Noel was decades ahead of me. I was a late bloomer.
He had called up soon after I gave him my phone number and he remarked I sounded like a child.
When we met in class the next day he rubbed it in – that I not only sounded childish but acted childish – then asked what I was planning to do after college (read: with my life?)
“I will take my master’s maybe,” I said.
He played with the word “master” which offended me.
We squared off until he fell silent, his eyes conveying what his lips couldn’t.
There would be more heated exchanges and it felt like this was something he sought. He loved provoking people. He got a kick out of telling you what you try to hide from yourself. He didn’t mince words, didn’t care how you’d take the truth.
And because of his ruthless honesty, I came to resent him. Although I was falling for this dignified, self-confident ego basher, I refused to let him visit me at home and meet my family.
So he went back to his girlfriend, got married, had kids, took his MA then PhD in a short period of time. He knew exactly what he wanted and he pursued everything with all his soul.
Now as I work on my MA at a late stage I seem to see this person of long ago – my classmate, my equal, who could have shared my life.
I see his straight back on campus, his limp hair, calculating eyes, defiant lips, lean physique and brisk strides. He is calling out to me, breathless, asking if I have enrolled in the same class.
“I don’t think so. I’m done with all Literature and Literary Criticism classes.”
I will never forget that expression on his face. It says “I want you but you’re not indispensable.” It says “you are smart but I can find somebody smarter.”
When I was younger, I found that arrogance attractive. I liked men who were not clingy.
There was only one time that he let his guard down. It was summer, he had been playing tennis, perhaps hoping it would ease his inner turmoil. For some reason I agreed to accompany him to the Jesuits’ turf.
Sitting beside him in an air conditioned bus, I was pained to see his bruised palms. He was mumbling about his stepmother and suddenly there was a connection. For a while, he let himself be vulnerable.
However, he took on a different persona when we arrived at his spiritual director’s place. He was sure of himself again, didn’t look like he needed anyone.
“Should I tell him you’re my wife?”
He came back a short time later and insisted we celebrate in a fancy restaurant somewhere but I didn’t recognize the moment. And now I can only look back with longing.
The intellectual who had foregone Philosophy in favor of Physics, would get mischievous at times, asking silly questions: “Why do nuns plant eggplants in their backyard?”
It sounded like a riddle.
I would feign disgust and move away; he’d laugh softly at my emotional retardation.
But see, I am growing up. It’s just that he is not around anymore to witness it.
During all those years that he taught full time (one day I sat in his class to make him self-conscious), went to night school and raised a family, I had the impression he was in a hurry.
He couldn’t wait for his new life outside those walls to begin, express his love in any fashion he wished, let her bear his name and his children and leave his imprint in a world that is still deliberating on its many options.
What stands out to me is that breezy afternoon at the Faculty of Liberal Arts when he delivered a brilliant analysis of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince.
Eyeing me in a strange way, he said that even if someone disappears from your life, you can look at the stars at night and hear him laughing.
“In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night . . . You– only you–will have stars that can laugh!
“And when your sorrow is comforted, you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, for that pleasure . . . And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you . . .”
(Photo credit: reddit.com)