is there ever one story to an experience? will two people ever have the same version of the truth on what has transpired between them? will knowing the ‘other’ version give one closure? i ask this because of a guy who i dated more than ten years ago who suddenly reappeared. and this is our story. my version, that is.
2007, three years ago
giving in to one’s craving sometimes requires you to freeze your ass off.
i was thinking this as i threw my cigarette butt on the wet gutter of the paddington train station exit. it was densely and messily populated by hundreds of butts in various states of damp decomposition. it was disgusting, i thought, as i wrap my leather jacket tighter around me, willing myself to ignore the cold.
i considered lighting up another before walking to my train.
the contemplation was ongoing when it was stopped short by the sight of a couple walking to my direction. not because they were filipino (which, even at a distance, i’m sure they were), not because they were sweet (which they were), not even because the guy was hot (which i thought he was – but my taste in men is legendary in its inconsistency) - but because i was sure i once dated the man who was holding the woman so protectively as they were walking.
‘hey.’ – he said.
‘hey.’ – i said.
‘where are you going?’ – he asked.
‘i’m taking the heathrow express to catch my flight back to johannesburg.’ – i explained.
‘so you still live in africa.’ – he half-asked, half stated.
‘yes. and you are now based in london?’ – i asked, now increasingly uncomfortable that we are chatting as if oblivious of the woman in his arms.
‘yes,’ he smiled at her, ’give me a call the next time your in london’
‘will do.’ – i smiled, thinking i don’t remember his name much less any information on his contact details.
‘bye, then.’ he said.
‘bye’ – she said, seemingly impervious to the fact that we weren’t introduced.
they walked off.
‘bye.’ i said as i see him look back and give me a knowing smile.
all throughout the train ride, checking in and boarding the plane, i was bothered that i cannot remember his name. now i am the first one to admit that i have gone through a slutty phase and will not claim that i remember everybody i slept with. but i was sure this guy was, well – significant.
i kept on thinking of his name i cannot remember until the plane took-off and the seatbelts lights went off.
‘larry!*’ i muttered to myself as i suddenly remembered his name, prompting the man seating next to me to give me a quizzical look.
as flight attendants started handing out peanuts and serving drinks, memories awash giving my ritual vertigo on plane take-offs and landings a run for head space.
1999, eleven years ago
malate, manila – after the pride march
‘larry!’ i exclaimed because he punched the galvanized iron wall of an empty lot, on a dark area in one of malate side-streets. the wall made a booming sound that i was sure can be heard three blocks away. ‘what’s wrong with you?!’
larry was upset. we agreed to take a walk away from the maddening crowd of the pride street after-parties. we spent some time walking in welcome, if awkwad, silence. suddenly, he stopped. and then histrionics. after punching the wall, he stood there quietly and then sat on an nearby abandoned bench.
he’s brooding and unpredictable. also confused and messed-up about his sexuality. just the kind of guy i found so hot in those days.
‘what’s wrong?’, i touched his shoulder and dropped the ‘with you’ in the hope that it might trigger something other than silent distress.
‘what do you want from me?’
‘what do you mean?’
‘you are dating buddy. you are writing love letters to elmer.* why are you wasting time with me? what do you want?’
‘buddy and i are not in a relationship – he’s a friend. elmer is history – i can’t even explain the stupidity of waking up one night and giving in to the urge of writing him a letter when he’s obviously still with his boyfriend. but you – i want you. i want a relationship with you.’
‘i’m fucked up.’
‘haha.’ – it sounded both like a smirk and pained laughter. he stood up and i followed. he suddenly pinned me against the wall, both in hands cuffing my wrists, his whole body pressing urgently against mine.
‘is this what you want?’ he was so close i smell the damp heat of his breath on my neck.
‘don’t be an idiot, larry. we’re in public.’
‘no one’s here.’ he said (or grumbled), as he grazed his cheek against mine.
‘why don’t we go back to my place and talk?’
‘haha.’ – again the smirk-laugh. he pressed on me heavier and tighten his grip of my wrists.
‘stop it, larry, you’re hurting me!’ i shouted as i pushed him away. he seemed surprised at being rebuked. he sat again on the bench. i followed and we were quiet. then he said quietly,
‘let’s go to your place’
i don’t remember the ride back home. i do remember we ended up in my bed in just our tighty whities. we lied down next to each other with my arms around him and slept. sometime in the middle of the sexless night, he left while i was sleeping. i woke up thinking that was strange, not knowing it will take more than seven years before i see him again.
2010/present day, quezon city
in my condo, in front of my macbook at night
‘so where’s my pasalubong (gift) from rome?’ a chat box popped up while i was reading friends’ updates in facebook. it was larry. i was surprised he was keeping tabs on me.
‘if you come to manila i might give you a venetian mask i bought.’ – i answered
‘how are you?’ - he asked
‘i’m OK. you?’
‘i see you are a father now’
‘yes, that makes me very happy’
‘it must be 2AM in london, why are you still awake?’
‘i’m doing the laundry, my wife and the kids are already asleep’
‘are you happy? you still with your boyfriend, right? are you guys OK?’ –he asked
‘sometimes we are, sometimes we’re not. just like any relationship, i suppose.’
‘there you are again, philosophizing.’
‘we are who we are. but i guess that does not apply to you. you have transformed.’
‘do you miss being with men?’
‘mostly - i miss the sex.’
‘you don’t have to.’
‘i am faithful. not like you.’
‘what?! you don’t know me anymore.’
‘well, you said we are who we are. i remember you tried to juggle me, elmer and buddy at the same time.’
‘that’s your version of the story. not mine’
‘what’s your version?’
‘what’s the point? we cannot ever be.’ i was feeling a little pissed off by this time.
‘was there ever a ‘we’?’
‘you are right. there never was. but why do you insist on painting me as the bad guy?’
‘i don’t. you know what i remember when i think about you? bridges of madison county’
‘what? why?’ wondering what is the relation between me and ms. streep's movie.
‘we watched it in your apartment once. we should reconcile our stories you know.’
‘because it is exciting.’
‘it’s not to me.’
‘wait. the baby is crying. i have to go.’
then, just like that, he was gone again.
i don’t know why larry and i have different versions of the story. more importantly, i don’t know why larry is interested in reconciling our versions of our story. frankly, while i know i fancy myself being in love with him at one point, what i wrote here represents all of my memory of larry. nothing more. and to me what it says is that subjected against the time and the distance between us, that ‘love’ probably was a figment of my own imagination or a product of my heart’s own deceit. better put to rest. along with everything that is left unsaid between us.
my point is, the feeling i might have found so earth-shaking before seems not even probable now. and while he has a story to paint a picture of me as he experienced it, i fail to see its import to the ‘me’ of today.
i may never see larry again. somehow, that thought does not bring any sadness. only lingering questions on the story he feels a need to tell.
*names of men i dated are changed to protect the errr, innocent.