The College Playlist: Sophomore Year


This post is 3rd in a six-post series.

It’s four more days before my eighteenth birthday. Thus, I write:

In a few more days, I will be turning 18. I believe every girl waits for this special day — her debut to the society as a full-fledged woman. I can see that most see this coming of age as a rite to liberation, the grant of freedom to drive her own car in this road of life. It sounds enticing — I would not deny that— but I must admit that it scares me more than it excites me. If there is a name for the fear of independence, then I guess I have that. It is not something to be proud of but honestly, I am afraid of being left to care for my own self.

When I turned fifteen, it dawned on me that, though legally a minor, I am no longer a child. Since then, I began to feel what Wendy Darling must have felt ―longing to go back to Neverland to escape the growing complexity in life. But Neverland is now just a memory that I can only treasure but never relive.

To be a child is the most wonderful experience any person can have. When an older person reminisces her childhood days, it is often that she will recall fond memories of a life full of laughter and hope and devoid of worries and fears.It was an uncomplicated life that is so full of magic. Then, she can be anything ― a princess, a mermaid, or even a ninja! But slowly, the magic wore off,taking away the identity she had created for herself. From someone who viewed her life and herself with certainty, she becomes someone searching for the person she is made to be. She becomes lost for the magic is gone and all her hopes went with it.

Where has the magic gone? Why is it that as a person grows up, she seems to slowly lose the hopes that she once held dear as a child? Why is it that learning more of this world creates worries and fears in an adult who should have been more confident for being more equipped with knowledge acquired from experience? They say it is because a child is innocent for her world is usually and merely confined within the home and the classroom.Growing up is accompanied with the gradual but eventual expansion of her little world into a place that widens her perspective of life. It is then that she sees the life beyond the delicate bubble she was clothed in as a younger person. She sees reality as opposed to the sweet and perfect little world that her family created for her. When the curtain is drawn, the reality that she sees is vulgar and prejudiced, never serene and perfect.

The world is not always fair. Sometimes, no matter how hard you work for the things you want so badly, you cannot even come close to your goal.  The lack of justice in the circumstances in life used to depress me. I used to stand up indignantly and tried to defy it but I never did. It was a way too strong force that I cannot manage to vanquish. I guess I am really not the brave soul I was trying to be. Maybe I am just a vulnerable girl with a fragile spirit. This is why I cling so much to my family. I need them to live. I cannot survive on my own.

Nowadays, I live by fear. Being fearful has become a way of life for me and it keeps me living. Every single day since Daddy died, I have feared for tomorrow. That fateful episode of my life showed me how hostile life can be. Since then, I have waited for tomorrow with fearful anxiety, knowing there is so much more misfortunes that could happen. I start each day with a prayer asking God to please ease my qualms and conclude with a yet another prayer with gratitude for another day passed. Thankfully, He has never let me down but still, the fears remain.

I admire the children who live each day looking forward to the next, beaming with so much hope. I was once such a child, optimistic about my future and sure of my place in this world. Now, I no longer know who I am or what I want. The future is vague and I can hardly have a glimpse of the imminent life that the present offers me. I have no choice but to simply keep walking, my childhood dreams in tow, serving as my lamp to combat the darkness of my chosen path. You see, childhood is a brimming cup of hope and I need to take a sip every now and then to rouse my sullen spirit.

I wish to be a child again. I wish to go back to the carefree days when no one expects me to be independent. I wish to be whisked back to Neverland and be eternally a child. But Neverland is a “never” land. It never existed and will never exist. At the stroke of midnight, the magic will wear off and the fancy dress and the carriage drawn by horses will soon be gone. There will be no magic carpets to bring me to places I have to go to. I have to carry myself from place to place by foot or public transport. A frog will remain a frog no matter how hard I try to love it. Kissing it will just give me a salmonella infection. Beasts will be beasts and they are not princes in disguise. There will be no three fairies to protect from the curse of an evil witch and a kiss will only bring me into a deeper slumber. Yes, the magic is all gone. You cannot simply live with hakuna matata.

As much as I want to be a child forever, I can never turn the days back. I must now start to look ahead and face adulthood to embrace it. No one ceases to grow up. We must and that is the only choice we have. Besides, it may not be that difficult. Even if friends and acquaintances come and go, I know my family will forever be with me in this struggle. And of course, there is my mom who never gave up on me.

So yeah, 18th birthday, I dread your arrival but I am here to welcome you nevertheless.

I am sitting at the cafeteria, having a breakfast of stale donut and iced coffee, nervously waiting for the release of grades in Inorganic Chemistry. Having failed Organic Chemistry in the summer, I don’t think I can afford to fail another chemistry subject again. Or any subject, actually, or else I lose my scholarship and losing it means having to drop out of school for good. It is unthinkable. I don’t want to break my mother’s heart.

Nibbling on my donut, I push the coffee cup away. It is not helping my nerves. A little while later, a classmate comes and joins me. He, too, is waiting for the grades. Being strictly acquaintances and having nothing to talk about, we make a polite conversation about school, especially Inorganic Chemistry. For some reason, I end up telling him about how I find chemistry subjects difficult and how I can’t afford to fail this one, too. Thus, he asks: “’Di pa ‘pag Pisay grad magaling sa DPSM subjects? Bakit…

He need not say anymore for I know exactly what he is trying to tell me: How come you’re not as smart as they are?

I shrug. I don’t know either.

We have reached an uncomfortable silence. He has a struck a sore point of mine and I do not know how to react because he is partly correct — I am not smart, at least, in his (and probably everybody else’s) perspective. But then, there is one thing that I do know: I am not stupid either; I can be smart in different circumstances. But I don’t know how to tell him that. He will not understand just as I still don’t.

He says nothing, seemingly waiting for my answer. I don’t know what sort of answer he is expecting (maybe an admission of arrogance and laziness) so I shut my mouth. After all, he thinks I am not smart enough so any answer will not matter to him.

Sensing my irritation, he excuses himself. He extricates himself from the awkward situation he started while I am left to torturously ponder why, after four years of special science education in high school, I still suck at science. Why I am not as smart as my fellow Pisay graduates.

I don’t know, I whisper to myself. That’s all I can give as an answer as tears stain my cheeks.

**********

“Ah, you’re going to med school!”

I have to stop myself from rolling my eyes. “Uh, no. I’m not.” I look away.

“But why?”

“Because I don’t want to.” Why can’t most people understand that?

She looks at me like I’m mad and I bite my tongue to keep myself from screaming, MED SCHOOL IS NOT THE ONLY OPTION! But then, I ask myself, Indeed, what other options do you have?

As if she can hear my mind, she answers, “Research — you can go into research.” I shudder. I don’t know. I don’t think so.

Despite the superb training that we are being provided by the school, I still don’t think research is a niche that I can dwell on comfortably. While I love learning, I am not naturally probing as a scientist should be. I have no deep-seated interest in what I am studying and instead, I just want to read the books and absorb as much as I can so I can pass. With all due honesty, science is not really my passion. I am no science geek.

Instead, I am a bibliophile — I love literature, I adore the written word. In a parallel universe, I am a literature major, preparing to be a high school English teacher — that’s the dream since I was little (although I originally planned to be a grade school teacher).

“I am actually planning to teach after college,” I say truthfully.

Her face lights up. “Ah, prof sa college.”

“Uh, no. High school.”

She looks at me, open-mouthed. “But why?”

“Because that’s what I want.”

“Why?”

I shrug. I don’t know how I can make people understand.

**********

“What will you talk about?” We are supposed to give an inspirational speech in a speech class and everyone’s been asking everyone this question.

“Hmmm… I dunno,” I answer, without looking up from my chemistry notebook. “Do I look inspiring to you?”

My friends laugh. They always love my self-deprecating humor. But underneath the badass student façade I like to keep, there is an anxious creature lurking, wondering what indeed should I talk about.

My problem, unlike most of my friends, is not what to talk about. Rather, it is which one to talk about. With a life that is very much like pushing a cart uphill only to let it drag you downhill uncontrollably, I can talk about so many life challenges.

I can talk about my family and my father’s death — Filipinos are notorious for being such suckers for the sob story. But then, I do not want to look kawawa because I don’t think I am.

I can talk about the contract I signed as a thirteen-year-old that practically bars me from taking all other paths except for one. But then, I do not want to offend people who would gladly switch places me because of that privilege I was granted when I was thirteen. I do not want to sound ungrateful, especially to the Filipino taxpayers who has sent me to school for the last six years.

I can talk about my school problems — how I can’t cope and catch up, how I am starting to believe I am really stupid. But then, I don’t want to sound like I’m whining because I hate whiners myself. Besides, my classmates, with their relatively comfortable lives, would never understand anyway. For them, I am just lazy.

Still pretending to read my chemistry notebook, I keep thinking what I will share to the class. I just know that I can’t talk about my current problems for these are not overcome obstacles. There are no resolutions (yet), no happily-ever-afters (that is never going to happen).

Thus, when a friend asks what I will talk about, I still answer, “Hmmm… I dunno.” Because there are stories that are painful to tell. But someday, when I finally understand how His great plan for me works, maybe I can give a true inspirational speech.

**********

We are cramming a problem set for chemistry and I have at least half left blank. A new friend nudges me. “Ano’ng sagot?”, he asks while pointing at an item.

I look at my own paper. It is blank, too. I laugh. “I don’t know.”

It seems that I still can’t understand, no matter how much I try. But it’s okay — someday, I know I will.

 

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The College Playlist: Freshman Year


This post is 2nd in a six-post series.

This is not the first time I am boarding the bus alone but for goodness’ sake, this is Manila— filthy, anarchic Manila (as I have seen T.V. news programs paint its picture). I could easily get lost! Or worse, robbed. Or mugged. Or abducted. Or, seeing these almost flying vehicles, run over when I get down from the bus.

Who would believe that my mother, the woman who kept her dear children out of bicycles for fear that they might hurt themselves and used to take them with her wherever she went, is actually sending me out here alone? She used to tell me that Manila, even in broad daylight, is never safe. Now she is making me tackle this wilderness on my own. I am scared.

Before leaving the house at five in the morning, I almost asked Mommy if she could take me to school instead and then pick me up when my classes are over. But I am already seventeen — old enough to take the daily commute, they say. After all, I am in college now.

Fat raindrops hit my bus window and I watch the tiny waterfalls they make.

I love the rain. When it rains, both the streets and cars are washed. Flowers usually bloom soon after. The earth is wet, the rice fields are majestically green and gold. And there is that peculiar but relaxing smell produced from the mingling of rainwater and foliage. Rain is a gift.

But looking through my bus window, I see rain here is an annoying, unwelcome guest. Everywhere I see people with sour faces, holding on to their umbrellas. The streets are muddy, not cleaned, and pedestrians have to dodge puddle after puddle of mud. There are no flowers, only wilted plants and misplaced trees. It is a sad sight. Not even the rain can cheer Manila up.

The driver starts cursing. It has started to flood so the traffic is getting worse. I sigh. This is going to be one long ride.

**********

It is now a few minutes before nine in the morning and I am still in the bus. I have missed my 7 A.M. class and given the traffic’s pace, I am lucky if I can still attend even just ten minutes of my second class. Another missed quiz again. I wonder how I will be able to pass History1 if I keep on missing quizzes.

Miraculously, the bus inches forward, its wheels almost useless in this flood. I have seen floods worse than this but I cannot understand how streets can be flooded when the rains were not too heavy. Only in Manila, it seems.

After two Pinoy comedy films (Praybeyt Benjamin and Here Comes the Bride), the bus finally comes to my stop — Padre Faura Street. I have missed my second class but there is still enough time to get to the next. I walk through the flood, dreading manholes and pissed that I forgot to roll up my jeans. The usual five-minute walk to the school gates takes fifteen minutes.

As I walk towards a comfort room to dry myself, a professor (I could no longer remember who), seeing my wet jeans, asks, “O, hanggang saan any baha?

Embarrassed, I answer, “Hanggang tuhod, po.” He laughs.

“Well then, welcome to Taft River!”

**********

Thank God, I can be home before dark.

The bus is nearly empty and I have managed to have a window seat. This is a good day.

We are halfway through towards my destination and people starts filing in. A bearded, hefty, old man sits beside me. Every now and then the bus halts to let more passengers in. As there are no more seats, they remain standing, holding on to the back rests of the seats. I could have pitied them but after spending countless bus rides standing up throughout the entire journey, I ignore them. They are fine.

Then, the seat starts trembling. Ugh, I think, why do old men do that? It is bad enough to see them jerking their legs for no reason. It is so much worse to feel its effects. Just ignore him. You’re near your stop, I tell myself. He’ll get bored doing it anyway. They all do.

But he doesn’t. I turn sideways to glare at him, just to show my displeasure and…

… he smirks at me. I cry.

I sob and close my eyes, not knowing what to do, as the old man laughs maniacally, masturbating. The seat keeps trembling. So does my entire body.

I keep crying, muttering a prayer to the Holy Spirit under my breath. What else can a girl of seventeen do?

**********

No one expected that the exam would finish so late in the evening.

“Bye!” My classmates wave at me as they headed out the school gate. I wave back, wondering how they could walk through the eerie, unlit street. Padre Faura looks like a seedy, deserted alley after the sun sets. Why are there no properly functioning lamp posts? My lips quiver. I start praying again.

I drag my feet towards the gate. The sooner you get out of here, the sooner you get home, I tell myself. Once I am out of the school, I hug my backpack in case of a pickpocket lurking somewhere near. My phone vibrates — a text from my mother.

Anak, hintayin mo ‘ko. Sunduin kita.

Thank God! I sigh. Thank you, Mom, and I love you.

 

Shit.

I curse under my breath as the twentieth person says this is his pre-med. That is exactly half the class.

What am I supposed to tell this people? If I say I won’t be going to med school (yes, I’ve made up my mind and no one can convince me now), they will surely ask what I plan to do then after this. Should I be honest then and say that I took this course because

  1. when I was thirteen, I signed a contract that I cannot afford to breach;
  2. my father, the breadwinner of the family, died this summer so I badly needed the scholarship; and
  3. with the new scholarship, it now makes two contracts.

A person from the row in front of mine stands up. It is almost my turn. Should I lie instead? It is either I say this is my pre-med, too (then years later, say I changed my mind) or I say I have always loved biology because… because…

Actually, I don’t love biology. I don’t even like it. So why am I here, majoring in pre-med biology? Let’s see. I guess this all started when I was about five (or four, I cannot remember exactly).

For Christmas, little Wencey asked for a doctor’s set. Mommy and Daddy were thrilled, she can’t understand why. They never liked it whenever she asks for toys, like the red toy motorbike (she got it anyway — she’s got a good grip) or that life-sized dollhouse (“What do you need it for? You wreck all your dolls anyway.”). Anyway, Santa must have judged her to be good enough that year (he always does, she wonders why) and on Christmas morning, there it was under her sock — a brand-new doctor’s set.

Oh, how much she loved that play set! She immediately put up her own hospital with all their stuffed animals — because her sister would no longer lend her dolls — as patients. She wondered aloud why her “tetscope” doesn’t work and Daddy laughed. Mommy stuck her picture on the yellow identification card and wrote her name on it. It now said she’s a pediatrician. Since then, little Wencey had set herself to be a “petrishun”.

That is, until she was ten and decided that the world needs better teachers (yep, tween Wencey wanted to save the world). She told Mommy this and she said that’s great but didn’t she want to be a doctor? She shrugged. “I don’t know, Mommy. I’m not yet sure.”

Shortly after, she found that tatty, green, hardcover book in Mommy’s old things. It was musty and mildewed and the pages were already brittle. It did not look promising but being extremely bored and having read their entire bookshelf already, she read it. And again when she got bored again. And again. And again until she knew it by heart. It was beginner’s biology.

She aced science that year, all thanks to her old but new friend. She was so happy and she told herself that she loves science, biology in particular. In fact, she considered being a doctor again after Mommy said doctors had to study a great deal about biology. Little did she know then that this was all just but a parallax,  no thanks to the tatty, green, hardcover book.

The person beside me sits down and nudges me. I stand up.

Shit.

**********

“Mag-shift na lang kaya kayo? Baka hindi para sa inyo ang Bio.”

It takes all my strength to keep from crying as I grip my exam paper. On its upper right hand corner is a big 56. Four points short of the passing score. This is supposed to be the easiest exam, being the first. If I have failed this then what more the next ones? Stupid! I curse myself.

I know I am not as smart as most people in here are but I got here because of the strong foundation my mother painstakingly built for me. When I was a kid, she never gave up on me. When I was failing math, she would drill me almost every night until I get it. We stayed up until the wee hours of the morning when I cannot grasp the new lesson. When I have a really important or difficult exam coming up, she would quiz me and make me reviewers to make sure I get high scores. She helps in my projects and practices me for my oral reports, thinking up possible questions and coaching me how to answer them. As a grade schooler, I had a pretty easy life. My mother sure of that. She worked so much for me — more than most mothers would.

But I am no longer a child now and my mother knows that. She wants me to grow up, especially now that adulthood is just a few months away. She wants me to stop complaining and just do the best that I can. But I am not sure I can do this. Even from the start, it does not feel right.

The professor continues to glare at us. Shamed, I look down. He knows I failed. He has branded me as an academic delinquent already and this is just the first exam!

Maybe he is right. Maybe biology is not really the right path for me. Maybe I made a mistake.

But my conscience whispers to me: Shifting is not an option. Right, mistake or not I have no other choice.

This may be a mistake I have to make.

 

The College Playlist: Prologue


This is the 1st of a six-post series.

We both stare at each other, not knowing what to do. I smile at her. She smiles back, weakly.

I look at her and wonder, Who is she? She looks like someone that I used to know but I feel like I don’t know her.

She could have been pretty but there is weariness in her young face. She is too young to wear that face. My heart aches for her. I look at her closely, searching her deep brown eyes. They are impenetrable. I have never seen such eyes before. Never before have I seen such sadness. No, I tell myself, she’s a stranger. You don’t know her.

The stranger stares at me, too. I wonder what she sees. Does she know me? It looks like she does.

She starts crying. I try to console her but I don’t know what to say. She’s a stranger, after all. I smile again, hoping she gets that it means everything will be alright. Again, she smiles back, weakly. Her eyes show that she knows I’m lying. She knows nothing is fine.

I sigh and watch her sob silently. It seems there is nothing more that I can do for her. But I can’t bear to leave her. For we are alone, the girl in the mirror and me.

Be My Muse


I can promise you forever —
yes, I really can!

I can make your beauty immortal,
you youth eternal.

Every man will sing your name,
longing or not, they will all the same.

Every lovesick maiden will know your happy tale,
and they will follow your famous love trail.

Just take my hand and be my muse,
together we have the world to amuse!

The Missing Muse


It is night and the moon is cold,
watching another love poem unfold.
For the poet has come around
but alas! His muse is nowhere to be found!

He turns back then and goes to bed
and dreams of verses left unsaid.

ID-100103030

Neither half-empty nor half-full


“Is it half-empty or half-full?”

The mother asks the little girl as she points to her unfinished glass of water. She wants to teach her child a lesson on hope and optimism.

The girl stares at the glass and giggles.

“You know what, Mommy? That glass needs to be filled.”

I would tell you I had loved you


If we were having coffee,
I would tell you I had loved you.

I would tell you how much I loved
your deep purring voice,
the scent and warmth of your skin,
the softness of your embrace,
the letters you have given me.

But then, I had loved you
for you are no longer that sixteen-year-old boy
and I am no longer that fifteen-year-old girl.
Five years have passed, can you believe it?
We are not the same anymore.
We do not have the same love anymore.

If we were having coffee,
I would tell you I had loved you.
But then, you do not drink coffee.

Oh, how am I supposed to tell you now?

Watch and Tell


She just stands there,
watching.

The people dance.
They hold each other close
and they waltz to their own melodies.
They kick and flick.
They bang their heads.
They shimmy.
She watches.

The people fall in love.
They make out and break up and make up.
They get married and have kids.
Some just get dogs.
They grow old together.
Many others divorce
and get married again.
She watches.

The people cry.
They fight and scream.
They hurt one another
with punches and words.
They betray.
They leave.
She watches.

The people live
but are too drunk to remember.
Then they will all come to her
and their stories she will tell.

For that is what wallflowers do —
they watch.
They remember for all.