Creepy little sneaky little

Yep, it was almost five years ago when this happened. I met up with Robyn in this covered atrium of sorts, with a lot of sign-up booths on the side. "Let's go together," she said, before realizing that we were in different sections, and thus we wouldn't go through the next two days together.

I think I was first in line on my sign-up booth. "What's your nickname?" the girl manning it said.

"Niko," I answered. "With a K, not a C."

The girl gave me a name tag, with my name written on it. Thankfully it was spelled correctly.

I stayed near that area, anxious as to who else will show up. Robyn was the only person I knew at the time, and her booth was quite far away. I couldn't get to her. I had to stay near my booth, as strangers started coming in one by one, people that I knew I would spend the next two days with, more so the next three years.

"Nice meeting you. I'm Niko. Saang school ka galing?"

I don't know what happened to that lesson since. Well, it wasn't really a lesson. It was just all that I was: pretty sociable, and pretty brash. A couple of hours later, our group of 45 people would see me as this fun, if not noisy, future classmate, the sort of guy who would take the lead in things. I'll admit, I wouldn't have been that if I didn't act so excited, if I didn't say hello to everyone and asked them about their high schools with interest. I think that's why I ended up becoming a strong contender for block president. It all began when I slowly became my noisy self at LEAP.

Things didn't really go as well as those first two days. I did have friends, few and far between, but for some reason I was just the guy who took the lead, and not the guy you'd want to hang out with. That, or I didn't hang out. "Sa Cavite pa ako," I'd usually say, not really used to the idea of going home late. I can't really help but feel bad when I see this one person I was (then) oddly interested in laugh with other people. I was fun, but I was noisy, and people didn't want noisy people. They want fun people, and just fun people, which is why I never had a steady group of friends in college, the sort that you'd automatically be groupmates with in class activities, or the sort that you'd hang out with after the day ends.

Okay, so I did something wrong. Back during my frosh years, I was the sort that was, to say the least, had issues. Nobody likes people with issues. Nobody even bothers approaching people with issues. Thus, I knew that having issues is wrong - wrong in the ethical sense - and that you have to change if you want people to come to you. Luckily for me, some people came to me, and I had friends who were nice enough to tell me what was wrong with me. "Hinaan mo lang boses mo," they'd say so many times. "Masyado kang malakas magsalita."

More or less, it meant I should stop being so aggressive.

Two years later, I had a crash course in being aggressive. It was the career workshop. A mock interview. A mock panel interview. It went well, until the facilitator told me that I was too passive. The seat I was in was a bit far, relatively far, from the panel. "Tinitignan yan ng mga employers minsan," he said, before suggesting that we do it again, only this time, I should ask if I can pull my seat closer to them.

I didn't want to pass off as a cocky person, because I knew nobody liked people who were very straightforward. I surely didn't like one of my classmates then. "Dude, are you gay? Because, really, if you are, I don't mind." And then he mentions Sudoy's and Martin's name and I knew he was presuming things, and he felt absolutely macho when stood beside me.

In synthesis: be aggressive, but not cocky. People like fun people, but not noisy people. It took me three years to figure my approach out, but it did come at a cost. I didn't have a group of friends I constantly hung out with, like everybody else in my block - and, true enough, the rest of my batch - who wasn't shunned to death in a previous case. (I did feel shunned to death at one point. First year, after the recollection, when I said I was being untrue all this time. Clarence should know the whole story. I can't be bothered retelling it, but I remember sitting by the lobby, just waiting for class to come, feeling terrible.) I was invited to lunch, perhaps because they had no other choice or because I was already there (in hindsight they're the same reason), and I ended up eating while listening in to conversations that the folks I was with were having. All the inside jokes, all the obscure references, all the stories I felt I didn't have the right to know.

But you can't be cocky, so you might as well not force things to happen. Let things go where they ought to. It was a lesson - I haven't learned it - that I just picked up from Valerie. "Not everybody will choose to be your friend," she said. But I thought we were all entitled to this.

That was pretty much what my horoscope said today. I was inside a bank, waiting to have my check encashed, reading the comics, trying hard not to laugh so hard. Minutes before I asked the lady beside me, if she could pass that bit of paper to me. She picked it up with two fingers, like it was dirty or something - then again, newspapers smudge fingers - and I took it, two fingers. This should be easy, I thought. I'll just be friendly. "So how are you?"

She seemed too busy. She kept turning her head around.

Two things to my credit. One, I cleared my head. Gone were the presumptions, that I'd be too cocky, although there were times when I just butted in and got nothing. But that's what I did before, and it worked. Then again, it worked before, not today. Two, I was being friendly. I got surprisingly sensible conversations. "I am now a Herrera." "Fake Locke is the Smoke Monster." "Italian-American rin ba yung nagbato ng table?" But you certainly know that it is too late, when you find yourself eating expensive ice cream and just keeping quiet while your companions - loosely - laughed. I knew it was too late. Not that I had expectations or anything - I absolutely didn't have any - but I knew there's no chance I'd be able to crack the code and, at least, be someone.

"It's more of a refresher," I told Icka. "Like college. Only there are feelings involved, whatever those are."

I didn't really know what those are. But I sure felt like crying - not hysterical, but more poignant, painful, actually painful, helplessly painful - when the goodbyes were said that she left like I wasn't around, or perhaps, like I was just some pesky fly on the wall, stalking. You just know you screwed yourself badly. You just know your approach to things - letting things take its course - just wasn't working. And to that, I simply said, oh well. These things take forever to get replaced.

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