I find myself consumed on the situation I am in right now. I seem to be laying, dead-spread in the intimate sandy shore of this resort called “La Isla Bonita” somewhere in the French Polynesian islands. Brandon Boyd is singing in the background, more like singing directly to my ears through my Ipod. After shuffling and reshuffling my summer playlist I have finally found the perfect song for this wonderful affair, a breathtaking spread right in front of me. “I dig my toes into the sand, the ocean looks like a thousand diamonds strewn across a blue blanket.” Apparently I am, as of the time being, digging my toes unto the sand. The sand is glorious as much as how it feels; it’s as white as the clouds up in the sky. It’s so warm but it’s the kind of warmth you want to feel, it’s the odds are on me now. Sun shining, waves crashing, seems like a dream, huh? I don’t blame you if you don’t believe me. But I do believe this made you think of me even for just a little bit. “I lean against the wind, pretend that I am weightless, and in this moment I am happy.” I am happy… I am so happy that I even wrote this letter for you in my mind. Now, I’m finally letting you go, I am finally setting you free and now, I am finally and permanently erasing you from my memories. Ciao, gago! “I wish you were here…” no, I absolutely do NOT.
Six years ago I was the innocent, know-nothing-about-love girl. Naivety seemed to be my forte. But I was very much unaware of the fact that I was that gullible before. I was twenty and three years old and it was the first time I sat foot in the big city of Manila. Yes, you can call me the quintessential probinsyana, dalagang bukid or the female hillbilly from Bukidnon. I was offered a job in the big city as a features editor in an entertainment magazine. I had no idea in this industry, especially with the people comprising the Philippine show business. But why did I take the job? I took the job because I wanted an adventure, I wanted new experiences in a new place, meet new friends and seek opportunities for my talent. You see, I did have something in me that I was proud of and that was the fact that I was good in writing essays and insights about the worldly phenomenon, about real news and things that mattered to me. I wanted to have investigative work or maybe write the greatest exposé of the year. Being the features editor was a good start for me. Throughout my job I met famous socialites, celebrities, movie directors and all the who’s who of the Philippine show business. Still three months on the job and I was having a tremendous time. But I never foresaw the tragedy that came after. She became my friend. And now, she is nothing to me. But wait, we’re talking about me and you, right? You came, you saw, you conquered. But that was not the end of it--- you broke me and then you killed me, figuratively. Maybe even after that you tried to eat me alive. You were the perfect gentleman, you made me believe that you were actually crazy about me, and without a doubt I quickly fell for your tricks. You treated me like a queen—you took me to some fancy restaurants, sent me bunch of flowers at work and even found the time to text me during your busiest schedules. But I knew from the start that there was something wrong with this, what did you want me for? You were perfectly eligible and there are a lot of women in line for you, but why the hell me? I was too caught up in the thoughts of puppy love that I didn’t have the time to think about this perplexing thought. It was profound how quickly I fell for you; you were not difficult to love from the start. We had good times and even great times, at once I thought we were the happiest couple and I, the luckiest girl in the world. I finally had someone wrapped around my stout fingers. And now I think it was the other way around. Then you said you loved me, and I believed you and I still believe until now that you did… until you met her. I did not notice at that time that you were slowly, gradually changing and our sweet downfall was aggravated by our busy schedules and our contradicting personalities. She and I were the closest in the office and I was even excited to introduce her to you. Okay, I’ll cut the crap and say her name out loud. Sara was a very close friend to me; it was like whenever I was in distress she would be the one to fight for me. After all, isn’t her being palaban the quality that attracted you most to her? After all those weeks of being far from each other due to your business travel to Cebu, you called me up and told me you were arriving in Manila and that you’ll be in the last flight. You wanted to talk to me, so we decided to have dinner together that night. It was the fourteenth of February, Valentine’s Day, and I wondered what surprise you were going to give me. Since you sounded quite serious in the phone earlier, I had the wildest thought that you were actually going to propose to me that night. So I foolishly dressed myself up like a doll to look good for that moment. I made sure I was in my best appearance and in my best condition. We were already dating for eleven months after all, so don’t blame me if I thought things that way. We had dinner at our favorite restaurant and we had our usual. And then suddenly, while I was still chewing the last bits of my maki, you blurted in your most condescending manner that you were breaking up on me. BREAKING UP WITH ME? I lost all my senses, even my gag reflex, for one second and then I gained it back. That was when all of my senses went back to my body; unfortunately my gag reflex came in first. Do you know how humiliating it is to find yourself choking on a half share of maki in front of the posh-iest people in the city? You didn’t even understand why I couldn’t respond to your declaration, you even said “please say something” a few times before you comprehended the idea of me choking to death right in front of you. Lucky for me one of the people seated in the table behind us knew how to do the Heimlich. This is the exact moment where I decided I will never, ever forgive you in my entire life. For weeks after the break-up, I walked around in the city like a zombie from Resident Evil. I was clinically depressed to the point where I cried myself to sleep every night. Sara was there to the rescue, she was the one who took care of me and told me that I had to be strong. I didn’t know that at that moment she was lying to me, that you were already intimate with each other for four months in the making. Then, she mysteriously told me she was moving to a different magazine up north in the city and that she was moving. I was devastated, I lost you and I was about to lose my only close friend in the city. So for another six months at work I carried on like I did before and put all my heart into my writing. I submitted article after article about politics in the Inquirer, Newsweek and even Times but to no avail I was still not offered a job from the best of the best. But you know me, I still carried on and on and on… until I heard the strangest news from a friend of a friend—you were actually getting married. At first I couldn’t believe it but then I knew you, I understood you perfectly: you were downright impulsive. In fact, your impulsivity just ran in your arteries and veins and it just hit you brain. I wanted to see this intriguing gesture right before my very eyes. I wanted to see the woman you fooled and was too naïve to have been fooled. So gate crashed your wedding but of course without you knowing. I slipped right into the bride’s room and to my greatest, unexpected surprise, your bride was none other than my ex-friend Sara. I was baffled, bewildered, confused and most of all astonished. I wanted clarity at that instant. Sara insincerely apologized and tried to explain why she ended up being your bride. She said that what you had for each other was love, that you were both sorry that I was a casualty in your account, that I was made foolish by both of you and that I did not know. Speechless, tears ran down my cheeks and anger roared inside me. I could not suppress it anymore, so I slapped her real hard. And I thought that wasn’t enough, so I slapped her again.
For the next months I vowed to myself that I must not think about you and Sara ever again. I threw myself into writing article after article, painstakingly submitting it to all the magazines that I know who published political articles. I even wrote an article about what a heartless bastard you were and it was even published in Cosmopolitan just days after. And then one day, salvation came like dust in the wind. It was Oprah in the telly and she was talking about complete reinvention after the hurricane Katrina. She was giving a chance of some of the devastated families to start over again, and maybe enhance what was then and bring it back to what was now. At the end of the episode I did not notice that I was crying so much that my handkerchief was soaked. After days of thinking about what Oprah said, I realized that her words were not only a message to those who were affected by the hurricane; it was also directed to me. I have to reinvent myself and start anew. I just could not continue living like a heartsick loner who’s caught up in the past, I had to be strong for myself and only for myself alone. And so the impossible mission commenced just three months after your marriage. I went into my very own self-improvement mission. At first I did not know where to start, I knew what I had to do but I was confused on where to start first. My looks? My brains? My career? Or in a bigger picture, my life? So, I went back to the basics: shopping. I have always loved shopping for new things even though I was not at all that trendy. I always felt good while shopping, it was like an orgasmic experience for me and that all of my good hormones were shooting the hoops like crazy. So I bought new clothes, bags and shoes… what’s next? I wrote new political articles in a personal point of view, that made them a little light-hearted compared to the angst-driven articles I wrote in the past. I did not lose hope, I submitted my articles to any magazine that would want my words to be published in their wonderful, insightful and glossy pages. I read new books and re-ignited the lost romantic in me by reading Shakespeare, Austen, Byron and Keats over again and at the same time feed the inner temples of my cognition by reading Clavell, Crichton and Rushdie. I cut my hair into a sharp bob and walked straight with my head held up high—just like an independent woman. It was hard for me to decide whether I should let go of my job in the entertainment magazine or to retain it. There was no definite future for me in entertainment and in all honesty I have little tolerance with it. I think it was fate that brought me to decide to find a new adventure. So, I quit my job and went back to my parents in Bukidnon. I think at that moment I didn’t know what I was doing, what I only knew was that it felt right, it felt so damn right.
I volunteered as a doctor’s assistant in Doctors without Borders in collaboration with the United Nations. Can you believe it? Me? Volunteering? Just when I was about to become a whole new polished woman, I detoured to being a volunteer. So for three months I was stationed at the jungles of Thailand and trained under the supervision of the head nurse of the unit. It was really a hard life. The living condition was less than the minimum and what’s worse was that there was always a threat to our lives since there was a war going on in the region. We moved from place to place, hours became days, days became weeks and weeks became months. After the training, I was given the ‘go’ signal to be a doctor’s assistant and they were going to fly me to Cambodia. I was to work under Dr. Caleb Desrouleux. At that time, I’ve always imagined him to be in his late forties, possibly balding and sporting a french accent. Little did I know I was going to be his assistant. After six months of working in the rural regions of untamed Cambodia, I discovered that Dr. Desrouleux was not a balding, forty-something year old French man, he was a thirty year old French-Canadian who, in fact, was not balding but has rich, thick chestnut hair. He was very much a great doctor who was as accommodating to his patients as he was to his colleagues. For the six months that the team was together, all six of us: Dr. Caleb, Dan: our statistics head, Lara: my very close friend and my fellow doctor’s assistant, Father Petrucci, Sister Maria and I became really close, almost like a real family. During the days when work wasn’t demanded as much and medical supplies were still awaited to be sent or dropped off, I resorted to writing memories of my experiences in Thailand and Cambodia in a cheap notebook and a pen that I borrowed from Dan. It was very much different from writing in my laptop, the words were raw and very much fresh and every single thought that passed through my mind ended up in the notebook. There was a time when the team was given the opportunity to go to Phnom Penh to reconnect to civilization for three days. We bought everything that we could buy through our allowances and I even had the opportunity to log on to the internet. It took me a couple of hours to type everything that was in my notebook in case I’d lose it and I hit ‘send’ to the magazines that I was vouching for future employment. I was really hoping people would be able to know how much suffering there is in this world, and that I was a part of it. I was hoping that more people would be aware of this project and help us in helping refugees in these devastated parts of several countries to own up to it and stand up again. The last month of our stay in Cambodia was quite heartrending for us since we knew we were each going our separate ways after that. And on our last week, Dr. Caleb and I grew closer through our conversations about our lives before this project and the probable future ahead of us, whether or not we’ll be able to come back and volunteer. I discovered that he was a graduate of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and graduated top of his class. His family was in business for which he vaguely gave description on. He has two older brothers-- one was an architect and the other a business tycoon. He was born in Canada but was raised in New York. Before he volunteered, he was a first year resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital and lived a pretty normal life. He has been with ‘DWB’ for the past two years and has been to Ethiopia, Colombia, Haiti, Nepal and Cambodia on refugee missions. He was nearly shot by a guerilla rebel back in Ethiopia. Then I asked him what drove him to volunteer for Doctors without Borders, he told me it was because of a break-up. Ironic, huh? His response just made me laugh throughout our conversation. Apparently, he got his heart broken when his girlfriend left him for another man, and that man was a friend of his. His volunteerism was a way for him to start a new life and set the right priorities straight. Double ironic!
At our last day, Dr. Caleb told me he wanted to visit me in the Philippines and that he wanted me to join him and the team in the next project.
While I was still walking towards the little road leading to our house in Bukidnon, I couldn’t shake off the last words Dr. Caleb told me while we were in the international airport in Phnom Penh: “I like you very, very much and would like to court you properly.” Whaaaaaaaat? Ang haba ng hair mo, dai! Throughout my flight from Cambodia to Manila and Manila to Cagayan de Oro and my bus ride from Cagayan de Oro to Bukidnon, I tried to decipher what he meant by his words. Did he really mean it? Maybe I was just having the yips or maybe I was just having one of those auditory hallucinations that women get when their estrogen shoot up. Or maybe, just maybe, there were no hidden meanings, he meant what he said. He told me to email him with my decision. I just can’t wait to arrive home and go online, STAT! Amidst the terrible jetlag I was having, I still had the energy to entertain my parents and my younger brother through my stories and experiences in Thailand and Cambodia. I told them how I loved my work so much that maybe I would come back and volunteer again. I even had the strength to take a bath and freshen up. But by the time I was fully and freshly clothed; I could not resist the temptation of my bed and just snoozed off. By the time I woke up, it was already four in the morning. I was the only one who was awake. I took my laptop in the kitchen counter and turned it on and immediately started writing my reply to Dr. Caleb or Caleb or mutual admirer or future boyfriend or future husband… so yeah my mind trailed off for a while until a second later I regained my status and really started typing down the words that I have practiced reciting in my head for the whole travel from Cambodia to my home. I told him that yes, I really liked him too and that I would permit to court me if that was what he wanted. I even told him that he was welcome to come visit me in Bukidnon whenever he wanted. And if ever I was given the opportunity to renew my contract in the United Nations, I would very much oblige. After hitting the ‘send’ button, I went around our living room and spotted a stack of mail. Just checking, I flicked on each envelope until I saw the envelope I was waiting for my whole life.
So, why am I telling this to you? Well, this is just a way for me to put a closure on our pseudo-relationship in the past. I saw Sara just the other week in Manila and it seems that you have a beautiful daughter. When I saw her, I thought all the rage in the world was going to drop on me, but I was wrong. I was glad to see her and to know that somehow the both of you made the right choice of falling in love with each other. Sara was still apologetic about what happened but I shooed her words away. I was happy knowing that even though you both did excellent in hurting me in the past, at least we were in great places now—you and Sara have a daughter and me, well, still un-married but happy. Very, very happy indeed.
God knows how much I have changed for the past six years. My looks, my stance, my career, my love, my life. It’s like I took reinvention on a whole new level. I am here in an island in French Polynesia having my well-deserved vacation after all the hard work in India facing patients with venereal diseases and nutritional illnesses. It’s a hard life, yes, but I am deeply inspired by it every day. Nothing has affected me this much before. And in addition, my work is also deeply inspired by Dr. Caleb Desrouleux who said that I drove him ‘crazy as hell- in a good way.’ What’s more wonderful than this is the fact that I actually work for Times magazine now. Do you remember my little notebook in Cambodia? Times loved it so much that they’re paying me to travel with the DWB and UN and write insights about politics, healthcare and goodwill volunteerism through my work as a volunteer in depressed areas. It’s like I said, it’s not easy but I can’t live without it. I really just can’t. The view from here, I must say, is just spectacular. I am here with Caleb and we’re having a mini-holiday. Just three weeks from now we will go back to Cambodia to start another project. Oh, did I mention? Caleb finally told me what his family does and it has something to do with… uhm… a lot of things really. But one thing’s for certain: he does not have to work for his whole life with the money that his family’s got. And I already met his family. His parents were quite surprising. When he told me we were meeting his family in their home in the Upper East Side in Manhattan, I instantly thought of them as judgmental and posh socialites with high breeding. But I was wrong. His parents loved road tripping and everywhere in their home were pictures, souvenirs and memorabilia of their travels all over the world. His mother was overly enthusiastic in meeting me that she kept pinching my cheeks most of the time. His father was a stout man who talked nothing but food, fishing and football. When the famous Desrouleux brothers were together, they looked like models from the same agency or actors like the Baldwin brothers but at the same time they were like kids: they talk about who’s bigger than who and who’s got the better car.
This will be a farewell to you and my bitter memories of you. I would just like to think that it was fate that brought us together and broke us up. It was fate that I reinvented myself, volunteered for the UN, met Caleb and became a Times magazine writer. It was fate that I became who I’ve always wanted to be. And yeah, it took a measly six years to do it.
And I have only one thing left to say to you: THANK YOU FOR BREAKING UP WITH ME.