Goodbye, my dear friend

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You know I struggled to call you a dear friend. You had been once to me, but that was long ago. I don’t even want to remember. But I heard you died, so take this as my peace offering.

(Photos by V. Castillo, Vienna, Austria)
(Photos by V. Castillo, Vienna, Austria)

That was last night when I could not decide if I should attend your funeral.

It was five minutes to six in the morning. I was restless in my sleep. Still undecided, I took a long hot shower to numb me. I dressed the way the Austrians would attend a funeral: suit and black tie. But, of course, I was not ready for any funeral, so a dark blue blazer, blue trousers, and a white shirt would do; no black tie for me. It’s the end of May, still springtime, so I didn’t want to look glum. Just in case I decided to go, you know.

It was still early to call anyone else, so I sent a private message to a friend—one of the first Filipino friends you met through me. She was the one who broke the news to me. Are you going? I asked. I will, if you are, was her quick reply. I was astonished she was up so early.

I told her you belonged to this group of people who do not believe in covid vaccines, so I knew you never got one. That made her think twice. She said that we can always wear a mask and observe the one-meter distance from each other. At a funeral, are you kidding me? Ok, let’s take the risk.

It was not my intention to meet your wife or your children. I just wanted to bid you farewell and eternal peace beyond…to make a closure. Funny, I should be saying this to you; you who only believed in what Nostradamus had to say—the end of the world, etc., scaring the living daylights out of me. Do you still have that cassette tape you used to play in the middle of the night in our studio apartment? Nostradamus may have initiated our falling out. No, not really. We drifted apart for many other reasons. I don’t want to go into details. You’re dead, and you’re supposed to be resting in peace. I don’t want to rock the boat; your casket, rather. Let’s say it was time to say goodbye.

I tried to forget you. I thought I was succeeding until last week when our friend sent me a message that you had died. Despite the misspelled name, I knew she meant you. I froze. This was the second time I heard your name mentioned after many years. The first time was on vacation two weeks ago, back in my hometown. A cousin asked me about you. Like my family and the many friends you made in my village, my cousin had only beautiful words for you. I did not want to tell a lie when I said we had lost touch. You charmed her and my family when you stayed in my town, living in my brother’s house as a guest for a couple of months. You were a drifter before we met, you told me, living here and there, finding occasional jobs to sustain you, trying to find what you wanted in life.

Eventually, you got tired of following your elusive dream and returned home. It was during this time that we would meet. In Munich, Summer of ‘79. We have a mutual friend whom we met on separate occasions while he, like you, traveled the world. He was throwing a party and invited everyone he met during his travels. I was already in Vienna at that time, so I went. You came, too. I had to return to Vienna the day after the party, but you convinced me to drive with you to where you live with your parents.

(Photos by V. Castillo, The Vienna Central Cemetery, Vienna, Austria)
(Photos by V. Castillo, The Vienna Central Cemetery, Vienna, Austria)
(Photos by V. Castillo, The Vienna Central Cemetery, Vienna, Austria)

“You can spend the night in our house and take the train from our town the next day,” you told me. The thought excited me no end. It was mid-summer, and there was this festival in your village where your sister whisked me to a makeshift stage for a fast folk dance with her. My head was spinning madly when the yodeling stopped. I thought I would fall if she didn’t hold me tight. I had one too many beers. I passed out, I guess, because I had no recollection of what happened next. I remember you had an attractive sister. But you were more beautiful, I thought.

And I remember we exchanged telephone numbers the next day you took me to the train station back to Vienna. “Look me up when you are in town,” I said, hoping you would.

You astonished me when you did. And you stayed for good. You met my Filipino friends, and that was when I ceased to be your only Filipino friend. Remember Tita Claire, her son Ruben, Mayona, and Elsie? Yes, Elsie—your first Filipino girl. I thought the fun would not end until it was over. I don’t remember now who dropped who. Then there was Mila, a shy girl with a thick southern accent. You permanently settle for the same type of girl. Beautiful? They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I beg to differ. I knew something was wrong with my eyes.

Mila showed up one day in my office, her eyes swollen from crying. She was pretty upset and inconsolable. You were then already a part of our workforce—me having managed to get you a job with a little push from my supervisor.

Grief (and regrets?). If I could only roll back the clock. (Photos by V. Castillo, The Vienna Central Cemetery, Vienna, Austria)

Kasi kala ko one heart and one soul na kami.” (I thought we were one heart and one soul already.) It sounded so sad and corny at the same time that I laughed. Mila laughed, too, despite the tears. One heart, one soul, my ass! Very Mills and Boon. If I could talk to you, she asked. No way, Jose!

I never heard from her again until you broke the news that she had a fatal car accident. She was then already married to someone who matched her heart and soul. Her husband re-married. Oddly enough, to a girl who was almost a family to me. You, too, of course, knew this girl. Should I wonder?

We have been roommates since you moved to the city. It was fun until we got on each other’s nerves. Getting to know you more pulled me away from you. Blame Nostradamus. You started acting strange since you found him. He must have been the reason for your mood swings. The bottom line was that something you have done offended my boss so much that he warned me that you better be careful. Nothing to do with your job performance. It was primarily personal. You pissed him off so much that I confronted you for an explanation. “That’s life” was your best justification. This incident was just one of the many others that broke the camel’s back. I was that camel. What happened to the nice guy I met at that Inn Fest in Munich many years ago? It must have been Nostradamus, really. I wished it was just a phase in your life.

Then we both realized we were not meant to live under one roof forever as in one heart and one soul, one that was different from what Mila hoped for. I might have hoped one time, but you know that it was just my fantasy. We may have kidded a lot and enjoyed each other’s company while it lasted. But then we began hurting each other emotionally, and when you moved out, I knew our lives would never be the same again.

We drifted apart. You decided to travel and go to the Philippines. During the extended time you spent in my family’s company, the people who looked after you—my aunt, mom, and brother—fell in love with you. They are gone now. That was when you were drifting, seeking an answer to what you really wanted in life. Eventually, you found the missing pieces to the puzzle you worked on. You came back home energized. My aunt, mom, and brother never failed to ask how you were doing each time I would be home in the Philippines for a vacation or when I talked to them over the phone. I may have ceased having anything to do with you anymore, but I did not expect the treatment you would give my family. You did not care to ask about my aunt, mom, and especially my brother. I cannot forget what he told me and kept repeating every time your name got mentioned.

Naku, naubos ang mga manok ko. Laging manok ang gustong ulam ng friend mo.“ (“Oh, my pet chickens are gone. Your friend’s favorite dish is always chicken.) He was not complaining, though. His wife told me that there were times when you would cook the chicken the way you liked them. Knowing that you were my good friend, you were like a brother to him. He loved you and missed you through the years. That love may not have been reciprocated, but my family never forgot you till the end. Of course, it made me furious, but I could not let them down.

“He is doing good, busy all the time,” would be my constant reply. A lie, of course, but my family deserves an answer to their question. I didn’t want to shatter the impression you made on them.

You chose to be polite to me whenever we bumped into each other in the corridor or cafeteria at work. But unfortunately, I decided to remain an asshole, ignoring your attempts at being civil.

“I’m getting married,” you told me excitedly one day when I had no choice but to listen to your announcement. Your fiancee was with you, an attractive girl I saw for the first time. She surprised me with what she said to me. “I hope you don’t think I am pregnant; thus, we’re getting married.” The first time I met this girl, she already had a rather unpleasant opinion of me. How could she? “Oh, don’t worry,” was my quick reply with a forced smile. “I couldn’t care less if you were!” I left in haste, face burning. And if she were pregnant, I should not have any doubt about the immaculate conception.

I am not sure now if I got an invite to the wedding. However, I was confident that I didn’t want to see your future wife again. So I tried to avoid her whenever there were occasions when both of us would be present.

The last time I spoke with you was on my last day at work. You told me you were looking forward to your own retirement and hoped to keep in touch. “Look me up on FB,” was my cold reply. But, of course, you did not. Meanwhile, you have become an overnight saint, joined the holier-than-thou community in town, and even led the flock away from evil temptations. It must have felt good. Drat Nostradamus. If you could only see me now in my evil-knowing smile.

Thirteen years later, I finally heard something about you. You are dead.

I felt nothing, and that was sad. I remember staring at the wall for what seemed forever until my phone rang. A follow- up to the message that you are no longer with us. Adel, the first Filipino friend you met through me, was on the line and talked about the good times we had together.

Informing my relatives back home was the first thing I did when reality finally sunk in. I broke the news to them rather perfunctory. That you died. They were all heartbroken; I could feel the sincerity.

Suddenly I was angry when I remembered how my family treated and cared for you. You didn’t seem to appreciate it—you never bothered reaching out to them after you left, not even once. It would have made a difference to them if you did. So I had to make up for your shortcomings. I didn’t want to disappoint them. You didn’t deserve their love. I would be astonished if you once bothered to offer a prayer for their eternal peace. Have you ever wondered if they were still alive?

So today is your funeral. You cannot tell me I don’t care. So upset that I might have been, I consulted with a couple of friends to help me make a decision. One of them said no way you’re going. Say a prayer, and that’s it. For closure, another one said—for my own peace of mind. Forgive and forget.

Done! I went to your funeral. Your wife saw me and hugged me tightly. “Your friend is gone,” she said softly. I felt her grief, making me whisper sincere, comforting words. Then I lit a candle, said my prayers, and made peace with you; it felt good. No more emotional baggage which I carried for so long.

Go in peace, Dear Friend! That I honestly say to you. Till we meet again.



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