Ode to you and me
I was me.
The shy girl who lived not too far from the city just an P8 tricycle ride away. Short hair, the way her lola always liked it, and funky rabbit teeth that always said hello at first meeting. The one with bad eyesight and a hidden smile. That was me.
You were you.
The oddly popular girl: I say oddly because I had heard a lot of things about you. They said you scared the boys away and made them cry. They said you were different, and not like the other girls in school. You had long black hair and your teeth didn’t say hello at first meeting, though you were not as graceful as you looked; you were quite a klutz, in fact. You were taller than me, but you didn’t seem to mind walking around with me. You were you.
We began like this — young and determined to conquer the world before the age of 21. No one could stop us. Pleated skirts, white blouses, the wet scent of a small city by the foot of the mountains enveloping us — this was our trademark, who we were.
It blew through the perfectly placed pins and clips on our noncolored hair. Black shoes, lacy socks, the burn of warm sunlight seeping through the old acacia trees while we mindlessly sung an old hymn.
We’d fill in the hours with our cheap adventures and simple thrills and we were happy — happier than we would ever be now. That was every day — five days every week for 12 months. But we never got tired; I wonder how we managed it.
I remember snippets of our conversations, the ones where we would ask each other what we wanted to be. And I saw how your eyes sparkled with every word that came out of your mouth, each so passionate, so precise. I could feel your heartbeat in each one; it looked like you were already living in the moment, and I could only imagine it. I can still hear your voice, the one that said, “I’m going to be president, you’ll see.” My dear, I didn’t get to tell you, but never once did I doubt you.
Do you remember me? Or what I told you then? I hope you do, because I barely recall what I said. You looked at me with your sparkling eyes and squeezed my hand so tight I even flinched, and you just laughed. I assumed you were going to say something encouraging because that’s what people always do, but I guess it was my mistake to assume you were part of the majority I deemed as people.
And there it was: the smile — the smile that I so clearly remember. It felt like a dream, but I knew it was reality, my reality. You smiled at me and that was more than enough, more than all the words in the world could ever tell me.
The years flew by so fast — too fast, if you ask me. We hardly noticed the minutes passing by, each hour running up, the weeks quickly turning into months and finally years. And when we did notice — well, our time was up; we had to go our separate ways.
Did we need to, even if we didn’t want to? Maybe that was just me, but you wanted so badly to leave the small city. You said you wanted to go to a bigger city because that’s where dreams come true, that’s where dreamers live.
I said, me too; I tried to match your enthusiasm. I said I wanted to live in the high buildings where you could gaze upon everything below you, where you felt like you could touch the tips of the clouds or fly like the birds in the sky. For a second I wished I meant it, but really, how could I ever.
That was eight years ago.
Time still passes through my fingers like sand; I can never get a firm hold of it, not then and not now. But admittedly, time has slowed down. The days are longer, as well as the nights. And I have grown in the past years—not so short anymore, and no more rabbit teeth though I do miss them from time to time. I still have short hair in remembrance of Lola; she always thought I looked prettier this way. Also, not so timid and shy anymore, and I have you to thank for that.
I found my way to the city after we left. The first few months were horrible, getting squished in the train and having to endure the tedious way back to a home that wasn’t really a home, just a square space I pretended to call home. There were nightly calls to Mom begging her to take me back; I told her I wasn’t doing well and the city wasn’t meant for me, that I didn’t want to be here. That went on for hours, but still ended with me telling her I was going to be okay and that she didn’t have to worry about me, I was going to make it.
She believed me, and I am grateful that she did. After the horrid months, I got the hang of it. I learned to love the train rides, and rather than enduring the walk to my square of a home, I took it as a time to think and look at the intricate details of the fast-paced life.
And you, well, I don’t know. We never got to talk anymore after leaving. The occasional “hi” and “hello” that as quickly as they started also vanished as fast; you weren’t you anymore, neither was I me. You wouldn’t look me in the eye, and that’s when I knew something was wrong. The passion in your words was no longer there; the precision was just a memory, and I couldn’t see the sparkle in your eyes. Who are you? It was as if you had been stripped of everything that made you you.
People from the small city ask me from time to time how you are—as if we see each other ever so often. I wish we do. It seems you did not just disappear on me, but you disappeared on the whole city.
I wonder why you did it. I wonder how you are and where you are now. This is not my dream but yours. From time to time, I ask myself if you’re actually living this dream now. I wonder if you’ve tasted the bitter kiss of alcohol and what your first thoughts were about it. I wonder if you’ve walked down the streets and joined the marches—sometimes when I’m there, I try to look for your face; I was always sure I’d find it there, and until now I still am. I wonder how many people you’ve been with, or if you’ve been with any. To whom do you bare your soul now? Who listens to your hopes and aspirations?
Despite everything, I hope you are reaching your dreams and going even further than what I have reached. But for now, this is for you. I give this to you.
Now, we are these: old graduation photos stocked in the dusty cabinet at home, blotted words on worn-out uniforms, the vanished scent of the small city by the foot of the mountains. This is us — the sound of slurred stories and winding tears at 3 a.m. after a couple of rounds of rum by the sea, and heavy puffs of smoke that looked more like death sentences rather than halos; the heavy feet that marched along the blood-drenched streets and pain-stricken alleys where we raised our fists for those who were not with us, those who couldn’t be with us anymore.
No longer do we have a definite smell, because it’s been masked by the hints of liquor in our breath or the traces of ash that have decided to tag along with us. But this is still us. Though we do not smell like the usual, we are bathed in the fragrant memory of each other’s kisses, soaked in their saliva, overwhelmed by their touch. Do not fret, this is still us.
We are merely echoing stories of a past we will never return to, and of people we will never once again be.
I am me and you are you.
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Julyan Ira B. Kabigting, 20, is a nursing student at Adamson University.
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