In the past, whenever I would make a pre-birthday post on this site, I usually just made a list of things I am thankful for from the past year, with a number corresponding to the current age. I am no longer doing that this year. What if a certain thing, or person, does not make the list, not really out of being less valued, but out of my forgetting? Does my forgetting of it speak about its value? Shouldn’t everything be of value? I guess it would not be fair to be putting a number on the things I am thankful for. So, I’ll do my best to ease up on the counting and the keeping score and the measuring. I have been so f*cking hard on Jeniper. How much money do you have? That’s not enough. How far have you gone? Just a little bit around. How much have you achieved? Not much. This year, onwards, I’ll just truly let her be. No pressure, Jeniper. Just live. Live good. Live.
* * *
Last Saturday, I covered OROFOLS, the alumni’s biennial run. I had to catch one of the service buses that would be leaving from the DLSU campus. I had to finish some work and hurry on, so I missed lunch and had to make do with drinking one of the two bottles of Gatorade I had in my food bag. That’s all I had.
In the bus, I sat somewhere in the middle, next to a boy, perhaps a freshman. I chose to sit next to him because it was him who looked most behaved, and I wanted to sleep. He looked geeky, he had a white tablet with him, and he read from it. Whenever he comes across something nice, he reads aloud. Didn’t bother me at all, I was glad to see a kid reading, and enjoying what he was reading. I fell asleep.
After a while, I woke up, feeling a weight on my shoulder. The kid fell asleep too, right on my shoulder. I just let it be. I laughed a bit inside thinking that if he was just some irresponsible drunken guy in a jeepney, I would quickly pull away my shoulder and let him drop. I closed my eyes and went back to sleep. After a while, I woke up again. The kid’s already awake, embracing his tablet, looking out the window.
* * *
My run was okay. Slow as usual but okay. Well, maybe not really okay – I felt jiggly the whole time. Because I drank two more bottles of Gatorade just a few minutes before the run, and bought and ate three hotdogs. I just had to have lunch, totally forgetting about the rule that one should not eat or drink heavy at least two hours before a race. But I couldn’t just have a piece of bread. So there, all that Gatorade and hotdogs kept jiggling in my belly all throughout the run, I was actually afraid I would vomit them all out during the first kilometer. Thank God I felt stable after a few more minutes. Right after the run, I went to the guesthouse where the alumni officers left their things. I saw some packed food on the table, looked good, longanisa and rice with slices of cucumber and tomato as sidings, “Nice, more sausages!” I thought, and without even asking anymore if I can have some, I went on and hungrily ate. There was nobody around to ask anyway, and I thought perhaps all the officers have already eaten, so I just ate on and on.
Then the alumni president arrived. I just had to suddenly stop chewing. He greeted me, so I swallowed quickly and greeted him back with “Nangialam na ko dito sa food ha!” He just smiled and went straight to the bathroom. I wondered, “Can I possibly finish the food before he comes out?” all while taking in as many spoonfuls as I can. But he was out real quick, and sat right in front of me. Too bad I can’t offer him the food that wasn’t mine and I dared eat.
We had a good professional and a bit of heart-to-heart talk, and it felt good to have it, especially since the last few days of our work have been really stressful. I told him that I hope he is not carrying any ill feelings about me, because I just really want to do the work, and I seriously hope that we’re okay. He assured me that everything’s fine, that he’s not taking it personally, and said, “At the end of the day, it’s all just work.”
Then I smiled and pointed out to him my coffee cup, “I saw some coffee in the pantry, nagtimpla na rin ako ah?”
* * *
This part is for that sixteen year old boy who I sat next to in the bus going back to DLSU. He was asking if I would write about him in Rektikano. Of course I won’t, I’ve had more than enough troubles in my hands, especially after trying to write some things that shouldn’t be written about lately in the magazine, if he only knew. No kid, you’ll have to make do here:
After the fireworks show, our bus immediately started its engines and allowed kids to step in and ride. I have been sitting in the bus earlier, and got a good seat right in front, next to the door, next to a window. I was laughing the whole time that the bus was filling up, and I tried hard to suppress it, but couldn’t. There was this sophomore boy who apparently had a moment on stage during the show (I didn’t see), and he was asking everyone who was coming in if they took a picture of him. Everyone shook their heads. He did ask me too, and I shook my head too, but gave him a tip even while I laughed, “Perhaps the photographers from The Lasallian or the official photographer of the alumni took the shot, you can ask them, they’d surely give you a copy.” Then he said something like that would take time, so he went back to asking everyone else. So I kept laughing. I laughed all the more after I kept hearing him, all the way back from his seat behind the driver, talking about “chick problems” and “MOMOL”.
That’s when I noticed that the kid seated next to me was noticing me laugh all the while. He was laughing at me too. He asked why I was laughing, so I told him something like, “Nakakaaliw ‘yang ka-klase nyo, ang kulit!” Then he laughingly answered, “Hindi ko ka-klase yan!” He said he’s a freshman. Then he asked my course. Then I thought, “Patay, heto na tayo, heto nanaman tayo.”
I told him I’ve already graduated from college, but am still a thesis away from my masters. He could not believe it. He said he thought I’m just one of the rest of the college girls in the bus. “So what are you doing here, did you run?” he asked. I said yes, I covered the event for the alumni mag, and opted to run as well so I may already skip my Sunday run the next day. Then the kid just fired away with all the questions. “You write for the mag?” “You also edit the mag?” “You’re a writer?” “You write for newspapers?” “And a travel mag?” “What countries have you been to?” “How old are you?”
I asked him to take a guess, as I usually ask people to guess whenever they ask. He guessed wrong, taking a much lower number in the mid-20s, which people usually give as the answer, I don’t know, I guess people just want to be kind. Or maybe on a good day, I do look like in my mid-20s. Anyway, I told the kid I’d be 36 on Saturday. The kid protested, “No!”, I laughed, “Yes!”
Next he asked me to guess how old he is. I checked him out. Cute kid, looks like of Chinese descent, looks a bit like Jeron Teng, got some built, maybe goes to the gym (something he did confirm later), has a scar on the right side of his neck, cute! 19? He protested again, “No! You think I’m old!”. I laughingly said, “I think you’re mature for your age, and you should be flattered, you don’t look totoy!” And then he smiled, and straightened himself up a bit in his seat.
And that was when the conversation started to shift into the truly absurdly hilarious. He started saying things like, “So that means I have to work immediately after I graduate, kasi nakakahiya sa iyo.” “Age is just a number.” “Do you believe in love at first sight?” Jesus. “You got no husband yet, right?” Jesus Christ.
I tried to shift away the conversation to other matters. I asked him about how school has been, and what he’s taking up. Development Studies, he said. I asked him if he came from LSGH, and I laughed when he asked, “What’s that?” He said he was from Lourdes School, which I said is a very good school, as I have some male friends who are very intelligent and came from Lourdes. I told him how he made a great choice about going to La Salle, because it is one of the best decisions I made in my life, the people who first gave me the breaks were my teachers and classmates from La Salle, and I believe it will be the same for him. I asked him what orgs he’s into, he said none, so I suggested he join the Outdoor Club, or the student publications. I told him to go out and meet girls. And then the sharp kid found his way again, “But I already met you! You’re already here!” Susmaryosep.
So I said to him straight, all while laughing of course, “I’m too old for you! Twenty years! Don’t you even see my white hair? Look!” I also pointed out to him that I’m Juana, even if I were younger, his parents will not approve, which surprised him a bit, and he asked how come I know that word. I said one of my closest friends is Chinese, and that I have a lot of Chinese friends and colleagues. He said to me next, his exact words, “You’re not Juana to me. You’re meili.” I had to make him repeat the word, meili, and spell it out, so I can check what it meant.
And he went on with the teasing and of course I kept laughing it all off. He was probably entertaining himself as much as he just wanted to entertain me. I tried to take hold of the conversation again and keep him away from asking me the funny questions. I asked him more about himself. Doesn’t he have a girlfriend? He said he wants to focus on his studies. I said that’s great, then asked what his plans are after college. He said he wants his own business. I said that’s great too, he’s on the right track. I asked him what happened to his neck, where did the scar come from? He did not give me a direct answer, I guess he did not want to talk about it, so I did not push. And we just kept talking the whole bus ride, about school, work, the future. He’s a really intelligent kid. He will go places. God bless him.
And then the bus had to arrive at the DLSU campus, and it was time for goodbyes. He asked me how I’ll go home, I said I’ll commute to Cubao. I asked him the same question, he said he has sundo. He lives in Banawe and the family driver is picking him up. “It’s nice meeting you, I enjoyed the ride!” I said as I offered my hand for him to shake. After he shook it, he smiled and pointed to his right cheek, asking, “Don’t I get a kiss? Kahit sa cheeks lang?”. “Beso,” I said, and had my cheek touch his. Then he smiled again and stood up. I let him go ahead with the rest of the kids, and I only stood up later and alighted along with the bus driver.
Past twelve midnight at Taft. Meili.
* * *
Just a few hours earlier today, Michipooh, my closest Chinese friend, called me up, in her usual practice of checking if I’m okay, or have I eaten, or have I really already eaten by cross-examining me with questions like, “Talaga lang ah? Anong inulam mo?”
Me: Miiich, merong batang Chinese guy, tinawag akong meili! Haha!
Michipooh: Meili… Ibig sabihin nun maganda.
Me: Oo nga e, ginugel ko, maganda nga!
Michipooh: Naniwala ka naman! Hahahaha!
* * *
I just got well from a 3-day fever. Previous to that, I spent a whole day crying over an unanswered prayer, a heartbreaking loss related to writing. I wanted it so bad hoping it would bring good changes in my work, or bring me more work, work that I love, or simply redeem me before the people who have been quite hard to deal with about work. I wanted to bring my family to that glorious room behind the waterfalls. I wanted them to see that everything was worth it.
Mrs. Lykes, who I have been in touch with all throughout, advised me to just let it go. She even thinks I got sick because of feeling down about it. After the heavily delirious first day of fever, I wrote to her that I just found myself praying out loud at the peak of my fever, while feeling afraid for my life, “I just really want my life, my life above anything, life.” All of a sudden, the loss did not matter, and I felt and saw it all again, what truly matters.
My mother and cousin both visited me on the second day. I and my cousin laughed all over again after I told her about the cute boy and the meili incident. “Cous! Parang anak mo na ‘yun! Si Kodi boy nga mag-pi-fifteen na!” she laughingly said, referring to her second-born son. I laughed back, “Di lang ‘yun! Kung patulan ko s’ya, that’s statutory rape! He’s not yet even 18! Underage! Kahit s’ya pa mag-initiate, ako pa rin yung may moral ascendancy. Ano ‘ko? Rapist? Kulong bagsak ko!” She asked further, “Pero cute ba talaga?” And I answered, “Oo! Jeron nga eh!” We both sort of sighed, “Sayang.” Then she told me more funny stories, mostly about my nephews, and we laughed all the more.
Mother still would not give up on my unanswered prayer. So, I don’t know, I guess I should not, too, right? I remember her telling me a couple of years back, “Ask for things as if you’ve already received them.” Ask not out of desperation, but out of gratitude. I raise it up.
And thank you Nanay and Aizel for all the Gatorade and fresh fruit juices and the meds and the love. Thank you for everything.
* * *
I pray for the following, the usual things I ask, for my 36th year:
Abundance. Health. Travels. Success in work. Success in writing. Writing that strikes right through the heart. And lots of laughter! I keep forgetting about the laughter part every wishing time. I want every good thing that can make me smile.
Love? But I already have that. I’ve always had that. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here, still standing, still pounding at the keys, still singing. I just want the love to keep me going.
I want all the good things, my Lord. Anything and everything good You want for me, I want just that, all of that.
Right now, I want me some glorious Adele, because she sings true, and it’s all meili.