Thursday, March 29, 2012

Gossip Girl: The Games We Play (VI)


Previously on Gossip Girl:
The Games We Play (I)

"I missed that about my past relationship, if nothing else. The comfort of taking each other for granted. Not having to worry if you look fat or if your hair is messy or the color of your shirt is nice. Sometimes the heroic effort to arrange and rearrange and coax and prop yourself up, to work out and dress up seemed just silly, you wish …

But … there was this man I must talk to, and talk to in a way that is charming, provocative, piquant, interesting"

Brrrrr ... It's a cold rainy summer Upper East Siders. I know the constant drizzle has dampened your spirits, but I'm hoping this little piece of gossip will warm you up.

While most of us take refuge in front of a fireplace, word is our favorite it-girl found warmth in the company of a stranger. I hear Kane is having foreign relations with a handsome blogger. We all know love has been rather elusive, but just how desperate can Lonely Boy get? Online romance? What are you K, sixteen? 

It started out innocently at first. A simple comment which led to small talk. In his stories, Jericho comes across as obnoxious, arrogant, at times condescending and I always thought we probably had little in common.

"I never knew you read my stories," I told him.

"Are you kidding? Of course I do," he said. "I wanted to comment a lot of times pero ang dami ng nagpapapansin sa iyo."

"Come on J. It's not like that," I protested. "People just want to share their thoughts."

"Oh. Hahaha. I guess I'm speaking for my shallow self," he replied, laughing. "I comment to get attention. Hahaha. Wait, I had to check if I wrote shallow, and not swallow."

"Gago. You're a bad boy," I said. *grins*

"Why are you grinning? If I'm so bad, punish me, then," J said.

"It looks like someone needs to teach you a lesson."

"Oh please, instruct me in thy ways."

"Hahaha. You're badddd. You're such a tease," I said. I was shaking my head, amazed at this guy's shameless boldness. I was thoroughly enjoying our banter and my curiosity was piqued.

"I have a question," J suddenly said.

"Tell you what," I said, laying a bait. "How about this … one drink, one question."

Spotted: One Black Widow spinning a giant web. But careful K. This fly might just be leading you into a Venus trap. We hear your prey has a lot of history. And not a very pretty one either.

"Ahhh, but I don't drink. Not even sodas. I don't smoke either," Jericho responded. "But I can watch you drink. And bring you home when you get drunk." *grins*

"My mother said I shouldn't go home with strangers," I said, pretending to be miffed. "And what? You don't drink? You're a party pooper. That's a deal breaker."

"I wasn't aware we were already negotiating a deal," he replied. 

"Ahhh … if you weren't J, then maybe you're not the guy I thought you were," I said. "That's too bad. Cause I've got no time for pussies."

They say flirting is just a harmless game. But in all my years of growing up, I've learned that an innocent play can lead to deadly consequences. The real question is: can little J outwit our Queen Bee?

Anyone wants to start a bidding on what happens next? Going once, going twice.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

When Stories Are All We've Got


Previously: (Please read these first to better understand the story below, and play the video at the end.)
So Goodbye, These Days Are Gone

"of all the edifices man has built,
no one can deny, no one who has lived at least,
that love is the frailest structure of all...
built to tumble, meant to fall."

"I still remember what I told him last year on his birthday, that whether he's 24 or 40 or 60, I hope we will always have each other."

Long, Long Ago and Oh, So Far Away

"That is the curse of secrets, I think. It gives new meaning to old memories. I wasn't even sure if he really did love me."

A Year Ago

"For the first ... and last time in my life, I felt that kind of love. And the memory of it is beautiful ... enough to last. Enough to give me comfort on nights like these... when love seems so far away."

Manuel was twenty-four then, I was twenty-seven and we were in love. When I write about him now,  it is tempting to dismiss it as one of those ordinary affairs people have. But I know that what I felt was as deep and as rich as love can ever get, with all its shades and complexities.

He had poise and a quiet dignity. His eyes, I remember, were black like his hair, and he was lean and tall, gentle and fragile-looking. And so in the summer of 2007, I took him out on our first real date. I had just gotten back from trekking the mountains in northern Vietnam and I was eager to see him.

We ate at a restaurant which served fusion dishes and neo-Filipino food. I was very nervous. I wanted to say something special and profound. I wanted to be sophisticated and elegant and wise. I wanted to impress him.

It turned out I did. We had a second date, and then a third. And so on. The next few weeks was a whirlwind of romance and desire, of hearts racing and pulses quickening. It was the birth of love.

The thing about a story is that we dream it as we tell it, and in this way memory and fantasy and words combine to create stories in our heads. You make people talk, they become alive. They sometimes say things like "I'm sorry" which is what Manuel said to me long after he was gone.

Even now I can still see Manuel walking away after we said our final goodbye. The sun had set and the streets were oddly quiet. He asked me to meet him on his last day in Manila months after our break-up, he was leaving tomorrow for America. I had a strange feeling I will never see him again. I never did.

Even after some time had passed, I would dream of Manuel, dream of our happier days, dream of time gone by. In them, we were still in love. None of the terrible things had happened yet, they were set in a future that was still to come. Blissfully unaware of the tragedy that was approaching, soothed and enveloped in the flames of our love, we were happy. Until one day, he stopped appearing in my dreams.

There was something different about the dream where I saw him last. It was vivid, more solid. It felt real. We were driving in the countryside on the outskirts of Manila to revisit a restaurant we loved which overlooked the Taal Lake. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and a cool breeze was blowing.

Manuel turned to me and it seemed like he was about to say something important. I tried to stop him. I didn't want to ruin the moment, it was a time to be carefree. There would be time for seriousness later.

But he looked at me with his eyes so soft and so sad. "I'm sorry Kane," he said.

"It's alright," I nodded. I was about to cry. I had waited so long for him to say those words and finally, here they were. "Alam ko. (I know.) I forgive you."

I squeezed his hand, I didn't want to let go. If only I could hold on to my anger and pain just a little bit longer, I'd be able to keep him here, a prisoner of my dreams. But I knew. It was time to set him free. It was time to set myself free. I stepped on the gas and the car sped up the highway. We were racing, racing. To where, I wasn't exactly sure.

And then it becomes 2012. I'm thirty-two years old, and still remembering Manuel. Though he's no longer really Manuel, but made up with a different name and a different identity, like the man who never was. It doesn't matter. I loved him and then he left me.

And yet right here, under the spell of memory and imagination, I can still see him as if through a mist, as if I'm gazing into some other world, a place where there are no goodbyes, no death, no heartaches. I can see others too, my other lovers Marvin and Kenneth and Ed and Kristine, the only girl I ever loved. They're all there, smiling and waving at me.

And sometimes, I see myself driving on a highway with Manuel under a dark moonless sky. I'm young, I'm happy. I'll never die. I'm driving across the surface of my own history, moving fast and when I step on the gas and speed into the present, five years later, I realize it is as if I am giving myself hope, trying to save myself with a story.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Gossip Girl: Disco Inferno


Previously on Gossip Girl:
Crazy Cupid Love

"So ... what's your birthday wish honey? You happy?" I asked.

 "I am, I  am. It's been a great year,  and I'm happy you guys are with me. But ... sana makahanap na tayo ng someone to spend our lives with," he replied wistfully.

"Sana nga. Hay ... sige na nga, kahit mauna ka na!" I said and hugged him. 

Sorry for the silent treatment Gossips. I know it's been almost a month and some of you may have wondered where I've been, but I'm here now to officially welcome you to the start of what promises to be a sizzling summer. 

As the sweltering heat slowly engulfs the city, stirring hidden passions and desires long frozen by winter's cold embrace, there's really only one thing we can do. 

Fight fire with fire.

 "You owe us dinner!" Vackie told me the next day. "I can't believe it. Kainis ka. (I hate you.) You left us for some guy!"

"I'm sooooo sorrrrrrry honeeeeey. I swear, wala na akong nagawa. I was drunk and hinila hila na lang niya ako," I tried to explain, mustering up the courage to apologize for suddenly disappearing the previous night.

"Unfortunately for you K, there are witnesses. We saw you. And in fact, ikaw ang humila hila sa kanya!" V said accusingly.

"Ahhhhh," I fumbled and started to laugh. "Talaga? Hahaha. Well ... fine. You caught me. I must say though ... it was worth it. Ang sarrapppp ng sex honey! Plus, it was my second time to try a motel."

"Oh my God! Motel girl ka na?

"He insisted kasi and I played along na lang. Whew. He's got the moves like Jagger. And I watched us in the mirror … it is kind of hot pala no?"

My memory was a blur of bottles of vodka, dazzling crimson lights and my friends and I wildly dancing as Calvin Harris played his epic "Feel So Close".

24 hours earlier

"Gentlemen, I've got five tickets to Calvin's concert tonight. Are we going … or are we going?" I announced.

"OMG!!!" Carlo squealed. "How did you get them? They're so expensive kaya! But wait, we have work tomorrow!"

"I know, and that's why we're all coming down with the flu. I mean, you are looking a little pale," I said teasingly.

"Well ... I do feel a little hot," Carlo said playing along. "Hahaha. Fine! So who gave you the tickets? Did you have to sleep with someone?"

"As a matter of fact, no," I replied disdainfully. "I don't do those things you know. Let's just say … I was very persuasive."

That night was one of the best my friends and I ever had. The music, the lights, the alcohol, the energy of the crowd ... it was enough to make you feel like you would live forever. This ... just like this.

"The guy I met, his name is Randy," I narrated. "He's actually not from here. He works in the Middle East and is just in town for a vacation. Honey ... he has a girlfriend."

"Ohh," V said.

"And a boyfriend."


"Sigh. What does that make me?" I asked.

"Errrr ... Manila's world famous tourist stop?" he answered and we burst out laughing. "You're like the Tour Eiffel. Or the Parthenon. Certainly not to be missed."

"Gaga ka talaga!" I said. "But seriously, grabe no? Some guys just want to have it all! Di na makuntento. May girlfriend na, may boyfriend pa, gusto pang kumantot ng iba! WTF!"

"Well ... boys will be boys, as we always say," V said.

"Actually may girlfriend ako," Randy confided while we were eating longsilog and pancakes for breakfast. We were both worn out from the lack of rest and our exertions.

"Ahhhh ... nasan siya?" I asked.

"Parating siya in a couple of weeks," he said.

"Hindi ka ba nagu guilty?" I asked him.

"Actually, ang gusto ko lang naman bigyan niya ako ng anak then kahit iwan nya ako, bahala siya."

Wow,  I thought to myself. I may not know this guy very well but that seemed mighty unfair to me.

"May boyfriend rin ako," Randy continued. "Pero hindi na kami nag se sex."

"O? Bakit?"

He was silent  for awhile, pondering his next thoughts. "Eh kasi, baklang bakla na siya."

"Minsan sasayaw sayaw siya sa harap ko," he continued demonstrating the dance. "Nandidiri ako pero kunwari natutuwa na lang ako. Siyempre ayoko rin siya masaktan."

I heaved a big sigh in my head. I was suddenly saddened by his story. I thought of Randy's boyfriend, who probably loves him, who thought he could be himself around his lover, because that's what they're supposed to do right? Accept us for who we are. No, make that love us for who we are.

I thought of Randy, who pretends to like his boyfriend's effeminate side even though he's quietly disgusted by it. Because he loves him and doesn't want to hurt him. So he pretends. I thought of his girlfriend who probably has no idea that her boyfriend is gay. All these deceptions and lies so as not to reveal who we really are, what we really want. There's a certain Shakespearean tragedy in it.

I kept all of this in my head, as I continued to quietly listen to his stories. Can I really blame him? We've all been there.

"So ... while you and Carlo were busy hooking up with random strangers, I actually met someone," Vackie said and paused. He seemed very excited.

"But you always meet someone," I replied, teasing him.

"No. This one's different," he tried to explain.

"But they always seem different, don't they?" I prodded. "At the start, at least. Until you get to know them."

"Basta. I am going to see him again tonight," V said. "I am leaving your town Whoreville behind, while you're still the mayor!"

"Hahaha. Gaga! Tingnan natin. Just don't come crawling back, begging to be let back in if things fizzle out!" I warned. "But seriously,  wow.  An actual date?"

"Yes. An actual date with no sex involved? How rare is that?'

"Hahaha. Hayyy ... buti ka pa."

Long after the clubs have closed, disco inferno rages on. For some, it's burning desire that keeps them going on at night.

"And you? What are your plans tonight?" V asked.

"Well ... I am meeting a guy."

"Again? Pang ilan mo na yan this week?" he said.

"My sixth. I know, I know. What can I do? This heat ... it's burning me up."

For others, it's the flame of uncertainty that plagues them.

"Hay honey, I hope this guy turns out to be nice. I've had so many hits and misses in the past years. Ayoko na!!!!!" Vackie said.

"Well, we'll never know right? Who knows? You just might get your birthday wish. Maybe he's the prince who won't turn back into a frog, unlike so many others," I said. We were laughing but deep down, I uttered a prayer to whatever gods there may be to give my friend some luck. We can all use some.

But whatever the new season brings, it's best to be prepared. Because the start of summer isn't the end of me. And whether they're sweating it out on the sultry sidewalks of Manila or cooling their heels in Barbados, no one does summer like our Upper Eastsiders.

Grab your shades and sunblock. This one looks like a scorcher. Until then, my lovely friends, you know you love me.


Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Better Days

There is a scene in the film The Descendants where Matt King (the character played by George Clooney) was running, running … as if his very life depended on it. He looked comical, laughable; a middle aged man hurling across his quiet suburban neighborhood in shorts and loafers.

But I wasn't laughing. I thought to myself, I once was that man. Comical, laughable, stupid, silly.

I think human beings carry themselves with dignity most of the time; as we strive to do our jobs well, care for our love ones, do our daily routines. There is a certain nobility about it that even the most ordinary among us possess. A teacher struggling to provide food for his family, a nurse taking care of a sick patient. People trying to be good.

But terrible things happen ... sometimes; God-awful moments that break our composure, when we crack under pressure, when we lose control. Moments when we can't hide our terror and pain, when we wanted to squeal and moan and scream at the injustices of the world. When we sobbed and begged for the hurting to stop, because sweet Jesus, it's fucking unbearable.

The thing about it is; you won't really understand what I'm saying until it happens to you. It's just the way it is. Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times film critic, in her review says these are the moments that teach us that "the hard truths of life are as impossible to escape as they are difficult to embrace."

Yet, embrace them we must. And afterwards, slowly by slowly, frame by frame, the world would reassemble itself and take on a new meaning. Some of it is familiar, while others are startlingly new.

Those who survive seem to be somehow different; like there's a certain weight in them. Heavier. The abyss stared into their souls and they stared back. They did not submit to the easier alternative which was to close your eyes ... and fall. They made themselves move. They endured.

"Grief, terror, love, longing --- these are intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and gravity, they had tangible weight," Tim O'Brien wrote in his masterpiece The Things We Carried

I once said that it is these things which age a man, when he begins to understand the joys and sorrows of the world.

Sometimes, I would catch an old friend and notice her face take on a faraway look. And I would want to ask her: Why so sad? Why that grayness in your eyes? Why feel so lonely? Not alone ... just lonely.

Three of my Tita Deng's siblings died in the past few years. One of them was a brother she dearly loved. He was her housemate, her companion. Her friend. She never really recovered, I think. She is turning 88 years old this year, and our talks are now full of her laments in life. How difficult it is to be old ... and weak. Her increasing inability to walk. How lonely she feels.

I would hold her hand and listen. Tell stories and jokes. She would laugh. All I really wanted to say is "I'm still here, aren't I? I'm still here."