Alex Maskara

Thoughts, Stories, Imagination of Filipino American Alex Maskara

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Four Students



The Very Thought of You

(circa 1998, needs revisions)

My eyes gaze around the apartment. To my left is my window facing a lake, to my right is a sofa merging with lines of fiction books that I accumulated in my seven years of living in America. The books end at the door; the door has a brass knob, the knob is gripped by a hand, the hand is extended to an arm, the arm is attached to a head that reveals a handsome face : dark brown hair, green eyes; I hear the voice of my two year roommate Matt, he is crying.
"I can't go on like this Daniel. For two years, I have compromised and let you have your way. When you asked me to wait because of your many responsibilities, I waited. But there is an end to waiting especially when excuses are stretched into lies. I adore you Daniel. If there is one person I want to befriend, it is always you. But our togetherness is chewing me! It slices me and I can't stand the pain. I am always left with unanswered questions. What will our future be? When I invite you to my friends' parties, you tell me you have more important things to do; when I bring you to the movies, you yawn and fall asleep; when I make love to you... Daniel, what is wrong? Why should I always initiate it? Why can't you drop your fucking inhibitions? Why can't you enjoy life for a while? I know you love me and I am not ugly. I've had a string of romances to boast of. Do you want to feel my superior, prove to yourself you will never succumb to an American? Daniel, I will leave you now. And it breaks my heart to go."
I fix my eyes at him, wondering who he is. Who is he really? I've lived with him in the past two years, shared the same room, slept, woke, showered, went out with him. But who is he? I close my eyes, when will this stop? Why can't I open up? Why can't I scream and say I love you. Why can't I, in my anger, throw the books and plates, or beat him up, or turn this table over, scatter these chairs, throw the telephone against the glass window? I want to do those... Why can't I be brave enough to accept this man whom I love as much as he does me? Why am I afraid? Of what? I fought my way in America, moved from place to place, men and women alike desired me. I've already gained their respect. I work hard as a nurse. I am famous for going beyond the call of duty. It is not a show. Yet, after seven years, I seem to be a stranger to everyone. Even to Matt, the man speaking and crying in front of me now, the one whom I lived with for two fucking years. This man, just like the others, leave me angry, rejected, failed.
Matt turns the knob, opens the door and before leaving says: "Fuck you Daniel." He bangs the door.
I remain immobile, unable to say a word. What shall I say? What shall I say? Should I run after him and ask for forgiveness? Forgiveness for what? Ah, these questions. I stand up in the hollow emptiness of my apartment. The things of Matt, which I'm used to by now, are all gone. I face the lake.
If you were here Bryan, you would laugh at all these and give me the answers. Oh Bryan, where are you? How can I explain to them that I love only you and I never give up on my love? No one can be compared to you...
I sit down and let my tears flow, tears that no one else saw except Bryan.
There are certain images and sights that stay in one's memories, lingering thoughts that cast a shadow on things which were once bright and vivid. Under that shadow, one sees places, people, movements or hear voices chosen selectively. Sometimes, a bright flare twinkles on something, triggering a total recollection like a running movie, played over and over again and every time it does, it acquires a new angle, a new plot, a new emotion.
With the departure of Matt, my memory drifts to a lovely summer fourteen years ago in UP Diliman. This university, to me is distant now, it appears like a movie, I see spots I can no longer name, like an Impressionist painting - two dimensional. Its sounds are reduced to whispers - without meaning, without intent. But these things remain clear: I was sitting on the steps of AS 101 building, mesmerized by a garden, a vast terrain of green, of acacias and narras, well trimmed bougainvilleas and suntans. This garden echoed the muffled footsteps of students whose heads were always bent, carrying brief cases when knapsacks were the fad. I was new and nervous. One of the fraternity boys of Omega kept harassing me into joining his group, I remember his words quite clearly: "No one survives this university without a fraternity, unless you're a fag, in which case, you can join the screaming queens of Tambayan. Look, you are new in UP - muscular, tall, and, I heard you're on a scholarship. You'll be a valuable asset to Omega."
I kept refusing, I repeated to him the by-laws of my scholarship. A fraternity during the eighties had the image of a gang, a scholar had no time for gangster-ism. Once I rebuffed Omega, Beta took over using the same recruitment techniques. After Beta, it was Kappa. The pressure mounted on me so much I was reduced to a solitary, scared entity on the steps of AS 101 building.
T' was the time you noticed me Bryan. You walked to me. I was ready to run away suspecting you as another son of a bitch from another fraternity who would invite, cajole, harass and threaten me into joining.
"Your fly is open," you said with a mocking sneer in your face. I looked down and blushed with embarrassment. I frantically zipped my pants. You were right. As if trying to explain my stupidity, I blurted out. "If these frat boys would just stop making my life miserable, I won't be caught this way."
I said this while you were climbing the steps. Suddenly, you turned around and stared at me. Our eyes locked for a short while. I saw you as a man of Filipino Spanish ancestry, a mestizo, tall, beefy in a Crispa T-shirt, in Levi's stretch jeans which were fashionable then. I will never forget your face - the squared jaw with masseters that pulsated with your heart beats; the elegance of your aristocratic posture, solemn eyes, thick and well defined eyebrows and thin mustache above red lips that appeared to smile. You held a flute in your hand, a briefcase in the other. I recognized you as the AS flutist who always occupied the shade in front of the Registrar's office, surrounded by a crowd of students for whom you played funny and up-dated tunes. I used to think of you as a show-off.
"Who is making your life miserable?" You asked.
"The frat boys," I declined to explicate further. You had the looks of a chancellor of one fraternity and I did not want any friction with anyone. I immediately left. I dismissed the encounter as quickly as I landed on the ground.
You came into mind again in the afternoon as you sprung from behind me, wrapped your arm around my neck and spoke loud, "Hey pal, how's your hang-over?" Addressing the frat boys lurking around me, you added. "This man is mine. He is the wildest boy in town." What a fine way of dismissing them. I was initially stupefied but later, I became thankful to you for saving me. No one bothered me after that. We instantly became pals, or at least, associates in the eyes of the many. But our friendship bloomed into something different, deep yet neither hot nor cold. Was it sick? Was it a child's play? Was it an escape?
Who is this man, I asked myself then.
You moved among students with ease, girls pinched each others, ogling and giggling in watching you as you walked from your car, to the university corridors and hallways, up to your classroom. You got away with so many things. You had a unique way of hiding your secrets.
Far from being the good-boy-next-door, you defied all norms and conventionalities. You swore no allegiance to any fraternity although each considered you its honorary member. You appeared to be the epitome of the elite, the classiest of all classy persons, but during our friendship, you showed me the forbidden places where the downtrodden lived, which no respectable UP student dared to tread. You occupied the best places in the latest discos and bars of Manila, yet, you taught me how to gobble the balut and lugaw offered in the ramshackle stands along the sidewalks of Quiapo. You were full of contradictions, Bryan.
The magnitude of your confidence equaled the magnitude of my shyness. In ROTC, you belonged to the elite Fighter squad. I was delegated to the lowly privates of battalion Delta. I was the squad leader, reluctantly, because I was the tallest and I had no choice. One Saturday, our battalion commander left the field to answer a phone call, and in haste, ordered me to take over. He ordered me to put the battalion at ease. All I needed was give a very simple command. Move my head from left to right while shouting Handa rap! My voice faltered midway - from bass Handa to a silent rap. The battalion burst into laughter. I stood despairing, all by myself in front, searching for someone to rescue me. I was near tears though I pretended to be tough. I saw you Bryan, standing from the shaky crowd, looking at me, as embarrassed as I was. You too seemed helpless to help me. After our formation was dismantled, I ran to the bathroom before anyone else. I wanted to hide until everyone was gone. You followed me. Once inside I began to cuss at myself. You pulled me by my neck and squeezed my breast until it hurt. You kissed me in the mouth. When we heard footsteps coming, we pushed each other away. You whispered, "I'll see you later." You walked out as briskly as you walked in, leaving me with a different sensation. Your split-second gesture would be played in my mind over and over again.
The following Monday, as our paths crossed, you handed me the book Noli Me Tangere. In the library, I found a note tucked inside its cover telling me to meet you in Cubao at seven that evening. I raised my head and found you sitting on the opposite corner of the large room, pretending to read, your legs were propped up on the table. You looked at me with teasing eyes.
Yes, I went to Cubao. The tropical heat of Manila was at its peak, I walked among malls and buildings : National, COD, Farmers', Ali Mall. Cars started spilling out of parking lots, the traffic became heavy. When I did not see you by eight o'clock, I suspected a prank. I hurried to take a ride back to the dormitory. I waited in front of a stall that was selling chicken and fish entrails and burned corn cubs for a jeepney that plied the route Cubao-Philcoa. Your car pulled over in front of me. "Hop in," you beckoned. I felt a mixed curiosity and excitement, a feeling I would no longer be able to capture again. Your sexually charged, secretive invitation was new to me. I knew since high-school I had feelings toward men but I did not act on it. Your kiss was my first, and after it, I wanted more. You offered me too much risk which lured and seduced me more. You were full of sureness, a frightening confidence, as someone who was used to this type of meetings - you led the way, you initiated things. When I was inside your car and stared at your face, I fell under your spell.
Inside the car, you tickled my ear and stroked my thigh, it made me crazy. We drove all the way to Luneta and parked the car in front of Grandstand, close to Manila Bay. We took a stroll. A couple approached us with whom you spoke with ease and familiarity. You gave them eight hundred pesos. Which made me wonder what you all were up to. We followed them to a shack not far from the CCP reclamation area. Inside the shack, my eyes widened in disbelief. The couple took off their clothes and made love in front of us. It was sick by any measure but it was such a lovely sickness - and fair. Two people gave pleasure to one another and were paid for it.
The only difference was our eyes that watched.
When it was over and we were walking back to the Grandstand, I could not help but question you.
"Don't give me that look," you said defensively. "What is wrong with what we did?"
Something was wrong, I was sure of that, but at our young age, I could not exactly word it. Immorality was spelt at the back of my mind, I was an accomplice. When you voiced your reason, it was totally out of this world. For the first time, I saw your life's contradictions.
The soft breeze coming from Manila Bay seemed to accompany the heat of your voice. "I gave this people a justification for their existence. Did you see the pride in their eyes when they received the sum? They did not resort to mendicancy and I was not an alms-giver. They bartered with us by revealing their intimacy, their doings in the privacy of their room. What occurred between the four of us was business, and despite the smell of evil and sin, it was mutually beneficial."
I walked alongside you with my head bowed, feeling ashamed, not because of what I've witnessed, not because of your reasoning, it was because of the libido rising in me. I wanted sex. Badly. Yet, I could not utter it.
You parked the car at the back of Congress and under a tree surrounded by bushes, we made love. I'd never forget that.
Looking back, I'm inclined to conclude that as kids, we both found a game. Pleasurable as long as we played it hidden from the eyes of the world.
We repeated this forbidden love in most unexpected places. And in every encounter, my love was renewed, my attachment to you got deeper. When no one looked, you signaled me to see you again. We would find ourselves in Quezon City Memorial, in Philcoa, in the hidden gardens of UP where many a virginity got lost and lives were curtailed.
And then, there was Manila Bay sunset, we balanced our feet on top of the rocks and sat contentedly while the sun descended in full gold. I will never forget your face rendered orange as you stared at me, you were silent but your eyes spoke, laughed, and loved.
On Friday nights, we gulped San Miguel in Music Box and took the zombies of Tia Maria.
You had an attachment to strange and risky situations. If we found ourselves alone, in the Cafeteria, Tambayan, Shopping Center, or bathrooms, you'd always grab me and kiss me and caress me and I loved it. The nature of hiding and the risk of being found made everything so beautiful.
Beneath our manly walks, inside military fatigues, or casual clothes, carrying briefcases, watching women or in my case, pretending to watch and admire women, it puzzled me how you could make love to both men and women. How many calling cards and napkins with telephone numbers were dropped in your pockets by women whom you pursued and made love with? As passionately as you made love with me. I ignored it, though I wondered if other men did that to you, but I, being good in pretensions managed to hide my jealousy.
Because I had another life, a life of running and swimming, a life embattled with misery. I swam and ran almost everyday, until people praised my legs and speed, until I placed third in the Manila Marathon. I indulged in those sports to forget the poverty of my family. You could tell through my worn, hand- me- down clothes, you could tell from my soles full of holes. My mother was sick then, and instead of asking for my allowance to supplement my scholarship, I'd sell a few paperbacks in Recto to come up with money for food and then I'd run, and then I'd swim. Until my body would fatigue and surrender to the bliss of sleep. In the end, you caught me with tears in my eyes, I confessed my poverty. I feared that my humiliation would drive you away and prepared myself for that eventuality. Your friendship became more intense instead, and you started regaling me with the extra money I needed.
I never told you Bryan how I hated you helping me out - for I felt like a hustler, a whore - an eternally indebted inferior of yours. By taking the money you offered I was basically selling myself to you. I did not falter in letting you do to me what you've wanted to do and I followed wherever you bid me go.
You defined me as your sidekick, which really meant slavery. It was the only slavery I loved and cared for. As your sidekick, I began to see you, poke the very insides of your thoughts. You brought me to places I never saw before.
Your philosophy had changed, took so many directions. You showed me the homeless Manila street children, both of us would follow them, but would do nothing when tourists picked them up. The sight of their tragedy, filled you with remorse and under that spirit, you'd tackle me, wrestle me, tear my shirt, beat me up and make love to me - releasing your anger through me.
I, your perennial inferior, would enjoy it all, as we both committed our bodies to the language of love and lust. I would watch sweat form on your forehead, as the waves of your shiny hair would get entangled with my perspiration, and as your eyes, ferocious eyes, would openly watch my face. I'd lock my eyes with yours, observe with lust your pulsating jaw muscles, listen to the nasal wheezing tempo of your breath, and upon reaching your peak, I'd let you embrace me like a pillow, smack and bite my lips as you release your cry. Of agony and ecstasy.
Sometimes you'd lead me along the corridors of PGH, where your grandfather used to practice Medicine. We'd wander along, listening to the cries of mothers wailing for their dying children or fathers who begged doctors to extend their lives. I would see you standing there, beside those rooms, your face angry, saying no word to me. Afterwards, you'd ask me inside your car and put you in my mouth - yes, I was more than willing to oblige.
I asked you once why you let me be part of your horniness, you've got women. You answered me with a face as puzzled as mine - we both had no answers. We were kids exploring the avenues of desire in a web of the unexplainable. You were a bisexual - a term unknown in our circle at that time - laughingly, we theorized it as a disorder of insatiable sex appetite on anything that had a sex organ.
Terms passed and I fell in love with you more and more. Especially on the night when we were together the last time. The extent of your personality- disordered or not- was fully revealed. That was the night I learned all about your secrets, your weapons. You led a double life like my self. A life in Bacolod, from a family of noted wealth associated with the Marcoses and a rebel's life in UP associated with the Communists. I remember the other two men in the group that met with us in Mt Arayat. They were as young as we were, full of ideas and ideologies, whose parents like ours didn't know the exclusive and dangerous game we were venturing into. We came together to form our separate world. You brought me and your flute, leading the group in making decisions that were were critical and risky. You wanted to coordinate leftist students with the NPAs in anticipation of the Philippine government demise brought in by the death of Senator Aquino and fall of Marcos.
In the bosom of Mt Arayat, I felt grateful to you for letting me peek into your world, or many worlds which you kept as far apart as possible. Or, was I the thread that strung your worlds together? The totality of your being...You were always angry Bryan, that I could tell. And guilty, that I could feel. At one point, while we ate the half grilled chicken we cooked, you took only a small bite, you stared at the black space that enveloped the mountain. I asked what you were thinking. You wrapped your arm around mine, stroke it gently when the other two guys were not looking, as if in doing this, you relieved your pains. You whispered, "I am ashamed of my father - how can he keep his friendship with the Marcoses while the whole country is being torn apart, while the population is starving to death?" As you looked at me, who was eating the chicken hungrily, your eyes swelled with tears. You could not bear my starved existence yet you wanted me beside you. Like a reminder of the magnitude of your wealth and the magnitude of my poverty.
Ah, that night. A night I wanted to last forever. It was divine and natural. Our movements were as if choreographed by the gods on earth. It was a night when the moon and stars took their delight on us.
We excused ourselves and left the tent to hike and climb the peak of Arayat. It was dark and lovely. The landscape of the mountain was dotted by nipa huts lighted by kerosene lamps. The Aetas owned the huts. We paused to watch their naked children spread the leather skins of carabaos atop hot coals, where they laid down warmly in their sleeps. They bowed their heads upon seeing us. What pleasure it was - walking alongside you, hearing the echoes of wind that smashed against the mountain walls and peak, the murmurs of leaves, the chirps of crickets, the sudden scampering of forest animals. I jumped in freight at the rattling of a snake , flight of disturbed bats, bright eyes of an owl , shaking of a salamander. My skin felt the warmth of steam arising out of boiling mud. We took our clothes off and jumped in the tepid water of a hot spring.
Upon a rock, hidden beneath giant ferns, banana and bamboo and papaya trees, surrounded by wild orchids perked on tree trunks, we made love.
Until we noticed two eyes watching us. We panicked in shame and retreated. The eyes belonged to an old Aeta, on his way home after scavenging the forest of dried fire woods. We apologized. That old Aeta, barely four feet tall, giggled, revealing his chipped teeth, reddened by betel nuts. He spoke words which I would cherish forever.
"What are you apologizing for?" He asked between giggles.
We explained that it was indecent for two men to make love.
He looked at us with puzzlement, wondering probably what we meant by indecency. His face adapted a serious countenance, like an old sage. Through his words, it dawned on us that the laws of the mountains were different from those of the plains.
For he did not care. In the mountains, he said , they have only three concerns - fire to cook and keep warm, salt to preserve the hunts, a shelter to keep elements away. What is wrong between two men making love? He was used to seeing a rooster ran after another rooster in heat, a wild boar on top of another of the same sex, female snakes wrapping each other . What makes man different from the other creatures of earth?
We both sighed with relief. True relief. In that very instant, we saw a different world, different existence, different nature, different civilization.
We watched him walk away from us, but before he vanished, I remember you running after him, offering your Crispa T- shirt. It would keep him warm at least for the night. He bowed and giggled and left with it.
We took our leave. You walked ahead of me, in your usual Levi's without a shirt. I fixed my eyes on you, I wanted to pull you back and tell you to stop and stay with me, in there, forever. Forever. But you felt so free that night, you raised your head up to the sky, as if conversing with the moon. Your skin glowed, your hair shone in wetness, your lips acquired a smile, it was a real smile. We walked together hand in hand. For the last time.
I don't know the exact day or exact moment when we last met. You pulled out your wallet and handed me a hundred bill ( giving me money became a habit to you even when I did not need it anymore). In addition to this, you pulled a five peso bill and tore it to halves, an imitation of the series North and South, where two West Point cadets tore a dollar bill promising to meet someday to make it whole again. That was before the Civil War, before they became enemies. We laughed at the silliness of it.
We stood at the fourth floor of AS 101 building. I should have been more keenly aware then. I should have asked. Why despite our laughter, sadness was written on your face. Why you seemed undecided in turning your back from me. Why you seemed tired. I don't want to recall the other details of that day between us, I am full of regrets until this day. The only things I want to remember were your eyes, your beautiful face, your elegant walk, your hair waving with the soft blows of summer winds. I want to remember the garden of UP - the greens, the flowers, the muffled footsteps of students. I want to remember myself holding on the metal rail, looking at the majestic edifice of the library, and the Oblation - figure of a naked man with outstretched arms toward the sky as if receiving liberty and happiness from God.
I did not see you again.
Your family in Bacolod had circulated news that you got a woman pregnant. Later on, they said you were sent to London to study. But the rumors of the underground did not escape my ears. One night, it was whispered, you and your rebel group were caught in the mountains of Quezon and were summarily executed. Your family, to protect its Marcos association and its aristocratic name betrayed you by disowning your name, your very existence. After that, I did not want to hear anything about you anymore. I tried to preserve myself and sanity by running away. I pursued a Nursing degree and worked with the street children. I traveled from island to island and met with as many Filipinos as I could meet. I took a plane to America and worked from state to state. In LA, I made love with a Greek and a Bulgarian. In New York, I made love with an Italian and Puerto Rican. In Midwest, I made love with a Yankee and a Redneck. In Washington DC, I made love with an African- American. In San Francisco, I made love with a Chinese American.
In Orlando, I lived with Matt for two years and now, he, like the rest has left me. They would never understand me. I would never be able to give them what they wanted.
They'd never understand why I can't make love while the lights are on, why I close the blinds tightly, afraid of any unwanted sound. Why I still close my eyes in the dark. Why in the middle of love making, I suddenly turn cold, un-responding. I stopped making love since months ago, the main reason why Matt has left me. I'd rather not commit myself on bed when every time I do it, I see my lover sitting on the side of my bed holding my hands and murmuring - Is it me? Am I not good? You don't want me, eh? Common, tell me what you want? You probably need a woman. Are you bi? Are you gay?
I cannot come up with words to explain. You see Bryan, fourteen years ago, you gave me the true gift of love. It was a gift I kept hidden and refused to share. It is like half of the five peso bill you gave me, kept inside my wallet hoping one day you'd return to make it whole again.
Oh how I tried to bury you in my past, but how can I? Even if I do, certain sights and sounds refuse to forget you. At nights, I keep my room dark; I lock my door and windows . I pull down all curtains and blinds. I close my eyes to drive away the shadow of the synthetic wall flowers in my apartment, made in Singapore. I turn my head away from the coffee table made of polished wood from China. I hear the sound of air-conditioning made in the US. When making love, I am always reminded and disgusted with automatic things: where the air can be modulated with the turning of a thermostat regulator. You alone Bryan made all things natural to me.
How can I forget you? For fourteen years, in my nights, the rays of the moon have managed to penetrate my room through cracks and slits and holes I've forgotten to cover. Its beam slices through and drops on my floor or ceiling or wall. That is all I need to remember you. If it is not the moon, it is the gentle rains tapping on the roof or the window, or the croaking of frogs, the howling of a dog, the sudden flapping of a bird, the crying of night animals crawling in city streets, deprived of a home in the jungle. Any of these would resurrect you in my mind. Somehow, I forget myself or anyone laying beside me and fly away in the bosom of your memory - that picture of our last night together - where you stood under the starry sky, amidst the steam of boiling mud, your hair shining in its wetness, your skin glow under the forest, your lips parted into a smile. It is you, Bryan who I ran away from, yet it is you who I chase after... the very thought of you
2022-11-07 01:36:52

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