It was two days before Christmas last year when I received a text message saying “Hi” with a smiley. The phone number was not in my contact list so it took me a few minutes before I finally replied and asked who it was.
I was surprised when she revealed she was “Dee…UPMin Arki.” I had met her in school. Someone might have introduced us and since then, every time we saw each other, we would exchange greetings and smiles. But that was all. I never remembered conversing with her or anything. She was that pretty chinita girl who was a member of the Dance Ensemble. I clearly remember that she was the frontliner in their number during our Freshmen Convocation Program.
She just wanted to confirm whom she was texting because my number was registered as “UP LitSoc” in her contact list. I told her that it was me and she apologized for causing any inconvenience. I said she wasn’t causing any. And from then, we exchanged text messages. We would text each other in the morning when we woke up, remind each other to eat meals, ask what each was doing, and late at night, we would say good night to each other.
We talked about family, school, professors, classes, our courses, ambitions in life, etc. She shared that she was the youngest in the family and her father was working in Papua New Guinea.
“It must have been tough, not having your Papa there with you,” I told her.
“Yeah. I envy you. Your family is complete during Christmas,” she replied.
“Normal,” I texted back.
But I also told her the troubles I had at home, how my relationship with my father was not fine and how strange it felt even though we were complete. I was really comfortable talking to her maybe because she was a girl or I was naturally talkative. She suddenly brought up Christmas celebrations in Davao and in our place, Carmen.
“I feel bad that firecrackers are banned in Davao. Lingaw baya ang fireworks,” she texted.
“Sus, here in Carmen, pasiklaban gyud ang mga silingan,” I replied.
“Awww. I miss fireworks.”
“Do you want me to take a video for you?” I offered.
“Sure? You will do that?”
“Sure. I’ll show you when we go back to school.”
I was happy to hear her say that she liked to see fireworks. She was like a child, fascinated over small things. I may be saying this because fireworks are no big deal for me. I see them even when it isn’t Christmas time in my hometown, like during an opening of an evening event. She told me that seeing lights flickering in the night sky make her happy.
When midnight came, I took a video of the fireworks show sponsored by our neighbor. I was a little tipsy because my mother and I had been drinking beer and videoke-ing. I thought I should give her a call, to say that I was done taking a video of the fireworks. When her line was ringing, I suddenly felt nervous. This would be the first time I would have an actual conversation with her.
“Hi, Dee,” I said with a high pitch, pretending to be more drunk than I was so it would be less embarrassing.
“Ay ano, the fireworks video is ready.”
“Really? Sige, let’s watch it together over dinner.
“Dinner?” I asked, startled. “A dinner date or something?”
“Ha? Buang. Dinner gud. When we get back to Mintal in January.
“Gani, gani. Okay.”
We talked for two hours that night. If she had a lot of things to say in text, she had tons of topics while we were on the phone. And she was really fun to talk to. I looked forward to January, when I could talk to her in person.
We agreed to have dinner on January 5. I was really nervous because it would be the first time I would be spending time with her. We may have exchanged text messages and phone calls over the break but I still thought it would be awkward. Also, the fact that I had asked her if this dinner would be a date or something added to the awkwardness I felt. Worse, I left the camera where the video of the fireworks was in Carmen.
When I arrived at our meeting place, she was already there, looking at the menu. I waved at her and smiled. I sat on the chair adjacent to her. I didn’t want to sit opposite her, which I thought was a position for lovers.
I soon realized it was not only I who was nervous and awkward. It seemed that looking at the menu was only her excuse because she didn’t know how to start our conversation. She smiled and apologized because she did not know what to do. The awkwardness gave me the chance to look at her closely. That was the time when I found the words to tell her.
“Why so formal?” I asked, seeing her wearing a long-sleeved denim top and black pants.
She laughed and again, there was an awkward silence and she went back to looking at the menu. I noticed her sweet scent, like a freshly bathed baby. I suddenly wanted to come closer and smell her. But I didn’t.
We ended up sharing a dish. While we were eating, that was the only time we got to talk about the things that happened during the break. How incidentally she got my number, the late phone calls we had, and Christmas celebrations.
After dinner, she invited me to have drinks with her. She thought that it would be boring if it were just the two of us so we invited two friends to join us. At first I felt disappointed to have others join us because I wanted to be alone with her but later, I found that it was better so that we would not have awkward moments of silence.
I had a lot of beer that night so she accompanied me back to my boarding house. When we arrived at my room, the lights were off and I immediately lay down on my bed. She sat beside me.
“Look at you. We only had a few drinks,” she teased.
“I have low alcohol tolerance,” I replied.
“Can you stand?” she suddenly asked.
She pulled me up and kissed me on the lips. I opened my eyes, shocked by what she did. Nonetheless, I kissed her back, passionately. Maybe the alcohol contributed to the guts I had that night. What I could not forget that time was the smell of beer combined with her baby scent. I wanted to have more.
The next morning, Dee and I talked about what had happened.
“I like you,” she said. “Whatever this is, I like this.”
“So, what?” I asked.
“Wala. This is what it is. Let’s just see what happens. Go with the flow lang,” she answered
I agreed. From then, Dee and I were exclusively dating but we did not place labels on what we had. I wanted to be with her officially. It did not matter to me since I was open to dating men and women. I hadn’t been in a same-sex relationship before but I did not really think that there was a difference. For me, as long as I was happy, I wasn’t doing anything wrong. But I think it was Dee who had an issue with relationships like this. Or with herself being like this. She used to be teased as a tomboy because of her boyish acts and she disliked it.
One night, she asked to talk to me about our relationship. We were in my room. I could feel that there was something serious she wanted to talk about. I sat next to her, leaned on her shoulder, ready to listen to what she was going to say.
“I think we should end this.”
I looked at her and said, “Why?”
“I’m not good at this. Having relationships. Especially this kind of relationship.”
“But I love you.” I said, with tears falling down my cheeks.
She didn’t say a word.
“I’m sorry. I’m not ready for this. I’m not ready for this to be serious,” she said, crying. “I’m not even sure if I can push through with this. I can’t even accept that I’m like this. I care for you so I don’t want you to get hurt eventually.”
“So this is goodbye, then.” I told her. “When you step out of that door, you can never come back.”
“Okay,” she said.
“Okay,” I said.
“Before I go, can I have at least one last hug?” She asked.
I hesitated. I feared that if I would grant this one last request, I would never let her go. But still, I stood and gave her a hug. She hugged me tightly while crying on my shoulder. I tried to push her so that she would leave but as soon as we faced each other, she kissed me passionately. I wanted her not to leave the room, to kiss me more, for her to want me on her side always. But after that, she slammed the door and left.
I used anger and bitterness to move on. We never texted or called each other anymore. Every time I saw her, I would not dare look at her. I tried so hard to stop myself from going to her and hugging her every time we saw each other in school. Her friends told me that ever since we stopped seeing each other, Dee had been frequently drunk and emotional. She told them that she still wanted to at least have me as her friend. But I refused. I could not bear the idea of us being casual after everything that happened between us. Despite everything, her issues, I still wanted her. But everything had to come to an end abruptly.
Even though I stopped texting her, I was still updated about what was going on with her life. One time, I learned from her friend that she had attended party. I told Dee’s friend to take care of her in case she got drunk and requested her friend to text me when they arrived home safely. I received a text message from Dee that night.
“I have arrived home safely. Thanks.”
I wasn’t able to hold my desire to text her back so I replied. “Kumusta?”
She said she was all right and from then, we started texting each other again. But this time, we tried to keep our conversations casual. I tried to be just friends with her. I realized that I wanted her in my life too no matter what.
“Uy, where is the video of the fireworks?” she texted me one Saturday when I was in Carmen.
“Oo nga, no? I’ve forgotten to show you that. You still want to see it?”
“Yes. Show me. Sayang naman.”
“Sige, tomorrow. But I still have to work on a group project.”
“Okay lang, I’ll wait.”
The next day, I went to my classmate’s boarding house. It was already 1AM when we finished working on our project. I told Dee that I was still in my classmate’s dorm and there were no tricycles going back to my boarding house. She offered to accompany me home and fetched me at my classmate’s place.
Since there were no tricycles, Dee and I had no choice but to walk. I clung to her tightly, looking around, afraid that somebody might grab us.
“Scaredy-cat,” she teased.
“Don’t be like that. I don’t fear the dark for no reason.”
“Why are you afraid?”
I paused and took a deep breath. “Bad memories.”
“Oh well. This is my tragic story. All my friends know about this, anyway. There was one time when I rode a tricycle, around 11PM. I was second year high school. And suddenly, the driver changed his route and brought me somewhere dark. After that, he punched me and strangled me. The next thing I knew, I was alone in the talahiban, with my body aching and without any panties on. Maybe he thought I was dead because he just left me.”
“Are you serious?”
“No. Joke lang. Joke lang.”
I think what happened doesn’t sound believable. It was the way I always tell the story. I didn’t want to sound so dramatic every time I tell it. I might cry or what.
She stopped walking. She pulled me and gave me a tight hug.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry about what happened.”
“You don’t need to be. It happened a long time ago. It was so stupid of me to ride a tricycle alone late at night.”
This time, she looked at me and touched my face with both hands.
“You will never be alone. I won’t let anybody do those things to you. I won’t let anybody hurt you. Whenever you are in the dark, you will think of other memories, good ones. Just think of me holding your hand and you don’t have to be afraid because I am with you.”
Together, we walked down the dark road and I was no longer afraid. That day, we became official.
I cannot say that we do not have struggles now. Every time we celebrate our “monthsary,” we would look back on everything that happened to us before we became official and we would cry about it. This is because of the fears she has for the future. That if we keep this relationship, we would never have a “normal” life. Now that we have been dating for almost a year, she says the fears are still there. I know that we still have a lot of struggles to face but I also know that we love each other. I can’t fully erase the doubts she has about our relationship. I am waiting for her to be ready to tell me that she is ready to have this life with me; or that she is letting me go. Here I am, hanging.
Jecia Anne Opiana is completing her BA in English (Creative Writing) in UP Mindanao. She was a Fellow in the 2014 Davao Writers Workshop.