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I instantly felt the void when I laid my eyes on her. I know for myself that I knew her like the back of my hand, but today was different. She seemed like a stranger, an alien from another planet, or some other soul who has inhabited this all too familiar body of a woman whom I yearned to own all these years.

But I guess it takes a decade for people to change. No matter how hard we tried to resist, the tweaks we do with our habits turn us into different people altogether. She and I are no exception. It’s only the part where you have to accept that fact is the same part that hurts the most.

Hi. ASL?

Those were the first two things she said to me. It was back in the middle of 2007. I was fresh out of college, but still socially inept. I want to blame my folks for raising us in a rather affluent household, and while they were expecting me to get a job or continue my father’s pepper farming business after finishing school, I ended up a clueless (not to mention helpless and useless) bachelor bound to face the real world.

Oh, wait. I knew how to log on to an internet chatroom and spent most of my waking hours online playing trivia or trolling the regular chatters with antisocial rants and quotes from Nietzsche or Confucius, sometimes Lenin and yes, Rand. The whole point was to annoy them-the faceless fellow antisocial wimps who brag about their imaginary personas in our online ecosystem. After all, what is there to do online aside from pretending to be someone you are not?

But she was different.

23 M Iloilo. U?

Rather than answering back, she told me that my understanding of the Randian heroine was rather shallow, for I only touched on the concept’s superficial aspect. She said that they are more than just pretty blondes, but are a result of Rand’s ideals from the inside out –Rand’s intelligence included. And that I was being a chauvinist pig for not seeing through the superficial blinds.

21 F QC..

I was quite surprised to find a Manila girl familiar with the Randian heroine, let alone a girl reading Rand. She then told me that she used to be an avid fan of Objectivism, but has since closed that chapter of her life after realizing that it didn’t sit well with the Catholic values she grew up with. I replied saying I only attend mass out of compliance, otherwise Dad will take me out of his will.

It was raining that afternoon when we first chatted. I didn’t realize that it was already past nine in the evening when she said she had to log off. She said her shift at work was over, and since she was using her work computer, she had to shut it down. I reluctantly said goodbye, and after seeing her nip out of the chatroom, I felt strange. I suddenly asked myself what if she doesn’t go back online tomorrow? Will we ever chat again? Is she just a one-trick pony?

For the first time, I felt giddy. I knew it was premature, but if it was the virtual manifestation of “love at first sight,” I believe that it just got me right on target.

It turned out she was a regular chatter. Only that we didn’t hang out in the same channels, and that encounter we had was totally by chance. The following afternoon I looked for her in the chatrooms I’ve been to the day before, and after half an hour of waiting and searching, I finally saw her enter in one of them.

That was when my afternoons became preoccupied.

She told me she was working as an ESL teacher for Koreans over the phone, thus the liberty of using a computer and logging on to a chat environment during office hours. I told her I was a bum, but I was planning on going a backpacking tour of the country, starting with Cebu or Bohol or somewhere in the Visayas. I sort of hinted that she smirked on the idea of me traveling. My eyes were glittering with excitement as I told her about it; however, she managed to throw a rather irked response.

Why don’t you get a job?

I wanted to tell her that I didn’t have to, thanks to my parents’ trust fund. I wanted to tell her to relax as we were both young and we should enjoy our youth while it lasts. But these things I had to hold back, knowing how she played with the toils of independent living. I wanted to tell her everything was going to be all right, but for a woman who knew how to get her hands dirty with hard work, she wouldn’t listen to any of my stoic philosophies.

We had a lot of dissenting opinions about life in general, but rather than tearing us apart, these only pulled us closer together. We moved away from the chatroom and shifted to the more personalized Yahoo Messenger, where we not only got to save our conversations, but played with games such as chess and scrabble, or bring to life our artistic frustrations on the built-in doodle platform.

We chose no time or day to get to know each other. After a few moons I already felt like I knew not just her bio-data, but her whole soul. I got a glimpse of her future, for I knew she was one destined for greatness. But in her future, I saw no sight of even my faintest shadow.

I resigned from work.

She broke to me the news on a September morning. She said she’s using her separation pay to get out of the city and explore the country. She said she wanted to trek the mountains and swim the seas, and rest by the beach and get a tan. She told me she wanted to go on a church hopping trip and learn a new dialect. And lastly, she wanted to fly to Iloilo to eat Batchoy and mangoes.

I knew where this was going. She wanted to see me.

The smile on my face quickly disappeared upon learning her ultimate travel goal. Yes, it’s thrilling reveal, for after a hundred or so days of savoring a so-called bond with a soul who’s just like mine in terms of positivity and pessimism, drawing dreams of giving her yellow roses picked from my abuela’s garden, and arguing over the brand of canned mushrooms to buy at the grocery via SMS, I knew it in my heart that she’s the one for keeps.

But thrills are just thrills, both back then and even now. Beyond our discreet virtual make-out sessions and our online fantasy of being a power couple of sorts, she and I were victims of norms. Our realities spoke a different language, and hers was to win the rat race at the soonest possible time.

I declined her offer to meet up. I told her a bunch of excuses but she still booked a ticket to Iloilo in the hope that I would show up in her designated meeting place.

She nearly killed my phone after sending me a hundred or so SMS and a barrage of missed calls that December afternoon while waiting for me at a coffee shop in the city. I knew because I saw her patiently waiting for hours, hoping that I come and treat her to a cup of coffee and sumanlatik.I was just outside the coffee shop, staring at her from afar, and it was only after she left when I decided to walk back home, trying to clear the tears in my eyes. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done to someone I valued, to think she was whom I consider my first love.

Why did I turn my back at her, anyway? I still don’t know the exact answer. Maybe I was scared that my family wouldn’t approve. They wanted someone from our circle. Perhaps I was embarrassed by the fact that she could provide for me more than I could for her. Maybe I felt she had more balls to live life and its bitter truths than I had. Or maybe unlike her, I had a stronger sense of separating the online from the actual, and that despite being two living, breathing human beings, crossing over from virtual to real was not in my vocabulary. That for me, she and all that we shared-our secrets and bliss, our stories and white lies, our aspirations and pains, are just part and parcel of a fantasy that should never be brought to life.

I never heard from her since then.

Until today, in some suburban community in Manila. Of all places I found myself in such an overpopulated, not to mention insomniac, city, the same city I always dread to visit because I know that she is just around the corner.

I went to church to hear mass, but instead I witnessed a wedding ceremony that was about to end. The newlyweds started walking down the aisle, and as they sashayed away from the altar, I saw a rather familiar face look towards me with a beautiful smile.

I recognize the moles, the dimple on the left cheek, and the well-choreographed pursing of the lips, all of which were the same as those in the photos I’ve seen of her on Facebook. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but the face-and the name mentioned by the officiating priest, were a match.

She stared back at me for a moment, a radiant lass she was, yet her eyes did not reflect anything except for a blank dark abyss. I knew at that second she recognized me. But instead of making a scene in the crowd of well-wishers to reach out to me and acknowledge the recognizance, she did what was expected of her as a bride-to look away and give the attendees each a complimentary hug.

Today marks the second time I saw her. But she will never learn about that. She doesn’t have to.

Ria, I said to her once during our happier times inside the chatroom. Math tells us about three of the saddest love stories. Tangent lines who only meet once, parallel lines who are never meant to meet-

And asymptotes, she cut me off to complete the triumvirate. They who get closer and closer but will never be together. G





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