Hello News all over again

I was done with all my work, having finished everything (and then some) for the day, so I decided to confirmed her Facebook invitation and go through her profile. She was tagged in eight hundred photos, which wasn't an unusual number considering I have friends who were tagged in a thousand, but I felt it was a lot when I browsed through all of them. She was this girl who, as I later realized, was a cross between Misha Balangue and Miley Cyrus, only she couldn't decide on her hair color - pitch black at one moment, bleached blonde on another. She was riding horses, frolicking in the beach, hanging out at home, sneaking a photograph while studying at the library.

At first glance, she'd be a person I'd be pretty interested in, although not in that half-usual achingly romantic way. The thing was, I already knew her.

It was during film writing class when Sir Doy had all of us write a letter, obviously hypothetical, to someone we had a lot of questions to. I didn't want to gravitate towards the usual suspects - then again, my distant relatives are so distant I don't have any idea where to start - but, after ten minutes of thinking, I remembered her. I'll admit, I did forget her, apart from the very rare mentions from old friends. It's been eight years or something.

Two days later, I read out my letter in class, and I think my professor was genuinely interested in my story. With a little fictionalization, it'd be a love story between the most unlikely of people. I didn't pursue that; it'd be too long for a short screenplay.

Well, I guess you don't remember me anymore.

It's been a while, really. You left Manila when we finished Grade 5, and I can still vividly remember when we cried at the thought of you leaving. But of course, Anna, I remember. What about the "rivalry" we had with hand-drawn newspapers we circulated within the classroom? We were rivals, even in academics - either you made it good in class, or I did. I silently laughed when you complained about Tita Bel cutting your nails too close to the fingers.

In hindsight, Anna came as a storm of sorts to the class. She was technically a year behind us, although she somehow got accelerated when her family returned from the United States. Suddenly there was a new name on that piece of cartolina with all of our names on it. "Mary Anna Mansat," it said, and I was curious, as we all used to be when someone new came to class.

To keep the long story short, I felt intimidated by her presence, not after many years of me being the best in class. (Or, I was thinking too highly of myself at a young age, which is odd since I never got the highest honors in school because of my attitude.) She was around for only two years - this thin, wide-eyed girl with black hair and perhaps the whimsiest of whims. Yes, that time when she was complaining about her mother cutting her nails too close was true. I think me and the guys made fun of her during the time. "Ang arte naman niya," we went.

But I couldn't get myself to dislike her. Yeah, she is admirable, for one. And then there's the fact that she's a family friend. They occupied a big house a few streets away: I remember the really big wooden staircase with two makeshift gates to keep her then baby brother, Matthew (if I remember the name correctly), at bay. My parents knew her parents from Couples for Christ prayer meetings, and everything else followed. I remember somehow looking forward to visiting her place simply because of all those stuff she brought home from the States - those quiz booklets, plushies in plastic bags, magazines that had that smell on them.

Or maybe you remember that one time we played in your bedroom. "The Niko and Anna Museum", complete with torn-up pad paper for tickets, and nobody came.

Her family decided to return to the United States, and I knew that very well. We'd lose a couple during the prayer meetings, plus a couple of facilitators during Kids for Christ sessions at the subdivision's excuse for a clubhouse. Her last day of classes at MTS was perhaps a very awkward day. She went around, saying goodbye to almost everyone. And then there was me, her biggest rival in almost everything - well, not exactly, since we did collaborate on Hello News - folded pieces of bond paper with fake advertisements and all those American ideas - until I broke away and she got dissolved. I think we were seated in one of those ledges with plants on them. Or maybe two school desks put outside for some reason. I don't remember what we said, but I do remember the crying, and I do remember the hugging. And then, nothing.

Life did get in the way. I graduated from MTS, still not getting the highest honors. High school was, as you all know, tumultuous. There was a moment when I got in touch with her, but we were all new to the Internet back then, and I was trying to make sense of what her Yahoo! ID stood for. ("Cutie angel Pinay girl," I think.) My parents left CFC, I've lost touch with everybody who possibly had contact with her, and then everything else came. Her house was still standing, still in that shade of green, but slowly it lost meaning as I grew up. Then, that homework for film writing class.

I haven't heard from you since you said you're abandoning your Friendster account. I last checked, and it still has Kristen Kreuk's photo on it. I know, your favorite character from Smallville. And all the testimonials that came from all of us, your friends who you left behind for the United States.

Maybe I shouldn't bother asking, but for old times' sake, how are you? I'm sure Matt-Matt has grown, and I'm sure Tita Bel and Tita Ador are still the nice parents I've met when we were still bouncing around during Kids for Christ meetings. Maybe I should ask about school - I'm sure you're doing well, judging from how you've fared in elementary. I hope you aren't crying over low grades like you did eight years ago. Obviously you've got new friends, maybe a love life unlike me (but who's to ask?) and maybe a better life, at least relatively, than the rest of us here.

But if there's one thing I've been itching to ask, it's why you left Friendster in the first place. Shallow, I know, but I thought we'd be able to talk to you, like we used to in elementary, even if we sort of hated you for being smart and airy at the same time. You didn't even leave behind a way for us to keep in touch. I remember, we almost banded together for your eighteenth birthday - a video message, apparently, to be sent via email. Last I heard it never materialized.

Forgive me, Anna. I actually write letters like this now, only it's an email. I end up remembering all those stereotypes of American teenage girls, all with their shopping sprees and adventures with boys. Call me sentimental, but I hope you aren't like the rest of them.

It was exactly what I was thinking while browsing those photos. But I wasn't worried, although it's because I forgot I wrote that fake email for a college class. It was more of curiosity. I didn't expect to see her on Facebook, although I should've. Somehow, she found Carmel after she posted our class picture a year after she left, and then she found everybody else, and the conversations, while still a trickle, started coming in. Well, they had relatively more contact with her, and me, after everything that happened since I moved schools, haven't. Only difference was, of course, we all replied to her in English.

"Isn't it interesting that suddenly you've connected with, say, six of us in a week or so?" I wrote on her wall.

"Yeah, all from that one elementary picture!" she replied. "I still have the box with all the stuff everyone gave me before I moved away. Did you find the other MTS pics, by the way?"

I've yet to look for those photos, especially since my mother moved our old photo albums somewhere else. And that box she was talking about? I absolutely can't remember it.

Oh, but what's the use? We've not talked for eight years. I guess you've forgotten me and all of what we've been through by now.

I got that one all wrong. Well, maybe almost, but still.

And your responses...

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