Sept. 11, 2007

the last time series

a series of lasts.

1.

By the time I am writing this, it would be six, seven years later.

The last time I saw you, we were saying goodbye – as was customary for people who would part ways. This was at my graduation. I was sixteen and you were forgiving me for being the impertinent rebellious teenager that I was.

That was your gift, I remember – the ability to see through me as if I were crisp cellophane, reading through the dark murky waters in which the spectrum of my teenage emotions swam, still fresh from a certain loss, three years hence.

“You’re still young,” you’d told me once, smiling warmly through every painful thing I’d thoughtlessly said. It was the year I hated being called young when I felt so old.

Looking back I couldn’t figure out how exactly you understood. If I were in your shoes, I’m not entirely certain I’d understand myself, for one thing. I was a very difficult child – people had called me “academically superior”, “responsible”, “independent and able”, but much of that was, at best, illusion. My survival plan was deception, and before you, I was doing fine, fooling everybody else I had things under control, even when under my skin, I was impossibly disconnected.

And then you come along, your big heart in such a small frame, pointing out how I was just this person trying to be cold and indifferent when inside I felt so differently – warm, like newly baked cookies, like strips of sunshine through a window just before classes started at 8.

I was a senior, and amidst the pressure of my final year, I hated the feeling of someone knowing about the things I had carefully hidden. My mother had trained me to hide my emotions well. In our years as mother and daughter, I can’t remember right now if we’d actually talked about anything other than school, and so the subliminal lesson was to keep any of my other cards close to my chest and not let anybody in.

It may take a few years more before I could finally understand the wisdom of that, actually. Or maybe that was my mother teaching me about phase 1, which was only supposed to deal with keeping the feelings in until you understood them well enough to get to the next phase, which was expression. We all know how my mother left, the lesson discontinued. And so I fended for myself.

I tried fending you off, for one. You were so bright and I couldn’t stand you, all my dark nooks lighting up so visibly whenever you were near. But I hung around anyway – the classic moth to your flame – but always at a distance I thought safe. (A really smart moth, I could hear you say.)

Imperceptible how you’d started reaching out, talking to me hurriedly in the corridors – ‘Can I see you later after class?’ or ‘Can you drop by around lunch time?’ or the occasional, ‘I didn’t like that comment the other day, can you tell me what’s going on?’

This was me lugging along my pile of books, my skirt illegally long that the hem almost touched my ankles. This was me in black leather shoes and white socks, and a white blouse in custom-made fabric just thick enough to hide the fact I had foregone wearing the mandatory chemise over my brassiere. This was me at sixteen, the Catholic school girl with a smirk on, brows always together in the middle, like I was always counting test scores in my head.

I wasn’t the most pleasant person, really, my humor more often than not dark, dry and sarcastic rather than light, silly and self-deprecating. It was mostly self-defense, but you laughed at my side comments anyway, this angst-ridden girl who caught your eye. Maybe she could write, maybe she could get better, maybe she could be something else. To you I was this walking ball of possibilities that I couldn’t wrap my head around just yet. Too much, I’d said, too heavy.

At the time, I must have been certain I was on my way to becoming the kind of person I was destined to be – someone aloof, someone who took things seriously. So the fact that you could’ve been right – that this was all just a façade – ultimately unsettled me.

I’d never seen you since. I remember that day vividly because you practically flung yourself at me in the middle of a crowded lounge to hug me in congratulations. I finished one slot lower than everybody thought I would; I didn’t think I was worth congratulating because it was in every way a disappointment.

But that wasn’t the main thing, the finish. I had made my peace with that, and the girl who finished ahead of me was eons greater than I was anyway. The main thing was that I didn’t do hugs; much less hug people in public. Intimacy was such an alien thing, the feel of a body close such an alien sensation. Even the gesture of a held hand, even between friends, was something I was entirely uncomfortable with.

You said I’d go places; in my head I was dreading going to college because the thought of UP scared me and I didn’t want to deal with it just yet. I hugged you back in the awkward way I knew how, arms wrapping around you briefly before letting go all too abruptly. I must have mumbled thank you, and it was approximately then you’d said goodbye.

I’d never seen you since. I came back every now and then, but then I heard you’d already left town. Seven years later I wish I could see you again just to tell you about how life has been, just to show you how far I’ve gone from that kid you knew. Who would’ve thought I’d grow up to be this entirely different person?

Maybe you wouldn’t even recognize me. Maybe you’d be happy you wouldn’t. Maybe we could pick up where we left off.

Or maybe not. Maybe I’d just bump into you one time, brief like our corridor conversations, but hopefully just long enough to actually be able tell you, Yes, you were so right about so many things…

*

2.

The last time I actually had the chance to watch you sleep, it was at the end of last year, the day after my birthday. I had invited you over for dinner and movies and the usual fall of things whenever we were by ourselves.

I didn’t know then that would be the last morning after. I am of the opinion you were the farthest from me in morning afters like this, even as you were huddled close to me, your hair and mine splayed darkly against the light blue of my sheets. It was just like that, I guess – your body close but everything else so far; your eyes shut, the gap between your lips almost unnoticeable had I not looked harder.

But then, I had looked harder – as was the way things between us had always been. Always, one had to look harder. Maybe that was how I broke my eyes, the real reason behind my glasses.

The last time I woke up beside you, it was in an entirely different city. And true enough, I felt as different as the place – it’s like I fell in love with you in one city and fell out of the feeling in another. Was that how things usually went? This time, even with you asleep it was I who felt so far.

This was how it ended. This was the last time, and this time, it would hold. This time would be the last time I’ll have to say it has ended, because this time I actually believe it has.

*

3.

The last time I wrote about you, it was three days after your birthday, and I had just realized how I had mistaken certain comfort zones for a rather curious brand of attraction. I had refused giving it a name, the feeling, for a long time, but then somehow it got out.

“I knew at the outset,” I had written, “That if there was someone I should have been more careful about, it was you.”

A few months later, it still hits a nerve. It doesn’t hurt that much anymore though, but the lack of pain doesn’t really make it any less true.

*

4.

The last time I was so close to you, I.

Scratch that. I have no words for the last time I was that close to you, actually. It’s almost embarrassing, the way I have no words to describe the giant effort it took to keep the space between us somewhat legitimate and perceptible – basically, just *there* to begin with, and not just some kind of pretend-space, like the one we created with careless limbs and subtle shifts and all that sleep as excuse.

I just don’t have the words, and it is rather seldom that I don’t have words for something I felt so strongly about. I’d been schooled to think I could write, but then I couldn’t write you down, not legitimately anyway – only as a secret that had to be drawn out from the spaces between words and lines.

There has to be a better way of putting things. I hate how I sound whenever I say I haven’t felt like this in a long time, whenever I say I didn’t think I could feel this way again – it’s so trite and it doesn’t suffice, what with the way with which this fist-sized thing inside my ribcage feels like it’s about to fall out whenever it gets jolted with tiny gestures, with movements as subtle as your hand lightly on me, anywhere, any given time. It’s insane, and that is the understatement of the year.

There has to be a better way of putting things, prettier words for how you make me feel –for how you send me spinning, for how you reduce me to this awkwardness, this tentativeness, like the gesture of my hand covering yours briefly in the dark. There has to be a better way.

But right now, there is none, and this is just me and the imagined scenarios in my head, each one more dangerous than the one before. The longer I keep this up, the higher the place I’d have to fall from, I know, but it’s not like I could stop now.

It’s not like I’d want to, anyway, even if I could.