The morning after Gutson’s, she sent me a text message saying that I should never reveal her secrets to anyone. My heart almost leapt out of my body and hopped to wherever she was. And from that day on, this journey to chase her across the office, under the rain — guitar-swinging, on MRT platforms, in my mind, and across the world started as I smiled at the miraculous text message on my cellphone screen.
Miraculous. Maybe I wished for a miracle every day, another chance to talk to her as freely as we did back at that dark and dirty room while everyone drank their beer. After all, I needed a ton of luck to push my dreams to reality. Her boyfriend wasn’t going anywhere. Their photos on Multiply and everywhere else exclaimed happiness.
The last thing I wanna be is be an obstacle to someone else’s joy. The girl on the broken bench was clearly contented with her life. She seemed popular, outgoing, and had no problems with the world. I had problems with how my collar looked, how people spend too much money on coffee, and how everyone seems to wear cool sunglasses like the sun shined every day. She and I are too different and it would be laughable for me to barge into her well-written story.
Stupid When Smitten Curse
I decided to walk away but the mind never wins against that devious thing down there. Before I knew it, I was already cursed with the Stupid When Smitten Curse. I’m so nervous whenever she’s near that I almost always ended up looking like a joke.
Once, I was walking out of the pantry from the bathroom, aware that she, RJ, and other Cool teammates were eating on a table. RJ suddenly called out, “Marvs, kain!” probably to invite me to eat with them like we used to. In all my fidgety nervousness, I turned around to look at them, smiled, and Stupidly hit my head on the door in front of me.
Then there was this one time, after our shift, I was waiting for the clunky elevators to take me downstairs. She appeared from the corner and started walking toward me. My heart started to do the samba. Nah, she wasn’t smiling at me or anything. Her eyes were busy following her speedy fingers on her cellphone’s keypad. When our eyes met, I Stupidly smiled and raised my right hand and waved at her — it was stupid because she’s just three meters away from me. My eyes still opened wide like two big golf balls, and my hand still waving in the air, she merely looked down on her cellphone without expressing anything.
But god, how I wanted to talk to her! Just say things that may remind both of us of the cool time we had at Gutson’s. So one afternoon, I waited for her to finish her shift. When she got up from her seat, I quickly shut down my computer and proceeded to follow her out of the office. But just my luck — I found her talking on the phone and not out of the office yet. Lacking a reason to still hang around the office, looking Stupid, I stormed out the doors, biting my lip.
“Tangina, tangina, tangina, syet!” I was whispering to myself. Looking around and finding no one, I literally hit my head against the wall next to the elevators. I slapped my face and cursed my feelings once more. “Should I go back? For what? Whatever. I just wanna go back to see her again. Maybe I’ll accidentally bump into her and that will open up some sort of a conversation. F*ck, I’m Stupid! Should I really go b–”
Before I knew it, my feet were already carrying me back to the office doors. Lo and behold: she’s still on the goddamn phone. I pretended to look for a missing piece of something important under my table and walked around, displaying my awful Stupid presence in front of her. After a couple of futile seconds, blood rising to my cheeks, I called it a day and went for the elevators for good.
The Space Shuttle That Broke Time and Space
The day the Cool team went to Enchanted Kingdom for team-building, I already knew I was waiting for her. We hadn’t talked nor exchanged a glance that lasted 5 seconds, but I waited for her as if she waited for me just the same. There wasn’t a plan in my head to approach her or anything; there was simply this ardent wish for another miracle.
The team knew I was sh*t-scared of the Space Shuttle, that snake-like rollercoaster looming ominously against the blue sky. I was quick to tell RJ I would never risk it and ride the thing. I might not make it back alive if my heart stopped beating in the air. When we arrived at the ride though, RJ and the others were encouraging everyone to try it. As brave as the girl on the broken bench was with alcohol and sex talks, she was terrified of riding the Shuttle herself.
Angels whispered to me that day because I immediately saw a golden opportunity to start something new. There was a catch though: I needed to swallow my fear and ride the ride gallantly. RJ was still convincing her to join them in the ride. She was shaking her head, but I knew she wanted to try it too. She just needed a little push. Clenching my fists, I walked up to her and said, “Tara.”
It worked. I somehow managed to push her over the edge and come with me to the Space Shuttle. There was a silent understanding between the two of us that we will share the ride beside each other since we were both scared noobs. She was smiling, laughing, tearing my hair out, saying, “Ayoko na!” I was rejoicing inside and out saying, “Kaya mo yan!”
To ease her worries further, I asked her what’s her favorite number and that’s the number of the cart we rode. When the Space Shuttle started to pull back to create the tremendous force it needed to take our guts out, I half-unconsciously held her hand. She held mine.
Something happened while I was falling helplessly toward the ground, my eyeballs about to pop out. I felt her hand and every star, tear, and song she hid from me in a matter of seconds. Looking back, I must have tasted the beautiful months that will follow — our trip to the secluded beach of Anawangin, our fun, cold nights in Baguio, and the waves that splashed heavily against our bodies in Pagudpud. I saw myself chasing her in the rain, guitar-swinging, because I wanted to keep the thing between us alive. Maybe there was a vision of her tears back then, tears that fell when she told me she broke up with her longtime boyfriend. There were silent coffee breaks there, just reading each other’s eyes; and there were loud nights when I panted at her pretty face. Letters, blogs, bites, fights, hugs, and endless kisses might have flashed as the angry wind pushed us back. A little of everything was there in that gravity-induced vulnerability. I felt time crunched in so short a space and I loved her so much for being there. I heard her scream in the present, imagined her talking as a child in Ilocos in the past, and probably saw a bit of the plane headed for Canada on every shining rail the ferocious ride rumbled upon. I held her hand tightly and she held mine.
Gutson’s II, Sarah’s, and the Beginning of the Story
I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. I left my bag in the van and I couldn’t claim it until the next day, but there I was in the grimy room of Gutson’s again, drinking beer with her. When I was already drunk, she asked me to accompany her outside because she needed to find an ATM. She later told me I ranted the whole time about responsibility and how other men are so pathetic because they didn’t have enough of it. She also told me that I talked about how I was “different” than other people. I remember asking her how she and her boyfriend were doing. I clearly remember her saying they weren’t doing good. I also clearly remember my drunken spirits soaring toward the night sky.
Over the following days, I’d make it clear to her that she was everything in my mind. I’d draw an anime likeness of her and give it to her nervously. She’d accept my invitation to go to Sarah’s, a dining and drinking spot in UP, after our shift. I’d be thanking the clouds because I didn’t have a god anymore to look up to.
At Sarah’s, I’d found out she was as easy and fun to talk to as ever. On our first date, we talked of the same things that we talked about before and more. She looked so beautiful that night, I’m amazed I didn’t melt in front of her. But man, how I wanted her. I’ve read many fairytales when I was young, and I knew she was an enchanted princess from those pages — beer, cigarettes and all. She was funny, and crazy, and talkative, and intellectual, and shallow, and alluring, and deep, and troubled, and happy all at the same time. Me, I was just dumbfounded.
I kissed her cheek on our first date. We were both drunk but my legs were literally trembling with nervousness.
More nights and days would follow and we’d fall for each other. Whatever she saw in me, I’m glad she saw them because many times, I’ve failed to see them myself. On another night at Sarah’s, I’d dance in front of her, and Lucky, my friend, and the other half-looking people at the place to make her say “yes” to me finally. I didn’t dance that much but she still hugged me and told me she and I were officially together. Lucky was laughing, she was smiling, but I was writing a hundred poems about her in my mind.
Love may come to us when we’re half asleep and about to hit the ground snoring. I know, because in my case, it lightly sat beside me on a broken bench one drunken night in Tagaytay. It brought hardships with it, tough decisions, and a crazy willingness to try out unheard of things for more smiles. It came in her form, her skin glistening golden under the sun, her eyes lined with dark mascara penetrating my very soul.
A few months from now, a plane will cut through the blue skies headed for Canada. It will leave the Blue Waffle building, the Cool Team, backpacks full of sand and memories, and me behind. She will be there on that plane, the girl that will inspire me to write and create more amazing things in an effort to follow her across the world. This is the beginning of that story — the story that tells of how she and I met again at some point in the dusty, heavy annals of time. I know that I’ll love Chemae wherever she ends up, whether in a busy restaurant in Vancouver, a sunny beach in the Caribbean, a noisy street in Macau, a half-forgotten town in Ilocos, or a tiny, messy room in Quezon City. I’ll love her wherever she is, whether in my mind or just on an innocent broken bench under the stars.
This three-part blog is written in celebration of a year of having a huge crush, then falling in love with the girl who sat with me on the broken bench.