Last trip

(Part 1)

From my place, we left at 2 in the morning on his 200cc Kawasaki motorcycle. We had a backpack that contained all the things we needed for our four-day sojourn. We took MacArthur Highway. We passed by the provinces of Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Viscaya, Ifugao, and Mountain Province until we reached Kalinga, a day and a half after.

It was an epic journey of two men wanting to get a glimpse of the countryside, a culture they will not comprehend in this lifetime, an aspect of a culture they will never grasp fully, but they journeyed nonetheless because the experience has to be lived.

We took the National Highway going to San Miguel, Bulacan and had to stop at a motorist inn for a couple of hours to catch a nap. We woke up at 8 and head to Nueva Ecija for breakfast. At a McDonald’s in Gapan, he was beginning to show fatigue, and were not even 20 per cent of the whole trip. He suggested we find a bookstore to buy notebooks, pencils, coloring pens, and crayons for the Butbut children of Kalinga. These school supplies added an additional 6-7 kilos to our combined weight.

At noon, I told him to pull over so we could nap a little; it was a private mausoleum in Nueva Ecija that I chose to be our resting place. The sun was unforgiving. I found a shade near two above-ground burial. We did not talk to each other. His thoughts were somewhere; I was too exhausted to probe–I imagined he was doubly tired, but I did not dare ask.

After an hour, I told him it was time to go and suggested we have lunch at 3pm in Nueva Vizcaya. Despite the sun, the way to Santa Fe snakes on the side of the mountain–the wind was cool, diluting what could have been a very concentrated 1-pm sun. I held tight to him every time a truck approached our way. We stood no chance if he had made a mistake, lose control, sending us careening towards these monster trucks. But he was as dependable as the Kawasaki we’re riding.

At 3, I tapped him on the back and told him to stop at a nearby 7-eleven. My skin was five shades darker. His was red. He sat on a table and finished his yoghurt while I excused myself and went to a burger stand a hundred meters away. I was starving, but I also wanted to be away from him for a while. It was a bit too much being at that close a proximity from him with as little movement as possible for more than eight hours on a bike.

From across the road, after devouring two sandwiches that tasted similar to paper I used to chew when I was 8 years, walking toward him, I smiled at the fact that his was the most handsome face. I gave him a coy smile only an infatuated 14-year old could make. We had to get moving or we’d be driving on meandering roads in darkness, I declared. The front light of our motorcycle is angled too upward, lighting the trees along the way more than the road in front of us. This worried him, but this fact did not keep him from driving, what I thought, faster that what was safe.

At around 6 we reached Ifugao Province. The view looked more familiar. Young men in their 20s can be seen on the side of the road chewing and spitting moma. He told me to have dinner after we passed by Ifugao State University. He did not have appetite. I was more interested in the cat of the owner of the place than the food they served. He told me to focus on eating and to leave the cat alone.

After a 30-minute dinner (I eat too slowly he’d always complained) of igado, rice, and a very salty vegetable dish, he goaded me to hop on the bike to continue our journey. He still had not eaten anything.

We travelled for another two hours, the temperature dropped precipitously because he’s driving faster this time, and the water from the rain seeped into my thin windbreaker. Notwithstanding the helmets we’re both wearing, I whispered near his ears, “We’ve known each other for almost two years now, M.” He tapped my knee. He is never good at expressing emotions; that singular tap was for me sufficient.

At 8, I told him we spend a night in Banaue. We found a roadside inn after confirming with their caretaker who spoke perfect English that they have hot shower. The hotel looked like a setting of horror movie in the 90s – the hallway was dark and the wooden floor creaked. Standing from the balcony of our room, the lit houses standing on the mountains and below looked like faint stars on a cloudy night.

The next day, we went down to the town for breakfast. We ate at the place for breakfast, seated at the same table, and recalled the intensity of our arguments more than a year ago in that same spot.

At 9, we began our journey to Bontoc. Kalinga is four hours away of zigzagging roads from Banaue. The view was that of pine trees, vegetable gardens, farmers tilling the soil, small waterfalls that flowed onto the roads, months-old rockslides, and his face reflected in the side mirrors of the motorcycle.

Longing

There were many things I missed about you:

You, our dinners together, the dishes you prepared for us, your scent, the sadness in your eyes, your voice, your sarcasm, the shadow you cast on the wall, myself when I am with you, your feigned indifference, your keen observations on the human condition, your sense of security in who you are. The security I feel when you’re around. Your funny jokes, the idiosyncrasies of your English, the grayness of your soul, the long silence that gives the stories you narrate a cadence I imagined our ancestors must have utilized to enthrall their listeners while they gathered around the storytellers, the tears that fall from your eyes for no apparent reason, your logic of seeing the world, your voice, your ready solutions to almost all problems we encounter.

Your love for life.

At the end of the day

Now this is how it feels, to be alone at the end of the day.

I arrived home at 6:20 after leaving work at 5:00 and having done my grocery that I hope will be enough to last me for a week. As soon as I got to my place, I took my clothes off, washed my face, and flopped myself on the edge of the bed to reach for my iPhone charger. I opened Spotify and searched for Amy Winehouse’s songs.

I fell asleep for a good one hour.

When I woke up at around 8:00 I knew I had to force myself to eat. I prepared a simple dinner of salad and eggs for one.

This, it is now clear to me, is the life of a man on his own. The sensation is new. I don’t know if I will ever get used to it. Certainly I can imagine a life of independence. I didn’t cohabit with any of my partners right away, but at least then I was sure I had a partner. We lived separate for some time, but I practically spent most of the time with them until eventually it was decided that I had to move to their place.

I’m mature enough to understand the nuances of most agreements. I’ve become more adept at reading the fine prints as well as inferring the implicit meanings of phrases used to set the terms of the contract of a relationship. I have to keep a place of my own and not to think of it as a dead investment but rather see it as an emergency fund. It’s sitting there without earning any interest, in fact losing its value to inflation and the changes in the purchasing power parity of the currency, but it has to be there, depreciating in value, because someday, I will have to open the door of the unit using a set of keys that is barely used while trying to carry several pieces of luggage, boxes of books, a decor or two bought in one of the travels I had with my partners, a box of love letters, and a microwave.

This is how impermanent relationships are, as all things. In the meantime, I have to force myself to endure the silence, not to be ashamed of solitude, and maybe see myself free from images in the background or foreground, and to know the person standing in front the full length mirror better.

My cats

Juanma has told me many times that I can empathize better with animals than with humans, that I care more for the welfare of my cats than for any of the people I know. I don’t agree with him, but there must be some truth to this observation.

I know when my cats are sick or are sad. I don’t merely anthropomorphize them because through years of raising them I can sense the slight changes in their meows, the drooping of their ears, or the abnormal shedding of their fur as indicators that something is wrong. My four cats are so dear to me that they figure prominently in most of the plans I have for the future.

I’m thinking of getting my third and a bigger condominium unit because I want to accommodate them and take them away from my ex who currently houses them. I think that they’re becoming too much of a burden to him. (Being with four cats while trying to begin a new life after a time with someone can be very difficult. How can he explain to the guys he’s dating the four felines that sit quietly while they talk about what each looks for in a partner? And for this I am most thankful to him for agreeing to provide a home for our cats) Sure, I see them regularly during the week to deliver their food, buy them the best cat food I can afford, take them to the vet for their vaccines and emergency health needs, but I want to see them every day, play with them, and make sure they have the best life I can provide. The condo I currently have does not allow pets and is too small for four cats.

I do not know when I started to be enamored with cats, but it should be when I was still young. Growing up, we never had a pet in the family because our house was practically open and any neighbors’ dog or cat could enter whenever they feel like it. But cats, they have smitten me with their proud demeanor and elegant gait. They look needy but are never.

I had wanted to have a cat but one cannot own a cat. Leave your door open and the next thing they’ll do is escape and find their happiness somewhere.

I believe my four cats will do the same. Sometimes, I intentionally keep the main door of the unit and screen door open to see what they will do. Didi, the youngest among the four doesn’t think twice of zooming out, Mimi hesitates, Priya observes, and Tumi will squeal, but all of them run out just the same.

I know, however, that they will have a difficult time surviving in the street. I’m imagining Tumi meowing at the top of his lungs waiting for me to scoop him up and take him home.

I understand that these four cats are a lifetime responsibility.

They’re the closest I can have to feeling unconditional love. I care for them because I hold myself accountable for them. The relationship I have with my ex has undergone drastic changes, but my relationship with my four cats will never change. I wish for them to stay healthy, happy, and hopefully one day figure out that the reason they still see me bringing a sack of dry food and cans of wet food to their place even though I do not live with them anymore is because I love them.

Being alone

At 12:53pm today I woke up from a dream almost too real, for a second I thought the emotional pain I feel inside due to a recent breakup is only an illusion, and I could take a ride to Mandaluyong to see Juanma again, but it wasn’t to be the case. Nothing is going to change anytime soon. I am still alone. This has been the longest time I have been alone my whole life. Alone in the sense that there is no one person out there that I know who will ask me if I’m all right, without a partner.

From my window I can see the metro moving ahead indifferent to what I feel because truly it doesn’t care about anyone.

This recent week, in the rush of events, I met an old love, someone I consider the closest person in my life, but even he has changed. He’s the same–his voice, scent, touch, yes, even now he looked at me, but he’s changed a lot in the same way that I couldn’t recognize myself when I was with him. I knew I love him, but it wasn’t the same kind of love I felt before. We’ve both changed so much, but ironically and naively, the only thing that didn’t change is my expectation that people don’t change after the years, heartaches, solitude, travels, people they meet on the way.

The way this expectation was shattered was too painful and traumatic for me. Reopening wounds from the past was the most inhumane thing I could do to someone I love, and I left him again knowing that after four years since that painful conclusion to a relationship that spanned for almost four years, I can honestly say to myself that I deserved now the comeuppance for the pains I caused him that time, and for this, I will never hurt him again, and the only way I can do this is to distance myself and not to inflict more pain on him by loving him like I used to in the past. We said good bye, not as friends, but as former lovers who decide that what was will never be again.

***

In that dream it was raining. I was going to the the other side of the road and Juanma to somewhere I don’t know where. I looked at his sad eyes. He smiled at me and gestured a kiss. I ran towards him and right at this very point in my life, there’s only one place in the world that I want to be in, and that is to be beside him.

But fate has other things in store for me, for him.

I promise myself not to be afraid to be alone this time, to not force myself into anyone’s life without first making sure that I will never hurt them like the people I loved in the past.

I don’t like being alone. I have never been alone before, but I hope to discover the value of being single, of depending on no one for my happiness and sense of self.

Only after this will I know how it is to be truly beside someone.

Juanma

I am often intrigued (I’m not sure if this is the best word to describe it) by all these that are happening between us. The start, it was something I did not think would lead to anything deep and beautiful, but to something deep and beautiful it led to.

This morning, while walking toward you, you smoking what remained of that cigarette stick always stuck in between your index and middle fingers, I barely held myself from smiling. I felt I was again a teenage boy mesmerised by the sight of a teacher he admires a lot, whose attention he wants to catch, whose affirmation of his good works he always seeks.

The noonday sun as it shone on your face almost blinded me. I tried to ask you a mundane question because if I said anything other than ‘how are you’ I’d betray the upwelling of excitement I had inside me. And it has long ceased to be appropriate for a man my age.

I have told you that my circumstance keeps me from being with you, and you told me that my choice of the word ‘circumstance’ is something that you don’t like. You’re right. It’s a word used by a coward, someone not brave enough to understand our agency as humans who are always given that choice to redirect our journey to wherever our hearts lead us.

Forgive the cliche. I have not written here for a long time, and I have become quite rusty. This is my way of documenting this very important decision I’m making as an adult.

Yesterday was a good day. We walked under the trees, we lay on the grass, you lay your head on my chest, you read me a poem, we kissed; it was so good I didn’t want for the day to end. I wanted it to go on forever. But my circumstance keeps on pushing itself on me.

But this shall soon change because you’ve given me enough reasons to.

As for irony, I shall write about it soon.