Sunday, August 24, 2014

Unlikely friends, Coffee shops, and Starry nights

9:46 PM

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If lives were like novels, today would signal the end of a chapter.

I write this sentence in disgust. To say it in such a way feels a little too contrived; more befitting for a YA novel than what is truly suitable. And yet this is the only way that I could describe it. There is no other metaphor that could define it deeper.

To continue with the metaphor of the novel, then, I might say that the introduction began with an instance.

When I was a college freshman, I dislocated my kneecap.

It was a freak accident, leading to some feelings of anguish. Anguish that I, for reasons unknown, would be hampered from fulfilling a dream that could never be.

It was the year I first joined the varsity. I was never really inept at anything that required kinesthetic talent, and not once did I dream to obtain such skill. To join the varsity, then, was a window of opportunity—a chance to become something I’d never thought I could be, an athlete.

It was the opportunity of a lifetime. When the text came for me to confirm my slot, I said yes instantly, sealing my fate.

The training days came and went, and being the shy, introverted me, I would concentrate more on what the coach said than socializing with my peers. In the first weeks I never really acknowledged the presence of my other teammates, and went on never knowing who they were, exactly.

But I eventually found genuine contentment in attending those sessions. I liked the drills, the skills, the people. I would look forward to the end of my classes, because that was when my life began—in the sweaty, strange fraternity of me and the air, the floor, the senses.

And then, when I thought I was reaching my peak, my right leg decided to give way without warning. In that crippled leg, I also found the lost dreams of a life that could never be.

I still visited every now and then, only to watch something I could never do again. Every day I had hoped to return, if only to feel the electric air, the heaved breaths, the dance of muscles.

And then I met him.

I was limping down the red brick road and saw my captain waving at the distance. He offered to bring me to where I was headed, an offer I happily took. On our way there, we met the other team captain, who helped me as well.

It was in that crossroads I saw him casually pass by. I haven’t noticed him during training, but he was definitely a figure to behold. He was large, structurally speaking, and yet he retained a sort of docility. Something like a gentle giant.

Seeing me, he asked the two captains what had happened, and they narrated my unfortunate circumstance.

“I can help, if you want,” he said, and we all headed to my destination, where they waited for me outside the classroom.

At the end of the lecture, I went out, and we exchanged pleasantries and updates about life. The other team captain said that should I need any assistance, I could call other people from the team. With a pause, she then gestured to his hulking figure suggesting we would exchange phone numbers.

We paused, and looked at each other for a while. “Um, would it be okay with you?” I asked him, a little sheepish.

“Sure,” he said, and a little awkwardly, we exchanged phone numbers. At that moment, I learned his name.

That was the earliest memory I had of meeting him. The second would be during my comeback, when my right leg had healed enough for me to participate in the gentler aspects of training.

We were doing stick drills by partner. I was unsure of what to do, having gone for long, and was partnered with him, of all people. The others seemed to be doing flawlessly, and I felt a little sad, being the only one incapable of doing it.

“Do you know?” I asked him, a little puzzled. He shrugged his shoulders.

“I’m not sure, I’m a noob.”

So the two of us struggled as we tried to complete the chain, often stopping, sputtering, wondering what we were doing wrong. It was frustrating, and I felt bad at my incompetence.

Coach then called him to do the drill along with him, and I stood there in amazement as they began moving their arms fluidly. I was more than certain that he was no beginner.

When I confronted him about it, he denied the claim entirely, and pleaded beginner status. I let it slide, knowing that I would find out soon enough. Yet I found a deeper camaraderie with him in this sense of newness, although I was aware of the deception.

I learned later on that, true to my suspicions, he was no beginner. He was one belt towards black belt status. I felt triumphant knowing that and decided to egg him about it. But this sprouted something far more than a playful ploy. It signaled, to me, the beginning of a new friendship.

Split-second epiphanies 
That was how we were most of the time. During our NSTP sessions, we would partner up to teach the kids the basics, talking in between training sessions. We would walk along the campus, often at night, and I would drag him into things like lying down in the middle of grassy fields or doing literature analysis.

However, that didn’t mean we got along all the time. There were things about him that irked me to no end, like how he would talk like life had no meaning, like how he’d sometimes turn frank when all I needed was someone to listen to my problems. I was sure there were things about me he wasn’t all too fond of either.

Oftentimes, I think, our relationship took a turn for the awkward with the ever-present possibility of romance. I used to listen to a song that would remind me of him, often curious with an idea that could probably never be. He once suggested a potential romantic overture between the both of us, arm slung around my shoulders, and I had backed away in surprise.

But in the end, that was how we were. We were the kids who would talk in coffee shops until 1AM, walking around bookstores and having drive-thru snacks in the middle of the night. We were the people who egged each other on about the certain people we knew we liked, the people who sent each other new music to listen to and contemplated on the meaning of our lives.

We were the ones who would eat dinner and sing down the streets right after, the ones who’d blatantly ask the other why we never ended up together, knowing it was just some outrageous plot. Because that was just who we were. We weren’t the YA kids who often distanced them from the world. We weren’t the close best friends who’d eventually get together in the end. We were just stupid kids who’d tell each other stupid problems and acted stupidly. People with their own sense of personal guilt and regret, who seemed to get along out of our own brokenness.

This was us, and we were okay with it.

But it wasn’t going to last forever. He was going abroad, a “chance of a lifetime,” as he once called it. Initially hesitant, I just hoped for the best, as I had wondered if it was the best alternative to soothe his broken soul. 

So in the last moments, I tried, rather selfishly, to milk out all the experiences we had left—in the hopes that I could possibly find a way to make him happy. For such purposes, I felt as if I merely fed him up with my presence. We weren’t doing each other any good.

So I stopped for a while. Maybe he didn’t need to see me. One time I had called him, suddenly fearing for him, and apologized on the phone for all the times I depended on him for comfort.

And then, one day, he said he was going to be around the area, asking if I wanted to meet. It was only later that I found that it would be the last time I’d be seeing him.

I think in life, you sometimes find people you end up falling in love with, although not in the romantic sense. It’s something else, as subtle as the air creeping into your lungs and coming out again. Like the polar attraction between hardened hearts yearning for someone to understand. Like the sea, as Carlos Angeles would say, “[pursuing] a habit of shores.”

I know, virtually, we could still find ways of contact. Ways to connect, ways to continue how we were before. However, I often wonder if this is the case—or rather, if this would be the best case to go about.
Because I knew that I would just be a continuity of a past he would probably want to forget. I am probably wrong, but I would not want to discount the possible happiness he would find out there. Hearts change, and I would only hope that his would change for the better. Perhaps, better without my interference.

On the last day, I found him happy, something I had not seen in a long time. He looked better, he sounded better, his eyes seemed to contain a zest for life. And for the life of me, it is the best way I would want to remember him.

So here ends the chapter—about him, and me, and everything in between. Because although I have closed this chapter in my book, I could only hope that it is a brand new start of his.

Article by Anne
Art by Mika
Anne Abeli draws most of her work from experience. She enjoys watching her surroundings and likes to immerse herself in wonder, gently listening to the epiphanies life has to offer her.

An avid dreamer, Mika Manikan is a fairly eccentric girl with a penchant for the poignant, who spends her days either contemplating the infinite wonders of the great beyond or what to eat for dinner. A professional shower-singer, she lives in the world of her headphones and watercolor, all while her heart does the foxtrot among the stars. If she were a fruit, she would most probably be a banana.


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