They say memory is subjective. So how come we remember so much of what we want to forget?
They say you’ll fall madly in love only once or twice in a lifetime, and the rest will be a blur.
I made the same stupid mistake in the same stupid fashion – time after time, both times just as mad. I’ve fallen down the same rabbit hole more than twice already.
So what does that make me?
Well, I don’t know.
You tell me.
First seen on Bookbed. Thank you for supporting #WAITY on bookbed! Enjoyed this episode? Share it online and include #WAITYxbookbed!
Kath C. Eustaquio-Derla is a journalism graduate from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines. She wrote Bedroom Blog by Veronica, a relationship blog for Cosmopolitan Philippines from 2009 to 2011, which covers most of her single dating life. In 2015, she published her first book Before I Do. She’s passionate about coffee, red wine, books and Mad Men. She stopped collecting hearts when she got married in 2013 and went back to collecting Archie Comics ever since. Send the author a tweet @kceustaquio.
Edits: Jacquie Bamba S. Zamora and Bookbed
What Am I To You is the prequel to Before I Do by Kath C. Eustaquio-Derla. Before I Do is available at National Bookstore, Powerbooks and Uniqube.
What Am I To You
Philippine Copyright © 2016 by Katherine C. Eustaquio-Derla
Disclaimer: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any written, electronic, recording, or photocopying without written permission of the publisher or author. The exception would be in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles or reviews and pages where permission is specifically granted by the publisher or author.
Five years ago. College.
I hate this course. I wouldn’t have taken it if it wasn’t my major. I don’t understand why we have to bring our own typewriters to class when the computer lab is just across the hall. This is Journalism 211 and it’s as boring as hell.
I hate this course. If not for the cute professor in very tight pants, I would have sat all the way at the back so I can sneak a quick snooze.
“Psst, Kit, wake up,” my seatmate, Hazel, nudges me. “Sir Magic Pants is here.”
I sit up straight, just in time for Sir Magic Pants to wipe the sweat off his forehead. Today, of all days, he is wearing a tight-fitting pair of khakis that hugs his crotch and buttocks a little too well. His face glistens with sweat but his dark blue, long-sleeved shirt remains free of sweat rings.
“Sorry I’m late,” he says. “I came straight from a coverage in Malacañang.”
He spends the next two minutes wiping his face with his white cotton handkerchief, probably monogrammed with CK, his initials, as we set up our personal typewriters. I wonder how some people can still look fresh after spending 30 minutes under the midday sun in Manila.
Sir Magic Pants is obviously one of those lucky people who are immune to the nasty pollution of this third world country. It’s not fair.
“Hazel,” he says. “You’re up.”
The light goes out and Hazel begins her presentation on the inverted pyramid style of writing. Sir Magic Pants decides to stand on the podium directly in front of where I am slouching. I spend the next ten minutes lusting after him because, well, what else can I do to spend time?
I have obviously taken the wrong course the moment I realized there are only three kinds of guys you meet in a journalism class – the gays (they’re fabulous, I like them), the singles (they have every reason to be) and the straight men (most of whom are taken, sorry).
There are no athletes, no gorgeous nerds, no jocks and no superstars. How will I manage to find a boyfriend in this building filled with boys whose cat eyeliners are fiercer than mine?
Sir Magic Pants refused to sit through Hazel’s entire presentation. He begins shifting his weight from one leg to another, giving the class a nice on stage performance of le bulge.
The moment of bliss gets interrupted by the flash of light. When my eyes finally adjusted, I hear the faint collective gasp coming from the mouth of every single girl in class.
“Look who finally decides to join the class,” Sir Magic Pants is saying now. “This is Matthew Rondillo, a transfer from Bio.”
Of course, everyone knows him. He’s not just a new transfer, but the transfer from Bio. He’s not just a recent member of the Journalism Society, but he’s the hot new editor of the university paper.
Matthew is also the president of the literary club whose membership is so elusive that you have to be ready to kill someone if you want to join. Not everyone manages to do so, but everyone gets to buy the ridiculously expensive collection of poems they publish every semester. Including me.
Everyone knows Matthew, but not everyone gets to see his beautiful face in person, especially not for two hours straight in one confined space. “Take a seat,” Sir Magic Pants says. “Hazel, continue.”
The faint whispers continue as Matthew passes smoothly behind Hazel, causing her skirt to rustle a bit. With her mouth ajar, my BFF coughs out the last of her recently acquired bashfulness and proceeds with her presentation.
To my horror, Matthew sits beside me on Hazel’s chair. He extends a hand and says, “Hi, I’m Matthew.”
“I’m Kit?” I reply, a little unsure if I sound like one of his fan girls. Eww.
His face lights up even in the semidarkness. “Hey, I know you,” he says. And for once, I feel the world shifted.
The world shifted alright. In fact, the entire Journalism department shifted when Matthew decided to change courses. He went from being one of the third-generation doctors in his family to being the first editor of The Literati who actually looks and sounds good not just on paper.
Photo by Scott Baraquel Jr.
How I came to know Matthew was more of an accident rather than a result of a well thought-out scheme Hazel did.
A few months ago, she brought homemade spaghetti to class and asked me to go with her to The Literati headquarters at the ground floor of the university’s main building. Her plan was simple: she’d deliver the box of homemade spaghetti to one of our batch mates who works there as a staffer. Then she’d introduce herself to Matthew and beg for a job.
Hazel’s scheme worked out perfectly. Unfortunately, Matthew didn’t go to class that day because of a family affair. How I knew this, I’ll never tell.
I actually met Matthew Rondillo at the university chapel last semester. I was waiting for my high school best friend to fetch me one afternoon when I saw Matthew enter the church, alone. I was sitting at the last pew when our eyes met. He left the church a good fifteen minutes later.
He saw me again the following week, but this time, he’s with someone – a girl wearing the same uniform as mine. For a while there, I thought maybe he shifted courses because of a girl.
I was sitting at the same spot and our eyes met again just as he left. Only this time, the look he gave me came with a quick, courteous nod.
I did not go to the university chapel the following week but something was nagging me to go anyway. I wanted to see if Matthew really goes to church every week. I sat on one of the benches facing the field, just right in front of the church. Twenty minutes later, Matthew arrived and left after fifteen minutes.
This went on for a few more days and it felt like a secret I had to keep from anyone who wants to stalk Matthew for a stint at The Literati.
Back to the present.
The class ended with another brief introduction. Matthew would be taking this course as a requirement. He’s gunning for top editorship of the official university paper. The guys hate his guts, as expected, but I’m pretty sure this course just became more interesting to more than half of the women in class.
I gathered my things and walked out of the frigid classroom, as if trying to avoid a conversation I sort of wish would come.
“Hey,” Matthew says when he catches up with me at the hallway. “I haven’t seen you in church for a while.”
I see several girls stop to look at us. I painfully stifle a giggle.
“I found a new place to hide,” I hear myself speak.
“Who are you hiding from?” he asks.
“People,” I say, quite unsure if he’ll understand.
He lets out a quiet sigh, one that I notice only because I let one escape my lips from time to time. From where I stand, I can see how vulnerably normal he seems, unlike the Palanca winner and hotshot editor everyone knows him to be.
And after a while, he asks, “Can I go with you?”
I recently heard a rumor about me. I’ve always known that there will be people who will hate you because you don’t need to belong to a group.
Early on, I told myself to be ready for some major backstabbing when I get into college. I just never thought that at 20, I would still have the emotional quotient of a high school senior who got dumped by her best friend.
Whenever I feel troubled, I find solace in books. If not in it, I find peace around it. Matthew and I are at the fourth floor humanities section of the university library, sitting on the floor, resting our backs on the top-to-ceiling shelves.
“So you broke up with your best friend in high school?” Matthew asks, taking a break from Hamlet.
“Dumped,” I correct him. “That’s why I stopped meeting her at church. She goes to a different university, by the way. It was our meeting place on our way home.”
“And this is after you defended her from the cheating boyfriend?”
I nod, burying my face in my copy of Romeo and Juliet. He shrugs, probably feeling awkward about wanting to ask more but not wanting to admit that he knows nothing about the complexities of female friendships.
“So you don’t want revenge?” he asks a while later.
“I don’t know yet,” I answer, truthfully.
We spend a few minutes reaching for new books to check out. I choose an old copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
“Romantic, huh?” he says.
“Your choice of literature,” he points out to the book on my lap. “You like romance.”
I smile. “All the romance that’s left in this world are in books. That’s why I hide here.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
And for a split second there I thought he’s hitting on me.
“No,” I answer.
“I figure,” he says, and that stings a bit. “I’ve seen you before in Collin’s class.”
“Collin? Our professor Collin?”
“Ah yeah, he and I go way back.”
“So that explains the very casual introduction.”
“Yeah,” Matthew laughs. “Anyway, I’ve seen you before that first time at church. You’re always with that girl with the pink head band.”
“Yeah, that girl,” he continues. “If you’re not with her, you’re always alone.”
“Are you stalking me?”
He laughs again. “No. Just by chance. I find it interesting that a girl like you is always on her own. It’s haunting. It’s sad. And it’s beautiful.”
“Not everyone who wishes to be left alone is sad, Matthew,” I reply. “Sometimes, it’s the best way to make sure you won’t get hurt.”
I’ve never met anyone who can make betrayal sound less bitter. And I’ve never met anyone who understands the need to be left alone but not alone.
From that day forward, Matthew and I would meet at the university library a few times a week to just talk. We would always choose the partly hidden area near Shakespeare’s collection of sonnets and try our hand in writing prose no one would ever read.
The semester ended and Matthew got the editor post he has always wanted. Professor Collin invited our class to the small celebration at The Literati headquarters one afternoon before the semestral break starts. I did not attend but I did get a text message from Matthew asking me where I was and if we could meet.
I did not reply and the new semester rolls in. I told myself that I will find a new place to hide during my junior year. And I did, and I hid in my new secret place during the last two years of college.
But one afternoon after a grueling Taxation class in my senior year, I visited my old hiding place and sat there for a while, hoping to wash all the taxation crap in my head with pages of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
And there I found it, a copy of The Literati’s last issue under Matthew’s wing, four semesters too late. It was stuck in between the pages of Shakespeare’s sonnet I’ve read years ago. I opened it at the earmarked page and the unwelcome sadness washed over me once more. Matthew’s last work at The Literati was a poem about me.
I cry again, after all these years. I never told anyone what happened between us all those semesters and no one will ever know.
Four years later. Greenbelt 3, Makati City.
That’s how I’ve always described the night breeze in Makati. Even in the summer, when the city is bursting with life, Makati feels cold, distant.
Maybe that’s why people who live and work here can’t survive without their caffeine and alcohol. Something to keep them warm enough to experience what the city has to offer, if they are brave enough to find it.
For the past four years, the city has been my life source. And by that, I mean my source of money as I jump from one agency to another, trying my best to forget that I have a journalism degree.
Four years out of college and I am still not doing what I thought I would after breaking free from the four walls of the university. I haven’t really figured it out yet. But in the meantime, I have the city.
Four years out of college. I haven’t really mapped out my life yet. The only thing I’ve learned so far is I can’t seem to run away from the people I thought I’d never want to see or hear from again.
One month ago.
The first contact happened last month, during a very busy afternoon at work. I was rushing two poster studies for an up-and-coming lifestyle magazine when my phone vibrated.
“Is this Kit Castille?” read the message with an unidentified number.
“Yes. May I know who this is?” I replied.
“Hi Kit. This is Matthew Rondillo.”
I almost dropped my hot coffee on the keyboard.
At first, I thought it was Hazel playing a bad prank on April Fool’s day, but my college BFF reassured me that she had nothing to do with the text message.
“So, what did you say?” she asked.
I deleted the message right after I ended the call to Hazel that day. I had no idea what kind of twisted animal would play this card to haunt me on April Fools.
Two days later, the same number called and I answered because I wanted to know which prankster I needed to destroy.
“Hello?” the voice on the other line said. “Is this Kit Castille?”
And just like that, a hundred summers washed all over me in one go. I really didn’t need to ask. His voice was something I knew by heart.
“It’s Matthew,” the person on the other line replied.
I had a ‘drop everything’ deliverable that day. My career comes first this time, I figured. Job orders are orders. So I dropped the call.
The third time Matthew tried to contact me was a true test of how long I can stand to torment myself. My boss and I were waiting at the conference room for our client and his editorial team. I spent an infinite amount of time working on the deck that won us this client. The glass door opened and the president of the newcomer publishing empire and his young editor-in-chief entered.
It wasn’t fate that made our paths collide once more. It was the winning pitch that gave him access to my mobile number and online portfolio. I would like to say that the rest is history, but as it turned out, it was only the beginning.
Weeks after the successful launch of the new lifestyle magazine, the client treated our small creative team to a Thai-inspired dinner at Greenbelt 3. My excitement (or fear) to work with their EIC Matthew Rondillo was cut short, two weeks into the project.
No one really knew what happened. No one really asked. One afternoon, a new EIC was introduced and that was it.
Photo by Deke de Guia
So why, after all these years, am I waiting for Matthew again?
Some girls never really learn, do they? A lot had happened. But here I am, immobilized by my illogical fear of letting people know that I know Matthew.
Nobody really found out how close we were in college. At least for a very brief period of time. No one knew, not even my bubbly college bud Hazel.
Four years after college and I still don’t know why I am affected by the unexplained stigma that is him.
He’s late, my inner bitch says. You should have left while you still have your dignity.
“Shut up,” I fire back. “He’s on his way.”
That’s what you said when you had dinner, alone. That’s what you said when you ordered coffee twice.
“I know where you’re going with this,” I say. “I don’t want to hear it.”
He’s not coming.
In an instant, it feels like college all over again. I really thought I would be healed by now. I honestly hoped I would be okay. But I’m not.
I walk around, trying my best to tune out the thoughts inside my head. I remind myself that it’s different this time – that it was him who asked me out. I straighten my back. This time, it was him who kept asking me out until I finally agreed to a cup of coffee.
Coffee at 11 o’clock in the evening? My inner bitch is on a roll tonight. That’s a booty call and you know it.
I shake my head vigorously, which is something I do to remind my inner devil that she’s about to tread on very dangerous grounds.
And just like that, she’s gone.
I tell myself that I’m a grown woman. And that I’m no longer the whiny, emotionally unstable 18-year-old college student who crumbles at the sight of Matthew Rondillo.
But my inner devil is right – I should have left hours ago. Truth is, I don’t even know why I said yes. Haven’t I learned my lesson already? Have I not been burned enough?
As I wait for Matthew in the midst of a busy Friday night in Makati, I remember one of the great conversations we had during those good times that felt like an eternity ago.
Four years ago. College.
“I heard some of your classmates hate you,” Matthew said. We were at our secret place at the university library with books on our laps.
“And you heard this from whom exactly?” I asked.
“So you don’t care what people think about you?” he asked.
“I really don’t care what people say about me.”
I reached for a piece of Chips Ahoy I had in my bag. I nibbled nervously, half afraid to open my mouth and say the mean things stuck inside my chest. I wanted to lash out. I wanted him to bathe in hate with me. I wanted to share things.
“I know people say things about me,” he said.
“Haven’t you heard?
“No,” I said. “I don’t want to sound rude, Matthew, but I’m not really interested in every piece of gossip about you. I have my own problems.”
“So you don’t care what they say about you?”
I closed the book and tried to edit in my head what I was about to say. How far can I go without revealing how much of me is vulnerable?
“I feel like people are out to get me,” I heard myself say.
And there it was, the fear I’ve always been scared to verbalize. I finished the rest of the cookie, half afraid to say more after realizing that it was the first time I had admitted this weakness to an actual human being.
“Are you scared?”
“Why do you think I’m hiding here?”
“I get scared too,” he said. “Let’s hide here for a while.”
And it was the first time he held my hand.
It’s been ages since college, but I still remember many of the run-ins I sometimes wish never happened. Four years is a long time and I hope that by now, I already learned something. But the bits and pieces that make up our untold story are still as sharp as my rage.
Matthew finally arrives, 45 minutes past midnight, two hours after our agreed meeting time. I am both relieved and livid. Relieved for not being stood up; livid for being made to wait this long without a quick phone call.
Well, he did send one text message that said ‘Hey I’ll be late’ and nothing else after that. I believe he just assumed I’d still be here and he was right.
I have always fantasized how I would look and what I would say when I finally meet him by accident. In my fantasies, I am always wearing this classy, body-tight, little black dress. My long brown hair is curled perfectly with some of the little curls tangling with the chunky gold statement necklace that hangs elegantly on my neck. My red nails are polished to perfection and my classic black heels are as sharp as my hate.
In reality, I have forgotten how I planned it in my head. I am wearing a white lace blouse, a pair of jeans and flats. My hair smells like cigarette smoke and a lone white gold necklace hangs on my neck.
But just like in my fantasies, the reunion is happening on a cold and rainy night at Greenbelt 3. What surprises me is how Matthew looks now.
He walks towards me in the same quick strides I remember from a lifetime ago. His eyes scan the crowd and finally, they settle on me once more. A quick recognition. A shy smile that, even years later, makes me feel unsure.
It’s the same shy smile from years ago, when he first sat beside me at Sir Magic Pants’ class, only this time, the sparkle that was once so contagious doesn’t reach his eyes anymore.
The guy walking towards me now looks so far from the once dignified EIC with a solid built frame and an ego the size of Russia. In his place is a guy with a pair of sad, weary eyes.
“Hi Kit…” he starts, and from the tone of his voice I can tell that he is scouring his brain for some fake apology that can somehow makeup for making me wait without even a decent heads up.
“Hey,” I say.
“Sorry, I’m late. I…”
“Never mind,” I catch myself saying. “Want to catch a movie?”
I am a grown woman, alright. But both the 18-year-old and 24-year-old woman in me are experiencing the same anxiety attack.
After four years, I expected to have better control of my emotions and expectations by now but I am suddenly so conscious of Matthew’s hands so close to mine again after all this time.
We decided to catch a late night movie and quickly queued for some popcorn. In our haste, he trips and the tub of popcorn he is holding flies from his hands. For a split second, the world was at peace as the popcorn fell from above.
“Are you okay?” I ask as I help him brush the popcorn off his hair.
“Um, yes,” he says. “Shit, sorry about the popcorn.”
And just like that, I feel it happening, as though someone switched it on again. I feel the connection, the one I so desperately tried to break.
I can feel him again. And just like that, I open my mouth and say: “You fell for me again.”
For a split second, I swear I saw his face light up. For the first time in years, I hear him laugh again. And it sounds so beautiful.