Monday, 28 January 2013

empty chairs & empty tables

Death was some sort of a background music that threaded through my weekend.

It started on Friday morning when a friend and I had a psychological discussion about his fear of dying.  I have known about this for some time now but it was only during our talk that I understood how painfully consuming it could be for him.

Later that day I received the horrible news about the death of a friend back in Manila.  A gunman killed him outside his home.  It was painful and difficult to accept that I will never see him again.  I am still processing his death, crestfallen for the beautiful wife he left behind.

How can someone be so petrified of dying when it’s the death of people you love and care for that seems to be more frightening and agonizing?

My friend Mar and I saw Les Miserables on Saturday night.  I’ve read the book, seen 2 movie versions and experienced the musicale 3 times.  I know the story, the characters and Cameron Macintosh’s lyrics.  Almost everyone dies in the end.  No surprise there.

But when Eponine, the universal symbol of unrequited love, dies in Marius’ arms and in her last breath manages to utter that she is finally happy, sleeping in his arms at last.. How sad is that?  Is death a better alternative to a life of misery and despair? 

On Sunday night on Downton Abbey, Lady Sybil dies due to childbirth complications. I did not see that coming.  (Apologies for the spoiler to readers who have not started Season 3.) Why Downton creator Julian Fellows opted to kill off this beautiful character whose heart is full of love and kindness is a mystery to me.  And because I ridiculously involve myself with tv characters and plots, I grieved for her poor mother.

I was in 5th grade when I was diagnosed with first stage Leukemia.  True story.  While my parents made heroic efforts to hide this from me, it was my sister, who casually told me while eating a bag of potato chips, that I was sick and was going to die soon. A normal 10 year old would most likely burst in tears and panic. I, however, did not get scared.  

I went to my room and I picked out my favorite dress. A lacey number with flowery prints.  I put it on, combed my hair and positioned myself on top of my bed.  I put my hands together over my belly and closed my eyes.  I pretended I was in a coffin and practiced being dead.

It seems macabre for a 10 year old.  I don’t know why I reacted the way I did.  I remember it with fondness, though, like a Wes Anderson movie.  But it is how I feel about death even to this day.  I am not terrified of it.  Maybe because deep down I believe in afterlife and I get to be the daughter of Remington Steele in my next life, the way I daydreamed as a kid every time I witnessed my parents fight.  Maybe death in my head was the portal to peace and happiness. Or  maybe because when I die I honestly think I’ll be able to fly, be a ghost and scare all those people who were mean to me.

Perhaps the way I am with relationships and airports is the same way I am with my own life.  I would rather be the one leaving.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

my friend, Jose


Jose greets me with his beaming braces-filled toothy smile and glistening chinky eyes as I walk in the HSBC Recovery and Fraud department, plopping my purse and lunch bag on my desk, directly across from his.  It’s a Monday and I’m dreading another week of drudge and angry negligent clients.

“The hell are you happy about, asshole?” I growl at him.

His grin widens.  “Oooh.  Somebody did not get cock this weekend!” saying it like a whispered song and simultaneously points both his index fingers at me. 

This encapsulates my friendship with Jose.  It was the mid-90's.  We were both hired by the bank at the same time and assigned to the same post, which we both hated but valued it as an essential foot in the door.  We immediately realized we had the same penchant for dark, perverted humor and instantly became buddies.

In an organization that had stiff, conservative culture, we acted like kindergarten playmates, talking to each other with obscene language like fraternity brothers.  We were relentless with our banter.  As he endlessly teased me about my weight and my breasts, I repeatedly made racist comments about his Chinese heritage.   These vulgarities never fazed us though.  It was for comic effect, for our own demented kind of amusement.

Over lunch, we would openly talk about sex and unsuspecting co-workers we would gladly do it with.  It was a vile and immature game that never grew old with us.  Whatever disgusting topic we talked about, we always ended up bursting in uncontrollable laughter.  Our friends were privy to this crude behavior that was the ironic basis of our respect and fondness for each other.

“We should get drunk and get stoned at my house this weekend.”  He suggested one Friday. 

Neither of us had weed nor alcohol when I got to his place.  We both weren't potheads nor big drinkers, and I just assumed that he had the goods since he did the invite. Bastard. We ended up ordering pizza with Diet Coke, watching Pretty Woman on his laser disc player (!!). Some rock 'n roll night.

As we discussed Vivian’s black leatherette boots in the opening scene of the movie, our conversation somehow segued to countries Jose said he wanted to visit as a single man.  He began talking about his family, career plans he intended to pursue and a girl at work that he secretly liked but he was too shy to make the first move.  It was a great opening for a solid insult, but I kept my mouth shut and listened. 

I confided to him boyfriend problems I was embarrassed to tell my girlfriends.  We talked about marriage, our parents and our opposing views on religion.  We acted like co-dependent friends comforting each other as we revealed our fears and life concerns minus our usual profanities and put downs.  Oddly enough, without being drunk nor high, we let each other see our human side.

We were our usual crass selves as soon as we got back to work. Within months, we eventually moved to different departments, but we remained very good friends and kept out-smarting each other with our lewd jokes and insults when we saw each other at social events or even business meetings.

Jose eventually found the courage to ask the girl out and after a few years of dating, they were engaged.  And he and I found time to get together again and talk over dinner.

Bebsy:  You honestly think I’ll ever be married?
Jose:    I don't think I want to see you settled down. The world needs to 
experience you. If you do, tho, it has to be someone who makes you laugh, Bebs.  Make sure he has your sense of humor. Because his penis will eventually wilt and die.  And in the end, all you’ll have is humor.
Bebsy:  Well your penis is already wilted and dead.  And you're not funny.  You have to let Lyn go.

Jose:    You know what I really want to see?  You with children.  Oh God.  Those poor kids... I wonder how you'll be when you're 40?  You'll probably be all crafty and shit.
Bebsy:  Ugh.  I don’t want to reach 40.  That’s seriously old.  And I don’t think I’ll have kids. I'll be a God awful mother!
Jose:    Yah. Motherhood? Not for you, man.  And yes. I’d hate to be friggin' 40. 

I flew back to Manila for my birthday last March, 14 years after that conversation with Jose.  I had not been in touch with him since because of his refusal to join the Facebook bandwagon, but we knew how each other was doing through common friends. He would always say that he was happy to know I'm alive and well.

He missed my birthday celebration because of an out of town business trip but vowed that we would see each other this year as he was very keen on meeting the kind of children I’ve raised and needed to verify that my husband, is in fact, not a figment of my imagination. 

Jose died last week.  While driving home, he was shot in the chest by a business rival. Chinese mafia related.  He would’ve been 40 next year. 

I received the news through a friend 2 days ago.  I stared at my phone in shock and struggled to process her text message. As I write this, I still find it difficult to accept that I will no longer see him, waste time with crude, immature talk and prove to him that I actually turned out to be a not-so-bad mother.

Our friend Dax sent a message bearing the same news. It began with a greeting that was achingly familiar. “Capoool!!!
rest in peace, my sweet.

I turned off my phone and wept.  

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

the true meaning of christmas, ya'll

Lucas (6) receives a $100 cheque from his Godfather for Christmas and shows it off to his sister Sofia (8).

Lucas:  (waves the cheque)I got a 100 dollars!  I got a 100 dollars! I got a 100 dollars!

Sofia:  (looks up from her book) Ahh Lucas, for your information, Christmas is about the love of your family and the love you share.  It's about being together during this season. Not the money you get from people.

Me:     (rolls eyes)

Lucas:  (looks at me and mouths..) What a loser!

She did not get that from me.  His reaction, however, is a totally different story.