this story originally appeared in the Philippine daily inquirer on September 13, 2001.
Today, I will attend an execution: my own. I will watch it with both eyes open and I will not cry. I will not break down just because the man I have loved since forever will marry someone else. I will watch him promise himself to a woman who will never love him like I have. I will watch them bind themselves to a vow I should have taken.
I have loved Oliver almost all my life. I have known him since I saved his six-year-old hide from a bully named Ricardo who wanted to rid him of his two yellowed front teeth. I was five at the time, but having grown with five older brothers and a hellion of a sister, “Totoy Cardo” was a piece of cake.
Oliver was so overcome with embarrassment at having a girl to protect his scrawny neck that from that time on he made it a point to be the rescuer, not the rescued.
As time passed, muscles filled out this lanky frame and those two front teeth began to sparkle. He combs his hair, and he takes a bath daily now. In short, he has become a fine specimen of manhood.
The best part is, he lived up to his promise: he became my self-appointed guardian (well, I don’t know if that’s the best or the worst part). He was just always there, sticking to me like glue. It used to drive me nuts that he never let me out of his sight.
When I was 12, I ran from the infirmary on my way home. I had found out in the most humiliating way that I had become a woman: there was a big red stain on the back portion of my skirt. The jeers and the taunts followed me through the school corridors.
Oliver dashed after me and offered to accompany me home. I declined, of course. He seemed to understand my discomfiture and promised to drop later with the things left in school.
When I reached home I was told that I needed to jump three times on the stairs (which I did) and to wash my face with my blood (which I didn’t do).
Oliver dropped by in the afternoon, sporting a black eye and a bruise on his arm. When I asked him what happened, he said he had walked into a closed door. I believed him. But a few days later, minus the dysmennorhea, I found out that Oliver got into fisticuffs because some guy made a disgusting remark about me.
Nobody had ever fought for me before that. And when you’re 12 and discussing in class how King Arthur and fairest of them all, Lancelot, fought for Guinevere’s love, you tend to get ideas. I loved Oliver then.
When we were in high school and I found out that the school’s heartthrob and one of my most ardent suitors, Richard, was involved with a bustier girl, it was to Oliver that I ran. When I didn’t graduate as valedictorian and I got so drunk, it was Oliver who took me home. He didn’t even mind that I barfed all over his dad’s car (which he borrowed without permission). When I decided to go to UP and he went to Ateneo, we celebrated by partying. When I lost my mom in a car accident, he took care of everything. When my dad followed my mom less than a year later after a heart attack, he was there again.
By this time he was an appendage of my life. He used to check out the guys I came to know. Nobody dared to get serious with me-not when Oliver had a black belt.
I didn’t know how to define our relationship. I didn’t know what we were. We definitely were more than friends, better even than best friends. It was like we were a couple, but formally not one. We did all the things that couples did like hang out and neck but always stopped when things got too hot. Since we never defined what we meant to each other, we never said “I love you” or whatever serious couple told each other. As a result, I remained a chaste princess while my prince caroused and sowed wild oats, but still had the energy to monitor my movements.
I didn’t mind. After all, I was so sure we’d end up together. I always thought that in the end, it would be us. I loved him. I managed to convince myself that he loved me (what else could it be?). Little did I know that love doesn’t conquer all, it only conquers the weak.
I didn’t think he’d be so stupid as to get a girl pregnant on the same night they met at a party. I didn’t think he’d be so stupid as to forget to use some form of contraception. After all, he had given me a lecture on safe sex. And I didn’t think he’d be so stupid as to marry the girl.
But maybe I forgot that after all he was a man, and men have been known to be stupid about these things. Their brain is located in a region other than between the ears.
What could I do? Kicking him in the groin and punching him in the eye seemed like a good idea then. Don’t blame me; he was the one who enrolled me in a self-defense course. But I did not feel better. Seeing him bent over in pain only made me angrier. I wasted my life for this lousy excuse of a man? I could not believe it!
I wanted nothing more than to run to him and beg him to wake me up from the stupid dream. I wanted him to take me someplace where we didn’t know anybody. No pain, no memory, no humiliation. I wanted to just forget it ever happened but since I flunked in the School for Martyrs, I couldn’t, for the life of me pretend, it didn’t happen. I couldn’t pretend he didn’t hurt me. I couldn’t pretend everything was fine and dandy and exactly the way it was before.
We didn’t talk for a month. For both of us who were practically inseparable, that was like an eternity. I ducked into corners whenever I would see him. I wouldn’t take his calls. I wouldn’t see him. And for some time hate was my reason for getting up in the morning, for breathing, for living. Hate and I became good friends.
“God brings men into deep waters, not to drown them but to cleanse them,” somebody once wrote. I didn’t want to be cleansed. I just wanted to drown in pain and misery and utter desolation. I wanted to wallow in the dark and deep pit of despair.
I know a thousand and one clichＴ that say this can be a blessing and that I should be thankful. But thankful is the last thing I’m feeling right now. I’ve always thought that there are three kinds of women: those who break, those who mend and those who are broken themselves. Before this hit me, I assumed that I belonged to the first or second category. Now I know I’m in the third–so hurt and broken up inside.
My grandmother used to say that there is nothing you can do about pain when it gives you a silly grin except grin right back. All I could manage was a wry smile, a killer headache and the worst hangover the day before his wedding. Evidence of that is the disgusting sight of mashed potatoes and barbecue, thrown up not three meters away from where I was lying prostrate on the floor and the awful stench of cigarette on my hair.
Frankly, I don’t want to go. I want to wallow in misery in my messy room, crying, retching and stinking, surrounded with Michael Learns to Rock (whose songs are dedicated to the broken-hearted) CDs. But I have to go and attend the wedding. I have to bathe and prepare and put on that atrocious peach (it’s not even my color!) gown. I’m not doing it for the groom, my one true friend and love, Oliver. Neither am I doing it for the bride, my younger sister, Sandra, who needs me. I’m doing it for my unborn niece who has the great fortune of having me as her aunt.
Call me stupid, but I’ve always known my place. If it isn’t beside the man I was destined to marry, if it isn’t behind my sister, who will take his name, wear his ring and bear him a child, then it must be with my niece, cradled close to my heart so that she will know both of our love.