Wednesday, May 25, 2005

love at thirteen

I. Running like The Flash

The last time I pretended to be The Flash, running at light speed to defeat my nemesis The Warp, was also my last year in grade school at La Salle Greenhills, where we were all boys (though some of us were of two minds about it). Despite the fact that my friends and I were on the verge of becoming young men, balahibong pusa on select places of our lanky anatomies, we still loved the superheroes whose adventures we followed on a monthly basis via comics. Fantasy and reality were separated by a sharp divide, but my fantasy life started to be invaded by thoughts of sex and girls, derived from stolen readings from saucy passages of the adult novels I found in my mother's library; Irving Wallace's The Fan Club was one of the keys to self-gratification.

I liked The Flash, police scientist Barry Allen, because he could run faster than anyone, faster than Superman, run in circles around his Rogues Gallery, and travel backward or forward in time, away from the still statues of everyday life and into places unknown. More than Mr. Miracle, he was the master of escape, throwing his mind, body and soul elsewhere, elsewhen, like I longed to do.

II. My helpless heart

My mother, determined that I would have a college education at UP Diliman, the State University, or not at all, decided to enroll me at the UP Integrated School, hoping that I would be entitled to go directy from that high school into the univeristy of her dreams.

I took the exam, passed it and was shocked at the my first day in high school. Not at the dilapidated ramshackle buildings or the overgrown quadrangles so different from the polished classrooms and manicured lawns of my previous private school, but at the fact that there were girls everywhere. I had to adjust not only to the new academic environment and teaching style (where so few of the student body spoke English as well as I did) but also to the fact that this strange new species, these girls that had only been part of my comics, books, betamax and fantasies, were there in utter and complete four-color reality.

I swooned and fell in love immediately.

III. My first love

Her name was C. - now she is a teacher somewhere and smiled when she was reminded of my affections by one of my cruel sisters - dark-skinned, erect carriage, long black hair that went past her shoulders and more beautiful than a midnight penumbra. She was thirteen, like me, and represented everything mysterious. My love was pure and helpless, totally divorced from thoughts of my evening releases, and I summoned up enough courage to court her. I didn't know how, what to do or say, so I gave her a couple of books I thought that she, as a girl, would like. Sweet Dreams. I know, I could kill myself right now. She accepted them and let me down as gently as she could, being used to attention from strange boys, and I watched my heart shatter and scatter on the floor between us.

IV. Can a diorama show love?

When I saw R., my heart picked up its scattered pieces and sang again, lost in the haze of a sudden love that brooked no questions. I tapped into the nascent creative in me and built a diorama. I know. Again, I could kill myself. It was huge and depicted a beach at sunset, sand and coral and even water cleverly held in a concealed cup, various elements that professed my love for her - thought exactly what the metaphor was is lost to me now. But then it made sense. I carried the heavy thing carefully as if it were my heart and laid it at her feet. She laughed, of course, noting how absurd it was for me to expect her to carry the thing around school. I had not thought of that and almost broke into tears, but the man within me, the male that refused to show weakness, converted the water in my eyes to a sardonic twinkle, and I told her what she did with it was her problem. Which, in retrospect, justified her rejection of my pathetic - but creative - display of adoration.

V. A rice cake is not fake

With the next girl, H., I changed tactics. If the things I loved (books) or the hand-made heartfelt thing (diorama) did not work, then perhaps food. When one of our helpers came from the province laden with native food, sweets and tasties, I took several of them - puto, bibingka, suman latik, palitao - and put them in a bilao, which I then prepared to present casually to the girl I now feverishly adored. I looked like a vendor of native delicacies and endured the clever and cruel jibes of schoolmates as I searched for her, refusing proffered pesos, telling whoever wanted any that it was not for sale. By the time I found her, my resolved had drained completely and I turned around and gave the food away.

VI. An epiphany at freshman's end

My entire freshman year was spent in that manner. Falling in love - though later I would realize that it was not love and that one did not fall; attempting to court the object of my affection via a gift or offering - eschewing conversation that would later become part of my winning technique; crashing into the dumpster of spurned affection but with growing style and grace - I never seemed desperate, or at least I hope I didn't seem so tragic.

At thirteen, it was all so mysterious and impossible. These girls walked around and commanded my attention and I could not have them. I thought perhaps I read the wrong books, kept the wrong friends, was doomed to a lonely existence along with my understanding hands.

My epiphany came towards the end of the school year. I realized I was running, like The Flash, the hero of my youth. In running too fast, I was doing things too fast, expecting immediate results, the cause-and-effect principle of comic book logic. I had forgotten that The Flash's romance was not conducted at superspeed, but in his regular identity as Barry Allen. Barry was the man Iris West loved, not the superhero. I didn't have to run so fast.

The matter of identity had to be determined. I was not The Flash, nor was I Barry Allen. But I was most certainly Dean Alfar, and it was a matter of discovering just who that was, what I could do as a regular joe.

And if the girls, those impossible creatures, could fall in love as well.

VII. Fast forward

They did.

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