lovers. It brings down lahar and takes away roofs. It floods cities and uproots trees.

And right then the rain was making me want to kick myself for leaving my umbrella at home, cozy yet so unproductive.

I wasn’t the only stupid one. I knew that for sure as I viewed the small crowd gathered with me in the waiting shed, like me seeking refuge from the rain and waiting for it to die down already. Beside me was an old woman carrying grocery bags. I’m bad at estimating ages, but I take pride in being able to tell – most of the time, anyway – whether a person’s nice or not just by examining his face. And the woman looked quite nice to me. She probably bought pasta to cook for her grandchildren, as my own Lola does.

Behind us was this guy in sando and shorts, his forehead creased and eyebrows knitted together. Like he was channeling all his concentration to his smoking. He, too, had a kind face, but cigarettes downright turn me off.

Farther back was a group of high schoolers in their half-wet uniforms. Two guys were splashing each other with the rain dropping from the roof, while another was climbing up the metal railing. The lone girl was chewing, sometimes blowing, pink gum.

They made me think how people always seem to do bolder things when they’re with friends.

Ugh. Friends.

Why is your mind not on your side sometimes? You forget things you need to remember and remember things you’d really rather forget.

At that point I’d rather forget about friends in general and one I had in particular. The kind of friend all the old songs were about. A friend to laugh with, to cry with, to be just beside with. A friend to keep if you had only one friend left.

Yeah, my friend was all that. And more. And not to mention male.

Now it has been said and written that a male and a female are not supposed to be close friends. Because after a while they end up being either more than or less than friends. They just do. One of those queer, irrevocable facts of life. You can check out When Harry Met Sally. And this happens in life not just (maybe more than) in fiction.

I should know. It happened to me. I fell in love with him.

From the start I felt there was something sneaky about the whole thing. I felt like I was guilty of a mild version of incest or something. But I couldn’t help it. See, the guy’s an angel. He buys his mom flowers. He didn’t tease me like the rest of our classmates did when I cried over The Lion King. He took home a scabby little kitten we saw sleeping under a canteen table. He can fill up the Inquirer crossword in 12 minutes. He sometimes calls me up at night to make me look at the moon.

What girl if she happens to be normal wouldn’t be enamored? Eventhough she knows his touch is not romantic but protective, his love not passionate but brotherly. And when he winks at her it’s not to say she looks pretty, but to ask if she could write a reaction paper or some other class requirement for him.

I guess it’s not really a problem when two friends of opposite sexes start liking each other. But when one has fallen in love and the other hasn’t – well, that’s not even a problem, either. It’s a tragedy, more like.

I have to give it up. I want to just forget.

I didn’t reallize I was crying until a tear fell on my shirt. But who cares, I thought. Everyone would think it’s rain, not tears, on my face, anyway.

“Titigil din ‘yan.”

It was the woman with the grocery bags. She was smiling sympathetically at me. She probably figured I was crying bacause I badly wanted to get home already. I managed to smile back, and thought to myself: I hope you’re right. That it would all soon stop.

So the rain didn’t hide my tears, after all.

I guess, the rain, for all it can do, can only do so much.

Blogger Girl


I went thru my blogs the other day, and was amazed to find I've been blogging for close to four years now. Whew.

It was nice seeing Yoshi's toddler pictures when he was still as fat as Bibendum (the Michelin mascot) and re-reading my entries about his antics. But it was disparaging to note how my recent blogs have become longer and longer and suspiciously exhaustive enough to pass for a full-fledged dissertation on a given topic. Groan. It just goes to show how even more pretentious and self-indulgent I've become thru the years, pretending to know it all and living in delusion that anybody could care less. And it makes it all the more glaring too how I have all this time on my hands, time that I choose to spend doing something so unproductive as blogging, time better spent - I don't know – planting trees or helping old women cross the street. Something worthy like that.

And instead I continue to sit here and blog and blog.

Well, everyone deserves her me time. This is mine. I've been keeping diaries since high school and in a way this blog is my virtual diary as it documents everything that goes on in my life that I consider worth blogging about. And I can write all I want without having to worry about running out of space. And I can do it anywhere too where there's Internet.

I've always loved to write to express my passions and convictions. I even try my hand at fiction when the inspiration strikes me. It's a different, inexplicable kind of high when the words that I write capture all that I want to say in exactly the way I want it told. It brings me immense joy (more joy than pride) that's difficult to explain and it's something I do for me and me alone. It's not illegal. And it's not something that keeps me from doing my job at home with my family or in the office. It's free.

And there are all the bonuses too in the form of kind words from friends who read my blog. I recall Kaye's story of how she decided to take a break after hours and hours doing ghastly lawyer work and clicked on my blog and her boss chose right that moment to go to her room and check up on her. And Loudette texting me from the HK airport to ask for my size coz she might just find at the Disney store the jacket that I had just blogged about. And the laughs reportedly shared by Regie, Thom and Didoy when they altogether read my blogs after office hours on their respective computers. And the compliments from Rhoel, Gay and Babette for the two blogs on the E-heads (I'm sure not bcoz of the beauty of my prose but the topic I chose, of which we are all fanatics hahaha). And Jon and Pie saying they enjoy reading about Yoshi's stunts most of all. And all the violent reaction my blogs produced in my sis, who would call or text at unholy hours bcoz of some small thing or the other that I wrote about. I've even come to look forward to Chester's perpetual displeasure of all these silly, shallow stuff I write. I've come to accept it as part of his consuming, all-encompassing love for me.

I've decided to post in my blog my previous work in Sinag as well as other stuff I've written at various points in my life. I guess I just want to share them with anyone who wants to read them. And I guess it's a way of publishing them the way any aspiring writer wants to have his work published, just minus all the royalties.

But who cares about getting paid for it, anyway. Just being able to write – that has always been enough in itself.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Basket Case


I was in my usual lunch time furlough (I love that word, the way it rolls off your tongue) in Mall of Asia when I heard Green Day spewing out the familiar words. 'It all keeps adding up, I think I'm cracking up, Am I just paranoid, Am I just stoned...' And suddenly I was back in college when this was one of my favorite songs. The whole silliness and neurosis of it was like an anthem of my life at the time, when I didn't care much for anything and just had fun everyday.

Certain songs have the magic powers to do that, to transport you back to a time or event in your life, and everything becomes so vivid again that it's as if it was only yesterday when the whole thing happened. (Certain scents do that to me, too, but to a lesser extent.) So, for example, when I hear Lea Salonga's little girl songs, I'm back to my childhood of toy dinnerware, dolls and climbing trees. I love all of those songs – Tomorrow, Alphabet Song, Happiness, I Am But a Small Voice. My favorites are Where Is Love, Rainbow Connection (bcoz it was also sang by Kermit the Frog and part of the soundtrack of one particularly weepy episode of Picket Fences), and Someone's Waiting for You. Pops recorded the last song in a tape where he even goes on voice-over to dedicate it to me and Ate Jenny.

Despite all that I wasn't exactly what you would call a fan, altho I did go thru a Miss Saigon groupie phase in high school. I hoarded news clippings, magazine pics, a shirt with the whirring helicopter which I wore till it was in tatters, the complete tapes which I have to this day, and the winner lyrics of the entire musicale thanks to Ria whose cousin got it from West End or somewhere. We loved Sun and Moon and Last Night of the World and I Still Believe and would take turns playing Kim and Chris and Ellen during recess or lunch. We also loved Basia and Sybil and Wilson Philips and Lisa Loeb and Too Many Walls and Promises and some sappy Angela Bofil ditty like You Should Know by Now that one or the other lovestruck classmate was always singing with so much emotion. (Ah, high school loves.) It was in high school that I fell in love with Swing Out Sister. Looking back, however, I think I would say that my theme song for high school is Just for a Moment from St. Elmo's Fire. Somehow this was the favorite of my gang composed of Nini, Phoebe, Kaye and Malou. (And I think I've written several times that they call me Jules to this day in honor of the character in the movie played by Demi Moore who was, er – how to put this mildly – easy? amoral? slutty? You get the picture.)

College was all about the E-heads, of course. I still remember the first time I heard them. I was at Phoebe's house for one of our usual sleep-overs (in second year, I think), and she played this tape of this band from UP who asked “ilang isaw pa ba ang kakainin, o giliw ko...” College was when I met Kai and Gay, sweet souls who would regularly write me little notes in dainty stationeries, with poems or love songs like No Walls, No Ceilings, No Floors and In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning and Weekend in New England. Bambi gave me a copy of Don't Know What To Do too. I remember Amelle liking Sunshine on My Shoulders because it reminded her of Baguio so we sang it for her in one of her birthdays. And Nico introduced me to Love is All That Matters, so that until now I think of him instantly when I hear that song. Then there was Be My Number Two that Prof. Robin Rivera played in our Hum 2 class. Randy and I sang Nobody Does it Better when we sat on the steps of the Faculty Center waiting for our class cards one sem-break which we spent volunteering at this NGO for OFWs and we were dead broke but still managed to splurge on pistachios and white chocolate. (So I loved it when Bridget Jones (the movie) Part II used that song at the part where she rides a parachute and lands on her butt in pig shit or something.) Randy and Kai also gave me a tape of the Waiting to Exhale sound track, so Count on Me is like the theme song of sorts of our little trio (we who called ourselves Sunflower and Sweet Pea and something to this bunch of poor guys who were campaigning for the student council and wanted to know our names and court our votes that we didn't care much to use in the first place).

It was also in college that I learned What Matters Most, which has got to be the saddest song of all time. It was one of the songs playing on my mind while I deliberated whether or not to go steady with Ches. (Ugh. Gag-inducing, I know. I'm stopping now.) Ron made me listen to New Snow in Riza's car and it's one of my favorite songs to this day. (I love things that are understated and unexpected and way too lovely that it's almost painful to watch or hear.) Don was with us too in that car, Don who's this sweet tho pesky guy who preferred classics like Love Affair and Someone to Watch Over Me. Don is the friend and enemy of Eugene who heavily invests his allowance on tapes and CDs and fills up the APSM logbook with lyrics of all sorts of songs. I remember borrowing Astrud Gilberto from him. (They don't make love songs like A Certain Sadness anymore. Sigh.) Monch was another guy who was always singing in the tambayan. We both loved Smile from My Girl 2.

College was also Enya, Alanis, Creep, Losing My Religion, Steep, Closing Time, all these fun and dramatic and wonderful songs. It was when I fell for all the songs in Evita and these overly dramatic Broadway types (The Music of the Night, Think of Me, I Dreamed a Dream, A Little Fall of Rain, and On My Own, which has got to be the national anthem of unrequited love). For some reason the one song that stands out when I think of law school is Tubthumping by Chumbawamba. ('I get knocked down but I get up again and you're never going to keep me down...') I guess bcoz the lyrics so rightfully capture the whole essence of survival in law school – the near certainty of being called to recite the one case that you didn't get to read in your list of 20 cases for the day, being shot down by the unforgiving prof and humiliated in front of the whole class that also includes cute seniors who are repeating the class, and yet still having to remember to breathe and live thru the next class where the same thing could happen all over again. (I think we used to call it 'grand slam' if you get called in all three classes for the day ). Tubthumping tells all about the rejection and dejection that was our daily life in law school, and the sheer tenacity and blind optimism that got us back on our feet all the way thru the bar exams. Oh, and we had a teacher named Danny too who was one of the more colorful characters in Malcolm Hall and greatly feared bcoz he thinks nothing of giving everyone a 5 in his five-unit class. ('Oh, Danny boy, Danny boy...') Gay will so agree with me here, I'm so sure.

When I think of QT, I remember all the 80's songs we always sang and danced as a batch in the many office parties and junkets – Always Something There to Remind Me, Build Me Up Buttercup, Just Got Lucky. Chuchi's Papa Don't Preach, Loudette's La Isla Bonita, Jon's Each Day With You, Donemark's tearful, serious love songs (hahaha). It was Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka and Say You Love Me in Rhoel's room, and Malayo Pa ang Umaga and May Bukas Pa (yep, we really did sing these songs - we were that crazy) on those days when we felt like the salaries and bonuses were a long time in coming while the work kept getting dumped on us beginner lawyers. We were also made to sing Whatever We Imagine at one of those boring, phony office planning things, and after reading the lyrics for the first time on the projected screen I have learned to like the song. It was also in QT where I met Josh Groban and memorized Broken Vow. I also remember Parokya ni Edgar's Harana which the whole gang sang for me on my last day at work before my wedding, with Jon on guitar and Donemark on phone patch from Davao. (Our wedding managed to have most of Ches' and my favorite songs – The Feather Theme, Here, There and Everywhere, Tuwing Umuulan, Umagang Kay Ganda, Grow Old With You, Always a Woman To Me, You Belong To Me, etc.).

MWC music are all these songs that I remember my friends singing at one time or the other. Thom's completely mangled version of La Vida Loca, Didoy's surprisingly decent (haha) Unwell, Niknok's impressive take on Wherever You Will Go, Regie's Ang Huling El Bimbo, Jeric's Gold. I remember too all these (crazy, drunken) songs we tried to sing in JH – Underneath Your Clothes, Linger, Unfaithful – and where Niknok obliged me with Rainbow and Later. Semi-Charmed Life also reminds me of MWC bcoz of the sheer number of times they used this as background music in the presentations in the flag ceremony or managers' meeting or whatever. (Groan.) And then there were the Jack Johnson songs Didoy burned for me, and all the other CDs that Niknok burned too, my favorite being Sugarfree and Tulog Na. Paula and I also like Journey, which made us both cry when they used it at the despedida AVP of one of our friends. But I guess the song that I associate most with MWC is I Can See Clearly Now, which was used in the AVP of the 2008 annual stockholders' meeting (the last I was in charge of). For me that song perfectly captures how MWC has improved a lot of lives by providing clean, continuously flowing water.

Currently the songs playing in my life are I'm Yours and Freedom (from Survivor), the soundtracks from Coffee Prince and Dalja's Spring and Soulmate and did I already mention the E-heads? Well, too bad. E-heads, E-heads, E-heads. Boots is also into 'So Sexy' from – gasp!- Marian Rivera's CD that Ate Ann so generously got for him. I cannot stand the girl but if my baby likes her dance song I'll sing it – that's the kind of good mommy that I aspire to be. It's almost like being back in Yoshi's Jaboom Twins and Sandara Park and Sam Milby phase. Yosh for his part now likes Heal the World from the time he sang it at their UN program. We also all three of us haven't gotten over Barney songs. Yosh loves You Can from the movie, I like Nighty-Nite and Time for Dreams and Boots likes everything bcoz it's still all new to him.

I've noticed that when I go out to Mall of Asia at lunch, the song playing in my head is The Cranberries' Dreams. I don't know why. Maybe bcoz the reason I moved all the way here was the substantially higher pay which could better secure our kids' future and at the same time afford us our dreams of a nicer house and vacations in far-away places. Or maybe at some subsconscious level this has been my dream – to be in a job where I could go shopping next door anytime. Hahaha. Either explanation is entirely plausible.