We met in high school when we were just scrawny teenagers who were trying to navigate through the social norms, on top of being competitive enough to maintain our science scholarships. We were part of the “cream of the crop”, as they say, but most days we would feel like “crap”. This is the general feeling within the batch but some of us just naturally gravitated towards each other. Not always in a romantic kind of way. No. The type where all great friendship starts — that unexplainable, undeniable connection that you don’t get to have with everyone.
It was in our Sophomore year when we discovered that creek beside our classroom. Our tambayan with 3 or 4 of our classmates who, just like us, are just trying to make sense of the mess that is our high school. We would talk about all sorts of things, rarely about class, before we go our separate ways into our dormitories.
For a while, that creek became our refuge from the academic stress, the micro-abuses that we get from our teachers (which at that time we just make fun of as a coping mechanism), and yes, the joy and pain of our first brushes at love.
We went to separate universities after high school but that did not stop us from seeing each other on the regular. Given that your then girlfriend (and my very close friend) was in the same uni as I was, it was but natural for you to be always there. And so, even though we were on different campuses, attending different classes, being around other people, our friendship remained.
College was a different beast. There was freedom, yes, but along with it is also the tendency to be lax and just be wayward about the more important things in life. In place of the creek, your condo’s rooftop became our go to for drinking, partying, and meeting new people. New girlfriends, new boyfriends, blockmates, orgmates… But only a few new people survived our tendency to be cliquish. Come to think of it, was there anyone who was able to really infiltrate our bubble?
For a while, that rooftop became our escape from the realities of adulthood that are quickly unfolding before us. For a while, that rooftop became our escape from the realities that we didn’t want to immediately face.
We were in different continents after college and for a while we were able to maintain communications. You told me about the difficulties of adjusting to a new country, training in the US Navy, and the hassle of maintaining a long distance relationship. I told you about the excitement of my first job and the liberation of finally getting out of a relationship that’s not doing me any good (ignoring your sarcastic laughter and your “I told you”s in between). You told me how you missed me and our circle; and how you would always envision us growing old together and just hanging out in our porch. We would always punctuate those conversations with “May the Porch be with you” as a reference to Star Wars (which you got me into, by the way).
For a while we were able to do this, but as with life and all the intricacies of it, the regular phone calls, chats, and being an ass over each other’s Facebook walls, were reduced to once a in a while kumustahan, birthday greetings, and rare video calls for very important events — both the good and the bad.
We individually went through our own stresses and traumas, our own heartbreaks and milestones, trying to overcome our own demons. But every time you would come over to visit, we would get together and talk as if those gap years never happened. In our heads, we are still looking forward to growing old and hanging out in our porch, same with how our younger adult selves envisioned it to be.
When I learned about your emergency surgeries and your eventual passing, I was grief stricken. I tried to access all of our memories together that were long buried in my mind. I remembered all our little places and how they all shaped and cemented our relationship. Every night, for two weeks, I would cry myself to sleep knowing that one of my dearest friends is gone and I will never get to talk to him again.
My initial thought was, in another lifetime, we will see each other again. We will still get to hangout in our porch, very much the same as how we envisioned it to be. But you don’t believe in the after life, do you? So how can we meet? How can we see each other again? How can we talk to each other again? How can we hug each other again?
And it got me thinking. This is not what you want. This is not how you want me — how you want us — to feel. You don’t believe in the after life because you think and you feel that we should not dwell on the pain and sadness for long, but rather celebrate life. You taught me a lesson to always make the people who matter to us feel loved — while they still can, while we still can.
So maybe, there’s no porch in the after life. Maybe the porch that we’ve always envisioned are made up of all our core memories together. Maybe the porch is made up of that creek we always go to after class, or that tree in Sunken Garden where we made fun of each other’s love lives, or that Ministop where we would have cheapass lunch so we can spend all afternoon playing Khan or Dota in the nearby computer shops, or that bumpy roro ride to Bora where we just played cards all night to deal with the seasickness, or that flower bed beside your house in Bicol where you wiped my tears while I was crying over a boy, or that craft beer place in Baguio when you first told me about your condition and how it hurts a lot, or that rooftop where we spent many drunken nights together not being mindful of what waits for us in the morning.
Maybe the porch is how we started our friendship and how we were able to maintain it for as long as we can.