Each time I’d pass by a hundred-year-old acacia tree that rests just beside Lola Mamang’s grave, wistful memories take me back to a fleeting flashback of a youthful love, which, like an uninvited day tripper, still often recur in my dreams.
I was 16 then and innocently in love. It was during the time when Facebook and digital cameras were yet to be a hit, and lovers exchanged cheesy albeit heart-warming letters to each other. The acronyms ITALY (I trust and love you) and FRANCE (friends remain and never can end) still give romantic thrills, and slam books used to be open secrets.
I had no other material recollection of those years, as fragments of it were already burned into ashes; though I’d still often recall from time to time those vivid memories which happened 11 years ago.
Lola Mamang was a witness to our love story.
* * *
He was a total stranger whom I undeniably gave a second hard look upon first sight. Not because of love, but because he was a familiar face in a sea of strangers in a new environment I was about to set it.
Daniel and I belonged in the same university, and while he said he first noticed me in our Chemistry class, I first saw him in the rear view mirror of the jeepney I was riding on my way home. It was rush hour and the two of us were in a jam-packed hell of a ride. Who would have thought that the coincidental encounter—amid human sweat and smoke belchers—would be the beginning of an unforgettable journey?
From two different individuals in the same university and in the same hometown, we became classmates, group mates, seatmates by alphabetical order, friends through a lot of common friends, close friends and soon, best friends. People would spot our unusual closeness and often tease us that we looked good together.
We became a couple when, on one instance, he randomly popped the idea of “us” being together. I immediately said yes and we held hands. Despite the lack of courtship, our prior friendship could speak for how long we’ve known each other.
I was young and naïve; he was a serious working student who started being independent at an early age. He was 15 when Lola Mamang left him. From there, he started having different jobs to survive. At times, we would go out on dates with empty pockets, but our hearts filled with love. A simple walk in the park with hours full of laughter and random conversations from deep to mundane was more than enough.
Sometimes, he turns into this unusual guy with occasional little surprises.
One day, he told me he’d introduce me to his Lola Mamang and that she’d be very happy to see me.
* * *
It was our first anniversary and I wore the best dress for the occasion. It was a pale carnation dainty dress, which perfectly matched my pink bow, pearl earrings and lipgloss. We were supposedly headed somewhere but noticed he was taking me to a different direction, specifically to a random memorial park we happened to stop by. Worried, I asked him: “Saan mo ba ako dadalhin?” He simply smiled and assured me that everything’s fine.
Almost three minutes of walking in the cemetery, he stopped in front of a tombstone without a word. He just stared at it while I curiously looked on the same. Later, I was surprised with what was inscribed in the stones. It was his Lola Mamang after all, buried six feet under. Then I started to wonder. Will he really introduce me to his grandmother, who cannot even speak a word of her first impression?
He then told me stories of how he learned a lot from his grandmother while growing up. His parents were separated since he was 5, so he grew up with only Lola Mamang on his side. Since Lola Mamang’s death, he had spent most of his time visiting her grave, mentally telling her how his day went, his unreasonable high school teachers, embarrassing moments at school, first crush and how he felt incomplete after she left. Before she passed away, Daniel made a promise to introduce to her the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
That was why we were there, at Lola Mamang’s grave, on our first anniversary and her 73rd birthday.
Our subsequent dates were spent beside Lola Mamang, who became a silent witness to our story. Like how Daniel loved her, I also treated Lola Mamang as my own. Each time we would have occasional quarrels, I would pay her a visit to seek comfort and tell her how disappointed I was of Daniel but nevertheless assure her of how much I loved her grandson. Sometimes, I would even ask her: If she were alive, would she like me for him?
Then, one day, I lost him. For reasons, to this day, I still am not sure of.
Certainly not by death, but by fate. Perhaps by the inexperienced choices I made. Perhaps greatly by the fact that I was then a girl who happened to be insanely in love with the right person at the wrong time.
It was a silent battle only God, Lola Mamang and I knew of. There were times I would spend days and weeks alone beside her grave, pouring out all my emotions in hopes of talking to him again. Sometimes I would even tell her to please convince Daniel to give our relationship a second try. But not even a shadow of him went there for weeks and months; until I decided to just leave everything behind.
He was my first crush, my first boyfriend, my first love. And I don’t understand why, despite “us” being my entire world, the ideal love I’ve always looked forward to all went crashing down.
Today he remains a stranger, a thing of the past, and a soul who 11 years later still kept recurring in my fancies even though I am fully convinced that I have already moved on.
Passing by that hundred-year-old acacia tree beside Lola Mamang’s grave reminds me a lot of youthful memories, which I have already left in the past despite questions left unanswered.
Which sometimes leaves me wondering—
What if these stones could speak, or sing of lovely melodies?
As the acacia leaves withered and memories faded, as familiar faces turned into strangers, slowly, I learned to accept the eternal silence with my own shadow and simply walk away.
Cecille Carmela T. de los Reyes, 27, a third year law student, is in love with the study of law.