I had to tiptoe to find it on the topmost shelf – that old notebook where my highschool friends wrote their farewell messages just before graduation. It’s been a long time since I last opened its covers; but tonight, for some reason, I feel the need to travel back in time.
The notebook is old and worn, and several pages are about to fall off. As I read the messages, I was surprised by how familiar the penmanships still looked. After almost four years, I could still tell that the flowing script belonged to Grace Ann, the neat handwriting was Jane’s, and the tiny letters with numerous exclamation points were written by Karl. The years of borrowing notebooks and checking each other’s test papers must have made their mark.I also recognized the styles easily. Angel was sweet, Deneb was cool, Ian Lloyd was mischievous, Dianne was frank, my Soulmate was upbeat, and Irish Jay was intense. Gino was funny whether or not he tried to be. The contents were revealing, too. Jireh teased me, Kathleen wondered about my lovelife, Cristy offered encouragement, Ken wrote about plans for the future, Ate Jhay gave some advice, and Kuya filled every bit of space in his pages with sweet messages. Others included song lyrics, poems, reminiscences, Bible verses, drawings, and even a list of crushes. There were a lot of thank you’s, some apologies, and several confessions. Throughout 233 pages I was called by numerous nicknames: Begz, Abigail, Benggay, Anak, Miss Pink, Abegs, Gege, Pare, Soulmate, Miss Disney, Apo, EIC (Editor-in-Chief), Little Miss Philippines, Cousin, Gail, Baby, Kapatid, Walking Dictionary, Hobbit, Garnet, Sis, Battery, Partner, Bestfriend, Kaaway, Ka-pink, etc. Each name, no matter now bizarre, is a door that opens to a room filled with images of the past.
These rooms are not always easy to enter. As Julie Delpy’s character said in the movie Before Sunset, “Memories are wonderful things if you don’t have to deal with the past.” Reading the notebook again is a bittersweet experience for me. Sweet because the memories are wonderful, and sad because they are only memories now – I can never recapture the magic of those times again. No one can go back to being seventeen years old.
A lot has changed since highschool graduation. As I turn the pages of the notebook, I remember the passion with which we believed in ourselves and in each other. I remember having so much faith in the future that no dream was too big or too impossible for us. We felt unstoppable, untouchable, destined for immortality. We dreamed boldly, trusted willingly, and loved fearlessly. I can no longer say that with all confidence now.
Life has a way of making sure that nobody stays in highschool. Even the most naive among us has not escaped being touched by reality, being confronted with life. I, for one, slowly woke up to the fact that the world was not as safe as I thought, and that the path to my dreams was a lot harder and longer than I imagined. There was no choice but to grow up. And in growing up, I had to change. The vulnerability, the openness of my highschool years changed into something more careful, more aware of the fact that the heart can so easily be broken. The courage of dreaming faded into something more grounded, less bold. Only a few years have passed, but the seventeen-year-old girl inside me has slowly retreated into a memory, an image between the covers of an old notebook, a secret place in the heart.
Once in a while, however, that girl comes out to remind me that the fire is still alive, just as the friendships have remained an indelible part of who I am. No matter how much more growing up I need to do, there will always be a part of me that refuses to let go of the big, outrageous dreams I shared with my friends in highschool. Knowing this, I put the notebook back on the shelf. Some other night, perhaps, when I take it down again, I will not only laugh and cry and remember, but also give justice to the faith of the friends who believed in me.