A and Me (from maiden issue of Maven magazine)

the post i just re-blogged reminded me of A.

was asked to write about childhood sweethearts a few months ago for Maven magazine.

here’s the unedited copy:

We were only 12 then, A and I. He was the bad boy of our class (looking back, A would be the template of almost all the boys I dated from then on), already muscular at that pubescent stage, his hair in a ducktail, given to sneering like Billy Idol, and making teachers shake their heads in disappointment at the future of our generation. A and I had our first kiss—a soft touching of lips, nothing more—near the restrooms on the second floor. I remember him walking in a daze back to the classroom after.

When classes ended and summer vacation approached, A gifted me with a stuffed, rainbow-striped dinosaur. He told me to name it “Pooh,” the same endearment he had for me.

He visited me at home regularly, two, three times a week, hitching free rides on jeepneys and buses and always surprising me when he showed up. He would never knock on the gate…he would find a way to sneak up and call softly with his already-grainy voice: “Pooh, Pooh,” through the door while I was watching TV.

I don’t remember how I felt when A told me his family had to migrate to the U.S. His father, an outspoken newspaper columnist, had decided to uproot his whole family and take them away from this land where a Dictator ruled. Maybe I felt a bit resentful and angry. I remember singing Madonna’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” to him over the phone. I now cringe at myself.

Over the next several years, I imagined several scenarios of our “reunion.” For some reason, he never wrote. No one really knew what happened to A. There were rumors of him falling into bad, really bad, company. Drugs and guns and all that. 

I got the chance to confirm all those rumors much, much later. I already had a daughter and founded my first magazine. It was during a presscon for a beauty product. We were crowded around an exhibit of some sort and I was agreeing enthusiastically about the merits of it with a colleague, a writer from another magazine. As she and I exchanged smiles, the young man beside her blurted out: “Gina???” It was A. We hugged tight, so very tight. The ferocity of his embrace, like that of a man lost or drowning, shocked me—later I would find out why.

“Tell me how I was when we were young,” he told me, almost plaintively, over lunch a few weeks later. “I can’t remember anymore…I really fucked up my brain with all the drugs.” 

So I did. And I did more. I invited the rest of the grade school batch over to my house. We did more than party—we re-created memories for A. There’s nothing sadder than a person whose childhood—especially a happy one, like all of us shared—had been eradicated. I’d like to think we gave him back his forgotten childhood, and a bit of more joy and peace in his life. 

But things have a way of twisting and turning and ending up where you never expected them. A had broken up with my colleague, F (who became my friend). He went back to the U.S. Before he left, I gave him a copy of the slumbook we had all filled out in the 6th grade. And a few years later, we found out he had again gotten into drugs and guns, and a high profile case that led to a lock-up in Federal Prison in Arizona.

The classmates and I still try to sustain communication with him. We send chain dialogues to a classmate in the States, who prints them out and sends them to A. Last we heard, A has found God. In the only photo he sent, one with his mom, we can see he doesn’t look much different—the same muscularity, the same gentle eyes. His skin has roughened a bit, though, and the way he has his arm around his mom reminds me of the same almost-desperate way he hugged me many years ago during our “reunion.” 

A held a despedida before he returned to the States and got into all sorts of shit again. He invited the classmates and F. I was the only one who made it, though. His current girlfriend and other friends were there, and I felt painfully out of place. 

Later, I learned from F that he told her, that among all his guests, I made the most difference. Huh? I asked. We hardly spoke.

You were part of his childhood, she answered. Meant a lot that you were there. 


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