A friendship recovers | Inquirer Opinion
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A friendship recovers

/ 08:45 AM January 08, 2021

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It’s 2021 and I can’t help but contemplate on the “good things” that somehow happened in the previous year, if there are any.

Well, it is quite hard to be grateful knowing that our lives are still at stake. COVID-19 still exists, along with the dangers of red-tagging that criminalizes valid dissents. There’s the wrath of nature through the recent typhoons, the direct effect of climate change for which we are responsible. Impunity and extrajudicial killings are seen as “ordinary” and happen even in broad daylight, then go viral over social media. The Philippines hit trillions of debt again, which our grandchildren and their grandchildren will shoulder in the years to come. It’s hard to be grateful given these realities and I couldn’t bear being apathetic to what’s happening around. In such circumstances, having a friend who understands your plight is heaven-sent as countless friendships were ruined last year too, some due to differences on sociopolitical stand, or some due to simple failure in nurturing relationships online. But some friendships will blossom and/or persist, no matter what the circumstances. Lost ones may even resurface.

Jing and I met in 2015. We were classmates in one of the core courses of our graduate program at a university. Both of us sat at the back of the room side by side, minding our own business. I can’t remember who approached whom first, but what was clear to me up to this moment was the fact that both of us felt isolated in class. Over that 2015 semester, a rapport between us grew into a deeper connection and camaraderie, which ended into a kind of friendship that cut across the commodification of the word friend. At the back of my mind, she is the biological sister I never had.

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Jing’s friendship brought me into different realms – the realm of possibilities, adventures and authenticity. She opened my eyes to the social realities of the country, from the plight of the farmers and fisherfolk, to the structural and systemic problems that induce poverty and hunger to millions of Filipinos. She showed me the possibilities of living a life that is not bounded by our privileges and capabilities. A life that is authentic and free from the prejudices of our society and social media on how a well-lived and meaningful life should be. Her stories of adventures about traveling around the country through hitchhiking leave me in astonishment about her capacity to trust strangers easily. I even found myself joining her on a hitchhiking adventure to Baguio, although we failed on that.

One of the things we loved to do is to have coffee and sometimes beer over good conversations about our childhood, cats, politics, academics, and how to disown the kin we hated most. We also love wandering around the campus; sat on her favorite bench with our beers hidden in a brown paper bag, so authorities have no way of finding out what’s inside. Jing is a cat person which suited her personality for being independent, unconventional, inquisitive and explicitly brilliant. I will always look up to her intellect and principles, but most of all, her inclination to become brutally honest to the extent that it will hurt you, especially your ego, and I think that is something to be adored. She is the only person brave enough to tell straight to my face that I am an asshole without being offensive and compromising our friendship.

After the cosmic sleepless nights, Jing earned her masters’ diploma in 2016. I can still vividly remember her smile while she patiently lined among the graduates – it was jovial yet serene. I can’t contain my happiness too, seeing one of my dearest friends walking towards the stage in triumph is truly blissful. Yet a sudden jolt of sadness hit me as that moment could also mean farewell.

Weeks after her graduation, I helped her move her things from the dormitory to our house. This provided me a sense of relief, that we would be able to see each other again, at least occasionally. Until things got insipid; less late-night conversations; fewer chats and text messages; reduced togetherness. During that time, I began questioning the status of our friendship and decided to end it officially by unfriending her on Facebook a few days before the end of 2018. I resorted to doing so because I simply can’t find the courage and the right words to say. Since then, we subjected ourselves to vilification for days, and it left me haunted and wrecked.

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Terminating a friendship I once cherished is one of the most complex and throbbing decisions I have ever made, and to be honest, I regretted it since day one. It’s more painful than breaking up with your romantic partner because the intimacy and the deeper connection we had for each other are simply irreplaceable.

I go on with my life, but remnants of our friendship linger every time I stare in a cup of coffee, wondering how she’s been doing? I never heard of her since then as I also deleted my social media accounts to give myself time to heal.

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Come April 2020, as I was working in the office, a message request from a somewhat familiar name appeared in my chat inbox (I made a new account for the sake of work). It was Jing. I cried and cried while reading her message, and all I could say was “Jing!!!! I missed you!!!!” In an instant, I forgave both myself and her, as the famous Ben & Ben song says, “you never really love someone until you learn to forgive.”

2020 is undoubtedly a hellish year for most of us, and the mere thought that we were able to survive the pandemic is something to be grateful for. My existence this year has been sustained with our renewed friendship, and it made 2020 bearable. I hope to see Jing in the coming years in a foreign land, and have the cup of coffee with her I have been longing for since.

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Raquel Pablo of Laguna is a government employee who reads, writes, makes art, enjoys music, and believes that “lack of empathy is another virus we should avoid.”

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