Sunday, March 13, 2011

Part 48: The First Cut is the Deepest

"I used to be a King and everything around me
turned to gold.
I thought I had everything and now I'm left without a hand to hold.
But it's all right, I'm O.K. How are you?
For what it's worth, I must say I loved you.
And in my bed late at night, I miss you.
Someone is going to take my heart
But no one is going to break my heart again"

- from "I Used To Be A King" by Graham Nash

Funny how life goes on around you; the sun rose every day, people laughed and sang. So I adjusted to the single life. I picked myself up, dusted myself off, made new friends, hung out with a different crowd.

As so often happened at Brent, some kids didn't return after the holidays, leaving us to wonder what happened to them. Mike Kendrick never came back to Brent after the Christmas break, I got a letter from him a few weeks later telling me that they had moved back to Australia. He told me to write him, but he didn't provide a return address.

One of my new friends was Jack McMullen, I liked his sense of humor and admired his toughness. He was strong as an ox and his temper made it best to be on his good side. One day I saw him pick up a picnic table and hold it above his head with one hand and then throw it across Neutral. But mostly he was a good natured, jolly fellow and fun to be around.

I was still avoiding the ex, so Jack, Jaime and I spent a lot of our weekends off campus, hanging out with some of
our day student friends from Camp John Hay, Dayne Florence, Vic Horne and Keith McCullough.

Jack displayed his non politically correct sense of humor one day by making a wooden cross, then cutting up his sheets to make two hooded shrouds. Then soaking the cross with lighter fluid, he set it ablaze and we stood covered by our sheets waiting for the Base "Blue Bus" to arrive from John Hay. It then occurred to me that maybe this was not such a good thing to be doing. Keith alighted from the bus stopped and then fell down laughing when he saw us at the top of Neutral. He got up and ran up the hill toward us and tackled Jack and they wrestled for awhile. Keith spent the rest of the school day wearing Jack's sheet. He was a big guy, thank goodness he had a good sense of humor.

We were working daily on Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance", they were trying to whip us into shape. Mrs Villaba rehearsed us individually and in groups on the songs and Mrs Viduya worked with us on our lines. It was tough for me, not only was I not much of a singer, but my ex and her new beau were in the play as part of my pirate band. Most scenes where I was on stage they were on it too. I pretended to be over it but it was killing me. Fortunately most of my singing was relegated to a few lines here and there and for the rest I was backed up by a chorus of "pirates".

Finally, it was time for our performance. We were as good as we would ever get. I remembered all my lines and my voice only cracked once or twice. All in all we did moderately well, we had good material to work with, the audience laughed at our lines and songs and we didn't embarrass ourselves too badly. I got something out of it anyway, I kept my pirate costume and wore it at Brent's Halloween Carnival later that month.

I decided not to go home for Christmas that year. I put off getting my tickets until the last minute. Then when I was sure there were no available seats till well after the holiday season, I telegraphed home my apologies and watched my friends pack and leave one by one. None of them invited me home, but that was my fault, I didn't tell any of them I was staying. Misery loves company and I was it.

It wasn't too bad at first, although the silence in the dorm was deafening. I cleaned my room daily and listened to AFRTS. I joined the Christmas shoppers and browsed the markets. I ate most of my meals at the school. Mr Keddie and Mr Spitzer were there along with a few other of the boarding faculty so the dining room would be operating for the duration of the holidays. I was sitting in the lounge after lunch one afternoon, reading by the fire, when I was surprised to see an old familiar face from my first year at Brent.
I recognized her right away, she vaguely remembered me, but we slowly reacquainted ourselves. Homesick for her family, friends and the country of her childhood, she hadn't been back for four years. Now she was home from college and had stopped by to see her old school. I supposed her classmates had all moved away and I was the only one she sort of knew. She wanted to know what I was doing there on the empty campus and I told her I was staying in the dorm for the holidays. I saw her almost daily after that, sometimes we would drive around so she could see the landmarks of the city where she grew up.

A few times I went over to her folks house for a meal, sometimes just to hang out and watch them bake cookies and build a gingerbread house. It was nice to have someone to talk to and I felt safe with this college girl. She invited me to spend Christmas day with her family and at first I said "no, I don't want to intrude", but later when her mother asked me again, I agreed. It had been kind of lonely at night and I had been dreading Christmas. I really liked her family, I liked their warmth and laughter, the love they showed for each other. They probably didn't approve of my hair, but they never said a word about it and made me welcome. Christmas morning came and I was surprised and touched when there were gifts for me; later we sat down for the best Christmas meal I could ever remember.

She had been looking through her sister's Ganza yearbooks, she had read some of the things I had written. She asked me about them, commenting about a line here or there, asking for the back story behind a poem or two. She wanted to know if I was still writing and asked to see what I was working on. I had given up writing by then, I had written everything I could till I was all dried up. But she persisted, so reluctantly I showed her my notebook and after reading through it she asked me about it. Slowly but surely she coaxed out the story of my misery, things that I thought I had buried away for ever. I don't remember how long I talked, or the words she said to me afterwards. I do remember the hurt and pain at having to relive it.

One day while touring around the city in her parents car we stopped to admire the scenic view. There by the side of the road she put her arms around me, then kissed me. The passengers of a Jeepney driving by whooped and hollered but she wouldn't let go. A wave of emotion rolled over me: confusion and fear. My heart screamed out it's rage and pain, then another wave flowed through my hardened heart: a whisper of hope.

She was gentle and patient; by the time she left and school began I was ready to try again.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Part 47: Only Love Can Break Your Heart

"When you were young and on your own, how did it feel to be alone?
... But only love can break your heart
, try to be sure right from the start.
Yes, only love can break your heart. What if your world should fall apart?
- Neil Young

I spent a week before school started with Michael Kendrick at his home on the tip Bataan peninsula. His dad worked for the Australian Ford company and his house was in a small modern company development in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest village, surrounded by tall cogan grass. There was a newly paved two lane that ran in front of the housing development and past an abandoned unfinished ten story hotel and finally ended at cliffs overlooking the island of Corregedor. It was an odd place to find a community of Australians. There was nothing to do out there, but every morning there was a ferry that took the bored housewives into Manila. We did that a few times, we listened to records, he liked some Australian singer called Olivia Newton-John. But mostly we spent the days riding mini bikes up and down the empty road. One day we were blindly tearing through the tall grass and after awhile decided to pull up and walk around. We could see a glimmer of sky ahead and pushing our way towards it we suddenly found ourselves standing on the edge of a precipice! If we had driven another ten feet we would have gone right over!

I arrived back for my fifth year at Brent with a new sense of purpose and confidence. I was a Junior and felt like I was at the top of my game. But as the days and weeks progressed I came to find a Brent radically different from the way I knew it. Sure, the campus was the same, I had the same dorm room, arranged in the same layout I had the year before. But for the first time since I had started there in 1971, there were more new students than returning students. This was true with the faculty as well, we had all new dorm parents for both Hamilton Hall and the Boys Dorm; new teachers now outnumbered the old ones. In the dorms Jaime and I now had been there the longest. It was odd to be the "old timers" at Brent. There were just a few other boarders coming back, Mitz Lizares was returning as a Senior, James Jensen and Mike Kendrick were the only two returning from our class; it was only their second year at Brent. There were no returning Sophomores or Freshmen. Over at the girls dorm Leigh Gilmore, Susan Kendrick, Chris Fassnacht, Kelly Low and Renee Case were the only returning girl boarders. Amongst the day students it was slightly better, there was a slightly larger sprinkling of students who had been there for ten or more years. Brent depended on returning students to maintain the continuity. In years past, the old timers (teachers and students alike) shepherded the new students through the process of acclimating to parochial school life. This was especially true in the dorms, where the restrictions and confinement of boarding life were especially tough on kids who never had to deal with so many regulations before. Now they railed against the system and viewed us as out of step, out of touch and weird. They rebelled against the rules, the food, Chapel, prayer at meal time, even singing the Philippine National Anthem at flag raising. Never in all my time at Brent had I seen so many boarders being "campused" or on "woodpile duty" on a regular basis. Things seemed out of balance and on the verge of chaos and anarchy.

The school year had started normally enough, I went through my usual routines and when the boarders began to arrive my room already had that comfortable lived in look, as if I never left. We had new dorm parents, Mr Keddie and Mr Spitzer, two former Peace Corps volunteers. They were really laid back, casual in attire and attitude, casual about rules, drinking and drugs. Jaime took the room across from mine, the same one he had last year too. Michael had the room right next to me, James was next to Jaime. New students Jack McMullen and Jon Peiti were on our floor, Jack's brothers Andy and Ron were on the floors below as was Jon's brother Robert.

One morning I was crossing over to the locker room when a taxi pulled up and a woman and a teenager got out. They stood there indecisively, alternately turning from Binstead, to Ogilby, then to the Office and back again, clutching suitcases and looking lost. I went up to them and taking a bag, walked them to the Office. When they emerged a while later after registering I helped them with their luggage to Hamilton Hall. Leigh Gilmore was there and I introduced her to the new boarder. The mother was effusive with her thanks and her daughter who was a Sophomore flashed a smile at me, her eyes sparkling. My heart leaped from its locker and flopped about on the floor. Euphoria. I was smitten.

She joined us at our table that night, the following weekend we went to the movies and by the next week we were a couple. She seemed to like my quirky ways, she asked to wear my jacket. I was on cloud nine. The more I got to know her the more I came to believe she was ideal for me. The world was a wonderful, beautiful place; everything was as it should be. Things were looking up in school too, I was surprised to find myself nominated and elected class president, although I suspected that no one really wanted the job. Still, the year was turning out to be perfect.

This new found love took the edge off classes, as the new teachers were just as annoying as the new students. We had a new art teacher (another former Peace Corps volunteer) who, on the first day of class, asked us to paint a color wheel. But she didn't want it to look like a traditional color wheel.
So I made one that was amoebae shaped and got a "D"! I looked to see what everyone else did and theirs were the regular circle exactly like the one in the textbook. They got "A's". What the hell.

Then there was my English Lit teacher. He loved James Joyce, he even wore a little Irish cap and had an Irish temper to match. His temper regularly got the best of him, on more than one occasion he got into shoving matches during student/faculty basketball games. (The thing I really didn't like about him was the way he treated his Filipina wife, publicly ridiculing her in front of the students, faculty and staff.) On the class syllabus I noticed that the only author on the list was Joyce, and all of his books were on the reading list. I was not a fan of Salinger and Catcher in the Rye and found Joyce's Portrait of An Artist As A Young Man equally annoying. One day after a protracted argument about why I thought the young artist was an idiot, he marched me over to the office. There in the Headmaster's office he ranted, raved and foamed at the mouth. He wanted me expelled, suspended at the very least. Dr Ralph Rodriguez, assistant headmaster and in charge while Dr McGee was in Manila, stared at him bemusedly, then asked me to state my case. I calmly told him my side of the story and why I found Joyce so irrelevant. When I was done, Dr Ralph turned to my teacher.

Has he failed to submit any homework?
Has he failed any exams?

Has he been disruptive in class or disrespectful to you? (this had me worried, I was sure I was guilty on both counts)
Well, no, but he was arguing with me
So your objection is that he disagrees with your point of view?

My teacher started raving again and Dr Ralph turned to me and with a pat on the back he lead me to the door. "I don't care for Joyce much either" he whispered. Aloud he said "You can go to your next class, there are few things I need to clarify here." As I left the office I heard renewed shouting behind the closed door.

Over the coming months these new teachers (and our dorm masters) and their disregard for laws and local customs would find themselves in and out of trouble with the authorities. Even our Headmaster would find himself in court facing charges.

Meanwhile, life continued at Brent. There was a school dance at Camp John Hay and Kevin Martin, as Senior class president, auctioned off the freshmen and new students to raise funds for Senior Skip Day. The Junior class would be sponsoring the Prom this year and I was surprised when Bessie Manois, our class treasurer, told me how much cash we had in the bank. Of course, under the strict supervision of our class advisor Ms Estacio, we had saved every penny we earned since seventh grade. Bake sales and our booths at the Halloween Carnival had done very well. This year at the carnival we had the rights to the "restaurant" and that should bring in a lot more cash.

Mrs Viduya held tryouts for the play Pirates of Penzance, where, despite my inadequate vocal talents, Mrs Viduya gave me the role of the Pirate King. Fortunately, I didn't have too many solos. Mark Viduya was the Major General, my classmate Greg Clavano had the lead role of Frederic, Marie Strasser portrayed his love interest Mabel and my girlfriend played Ruth, the "piratical maid of all work".

Out in the real world "The Thrilla In Manila" was getting underway. We were excited and impressed that the fight of the century would be taking place in the Philippines. (President Marcos had offered to sponsor the event - which everyone suspected was to divert attention away from all the arrests going on under Martial Law). We gathered around the TV and watched while Ali and Frazier battled it out for 14 rounds. I was a little sorry for old Joe, he took a beating. A few days later I took a worse thrashing.

It was a big surprise when, on one sunny day at breakfast, that I found myself without a girlfriend.
Apparently she liked the captain of the basketball team better. I was devastated, I never saw it coming.

Some of my friends knew it but didn't bother to tell me. The signs were there of course. One night a few weeks before I awoke to the sound of laughter coming from the next room. I got up and went next door to find Leigh and some of the girls had snuck over from their dorm. A bunch of the guys on our floor were there and so was my girlfriend. I didn't think anything of it, I waved at her, but I was too tired to stay up and went back to bed. I didn't recognize that she was being distant.

I was crushed. I stumbled around like a zombie.
There was no consolation, I had poured my heart and soul into that relationship. I felt so betrayed. The worst part was that she seemed so happy, much happier than she had ever been with me. I attempted to be brave and tried to make the best of things.

I was the idiot with a sick smile on his face.
It was hard, there was no escaping them. She was there at every meal, sitting at his table now. I could hear her voice, her laughter. There they were together on the steps of the student lounge, cuddling on the Neutral. He was on my floor, I saw him in the bathroom, in the halls, they were together in our dorm sala, there he was with his arm over her shoulder and she was still wearing my jacket. So, I began avoiding any place I thought they might be. I kept to myself, hung out at the library or just stayed in my room. Days and weeks went by, the loneliness and isolation, at first so unbearable, now seemed like an old friend. I wore it like a mantle, my crown of thorns.

"If I laugh, just a little bit, maybe I can forget the chance
that I didn't have to know you. And live in peace, in peace.
If I laugh, just a little bit, maybe I can recall the way that I used to be, before you.
And sleep at night - and dream. If I laugh, baby if I laugh just a little bit... "
- Cat Stevens