Saturday, May 1, 2010

Part 28: East of the Sun, West of the Moon

"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet
~Rudyard Kipling

"Well, it's a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
'Neath the cover of October skies"
~ Van Morrison

Most of the boarding student rules revolved around preventing smoking, drinking, drugs and sex. None were very effective. A big priority for the dorm parents was keeping us occupied and out of mischief, to us it seemed to be their sole mission in life. Many kids were well versed in the arts of evasion and concealment and we kept them on their toes during the school week, but especially so on the weekends; we were a handful. What they and the administration didn't seem to understand was that most of these skills and vices were acquired long before they ever got to Brent.

One weekend we were just hanging out around campus and a friend of mine said
"you want to see something? " We went into the empty senior lounge next to the dining hall and to the restroom where he pulled the medicine cabinet out of the wall. There in the now empty nook was a little ledge formed by the 2x4 framing studs and on it were a syringe, an oil lamp, a spoon and a length of rubber tube. I was shocked. I knew some of the older kids smoked pot, but I had no idea that this was going on. We had just seen the movie "Dusty and Sweets McGee" in gym class. I hated shots and needles and the scenes of the addicts injecting heroin into their tongues really freaked me out.

After drugs, the faculty were especially concerned about keeping the boys and girls from teaching each other about the birds and the bees. This was especially difficult on Brent's big campus, there were so many places a couple could sneak off to.

So, the Faculty opened and staffed the library on the weekends, they organized weekend volleyball and basketball games between students and teachers/staff. They took turns chaperoning trips on Friday and Saturday nights to the Pines, Session or John Hay movie theaters. I participated in as many of those activities that I could, even the ones I wasn't really interested in. But the one activity that Boarders rarely skipped, the most fun form of
school sponsored Boarder entertainment were the beach trips. It was counter intuitive really, putting boys together with girls in their swimsuits, because a lot of students on these trips broke most of the aforementioned rules.

For most of us it was simply a great way to get away, and for the boarders it didn't cost anything extra. Day students could sign up too, they just had to pay for the meals. Most of my friends usually went and I don't think I ever missed a trip. The long, wide white sand beaches along the Lingayen gulf were free of trash, the water clear. Vendors would rent inner tubes for fifty centavos and we would hook ourselves together and float down the coast. Older students would sneak down the beach to one of the Sari Sari stores where, for a peso they buy a cold bottle of San Miguel beer or a pack of cigarettes. After supper we would watch the sunset, then sit around the campfires, playing guitar, singing songs, roasting marshmallows. It was very romantic and many relationships blossomed after one of these trips. We would get up in the middle of the night and swim in the ocean, under water we would wave our arms, causing the phosphorescent plankton to light up like a scene from

So, once the monsoon season started to die down, sign up sheets started appearing on the little table in the dining hall. Sometimes the trips were just for the day, most often they were overnight campouts. We would load up the bus and head down the mountain to one of the many resorts located near the town of San Fernando, La Union.
Cresta Ola, Long Beach, Nalinac and Bauang were just some of the places we stayed. Or rather, campout at. While the students pitched tents in a coconut grove near the beach, some of the chaperones would get a room or two. This way we had access to showers and flushing toilets and sometimes a swimming pool. Depending on how many students signed up, the school would send a corresponding number of cooks along and sometimes the school nurse.

We are on the bus going back to Baguio late one afternoon, I was sitting on the rolled up tents in the aisle near the back of the bus. A senior and his girlfriend were on the seat next to me, on the other side were Norman and Angel. A couple of the teacher chaperones were sitting four rows up and they kept turning around and glowering at the couple next to me. When we finally arrived back at Brent they pounced on them as they alighted from the bus. After a brief argument, the boy was ordered back to his dorm and they escorted the girl back to Hamilton Hall. The word quickly spread, Toy and Becky were in trouble for engaging in sexual activity on the bus! They were being recommended for expulsion or suspension. We couldn't believe it, we had been sitting right there talking the whole way back and had not seen any illicit behavior. Norman was outraged and spent the night cutting up pairs of black dress pants into 3 inch wide strips to use as armbands. He went room to room the next morning instructing us to tie them on and wear a jacket or sweater over it. My roommate didn't want to wear one, but I said I would. One of the girls in Hamilton Hall had been working on the same thing and she passed around the home made armbands to the girl boarders. Before flag raising that day Norman handed out more of them to the day students. Some students were afraid to wear them, but many did. Then, right before the flag raising ceremony, at his signal, we all took off our jackets or sweaters. My heart was pounding wildly in my chest as I followed suit. Some students bowed their heads and raised their right arm, fist clenched as the athletes had in the 1968 Olympics. Most of us just stood at attention, eyes fixed straight ahead. We heard the gasp from some of the teachers and you could feel the ripple of fear run through the crowd. It was scary and empowering at the same time. Like most things that happened at Brent, it was the climax to what would be a rather anti-climatic day. After flag raising Norman and a few other students met with Dr McGee and Mr Craig and presented their frustrations with the charges. Eventually this would lead to Toy and Becky being given separate disciplinary hearings where they both were acquitted. Still it was exciting, even if only for a brief moment, to be standing up against something we thought was wrong. Student Power!

I went on another beach trip later that school year, this time it was just a small group of boarders and we all fit into the maroon Chevy suburban type vehicle that Brent had. One of the kids parents worked for
Voice of America and had reserved the guest house down at the beach for us.

The VOA maintained a guest house at their relay station which was right next to the US Air Force's Wallace Air Station located along the tip of Poro Point. Although there was a winding staircase down the cliffs to a tiny secluded private beach, one of the big drawing points was the large swimming pool. The guest house was appointed like an American style motel: carpet, TV (with American programs!), American sized beds and comfortable mattresses. We spent the afternoon swimming and then went over to Wallace Air Station to have milk shakes, burgers and fries at the rec center. It was a little strange after being in the boonies all these years to find this tiny little corner of America right here in the Philippines; odd to think that all the food we were eating had been shipped all the way from the US out here to this little base in the tropics.

When we got back to the guest house we found that we had locked our keys inside our rooms. I went around back to see if by any chance someone had left a window open and as I turned the corner of the house there it was.

Rising up out of the South China Sea was an enormous, almost blood red full moon. I had never seen anything like it before, I have never seen anything like it since. It seemed to fill the entire horizon and I awed and humbled by its immensity. Forgetting why I had walked back there in the first place I was drawn towards it, till at last I was standing on the edge of the cliff. I felt rather than saw Kathy come up beside me, she must have come to see where I was. We stood there in silence for what seemed like hours, watching the moon slowly rise. I knew she could feel the strength and power of the moment too.

I really liked her, but for some reason could never find a way to express my feelings for her. Now here she was, next to me in this most romantic setting, I could feel the hairs on my arm brushing against hers. I knew her fingers must only be millimeters away from mine. I wanted so badly to take her hand in mine, but I couldn't make my hand move. I don't know if it was fear of rejection or simply that I didn't want to ruin our friendship if she didn't have those kind of feelings for me. Maybe it was both.

We watched the moon rise, the orange light mirrored in the sea below us. Then we quietly walked back to the guest house, having never said a word. My heart ached. Our magic time had come and gone. There would never be a moment like that between us again.

Full moons always make me think of all the things in my life that might have been, they especially remind me of that night.

1 comment:

  1. My grandfather would take us cousins to Cresta Ola during summers. and I would always come down with a fever the night after we'd come from the beach... must be the cold-hot-cold weather.