In figuring out what love is, I found something else

Editor’s Note: Slam books are a thing of the past, but there is one question that has remained unanswered: What is love? In an attempt to answer that this love month, we write about the troubles and bliss brought about by this thing called love.

This Valentine’s we unpack the meaning of love through personal essays. Here, Jelou Galang brings out tangible memories and writes about an intense friendship full of could-have-beens

My mom and my dad are the biggest fans of everything I make, except the clutter cloud I make out of our room.

Towers of torn manuals, outdated film house brochures, half-spent washi tapes, half-empty Miniso markers, and even unused chopsticks are few of the common space invaders of the bedroom I share with my parents. My books are forced to enroll themselves in a masterclass of balancing acts, but they fail and fall before they even get to. One time, I was awoken at 2 a.m. because of my grade five diary landing on my foot.

I normally wouldn’t bother rushing to the bedroom when I hear my stacks of papers falling onto our concrete slab floors, or when the vinyl on top of it emits some sort of vibration, screeching against the plastic bag full of rummaged articles from the past—a sign that my parents have attempted to be proxy spring-cleaners. I normally wouldn’t bother if they would be the one putting my stuff in pouches they originally weren’t nestled in or boxes they don’t belong to, but what would make me run and fix my clutter are items from one certain person of my past.

One is a 14-page bundle of sticky notes from one boy we can call in this story as Mico.

When I hold it, it doesn’t feel as archaic as a lonely novel sitting at the farthest end of a rarely-visited book sale hub with creaky, creepy floors. It doesn’t feel as greasy or downright scrunched up, content incomprehensible because of missing words swept by water or pee of an imagined insect. It’s far from that—no torn edges, no vanished words—but there’s this tinging distance when my fingers stroll across its letters. For something that’s given in 2016, that supposed letter already looks at me like I’m a total stranger.

Despite the glaring gap, I still hold it with my eyes wide open. Not the way I pull up my blankets and cover my right eye when Get Out pulls a twist or when my cousin shows me this video of trypophobia. I see it and I take it. And with this, whenever my belongings are on the brink of a brand new arrangement or death by the trash bin, I would always do everything to hold it first, so I would be the one to keep it. Again.

It’s easy for me to declutter remnants of people who stayed just to leave, because my mind is too disturbingly powerful to keep them in and in and in again. Mico’s items, though, have become an exception.

As much as I am a sentimental person, I still know when to take out the trash. It’s easy for me to declutter remnants of people who stayed just to leave, because my mind is too disturbingly powerful to keep them in and in and in again. Mico’s items, though, have become an exception.

But why?

Maybe because I met Mico when I was eighteen. “You’re the first girl I’ve ever liked this much,” he confessed on a murky Tuesday, when a storm was dancing around Manila. In slippers, he braved the floods to meet up with me in a Wendy’s branch now demised, leaning back in his chair, eye contact treading in between cowardice and courageous, “the first girl I know could be my girlfriend.”

The value of the first-time pass was easy to recognize, but difficult to scrutinize. When you’re as young as someone whose feelings have strangely translated from literature to real life in just a click, you would know how first times could feel like your instant happily ever afters. Because at the back of your mind, you really haven’t known what would make it fail.

Maybe because of how Mico looked like. No, this isn’t some shallow reasoning backed up by the fact that he did look like the guy I drew on my elementary classmate’s slam book under the “dream boy blueprint” category. It was more of how, in a fleeting vacuum, Mico’s actions made me feel I was given something I could be sure about.

He had his own brand of five-second stare—one I got a hold on preludes: before the Padre Faura-Taft stoplight would say red, before getting up from CCP’s carpeted floors, before letting me step on the road when a hollered jeepney would drive close, before taking the first bite of our dinner, before leaving the film class room–the only one we shared.

“Ingat ka,” he would say, with his left hand on my hair and his right on my sweaty cheeks, a college look brought by conquering our building’s multiple staircases. “Punta tayong bookstore after ng last class mo?” Hours later, I would see Mico, in his striped shirt and stripped down smile, waiting outside my room before I could even text him to meet up.

“Ingat ka,” he would say, with his left hand on my hair and his right on my sweaty cheeks, a college look brought by conquering our building’s multiple staircases. “Punta tayong bookstore after ng last class mo?” Hours later, I would see Mico, in his striped shirt and stripped down smile, waiting outside my room before I could even text him to meet up.

Maybe because of how Mico and I met. And not just the first time, but every time we did, even when we didn’t really want to. I had known of Mico’s presence because of a play I almost didn’t attend, when I was seated on a row I initially didn’t buy a ticket for. For what I thought was some drive of fate, I landed in the middle of Mico’s two friends, a fact hadn’t known before absentmindedly uttering that I find him cute.

I met Mico in a bus, a line, a mall, a jeep, a film house—all the times we didn’t exactly expect seeing each other. When I was young, I didn’t think soulmates exist. That mindset rejected a change even when my realm pulled Mico in—along with his white shirt and punk rock Spotify playlists—but I did start to think about serendipity, and how we can all, at least once, become lucky.

That mindset rejected a change even when my realm pulled Mico in—along with his white shirt and punk rock Spotify playlists—but I did start to think about serendipity, and how we can all, at least once, become lucky.

Maybe because of how Mico made me his world: I was there when his shifting papers didn’t get accepted in Diliman, and when his first stand-up comedy stint almost didn’t happen. I was there for the failed quizzes, and for the days he didn’t want to go to school. I was there for the hell weeks that brought out the worst of him, and for the dinner tables he deemed empty.

“You’re my only light,” he’d say. “And I really don’t know what to do without you.” On the flipside, he knew how to do the same: He was there for my Math 11 breakdowns, and my little successes in public speaking. He was there for when I didn’t want to talk to anyone, and when I needed someone to read my stories. Maybe it really is because of how Mico made me his world, and how we fell apart because of this.

Which reminds me: Maybe it’s because of how this letter was given all along—the day we parted ways. Come to think of it, these maybes are, at their best, uncertainties.

I’ve learned to throw away many things: rose petals from that huge high school crush who showered them for the whole campus, an animal plushie from the artist guy who only liked me when I was happy, a plastic ring from the boy I met when I still had a massive fringe and confusion. But what shows up every now and then is the huge question mark planted at the backdrop of Mico’s story—the fact that I never knew if it was love or close or not at all.

I’ve learned to throw away many things: rose petals from that huge high school crush who showered them for the whole campus, an animal plushie from the artist guy who only liked me when I was happy, a plastic ring from the boy I met when I still had a massive fringe and confusion. But what shows up every now and then is the huge question mark planted at the backdrop of Mico’s story—the fact that I never knew if it was love or close or not at all.

What is love? Was this love? Was the way he saved me from his darkness love? Was the way he never told ‘I love you,’ makes it not love? Or him not saying it so I wouldn’t expect anything IS love? Was the way I asked “how are you?” after all the mind games makes it love? Was my patience and understanding equal to love? Was taking naps side by side inside the LRT love? Was spending five hours in the rain waiting for me makes it love? Was being beside me—whether I painted protest cards, practiced a spoken word piece, combed my hair, or cried a little—not love? Was the voluntary offering of the half of my heart, even if he didn’t want to, makes it love?

Despite all these, looking at the 14-page bundle of this goodbye note reminded me something about myself. I did make it through, didn’t I? Even with having no slightest idea how I possibly could.

Despite all these, looking at the 14-page bundle of this goodbye note reminded me something about myself. I did make it through, didn’t I? Even with having no slightest idea how I possibly could.

When you’re young and it’s the first time you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel your heart getting jagged lines in its core and having holes in the parts where it used to shine, you’d think how it’s so impossible to live another day without hearing the name of who used to send its drum beats. It was the first time our home bathroom witnessed me weep for a solid 15 minutes, and the first time I had to skip the whole of my favorite playlist.

Mico made me feel all kinds of verys: very happy, very sad, very angry, very curious, very excited, very afloat. But I wouldn’t trade these for what I received for myself after the storm, now danced in my life: a familiarity for the balanced, calm, and enough love for myself.

Mico made me feel all kinds of verys: very happy, very sad, very angry, very curious, very excited, very afloat. But I wouldn’t trade these for what developed for myself after the new storm that danced in my life: a familiarity for the balanced, calm, enough. Love for myself. No wonder that goodbye letter looks at me like I’m a total stranger now; I think I have changed.

There’s an upgrade on my pain tolerance; a new ability to bounce back. Learned that I can love my story without anyone else reading it. Learned that I can have a hell of a good time inside a museum on my own. Learned to enjoy crying in the cinema without someone beside me. Learned to share playlists to more than one person. Learned to discover skills, passions, hobbies, interests, and the whole wonder of the world, without needing the push of someone else but me.

After three years, Mico and I are friends. “I’m always here for you,” is what remains in our conversations, and out of all the things he’s ever uttered, that’s what I believe the most. And this time, without guesses and maybes, I can say that it is enough. 

There are some things we are meant to know, and some things that we could feel in our chests best if they were never answered.

Art by Renz Mart Reyes

 

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Jelou Galang
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