I woke up alone in an empty hotel room. Plastic cups were scattered all over the tables, couches and on the kitchen sink along with some McDonald's fries and chocolate cake leftovers.
I looked at the clock and saw it was eight in the morning. I had barely two hours of rest. My head was hurting from the lack of sleep and alcohol intake from last night. I took a deep sigh and started cleaning up the mess.
So this is how it feels like to be thirty one, I told myself. Just when I had gotten used to the sound of thirty, I had to add another syllable. Thirty … one.
Thirty one is such an awkward age. Thirty was the end of a decade, the start of a new one. It heralded so many things; the promise of maturity, a more comfortable life, fewer issues, less drama, and perhaps love.
Or so I thought.
I was feeling strangely sad as my birthday approached. I brushed it off, told myself it was just the usual birthday blues. I guess birthdays are that one day in a year that you long to feel special. I haven't felt that way in a long time.
I missed spending my birthday with my family. I miss my Mom and Dad, my Shobe. I don't have a boyfriend and my friends have been … well … busy with their own lives.
A couple of days after my birthday, Neil and I had a chat. He had just spent the previous weekend partying during the gay pride celebration in Toronto.
"Gay pride was a blast but it always leaves you empty," he said. "One million faggots and not a single one to … oh whatever. LOL. Birthday mo na Kane."
"Well… it was actually two days ago."
"Akala ko 5? Kaya naman ako nag text kasi sabi sa kalendaryo ko 5. Sorry!!!"
"It's okay Neil. I heard old age does that to you. Makes you forgetful," I teased him. "I still appreciate it."
"How was it? Did you do anything special?" Neil asked.
"Well, it wasn't one of my happiest. But it taught me something important," I said.
"Not the happiest, but it was still happy I hope. What did it teach you?
Vackie, Edward and I had decided to rent a room at a hotel and invite a few people over on the eve of my birthday. Nothing fancy, really. Just a quiet night with friends. Vackie, Edward and Arlan didn't show up.
Vackie and Edward eventually apologized days later. I accepted their explanations and told them it's okay. But I realized, just because you understand, it doesn't mean you don't feel bad pala. I haven't heard from Arlan.
I have been grappling with the changes in us; these people are some of my most cherished and loved among my friends, and I miss them.
"Hay Neil, I was sliding into depression when out of the blue, a wise friend told me a simple fact. Life has its different seasons. Even friendships, I guess."
"Nangungulila lang siguro ako. I'm tired of being alone. Pero perky na uli ako :)," I told Neil.
"Mabuti na lang you have wise friends. I usually have to face that battle alone," he said. "Count your blessings. Buti naman at perky ka na."
"I do, I do. I guess it's because I give myself so much to my friends. They're my family here kasi, but people do disappoint you. But you become more understanding rin pala. More forgiving. Gawd, is this maturity?"
They're not just my friends, they're my family. Because my family lives far away, my friends have become more important to me. They're the ones I talk to everyday, to ask how your day was, to share your stories with.
Sometimes, when you give yourself to a person; be it a friend, a lover, a husband, a wife, you expect certain things in return. That they value you, that they give back. That things won't change. But friendships are relationships too, and like most things in life, they change too.
As André Aciman said in his essay in the New York Times titled The Day He Knew Would Come
"...this is how it always is and has been: things come and then they go, and however we bicker with time and put all manner of bulwarks to stop it from doing the one thing it knows, the best thing is learning how to give thanks for what we have."
Perhaps, that day had come. If last year was about learning to be fearless, this year was about teaching myself to be grateful. And I am. I am incredibly lucky, and I realized despite the hits and misses in my life, I am happy.
Rudeboy once said it may be too much to ask for a life without regrets. That perhaps all we can do is to hope that our joys outweigh our sorrows.
"Sige na Neil. Don't text back anymore. I'll call you soon. I'm really happy you remembered.
Neil, kung wala ka pang boyfriend next year, puntahan sana kita sa birthday mo. (Neil, if you don't have a boyfriend by next year, I was thinking maybe I could come visit you on your birthday.)"
He didn't reply.
A few days later, I was drinking at a bar near my place with a friend, catching up while dancing to 80s, 90s and pop music. I don't think I've ever heard Beyoncé, the Spice Girls and Cyndi Lauper all played in one night.
We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves when sudddenly, my phone beeped. It was a message from Neil.
"Ano? Sa birthday ko?"