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.