This is a column that will begin with pretend. The writer is 16 and not 26, whose electric bill was stolen by a red monkey on a cruise ship bound for Burundi. In Beirut an old prostitute discovers the Book of Magdalena sewn into the underside of the Holy Shroud, and becomes the prophet of a new church whose followers are whores dancing the rumba on their days off. In Manila the September sky is a spun sugar bowl of cotton candy clouds, swirling over a revolution that has outlawed newspaper deadlines and television running times, and there is an answer to every question, even those that are yet to be asked.
Only this is a column on a newspaper that will not permit pretend. And so to the truth. The deadlines are roaring and the publishers are howling and there is no possibility of revolution under a sky the color of a sleeping god’s beard. The electric bill waits to be paid along with the water and the rent and the annoyed laundryman. The age is 26 – and 16 hours – instead of 16 years old. But in spite of maternal exhortations of marriage and eyelids that are made of lead, this column will revolt today, and will provide its own definition to this crossover to adulthood that the universe demands, granted that the phenomenon is unavailable in what Parañaque Second District Rep. Roilo Golez calls “the most trusted encyclopedia in the world.” Consider this a moment of temporary indulgence from a writer who has missed the deadline for a quarter-life crisis, and is slowly coming to the conclusion that impending adulthood has in fact not only impended, it has disembarked from sea and abducted the village virgins while waving a flag silkscreened with the same shrinking balance scrawled at the bottom of a BDO checkbook.
Maybe growing up means accepting the way of the world, never having to take responsibility, like Mitos Magsaysay, who publicly spit insult after insult at the glib secretary of communications, demanding apologies for disrespect while claiming her lack of respect is the natural result of being disrespected. Like the Catholic Church, crucifying the corrupt and harrying the guilty, gliding down the cathedral aisle with one bony finger pointed to the blasphemous, while sinners wearing the same robes are forgiven and forgotten long enough to sin again with wide-eyed boys and whimpering girls. Like the President spanking the media for getting hostages killed in Manila while he watched from a television, like the son of Ferdinand Marcos claiming his family was the country’s guiding light, like a former president’s husband who pretended he had new toys, like imprisoned millionaires with prison mansions and sports commissioners who talk of gold-medal cheaters.
To grow up, says a gentleman jester living in the kingdom of the yellow king, means to understand how The Game is played, to demand not truth for truth but instead accept a more reasonable reshuffling of facts. Don’t waste your high aces or diamond kings for impossible causes. Let the jacks fall, child, let the others pay the price. Maybe this is what is meant when we are told to get real and grow up. Certainly growth and maturity are not a function of age, as the congressional playpen demonstrates with every speech from the moral stalwarts who by all intents and purposes should be riding on the backs of school buses smirking at girls in pink panties. Perhaps it is easier to be a grown-up from the top of stone towers, counting favors and Twitter followers. Perhaps being a grown-up just means being the biggest badass in the bunch, big enough to play in the sandbox with yellow backhoes and to swing chainsaws like lightsabers.
But this is an opinion column, written by a 26-year-old broad whose Daddy taught her better even if she never grows up. There are other people, other stories, those who have aged with time and purpose, the ones who jump on the tornado and whoop through the ride, and take the bruises that come because they know they could have chosen not to try. Like the security guard who exchanged a job and a toilet for a life peddling garbage, just so he can spend his afternoons reading the “Bourne Identity” while sprawled inside his wooden cart. There is the rose vendor who sent all five children to college and still lives without a refrigerator, the boxer who once beat Manny Pacquiao and now returns to the ring at 38, bruised knuckles and all, because he wanted to take back what the Pacman left behind for Rustico Torrecampo. There is the lonely old whore who once danced with 12 Americans without telling them she was a man, there is the witness named Jollibee who sat sobbing in fear outside the Department of Justice, who returned to swear the truth again, because if he doesn’t no one will.
There are the victims who chose not to be, like the octogenarian grandmother who never admitted she was a comfort woman until less than a decade ago for fear her children would be called sons of a whore, who told her story because if she does not, the war that began in 1941 will never end. There are the sons of farmers and statesmen whose typewriters still move like lightning. There are mothers who pedal tricycles nine months into their pregnancies, and a woman named Julie who lived in a van and refused to give away the small boy born on a sheet of dirty newspaper because she was his mother. And there are the fathers who call daughters to sing happy birthday, there are boys who marry their loves in the early hours of September Saturdays, there are people who risk and live and bleed and love because they’re willing to risk the cards they have.
In the English language, mothers wish their children sweet dreams. In French, the same phrase means, “to make fine dreams.” The French seem to have the right of it – the dreamer is part of the dream’s making. The goal after all isn’t just to grow up but to grow upwards, skywards, past the blimps and the silver skyscrapers to where castles have been built, to look not at what is but what can be, blueberry nights, strawberry sunsets, college degrees and jailed butchers, unlocked doors, free condoms, occasional male organs on white gallery walls, a sky empty of falling men and mushroom clouds and black rain. So to growing up, to crumbs on bed sheets and cereal for dinner, to choosing to be Catholic or not Catholic or just Catholic enough to be guilty for not being Catholic, to deciding to be old enough to define what is right and true and just, even if that means missing the deadline for the sake of the punchline.
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