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Letters to someone I left ages ago
"How are you?" is a funny way to start a letter. "I hope you're well" is a bit insensitive follow-up. So there, that's how I'm starting this letter. Did it make you laugh? I will never know. Memories of you came flooding in this morning, quite literally as I was sat on a boat and nearing death. There was a storm, see, and I just had to go out in the water and see for myself how far my stupidity will take me. That's how far.
My neighbor likes playing loud music, and it's a nuisance. So I tell him, right? I request for him to dial it down, especially during the small hours. Guess how he reacted. Yup. He got mad at me. WTH? The funny thing is I understand his reaction, I imagine I'd react the same way if somebody pointed out something wrong about me! I understand but I don't condone. And so he goes on playing music loudly, louder even. What a mature way to deal with a mature request, right? I'm teling you this because you'd know what to do next.
Her name is Lily. I met her about a year after I left you. She has a laugh like you. Maybe it was the laugh that got me because now that I'm trying to recall what else it is that made me fall for her, I'm struggling, and this isn't meant to diminish her or what we had. It's just...I should stop, right? When I say "I love you" to her, there's something that tells me I'm a liar. Two years into the relationship and we break up. We're friends now and we have a better relationship. She's cool.
Are you bothered by the boat stuff? I'd rather not get into detail here. Doesn't matter anyway, I came out of it alive. It made me think of you, and think of you hard. I've mastered the art of forgetting you. I call it art because it's something that I poured all my effort into and something I've succeeded at doing good at, if that makes sense at all? I imagine you editing my letters with that mischievous smile, and I'm here smiling back. I miss you I miss you. I haven't admitted that for years. I've lost the plot.
The PO box address that I left was a fake. I know I said in case of emergency you can write, but I also know you wouldn't write to me in case of an emergency. Hell, I left you, I know you're perfectly able to take care of yourself or ask help from someone who's actually there. Write in case of emergency? What a hoot, right? How about a phone call instead? I can imagine you hating me for that sad attempt at concern. Have you been writing? They would be received but they would not be returned to sender.
It's sinister how I planned all that. It's been six years and it's still haunting me, how I left you like that. I have no news, no nothing, about you. Sometimes I wish I can turn on the TV and find a Gemma channel so I can watch over you or at least know what length your hair is at any given moment. I still don't have a TV by the way. So okay, a radio station with just your voice, at least. I don't know if forgiveness is on the plate or if you, my Gemma, has forgotten me.
It's foggy out. Two boys are playing hide and seek. About an hour ago, a little girl asked to join them, and they said sure, but you'd have to be the one to seek? The little girl gave no thought about it and started counting down, bowing, covering her eyes. The boys hid in spots where they could easily be found, and so the little girl caught them again and again with almost no effort. She was shrieking with joy. This went on for, oh, I don't know, 10 rounds. The boys, I love those boys for being good eggs.
If this was a game and I have asked you to find me, would you have packed your bags and traveled and tried to look for me? I feel like I left because I knew you wouldn't be missing me, like, you would shrug and go on with your life. This isn't an attack or anything. I'm just saying, you were always the person who was fine alone. I didn't want to be a drama king. But right now, I'm being one, yeah? How do you know if a person loves you enough? What is enough? Can I come home?
I lived in Baguio for two years. Far from town center so we wouldn't have bumped into each other if you ever went, and I'm sure you did. You know, I was the one who left but it felt like I was the one dealing with a broken heart. I tried for a job I really liked. It pays well and they're still paying me now as a consultant. What do you do now? Sometimes I'm tempted to pass by our apartment but I doubt you still live there. I'm terrified of that. Change. Without me. What have I done?
Once you take a new lover, you are assaulted by newness. The smells are what take you by surprise most of all. I've attempted too many times to forget your morning scent. Or the way you smell on a rainy day. What lingers in the car after you've hurried out after a fight. See, this girl I've been with for half a year, her dinner scent still jars me. Annoys me? You do have a dinner scent. If I can describe it, I would've recreated it a long time ago so I wouldn't have to pine for you like this.
I heard a song the other day. I liked it a lot. Thing is, it was playing from another person's player, and I hesitated to ask. For the whole three-minute or so duration of the song, I hesitated, trusting that I would catch a few lyrics that I could then Google later on. I didn't catch any discernible lyrics, no. I hesitated. You know what they say about a moment's hesitation leading to...oh, you know. We've been over this. You remember the evil garlic bread? We didn't ask, we didn't try
to remember. Moment. Gone.
Do you remember? What do you remember when you hear or read "do you remember?" Is it still that rainy day when a pickpocket succeeded at stealing your heart, too? You would then tell me, "but not the love kind, you know?" He stole my heart meaning "he stole my favorite heart-shaped tin can that my mother gave me when I was only seven." And then you would laugh like it's the best joke you've heard. I don't know what's funny about it, I just know that it's something deep and you need time before you can say more.
Don't you think that when Elvis said "take my hand, take my whole life, too," he meant "I love you" in its purest form? Here I go again with my abstract superlatives, you will say. You know, I imagine talking to you every now and again. I can still hear your voice, loud and clear. Crystal clear. I have a recording. I'm laughing writing this now. Because, remember, you were badgering me to throw that recording, and I won't. We had a big fight over it. You hate your recorded voice too much. I love it a little too much.
You wanted so much to learn more about my father, and I often shrugged in response. How do you talk about someone you did not hate but also did not know how to love? He was there and then he wasn't. He provided for the family, attended school functions, sat at the dining table. These are my memories of him. If I imagine harder, I can tell you that in my heart of hearts, I loved him every day of my life. He has a gentleness about him that I could not find in anyone else. I miss him now.
A fever spurs your immune system to work hard. It is a good thing, a fever. It means you're body is fighting off an infection, do not suppress it, let it run its course. You told me this during our early days. It's perhaps one of few discoveries that I find fascinating until now. When people complain to me about having a fever, it's you I remember, what else? They think it's a "sickness," when it's something that can make them well. I know you'd be amused there are still people not aware of this. God, I miss you now.
I saw you last year. I was in Manila for work. You were driving that clunky car you love so much. Why do you still have that? I worry about your safety. You'll say "pshaw," then blow a raspberry. You got this "pshaw" thing from me, and it's endearing how you say it often even if the situation does not warrant it. Your hair was shoulder-length. I'm sure it was you because you had on that bright yellow windbreaker I gave you. There was a little boy in the backseat. He was having a tantrum, and you were calm.
This is how I know you've moved on. I'm not sure, and I don't think I want to be, but...did you marry? Did you find someone and have a kid with him? Is that little boy unrelated to you? Were you baby-sitting for a friend? Did you adopt? I can go ahead and find out for myself, but I'm afraid of all the possible answers. Afraid, because I wasn't with you for the past six years, and I don't know what has changed, if I'm still welcome, if you will still smile that smile when you see me.
A woman lives nearby. She looks about 40, beautiful, mysterious, content. She likes wearing those flowy skirts that seem to change color in the sun. She has chestnut hair and fair skin. Her door is bright red, which is the loudest quality about her. Nightly, plaintive music can be heard from her house. She cooks pancakes at 2 a.m. every day. This is for certain. She invited most of her neighbors once and talked about this habit of hers. Perhaps the reason why she invited people is because she wanted someone to ask, but nobody did. She seemed disappointed.
This place is genteel, one might say it's like a person in its qualities. It takes care of its residents, leaves on trees are always of warm colors, the weather is perfect. If there's anything that's out of place, this place finds a way to make it right. It does things, yes. One can feel it in the mornings, especially, when dewdrops on plants stay just a little bit longer until everyone who needs to see them have seen them. It's in the comfortable, musty smell of evenings when even though one comes home to an empty house, there's warmth.
On our fourth year together, we often talked about not having anything new to talk about anymore. We'd end up laughing at ourselves for worrying because, there it is, a topic we can talk about for hours. It wasn't that we came up with new topics or strategized: "Right, here's what we're going to do to not get bored..." No, it was more of time together in that small bedroom with the large window: you in front of your laptop and me hunched over a drawing, stealing glances at each other and me realizing, "I won't get tired of this."
However, it felt like everything I knew and wanted to do, I was seeing through a You filter. You know, I still listen to Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon on days when I want to disconnect so bad. I cry at The Great Gig in the Sky while screaming inside, and then I feel better afterwards. Thing is, I got this "habit" from you. It came to a point then when I didn't know where I started and you ended, as cliche as it sounds. I felt so close to you and yet so far from myself.
If you can call it luck, how we fit so well, then so be it. We're lucky. If you can call it a waste that I left when things were going well, then so be it, what a waste. You know when I decided I should leave? It was at the barber shop. You like getting your hair cut at that suspicious hole in the wall, why? You never told me. You loved it there, I ended up being a regular customer, too. As I was saying, I decided one afternoon, I should go find things myself. So I did.
It doesn't seem so funny now, that thing we laughed about at the cinema every time a protagonist leaves to "find himself." Pshaw, we would say, find what? If two people come together and decide to stay together, why couldn't they talk about what's bothering them and work through them together? We used to think that love is the answer to everything. I loved you so much and yet I couldn't stand you most of the time. How can you explain that? I've been trying to for almost seven years now. If I come see you, will you tell me?
You had a bad dream once, it was of a Japanese woman screaming at you at a mall. She was holding a baby and seemed distressed. She was looking down at a five-floor drop. Suddenly, she dangled her baby over the banister and looked like she would let go if nobody stopped her. She was shouting in Japanese, and it sounded almost like a dare, STOP ME or I'll drop this baby. But as it were, nobody could understand her even if her actions were obvious. You weren't fast enough. She dropped the baby, you woke up crying, screaming.
You would refer to this dream for years and years. I wonder if you've told anyone else? I feel a certain kind of love for you every time you tell me this bad dream, because you somehow manage to tell it a different way each time, depending on your mood on that day, perhaps. Do you know? I feel protective of you most especially on days when you remind me of this dream, I almost don't want you telling anybody else about it because I know they would not understand what the dream means to you, it's ours, ours alone.
Please don't smirk. Of course, I know, I've lost the privilege of referring to "us" collectively. When I left, there is no more "our" "we" "us." It's not selfish if you excluded the idea of "me" from day one. Am I irritating you with my quoting of words? Are you imagining me doing that air quote thing you dislike? My dear Gemma, there are days and days when I imagine coming home to you and making you laugh again. I was arrogant in believing that I would find someone else like you. Please read these letters as me asking forgiveness.
Who watches you sleep now? On days when I want to torture myself, I think about this. Sleep is fascinating, yes? On another topic: Where do you eat? Do you still buy that pancit we discovered at Galicia Street? When someone asks you out, do they come through or do they flake? Do you call them out? Or do you just keep quiet and ghost them? You did this to me, remember? I was so nervous after asking you out and successfully getting you to say yes. I didn't expect a yes, see. I flaked, you ghosted me for weeks.
I slowly got the hang of it, confidence. Being sure. I learned from you. Sometimes, it seems if we didn't meet, I would still be that hesitant person, always stepping back and stepping back, not able to go anywhere without a "But am I sure?" I've watched you barge into doors like danger isn't a thing, that if there were knives in a room and you were hit, unsuspecting, you would look at the knives on your body and say "Ooops, wrong door, but I'm here anyway so let's go." Pardon the imagery, I feel you could've written this better.
I want to see you and be with you again. I've been writing these letters and that's all I really want to say. I'm ready to come home. Seven years and I'm not sure if this is the right thing to do. Maybe it's better if I marry someone new and start a family with her, forget about you completely, willingly. I thought being away from you would make me realize that it wasn't love, what I had for you. As it were, being away has informed me the opposite. It took me years, and I'm ready for any answer.
There's a funny love story. An improbable love story where someone who believed in true love leaves his partner and embarks on a journey only to find out years later that the place he left is his home, and that he is not whole without it. It's funny because for all the anger and frustration he has caused his loved one, the story ends with the two of them meeting again at the same place where they met for the first time. In the rain. They haven't forgotten, and when their eyes meet, they will both think this, and laugh.
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