A good friend of mine told me that writing these letters was a dangerous affair. I didn’t understand what he was talking about until I stopped writing for a couple of weeks.
I had to leave Luna for a while and bury my notebook under your pillow. You probably have not noticed it because your bed has a surplus of pillows but I still have the one you donated to me when my house was ransacked by the floods of Ondoy. This might be the reason why I could not get rid of my dreams.
I hoped that the tragic floods washed the bitter taste of my folly when it obliterated my sanctum. I remember that day vividly. It was one of those memories that escaped my forgetfulness. The destruction was just so disheartening that my mind, out of a sense of self-preservation, has imprisoned these memories, so that I may know what to do the next time it happens. Why it has not done the same to my memories of our times together escapes me. Our story is something worth learning from. Maybe my mind has not realized this. But the attempts to write you, even if unsent, should be some indication that although my mind is beginning to forget, my heart should not.
On the dawn of the tragedy, I returned to my house to make an inventory of the damage. The house was not totally destroyed—it can be rebuilt. But most of my books, notebooks, scribbles, sketches and printed drafts of my works have all been washed away. It’s like my mind was washed clean too. Good thing Luna kept all of my current works within her and she was the first one I saved in the flood.
For a time, I took the flood as a sign to begin again. In the same manner that God flooded the earth to cleanse it of the abominations of man, I felt that the flood came to wash and forgive me of the foolishness of my selfish obsession with art. It was around three months after I broke up with you. We were still in touch then, and you were still waiting for me.
After I left the remains of my sanctum, you welcomed me to your home. You embraced me into the comfort of your arms as if I never left you. It took you a while to realize that though you sheltered me back into your embrace, I never really came back to your arms. It was as if I was washed away in the flood and a different man returned. While you helped me clean myself of the oil and grime of the muddy waters that swept Metro Manila, I was, in reality, still lost in the streets of Little Baguio, wading through the floods with my flashlight on, inching along the dark alleys, trying to find my way back to you. I never did.
When I rebuilt my house, I slept on the new mattress my landlord gave me. My room was bare for a few weeks. I would love to spend all of my money to rebuild my library but my savings only allowed me to subsist. For weeks I slept without a pillow. I did not complain but you knew very well it’s not good for my acid reflux to be completely horizontal. My dreams were interrupted in the middle of the night until you sent me a pillow so I can dream comfortably.
That was, I believe, when I started to have these dreams about you. At first, I thought they were just remnants of our memories washed away by the floods. I forget that the waters that ravaged the streets of Metro Manila were not the purified tears from the heavens but the putrid nightmares of us sinners clogged in rivers and sewers. However hard we try to soap our walls and floors, the stench of our apathy remains. The city has unleashed the collected nightmares we have thrown away. We have cleaned our streets and our houses, but our homes still reeked of our sins. Maybe the sense of smell is the gateway to memory. Because the stench unlocks images of the past in our minds and releases the demons of regret in our souls.
The flood was a collective memory we all wanted to forget. But the flood of images would not stop in my head. They were not memories but ghosts and nightmares. The waters in the Metro have subsided. But I was still lost in the flooded labyrinth of Little Baguio. I was still trying to find my way back to you. I couldn’t. The ghosts and nightmares were chasing me within the maze, making it impossible for me to find the exit—to your waiting arms.
And then you got tired of waiting.
I go back to my bed and stare at your pillow. It is breathing and I can smell its breath. I move in, looking closely, to examine its subtle transparent sigh. I see pictures in it, dissolving slowly as it becomes one with the cold thick air. The weather is messed up. It is summer and it is raining. Christmas season is long gone but the air is chilling. It makes the images clearer. I inhale it.
“It is a dangerous affair what you are trying to do,” my friend tells me.
I inhale the memory like a drug. It creeps up into my brain infecting every corner, every nerve. I lift up your pillow and take my notebook. I grab a pen. I find a virgin page. I stab it with all of my sins and regrets. I let it bleed. Black blood flows. Fuck coherence. The page is no virgin anymore. Now, it can be beautiful.
Friday, February 18, 2011
I promised myself to write you everyday. But I could not write the past few days. No, my dreams have not stopped; therefore I must continue to write. However, the memories I wanted to chronicle are fading fast. It is as if they realized that they were being held captive on prose and so have made a conscious effort to escape while they can.
Now I chase after them desperately.
The first one I catch is our first kiss.
It was, appropriately, as the memory itself, something I chased and caught. It was the eve of my birthday, and I invited you for drinks on the pretense of offering to collaborate on some work I was doing. I don’t even remember what it was. It was probably a fake job opportunity or an imaginary project I concocted up last minute.
I am at Stir Crazy. It was my watering hole for sometime when it was still open. I used to stage dramatic readings there, and other artsy-fartsy events with my artist friends. It’s an ordinary evening. No performances. No events. It’s a cold summer night and the place has only a few regulars hanging out.
You enter with a big smile. Your hair is dyed brown, or red, I can’t tell with the dim tungsten lights. I cannot see your face, not because of the dim lights but because my memory now fails me. You dissolve into thin air. The memory is struggling to escape. I fight back. I write furiously. You sit beside me. We order two Rhum cokes. Other details escape. Our conversation vanishes into thin air. Your smile is smudged out of your face like a dissolving photograph. I struggle to keep the memory vivid but the alcohol does not help. I am remembering. I am writing. I am talking to you. Your smile returns. The picture becomes clearer. But I still cannot see your face. The room starts to fade. It is just the two of us, seated by the bar, looking at each other. We are playing a game. Who will yield first? Stir Crazy disappears. We are on stools, hanging on to our drinks. I hang on to my rhum coke like the memory of this moment that is slowly disappearing.
It’s midnight. The place is about to close. I tell you that it's already my birthday. You tell me that you knew before you arrived. You asked me if I wanted to move to another place, where we can have wine. Your treat, you tell me, for my birthday.
Your driver brings us to the wine place, which would become the most significant restaurant in our relationship. I order wine, a Shiraz. I order another. And another. We are on our third bottle now. Everything in between refused to be captured. They escaped and I give up chasing after them. We flirt. We exchange meaningful looks. The meaning has gone with the memories of the rest of the story. We savor the wine. We take it slowly. We drink it like there’s no tomorrow. We contemplate in silence. We laugh out loud at silly jokes. You show me a glimpse of your soul. I hide mine. We finish the bottle. You offer to bring me home.
You car stops in front of our lobby. I am about to get off the car. I remind you of the fake collaboration we are to pursue. I say goodbye. We kiss on the cheeks. I open the car door. I say goodbye again. And just before I step out of the car, I turn back again. I grab your head. I kiss you passionately, like it is the last day of my life.
Happy birthday. You say to me.
Black. I do not know if I am drunk with wine or with the memory of that parting moment.
I stop running and stare at this recollection I have trapped in prose. I let the other memories run wild. It doesn’t matter now if I don’t catch any more of them. I caught the most important one.
Monday, February 14, 2011
It’s a Valentines night and I am with my theater friends, drinking. It’s been a long day and I haven’t slept properly. The place is packed and I can feel the noise in my skin. The air is thick with bitter voices, passionate echoes, and longing silences. Alcohol is overflowing, as if there is a collective desire to drown an evil spirit that has been looming amongst us since the evening started.
My eyes are heavy, but I manage to steal a glance at my muse. Her mind is somewhere else, but her presence is trapped by the thickness of the bitterness in the air. I slow down my alcohol intake. I don’t drink as much as I used to—as much as we used to. It was only this year that I felt the last decade take its toll on me. Besides, I am managing my acid reflux—something that has become both a funny and annoying thing whenever we wanted to “celebrate” valentines on ordinary days.
I prefer wine nowadays, especially on days like these. I like wine because it is not consumed to be drunk. It must be enjoyed, savored, and drank in deep thought, in contemplation. There is a ritual involved in drinking wine. The wine must be gently laid into the glass, as if the wine were a fragile baby being put to bed. It must be poured carefully so as not to unlock the spirits prematurely. You taste it first before you finish the rest of the bottle. You raise the crystal glass against the light and stare at the imprisoned spirits revealed by the prism glass. You slightly swirl your glass to release the trapped souls in it. You put it under your nose and consume the spirits. And when the spirits have started to possess you, you are now ready to drink.
We had our wine phase. It was you who introduced me to this restaurant where we always got our wine. It is the place where we became a couple (I think). It is also the exact same place where we broke up. Months after I left you, I kept coming back to that place and tried various kinds of wines. Some say alcohol affects your memory (maybe this was the reason why I have a very short memory) and helps you forget things. I frequented our favorite wine place not to forget but to remember. Somehow, the flavors of the wine that penetrate my sense of smell induce me to remember vividly.
Later tonight, I would visit that wine place. But now, I am drunk with the pretentiousness of the other people populating this sad beer joint, trying to put up a jovial façade just because it is Valentines day.
Suddenly, John Mayer’s “Love song for no one” starts playing. At the refrain, the crowd sings in chorus: “I’m tired of being alone. So hurry up and get here.” I look around and realize there aren’t any couples. All the tables are occupied by groups, mostly single people, singing the refrain at the top of their lungs. I laugh.
Funny how this day becomes the peak of sentimentality. I don’t participate in the sentimentality of the occasion. It’s a waste of energy. I don’t want to dismiss it altogether either and be bitter about it. Too many people have turned to this default mode it has become uncool. And so I want to reminisce without wallowing in sentimentality. And I won’t treat this day ordinarily either. I acknowledge it as the celebration of Eros, but I bow to it without ceremony.
The refrain plays again. Everyone sings the refrain, this time, more passionate and with more zest. The room is filled with laughter after the refrain finishes. The laughter adds to the thickness of the air. I have to leave.
I drag my feet to our favorite wine place. Two friends wait for me there. I was to crash their date. On the way, I grab a couple of white roses to mark the occasion.
My two friends don’t drink wine. They just wanted to try drinking red wine on a valentines day. I ended up finishing the bottle for them. It was a Merlot, not my favorite, but they didn’t like strong wines. So I told them the Merlot would be good for beginners.
I never found out which wine you preferred. Maybe because you always let me choose the bottle. As much as possible, I’d get us a Shiraz. Sometimes, a Syrah would do. I am not a wine expert but I have my preferences. I like them strong, with full body, a bit salty. We’d finish a bottle each whenever we went here. Sometimes, we’d take home a third.
This is the same place where we got together. I remember our conversation then. We were finishing our second bottle. You took me off my guard with your straightforward question. You asked, “are we together or aren’t we?” I was not ready for that question. I was enjoying our conversation too much to even plan anything about the state of our relationship. If I said yes, then I would have jumped into something I was not prepared for. If I said no, you might have slapped me and walked out, never to be heard from again. So I gave the safest answer I could muster: “Aren’t we?”
My answer was a question because ultimately, it really was. I did not know anything about serious relationships. You were my first. I was so used to chasing and being rejected that I found your question, absurd. My other relationships were too short to consider serious and the others were too…vague to be considered real. But after weeks of going out with you and seeing the darkest depths of your soul, I thought, there must be something about you that made me decide not to run away. So I trusted you. I replied with a question because I trusted that you would lead our relationship into the answer. And you did.
The breakup happened in the same place under the same circumstances. It was our second bottle also when everything fell apart. But this story, belongs to another letter. Let me spend this day reminiscing the good memories. After all, the happy ones are always the first to go. I might as well write them down here before they completely disappear into oblivion.
Our last bottle of wine together was also in that same place. We were not together anymore. You were with someone else. I don’t remember much of our conversation that night. But I remember vividly, your tears kept on falling as you stared at me. I did not understand then why you were crying. I figured you were already happy with your new relationship because he gave you everything I could not.
Months after, I realized why you cried that night. It was the first time I told you that I loved you.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
I met this girl recently. She reminded me a lot about you.
She auditioned for my play. She looked very fragile and shy when she went into the room. Unsure of herself, she timidly sat down in front of me. After introducing herself, I asked her to read the parts she was auditioning for.
She wasn’t spectacular. But the moment she started reading, she transformed into something else. And her eyes were filled with fire. She is an enfant terrible waiting to be unleashed. Although I was very impressed with her reading, I did not give her the part. She was too young. Way too young to play any of the female characters in the play. But when I stared into her eyes, I wasn’t quite sure what I saw. Did I see my reflection, or did I see a faint semblance of you?
The kid—as I call her—is very much wounded in her soul. I do not know her story but I saw the depths of her scars through her eyes. She is half my age but I felt that she has gone through life many times over than I have. Did I see my young self, the enfant terrible, the ambitious, the angry rebel I was when I was young? Or did I see a reflection of your broken soul, your frail spirit, and your bitterness with life in the early days of our relationship?
After our first couple of dates, you bared to me your soul and exposed your woundedness and frailty. Later on, you would tell me that you did it on purpose, to scare me away. You wanted to make sure that I could stand your inner hell. Normally, I would run away. I had my ideal woman and you weren’t her. I never understood myself, why instead of running away, I chased after you.
You were not contented with showing to me the inferno of your soul. You brought me to the underworld. The world you were trying to escape. I was quite sure you did not show me your world to see if I was going to be your Prince Charming—one who would kiss you and save you from the fire-breathing dragon or the curse of the evil witch. You showed it to me so I can run. Because, I realize now, that you did not want to let me go. You’d rather that I leave on my own because of the darkness you have shown me.
But there was that fire in your eyes. The same fire I see in this kid. That fire attracted me. I did not care about the ideal woman. I had to wield that fire. I could not run away. After bringing me to the depths of your own inferno, I escaped, saw the stars, and took you with me.
However, in my attempts at recalling to memory our moments together, I am just now slowly understanding what really happened. I never escaped the depths of the darkness. I was just merely able to lead you out. My soul, was left, lost in the abyss.
This is probably why you spent most of our relationship trying to pull me out. But I refused to be taken away. The fire that attracted me had put a spell on me. It has become the muse of my art.
When I finally got out of the abyss, you were not there anymore to embrace me into the light. I stare at the stars alone.
Now, I look at this kid, and I want to show her the way out so she can behold the stars for herself. I wanted her to learn from our journey so she would not repeat the mistakes I did. So that she would not be seduced by the darkness inside her; so I can guide her. I want to teach her everything I know. I want to mould her into the artist I am now. Somehow, I see also myself in her, my younger self, thirsty for knowledge and eager to behold the spectacle of the night sky. But she is wounded, she is fragile, she is trapped by the darkness inside her. I want to free the artist trapped in her.
I see our story in her eyes. I hope to show her the stars. Of course, not in the same journey that we took—she is just a kid. But I would want her to succeed where I failed.
Maybe in her, I shall find redemption.
Posted by Juan Ekis at 5:50 PM
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Today my play opens.
You never missed any of my plays. Even after you got in to law school and your schedule made it impossible for you. You made sure you saw each of them. Even after we broke up, you still managed to attend my last two plays.
By then, you already mastered your role in my rehearsal set. You sat quietly in a corner, reading your law books. After a run, I’d ask you what you thought of it, and you’d give your honest opinion. I never told you, so I tell you now, that yours was the only opinion that mattered to me. I never took my critics’ notes on preview nights seriously (Except maybe from my mentors and selected peers) mostly because they always tell me what I already know—technical glitches, poor projection, missed timing in cues, etc. You, on the other hand, tell me something that I have not seen. I only realize now that this was your way of dealing with your jealousy. Instead of fighting for attention, you help me perfect my art. You gave me up to it unconditionally.
I remember our first date. I was rehearsing my comeback play. I took a hiatus from theater for four years because I mixed up my personal life with my art. And after years of reflection and recovering my craft, I go back to theater. We only met a couple of days before that rehearsal. You texted me, asking me if you could drop by to watch. I never allowed my actors to let guests watch my rehearsals so I told you not to. But you said you were already outside the theater. I didn’t have much of a choice. After rehearsals, you kidnapped me and took me out. I was so confused and fascinated at the same time. I wasn’t sure, but something told me you liked me a lot. Because I never met a woman who was so sure about what she wanted. You went into my sanctuary—the theater—and swept me away. I was like a king check-mated right behind my army of pawns, knights, bishops and rooks.
Our entire relationship was a variation of that first date. You were always stealing me from my work. And I found it disconcerting. No, I did not resent you stealing me away from my fortress of solitude. I did not resent you kidnapping me from my workshop. I was disturbed that I was enjoying our moments together too much. I could not let it happen. Not when I was just recovering from a long deprivation of art. Not when I was just regaining my confidence as an artist. Not when I was just learning to separate the beauty of reality from the beauty of art. And so I resisted. But you were relentless. You would not give up. You would show me that it was possible for me to have both you and my art.
It was a long struggle. Our entire relationship was spent with you competing for my attention from my art. You could not understand at first why I was obsessed with theater and with writing. You were a writer too. You were so much better than me, in fact, in composing prose. And when you told me, on the day that we broke up, that you gave up writing so you could support my obsession, I felt guilty. I felt I did not deserve you. You deserved better. I should have been there to support your art the way you supported mine.
Today my play opens.
My play opens on the theater where you first stole me away. It is also, the same annual university production where you first witnessed me drunk and so passionately high with my craft. The first time you came, I was doing a tragic-romantic-comedy, where my two protagonists, did not end up together. Now, I am doing a comedy, where every couple ends up together.
It’s a few minutes before the house opens.
I am not expecting you to be here to watch.
Posted by Juan Ekis at 9:37 PM
Friday, February 11, 2011
You asked me once why you were never my muse.
I couldn’t give you a straight answer then. And my inability to answer made the impression that I never cared about you; that the position of the muse is something I reserved to someone I loved, someone very important in my life.
I was dumbfounded when you asked me that question. And more often than not, this was the cause of most of our arguments. You were always jealous of my muse. You accused me of loving my art more than I loved you. Not even. You believed that I only loved my art and never you.
When you threw that question at me, it was the first time I really asked myself if I loved you. I am sorry that I was never really able to answer that question when we were together. You see, I knew nothing else before you came. I was so used with only my art consoling me. And the muse is like a jealous mistress (because in adulterous relationships, the man spends more time with the mistress than the wife). I could not come home to you because my lover needed me to finish creating. This mad love affair of mine with my muse—or muses—took its toll on our relationship.
Yes, muses. Not just one. They were many. And I am sure you know that they are not just ideas but real people. I cannot write about something I have not fallen in love with. So they had to be real.
This is when I started to question myself, and to doubt my affections for you. Because I have not written a single poem or prose about you when we were together. Not a single scene, play, not even a letter. Did I really love you? How come you have never been my muse? I realize you had every right to be jealous of my art. You had every reason to hate it and resent it as my secret mistress. You were right. It was I who cheated. And we both agreed that cheating in a relationship is the only unforgivable fault.
But you fought for me. Despite my art consuming all of my heart and soul, not leaving anything for me to give to you, you still tried. You tried so hard to win me over. But I was an artist longer than I was a lover. And I was not ready to leave my art for anything, not even for a woman.
It was months after I left you when I realized what I should have answered you when you asked me why you never were my muse: the muse is someone you could never possess. She possesses you. Once you possess her, she ceases to be a muse. It’s like a dog chasing a car. The dog will lose the purpose of his chase if he caught the car. The writer will lose the meaning of his poetry if he possessed the muse. That is why the muse possesses the artist and not the other way around. You were never my muse because I did not want not to possess you. You were already mine. Making you my muse means I cannot have you. I should have told you that the reason why you were never my muse was because I’d rather have you than let my mind chase you just to create something beautiful. Having you was already beauty in itself.
How very ironic.
Because now, you have become what you always wanted to be—my muse.
Posted by Juan Ekis at 8:10 AM
Thursday, February 10, 2011
For a forgetful man, his memories are precious gems. The fewer the memories, the more valuable they become. We have had a lot of memories together. But my mind could only hang on to a few, making them more valuable.
I still remember the first time we met. It was at the 10th year anniversary of the Leadership Congress we both attended. You immediately caught my eye despite your attempts to be inconspicuous. You had your camera with you, moving about, like a professional photographer, directing people to smile and pose while you saved the memory of their reunion into a digital repository. If only memories were like that—moving digital pictures inside one’s head.
I don’t remember why I noticed you. Maybe it was the way your eyebrows were always furrowed. It gave you that inquisitive look. The way you stared at your subjects, and the look when you preview the image you took in the LCD of your camera gave the impression that you were scrutinizing them, studying every detail, like an artist obsessing about the beauty he is attempting to capture. Maybe I saw myself in the way you looked at people. There is that look of wonder and curiosity.
We crossed paths several times in that gathering but we never really talked. Later on you told me that you noticed me earlier. Then, the alumni broke out into groups of interest, to talk shop about their various advocacies and how they can convince more members to join in. I was in the publication group. And I was surprised when you arrived, half-way into the discussion, sitting right in front of me. You started sharing your insights, passionately, making me feel I didn’t know what I was doing. You stared while you talked. As if we were the only two people at the table. At that moment, I knew I had to ask you out.
You asked for my number because I was too slow in trying to compose the words to ask you for yours. The rest, some will say, is history. But my memory fails to come up with a coherent narrative of the sequence of events. All I have are snippets of dialogue from various scenes of our encounters, faded mental photographs of our times together, and an incoherent montage of significant events that would probably make a good film if only I had a sharper memory to sort these sequences out. Maybe this is an attempt to turn it into a history—something recorded, something to look at, for when the time comes that my memory completely fails me.
Now, I am beginning to forget your face.
Not that you have a forgettable face, but you see, and I know that you will believe me, I was given a very short memory. I would like to think that I was not given a sharp and longer memory so that I am forced to write the images and feelings that come with these fleeting moments. This is very good for my art, but not very helpful for a relationship. You told me that sometimes you feel that I never cared much about you because I forget important things; that I loved my art more than I loved you—if I ever did love you. But you see, it was a curse. I was made to forget, so I am forced to write these moments down before they are completely forgotten.
It was my last dream about you that made me realize that I do not know your face anymore. We crossed paths again, in this unfamiliar place. You were with Sophie. We tried our best not to acknowledge each other. But you know how dreams work: the subconscious has a way of forcing the matter and bending the narrative to fit its ultimate desires. We exchanged a few words filled with subtext. It was a wonderful scene, something I would write into a play. We didn’t say much to each other but the subtexts were louder than the dialogue. It was then that I realized you had a different face. I did not know the face of the woman I was talking to. But I knew, I was certain, that I was talking to you. It was then when I realized that I was beginning to forget your face.
I do not know if this is a good thing or not. I wouldn’t know if that is what you might have wanted since we don’t talk anymore. I do not yet know what this means. But for sure, I dreamt it so I could tell you about it, even in this letter.
Sometimes I am tempted to look at our old photos together. I do not know if I want to remember your face again. The slipping of these fleeting moments, these memories, drive me to write them all down. The fear of losing all of them drives me to write. Remembering your face might stop me from writing. I do not know what I really want—to remember you vividly through a photograph or to immortalize our memories in prose. I can still hear your voice, though. I can hear it say, with much bitterness, that you know I will choose to write because I have this inordinate love affair with the muse. You have always been jealous of my muse. You asked me once why you never were my muse. But this, I shall explain in another letter. Suffice it to say that my love affair with the muse does not make me care about you any less. Writing all these is the only way I know to show you that I did care, despite your belief that I am emotionally retarded. Maybe I was. But like I said, this thing is a curse that is essential to my art but destructive to our relationship.
If I were given a choice by the muse, whether to have the strength to chronicle these memories or to just relive them, I would not know which one to choose. But right now, I do not have much of a choice. I have to write them down because I am not allowed to relive them.