Strictly Mine?


Last month, I started a six-part series telling the story of my uneventful college life and how I managed to survive it. I intended to end the series on my graduation day. Now, it has been more than a month since I posted the third part and the fourth is still a shabby first draft.

I can give a handful excuses as to why I could not write it:

  1. reading
  2. getting as much shut-eye as I could to make up for the sleepless nights
  3. watching T.V. because I have not in months
  4. job applications
  5. some more reading

But to be honest, there is just one reason why I cannot proceed to writing it:

Some stories are painful to tell because they are built by memories that we would rather forget.

My junior year in college was the toughest year of my school life that I used to worry so much for my mental health. I got past through it, alive and whole, but thinking about it now opens up a hodgepodge of distasteful emotions that I fought so hard to keep bottled deeply inside all these years. They are just too intimate that I could just not find the right equations to show you how I came to here. It feels like I should not be sharing it because it is strictly mine. But still, a part of me wants to tell it — to unleash the monster that I managed to tame. A part of me wants to say that it is possible to fix your own brokenness, to make yourself whole again — not necessarily the same but whole and new.

Right now, apart from typing this rambling post, I am trying to write it for the nth time — not exactly writing sentences but rather gathering the courage to share a story that I believe is strictly mine. Wish me luck.

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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.