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Rite of passage

Bathing in the freezing water felt strangely like a baptism.

On my first weekend morning in Baguio, I urged myself to take a bath despite my aversion to it because of the cold. But this was a new place, and I was not in a position to deny myself the pains and pleasures of trying new things.

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I preferred bathing in warm, sometimes even stinging-hot, water. But that morning, I felt so brazen that I did not bother to ask if there was a water heater, or to heat up water on the stove. It was too time-consuming, I thought impatiently. So I grabbed a fresh change of clothes, braved the icy weather that was besieging my skin and core, reached for the tabo and slowly poured water on my legs.

As the water hit my legs and feet, I shivered slightly, and as it hit my thighs, tremors traveled up to my shoulders. But as I poured the freezing water over my head, my body jumped at the painful sensation running all over me: My skin burned and my nerves tingled, as if I were coming out of a river after being submerged for some time. I heaved heavily and watched my exhaled breath form soft clouds. My teeth chattered, and my bones shook ferociously at the touch of cold air coming through the bathroom window. A baptism.

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After the stinging was gone, I was left with warmth radiating from my chest and traveling throughout my veins, toward the very ends of my body…

I have been in Baguio several times now, but never exactly lived here. Each time it was for a vacation; once, it was for a campus journalism conference. Baguio is magical, even more so now that I’m seeing it as not as a mere visitor; it’s different now that I will be staying here for more or less two months.

The place I rent almost resembles the houses in the Hobbit: partially under the ground, installed on the mountain slope. Its walls and floors are made of stone and brick, which makes the inside cold enough to keep leftover food from the previous night still edible, with pinewood installations as stairs for the small attic room and kitchen countertop. It is completely different from the warm plains I come from. Even the air is filled with the scent of pinewood—peppery and fresh. Even more different from the home I grew up in, where the aroma of food cooking would linger in the hot, humid air all day.

My first friend was a cat whose fur could have been completely black if not for the barely noticeable streaks of white all over its body. It was nameless and homeless. The owners of the house told me that the cat once wandered in looking for food, and that it had since been doing so. It was kind of like family now. But kind of like me—lost and looking for its place in this crazy world.

Everything is new and overwhelming. I’ve never been this far away from home or my friends—away from the sweltering heat of the Nueva Ecija sun, away from the reassuring embraces and laughter of my friends at the publication office—so far from being merely a bus ride away from home in Pampanga.

Being 20 shouldn’t be this troubling. It’s supposed to be me being successful, living in a spacious apartment, and being able to do whatever I want. But it isn’t.

In a couple of months, the wild world that is this cruel, politically divided Philippines that I was born into will be welcoming me back. I am filled with doubts, fears, and questions about the future: Where will I work? Will I still have work fit for my degree? Will my salary be enough to support my family and my younger brother’s studies? Should I continue writing? Where am I, what do I really want to do with my life, and where am I really going?

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It would be foolish to immediately assume or plan my future because life is entirely fleeting and changing, ebbing and flowing like the sea. Life is so uncertain and disconcerting that I can barely keep up with it. It keeps on pulling and pushing me with its waves, taking me anywhere but where I’m supposed to be.

Maybe this is what growing up is like—finding ourselves in strange places, getting lost to look for our place in this world, beginning things from scratch, looking for something to moor ourselves onto to survive, proving wrong what we once believed about being an adult, and bathing in freezing water for the first time. It is terrifying, yet exciting.

There are no parents and friends to come home to on stressful days. Only a clingy, almost completely black cat, a roommate who I barely know, sharing stories with strangers I meet while wandering around, and the welcoming baptism of washing all my ideals and myself anew.

It’s scientific, they say, that after taking a cold shower your body’s core temperature lowers instantly. Your brain registers this information and tells your heart to beat as fast as if you were running, urging it to let blood surge through your veins and the tiniest of blood vessels, just to bring your body back to normal temperature. It’s some sort of divine rejuvenation, a transfiguration guised as a pail of icy water.

So tell me, Universe, is this my rite of passage?

Patricia S. Leuterio, 20, is a graduating development communication student at Central Luzon State University nursing “terrible growing-up pains and anxieties.”

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TAGS: Baguio, Baptism, growing up, opinion, rite of passing, young adult, Young Blood
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