Summer Haze: V

It was still a day before the 24th, but I was a nervous wreck already. I was done with the Christmas presents, but I wasn't confident enough that your family would like them. After more than a year, I would finally get to meet them, although you would still be introducing me as your friend hoping that somehow they'd get what that meant. You wanted to make me feel better after the summer my mother had died. You wanted to welcome me into your world when I had felt so unwelcome in mine.

I didn't know how I should behave, how I should look or how I should dress. These were the moments I feel so incapacitated as a human being, when all my shortcomings and insecurities manifest on the surface. I wasn't quite sure if they would like me or if they would see me good enough for you, but then I thought how ridiculous this whole fretting was knowing that I would be introduced only as your friend. But still, first impressions last and I wanted to make a good one.

We were to go there for lunch, because your Christmas dinners were strictly family affairs. I asked you if you could spend the night with me in Makati and we could drive there together in my car so that, at least, they'll see that I have my own car. You agreed and I was there in the living room staring at the clock waiting for it to strike six. That's the time you usually send me a text message to tell me that you're out of your office. I didn't know what to do so I went to the bedroom and checked the presents once again. I counted eight of them, for your parents, three sisters and their children. I walked back to the living room and stared at the clock that wasn't quite six yet. That's what's irritating with time. It has the ability to go the opposite of how you want it to be. I turned on the TV and flipped through the cable channels. There was nothing interesting or if there were, they had started sometime ago that I couldn't follow their story lines. At ten minutes past six I thought that any minute now, my cellphone would beep. But twenty minutes later, it remained defiantly silent. I looked at it and sent a text message to myself to see if I was having phone problems. Given the holidays, it was possible, but I got my text message as soon as I sent it.

I sent you a text message asking you where you were and if you're out of the office already. I waited for a reply, flipping through all the channels four times before I checked my cellphone again. I wanted to call you, but felt that it might be too intrusive. I was beginning to worry when it was past 7 and I haven't heard a single thing from you. I recalled our last conversation and the last text messages we sent to each other to see if I had said anything wrong or anything that might have offended you. But our exchanges were as bland as vanilla with a few sprinklings of I love yous.

It had been a month since our last major argument, when I remarked that I saw a cute guy in the gym who smiled at me and you felt jealous and didn't talk to me for a day. We made up and made out that weekend and everything had been smooth sailing after that.

I forwarded the text message again, thinking that it may have been lost in the vast cellular network. A few minutes later my phone beeped and I grabbed it and read your short message that you were on your way. The lack of any endearment troubled me, but you were prone to that.

You were morose when you arrived and I thought something bad had happened at work. Although you hugged me, it didn't feel like you were excited to see me. It felt forced coming from you. I hated you when you're like that. When you're much harder to read than the literary fiction you read on your free time.

"Is everything okay?" I asked.

"Let's talk," you said.

I motioned to move our conversation to the bedroom, but you insisted on staying in the living room. We sat down side by side on the sofa while you flexed your hands, as if warming up for what you're about to say.

"I can't do this," you said.

"You can't do what?"

"This. I haven't told my family I'm bringing someone for lunch."

The lie hurt, but I tried to maintain a steady voice. "I thought you told them already."

"I couldn't find the right moment."

I didn't reply; I didn't say anything. I wanted you to know I was hurt with what you had said. I felt stupid after all the preparation I had gone through. I remembered how we went around the malls looking for the perfect gifts to give to your family and I thought how all those times you had never told them.

"I'm sorry," you said.

I breathed. For once I was at a loss for words.

"I'm sorry," you said again. "I can't do this."

"You can't do what?" I asked in a voice that was more angry than hurt. It irritated me that you kept saying sorry and I kept asking you the same thing. I hated the vagueness of it, the suspense that something awful was about to happen.

"Us. I can't do this anymore."

"What are you talking about?"

You looked at me, your eyes pained and confused. "I tried. But I can't. This is not for me."

"Don't say that," I said, my voice retreating, sounding more defeated than defiant.

"I'm sorry." You inched closer and hugged me. It was all you could do before I broke down and cried. I sobbed like a toddler with separation anxieties.

"Don't. Don't. Don't," I said. "We can skip your whole family affair, but don't leave me."

"It's not you. I want a normal life. I want a family and have kids."

We talked, we cried, we made out for the entire night, but you were unmoved. We slept together in my bed that suddenly felt too small. You fell asleep faster than I did, your head resting on my chest. I hugged you for what I knew would be the last time before I moved to my side of the bed.

I woke up when your body stirred and your hands reached for me. I moved closer to you, still with my eyes closed and hugged you before I started sobbing again. You dried my eyes with your lips, but it made me cry harder. You pulled me closer to you, your chest smothering my face so that I could be silenced.

We fell asleep again and woke up a few hours later. My clock said it was 9:10 when we rose from the bed. I felt like I had just gone through the darkest night and woke up into a living nightmare. I didn't know how to get through the day or even through this life. I had pegged my future with you in it and I have to suddenly learn how to live without you.

I walked you to the door and we stood face to face before I opened it. You hugged me to say goodbye and I felt my eyes swelling again; tears fell like torrents of rain.

"Don't forget me," I begged.

"I'll remember," you said.

He broke up with me. I sent a text message to Alicia and waited for a few minutes if she would reply. I figured she had been out partying and was probably still asleep. I went to my room and started ripping the presents I had carefully gift-wrapped. I tore the wrapper and the boxes and threw the contents on the wall. Some of them made smashing sounds, which relieved me, while others hit the wall with a dull thud.

"I see you started the party without me," Alicia said, standing by my bedroom door with a bottle in one hand.

I ran to her like a baby running to his mother after an embarrassing fall. "Sorry dear, I didn't reply. I thought I'd waste more time if I replied. I got here as fast as I can."

"Thank you."

She opened the bottle of Absolut Kurant and I drank from it even before she could pour anything in a glass. Alcohol was the poison I needed to calm myself.

I told her what happened the night before, going back further to the Christmas presents, the fight that we had that I wasn't sure if it contributed to our downfall. I didn't feel any better; I felt like my heart was ripped out while a thousand Amazonian women raped me and used me till I coughed dry. Talking to Alicia made everything real although the pain prevented me from being objective.

She didn't say much. She listened as I rambled on, digging our history from the first time we met, during the start of the summer, to when we became official a month later; our dates that were too ordinary in hindsight, but felt the world to me at that time. It had been a magical period for me, I told Alicia before finishing a half glass of vodka.

She poured me another glass, waiting for me to continue. I took a sip, before finishing the entire glass. My head was swimming with alcohol and it made me numb. But for me, numb was good.

"Our love was born and raised in a summer haze," I said, staring at the empty bedroom that had witnessed most of it. "It was a mirage that was too good to be true."

"That's how it is, dear," Alicia said. "Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead."


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