I felt the lumps in my chest slowly building up, almost literally, as I started walking from the gate of their village to their front door. I'd tell myself that there's just something about the lights that lit up their street, or the santan bushes that lined up each house along the way, but it was honestly just the thrill of seeing her.
I've been down this street a million times, and I remember thinking after the first couple of times that the feeling would probably go away, but it never did. The feeling just never got old, I guess.
A friend told me that it was all about Emily's personality. She said that it was Em's inner beauty that shone through, so that even though you wouldn't notice that she was pretty the first time you saw her, you'd see just how beautiful a person she was over time.
Of course, I thought all of it was baloney. Em took my breathe away the first time I saw her.
I finally reached her door, and pressed the switch to ring the door bell. As I did, I remembered the first time I saw her. She smiled at me, and she asked for my name. I could remember my heart stopping for a second, and I could swear for a moment there I couldn't remember my own name. I did manage a smile, though. It would have been cute, too, except for the fact that it happened to me, thus making it pathetic. I did manage to tell her my name, but the rest of that afternoon was a blur. All I could really remember from that meeting was her smile.
And that made me smile. I've known her for a long time now, two years now going on forever, but I still remember her smile from that afternoon, and it still always made me smile.
Like right now. I was standing there in front of her door, smiling like an idiot. I was trying wipe the silly grin off my face before--
"Hi!" she said as she opened the door. "What are you smiling about again this time, mister?"
"I'm just really happy to see you." She'd always catch me with this smile on my face, and she'd always ask me that question. I'd always tell her the truth; she'd never believe me.
"Liar! Come in," she replied, while breaking into one of those smiles herself. She was only wearing houseclothes, and her hair was nowhere near fixed up. Still, she looked like every bit the princess.
She let me in, and I took my familiar chair in their porch. She turned on the porch lights, before taking her seat beside me. "So what have you got?" she asked, pointing at the plastic bag from the supermarket I had placed on the table.
"Ice cream, as usual."
"My favorite flavor?"
"Of course. By the way, did you catch The Strokes on Conan the other night? I sent you a text message about it." Her sweet, chinita features, complete with the matching dimples, and her petiteness denied the fact that she was a true blue rock chick. She didn't dress up like one, either, preferring to dress up in cute girly outfits, but you'd always catch her listening to a CDs of bands like the Deftones and Rage Against the Machine, and she's spent afternoons with me while we raided my dad's collection of vinyl records of The Clash and The Sex Pistols.
"I got it, but I was busy," she answered. "I can't believe it. What did they play?"
"'Last Nite', I think. Don't worry, I taped the show. I'll bring it over next time."
"So, how's your Tatay?" I always asked her about her grandfather, who was a doctor in Quezon. It started during lit class, where we were classmates, while we were discussing "Faith, Love, Time and Dr. Lazaro." I made an offhand comment then that the doctor in the story reminded me of my grandfather, who was a doctor in Batangas, and she said that the story reminded her of grandfather, too. We both happened to be close to our grandfathers (we both called them "Tatay"), and we both knew that they spent their early years at the Quirino Medical Center as interns. Then, it turned out that the two doctors were actually friends before they went off to the provinces. It was one of those happy little coincidences in life.
"Tatay's ok. And how's your Tatay?"
"Same old, same old. He's having trouble staying away from sweets, though. It's so much harder to tell off doctors about their health."
"Tell me about it. I don't even want to get started on Tatay and his smoking."
"Yeah. And you, how have you been?"
"It's been terrible. Lots of stress at school, I had, like, a million papers at school. And to top it all off, I boarded a jeep last Monday that had its speakers blaring and guess what they were playing?"
"Air Supply. Air f'n Supply."
I laughed out loud. "At least it wasn't the April Boys. What song was it?"
"Well, it was 'Here I Am' and it's been playing in my head all week."
I smiled, and with my best April Boy impression, I started belting out the really cheesy lyrics of the Air Supply song (rather badly, too), "Just when I thought I was over you, and just when I thought I could stand on my own..." I did that just to tease her, but midway through the my number she joined in the chorus, and we had our videoke session right then and there. By the time we finished our little ditty, we were already laughing so hard.
"Damn that song," she said, but she was smiling, so sweetly that it was impossible to see any sign of the contempt she was professing.
"Yeah. But you made it through your hell week."
"Yeah, I know. I almost couldn't believe it, but it's over."
"You know, you're a superhero. You should be flying around in a cape or something."
"Uh, I don't exactly fit Joseph Campbell's description of the universal hero."
"Well, you don't have to be universal."
"Speaking of that, I was wondering, do you believe in meaningful coincidences? I mean, it's just seems, so, I don't know, supernatural? And it was Jung who came up with that? But I like to believe in it."
"I don't think it's really that supernatural. For example, sometimes I'd think about somebody, and that somebody calls me up, and it was a meaningful coincidence, right? But what about all those other times when you think about somebody and they never call up?"
"Yeah, but you know--" she didn't seem happy with my answer.
"Well, yeah I know. Here's what I like to think about, though. Of all the people you could have that meaningful coincidence with, of all the people you'd think of, of all the people who'd call, why does it have to be that person? I mean, I guess I also like to believe that there's a little bit of magic there too." And she smiled. She liked that answer better, I think.
Then, there was silence, the good type of silence, where you just sit around and think about happy things and then smile when you remember those happy things. I was thinking about that moment when I fell, and I mean, fell really hard. It was during the same lit class we had together, where I had asked her to look over and edit one of my essays. She handed me back my paper the next day, and instead of the corrections on my run-on sentences that I was expecting, my manuscript was filled in the margins with little notes about my essay. There were the reactions to the stuff I was saying, the little "Hahas" and the smileys below the funny lines, and some intelligent discussion of what I had written. I remember that week being particularly stressful, and those little notes on the margins meant the week for me.
It was certainly a very nice thing to do. And soon enough, surely enough, I was smiling thinking about it.
I looked at her, and I could see that she was smiling too. She was gazing at the stars, which were particularly bright on the moonless night. Finally, she turned to me, asking, "Aren't the stars just lovely?"
"'Yeah'? 'Yeah' is all you could say?"
"Well, what else could I say?"
"I don't know, something deep and poetic, you know, like you always do. At the very least, doesn't it remind you of that drawing in 'The Little Prince'?" I gave her a copy of "The Little Prince" for her last birthday. I always thought that no one should become a grown-up without reading that book. I wasn't actually surprised that she almost became a grown-up without reading it yet, because before her, I had given copies of the book to three of my friends. It was a nice, cute gift, a children's book, and it always seemed to make the recipients happy, especially after they read it.
"Well yeah. But you know what? I hate looking at those stars."
"Wow. Hate is a strong word."
"Uh, I guess. But you know, I just, well, I don't like looking at them, not because they're not beautiful, because they are."
She was now looking at me intently, very interested in what I had to say next. I continued, "It's just that, they make me sad. I look at them and see how beautiful they are, but they never really become mine. They just become part of moments, which soon become gone, forever, except probably in your mind. And then you never know when you'll see them again this beautiful, it could be tomorrow, it could be next month, next year. And seeing something so beautiful, and to realize it could never be yours, it just..." my voice was cracking, and for some reason I was having a really hard time saying these words, like they hurt or something.
"It just breaks my heart."
"Well," she said, like she understood me completely, "it's the most beautiful and saddest landscape ever. But who told you that you can't have them? As a matter of fact, I'm selling some of them right now. Take your pick, which star do you like, I'll give you a discount."
I gazed at the sky for a moment, smiled, and then asked, "Do you know what constellations those stars are part of?"
"No idea. I just make 'em up as I go along. Besides, I think the Greeks were drunk when they made up all these constellations. I mean, could you make out a dipper up there?" she said, pointing at the stars. "It takes quite an imagination, but it's not hard to do really. Some people see a dipper, I could see a rhinoceros up there."
I laughed. "Don't you find it funny how our conversations always, always, just seem to border into delusion?"
And then she laughed. "Yeah. Don't you just love it? I can only be delusional when I'm with you."
And then there was another bout of silence. This time, I was just looking at her, and there was one of those moments that you read about or hear about from poets or sensitive singer/songwriters. Her hair fell on her face, and you'd never believe how beautiful she looked as she gently brushed her hair away.
I knew she was looking, but I didn't even try to hide my smile.
"Hey, what are you thinking about?" she asked.
"Nothing. Have you seen 'Chicago' yet?"
"No, I haven't. Heard it was really great."
"Yeah, it is. Wanna catch it with me this weekend?"
"Uh, sorry. I can't. You know, boyfriend."
"Oh. Yes. Of course."
And then there was another silence, a different, lonely type of silence. The sadness just became greater because this silence was all too familiar. In fact, the first few times it was so silent I imagined myself hearing something breaking. Of course, I couldn't hear the damn thing breaking anymore now; it's already broken.
Which is why I keep coming back I guess. Broken, like a record, playing over and over again.
A beep on my cell phone brought me back to earth. It was from 233, asking if I wanted to be a text millionaire. I usually hated receiving messages like these, but this one was definitely welcome. "Hey, gotta go," I said, forcing a smile as I put my cell phone back in my pocket. The rest of words during the goodbye part were pretty standard stuff.
I walked away from her house without the magic I had earlier in the evening. I still smiled as I walked away, as I realized that I had turned into an Apo Hiking Society song, which then kept playing over and over in my head until I got home.April 2003