For the first time last December 30, 2009, I attended my high school class reunion. It happens annually, but somehow there was always somewhere else that I needed to be. That year, I heard that they wanted to get the class together again, but I didn’t know the exact plans. So I just agreed to a catching-up evening with Neil, an old classmate whom I haven’t seen in a long while. However, when we met at the park, he announced that he had a surprise. He led me around the corner, and there they were: loud, colorful, and somehow larger than life to my surprised sight – my high school friends, back from all corners of the country and all grown up.
After the noise and the hugs and the I missed you’s, the initial excitement calmed down for a bit and I could see who were there and who weren’t able to come. A lot of people were absent; some couldn’t get away from their jobs, others didn’t have contact numbers that we knew of, still others were spending every moment of the short Christmas break with their families. All of those who came were people I haven’t seen for ages, mostly because I seldom came home for vacations, and when I did, I spent most of it with my family away from the city. However, being with them was like going back in time. It was as easy as slipping into an old, well-loved pair of jeans to use the old nicknames once more, to retell favorite stories, to renew bonds of friendship. I was aware of how different they were, but because we’d seen each other grow up almost every day for four years, I saw that behind the unfamiliar clothes and hairstyles and expressions, they were still – essentially – the same.
Cervin, one of the sweetest people I know, was among the first who hugged me. He looked better and more confident, but he still had the same laugh, that enthusiasm that was always present whenever he was with friends. Even now, I don’t think he knows just how much I admire him. We used to talk a lot, and he’d share some of the things that he was going through. In light of all those challenges, everything that he’s accomplished now seems more meaningful. I hope he knows how proud I am of him, and how much I miss my dance partner.
Neil, of course, was still the acknowledged heartthrob. Who could forget the many love letters that were delivered to our classroom every week by girls from every year level and section (“Nandito ba si NEL?”)? Or the sighs and giggles that were the soundtrack of his passage in the hallways? As his seatmate, I found his love life to be a constant source of entertainment, and sometimes headache when I tried to keep track of who he was with that particular week. I even got into trouble when we were caught talking during physics class. To be fair, though, I think it was MY crush that we were whispering about that time. We were trying to find a code name for him so that we could talk about him freely. Ah, the excitement of high school. He tells me he’s a good boy now, but that bad boy aura that had the girls swooning was still sticking to him like a second skin that night.
Grace, my soulmate, was also there. In those four years, we had forged a friendship that lasted beyond high school, no matter how erratically we kept in touch. Angel (Noreen to others), the third part of our close-knit trio, was absent, and we kept hoping she’d show up. (She didn’t, but I saw her a couple of days later.) Nobody has ever taken the place of these two in my heart. They were my calm place in the storm, and that night, I saw that it was still true. We all went to a karaoke bar, but no matter how loud everything got, my soulmate and I were still able to talk quietly for a bit, to catch up on what was important. There wasn’t enough time, but it was wonderful to have that connection again.
The star of the sing-along was still Emily, our Princess Jasmine. She still had that exquisite voice, and she looked almost exactly the same as six years ago. With that voice and that smile, not to mention those brains that earned her one of the highest honors at graduation, she was almost too talented for one person. The best thing about her, though, was how humble she was about all of these. There had been no vanity in her all those years ago, and she remained simple and down-to-earth when we met again.
One of our group’s idiosyncrasies was how we identified people by their favorite color. Even now, years later, whenever I see green, yellow, or purple, I think of Janey-jane, Tita Sen, and Fia, respectively. And of course, when it comes to pink, my own favorite, I’m reminded of Marivic. It feels strange to type that name, since we’re used to calling each other “Ka-pink,” proudly embracing the girly-ness implied by that choice. To my amusement, we were both wearing the same color that night. Care to guess what it was?
Beside my Ka-pink, sitting at the head of the table, was Cristy. Smart, talented, and completely unforgettable, she was the star of every monologue competition in high school and one of the greatest friends anyone can ever hope to have. I used to want to hit this girl over the head for not seeing herself as the amazing person that she was, inside and out. I hope her vision’s improved since then.
And there was Dianne, of course. Bold, impulsive, and spirited, she was the last person you could call boring. She made our lives interesting with her laughter and her readiness to speak her mind. What most people didn’t see, though, was that underneath the sassy, tough-girl exterior, Dianne was a total softie. She cared deeply about the group, about keeping us together. I had no idea how much I missed her until I saw her again.
In contrast to Dianne, Jane was our acknowledged Binibining Pilipina. Poised, demure, and soft-spoken, she always seemed effortlessly composed and elegant no matter how loud and unruly the rest of us got. Even her penmanship was graceful and neat. If some of Janey-jane’s level-headedness had just rubbed off on me, I’d probably have gotten into a lot less trouble.
Seneca, on the other hand, possessed a different kind of poise, the kind that held a fair number of high school boys under her spell. Pretty, stylish, and confident, she was easy to like and difficult to ignore. I would sometimes tease her by calling her the class seductress, but mostly she was just “Tita Sen” to me – my Tatay Johnard’s best friend (and my possible “mom”? haha). Long story behind that. She promised to teach me how to apply make up. If anyone is qualified, she definitely is.
Irish Jay was one of the few guys who were able to make it that night. Insanely talented, he seemed able to do pretty much anything – write poetry, make incredible art, compose songs, and get high grades without much effort. He and I would sometimes have poetry “write-offs” – he’d take a poem of mine and rewrite it with his trademark dark perspective, then I’d take one of his and make it more optimistic. I miss those days. But even now the phoenix lives on, and I’ll always remember the Last Moment.
Sitting beside Rish and pretty happy about it was Charity. As she jokingly said herself, it was the climax of the love story-that-never-was that had caused her no small amount of drama in high school. However, despite her telenovela-esque love life, no one was really surprised when she graduated valedictorian. With her genius level IQ, she definitely deserved it. Years later, this girl is well on her way to the top.
Looking pretty in purple was my four-year seatmate, Zafia. Whenever the seats were assigned alphabetically, it was almost a given that we would sit next to each other. In between bouts of girl talk about crushes, we would help each other out with the day’s lessons or work on articles for the school paper. As my seatmate, she probably witnessed just about every mood I’ve ever had. To her credit, I wasn’t able to drive her crazy. Well, she was already a Psychz anyway.
Catherine, our class baby, sat at one end of the table. When most of us were already super conscious about style, she remained simple and down-to-earth. Instead of fussing about shoes or accessories, Catherine was more concerned about business, and I must admit that she was very good at it. She seemed to have a knack for knowing what snacks would be perfect to break the monotony or stress of the day, and whatever she brought would be an instant hit. I thought then, and I still think now, that our baby would probably be one of our batch’s first millionaires. She certainly deserves that kind of success.
For some reason, Divine‘s not in the picture, but she was there that night. One of the Psychz’ s acknowledged beauties, Divine was not only pretty but also talented. She, Kathleen, and Emily were the three divas of the class, and it was a treat for all of us whenever they sang. Who knows, maybe one year, they’ll all sing together again for our reunion? That’s certainly something to look forward to.
Also missing from the picture but present at the reunion is one of our “Vanessa’s”, Vanessa Teope (the others were Vanessa Nale, Vanessa Acar, and Vanessa Manalang). Beautiful and down-to-earth, she didn’t seem affected by the efforts of highschool boys to catch her attention. Only one of our very own, Karl, was blessed enough to win her heart.
Looking at pictures of that night, I was hit again by a rush of nostalgia. We were all so different, yet in a lot of ways alike. As individuals, we were special in our own right. Together, we became even more extraordinary.
And who was I, Abigail, among them? Where did I fit in with these remarkable people who have changed my life? Well, I was the one who usually stayed in a corner, immersed in a book. Now and then I would look up to share in the joke that had everybody laughing, or listen to the resident musikeros jamming with their guitars, or answer somebody’s question about the English homework given that day. I was the one who wrote, I was the one who listened. I was the one who watched them all and loved what I saw. They were beautiful, each and every one of them. From the brightest star to the shyest wallflower, they were amazing. There was this energy, this spirit, that infused us whenever we were together. Maybe because we were young and the future was still this abstract, elusive concept, limitless in its possibilities. Maybe because to us, cynicism was yet incomprehensible and utterly absurd when there was so much wonder in the world. But I think a part of the reason was that in spite of the comfortable naiveté of those days, there was this vague but instinctive feeling that said, This is rare. It doesn’t always happen that people so different can belong together. No matter who else you encounter when you get out of this town to meet the world, never forget this miracle.
I have never forgotten. And sometimes I wish I could go back, return to that time when the future could be anything I wanted it to be and cynicism was a complete stranger. When I knew without a doubt that I belonged among those I have chosen to love. I miss being that girl; I miss being Abegz. Or sometimes Prinsesa, Benggay, Anak, Gege, Pare, Soulmate, Halo, Apo, Gail, Baby, Garnet, Sis, Partner, Bestfriend, or Ka-pink. Different endearments, different kinds of love. All with one wonderful translation: friend.