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Be quiet, Dory.

I couldn't help noticing at our high school reunion the other day that nearly everyone there had decided not to leave home. Most of those present had not gone farther than Davao for college. If they weren't pursuing further studies there now, they were putting down roots. Those who were nurses had applied to or were working at nearby hospitals. Those who had family businesses to sustain (and sustain them) were content. One of them, a longtime crush in high school whose family controls a huge chunk of the city, has such huge dreams for the place, you can almost hear Jay-Z and Alicia Keys singing "Empire State of Mind" in the background. He loves the place.

One thing about this guy, he can make it anywhere. He's got the resources, the looks, and the personality. Not a wonder that mousy me was attracted to him in high school; in a way, he was everything I wanted to be--popular, outgoing, and included, without losing what made him stand out. With what he's got, it doesn't matter what part of the world he chooses as his home; he'll be fine. He chooses GenSan.

It's not a bad place. The diminishing schools of tuna threaten the fishing industry that fueled most of its development, but it looks like GenSan is starting to diversify. In recent years, "civilization" as my mother likes to call it has come to town. Malls have gone up. Stores have renovated and updated their architecture and offerings. Restaurants of a type other than bar'n'grill have set up shop. The local college is now a university. If you lived here or around here, you'd have all the comforts of a bigger city, but little of the traffic, noise, pollution, and--my all-time hate--need to rush. There's no Starbucks yet, though.

Why leave home? my classmates ask--not me, just aloud. Everything you could possibly need is here.

Why indeed?

I usually tell people, I left home because my parents said I should. "There's nothing for you here," "Nothing will happen to you here," or "You'll end up like [an unmarried middle-aged lady in church]," were the usual reasons. The past year has shown me that I don't need to be in Manila to make a decent living--and when I say living, I mean the act, not the pay slip--and find happiness. But I highly doubt that the feeling would be so strong or so pronounced if I hadn't gone to Manila in the first place. This bothers me.

Parallel to this is the long-running story of my not belonging with my high school classmates. I resented them for excluding and at times bullying me when I was fresh from the States in grade school. This impression of them did not improve in high school when I couldn't find more than a handful of people who shared my interests and seemed to like me. Perhaps to make myself feel better about it, I looked down on those who couldn't match my intelligence, creativity, and perspective. If they truly did think of me as a snob and a geek, I probably gave them good reason.

The trouble with high school was, I was all for embracing nonconformity; it was just lonely, having no one else to embrace it with. I did have a barkada who have stuck by me till today, but in high school, I just wasn't content.

We're all supposed to have grown up now, but whenever my classmates invite me to hang out, I remember that feeling of not-belonging and don't want to go. "We're all supposed to have grown up now" is the reason I go anyway. And when I go, I still sit on the fringes of the conversation, quiet until I can throw in a short comment or until someone asks me something. At least it's no longer painful to be just on the fringes.

What becomes clearer and clearer to me is that I willfully put myself there. Somehow, I equated not being like them with not being with them, and that has taken its toll.

We held our little reunion at the Tans' resort in Gumasa, Glan, Sarangani. After taking us tubing, Van, the aforementioned former crush, had the speedboat drop us off with a raft a little way out to sea and let the current take us back to shore while we snorkelled. I knew as soon as we hit the water that we'd have to fight the current a bit to avoid hitting the rocks instead of the sand. I eventually took off my life jacket because keeping it on actually made it easier for the current to take me away; I just used it as a floater whenever my arms and legs got tired. Those of my classmates who stuck to the raft ended up on the rocks and needed the speedboat to rescue them. Those of us who swam away from the raft made it safely onto the shore.

Nobody seemed to want to go swimming again after that. Instead, they started taking pictures of themselves, posing by the rock wall and in the shallows. But I went back into the water, because I wanted to see the reef; I'd been too busy fighting the current to enjoy it the first time. And while I was frog-kicking over the coral--magnificently massive, if not very colorful--it occured to me that once again, I had set myself apart.

Swimming far out to the reef, into the deep water, instead of staying on the shore--some people would call that a metaphor for my life. Flying out to Manila instead of staying in Socsksargen, leaving the raft to fight the current in open water, diving into a new world instead of sticking with the safe and familiar, taking the bull by the horns and seizing the day and all that carpe diem shit--that makes me the more adventurous one, the one willing to take bigger risks, right? Does that make me better than my classmates?

Honestly, every time I came up for air and looked back at them on the shore with these thoughts in my head, I didn't know. I don't know. I don't know who took the bigger risk, at least as far as career is concerned--are employment opportunities harder to come by in Manila, with the whole world jostling for the slots, or in the province, where you don't even know whether the slots exist?--but it does feel like I took the bigger risk with regard to the rest of life in general. And it doesn't feel good. They all seem pretty settled, they're close to home and family, and they're living life at the pace I've craved since I left. I have no idea what's going to happen to me in the coming year. Why can't I just be like them?

I know that I never could be like them, because I didn't want to be like them. What I want to know is what keeps pulling me into the water. I know now that "My parents said I should" is no longer the reason I've stayed in Manila. If at any time in the past two years, I said, "I can't do this anymore. Let me come home," I would have been able to go home. But I stayed, because I wanted to prove, more to myself than to anyone else, really, that I could figure things out for myself.

I'm tired, though. I don't even know why I'm trying so hard anymore. I don't know what else there is to prove.

When you swim in the sea, you're supposed to know enough to keep the distance between you and the shore swimmable. If all you've got are your arms and legs and a borrowed pair of goggles, you're supposed to ignore the urge to see just how big the reef is and to see how far and deep you can go. You shouldn't let the powerful feeling that swimming like this is how flying must be take over, not when the current makes swimming back twice as hard as swimming away.

This feeling I've got, that I can't stay home even if I want to, is like an undertow.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 1st, 2010 01:46 am (UTC)
Eloquently put. I really admire your ability to weave, and I'm still wondering why you aren't writing books or novellas or comics. :) If your name was on the cover of something, I'd buy it.

I think I understand how you feel. I'm here because of the S word. "Sayang". Sayang naman green card mo. Sayang naman yoong puwede mo kitahin. And I admit, the opportunity to learn and explore is too good to pass up. But I still feel like I left my life on hold sometimes, like I did the hard thing, the right thing, and took the easy way out all at the same time. There's a whole lot of confusion.

What do we do?
Jan. 1st, 2010 09:19 am (UTC)
Thanks, Pol. :)

The best reason I can think of for going back to Manila is that Martin is there and Martin likes it there. My biggest fear is that, even though I'm with him, I won't fit into the city like I didn't fit in among my classmates. I'm not taking placelessness very well.

What do we do? I really don't know. :(
Jan. 1st, 2010 09:30 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean about places. Though fitting in has always been a theory I didn't quite grasp. I've always sort of believed the saying that everyone's alone. If that's true then fitting in is a state of mind. You either find a place and a situation you can relax, or the fit you want doesn't exist and it's all in your head in which case you should change your mind.

I don't know if it'll help but maybe some perspective is in order. Make a Pros & Cons List? It could be illuminating.

Also I like lists.

Top 5 places I used to love that no longer exist, in no particular order:
1. Los Otros
2. SM Video Arcade
3. K.A.F.E.
4. The SEC Moon Tree (It's where Mateo Ricci is now.)
5. The Hole. (The space between the living room corner and the corner sofa.)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


The Last Time I Was Here

January 2012
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