"You shouldn't have worn shorts."
I was 13 and very much grew up in Manila. I even talk with a slight slang. My Dad got it in his head to show me the ways of Lipa. And because I developed a crush on two of my cousins' friends that March (who knew they were brothers...), April 9 found me tagging after my cousin and some of his friends to the fiesta in Bulaklakan... a barrio near ours.
The year was 1991. Net sprays were still in vogue. Loose Maui shirts and shorts were the things to wear.
And because I was adolescent-pretentious and naive... I was decked in a white shirt with blue sharks on a neon background. Who knew my stupid cousin and his friends would go to the fiesta via the looban, a virtual tangle of trees and roots and trails... a jungle really... but they said, a short cut too.
So, there I was... counting cuts and insect bites... and there he was, the Noel guy, being his corny, noisy self.
And yet, he was making me smile.
May 1991. Partners for the pagsasaya (basically, the procession where ladies wore gowns, and men wore barongs... as we end the Feast of Flores de Mayo) were being called off, everyone being asked if we already had anything to wear, etc.
Noel kidded the Kapitana... was she calling those who were destined to be married?
I was surprised. He likes Marilyn?
I was more surprised to know I felt a tinge of jealousy. Then again, I was already in a relationship with my first bf then.
January 1993. Noel took me dancing to a slow song. I teased him about Marilyn getting jealous. He said, she won't be, after all... we're only friends.
January 1994. Noel whispered to me that he couldn't take me dancing anymore, for his gf, Marilyn, would be breathing down his neck. I assured him I that understood.
January 1997. Noel's birthday. Noel turned out to be the barkada of my barkada's sister. I've introduced him to my peer group. He invited us to his party.
Allee and I were teasing him incessantly to open our gift to him. He finally gave in, and pretended to grumble about the gift: black briefs with yellow polka dots.
It was too small for him (who knew someone so thin wouldn't fit inside a sized-small pair of briefs) but we had so much laughing at his expense. And he was good-natured enough not to really mind.
We were good friends. And we had fun.
Who knew Marilyn picked a fight with him after we left... about how I was trying to lord it over her that I had a gift for Noel, while she didn't.
Two months after that, they broke up. Marilyn started spreading the rumor that I caused it.
But Noel and I were really just friends, who are brought together by vacations in Lipa.
March 1997. I went with Noel and his closest friends to spend overnight at the beach. In the morning, I happily beckoned to him to share what was then good news for me: i've already agreed to go to steady with his best friend, Michael. (i know, he wasn't included in the list... he was more of a fling and there are other reasons why)
He suddenly grew pale... and couldn't talk. I was so bubbling with my kalandian, and he excused himself and went out of my room.
Later he told he was shocked. He knew Michael and I were being teased... but he didn't imagine us turning it to something serious.
Much later, he started courting my friend Allee. It was a half-hearted attempt at most.
Around May, Michael and I broke up. And he started getting teased to Marilyn's cousin. And Marilyn and Michelle banded together with other girls and totally made my vacations in Lipa... unhappy.
I asked Noel if Michael was in any way real in love with Michelle. Noel said he doubted it, but Michelle was very persistent. He also told me, he sort of had a tiff with Michael then, because he was asking him to honor his previous relationship with me... and not make it appear to the grand barkada (composing of all adolescents in the barrio, half of whom are vacationers too) that he only used or played with me.
And then, much later... Noel told me he actually cried that day... when I told him I went steady with Michael.
Asked why... he told me that he already really liked me the first time he met me. But he had to step aside because, all too quickly, I was going steady with Zaldy then, his 2nd cousin. And when finally, he was able to break it off with Marilyn (Marilyn had a weak heart, and like every insecure person out there, used that fact to keep Noel in line, knowing how kind he is), he'd suddenly have to step aside again for his best friend.
I don't remember anymore how he told me that... or how we ended that talk.
2000. Noel called me up to say he's getting married a certain date and asked me to come home to Lipa. I was happy for him because I knew the girl was good to him. But still, I kidded him... "But I thought you loved me, pano na ako nyan?" I was also stupid enough to tease him not to marry that girl and just marry me instead.
There was a pregnant pause and then he said... "Mec, wag, please."
I laughed, asking him if I said anything wrong...
Then he basically told me... asked me... not to make things harder for him. I knew he was struggling with something... but then, he just pleaded some more for me to attend his wedding, and to not make it harder for him.
Turned out, they were expecting their first child already. I told him I was envious because he's going to be a parent now... I also told him I might not be able to go because I had masteral classes that Saturday...
Day of his wedding... morning... an unregistered number appears in my cell... it was Marilyn, asking me to come home to Lipa and stop Noel from marrying that other woman.
Not only was I flabbergasted that Marilyn, who made life so hard for me, would be making me her ally right now. I just told her, maybe she can talk to Noel... tell him she still really loves him.
Marilyn texted me then that only I can stop Noel from marrying someone else... and that if I don't do that, Noel won't be happy.
All day, she pleaded with me. And at the hour of his wedding, Marilyn told me she's crying and feels that her heart was breaking.
Me... I wondered... what should have I really done?
Now, Noel is working overseas... and I heard, he cries everytime he cannot go home to his family, and misses them so much. His son is already chasing frogs and running around... and I see them every Noche Buena Mass at the barrio chapel.
I'm happy that he loves his family. And I miss him.
I don't really know why he suddenly came to mind... I can't even say that he was someone who got away... heck, i don't think I even have a someone who got away. Still, the memories of all the years we hanged out... and the fact that there was something unexplored between us... cannot help but make me smile and feel sad at the same time.
I know, there's a letter somewhere in the boxes under my bed where it was explicitly stated that HE LOVES ME. He loveD me.
I'm not sure if I ever acknowledged the same in me, for him.
And now, because it's really pointless to contemplate... and because we were such good friends that romantic notions as I knew them couldn't exactly fit what we had (then, i couldn't imagine kissing him, but i know i wouldn't mind walking under the rain, wrapped in his arms... i couldn't imagine going on formal dates with him, but know that i can spend days and months with him and have a great time... and yes, now I know better), I cannot even say there are regrets.
He is a great person and a good friend. And back then, who knew that he was also a great possibility.
"You shouldn't have worn shorts."