Starry, starry night… No, no, no. We’re not going there. Let’s keep focus. Why do I get sidetracked easily these days…As it happens, I really like the song but this is a very different story and has nothing to do with music or paintings. It’s about growing up and friendship and everything in between. So, what do you think? Shall we begin?
Here we are…
Vincent was my classmate from second grade till we graduated from primary school. I was the new kid in the block; he was born and bred in that town, he still lives there.
I don’t remember anymore how it all started but before the end of that school year we became inseparable, partner in crime, the usual cliché.
He owned a boat. A blue one. We used to take it out after school and paddle till we could paddle no more, then we let it drift while lying on top of the bow either singing or just saying nothing. We collected marbles as well. We hunted for them during low tides and prime finds generated the requisite Oohs and Aahs from both of us. We housed them in empty bottles of powder, sorted by size, colours and quality. Nobody was allowed to view our treasure. The lot was for our eyes only.
Vincent taught me to draw. We had a signature drawing, a shack in the middle of a rice field under the setting sun. In return, I showed him how to write in verse. We were awesome couple. Our advisers and classmates thought we were too, they encouraged our bonding and my parents had no objection to it. Only his mother had something against us, against me in particular. She could not stand the sight of me. I didn’t know why. Looking back, I could probably associate it with a mother-in-law thing. Vincent is the only boy and the youngest.
There was something he did that I will be forever grateful for the rest of my life.
When we were in fourth grade, I had an accident.
The fish pond was located along the national highway at the foot of a bridge. It wasn’t leveled with the road, there were concrete steps leading down to it and was surrounded by barbed wire fence. To access the outside world and all necessities, we had to go up to the highway and from there we can go anywhere. My mother sent me to buy a bottle of catsup one afternoon and I happily obeyed. It was raining and I was wearing my father’s oversized raincoat. I was half-way home when I got it in my head to sample what was inside the bottle. The sampling quickly turned to drinking and when I reached home the bottle was almost empty.
Of course I got the necessary beatings and was sent once more to purchase another bottle. Crossing the highway, I didn’t hear the upcoming vehicle; my father’s raincoat must have muffled the sound and before I knew, a military jeep driven by a governor of some province ran me over.
Being run over by a car was nothing initially. I did not feel any pain at all. I was looking at my swollen foot and thought: what’s wrong with it?
What was wrong was a broken fibula. The driver succeeded to avoid total collision but clipped my right foot in the process. I was driven to a local hospital and been told that there was a big chance that I could never walk again. The bone was cleanly cut in half. The owner of the vehicle offered my father a certain amount for the damage. My old man who valued his pride more than anything and lived mainly on principles naturally declined. He asked only one thing: that the governor will shoulder all the necessary expenses until I could walk again. Clever father. I stayed in the hospital from December 02, 1980 till January 05, 1981. I spent Christmas and New Year in that place away from my family. I remember looking at the life-size holy family statues in the lobby of the hospital when my father carried me outside. I still cannot walk.
I was a candidate for a gold medal that year (same as any other year I spent in school) but I was running behind with my lessons, and had no idea how to catch up. Enter Vincent, my knight in shining armour.
I remember the day he came and I handed him the school keys for safe keeping… he looked at me with a mixture of disbelief and pity I almost cry. Then he asked me if I was able to attend classes and I said no, I might as well drop out. He left without saying anything. The next day after school, he showed up with a lot of books and notes and explained to me everything I have missed. Since then, he dropped by every evening to show me what they have learned that day, providing all the necessary materials so I will not fall behind. While I was studying, he sat quietly next to me fiddling with his fishing pole glancing at me once in a while asking if I needed something. I was grateful.
Because of Vincent I did all I could to walk again. I remember watching the grass grow from the window and I thought: I can’t be like this I had to walk. In the beginning I did it with crutches, after three days I abandoned them totally and tried to walk on my own. After few weeks, I went to school, limping but unattended. I finished that school year with a gold medal around my neck.
My friendship with Vincent started to fall apart during our last year in elementary. I did not know if it was because of Arnel who transferred to our school and started hanging out with me, or was it because Vincent developed a certain kind of closeness with Helen during my absence, but all of a sudden, we were not an exclusive item anymore. For the first time, there were others involved. Vincent accused me of being overly friendly to Arnel saying I reserved my sweetest smile for that strange new comer. In return, I blamed him for not being the same someone I used to know, that I hardly recognized him at all, and it goes on and on. From there it went downhill. By the end of that school year, we were not in speaking terms anymore.
He returned my school books via someone; I thought it was strange that he didn’t do it himself. Did I become so revolting for him he could not stand to see my face?
The answer lay between the pages of those books. I found several letters addressed to me written by Vincent during those days I was not in school. It spoke of his longing for me to return, that he missed me, that it was not the same without me by his side; he tried he said to amused himself with others but to no avail. The letters even mentioned Helen and how Vincent tried to replace me with her but without success. I was the only one for him because he loved me dearly and he knew that the feeling was mutual.
I was perplexed! Vincent was my best friend but he was and still is no more than that (sadly the history will repeat itself couple of times but that’s for another story) besides, I was a late bloomer and it will take several years more before I will have the notion of what he was talking about. Not knowing what to do, I burned his letters.
After that I won a scholarship to study in better and bigger school in town and I never look back.
We’ve met again after 25 years. I was in the country and feeling a bit nostalgic I decided to visit our hometown and the school where it all started. Passing the coast line, I saw a familiar blue boat bobbling in the water and I couldn’t help but investigate. Sure enough it was Vincent. I watched him disembarked and unload his catch for the day. He saw me standing there and after blinking few times he said:
“Bebong?” Is that you?”
“One and the same.” I said smiling…
“My, you’ve changed! If it’s not because of your eyes I will not recognize you.”
“What’s with my eyes?”
“They are always sad, as if you are going to cry any moment.”
“Oh! How life’s treating you, Vincent?”
“I’m okay? And you, where have you been?” I told him everything (well, almost everything) about me, how I am and what keeping me busy… He said:
“I know you will go far, you have that in you. You’re a very strong person even then.” His comment puzzled me but I decided not to pursue it. I changed the topic instead.
“Are you still living in the same house?” I asked.
“Of course! Do you want to come and see for yourself?”
“I don’t know… your wife might not like the idea.” I said half joking.
“Don’t be silly, I am not married.” I didn’t expect that.
“Only one. But it’s over now. She’s married to someone else and lives very far from here.”
“You must love her so very much.”
“yes, I did. I proposed to her.”
“That must have hurt. You know… first love…”
“Don’t be ridiculous! You are my first love.”
Speechless was not the right word to describe how I felt at that moment. Not even in my wildest dream it crossed my mind that Vincent was harbouring for me that kind of feelings. I blamed the letters to puppy love, but first love… way too much.
Needless to say I went with him. He told me his is father died couple of years ago and he was living with his mother who by the way still detests me. We rekindled the old friendship and went camping on the beach every night and lighted bonfires. We went to visit Arnel whom upon seeing us concluded that we were back on the old track. He said: Now that Vincent and I have found each other again, it would be a waste if we didn’t end up in church. We took out his boat several times and paddled, paddled, paddled. One time we encountered one of my father’s old friends who said: “Junior, don’t let her get away this time.” We just laughed.
We were drinking beers in our camp one night when he started sniffing my hair saying I look like a kid instead of a grown up woman. I made excuses to go back to my hotel room and took the plane back home the next morning.
I genuinely like Vincent. I enjoyed what we had. I still want to be friends with him, but that’s it. I can never reciprocate his feelings. A friend is just a friend for me. Why there are people who would want to ruin a perfectly good relationship by jumping over the limits__ is beyond me…
I never see Vincent since then.
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