… I wrote in one of my Tinyletters, dated 9 September 2015. The last Tinyletter I wrote, I mailed in May 2016, after which I vowed not again to make my writing an exercise in brooding and wallowing. The result has been, for me, a general withdrawal from rumination, which might explain why I have not been very sad for very long this past year, and why I hardly have been writing, if not for research. But I’m in a reflective mood tonight, for I recently moved out of the place I had called home for two years, and spent a few nights in the old house I had lived in and left before that.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me why I moved so often, when I usually moved from place to place within a five-kilometer radius. Didn’t it tire me to never settle down? In the past seven years since I left my parents’, I have lived in five places, one in Manila and the rest in QC. I have never stayed in a place long enough to know my neighbors by name and not by their faces or by whatever bit roles they played in the mundane narrative of my daily life. Every year or so, I tend to move from one rented room to another in houses and dorms and apartment units around the university. Every move was of course self-determined, though not always thought through — some moves where dictated more by whim than any practical contingency. I think now that often what I wanted was not so much to be in one place rather than the other, but simply to move, and thereby feel, or delude myself into feeling, unattached, unaffected, in control. I told my friend, Well, life happened, and it just turned out that way.
From a Tinyletter I wrote, dated 31 August 2015:
I am sitting among empty shelves and drawers, and boxes and bags packed full. I am writing this in the big, airy room in the old house that for more than two years I have called headquarters, sometimes home. Two years is the longest I’ve stayed anywhere since I left my parents’ five years ago. In two days, I am leaving this place.
When the only thing I hear is the electric fan whirring, and the lights are all out like this, it is easy to think and rethink and damn my decision. Depending on how I look at it, what reasons I cite, I made the decision to move either three days or four months ago. I am still not convinced of its rightness or necessity, but when everything’s already in place — the books and clothes boxed, the ex-landlady and the new housemates notified, the car for the move secured, the final rent paid — there is no use second-guessing, there is only follow-through. I well know this, and yet I do second-guess, because I am moving out of fear, and knowing this, I feel like a quitter or a coward.
Generally, I fear stagnation, premature stunting, in this place that reeks of old age and disrepair, that echoes old times, old conversations, and the old’s fears. In this place I feel like I have been living many decades and know only languor. I can no longer accomplish work in my room, which I have come to associate with only dreaming, pining, crying, sleep.
Less generally, I fear that if I stay here longer, I will never unlove the boy who lives next door, not before he leaves me, not before he leaves me for somebody else, by which event I will be wrecked, as I know I will, if our strange friendship comes to that. I have given him so much of my time, my words, my hopes, my tears, my life. I am terrified by the certitude of my love and my desire to be with him as much as I am terrified by the uncertainty of what I really mean to him.
See, I do not like this sense of being stranded. I don’t like not knowing which way we’re headed. If I leave, at least I know which direction I’m going, even if I don’t yet know if I will like it there.
In a month, I will be moving again, this time to another country, where I will study for two years. When I visited my old landlady last week, she asked me why I was leaving, if I’d really thought it through. She asked me if I were not only escaping. Escaping from what, I asked, and she said, you know, alam mo na yan. It hurts, doesn’t it, she said. You’re afraid, aren’t you, she said. I don’t know what she suspects or knows, but in the two years I spent crying in that house, that day was the first time I shed a tear in the kitchen in front of her.
This time I am not leaving somewhere, but moving towards something, that I am sure of. What this something consists in may be another life — a different country, a different language, a different field of study, new friends, new habits, new thoughts and dreams — or perhaps simply a logical extension of the life I have built up to now. I am moving not out of fear, but excitement, an eagerness for the turn of the page. I am moving not to forget, but to remember, to always remember, and to learn.
I like to think that in the past two years, I have grown not only older — that I have also grown up.
The FX I was riding from Fairview to Philcoa hit a woman. The impact was so great the front-end bumper of the van crumpled, the windshield cracked, the woman’s body flew three meters from the vehicle. I was in the passenger seat. The driver looked crazed. The first thing I did was get out of the van. I wanted to remove myself from the site of death. I walked to the side of the road. The only other passenger wanted to leave immediately. I said, Ate, let’s stay and wait for the police. People surrounded the body and didn’t let the driver get away. There was much shouting and honking. Somebody said the woman’s skull was cracked. Somebody else said she still had a pulse. I am trained in basic life support and first aid but I didn’t touch the body. I didn’t want to gaze at the body. I held the shoulder of the other passenger, who looked like she was about to cry. The police arrived. They took some pictures. They made some calls. They didn’t mind us. Ate said, let’s ask them if we can leave. I said, maybe they need our testimonies. We walked towards the police. I did the talking. The woman had sprinted across a part of the road no pedestrian should cross. The traffic light was green. The driver had been driving too fast. He had been pushing almost 120 kilometers per hour in a road that allowed only sixty. But it was a quarter to eleven and the road was dark and relatively clear. The driver had been hunched over the wheel and looked only at the road. The driver looked manic, crazed, and he had been driving too fast, so fast I was conscious of my body in the vehicle speeding. The moment I looked at the speedometer and saw that we were going over 100kph was the moment I realized we were going to hit a woman. Her body suddenly in front of the vehicle, the green light still bright, the vehicle going too fast to stop. Her body flinging. The policeman said, even if she jaywalked, it was still the driver’s fault. He had his eyes on the road. The policeman told us, you’re free to go. Ate and I rode another FX to our stops, but I haven’t gone home. I keep thinking of the speeding van, the body sprinting across the road, the body illuminated by the car lights a split-second before she hit the van or the van hit her, the body twisting, splayed facedown on the asphalt, illuminated by a street lamp, a sari-sari store’s fluorescent bulb, Christmas lights, LED from smartphones filming the body, and above the din, the sin, everything, the moon, full, too bright. If only the van or the body weren’t moving so fast, if only the driver or the woman didn’t only look ahead, at one point in the road, maybe we could have avoided a collision. It was such a meaningless death, such a stupid way to kill and to die. We say “Ingat” to each other all the time, but why are we still so careless?