“And I saw a most extraordinary small person,
who stood there examining me with great seriousness.”
When I was younger, I came upon a small book in one those huge plastic boxes my mother used for storage. It was when my mother called for a general cleaning of the house. In the morning we pulled all the boxes from under the sofas, moved the chairs aside for the sweeping, waxed the floor, then took a break after lunch. The rest of the afternoon was lazy; my mother retired to her room, as did my Ate, who was the only one of my siblings who was in the house that day. My father, my brother and my sister were out. I picked through the storage boxes, searching for nothing in particular, just anything that would pique my interest. And then I found the book. It was thin, small, with messy, child-like illustrations. There was what looked like a hat, a sheep, a rose, and more importantly, a boy, alone on a small rocky planet.
The book belonged to my Ate, who told me, when I asked about it, that it was something I wouldn’t understand at my age, that it was ‘philosophical’. It was the word that made me think twice upon reading it. Words like that were heavy—incomprehensible, and adult. I tried to take her advice. But eventually, I found myself immersed in the book, lying on the abaca chair in the sala, dust floating in the air, exposed, as the afternoon light poured in from the open jalousies.
“I admire you,” said the little prince, shrugging his shoulders slightly,
“but what is there in that to interest you so much?”
The first story I ever wrote was a fruit of an envious me. When I was ten years old, my seat mate in school wrote a story, about a gothic girl who started dating this rich, good-looking guy. The most vivid scene I remember was the first date, held in a romantic restaurant named Virgo.
It was not the story really that enticed me to start writing my own; it was because of the restaurants’ name, how it fit so well, how someone would make use of a zodiac sign’s classic name to match the seemingly sophisticated image of a restaurant.
I wanted to create my own Virgo, wanted to name something that would sound, and feel so accurate to what I would create. That night, I started writing my own story. It was romantic still, but fantastic, largely based on an online anime-role playing game my Ate and I were playing at that time. The first chapter was hot among my female classmates—they told me how kilig it was, how good, and their excited squeals and spasms inspired me to write more. And I did.
Meanwhile, this seat mate of mine started spreading rumors of how unoriginal I was for copying what she had started. I never asked her why. I merely ignored her, and avoided speaking with her, until one day she tried back-stabbing me with a purposefully elevated volume in the school gymnasium, for everyone, including me, to hear. When we marched back into the classroom, I slammed my P.E notebook down on my armchair, faced her and told her what a bitch she was. Everyone in the classroom stopped to watch the show. I cried, like I usually do when I’m uncontrollably angry, and spoke every word through a yell.
“KA-BITCH MO GUD TALAGA!”
She looked surprised with my outburst, and apologized to put the issue to rest and save her from my embarrassing fit.
“Lagi, lagi sorry na. Jeez.”
She put it an amused demeanor, however, like it was nothing, and she was above it all.
The next day, we were civil. We did not speak to each other as we used to. Soon the seating plan was rearranged, grade five was concluded, and the next year, we were sections apart.
My story did not survive as well. Soon I came upon a dead end; I could not think of anything else to add, to keep the momentum of romance going, so I stopped. My classmates soon forgot about it as well, and the story dissipated into memory.
“…I have serious reason to believe that the planet
from which the little prince came is the asteroid B-612.”
Our house was not that big; there were three rooms, two bedrooms and a joint kitchen and sala. It didn’t give much space for playing, really. But I was small, and thin. Every nook and cranny in the house—the underside of tables, inside closets, under chairs—was big enough for me. The old zipper-locked closet we had in our bedroom used be my secret base, when I pretended to be a robo-cop with laser guns. In the space our sala had to offer, I ran around, riding dragons, doing impromptu dialogues to my enemies before I blast them to death. I make a special effort, however, to keep in mind that people don’t always win to keep it realistic. So from time to time, I do a dramatic death, my imaginary allies mourning their friend, lost to the hands of Lady Death.
This behavior—my “hyperactivity” as my mother would put it, in addition to my frequent interaction with invisible friends—led my parents to think I had ADHD. My Ate, the eldest in the family, and my brother after her, never acted like I did. My little sister was the closest I had to an accomplice in delving into the imagination, although her main interest was on playing house, and barbie. She indulged my crazy ventures, and in return, I played with her and her barbie dolls. Our play was not entirely confined to her idea of playing doll, though—I stripped her dolls naked, made them do fighting stunts, pretending they were Charlie’s Angels.
This feminine play, and my flamboyant attitude as a child, did not make my father happy. Once, he tried scaring me into becoming a “man”, or at least to his idea of it. It happened one afternoon, when I was playing superheroes with my sister in the bedroom. Fists clenched and hands outstretched, we screamed their names at the top our lungs.
We took our play to the sala, our voices resounding inside the house. The door to my parents’ bedroom eventually opened, and out came my father, wearing his classic wife-beater, and a pair of shorts. By that time, I had in my lips, the name of the most prominent hero in Philippine TV:
I reverted to yelling “BATMAN,” at the sight of him but the attempt was too late. He took me by my shoulders, shook me and said, “ Wala akong anak na bakla! Magpalalaki ka kung ayaw mong palayasin kita!”
A decent, yet naïve person would ask, how could anyone say such thing to a child? And a smart, educated answer would be, in this country, how couldn’t they?
At least, despite the fact that my parents couldn’t relate to how my mind works, they never really made it a problem, and just accepted the fact I was different. This however they just can’t seem to take.
“You know—one loves the sunset, when one is so sad.”
I grew up scared. I had this fear in my head that just kept on growing and growing. By high school, my imagined universes stopped existing, at least, outside the house. If my parents could not understand, how could I expect any one else to?
Sophomore year, I was in transition. I conformed to the majority’s idea of a “grown up” little by little. Hair thick with styling wax, khakis customized to fit (no baggies allowed). I tried to find an identity that was acceptable, invisible, an identity that didn’t demand any attention, positive or negative. I needed to be in the background of things.
I knew I did a good job of it when one of my female acquaintances told me I was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. And in retrospect, I was. I make it a point to smile as much as possible, to act like I’m riding along high school on a rainbow unicorn. Laughing was my thing, everyone knew, and ironically, it was the only thing that felt real.
I remember my classmates threw jokes at me in turns, just to see how low my standards were for humor. He asked me, “Anong fish ang palaging dumidikit?”
The joke was not even finished yet, but I was already chuckling by myself. I shrugged, and he brought down the punchline:
“Eh di, fish pilit!”
I enjoyed that fleeting pleasure, and laughed myself to tears.
“Don’t linger like this. You have decided to go away. Now go!”
For she did not want him to see her crying. She was such a proud flower…
I stopped playing with my friends in school. That had to go, if I wanted to blend in. I stopped picking up thin branches from the field and waving them, yelling spells from Harry Potter. I stopped doing scavenger hunts looking for invisible monsters, and stopped chasing cats. Instead, I channeled all those imaginative energy into something else.
Pre-school years, I was awarded Best in Drawing. I remember what got me that award was a drawing of a boy with uneven arms, one thin, and the other as thick as a tree. It was an ugly drawing, but I didn’t know that. I came up that stage and received that paper medal with pride. That award led me to think I had talent—sketching, painting, and the like.
I based my future on that. I would become an artist of some kind, a painter, or a landscape architect, designing gardens and backyards (buildings were too dull—plants and flowers seemed more interesting; I even thought of becoming a botanist).
All those adventures I couldn’t act out, all the play I repressed, I put them all into paper. And by that, I mean sketching comics; a teenage boy living in a world where superhuman powers were normal, a world with witches distinguished by the animals they turn into, or just a re-imagination of Digimon, giving more emphasis on the characters I favored. The attempt lasted for a long while, but even after successfully finishing a whole scene, I was never really satisfied. They never really seemed alive to me, despite all those lines, and shadings. That, and there was also the fact that my sketches were not entirely great. I believed I was good because everyone else in high school seemed worse.
I kept working on it, telling myself that after two years, I would be so much better than I was. One day, I decided to put the pencil down and told myself, this is hopeless. From time to time, I would still sketch a scene I think is worth sketching–an imagined sunset view of an ocean, a thick old tree overlooking a quiet creek, or a desolate desert under a starry night sky–and for a moment, I would convince myself all over again that I could sketch. And I honestly could…just not stories.
Throughout high school, I attempted writing novels in unused notebooks. It was on my third year when I actually finished one, a story about a boy who died, and woke up in a morgue, only to find out that he was resurrected by a princess from an another dimension. I planned it to be the first installation to my trilogy, inspired by an anime called Kaibutso Oujo, or Princess Resurrection. But by college, I decided to discard the project—I realized, after all the seminars our professors urged us to attend, what I wrote was pretty much plagiarized.
But by then, I had already written several other short stories, and I made sure they were products out of my own head. Writing, I discovered thanks to that seat mate of mine, isn’t far from sketching. When I write, I still sketch, I still shade, and erase, only I don’t deal with lines and figures—I deal with words. The best thing about that is, I think, that when I write, I find mobility, that movement I never found in sketching. The images, the people I sketch using the medium of language, move in sync with the flow of the words I write. It was the perfect channel, the perfect manifestation of the child-like eccentricity everyone seemed so bothered of.
“When the little prince arrive on the Earth,
he was very surprised not to see other people.”
I cried often as a child, but never because of a book. I did not know books were capable of making readers cry when I found myself silently sobbing in the sala, sitting on the woven abaca seat that one afternoon. I was confused. How could a book make me feel so sad? I got my answer as I grew older, when books became my bread, and writing my goal.
Being alone is a constant upon living. Whether you are eccentric, or different. Whether you assimilate yourself into that odd concept of “growing up”, whether you are rich or poor, girl or boy, you will always be in your own planet, with your volcanoes and your own rose.
It was from that learning that I understood what writing really is. It is more than mere escapism. Wounded as we are, we tend to crawl under the protection of the literature, looking for solace, for signs that we aren’t alone in feeling lonely. From there we choose; do we hide behind the veiled truths of fantasy, as we fester in fear of confronting the demons that keep us from removing our masks? Or do we mend ourselves, use literature as armor and arms, instead of a bunker to hide behind?
I write because I am different, because I have a story to tell. But at the same time, I am different because I write. The two feed off each other like a snake eating its own tail. These things has set me apart from my family, my friends, preventing them to fully understand me, or even accept me. But at the same time, it is my redemption. One day I will write something that will move them the way the little prince’s story moved me. And one day, they will understand.
Nero Oleta Fulgar is taking up BA English (Creative Writing) at UP Mindanao.