‘Happy birthday’ minus a selfie
As early as 4 a.m., you check on your Facebook account to see if the 5-hour time difference between you and your fiancé has left something unreciprocated. Yet there is no notification that says he tagged you in a post. He has not posted any selfie. Aside from the fact that it’s not the second of the month, suffice it to say that he did not go somewhere fascinating last night and did not dine at a new restaurant there.
On your way to your workplace, you check on your messenger to know if the unread messages are his replies for the take-care and I-love-you messages you left. But your face falls upon knowing that these are from the futile groups of which you are unknowingly a member. It was only last night that both of you fell asleep during your conversation, yet you feel like it’s been several days since the two of you talked. You agreed that Tuesdays and Fridays are your chat and Skype schedule, but every minute you wait for his message to pop up. You wish he’s thinking of you, too. And whenever you get tired of waiting, you conclude: Perhaps he has looming deadlines to meet.
At the expense of seeing your timeline flooded with selfies—from a few no-nonsense to many nonsensical ones—you try to stay online a bit longer. Your FB has become a site teeming with close-up pictures of them attending a family reunion or catching up with old friends, or celebrating every achievement and fulfillment of their being. Most often, it accommodates selfies of them with the finely garnished food they binge-eat in Bag of Beans, with their death-defying pose on the edge of a cliff, with their limited-edition Nike shoes, with the chandelier of the 5-star hotel they visited, or with the mushy gifts they just received. And yes, of some pictures that boast they have it, though it is not actually theirs. They open themselves up to every judgment the world can throw at them, and confidently back it with the logic of self-expression.
You hate selfies. You do take a picture of yourself by yourself now and then, but you don’t post it. You just keep it in your phone and regret not posting it until such time that your phone is stolen. By that very sense, it is not a qualified selfie.
You do not like your fiancé to do this either. Not because you feel like you are no celebrity to make it known to the whole world that you two dated in a cozy place overlooking the majestic Taal lake and volcano, but because you feel like it diminishes the magnificence of that moment you shared. You are not in favor of selfies because you do not believe that what these pictures reveal are true. You are not into selfie-taking because you are convinced that the more people show it off, the more it is not genuine. You don’t need to post it because their opinions do not matter anyway. You dislike posting selfies because people need not know that he could manage to make you happy. You do not like it because it feels like sharing your moments with the digital world makes that act of celebrating your feelings but superficial.
But your fiancé cannot help posting your pictures together. He even manages to accompany the pictures with nuggets of poetic lines he fondly creates, with his signature line “I love every inch of you.” Sure, he enjoys taking selfies of him with you. How is it called then if the picture has more than one self in it?
Ironically, it doesn’t arouse flattery on your part, but it seems more like he’s digging a hole for himself. Afterwards, a scuffle develops. But soon enough, he learns to consult you first, though occasionally he still dares post some without your consent. By way of strategy you avoid his cell phone, but it doesn’t work as he
engages in emotional blackmail by refusing invites to go out. And after some time, you eventually give in to this pop culture thingy that he claims as his way of expressing his love. Sometimes.
Now you are in the course of tolerating his fondness for selfies so as not to contribute to your long-distance problem. You now anticipate that every second of the month he has a photo collage to post, and you must be ready for the friendly teasing of your colleagues. You have become understanding and appreciative whenever he tags you in his selfie that says he is with you, for it gives you the feeling of togetherness. And now, you wish you could have taken a lot of selfies with him then to somehow console you in your solitude and misgivings.
At this moment, you are gradually accepting that this business feeds on them, on you, for you fall prey to this, too. You realize that this thing you hate makes every long-distance relationship, like yours, thrive.
You are trying to reconcile with the selfie. You are even considering it as an option to send in your birthday message to him. But you run out of it. It has been eight months since he took his last selfie with you, and those few selfies he insisted on taking have served their purpose already. And you don’t feel like reusing them, for the message you ought to convey will seem not as heartfelt as you want it to be (just because it’s in a previously posted photo collage).
So, even though you are in the process of reconsidering your punctum visus about the selfie, you go back to making use of this craft. And like an anomic, aphasic person, you try squeezing your brain in search of the right words that will encrypt your thoughts and feelings way beyond what selfies can do. Words that will make your distance from him bearable, and help you triumph over the 13 months more of being apart. Words you long to whisper to him, as in “I love you” and “I miss you.”
Sure, you have come to love selfies, his selfies. But the scarcity of them makes you continuously cling to your conviction that even without these pictures, your “Happy Birthday!” would still give him a more earnest sense of happiness and celebration than any other greeting in the world of Facebook.
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Elaine Ann O. Amo, 28, is a public school teacher currently working on a master’s degree in language and literature at De La Salle University Manila.
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