He was older and witty and smart, and I fell for him, of course. I was young, passionate and idealistic, and I felt that he loved me, too. It was a season of hope, promise, and shared dreams; and its memories are as deeply imprinted on my soul as the limestone cliffs are rooted in the shores of El Nido.
El Nido. The name itself brings on a rush of nostalgia. It is a land of contrasts: soft, powdery white sand against stark, somber boulders and the ever-changing sea pounding on dark cliffs that are as steadfast and immovable as faith itself. It was there that I spent my eighteenth summer; it was there that I began to truly live; and it was there that I finally learned that living is a cocktail of both joy and pain.
His name was Nathan. He was there as a tourist from Bagiuo, I was there to visit an aunt who lived alone. We met, naturally, on the beach. He was watching the sunrise, I was gathering seashells. I saw him first, a tall, solitary figure paying homage to the crimson sky. The wind was tugging at his hair and his jeans were drenched by the surf, but he didn’t seem to care. I watched him watching the sunrise, and he must have sensed it, because he turned directly towards me as soon as the sun was well above the horizon. My first startled reaction was to turn and walk away with embarrassment, but he smiled and walked casually towards me. I watched him come closer, and I knew, as clichéd as it sounds, that it was meant to happen exactly as it did.
That morning was the beginning of a meeting of souls that I have never experienced before or since. At first, our meetings were coincidental, and then we gradually found ourselves wanting to spend more time with each other. We walked on the beach, chased the waves, and counted shooting stars. We shared every sunrise and dreamed of sailing off into the sunset. And we talked. We laughed and listened and learned about each other in endless conversations about anything and everything. I asked him why he loved the sunrise, he told me that he found beauty in beginnings. Then he asked me why I collected empty seashells, and I confessed that I was trying to find meaning in death. For the first time since a year, I shared the pain of losing a baby brother my family had prayed for for so long. I wept and he held me, and as the night wind dried my tears, I knew for the first time that I would heal.
The end came sooner than we expected, an intrusion into the world we had woven with the summer enchantment of El Nido. He received a call at his hotel from his family in Baguio, urging him to come home because of his sister’s car accident. I went with him to the airport, and I almost had to pry my hand from his and force him to leave. It was ten years ago, but letting him go was still the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. As he walked away from me, it was like losing a part of me that I never even knew existed before I met him.
I never saw Nathan again. There were no cellular phones yet in those days, and the only way to keep in touch was through the mail. He wrote my address in his palm a few minutes before he left, but for some reason I forgot to take his. I never heard from him. Maybe my address was erased, maybe his letter got lost in the mail, or maybe he simply didn’t write. I don’t know. And slowly, the dream died. Years passed, and those wonderful weeks in El Nido were revealed for what they were: an interlude of beauty, a gift of grace. I am old enough now to accept that the odds of us meeting again are slim. And it is okay. I have made my peace with losing him.
I stand now on the shores of El Nido, ten years from the day that we met. The sunrise is breathtaking, a masterpiece of the softest pinks and glowing yellows. It is a reminder of how beautiful beginnings can be; a compensation perhaps for the bittersweetness of endings. I remember how, ten years ago, a part of my life ended and another one began. On this very spot, I had stepped away from the easy comfort of childhood into a complex new world, a world where the memories of first love linger, but summers always end.
* also posted in peyups.com