It starts this way:
You stare into their eyes. They flash like all the stars are out. They look at you seriously, their eyes at a low burn and their hands no matter what starting off shy and with such a gentle touch that the only thing you can do is take that tenderness and let yourself be swept away. When, with one attentive finger they tuck the hair behind your ear, you—
You do everything they want.
Then comes after. After when they don’t look at you. They scratch their balls, stare at the ceiling. Or if they do turn, their gaze is altogether changed. They are surprised. They turn casually to look at you, distracted, and get a mild distracted surprise. You’re gone. Their blank look tells you that the girl they were fucking is not there anymore. You seem to have disappeared.
-from “Lust,” by Susan Minot
My high school life isn’t something I would like to recall. I can’t help but feel a sense of shame and regret. I was reckless, driven by the allure of love under the cover of darkness, only to find myself exposed and vulnerable in the harsh light of day. That time, I had to leave everything behind just to keep my sanity. To save myself.
In my pursuit of a fresh start, I disconnected from my friends without any notice or goodbyes. I disappeared completely from their lives; the pull to start anew was too strong to ignore. I knew that I had to break free from my past and start fresh, even if it meant leaving my loved ones behind. I envisioned a new place with new experiences and new people, where I could start fresh and avoid making the same mistakes. It was a tempting proposition, one that promised a respite from the weight of my shame and confusion.
My mother’s offer to move with her to Davao was like a ray of light shining through the dark clouds of my life. It was a chance to start over, to leave behind the pain and turmoil that had been consuming me for so long. And even if we had to leave our grandparents with my abusive uncle, I seized the opportunity with closed eyes.
The decision to leave was not an easy one, but I knew it was the right one. Once again, I was pulling the cover over myself, to shield me from my past. I was finally able to escape the shadows that had been haunting me. The new environment was a breath of fresh air, a clean slate where I could start anew. Like being wrapped in a comforting blanket, I didn’t have to worry about being judged. No one knew me unless I told them about myself. I felt like I was under a protective cover.
As I entered my new school in a public institution, I felt like I was entering a world of possibilities. Here, I had the chance to be whoever I wanted to be, without the weight of my past pulling me down. I was determined to leave the past behind. As I interacted with my new peers, I was careful to guard my secrets and maintain my cover. I didn’t want anyone to know about my past mistakes, to judge me for the person I once was. In this new environment, I felt like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, ready to spread its wings and soar.
It was liberating to know that I had a blank slate to work with, that I could mold myself into the person I wanted to be. No one knew about the girl who used to make out in alleys, and that was a relief. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had a chance to truly be myself, under the cover of a new identity.
I used to believe that my worth as a woman was defined by my virginity, thanks to society’s constructed belief that “Virginity is a gift.” Despite knowing the foolishness of this belief, I still give myself credit for not giving away everything to someone I would regret.
Then something happened in September 2018, five years after I left my life in Butuan. I realized the power of death, and how it can both be a relief and a tragedy. I was relieved when Death took my abusive uncle away from us, exactly one year after my grandfather passed away. It was a burden lifted from our shoulders, except for my cousin, his son, who couldn’t even eat for days. He was traumatized by his father’s death, which he witnessed. My cousin didn’t even inform my grandmother, who was sleeping in the next room. She only woke up to the sound of faint sobbing and witnessed my cousin holding his father’s head gently. Despite the countless lashings and scars inflicted upon him, my cousin loved his father dearly.
When my siblings and I returned home to attend my uncle’s funeral, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of detachment towards the situation. It was a strange feeling, to be attending the funeral of someone who had caused me so much pain, and not feel an ounce of sadness. Finally, we were all free from his grasp. I felt nothing but a sense of peace knowing that he could no longer harm anyone. it allowed me to let go of the anger that had been consuming me for so long.
As we gathered around his casket, my siblings and I exchanged quiet glances, understanding each other’s unspoken thoughts. We had all suffered under his abuse, but now, we could find solace in the fact that he could no longer hurt us.
During a long road trip with my boyfriend, my gaze fixated on the seemingly endless road ahead. The monotonous hum of the car’s engine and the rhythmic passing of scenery outside did little to quell the thoughts racing through my mind. Memories of my past mistakes flooded my thoughts, the shame and disgust feeling just as palpable as they did back then.
Before my boyfriend and I started dating, I knew that if we were meant to do life together, I needed to come clean. I wanted to be honest with him so that I could finally be honest with myself. After school, he offered to drive me home, which was an almost twenty-kilometer ride. During the ride, I asked him to pull over near the fields of calamansi. The moonlight illuminated our surroundings, and I could see his face clearly. We sat in silence for a while, but it felt comforting.
“Would you still like me if I told you that I had kissed a lot of guys before?” I asked, my gaze fixed on the fireflies fluttering around the lemon tree. From the corner of my eye, I saw him turn his head and look at me. He held my hand to get my attention.
I finally mustered the courage to tell him about my past school, the bullying, the rumors about me being the girl who made out in a dark alley, and how I had to leave and hide from the shame. Throughout my confession, he held my hand tightly.
“I’m sorry that you had to go through that, and I’m sorry that you feel like you have to explain it,” he said. “Please know that you are more than your past. It doesn’t matter to me, or to us now. I want you today and in the days that will follow,” he reassured me before pulling me closer to him for a hug. It was the first time in a very long time that I cried about it, but this time, I no longer felt ashamed about it.
When I entered UP and met my first circle of friends, Jo and Chan, I finally found people whom I could be real with. It was a normal Tuesday, during our PE gymnastics class, we were lying down facing each other, casually talking about our high school memories instead of practicing our routines. I don’t know what came over me, but I finally opened up about my “secret” high school experience. It was the second time I had shared it with anyone. To my surprise, Jo had gone through a similar experience. She also transferred to another school after a rumor spread about her having sex with her ex-boyfriend.
Those moments, I felt like I had finally found my place and my circle of friends. I felt like I belonged, knowing that I wouldn’t be judged for the mistakes I had made in the past. It was a relief to know that I had friends who understood me and accepted me for who I was. It was a liberating feeling to finally be able to share my secret with someone who could relate to me. It strengthened our bond, and it gave me the courage to be easy and more honest with myself.
Moreover, I began to realize that I had been denying myself the peace and forgiveness that I truly deserved. For so long, I had believed that it was all my fault for being too naive, trusting, and perhaps too horny, and that I deserved the pain and shame that followed. I have seen that I was only keeping myself trapped under a cover of guilt and self-blame. It’s like I’ve been hiding under a thick, suffocating cover for so long that I forgot what it felt like to breathe fresh air and feel the warmth of the sun on my face. I am finally pulling back that cover and allowing the light to shine on my past mistakes, letting the air in to start the healing process.
Just as I felt myself spiraling, my boyfriend’s touch jolted me out of my reverie. He reached out for my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
We have been together for almost five years now.
Rasmia Ruiz is a 4th year BA English (Creative Writing) student of the University of the Philippines Mindanao.