Love, Unexpectedly: First Date

Afternoon light broke through my room’s unadorned jalousie windows. There was no need to turn on the bulb; it was bright enough as it was. I was rolling on my small bed, my mind in a riot of past, present, and future thoughts. I had been doing that a lot for a month now.

At 21, in 2005, just four months fresh from college graduation, I banged my head over what job I wanted to do. I just wanted to do something, anything, and earn from it. But deep inside, I knew it was a half-hearted decision. It already seemed like a privilege to acquire a job that was related to what I have studied for three years.

I sat up. My feet landed on a book. On the floor, books were scattered, like fancy clothes spread out for a look-over and selection. I smiled. I arranged and rearranged them in a pile and carried them to the wide wooden floor-to-ceiling shelf at the foot of my bed. My practical father, a resourceful maker of all things necessary for the house–from hangers made of wood and wire to ceilings that are plastered with aluminum insulation foil–built my shelf.

Since the shelf was twice as tall as me, I had to balance one foot on a bed post and the other on a lower shelf before depositing the books below the topmost row. I landed back on the floor and stared at the shelves, seeking some sort of inspiration. The bookshelf contains paraphernalia collected over the years: notebooks, essay papers, and news clippings on the bottom shelf, floppy disks, cassette tapes, CDs, and crochet yarns on the second, figurines, trophies, and a big black radio on the third, books on the fourth, and a set of Britannica Encyclopedia and dictionaries on the very top of the shelf.

The comfort I sought in my period of unemployment didn’t come. I went to my study table, which used to be a white drafting board bought when I was a freshman civil engineering student. Now, it was covered with thick Globe load cards pieced together like a big jigsaw puzzle. On the table, bright little holders stood full of ballpens and pencils. They were surrounded by figurines of the odd sort.

I sat down and gazed outside the window. My view used to be coconut and banana trees and a bright blue sky or a pitch black night. But a religious denomination bought my aunt’s land beside ours and erected a small church out of wood. On some days, the change of the peaceful view was accompanied with sounds of crying babies and loud singers with their equally loud musical instruments. Today, it was eerily quiet. My cell phone beeped a message. It was an unregistered number. Continue reading Love, Unexpectedly: First Date

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Love, Unexpectedly: First Meeting

I looked up at the steep staircase, small and dimly lighted. Behind me was the rush Sunday activity of vendors eager to call on the churchgoers leaving the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu just across from where I was standing.

I climbed up the stairs and walked the familiar hallway. Obscure lighting from the high ceiling failed to flood every corner of the corridor. The indistinct paint was coming off the old walls. The floor was unswept, with unbundled trash and a couple of cockroaches just off the corner at the top of the stairs. I immediately turned my eyes to the direction I was going, lest I would feel a bile of disgust coming out of my throat.

I entered the office of the review center I enrolled in. It was a bright contrast to the hallway. Almost everything was white—the sofa, table, chairs, and walls—like a comfortable clinic for adults. The air conditioning was working well, a balm to my heat-cloaked skin. I found a corner as I listened to my classmates talking with the teacher, as we all waited for the time to reach one. Most of my classmates were old, more than 35 years old, many of them vying for permanent positions in the government. To them, failing the civil service examination was not an option.

When it was time for the class, we moved to another room, a classroom, passing another section of the dark hallway. The classroom was not what I expected it to be: some windows were broken, the poorly maintained armchairs were scattered across the floor, the blackboard already turned yellowish green, and the wall paint was peeling off badly. The entire area was fit for an emotional video documentary. It was my third time in the room so I wasn’t surprised at the sight anymore.

Continue reading Love, Unexpectedly: First Meeting

The lost children’s garden

Before St. Joseph’s Academy (SJA) become what it is today, all concrete from bottom up, there was a brown patch of land by the main gate, beside the National Shrine of Saint Joseph (formerly St. Joseph Parish). It was small but big enough for about 20 to 30 children to play catch in.

Thinking about it now, I’m sure it was meant to be a garden with a statue in the middle and trees surrounding it. The trees, thick with dark bark and coated with ground dust, stood bent and drooping, like a decreasing army of wounded soldiers.

A bit of trimmed grass, parlored bushes and a keep off sign would have made that piece of land a peaceful sanctuary in the middle of a bustling city, a modest remake of the garden of Gethsemane, something you could expect from the ICM Sisters who managed the school in its early years.

But there was no stopping us, still young and jaunty schoolchildren at the time, from entering this well-shaded garden whose mere presence unceasingly taunted us to play. Dust rose from the ground as we chased each other in this garden during class breaks and at the end of the school day.

We were oblivious to the health hazards the garden posed on us: dusty air that was as thick as the bark of the trees, undried sweat on the back of our white cotton uniforms and the verbal onslaught by mothers who thought more about laundry than the benefits of play.

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Remembering Coleen, the girl of joy

What is now a paved road outside my parents’ house used to be uncovered soil with stones and weeds. This rough plot of land, with only trees on one side serving as a sort of boundary and a concrete wall on the other, welcomed the restless feet of 8- and 10-year-old children jumping and thrashing against the hard ground.

Among them was Coleen. She was a short, frail-looking girl with a pair of sad eyes. Her appearance was a sobersided contrast to the meaning of her complete name: Coleen Joy, or a girl of joy. But appearances can be deceiving.

During one of our games of catch or hide and seek with the neighborhood children—Manny, Toto, Nonoy, Christine, and Alwin—Coleen would come out of her house pale and tired. She must had had one of her “nebulizer sessions” to ease her asthma attacks.

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Celine Dion and some memories

I was already singing her songs before I got to know the tall, flawless singer. The songs came out through my elongated radio, a black cassette tape player I had bought with the money I had received from an aunt who married a retired American soldier.

That player was fixed in the third row of my bookshelf, sometimes dusty and mostly immovable. In the same way it was fixed on a spot, the player-sleek, curvy and almost inconspicuous-was almost always fixed on one radio station, 96.3 WRock.

I can only count the times I changed the dial to an AM station to listen to “golden music,” as the disc jockeys called it, of Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, Dan Hill, Jim Croce, Abba, Bee Gees, Cascades, Tom Jones, Kenny Rogers, and Air Supply. They were our Sunday best friends over a feast of guso, lato and a kilo of lechon (roasted pig).

But I always go back to 96.3 WRock’s light tunes and a variety of songs for easy listening. Until now, the songs I listened to stuck. Each time my husband belts out a song with his guitar, I can sing some of the lyrics. I surprise him when I do since he knows I’m tone-deaf. When I can’t get the lyrics out, the melody is an annoying buzzing bee in my head. When I try to at least give a hum, I go about it wrongly. Still, I can remember some of the words. When I read them, I can sing them for my own pleasure. 

Of all the songs I’ve listened to through my player, it was Celine Dion’s heart-reaching, heart-turning and heart-squeezing voice who made music more memorable for me.

Continue reading Celine Dion and some memories