A dog bit her. One day she just died.

“Fev, nagralaway kag nagwaras tana.” (Fev, she salivated uncontrollably and ran amuck) It was my best friend describing in a text message our college batch mate who recently died because of acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) due to rabies. Her very colorful description how that batch mate of ours died seemed to be too poetic a description for a death as prosaic as dying from a bite of a deranged dog.

http://blogs.dogster.com

She was bitten by a stray dog in the neighborhood early January. It took three months for the virus of the Lyssa genus to travel from the bite wound and reach her central nervous system. By mid-March she was already experiencing malaise, headache and fever. According to my best friend this batch mate of ours showed uncontrolled excitement, depression, and in her last days, hydrophobia, mania, lethargy that finally led to coma. They were classmates in a public high school in Antique and eventually in all their Literature classes at UP Visayas, as they took the same major in college.

She was interred for a day in their house and was immediately buried, without being embalmed, for fear of the spread of the virus. My best friend and their high school classmates were discouraged from seeing her body to contain the contagion. Her entire family is placed on quarantine until this time.

She is survived by her seven-month old baby.

She was one of those very quiet people of generic appearance and personality one meets in college, becomes a classmate, spends a few times with, and as is always the case, forgotten easily after graduation.

My only recollection of her was how she ruined the afternoon of our professor when she read entirely from a book her report about the Babaylans of Panay in a History class we were both enrolled during our first year in college. Although I couldn’t remember her talking much, not even about literature, there were times I think I remember about her few moments of unconscious abandonment when she laughed in class at jokes I didn’t find funny or just did not comprehend.

She also had this unforgettably long her that reached down to her waist. Never did I see her long black hair unkempt; it’s always combed, shiny, freshly washed.

Because of poverty and inability to continue college, she applied for a leave of absence in our junior years, and I did not see her since then except for one time when I bumped into her at the office of the university registrar falling in line for her transcript. I was already teaching then. She only showered praises for me, which I did not take seriously. I wanted to ask question about her and her new life outside the university, but I held back and shelved the idea thinking we were never that close for me to ask sensitive personal queries.

Since then, I heard vignettes about her: she having a new boyfriend, being pregnant, breaking up with her boyfriend, finding a new one, and taking odd jobs in the city. But these stories were often shallow, almost always taken out of context. Simplistically unreal stories that I refused to believe about a former classmate whose life is as uniquely complex and interesting as anyone’s. I did not believe in their truth not because they were lies but because they were bare.

But probably I never really cared because they were insignificant stories related to me by my best friend about somebody who was ephemeral and insignificant a character that would never figure in my universe.

As a token, I wrote this post, and to remind me one day, in the event my memory fails, of a girl who was seated in the front row of our classroom in my History class who one drizzly July afternoon, to the consternation of our veteran professor, just read in front of the class while seated on the teacher’s table the whole report assigned to her verbatim from Renato Constantino’s book.

And her hair that reached down to her waist, only that on her last day, that long, black hair, might have been unwashed, disheveled, unkempt because she spent her last day on Earth fearing water.

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Woman: A classic of Survival*

Skimmers’ Oratorical Piece delivered during Prima Facie 2008 at Pidlaoan Hall, University of the Philippines Visayas Miagao, Iloilo, September 9

After finishing a class in my Philippine History subject, I admiringly stared at my professor in awe of the breadth of her knowledge and the depth of her insights on Philippine affairs. She’s a motherly figure that can inspire both terror and love, both power and wisdom – a woman of tireless energy that will make one appreciate the past and see its implication on the present and the times to come. A woman of indomitable spirit. A cancer survivor.

She survived the disease and proved once more that not even the dreaded breast cancer will keep her from becoming the best in her field. She, like all other women I know, has proven her worth as a survivor. They do it with grace, beauty, and confidence-something only a woman can do. A classic, if you allow me to say.

Women in this hall, who constantly and successfully prove to the world that nature has made them the wonders of survival; the men as well, who are witnesses to what these daring women can do; board of judges; friends; ladies and gentlemen: a pleasant afternoon.

Behold a classic of survival.

As we all struggle for existence and for survival, to put it, the precondition is not for an individual to be big, to be strong; neither is brute force a prerequisite. Cunning and adaptation are the rules of the game. Two characteristics generously endowed by nature on the female of the species.

Survival is the ability to adapt and to embrace the curves and falls of the meandering idiosyncrasies of life. It is for the same reason why the brainy tiny mouse inherited the world and the dim-witted mighty T-rex failed.

Women are the masters of survival for instead of using violence, force, and overt showcase and spectacle of power they preferred the less obvious means – love, beauty, intelligence, and grace.

Cloaked by the meek and innocent look is a woman of seething power poised to rule the world.

Hidden behind the sweet smile is an intelligent woman that will make your heart beat furiously, shake it; but love in a manner only she can do.

Camouflaged by the seemingly weak and fragile body is a woman of strength that can hold the world on her finger tips.

Mimicking silence and an unassuming character are intelligence and erudition that allow us to see the world in a different light, giving us perspective that the otherwise male-biased science is utterly unsuccessful in doing.

Such and so much more celebrate women’s mastery of the evolutionary track humankind has trod and will continue to do, so long as it remains the most dominant species in the face of the world.

My Philippine History professor is defined by her intelligence, her job as a member of the academe, and yes, by the disease she fought and successfully won, but more than all these, she is defined by her womanhood, an identity that made her a classic of survival.

As a woman, I eschew society’s definition of my person; I refuse to be measured against biased yard stick that is concerned with nothing but delegating me to a secondary status. I demand to be viewed equal because I see myself as an intelligent, sensitive, virtuous, and beautiful survivor who will not only survive this life but will eventually conquer it.

Millennia of humanity’s existence have proven once and again that women have mastered survival, its complexities, intricacies, its arts and sciences. From enduring the pangs of child birth to recovering from all hardships, but still being able to afford to look almost unscathed from the challenges faced, women have given this world an enduring legacy of survival and taught a very simple lesson of existence: that surviving is not fighting against the conditions posed by nature but to use these conditions to one’s advantage, something that women learned by heart and made use of in myriad of ways.

I myself would also want to leave something as my legacy to humanity, something that will inspire mankind and other women like me to not just experience this life but to survive it, transcend it, and go beyond what is expected of me as a woman.

Surviving it with intelligence, passion, grace, and of course, beauty.

Behold before you a classic of survival.

A woman.

*An oratorical piece inspired by Prof. Tita Torio, a teacher, mentor, second mother, and friend of the author.