Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Departures

you say you’ll give me
eyes in a moon of blindness
a river in a time of dryness
a harbor in the tempest…

– U2, All I Want is You


“You know what the worst part is?”

“What?”

“He promised that he’d never hurt me.”

James pursed his lips. “Okay, let me play devil’s advocate a second. People get hurt all the time, especially if we’re talking about relationships.”

“We’re talking friendship, James. We’ve been friends, you and me, James, for how long now? Three years?” Ali replied, guiding Migoy down the drive to Nevada Square. “How well do we know each other?”

A nod: “Uh-huh. You and me, Ali, we’re secretive people. Maybe it’s that fact that makes us friends: we started off with respect for each other’s privacy, then built on that.”

“Eventually earning each other’s trust, exactly, right.” Ali parked the car expertly. The two got out and made their way up the stairs to the tambayan. “Do you see where I’m going?”

James laughed. “No wonder you get best debater in all the meets you go to. Yes, Ali, I can see the cliff.”

“So finish the statement for me. You’re not too bad yourself.”

“That’s debatable – my only strength is theatrics behind the podium. Okay… what you’re saying is that Jeff is the person to whom you’ve let your guard down completely. Hell, I know that you know how each other’s mind works – we all know that, how else could you become the best debate tandem our varsity has ever seen?”

“Exactly. Now, how could he know how my mind works, huh? Tell me that.”

James nodded. “Only because you let him know everything about you – that’s a privilege I believe only he has had. Correct me if I’m wrong – thank you,” he said to Manang Arlene as he paid for two coffees. Ali paid for some Cracklings and got a smile from Manang Rose. The two took their places at the corner bench. James lit up. “That’ll kill you someday, James.”

“You only live once, Doctor. Back to the subject – we know that there’s something special between you…”

“Not present tense, James. If there was anything special between him and me, it was all in the past,” Ali replied, trying to master her emotions. James exhaled slowly, and the two spent a while in silence.

He then broke it, saying, “Just because the existence of something special – or the possibility of it – is in the past doesn’t mean that the emotions it involves no longer exists in the present.”

Ali laughed ruefully, then replied, “Speaking from experience, James?”

“We’re talking about you and Jeff, Ali.”

“But your statement applies to you and Scarlett as well,” Ali chided. She shook her head. “Aren’t we two sorry little weirdos.”

“Yep, that’s what we are,” James agreed. The two fell silent as Manang Arlene brought coffee over. He took another puff, then said, “In her defense, she didn’t do anything to hurt me.”

“Except, perhaps, not coming clean with how she felt about you,” Ali noted. James let out a snort of disapproval. “That’s assuming she felt anything for me in the first place.”

“And you didn’t want to assume.”

“Assumption is the mother of all fuckups, to quote a crude B-movie line,” James replied. “So there it is: yes, maybe I’ve been hurt, but she did nothing to cause that. What if she had nothing to say in the first place? That would logically justify not saying anything.”

“You and logic – ah, James. ‘Maybe’? ‘Hurt’ being past tense? Come on, James, it’s been three years since you decided not to see her anymore, but you’re still not over her,” Ali said, sipping more coffee. “So much for trying to be an iceman.”

“Which, you cannot deny, Jeff was. He’s friend and all, but what he did to you was cold,” James retorted deftly, “something Scarlett never was.”

“And that, James, is the difference between your situation and mine. Scarlett is a nice person, but Jeff – ”

“ – is a nice person who for some reason changed,” James interrupted. “I’m not going to agree that Jeff was completely an asshole from day one.”

“I wasn’t going to say that,” Ali retorted. James shrugged, drank, then said, “Sure.”

“No, really? Seriously, James – we both know that he is at heart, perhaps, a nice person, but somehow in the course of our relationship he changed radically. I don’t know him anymore.”

“Two things – one, yep, he seems like an alien abductee, when it comes to you both, and two, finally you admit that you both had a relationship,” James grinned. “Now that took a while to come out into the open, didn’t it?”

“Hey, we were friends! That’s what I meant, not…”

“Yeah, yeah, defensive, huh?” James laughed at Ali’s discomfiture. “Whether you admit it or not, you were an item, beyond the ‘best friends’ label you so conveniently slapped on yourselves. An undeclared, unofficial item, but an item nonetheless.”

“We were best friends, James. That’s why it isn’t easy for me.” Ali’s voice shook just a tiny bit. James nodded. “It never is, old friend.”

“So here we are – whatever was isn’t anymore. You know something? There are times when I wish I hadn’t met him.” James crushed out the cigarette. “I can’t relate. For my part, even if it isn’t easy, I’m glad I met Scarlett. After all, because of her I’ve become a better person than I was before I met her.”

“You should thank her, then.”

“I wanted to, on graduation day. I met her on the stairs; she was on her way up, I was going down to meet my folks. All I could say was, ‘Congratulations, Scarlett’, but I didn’t stop to talk.” James lit up.

“That’s disgusting, James.”

“What, that I didn’t stop to talk?”

“No, the cigarette. Not stopping to talk was pathetic. Why didn’t you?” Ali chided. “That day was probably the last time you’d have the chance to talk, I mean really talk.”

“Like I said, it isn’t easy. For God’s sake, Ali, you have no idea how it hit me. There she was, beautiful, that smile on her face, those eyes that – dammit, I know you know what I mean – and the knowledge that I was holding on to hope without basis, a dream that was going to disappear like smoke…”

“Yeah, I know what you mean; you don’t have a monopoly on hopelessly hoping, James,” Ali smiled. “Did she stop to talk to you?” James paused for a second.

“Maybe; I don’t know for sure, I wasn’t looking anymore, I didn’t want to look back. I was pretty glad that a railing was between us; I might’ve done something foolish.”

“Like kiss her in front of the of the entire Engineering graduating class?” Ali grinned. “That would’ve been worth watching, but it wouldn’t have been foolish. At the worst, clumsy or bumbling, but not foolish. Clumsy, bumbling, but romantic.”

James snorted. “Yeah, right.”

“So you did think about kissing her! Admit it!” Ali giggled. “We-ell, something to tell the guys – cold logical James, feeling something fit to burst!”

“She’d have shoved me down the stairs, Ali.”

“You don’t know that. For all you know, she’d have kissed you back,” was the teasing retort. James snorted.

“Yeah, you and all that romantic crap.”

“Denial,” Ali replied, “something expected from the closet starry-eyed romantic.”

“Whatever,” James replied, gulping coffee. “Did you talk with Jeff on your graduation?”

Ali shook her head. “He avoided me the whole time. He didn’t stop staring, though.”

“Maybe you should’ve kissed him.”

“Chances are he’d more likely toss me down the stairs than Scarlett shoving you down the stairs, James. You know that.” Ali began to sniffle. “Not that it would hurt me anymore than he already has.”

“True,” James replied, getting up to buy refills, leaving his cigarette. Wrinkling her nose, Ali stabbed it out before opening the bag of chips. A few minutes later, James handed her a Hershey bar. Ali grinned. “Thanks.”

“You didn’t have to kill my smokie, Ali.”

“Hey, I’m just concerned that it would kill you,” Ali retorted. James shrugged, then flopped down his chair. “So what are you going to do about Scarlett?”

“Nothing.” James stared into the distance, while Manang Arlene served the coffee. Ali thanked her, then turned to James. “Nothing? Come on, James, how about talking with her one last time?”

“Forget it. If she had nothing to say to me then, she has nothing to say to me now. Besides, by now she’s gone.”

“Gone? Where to?"

“Manila, but I don’t know where. It’s not important.”

“Yeah, right. How do you know this? When did she leave?”

“This morning; last Monday, Chase told me she was to leave today, and she asked me the same thing you just did,” James replied. He leaned back on his chair and raised his cup in mock toast. “See you someday, Scarlett, but I hope it’s long after I’ve gotten over you.”

“When’s that, hmm?”

James shrugged. “Beats me. You, what are you going to do about Jeff?” He raised an eyebrow. “You have more stuff to resolve than Scarlett and I do.”

“What for? He won’t listen, and I don’t want to be hurt anymore. Besides, he’s gone, and by the time he gets back, I’ve left by then.”

“So you won’t see him after he gets back from Sagada?” James asked. “Convenient.”

“Well, it helps a bit that he isn’t around,” Ali said. James shrugged. “True enough. Two months in the States? You better enjoy every minute, Ali, third year is going to be hell year, so they say.”

“Yep, I will.” Ali and James turned as they heard voices calling them. Chase, Benny, Allen, and Kaye were walking across the parking lot. Kaye waved, and Ali and James waved back. They settled down to wait. “You know something, Ali? Thanks to The Big Guy, we have the Coffee Club. Somehow getting through stuff like this is easier with them to back you up,” James mused.

“Wish we didn’t have to go through them at all, though,” Ali agreed. “Or at least closure, you know?”

“Exactly,” James replied. “Still, I’m partial to something to something Laren said once.”

“And that was?”

“You don’t need to have closure over things you leave behind, if when you leave you don’t look back.”


…all the promises we break
from the cradle to the grave
when all I want is you…