Almost 15, Happy Anniversary! (Part 3)

This is a semi-fiction and a semi-autobiographical narrative. The past few months have been very difficult for all of us due to the global health crisis brought about by COVID-19. But these months were even more difficult for me. I lost the love of my life, Alonzo. He was battling cancer (lymphoma) for almost six months and finally succumbed on 31 March 2020, 1:15 amI also lost my father on 26 April. My father was also battling cancer (prostate cancer) for almost three years

THIS POST CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE THAT MAY BE OFFENSIVE TO SOME.

Finally, I was “dating” him na. His name was Markie. He is a sociologist and finishing a master’s in Sociology from Diliman din. Pero part time student siya kaya hindi naman niya kailangan ng dorm. 

            And you were in a relationship na – nagkatuluyan din kayo ni Sharkie. Since that night, nabawasan na ang mga moments natin – kasi nga – nakakauwi na ako ng 10 or 11 pm at lumalayas ako ng mas maaga than the usual 4 AM. 

            Paano ba natin ni-reveal sa isa’t isa na we were sort of exploring our respective relationships. Ah, I remember you invited me to see a movie then – I said yes to your invitation. However, Markie had a surprise plan. That was a Tursday. Apparently, may class din siya sa Diliman every Thursday. So Markie and I usually met for lunch and then siya papasok ng 2 PM ako naman papasok ng 5 PM. Madalas, hindi na kami nagkikita after my class kasi nga uwian siya sa Los Baños. That Thurdsay I did not have a class. And you knew about that kasi naikuwento ko sa ‘yo; hence, the invitation. Incidentally, his teacher had an emergency. So, nagyaya siya ng “date.” Gusto din niyang manood ng sine. I was so kilig becaue for the first time, he called it a date. And officially, me and him going out was “dating.” I was calling you to cancel our film viewing but to no avail. You were” out of coverage area ,”sabi nga ng cellphone mo. I was not 100% confident with a text message that time. So I wrote you a message via a post-it: 

            Kuya,

            sorry, cannot come with you. Markie asked me go with him on a “date.” Remember the co-faculty guy I mentioned last time. Siya yun. So sorry, this must be “it” kasi. I don’t want to lose the chance! 

            Love, D

            Thtat night, late na ako nakauwi. Almost 12 midnight na rin. Pagpasok ko, hindi ka pa naman tulog.

            “Kuya, so sorry!”

            “Okay lang yun” – habang busy ka naman sa kakagamit ng phone mo. Then, itinabi mo ang phone. “Hindi ka ba uuwi bukas?”

            “Uwi po!”

            “Aba, gabi na – maaga ka nanamang gigising bukas.”

            “Nagsabi na ako sa bahay na baka hapon na ako makauwi.”

            Hindi ka ba interesadong malaman ang k’wento ng unang official “date” ko? Excited pa naman akong magkuwento. Then, all of a sudden, bigla mong sinabi:

            “Kami na pala.”

            Palabas na sana ako noon ng k’warto para makapag wash-up. Napatigil ako sa pintuan. My heart was pounding like hell – pero bakit? I was convincing myself to reply great pero ang lumabas sa bibig ko: “bakit?”

            “Anong bakit?”

            “I mean, great! Sorry, najejerbie na ako!” 

            I did not know what to feel then. I was happy that I was dating Markie. I knew this day would come that you and Sharkie would be together. But I really did not know why I felt confused and petrified. 

            Naalala mo, one time, one week akong di umuwi sa dorm at tinanong mo ako via text – “san ka ba? Uuwi ka pa ba?” Sabi ko may production ako sa Los Baños and I had to be a stay-in artist. Eh totoo naman, may production talaga ako noon. May version ako ng Laramie Project, sponsored by the Philosophy Division and the Sophia Circle. I told you it would be a very busy week dahil it was technical week for us in the production. Ang demanding ng tanong mo: “san ka natutulog?” – sabi ko kina Jean, who at that time was residing naman talaga sa Calamba. Hindi ka naniwala – at galit na galit ka pa sa akin: Kung nasaan ka man, magingat at huwag magpuyat!.” 

            Finally, nakauwi ako sa dorm at my goodness, cold treatment. Talaga, cold tayo? Ang arte ha? Sa loob-loob  ko, di naman tayo magjowa bakit ka nagiinarte? So noong matutulog na, ako na nagbreak ng silence “kumusta na si Sharkie?” Tapos di mo ako sinagot. Ay grabe ka talaga. Kaya nga, after two minutes, babu, good night – nagsimula na ang generator! Kinausap mo rin ako kinabukasan. Sabi mo super nagwo-worry ka lang kasi alam mo na di ko bet ang Los Baños. Sabi mo feeling mo sobrang nababaliw na ako sa pagkabugnot. Sabi ko naman, “hindi naman!” 

            “Siyempre, may mauuwiian ka na kaya doon” sagot mo! 

            By the end of July, nagusap tayo. Sinabihan kita na malapit na kaming maging official ni Markie. Hindi kita maintindihan kasi instead na maging masaya ka sa akin, ang sabi mo lang: “Why? You will find better than him!” Sabi ko: “Can you not be happy for me?” 

            The next day, lunch time, I received a message from you: Hindi ko alam kung paano ko sisimulan ito. Hindi ko rin alam kung paano ko sa sabihin ito pero maglalakas loob na ako. Huwag mo nang sagutin si Markie. Please, choose me. Maghintay ka lang. Aayusin ko lang ang buhay ko. 

            Hindi kita sinagot kasi that day, kami na ni Markie. Sa katunayan nga, magkasama kaming mag lunch – dinala niya ako sa isang seafood restuaruant sa Bay, Laguna. Doon kami nagexchange ng “I love yous!” I had to tell you because you were my best friend. It was the most difficult talk ever I had with you. Late na late na akong nakauwi noon. SIyempre I had to celebrate my time with Markie. After my 4 PM class, dumirecho kami Enchanted Kingdom. Taga Santa Rosa naman si Markie and somehow very near naman din ang place niya sa EK. Both of us are so into thrill-rides. My goodness, we rode the Space Shuttle, four times. Imagine, four times – sigaw lang kami ng sigaw. But you know shouts of fun, and in love, if I may?! So by 9 PM we exited the park and we had a late dinner muna. Afterwards, hinatid ko na siya sa kanila. He wanted me to stay but I could not. Imagine, my reason: 

            “Hinihintay ako ni Al.” 

            Nakita ko siyang nagsimangot. Kasi nga naman bakit kailangan kong umuwi dahil hinihintay mo ako! I saw this coming. I saw it will be the problem between me and Markie. I had to tell him about you, my bestfriend. 

            Nakauwi na. And as expected, I received a message from Markie. Kakapark ko lang at beep kaagad ang cellphone: Hi, Dei. That was a fun first day. But I don’t know why I became so scared when you mentioned Al was waiting for you. I know he is your best friend but I hope he will not be our problem. Just saying po. Love you! I just inhaled and exhaled. I did not know how to react with Markie’s message. I thought I’d reply na lang later. Pag dating naman sa room, wala ka. Pero hindi pa man din ako nakakaupo sa kama ko, may kumakatok. Pagbukas ng pintuan, si ate guard!

            “Sir, kailangan lang po ng tulong. Si Sir Al po kasi lasing na lasing. Hindi maka-akyat. Baka kailangan niyo pong tulungan.”

            I checked the time, it’s 2 AM na pala.

            Gumagapang ka bhe! Nakakaloka ka!

            Then naihatid na kita sa kama. I had to get you warm water and wash you up a bit. Amoy na amoy alak ka. Ano bang ininom mo? At ayun nga, nagsuka ka pa! Mabuti na rin lang at nakailag ako kaagad. Oh my goodness, I have to clean up your mess. Hoy, wag kang iinom kung hindi mo kaya, tumatakbo sa isip ko noon. Nilinis ko ang suka mo. Pinunasan kita. Binihisan din kita. Nang matutulog na, nadurog ako sa sabi mo:  “ayusin ko lang buhay ko saglit, hindi mo ako mahintay!” Ay ang haba ng hair ko. 

            Hindi ko alam kung sa hiya or anything, hindi mo ako kinausap nang kinaumaghan. I was supposed to go to Pampanga that day, Sabado kasi. But I had to postpone it para makapagusap tayo. Besides, late na rin naman akong nagising. And hinintay din talaga kitang magising.

            “Kumusta ka?” Tanong ko sa ‘yo paggising mo?

            “Okay lang!” Then tuloy-tuloy ka lang sa closet mo – kinuha mo ang tuwalya ang toiletries at lumabas na sa kuwarto.

            Then my phone beeped. Shet – hindi ko pa nareplyan si Markie. My mind was floating. I had to lie to Markie. I had to tell him na driving ako at hindi na ako nakapagreply kasi late nagising, then nasa Pampanga na ako. 

            Nakakabingi ang katahimikan habang hinihintay ka, habang iniisip ko si Markie, habang iniisip ko si Sharkie. Grabe, ang komplikado nito, Al – sabi ko nga sa sarili ko noon. Bumalik ka. 

            “Dinner tayo?”

            “Hindi ka uuwi?”

            “No!”

            “Baka hanapin ka sa – “

            “Let’s talk, please?”

            Tumango ka lang. 

            A month after, I broke someone else’s heart. I risked us. Pero breaking Marke’s heart was a mistake. I should have not entertained him in the first place. But we were not a thing yet then. I thought we would never be a thing. You were always saying, I deserved someone better. You were always telling me na marumi ka, na malandi ka! You were always proud of your conquers sa bathhouse – those one-night stands. So ayun na nga at biglang nagulo ang mundo ko when you went home na lasing na lasing. And for a weird reason, I knew I was doing the right thing for me, for Markie and for you when I broke Markie’s innocent heart. Hanggang ngayon naman talagang pinagsisihan ko yun at I felt bad for doing it – mabuti na lang napatawad na niya ako –  just to be with you. 

            But was I mistaken for giving you and me a shot? I had no idea. But I was also disappointed at you. I broke Markie’s heart because you asked me to choose you. Yet, you were still with Sharkie. Ang gulo-gulo mo noon. It took about a month pa when finally I received a message from you: we can finally be official. When I received that text, totoo, sumaya ang puso ko, pero feeling ko, ang daming nasaktan para lang mapagbigyan natin ang tayo! 

            So, October yun when officially naging tayo na. We did not announce it kaagad because we did not want to add more injuries sa mga nasaktan na natin. Until November, we thought na sana yung pinaka-close nating kaibigan – a common friend – malaman na niya. At least someone will lawyer for us in the future kung kailangan man. So we had a date back then. Pinagusapan natin kung papaano natin aaminin kay kuya Liu, barkada natin sa dorm – a no man’s land kumbaga. Hindi naman tayo baguhan technically sa ganitong sitwasyon – yung bang “in a relationship.” Pero ikaw sabi mo nga hindi naman nagtatagal ng four months. Ako ang pinakamahaba ko na ay ten months – that was the time you caught me crying inside my closet. So, pinagusapan din natin over dinner date itong mga ito. But you said, pagod ka na sa pakikipaglaro. Ako naman kinilig. And sabi ko, ngayon lang ako pumasok sa relasyon na ang haba-haba ng “getting to know” at “dating” stage. Sabi mo, may chance siguro ito. 

            Ayun na nga, pagbalik natin sa dorm, diretso tayo kay kuya Liu. 

            “Wow! Talaga? I am so happy for both of you. So kailan ang anniversary niyo?”

            It took a question from a dear friend to think really hard about anniversary. Officially, kailan nga naging tayo? October? But we kept that a secret, di ba? So we decided na 14 November, the date we revealed our relationship to another person. Parang ang naging basihan ng ating anniversary ay yung pag-out din natin kay kuya Liu. 

            That was the story of our anniversary – and that was the story of Ipil Residence Hall. 

            On our 10th year, niregaluhan kita ng singsing. Do you recall bhe? Kasi hindi man tayo naniniwala sa kasal, para na rin tayong ikinasal sa mga singsing natin. May personal ceremony at I do’s pa nga tayo. We had a dinner at BGC then. It was your new normal sabi mo nga. Despite my hesitation dahil nga I found BGC really, really pretentious, go na rin. So we had dinner, we had k’wentuhan and we talked about some plans – some future dreams about our future anniversaries. You wanted to travel. I wanted to travel. But both of us were very busy. It was my first year as Director of the Information Office and you were being groomed as the Department Chair. Strategies lang yan, kaya nating ituloy yan, sabi mo nga. May plano na nga tayo, 2016 we were hopeful na mag-Japan tayo. 2017 – sana sa Holy Land naman. 2018 – we wanted to see something exotic in the Southeast Asian region. 2019 – US trip naman sana. 2020 – Roma at Gresya. 

            Dumating ang 2016 – hindi tayo nakapag-travel kasi pareho tayong may lakad for a two separate on official business trips. Ikaw ay sa Rio de Janeiro sa Brazil, ako naman sa Sydney, Australia. Pero finally, natuloy tayo noong 2017 at we visited Osaka. You were my guide since you knew Japan very well. We went to Nara, it was also your first time to see the monuments of the city. It was an enjoyable five days for me. We renewed our love for each other. And we vowed in front of the temple Todai-ji that ours is forever. We vowed that no matter what we would be taking care of each other and our families. We prayed and thanked God for having very supportive families. Ah and naalala ko dahil sa sobrang lamig, ihing-ihi ka na while we were walking, going to the archaeological site Heijo-Kyo Palace. Wala tayong mahanap na public toilet pero may nadaanan tayong funeral parlor, sakto may toilet sila. At mabait naman yung may-ari.

            In 2018, we went to Vietnam nga. Like our Japanese tour, dito naman, hindi ko makakalimutan ang mga restaurants na pinuntahan natin. I was surprised ikaw talaga ang nagorder for us – unusual ulit – kasi madalas I do the entire talking and ikaw kakainin mo lang kung ano ang darating. But you really took care of me as if bagong magjowa lang tayo. You even surprised me with a reservation doon sa isang fine-dining restaurant na may tatak Michelin on the night of our 13th year. And you paid for that dinner. 

            Pero ibang experience naman noong 2019. I sensed something unusual from you which bothered me. 

            We flew from Manila to Bali. Then from Bali to Yogyakarta. Dumating na tayo sa airport ng almost 1 AM. We did not know na hindi 24 hours ang lounge ng domestic airport. There was a hotel nearby – but it was fully booked. Then, for the first time, you asked me to slow down. Hinihingal ka.

            “Bhe are you okay?”

            “Konting hingal lang.”

            “Ngayon lang kita narinig humingal ng ganyan. Are you sure you’re okay?

            “May tubig ka ba?” 

            “May dala ako –“ 

            Naubos mo ang one liter na bottled water. 

            “Are you sure you’re okay?”

            “Napagod lang sa biyahe, bhe”

            “We can stay dito sa lobby, I can ask.”

            Pero di tayo pinayagan ng hotel management kasi magsasarado daw sila by 2 AM. So we had to move out again. Konting lakad ulit. I was very worried. Nakahanap tayo ng bench. Naupo ka sa dulo. Sabi mo, “higa ka na lan sa lap ko.” Mas inisip mo ako kesa inisip mo yung sitwasyon mo. But I was serious – it was a first time for me to hear you catch your breathe. Sa ating dalawa, ako ang may hika. Kaya madalas ako ang pinapansin mo sa aking paghinga at paghingal. 

            “Side effect ito ng chemo.” Sabi mo – then sabay show ng website nung chemo medicine mo. 

            “Bhe, baka hindi hiyang ang gamot mo sa ‘yo.”

            “Bhe, my doctor knows what she is doing.”

            “Ngayon ko lang narinig yung almost 300k per cycle.”

            My dad kasi is a survivor, baka nakaliutan mo. Hindi siya umabot ng 300k per cycle. Stage 2 ka at stage 4 siya. Kaya feeling ko, ginagatasan ka nung lecheng doctor mo. Eh hindi ka nga niya matitigan sa mata pag kinakausap mo. And when you introduced me nga as your partner, kung maka-judge siya akala mo ang linis-linis ni puta. Gaga talaga yang mga opus dei na yan! Alam mo ang papatay sa you itong mga gamot mo. Basta, ilang beses na nating pinag-awayan yan. Since day 1 ng diagnosis mo in August 2019, sinasabihan ka na namin na lets go to the Philippine General Hospital para mag-second opinon. Hindi ko alam kung anong ipinakain sa iyo ng doctor mong yan at bilib na bilib ka sa kanya.

            So we had to stay outside the airport til’ 5 AM. Nahiga ako sa lap mo. Ikaw naman busy ka sa pagbasa ng ilang mga draft ng undergraduate thesis. Hindi naman ako makatalog. Natahimik ka ng konti.

            “Bhe, what if hindi na ako gagaling?”

            “Gago!”

            “Seriously.”

            “Naka-apat na cycle pa lang tayo – so wag mong pangunahin ang chemo. Lumiliit na nga ang bukol mo di ba?”

            Hinawakan mo ang kilikili mo, “actually, nawawala na nga siya.”

            “Am sure pag nag-PET Scan ka, basag na basag na ‘yan”

            “Doc wanted me to continue with the chemo after the sixth cycle.”

            “Bakit?”

            “Babawasan naman daw niya ng dosage.”

            “So? Eh kung wala nang cancer – bakit magpapatuloy pa?”

            “Para sure lang tayo na wala na siya.”

            “Naku, Al. Pag binanggit natin ulit yan kay Nanay, aawayin ka nun! P’wede bang mag-PGH na tayo. Pagbigyan mo na si nanay!”

            Nag-change topic kaagad ikaw. I knew na alam mong talo ka sa conversation. Ganyan ka naman palagi.

            Then we flew to Yogyakarta. Ang task natin for the day ay lakwacha muna. Kasi makakapagcheck-in pa lang tayo by 3 PM. As always, ako na ang gumawa ng itinerary natin at ako na ang naghanap ng private charter natin. In the morning, we went to see the historic city of Yogya – we went to see the palace complex but the most memorable for us was our tour to the Taman Sari Water Castle. While visiting the former baths, naisip mo na sa susunod na pasko sa Yogya natin dalhin sina nanay at sina mommy. Sabi ko, mainit hindi sila mageenjoy, pero pinipilit mo, magugustuhan nila ang serenity ng lugar. You also asked me about the status of the place as a World Heritage Site:

            “Nasa Tentative List na siya ng Indonesia. Pero I don’t think isasama na siya anytime soon bilang official nominee ng Indonesia as a World Heritage Site.”

            “Baka wala na ako pag naging World Heritage Site ito.”

            “Punyeta ka, nageenjoy tayo, yan talaga?”

            Siyempre pose tayo ng pose at patuloy ka sa ‘yong pang-aalaska:

            “Gandahan mo kuha mo sa akin, baka hindi na ako umabot ng 2020.”

            “Eh bahala ka –“ tsaka iiwan ang phone sa lapag. Hahabol pero hingal na naman. 

            While walking along the old town, “bhe, are you enjoying?” bigla mong natanong.

            “Of course naman.”

            Then kinuha mo ang kamay ko at umakbay ka. 

            “Sana parati tayong ganito. Yung chill, relax and happy.”

            “Parati naman tayong happy. Ano bang nangyayari sa ‘yo?”

            “Effect din siguro ng chemo and –“

            “Oh, you want to talk about that?”

            “Basta, promise me – you’ll never tell nanay.”

            “Basta, someone must –“

            “Bhe, please!”

            We reached at the underground mosque – and I joked:

            “Dito tayo pakasal?”

            “Gusto mo pa rin ba?”

            “Naku, eh sa haba-haba na nating magkasama, hindi na kailangan ‘yun. Naconvince mo na ako bhe na hindi na nga kailangan yun!” 

            Tiningnan mo lang ako at huminga ka ng malalim – pero di ko maintindihan kung bakit at ano ang buntong hininga.

            In the afternoon, we went to Borobudur, one of Indonesia’s World Heritage Sites. We both gasped upon seeing the grandeur that was the temple. Dati-rati ikaw ang abala sa pagtatanong sa akin ng, kaya mo bang umakyat o gusto mo bang umakyat? Ngayon ako ang nagtanong sa iyo kung kakayanin mo ba hanggang sa itaas ng temple. Sabi mo “geeeeeyyyymmmm, gadamit!” Of course, photo sessions here and there tayo. Pero mas gusto mo akong kuhanan ng maraming photo. Sige naman ako ng sige – feel na feel ko ang pagiging model. Noong pababa tayo at nakita natin ang isang bench – hinila mo ako doon at naupo. Humingi ka ulit ng tubig. Naubos mo ulit ang isang litro. Something is not right, sa isip ko. But I did not want to spoil the fun. Kasi pag kinulit kita mabubugnot ka na-naman. 

            Then as promised, dadalihin kita sa isang five-star hotel. I booked Royal Amburrukmo Yogyakarta. Pagpasok pa lang ng ating service sa driveway ng hotel, “sure ka, dito tayo mag-stay?”

            “But of course!”

            “Umaangat ang taste mo, bakla ka!”

            Mas naloka ka noong nasa loob na tayo ng hotel. “Oh my god bhe – this is the best hotel ever – how much ang room natin?”

            “Secret!”

            “Puta ka.” Then you continued: “pagbalik natin dito tayo ulit!”

            Ang di mo alam, may nakuha akong discount card from a former exchange student na ngayo’y empleyado nang hotel! 

            15 years. 

Pero hanggang dito na lamang at maraming salamat. . . Mahal na mahal kita! Alam ko mahirap ang laban, pero lumaban ka pa rin. And your final words before I ran to the nurse station were “I love you!” Hindi mo naman sinabi kaagad na susuko ka na pala, hindi ako handa. Hindi ako prepared. Gusto ko mang isipin na no more pain and  that’s what’s important, hindi pa rin – masakit na masakit na masakit pa rin. Do not worry. Do not fret, I will carry with me your love, bhe. 

            Eh putang ina pa itong quarantine dahil sa pandemic. Hindi talaga tayo tinantanan. By the way, dumating na ang ating order sa Rare Foods – first time natin i-try itong online delivery – thanks to this pandemic at naexperience natin ang mga ganitong kasosyalan. I promised I will cook the pasta pa rin on your 40th birthday. Pero di na aabot yata bhe – kailangang iluto na ang ground beef. Anyway, basta I will cook it pa rin and dinner table for two pa rin – bulongan mo aka ng “I love you” sa birthday ko and sa birthday dinner mo. 

            We will Rome and Athens di ba to celebrate our 15? Pero may pandemic threat nga – next year na lang. Itutuloy ko pa rin ang pagpunta doon promise. Rome was your favourite European destination, but I have never been there. I know you will still be my guide as you promised. Ipakita mo sa akin ang World Heritage Site that is Rome.

            I love you! 

            I love you! 

            I love you! 

            Kita tayo soon. 

            Please guide me, always.

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