In celebration of the children of solitude

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*Inspired by a piece written by Donald Hall in the New Yorker magazine titled “Between Solitude and Loneliness”

Some look at a tree and see a harvest of fruits. I once stared at a dead mabolo, in the middle of the night, and saw a kapre.

In the morning of each day, the kids in my neighborhood easily get lost in a crowd of other children. I, on the other hand, never seem to blend in. They love to float in a sea of voices, neighbors, playmates, pandemonium. I sat on a wrought-iron chair believing I was the sea.

Growing up in a humble apartment complex full to the brim of relatives can be messy. The day to day chaos was unbelievable. But not to this only child.

My mind seemed to move past the rattle and tattle of the here and now. Thrilled by the relief of scuttling past leafy branches and the reach of the farthest clouds, I imagined myself perennially rapt in uncharted forests, mountains, a solitary moon hurtling across the galaxy, a star about to explode.

Never did a minute pass when I wasn’t happy by my lonesome. I was a loner, a solitary spirit. Growing up, the action figures and books of my childhood were my only real companions. Invisible, imaginary friends were not my thing. For some reason, the need to touch someone was overwhelming. And so I held long conversations with my plastic soldiers, and a Teddy Bear which sat with me for as long as I could remember.

This scared the daylights out of my family.

Father was always too busy with his barkada; mother, in the kitchen. My aunts and uncles, too, were never quite around when you need them. My cousins went out of their way for some games, but scarcely long enough for me to enjoy their company.

I longed for siblings, but they never came. I once proposed to my mother that we buy one in Cartimar. She and my aunts laughed.

Making the acquaintance of the kids at school barely helped. I found them always in the middle of solving Math problems or ogling planets. Robert, the grandchild of the city mayor, often took the time to share the recess hour with me. But he was too puffed-up to make sense of what was going on around him.

He was a navel-gazer and a pompous excuse for a boy, but I liked him. To a certain extent, I did. Eventually, we parted ways, leaving both of us with a bloody lip.

Ester, my childhood crush, lent some relief to the quarantined feeling I felt back then, even if only from a distance. Four other boys followed her around, bigger and ruddier than I could ever hope to be.

Ferdinand, that kid from ‘round the block, was probably the only real friend I ever had. Yet at 55, I can’t seem to remember anything that we did together. Now and then he makes himself known by posting on my Facebook wall. The years had been brutal. Some memories, however deep, cannot stand a little over forty years of wear and tear.

High school wasn’t all that grand either. Going to an old Catholic boys’ school was the farthest from my mind. But since it was the hippest thing back when my parents were younger, I obliged, regardless of the expense. Not as if I can do anything apart from nodding.

Fitting in was a problem. Roughly 99% of them were fair-skinned, pristine white even in their covered waists and ankles. My skin was dark, a gradient lower than chestnut, sable and joyless.

About half the student population was tall, averaging 5-feet seven-inches. Some towered close to six. I was an obese five-feet-three-inches, about an inch taller than Napoleon Bonaparte. This bummed me out: I found out later that Napoleon stood at five-feet seven-inches, the average height of the Frenchmen of his time.

Charlie Chaplin would’ve had a heyday telling my story in silent mode.

Most, if not all, spoke in English. That didn’t pose much of a problem. I’m proud to say that my English vocabulary was anything but trifling at the time. I have read more than enough books and novels to put my language skills up there where most would fail to reach it.

Here’s the thing: most spoke in sosyalita English, complete with that earsplitting and funny accent. And so I decided to drop Shakespeare for Kris Aquino. Not that the need to be accepted was overwhelming. No, I needed to communicate.

Being your everyday recluse didn’t sit well with some of them. Suffice it that I got bullied over and over until I had had enough. Toughness was a language most boys understand. Toughen myself I did, to the detriment of those who crossed my space. I nearly got kicked out because of this experiment of being a young thug.

I had hoped that my stint in a pontifical university would change my fondness for being withdrawn, a loner. I made sure I had friends, good ones. Some stretching way past college. Yet, looking back, I hardly saw any visible transformation. I was nothing but someone who loves and looks forward, each day, to being by his lonesome.

My first marriage was anything but bliss. So curiously shifty and evasive was the relationship that after 12 years of trying to save it from the jaws of the Kraken, inevitably it fizzled out. She left with my children.

Perhaps the only time I regretted being alone was the year my two children—Rei and Lenin—went with their mother. Loneliness struck me like lightning, and I didn’t see it coming. I spent days contemplating the separation, missing the laughter of my kids. I would often catch myself dozing off in tears, weighed down by the darkness which used to offer me solace as a friend. It was the only time I despised being alone.

My daughter and son returned exactly a year after they left. By their own volition. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

I met Che after a handful of failed relationships in-between. She was 19, I was 42. I proposed a year later, to the consternation and shock of our officemates. Gossip about my leaving her in a month’s time was rife. Her family here in Manila tried talking her out of it. She left them regardless of the warnings.

This year, 2018, we’ll be celebrating our 11th year together and our third year as daddy and mommy to Likha. It was a messy relationship at the start, which took us from one rocky incline to the other. But as we have come to believe, love and gravity work wonders. We didn’t give up, even if we had all the reasons to call it quits.

As a child, I always catch my mind wandering off to the nearest dark of an uncharted forest, a solitary moon hurtling across the galaxy, a star about to explode.

All that rests in the imagination now. Thing is, my wife Che is also a solitary spirit, an introvert twice the size that I could ever dream of being.

I never thought it was possible: to have a bond with another solitary star, both revolving around a common unseen center, never really slackening or collapsing, but always together. They appear to the human eye as a single point of light pulsating in the remoteness of space.

Call us the children of solitude, perennially alone but never lonely. G



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