‘you need sleep,’ my mind tells me.
‘just one drink,’ i answered.
one drink and scrolling through my iTunes.
two drinks. then:
kid british. i remember je.
my daughter asked me several weeks ago: what’s it like to know someone who died?
i told her: sometimes you miss them. sometimes you forget. depends on how close to them you were. how much they figured in your life.
i’ve had lolas and lolos die on me. parents of friends. fraternity brothers. sorority sisters. but je was different.
je introduced me to kid british (“keed breeteesh!” he used to say with a laugh). this, i wrote on his birthday last year. it was posted by his girlfriend gigi on the trashradiomanila website soonafter:
This is the year I wanted to start writing those thank you, “looking forward to better times” notes. You know, the kind of letter complete with photos of the kids and what they accomplished the year before. Obviously, I didn’t get to do it on the 1st; screw that, I told myself. I have till 3 Kings to do it, or my birthday, which is tomorrow. Instead, my reflections had me writing a piece not about myself or my kids, but of my departed friend Je, who would’ve celebrated his 44th birthday last week.
I figure this is as good a start as any to say thank you to those who make us happy, remind us of the things that really matter, and live life in a way that gives you most joy.
Death, Dancing, and Living
2009 was the year I said goodbye to my friend, Je Bautista.
Not to make light of other people’s grief this past year—many lost their lives, some tragically and senselessly: At year’s start, I held Tita Nini’s hand and asked her to hang on for the launch of my new magazine and to see Derek come back from Dubai. Tita Nini, Derek’s mom, who made the corned beef sandwiches my daughter now asks me to make, who could still crack jokes, Ungas-style (may pinagmanahan!), even while she lay aching in her hospital bed. How I wish I had more time to know her more and better, be to her what I failed at many years ago, a good and dependable “daughter-in-law”. Nonoy Tan, a good friend to many and who carried on the tradition of The Oarhouse. He passed away after Ondoy had left Manila broken and weeping, and took with him the current hope that that pub, second home to many, would ever be the same again. Michael Jackson? Farrah Fawcett? Fallen icons of my youth. But all good things must come to pass. As Je did.
I was in Dubai on assignment and visiting Derek when it happened. He texted me saying he was in the ICU for a heart attack. Heart attack? Fuck, he didn’t even know it was a heart attack. He came in for a check-up, and was asked to come back just as he was driving away. We bantered back and forth about holding a party on the rooftop of my new apartment. “Gawa tayo ng health shakes!” we yelled back and forth, via SMS. “Imbes na Red Horse at Tanduay, blended apple at melon na!” And then: “O sya, mahal ang roaming, leche ka. Kitakits nalang pag uwi ko.” Just as well; he had to hide the phone, too. Mobile phones weren’t allowed in the ICU.
The following evening, a little past midnight in Manila, I received an SMS from Gigi. You all know what she said. I don’t need to type it down.
Je’s passing—like the rest of the events 2009 had for me—was the end of an era. I remember lurking around The Business Daily office on Santolan in the ‘90s, avoiding people who were annoying or just plain creepy, and stopping at Je’s desk in the corner, a safe place, a sane place. Going out for a smoke. He and his oversized polo shirt over a tee, ‘80s style. Was it Je who gave me the writing gig with Paskie Pascua? Who sent me to interview Tribal Fish in Mayrics? It must’ve been. I wouldn’t have dared or even thought of the subject on my own. Much later, when I married my future ex-husband, it was he I called when I needed a jazz band to play at my reception. When my marriage was at its most tumultuous—and his relationship with another was crumbling, as well—we were each other’s crutches and nemesis. We yelled at each other over the phone, blithering, blabbering, telling each other to “shape up or ship out”; checked on each other after each failed “suicide” attempt. Ah, Je. How stupid we were.
We were there for each other, too, for many triumphs and crazy-happy memories: the launching of Asiatype’s 100 Best Restaurants in Metro Manila (of which he was editor, me, associate ed; the book was on the National Bookstore Best Sellers list of 2002); looking through his formidable CD collection in his old family house on Visayas Avenue; and him showing me the rare sketch HR Ocampo made for his mother, poet, novelist, and screenwriter Liwayway Arceo, during the war years—delicately but deliberately done, a genius with a purpose—a woman representing the Philippines, on paper in which Ocampo’s in détente pandesal was wrapped; me and him reeling and rolling with laughter as we snarked about a band’s ukay-ukay outfits. Oh God. That was hilarious. It was a friendship built and nourished not only on common interests, but on the same insecurities (about our families, selves, writing, and relationships) and respect for each other (for all the same things).
Je and I grew closer in 2008, although we had touched base again in 2007 with some offshore editing assignments. After many years of not seeing each other, Kelly Van Dorn—whose husband Paul had hit it off with Je by sharing his love for vinyl and impeccable taste in music—surprised me with Je’s presence in The Oarhouse in August. Je gifted me with two box sets of The Clash and The Cure that night; literally whooping with excitement, I felt like I was in high school again. In exchange, I promised him with two Velvet Underground vinyls—one rare, one not so—and a couple other EPs of standard new wave bands.
The vinyls are with me still. As soon as I touched down from Dubai that frantic April day, I headed straight for Je’s wake. My ex-husband followed a few hours after. “Oh buddy,” Mardy told the face on Je’s body. “Oh, buddy.”
Je’s daughter Maxi, who I asked to write for the June 09 issue of HIPP (for which Je wrote music reviews), says: “It took me around two hours of looking at the white casket from afar, before I finally went up to it and looked at my dad’s lifeless body. He was smiling.”
It’s gotten more seldom as the months pass, but sometimes, I still see Je’s figure out of the corner of my eye. He’s faded from my dreams. In one, I see him on a stopover on a road trip. He’s smoking and asking me, “well, have you gotten over me dying yet?” Then he asks about Gigi, and he answers his own question: “She’ll be ok. yan si Gigi, iba yan. she’s in a class of her own.” In another, he’s seated in a busy café-like atmosphere, in his trademark jumbo polo shirt, still smoking his Winstons, puffing as he asks me, “o, ano na?” When I feel like I want to get a drink, the first person I think of is Je. Binky Lampano agrees with me: “Wala nang matinong kainuman sa Manila.”
And so I find myself very often drinking alone, as I do now. Tonight it’s red wine, and I remember how Je laughed. He had the most infectious laugh; a trill that went on and on, linked between sentences with: “eto pa…” or “eto ka ngayon…” Even on the phone, we did nothing but laugh. We talked and we listened to each other and when my stupid driver locked the keys in my car one night after a shoot, he and Gi and his ex-wife brought me home and we all waited for the driver to get back just to make sure the car was safe. It was that kind of friendship.
Every year-end (or any moment it would hit him, actually), in true music-phile, ex-The-Betrayed-bass-player-and-vinyl-collector fashion, Je would send his friends a list of songs and artists he felt made the most impact in the past year. I miss getting that list. Tonight I have to content myself with a song he sent me in March 2009 with the note: “With lyrics like this, san ka pa??” Attached was Nick Harrison’s “Something Special”:
Tragically dressed she arrives
Holding her head off the dance floor
And no lack of sleep in her eyes
And who can blame her for wanting more
And there are few with better taste
And clothes that cover life’s mistakes
In my head, Je and I will always be ska-ing on the dancefloor. No more angst, no more drama. We’d be in Ten02 or The Oar or that punk rock place in Cubao. We’d talk of the funny things people have been up to, and our erratic moods and how Gi and Derek take care of us. How keeping relationships are key and how money isn’t, most of the time. How it doesn’t matter, really, what you’ve been through. It’s how you live now. Today. How we should always discover new ways to feed our passion and stay clear or wary of things that derail us from what we truly want. How to shut up and dance. Just shut up and dance.
May 2010 be full of dancing for us all.
Happy birthday, Je (Jan 01, 1966-April 04, 2009).
For a playlist that would do Je proud, please visit trashradiomanila.blogspot.com, of which he was musical programmer till the very end.