by Kath C. Eustaquio-Derla
Photo by Scott Baraquel Jr.They say memory is subjective. So how come we remember so much of what we want to forget?
They say you’ll fall madly in love only once or twice in a lifetime, and the rest will be a blur.
I made the same stupid mistake in the same stupid fashion—time after time, both times just as mad. I’ve fallen down the same rabbit hole more than twice already.
So what does that make me?
Well, I don’t know.
You tell me.
Five years ago. College.
Photo by Scott Baraquel Jr.
I hate this course. I wouldn’t have taken it if it wasn’t my major. I don’t understand why we have to bring our own typewriters to class when the computer lab is just across the hall. This is Journalism 211 and it’s as boring as hell.
I hate this course. If not for the cute professor in very tight pants, I would have sat all the way at the back so I can sneak a quick snooze.
“Psst, Kit, wake up,” my seatmate, Hazel, nudges me. “Sir Magic Pants is here.”
I sit up straight, just in time for Sir Magic Pants to wipe the sweat off his forehead. Today, of all days, he is wearing a tight-fitting pair of khakis that hugs his crotch and buttocks a little too well. His face glistens with sweat but his dark blue, long-sleeved shirt remains free of sweat rings.
“Sorry I’m late,” he says. “I came straight from a coverage in Malacañang.”
He spends the next two minutes wiping his face with his white cotton handkerchief, probably monogrammed with CK, his initials, as we set up our personal typewriters. I wonder how some people can still look fresh after spending thirty minutes under the midday sun in Manila.
Sir Magic Pants is obviously one of those lucky people immune to the nasty pollution of this third world country. It’s not fair.
“Hazel,” he says. “You’re up.”
The light goes out and Hazel begins her presentation on the inverted pyramid style of writing. Sir Magic Pants decides to stand on the podium directly in front of where I am slouching. I spend the next ten minutes lusting after him because, well, what else can I do to spend time?
I have obviously taken the wrong course the moment I realized there are only three kinds of guys you meet in a journalism class—the gays (they’re fabulous, I like them), the singles (they have every reason to be) and the straight men (most of whom are taken, sorry).
There are no athletes, no gorgeous nerds, no jocks and no superstars. How will I manage to find a boyfriend in this building filled with boys whose cat eyeliners are fiercer than mine?
Sir Magic Pants refused to sit through Hazel’s entire presentation. He begins shifting his weight from one leg to another, giving the class a nice on stage performance of le bulge.
The moment of bliss gets interrupted by the flash of light. When my eyes finally adjusted, I hear the faint collective gasp coming from the mouth of every single girl in class.
“Look who finally decides to join the class,” Sir Magic Pants is saying now. “This is Matthew Rondillo, a transfer from Bio.”
Of course, everyone knows him. He’s not just a new transfer, but the transfer from Bio. He’s not just a recent member of the Journalism Society, but he’s the hot new editor of the university paper.
Matthew is also the president of the literary club whose membership is so elusive that you have to be ready to kill someone if you want to join. Not everyone manages to do so, but everyone gets to buy the ridiculously expensive collection of poems they publish every semester. Including me.
Everyone knows Matthew, but not everyone gets to see his beautiful face in person, especially not for two hours straight in one confined space. “Take a seat,” Sir Magic Pants says. “Hazel, continue.”
The faint whispers continue as Matthew passes smoothly behind Hazel, causing her skirt to rustle a bit. With her mouth ajar, my BFF coughs out the last of her recently acquired bashfulness and proceeds with her presentation.
To my horror, Matthew sits beside me on Hazel’s chair. He extends a hand and says, “Hi, I’m Matthew.”
“I’m Kit?” I reply, a little unsure if I sound like one of his fan girls. Eww.
His face lights up even in the semidarkness. “Hey, I know you,” he says. And for once, I feel the world shifted.
The world shifted alright. In fact, the entire Journalism department shifted when Matthew decided to change courses. He went from being one of the third-generation doctors in his family to being the first editor of The Literati who actually looks and sounds good not just on paper.
How I came to know Matthew was more of an accident rather than a result of a well thought-out scheme Hazel did.
A few months ago, she brought homemade spaghetti to class and asked me to go with her to The Literati headquarters at the ground floor of the university’s main building. Her plan was simple: she’d deliver the box of homemade spaghetti to one of our batch mates who works there as a staffer. Then she’d introduce herself to Matthew and beg for a job.
Hazel’s scheme worked out perfectly. Unfortunately, Matthew didn’t go to class that day because of a family affair. How I knew this, I’ll never tell.
I actually met Matthew Rondillo at the university chapel last semester. I was waiting for my high school best friend to fetch me one afternoon when I saw Matthew enter the church, alone. I was sitting at the last pew when our eyes met. He left the church a good fifteen minutes later.
He saw me again the following week, but this time, he’s with someone—a girl wearing the same uniform as mine. For a while there, I thought maybe he shifted courses because of a girl.
I was sitting at the same spot and our eyes met again just as he left. Only this time, the look he gave me came with a quick, courteous nod.
I did not go to the university chapel the following week but something was nagging me to go anyway. I wanted to see if Matthew really goes to church every week. I sat on one of the benches facing the field, just right in front of the church. Twenty minutes later, Matthew arrived and left after fifteen minutes.
This went on for a few more days and it felt like a secret I had to keep from anyone who wants to stalk Matthew for a stint at The Literati.
Back to the present.
The class ended with another brief introduction. Matthew would be taking this course as a requirement. He’s gunning for top editorship of the official university paper. The guys hate his guts, as expected, but I’m pretty sure this course just became more interesting to more than half of the women in class.
I gathered my things and walked out of the frigid classroom, as if trying to avoid a conversation I sort of wish would come.
“Hey,” Matthew says when he catches up with me at the hallway. “I haven’t seen you in church for a while.”
I see several girls stop to look at us. I painfully stifle a giggle.
“I found a new place to hide,” I hear myself speak.
“Who are you hiding from?” he asks.
“People,” I say, quite unsure if he’ll understand.
He lets out a quiet sigh, one that I notice only because I let one escape my lips from time to time. From where I stand, I can see how vulnerably normal he seems, unlike the Palanca winner and hotshot editor everyone knows him to be.
And after a while, he asks, “Can I go with you?”
I recently heard a rumor about me. I’ve always known that there will be people who will hate you because you don’t need to belong to a group.
Early on, I told myself to be ready for some major backstabbing when I get into college. I just never thought that at 20, I would still have the emotional quotient of a high school senior who got dumped by her best friend.
Whenever I feel troubled, I find solace in books. If not in it, I find peace around it. Matthew and I are on the fourth floor of the Humanities section of the university library, sitting on the floor, resting our backs on the top-to-ceiling shelves.
“So you broke up with your best friend in high school?” Matthew asks, taking a break from Hamlet.
“Dumped,” I correct him. “That’s why I stopped meeting her at church. She goes to a different university, by the way. It was our meeting place on our way home.”
“And this is after you defended her from the cheating boyfriend?”
I nod, burying my face in my copy of Romeo and Juliet. He shrugs, probably feeling awkward about wanting to ask more but not wanting to admit that he knows nothing about the complexities of female friendships.
“So you don’t want revenge?” he asks a while later.
“I don’t know yet,” I answer, truthfully.
We spend a few minutes reaching for new books to check out. I choose an old copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
“Romantic, huh?” he says.
“Your choice of literature,” he points out to the book on my lap. “You like romance.”
I smile. “All the romance that’s left in this world are in books. That’s why I hide here.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
And for a split second there, I thought he’s hitting on me.
“No,” I answer.
“I figure,” he says, and that stings a bit. “I’ve seen you before in Collin’s class.”
“Collin? Our professor, Collin?”
“Ah yeah, he and I go way back.”
“So that explains the very casual introduction.”
“Yeah,” Matthew laughs. “Anyway, I’ve seen you before that first time at church. You’re always with that girl with the pink head band.”
“Yeah, that girl,” he continues. “If you’re not with her, you’re always alone.”
“Are you stalking me?”
He laughs again. “No. Just by chance. I find it interesting that a girl like you is always on her own. It’s haunting. It’s sad. And it’s beautiful.”
“Not everyone who wishes to be left alone is sad, Matthew,” I reply. “Sometimes, it’s the best way to make sure you won’t get hurt.”
I’ve never met anyone who can make betrayal sound less bitter. And I’ve never met anyone who understands the need to be left alone but not alone.
From that day forward, Matthew and I would meet at the university library a few times a week to just talk. We would always choose the partly hidden area near Shakespeare’s collection of sonnets and try our hand in writing prose no one would ever read.
The semester ended and Matthew got the editor post he has always wanted. Professor Collin invited our class to the small celebration at The Literati headquarters one afternoon before the semestral break starts. I did not attend but I did get a text message from Matthew asking me where I was and if we could meet.
I did not reply and the new semester rolls in. I told myself I will find a new place to hide during my junior year. And I did, and I hid in my new secret place during the last two years of college.
But one afternoon after a grueling Taxation class in my senior year, I visited my old hiding place and sat there for a while, hoping to wash all the taxation crap in my head with pages of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
And there I found it, a copy of The Literati’s last issue under Matthew’s wing, four semesters too late. It was stuck in between the pages of Shakespeare’s sonnet I’ve read years ago. I opened it at the earmarked page and the unwelcome sadness washed over me once more. Matthew’s last work at The Literati was a poem about me.
I cry again, after all these years. I never told anyone what happened between us all those semesters and no one will ever know.
To be continued…
Anything to share? :)