Nonfiction by | November 29, 2015

An afternoon, early summer of 2010, at the pathway to the CHSS building of UP Mindanao, I first saw the girl I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with. Her name was G, a freshman. She had a shoulder-length hair, parted at the center, a thin physique which was emphasized by long sleeves shirt and pants. In my vision, she walked as if her feet stepped on piles of cotton—softly and lightly.

I have always felt a tinge of envy every time I hear stories of romance from people close to me. All of them seemed so easy as though it has long been planned and only the perfect time had to be waited for before the execution.

There were times when I would catch myself smiling at random pictures of my high school classmates with their boyfriends or girlfriends beside them. There was always a hollow in my chest. Scanning through photos on social media, I would sigh and every breath sent air right through the hole in my chest. I could not help but tell myself: I was not one of them. My true identity, as others would call it, was unknown to me until I turned seventeen—a sophomore at UP Mindanao, thriving, getting by, trying to get over with the academic life. It was as if the universe handed me what I could not give myself—a means to determine who I was.

A lot of people have given testimonies before about time and motion slowing down when they meet somebody who could possibly be their other half. And for me, that somebody was G.

This is not to say that I was not attracted to boys in the past. I was, but they were all fleeting attraction—just merely floating on the surface. None of them gave the same tingling sensation as when G first walked past me. As cliché as it may sound, it was as though a myriad of butterflies slowly began to swarm inside my stomach. She was as beautiful and as ephemeral as daybreak. I was left questioning myself.

At first I thought it did not mean anything other than a mere crush. But I found myself spending several days after that wondering what it was she made me feel and why I could not seem to get her out of my head. Some people would certainly think I was going crazy—I did not even know her name that time.

What bothered me more is the fact that she was incessantly hovering inside my head. Her image was starting to build its home inside my chest and I was left helpless. All of the images I had imagined of her were kept in the deepest chambers of my brain. I I resisted finding her. Heck, it might as well be called love at first sight—but it was a love that never was and never will.

This was how my identity crisis began. It was not as brutal as anybody else’s stories. There was no bullying. There were no suicidal tendencies. There were not any fights within my family. There was only the battle I had to win against myself. The only problem was that I did not know what I was battling for or if it was even worth it. Questions started flooding in, and if there had been any way to suck them all out with answers, I would have. But even I was struggling to find them.

So I decided to leave them there in the open and maybe, one by one, they would disappear.

But in the middle of the night the questions turned into ghosts. They haunted me, kept me awake at three in the morning. The darkness lurked somewhere inside my bedroom and attempted to swallow me whole unless I could provide the answers it needed. This nightmare was the kind that did not only exist in my sleep.

The next thing I knew was that it was another morning; another day to brush off and cast away the shadows that I was sure would be there to welcome me again when the next night comes.

One night at the boarding house, in September 2010, where my college friends and I were staying, I finally had the courage to tell them what had been eating me. Or at least a fraction of it. We were sitting around a circular table, having a drink. Some of my college friends stayed in their bedrooms, one was on her laptop watching a movie. When I finally had enough alcohol, I decided it was somehow the right time to tell them. Though part of me hesitated because I might lose them, I knew it was the perfect opportunity and it may never come twice.

“So, what do you think of girls who like other girls?”

I remember asking them, my heart was pounding. In my head I knew that this was easier to do than pouring everything all at once. That was the plan; to drop clues.

They told me it was okay. But I wished it was not just “okay.” “Okay” sounded like a forced approval to me. “Okay” felt like tolerance, not acceptance. And I did not only want to be tolerated.

Despite that, the next few days became a lot easier for me. Having revealed my deep infatuation over the same girl to my friends, I felt a slight liberation. The second step to this liberation was to finally have G’s phone number, thanks to a friend.

However, I still found myself at night, suffering from the same interrogations within my mind. I still did not know what I truly was. What did it mean to be a girl falling for another girl? Why did it have to be me? What was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to give or be against it?

Although it seemed effortless on my part to indulge in girly talks with my friends about our crushes, whether or not they truly accepted me was still in question. I hated myself for asking whether others have already accepted me when I myself could not even define me, let alone wholeheartedly accept what I could possibly be. Rather than pushing my luck on a girl I barely knew, I thought maybe I just had to look more closely at the opposite team. So, I began looking at others.

In my MST 1 class, I randomly chose a boy to whom I could transfer my delusions. I forced my way inside the heteronormative space and convinced myself that that was where I truly belonged. There were nights when I would persuade myself into thinking that I was over that phase—I wrote him lame poetry that only I would read with a wish that it could take away that part of me that I despised. Sometimes I would hear my heart crack a little every time I obliged myself to get attracted to boys. The lies I told myself were boomerangs which, after I threw them into the open, immediately came back to me and hit me hard in the face.

In the midst of my attempt to forget her, I started to see G again unintentionally in common places. Strangely, I would find her in a convenience store at night or at a food house in Mintal. Gradually, she began appearing everywhere else. She showed her face at the school Atrium. She was at the path walk. She was in the library. She was near the pigeon hole beside the faculty room. She was in every place where I was. And it was taking a toll on me.

They say that it is difficult to run away from your truth. I could not agree more.

The only time I ever had contact with G was in October 2010 when my college friends and I went to Samal Island for our small sem-ender party. We were seated in a semi-circle on the beach, the sound of the waves crashed from a distance, and our laughter scattered around us. After a few shots of rum, at last, I sent G a message.

Nothing special, just a hello.

A few minutes later, she responded.

The text conversation was only for about several minutes with two or three messages from each of us. That was the only talk we ever had.

None of those instances turned into something romantic. I knew that was the end of it. More importantly there was nothing for us to begin with.

So, I started to focus on myself again.

I used her, but not in a way that belittled her person. She became a motivation for my art—my muse. The words that I could not directly dedicate to her and words that I could not own for myself, I wrote them down in stories. I turned her into a character. With a slight reluctance on the side because I still did not like what I wanted to become, I made her say things I wish I could say myself.

A part of me knew that the reason I did not pursue G was because I needed myself to be ready. Because how else would others welcome me with open arms when I could not even open the door for myself?

Little by little, I knew that the only way to escape from the menace inside me was to welcome myself. It was gradual, yet it was certain. I read books about gay romance. I started watching LGBT-themed movies and TV shows. Every time a gay couple was at the center of the story, I could not help but empathize and have thoughts about being in the same situation. I realized it was natural. There was nothing wrong with me.

G never eluded my thoughts. Even after I got involved in a relationship with another girl, she managed to make a small room for herself in me. Though, I was aware that it was not actually her in there, but an image of her—ideal and true. She made me realize what I would not have had she not appeared.

One of the biggest destructions we can do to ourselves is denying our truth, and I have done much to myself. The next time I would find myself looking at photos of couples, people that I know, it would not pain me anymore. I know better now that it is all the same no matter whose hands we are holding or whose eyes we are looking into.

Rennai Como is a graduate of Creative Writing program of the University of the Philippines Mindanao.