37 years ago, I was born and raised in this very simple but dynamic community in UP Campus called Pook Amorsolo. From my conception ’til I reached 30 years of age, my family and I lived there ’til my father’s retirement. And during our stay there, I met my fellow kids who were born and raised there by their parents, just like me. I played street games with other children until I was 9. Because at 9 years old, I just became a recluse. One reason that I could remember that turned me into a recluse was when some kid told me that another kid had a crush on me, I got uncomfortable and got disinterested with playing. I became a homebody. And I was happy just watching cartoons, Batibot, Sesame Street, and other fun shows on TV with my older and younger siblings.
From childhood to my growing up years, I would see them, my neighbors. Even when I stopped playing with other children outside I would see them–the other kids and their parents–even when I was just in the comforts of our home I’d catch a glimpse of them if I happen to look outside or if I saw them passing by in front of our house. Or if I happen to be passing by in front of their houses or elsewhere in Amorsolo. I just saw them ordinarily as neighbors. Some people I know by face, while the others I know their names but hardly spoke with.
Back then, even until now, neighbors to me are people that I’d rather not know in a deep personal level. Neighbors are people that I feel that I’d rather keep my distance from. Because growing up, I was a recluse. I was timid, insecure, cautious of people. I’m now in my mid-30s and I’d have to say that I am still that way: recluse, cautious of people but no longer timid. Gradually I’ve learned to open myself up to people, becoming more friendly but still cautious. And at times feisty when I feel something is wrong. When I’m at home, I’m a homebody. I don’t go out and chat with neighbors to catch the latest chismis. I just love staying home with books, music, and TV entertainment, and household duties to preoccupy myself with and if I’m bored staying home I go out to go to a far place.
It was in 2009 when we moved from UP Campus in Quezon City to Rodriguez, also known as Montalban, in Rizal two years after my father’s retirement from UP. Fast forward to January 2016 I joined Facebook.
I’ve always been a type of person that once I turn a new chapter, like graduation, like resigning from a job, like moving from one address to another, I move on and leave the people I met behind. Bahala na kung makita ko pa sila. And when I finally got interested to join Facebook this year (which I abhorred and avoided for a long time, I even had a debate with a colleague who was convincing me to join FB and I was so stern that I will never ever join FB), impossible things happened. Things that I never imagined happened.
Since joining Facebook this year, I reconnected with people I met in the past (including former neighbors in Amorsolo) and there are other people I met in the past who added me as their Facebook friend to reconnect. Then came this Mang Per news about his sickness which I learned only through a Facebook post by Elaine, a former neighbor from Amorsolo who was the first to send me a friend request which I gladly accepted.
Mang Per is a humble photographer that travels in and around UP Campus for photo gigs. During graduation and other special occasions, he’s there. And because he’s always there, because of his personality, he became endearing to the people he met along the way as he travelled around UP Campus riding his bicycle with his camera hanging from his neck, carrying a small bag hanging from his shoulder. And I have this one photo during my childhood that he was the one who took upon the request of my Nanay, who was a teacher in a public school where I got my primary education.
So when I learned about the sad news on Mang Per’s health, I was profoundly affected even though the old man doesn’t know me. But I know him. Because Mang Per is one of those pleasant reminders of my childhood and growing up years in UP Campus. And that sad news about Mang Per just became the gel that brought me and Elaine, a former neighbor from Amorsolo in UP Campus, together (the reason that inspired me to invite her) so we could visit Mang Per in the hospital.
Elaine and her childhood family left Amorsolo in 1994. But even during those times, we hardly spoke. Like I said, I was a recluse. I also invited Orly, I invited him remembering our previous brief chat in Facebook. A chat that I consider memorable because it informed the both of us that we’re of the same age (he’s just one month older).
For the longest time, Orly and I both believed that I was the younger one and he’s the older one. We both believed that he looks older than I am. (Actually he really do look older than me, with his huge built and tall height, he used to be slim when he was younger, well, I used to be slim when I was younger, too.) So I remembered to invite him, in replacement to his suggestion that we have snack or lunch together after that brief pleasant chat. Orly suggested a meet-up (which I said yes to) out of his amusement that we’re only able to chat after 37 years since our birth. In that chat, I mentioned to him that one of my elementary classmates in Balara, Alvin, was his classmate in UPIS. I saw them together riding a bike in our street and because I was shy, I didn’t go out to approach them, to say hi to Alvin. Well, in the virtual world, I wasn’t so shy anymore to send a friend request to Alvin after seeing him in Orly’s FB Friends list. (I don’t know if Alvin still remembers me but he accepted my friend request and I initiated to chat up with him in FB, more than once because of this elementary classmates reunion that I was organizing upon the request of my other classmates after I posted our Grade 6 class picture. It was surreal, chatting with him after 25 years. He looks so different now. We both look different now, all of us, me and my former classmates in elementary who I am able to reconnect with in FB all look different now.)
So I thought it would be a better time to get together with Orly in the company of Elaine. I thought it would help lessen the awkwardness between me and him, if we ever get to meet finally after ages. Remember, we were only chatting in a virtual world called Facebook. Face-to-face meeting is different.
Unfortunately and fortunately, he wasn’t available. So it became a bonding moment for us girls, me and Elaine who is three years older. After the hospital visit, actually, hours after that hospital visit, I wrote an essay about Mang Per then posted it in Facebook, with pictures of Mang Per with us, which was also Mang Per’s request, that someone would write about him in Facebook. It was my honor to do it for him. Then Orly saw my post about Mang Per in Facebook. He called me through my cellphone to say hello and apologize for not being able to come. Orly’s good handsome voice was impeccable not to notice, I have to say.
To make up for his absence, he invited me and Elaine for a meet up which I set up five days later, June 24. We were about to meet in UP Technohub.
37 years ago, I was born and raised in this very simple but dynamic community in UP Campus called Pook Amorsolo. From my conception ’til I reached 30 years of age, my family and I lived there ’til my father’s retirement (or two years after my father’s retirement). But in the last 21 years, I was a recluse.
37 years after (or since birth), through the help of Facebook and because of my post on Mang Per, I hanged out, had a bonding moment with three of those children now adults who were my former neighbors in Amorsolo. That’s Elaine, Orly, and Roman (he was invited by Orly to join us). And for two hours, I got to know them up close and personal. And wow, it was my first time to ever talk with Roman and Orly in a personal way. FIRST TIME. It was also too late for me to realize or to notice Orly’s handsome features. It was interesting for me to know that despite Roman’s grunge look, he’s a funny guy at heart. He kept the conversation flowing and light. And Elaine, I observed that she’s a cheerful lady that you couldn’t see a trace of the heavy burden that she’s carrying as a breadwinner of her family. All three of them are now parents. I was the only one who is single.
After the dinner, we had to say our goodbyes. Elaine went back to her work–which was just in Technohub–while I was accompanied by Orly and Roman in my walk to the Footbridge. Orly was supposed to shake my hand but I had a better idea, and shy of my clammy hands, I requested for a hug, which he obliged, so we hugged, knowing it could be the first and the last time that I would ever talk with him. I also hugged Roman. Then they gave me words of advice, the same advice that they gave me during the start of our meeting like a sort of reminder. And I appreciated it, talking with me a little more. Then Orly, to my surprise, held my hand which I reciprocated by squeezing his hand, just a quick squeeze (and I hope he wasn’t surprised by that) seizing the moment despite the awkwardness, and knowing in my heart it could be the only chance I got to talk or even see Orly that long. When my family and I were in Amorsolo, Orly and his childhood family’s house was just stone’s throw away from our house. So he’s a former neighbor that I don’t think I will forget even if we hardly spoke in the past. Orly now has his own family who lives with him in his childhood home in Amorsolo. And before moving on our separate ways, I was only able to take a last look at Orly to show my gesture of goodbye.
It was surreal, awkward but it was a night that I will always remember. Thank you Orly (also, for paying for our dinner), Roman, and Elaine. I have a feeling that I will again see Elaine. And I hope to see her soon.