Milestones

The first milestone I had was when I graduated in prep school. It was made more unforgettable because I sung onstage. Long before The Voice Kids or Tawag ng Tanghalan Kids happened, I tortured my poor classmates, their parents and guests, and my teachers with my voice. In my defense, my teachers made me do it. The succeeding milestones in my life were all that--graduations. From elementary, high school, and finally college. I say finally because I'm glad that my formal education is over. I have no plans for further studies, except those short courses online that tap into my neglected creative side.

The next milestone, I could say, was my first job and my first paycheck. But that was short-lived. Barely two months into the job, I quit. Not for any existential, is-this-all-there-is-to-it?, millennial, I-want-more-in-this-life kind of reason. My younger brother died, suddenly. The circumstances were tragic, so I deemed it best to quit and spend time with my parents who were scheduled to leave the country, supposedly with my brother. It was an important milestone in my early twenties, because I was forced to grow up. Call it my coming-of-age. It sucks, but, as I've come to realize, that's life.

The next great milestone was living alone and paying for everything myself. I had to make all the decisions, because no one else would make them for me. I had to do everything. Otherwise, nothing would get done.

Learning to stand on my own and alone meant that I did not have enough time for everything. Nor, when I was starting out, did I have enough to pay for everything. It taught me, more than anything, to know the difference between what I want, what I need, and what I really, really need. I learned to spend only on what I really, really need.

My first international trip was my first solo trip as well. That was a big deal for me, because it meant I had enough money to travel. A luxury I didn't have when I was starting out. Looking back, I can only shake my head at how brave and stupid I was to fly to Rome by myself. I went to a few other European countries in those twelve days and for the first time it felt like I was finally getting my life back.

After that, my milestones have become more sporadic and specific: my first car and, just last year, I made a downpayment for my first property. And there's a long interval between those two. There were smaller milestones somewhere in my life. Like the time an essay I wrote was published in a newspaper. Or when I moved to the US for three years to work. And then returned to the Philippines.

On the naughty side, I couldn't remember my first kiss or my first sex. I could say my first relationship was with a former friend, but it was messy and short. The way relationships are between best friends who couldn't figure out what they are to each other. I could say that that was my first heartbreak as well. But when I take a long and hard look in my life, they weren't the milestones that shook and changed me. After I saw my brother die and the aftermath that came, those emotions were small. And besides, this was the point where my life started to diverge from the norm. When my first heartbreak happened, it was as if nothing happened in my life. I had to sweep it under the rug, because I was not sure of who I am and, more so, if who I am was something that others could accept. And those first intimacies did not come with rainbows and butterflies. They came with guilt and thunderbolts from heaven. Along with these first encounters was the question of identity and the struggle for acceptance.

And now, I can't imagine what else is there for me. It seems that the next big milestone in my life is something I will never witness for myself: my death. Everyone around me are either getting engaged, getting married, having their first baby or their tenth baby, growing children or growing bellies. Their kids graduating with honors or saying their first words or taking their first shit or their first walk. I will never experience these universally celebrated milestones myself.

I'm so deep into that road less travelled already that I could not go back. This is what it means when Robert Frost said that choosing the road less travelled made all the difference. I'm out of the conversation, I'm out of orbit among my peers who have taken the straight and narrow path. I could not relate to them in the same way that they could not relate to me. They are probably wondering when I'm going to grow up and own the responsibility of a man my age. They do not see my struggles as something worthy or equal to theirs, of having a family and having kids. It can sometimes feel condescending because it's as if my burdens and problems are not valid just because my life is different.

And here's the difference of taking the road less travelled: it gives you the freedom to shape your own life and create your own milestones. It is equally lonely and liberating to realize that you have full responsibility for yourself to make your life matter. Because how do you extend a piece of yourself beyond death when you have no one to remember you or carry your name after you're gone?

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