July 30, 2007

the art of moving

i moved out of quezon city and into makati, how could there not be an entry?

Most of the time, I am prone to generalize when it was I had started ‘living’ – as if my life did not really start when I was born 22 years ago.

Before, I used to say my life began in high school, when my mother died. When I still thought freedom was about getting to decide your own haircut or choosing your own clothing or put simply, being free from my mother’s instructions and expectations. I think, honestly, that anyone who had been 15 once would agree. High school was a time when going to malls in your uniform was a risk and getting your parents to say yes to a summer outing at the end of the year with your class was an achievement in itself.

Since I graduated from college though, I became more prone to thinking my life began when I entered college in UP. I was sixteen then, when I moved out of our Cavite home and thrust myself into the willing bosom of the premiere State University alone. It was, in many ways, the start of several things – vice, awakenings and heartbreaks, in not at all mutually exclusive piles.

Who knows though, maybe five years from now, I would start thinking differently again.

But for the time being, this is what is true – Quezon City would always be, for me, that place where I first lived on my own.

*

I was to turn 20 that year, and the boarding house inside the campus in which I had lived in for the first three years of my college life was about to shutdown. Hence, seeing that I still had my last year to go, there was no other choice but to find another place in which to live.

When I first moved into that Maginhawa compound, I was given a second-floor room, where the sounds of tricycles were so audible at night and sun was too painful in the afternoons.

Not that these in any way stopped me. It was a small room with a kitchen and a bathroom, just comfortable enough for a single inhabitant, but if you stretch it a little, it could be good for two. Eventually, I would move to a room about the same size in the ground floor, which I would then share with my sister upon her entrance to the same college. But that comes later.

Back then when I first moved in, it was 2004 and I was, in the strictest sense, alone.

If I were to have a single word to describe the way I had lived during those first few months, I would have to settle for “Spartan.” The room was essentially bare — the floor remained concrete when I realized I couldn’t maintain the rubber mats that were very difficult to clean at the end of the week. It was March when I moved in, the height of a smoldering summer. As luck would have it, my father had a spare airconditioner, which he gave to me. That was all I needed, you see, just the basics – and a bed to sleep in and my computer.

As long as I lived alone, my parents saw no point in giving me a refrigerator, and I honestly did not mind. What they did give me was an icebox, which I filled with ice every now and then – plus the occasional bottles of beer people are wont to bring every time they dropped by. For their part, my parents were more intrigued than worried about the 330-ml bottles of Red Horse occasionally in my icebox when they visited. My standard disclaimer then was that I was keeping them for a friend. Not technically false either.

Not technically false, considering these bottles were leftovers from the previous night’s impromptu drinking session.

I lived in Quezon City for more or less six years. When I first came here, I was an unwilling freshman, scared of this newfound space. Where I came from, we had walls and roofs and rules – I was, after all, a Catholic school girl. And UP, to my sixteen-year-old eyes, seemed too big and endless.

Familiarity came not that much later, though. Living on campus, as I would later find out, had its way of endearing itself to me, slowly disproving all my apprehensions and, once and for all, opening my eyes. It seemed to me that my fear had rested on just how much I did not know about this place, and as my life filled with corridors I knew, faces I recognized – I was okay. As soon as I knew where all the roads led to and how, I was fine.

And how fine I really was, watching the afternoons darken into night as I sat underneath the Skywalk or on the College of Music steps, talking about the day, or of the days to come, or about things to be said and done. How fine I really was, sitting in a circle in the middle of the Lagoon, passing a bottle of Pepsi Blue and lambanog around, or lying on my back right in the middle of sunken garden, issues of the Collegian beneath me as a makeshift bed, staring straight ahead at the smoke and the sky and the stars, discussing the what-could-have-beens and the what-still-coulds.

How fine I really was.

I was fine until I got a girlfriend, a broken heart, and, eventually, a room of my own – it all started in the year I turned 19, and this all happened in less than six months. From being fine, my life became fast – fast, furious, passionate, and all the more irrational, all the more out of control. Almost akin to spontaneous combustion – one minute I was this, and then I was that. Needless to say, that was a rather confusing year.

That was the year I moved out of the boarding house and into the Maginhawa compound. Most of the time, I think my life in college could be divided into half – the pre-Maginhawa and the Maginhawa years. Looking back, perhaps I could just put it this way: It’s one thing to know how to spread your wings, but completely another to actually start flying.

After three years of being under boarding house rules, I was finally, virtually free – no curfews, no nosy, temperamental landladies, and most importantly, no rules against sleepovers.

My housewarming fell just before Holy Week that year, and my bestest friends brought booze, chips and the Passion of Christ on VCD. Needless to say, the most pious of us were crying by the middle of the movie. That was a bad idea; we should’ve settled for beer and chips and nothing but that instead.

Sleepovers meant I had friends over a lot – for drinks and stories, mostly, rocky road ice cream and red horse beer and stories about people we knew and people we should have known. I couldn’t remember just how many mornings, exactly, have I had people tumble out of my room barely awake at 8 in the morning, still in the clothes they had on the previous night.

Of course, the fact that this was my room also led to other things, some of which would later prove to be ill-advised.

Before sitting down to write this, I made it very clear to myself – this was not a story about her, but about a place I had grown to love. Only there’s not a lot I can remember about this place that do not lead to her, in one way or another.

By way of summary, I met her in sophomore year. I was 18, and I didn’t know better, didn’t know I could ever feel this way.

Before I could even wrap my head around what was happening, there she was. Before I knew it, there was a lump in my throat, an irregular beat in my chest, a nagging thought in my head. It felt a lot like opening my eyes for the first time.

I know I’ve said this was about the place, not her; but how can it be not about her when it was this place that brought me to her, in the first place? The word ‘difficult’ barely captures it.

This was where I met her, after all. This was where I told her (out on the college steps), where she told me she couldn’t do it (just outside the film center), where we agreed to give it a try (underneath a lamppost at the corner of the street where my boarding house stood), where she told me it was not going to work anyway (along the road leading to the post office).

And when I moved out, it was this space (my room), the isolation/insulation of the setting that brought her back to me, by means of random dinners and surprise breakfasts and other sorts of rendezvous that the privacy of the setup finally afforded us. It was summer then – needless to say, it was definitely one of the hottest summers I’ve ever had.

Now it’s four years hence. I got myself a job right after graduation a year later, and as if my world could not get bigger, I found myself commuting for an hour and a half every day, just to get to my Makati office.

A few months after I graduated, my sister moved in. I have college to thank for reviving our relationship as siblings – I recognize that, and am completely grateful. Perhaps having my sister around was a good, concrete reminder that whatever I get myself into, no matter how many girls eventually leave me for other men, I would always *always* have her to come home to.

It’s a comforting thought most of the time, but there are other times I felt like the world outside was getting bigger and bigger for me while the world I had for myself was getting smaller and smaller. Only then did I understand the notion that sometimes comfort does suffocate. And so, on my second year at work, I decided to move closer to the office.

The opportunity presented itself to me in the form of a phone call from a superior who had offered his studio flat nearby for rent. There had been irrevocable changes from work – people leaving, working hours being extended, that sort – and I had been looking for a place for months. I had given up my attempts actually when the opportunity itself, the new empty room, came to me. There was no way I could turn it down.

The flat was, I think, slightly larger than my old room, and it had closets and a large bathroom (which I think sealed the decision for me, finally). It was somewhat furnished with a small refrigerator and an airconditioning unit. But save for that – the floor was concrete and the rest, bare.

This wasn’t just *flying* (in keeping with the metaphor) – this was *soaring*. There was a company bonus that time, and I used that to buy a bed, a couple of tables, a pair of chairs, things to fill the pantry and my supplies closet with. I splurged on orange sheets and a fleece blanket, bought new speakers for my sister’s old laptop, which I had insisted on bringing with me.

My parents had only helped with the moving in. I am to pay the rent and the homeowners dues and the utilities. They said sustaining my sister’s stay in our old place in Quezon City was expensive enough on its own. I agreed, carefully calculating in my head what I could do and what I couldn’t anymore. And then I said I was going to be fine.

On my last morning in the Maginhawa apartment, I found myself en route to UP to return a microcassette recorder I had borrowed from an old friend who had graciously loaned it to me on the spot when I was sent there on an emergency coverage of the Cheche Lazaro kind. I made my way to Masscomm in my best impression of a college student, and somehow it worked. I even got asked by a freshman about what jeep to take to get to the Main Library. I think I smiled a little too earnestly, but I didn’t really care. I was back.

But curiously, it didn’t feel like home anymore. It had been two years since graduation, and passing by the area where we used to spend an awful lot of time destroying our lungs in between classes, it ultimately broke my heart to see the faces all new and unrecognizable.

Suddenly, I was back to my sixteen-year-old eyes, afraid of this space I knew no longer. Only now, the eyes I had on were older; they had seen things, had cried over things. They had even been deprived of serious amounts of sleep on some weeks. I was 22, and returning to my alma mater, I felt very much like a stranger. (To think that I did not even leave its side all this time, living just outside of it all this while)

I turned my head again as I was walking away, just to check – but it was what it was. Where we once were, there were only ghosts of faces I once knew, once laughed with. I think I even kind of heard a trademark round of laughter. I stopped a while to shake my head. Memories kind of make you crazy sometimes.

On that day, I decided that I did not belong here anymore. Sitting on the steps, right where I first told her, I lit up a cigarette and said a long, slow goodbye.