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.

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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.

Today*

We begin thinking about the future more, incessantly, when the present becomes shaky, that not even the certainty of the past can ensure that what will be tomorrow is the same as how yesterday’s tomorrow became moments ago.

I knew it was meant to be forever because I was hoping and praying for it to last that long or at least until the time my brain is still capable of processing perceptions, the beautiful feeling of love being one of them. But, we humans are too untrustworthy when it comes to our relationships, or maybe it’s just I. We humans are fickle when it comes to intimacy, or maybe it’s just I. How funny the word fickle sounds. I love the sound of capricious or vacillating, but I ended using “fickle”. It’s a linguistic mystery how this un-serious-sounding word is able to contain meanings far bigger than it, far blacker than it, or maybe it’s just I who has problems with clarity and telling the truth.

Today I did what I usually do minus that “inner happiness” that carries me or I carry, whichever way, around when my day begins to be unforgiving. My happiness hung onto something as wobbly as somebody else’s heart (and smile) which I never regretted. Now I am holding it in my hand not knowing what to do with it.

I am forcing myself not to believe that true happiness can only reside in the “narrowly escaping”, “hanging by the thread”, but it appears to me that it does. We humans are tragic beings because we are wired to seek happiness somewhere else, or maybe it’s just I.

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And for this, the happiest man in the world is somebody who knows with certainty that tomorrow, which will not truly come, will be his last. I know that my tomorrow will be followed by another tomorrow, and of course, another tomorrow. And I woe that it will certainly be just me, by myself.

I have not been alone for a long time, and it proves challenging to relearn it. I have totally believed in forever that I have completely forgotten how it is to be in solitude once again. Though I am not an old dog so I’ll definitely learn new tricks.

*My apologies for the turgidity of this prose.

Dinner for one

After I said good-bye to two of my students who did their final presentations this afternoon, I left consultation room number eight of the English Department feeling and relishing that freedom. I am at last unbounded by deadlines, deliverable, and to-dos. The sunset was strikingly beautiful and the leaves of eucalyptus trees along the path to Leong Hall were very graceful as they swayed with the cool late afternoon wind. I walked with insouciance, unhurried for the first time in ten months.

From Katipunan, I made an unplanned trip to the grocery for dinner. I bought a kilo of fresh salmon belly, some greens, and fresh spices. I waited for Babe’s text, but it seemed that the SMS wasn’t anymore coming so I went on with my plan and cooked dinner for one at eight.

I am considerably adept now in the kitchen, able to move around quickly minus the spills, burns, and splatters, unlike before when I would take out all the content of the fridge and the cupboard before I can produce a turd-looking, mangled sunny-side-up egg. Since I bought my pans and cooking utensils, I make sure I cook daily. I’ve been doing this for almost two weeks now.

The evil of fast food has never been more emphatically pilloried as when I compare it to my cooking. (I am not in any way trying to imply that I am excellent at it. No one, though, has expressed abhorrence to my cooking yet. My brother enjoys free meals and has not said any word about it.)

In a matter of 30 minutes, or less, I came up with salmon cooked in butter and a lot of garlic and a gorgeous-looking salad in olive and toasted basil dressing.

I have gotten so used to always having dinner with somebody that I thought I already forgot how it feels to dine alone. But like anything that we have grown up having and eventually ‘losing’, we still often catch ourselves surprised whenever we find out that there are things that tenaciously glued themselves to us, things we can never fully let go of or live without even though we thought all along that they’ve been long gone, deserted us for forever.

For how can a man so used to solitude all of a sudden declare his inability to have dinner by himself?

I must have gotten scared of being alone again, thinking it was impossible to revert to those dinners where I faced a blank wall while eating my plate of unpalatable unknowns, being seated next to a stranger while I was toying an overdone beef with my fork, or unsuccessfully keeping myself from hearing garrulous undergrads while I force-fed myself with pork swimming in its despicable grease.

It’s impossible to tell whether this is mere routine or a vestige of some pre-human instinct biologically wired in us through evolution. This recently learned (conditioned) desire to eat with somebody felt oddly good, not better than eating alone, though, as they each exists on different planes of pleasure.

While I was having dinner this evening, I knew I was my old self again–enjoying a simple meal, but this time I cooked the dinner myself, not feeling any remorse, as I should have been spending this time with somebody too special I’d ask a random customer questions as unimaginable as ‘Is salmon better than cream dory?‘.

To some, loneliness means eating alone. If I were younger, if it were three years ago, then I would agree with them. But I guess, years of living alone and spending countless dinners with so many somebodies and even more dinners by myself taught me that however you look at it, a good dinner is a good dinner regardless of whom you’re eating it with, or whether you’re having it quietly in a room where the only sound you hear is the sound created by your tongue smacking your upper palate as you masticate that delicate pink salmon or with somebody while whispering sweet nothings to each other.

And of course, how can I forget, a good meal is never complete without a nice cup of tea after.

On why it did not hurt as much as I expected it

I stood there the whole time, aware that I was not anymore welcome, keeping my distance because I am now an outsider who has no stake whatsoever in the exercise. From where I stood, every act appeared obligatory—the clapping of hands, the cheers from the different departments of the university, the smiles from students who still recognize me, the speeches (funny how I also had my share of delivering a speech, in fact, one of the chummiest speeches ever heard in that auditorium), the pictures of my former professors who hold offices projected on both walls of the stage, the powers that-be of the university sitting like your traditional politicians on stage, the traditional boisterous welcome given to the freshmen by radical student activists (an act that has lost its significance and meaning a long time ago, but is continually done because not staging a protest in the most opportune time means acceptance of defeat, something radical student activists have yet to fully understand.), and the suffocating air in the enclosed hall.

I stood there trying to figure out reasons for staying but I found none. Finally, I’ve come to a realization that most choices do not have fall-back system, no safety nets, no return tickets. Until that time it has not stricken me that I am on my own.

Connecting the disconnect

We all have an image of what should be in our minds, and it pains us, like having our tongue scalded from drinking our morning coffee too hurriedly, when we find out that this image we have of that something or someone turns out to be a sham, untrue, or stands several notches below our imagined pedestal.

But it is even more painful if that image in somebody else’s mind is our image. And that that somebody who falls short is us. The feeling of inadequacy and nothingness can be unbearably painful, forcing us to find a place in the corner, wondering why the image and us can’t be a singularity.

We may have repeatedly, in vain, tried to change or at least tried to be a good imitation of the image, but in the end we are only fooling ourselves. We will never truly become the image, and only by being a cheap imitation will be the closest we can get.

And so we either remain in the corner, eternally taunting and hating ourselves for being less than the supposed better version of ourselves, or we head for the door and walk away. And if both options are not viable, we still have solitude and silence to run to, at least they are less complicated, more comforting. The loneliness of solitude is not abrasive; the silence of silence is not painful. And with silence and solitude we get to retain a certain level of dignity.

Nonetheless trying to be the image can be the most diplomatic option. If we can’t afford to lose the person, if we want to be worthy of the other person’s love, then probably changing ourselves to become the image isn’t that bad after all. It does not really strip us of our individuality; in fact, it only proves our humanity and our desperate need to be loved, even if it means losing a portion of ourselves. Love is like that, ain’t it?

What am I doing eating egg sandwiches alone in my room on a Friday night (when I am supposed to be partying, seizing life by its neck)

I boiled four eggs until I was certain they were hard enough that green copper compounds started to appear on the crust of the yolk in one of the eggs that burst; then I dunked them in cold water, peeled them, crushed them one by one using a fork, added in several spoonfuls of mayonnaise, and sprinkled a pinch of rock salt. I cut and folded the ingredients until the consistency of the coarse paste approached that of shit.

These special egg sandwiches were for my younger sister. Just after I cut the last loaf bread wedge, placed a liberal amount on it the shit-like egg sandwich spread I made, she texted me that she was on her way to attend her friend’s party. I said I’d wait, wanting to share to her the sandwiches I lovingly prepared for us; I just could not bring myself to say they’re made especially for her. I waited but eventually got tired of waiting, and alone, silently ate the sandwiches I made.

That evening, it was so quiet inside our room as if all the noise created by the world outside was barred by the concrete walls from reaching me. It was almost unbearably tranquil, punctuated only by the sound of spasmodic tubercular coughing I made. I waited for an hour until I could not anymore contain my hunger and my unvented angst then I began eating the bland-tasting sandwiches one by one, drowning the aftertaste with a liter of iced tea. Out of nowhere leitmotifs of my empty life flashed before me like how those Christian manuals distributed when I was in high school described it would be when the time comes for a Christian to meet God on the final judgment.

I felt like crying, nearly, but I held it back just in time to keep the entire scene from slipping into an unforgivable melodrama. I hate scenes that consider action more salient than characterization, but I gathered I have been placing too much emphasis on the characterization of an obviously uninteresting actor. Although the scene warranted melodrama, I was conscientious enough to retain a semblance of elegance and necessary good taste.

I guess I shall never be able to completely free myself from this biting emptiness. Sadness it was not, this I am quite certain of, only a seething hollowness that pays me unannounced visits whenever I wallow in my carefully-guarded solitude.

I am not particularly religious, neither am I spiritual as those people who see themselves as byproducts of modernity are more wont to choose to describe themselves. Being ‘spiritual’ is definitely more fashionable than being ‘religious’. The subtle differences in meaning between the two words blurred by overuse and compounded by my lack of interest in their nuances led me to irresponsibly mistake one for the other. But I am certain I am neither.

I get scared sometimes that while the entire world is going on its way like a hyperactive insomniac, endlessly turning like the rusty blades of the old fan in my room, I am being left stranded in my room making beautiful egg sandwiches for my sister who’s not coming.

I’ve been asking myself whether the decision to teach at the university in a small town in the province is going to be good for my soul. Now I am less sure of my answer. At 24, when I am supposed to be exploring the limits of the world and my soul, I catch myself standing, immobile on the same road. I attempted to console myself that at least I am happy doing something I am good at, but there are times when a consolation won’t suffice.

The object of being in this precarious stage of a person’s life, his 20-something phase, is not settling for comfortable and numbing happiness. It is going through that perilous journey, that although will leave me battle scarred, will someday lend me that easy, confident smile signifying a journey well-taken and difficult roads traversed.

This time, everything seems to be on a halt. Probably this explains the gnawing feeling of void.

I’ve been meaning to write a lengthy letter addressed to myself. But I keep on finding excuses to put it off, postponing it in as many times as the thought of writing surfaces because I have nothing much of substance to tell my tired self. If I were to write it, however, it would have to be a complaint letter written with all the bitterest sarcasm I can rally to use against myself.

And so, while I was eating those tasteless sandwiches and drinking that insipid iced tea, I arrived at a decision to give myself until the end of this year to finally conclude this overdue hiatus.