My, you've grown

"Natatawa ako," Hazel pointed out early this week. "We discuss these things quite too casually."

Too casually, indeed. Then again, she was talking to me, the person who tends to react to pretty much everything. In fact, I already have a thought bubble for this phenomenon: how come women always tweet about either when they're going to take a shower, or when it's "that time of the month"? Not that the menstrual cycle is something men should not bother about - when you're married, and trying to have kids, you have no choice but to keep track of your wife's sanitary napkin usage - but, well, it's not really the sort of thing you have Twitter conversations about.

But I also have a thought bubble for that. "I learned about these things in school first," I told her, "so I can take it."

I can remember that day. I was in fifth grade, and it was home economics class - that class after lunch break where we learned about washing our clothes and tending to basic illnesses and, somewhere in the middle of the school year, cross-stitching. Anyway, I remember that gloomy afternoon quite vividly, of the time when our teacher Miss Cynthia asked us to open our books to this particular page - page sixty-something - and proceeded to tell us about what the menstrual cycle is. And there was a part of me that was fascinated about it. I was totally clueless about it before that, and now I'm hearing about certain liquids coming out of certain places in a woman's body at certain times of the month. But what struck me the most was my little realization: sanitary napkins, I figured, aren't really adult diapers for ladies who aren't that old.

We were in fifth grade. This was the time when all of us were undergoing all these changes. I realized, during my conversation with Hazel, that it was something that deeply, if not disturbingly, fascinated us.

"More of a CR conversation, really," I said. "'Meron ka na ba?' for girls. 'Tuli ka na ba?' for guys, often followed by, 'patingin nga!'"

"You boys seriously do that?" she answered, surprised, surprisingly. "Nagpapakitaan kayo?"

"Only some. Then again, boys tend to lie about this. Kung hindi ka pa tuli, hindi ka pa binata."

I remember wishing that I was circumcised at birth. At least, I figured, I wouldn't have to go through the ordeal of seeing my penis with foreskin now, and without it an hour later. Or maybe weeks later, when it gets past the nangangamatis stage. My actual circumcision was an eventful day, only because it happened on the same day Miriam Quiambao became Miss Universe first runner-up.

And I remember that conversation - the "patingin nga!" bit - happening. It was in school, during recess, and it was me and a classmate, who happened to be in the toilets at the same time. That sort of thing was commonplace among the boys in our class. Circumcision was a hurdle, the time when boys started becoming men - and, of course, this was the time when we all wanted to become binata already, and we thought the creaking voices and growth spurts begin with that one single operation. I don't think I showed anything to anyone.

"Pero I remember back in grade school, wearing bra was an issue," Hazel shared. "Nagtitinginan din kami."

"Did your questions go, 'anong kulay ng bra mo?' or something?" I asked. "I do hope it didn't go past that."

"We showed them to each other. No need to ask the color. We just made comments like, 'mine's smaller', 'mine's bigger,' blah."

"Nagpapalakihan kayo? Walang ganyan samin. As far as I can recall."

Like we were aware about that when we were in fifth grade.

"Well... sort of. It sounds rude pala, no, for little girls."

Back then, of course, it didn't. Sure, I never heard my female classmates talk about wearing bras - either I can't remember, or I'm too busy with certain things, or they just wore sandos all throughout - but the idea of little kids showing a wide-eyed interest in puberty is, looking back, quite disconcerting. Or maybe I'm just being a 21-year-old, the sort who's seen ads for feminine wash packaged towards teens, and masculine wash packaged towards guys who want to be suave. It's been a decade since all that talk of circumcision, and we've long passed the oh-my-God-what-is-happening-to-my-body? stage. We're all grown up, relatively, and we don't really like it.

There is a part of me who still wants to be really comfortable. I know I'll have to do things by myself soon - and there are some things that I am doing by myself right now - but I'm not an American. I'm not some guy who moved to my own place the moment I graduated from high school. I'm not some guy who dealt with college debt and part-time jobs. I'm not stressing about paying the rent - at least not yet.

But my parents are growing old. Sure, my dad still has twenty years before he reaches the mandatory retirement age - unless you count his vow that he'll retire the moment my brother graduates from college - but the idea that we'll have to support ourselves, and our parents, sooner or later is looming large. It's certainly not as fascinating as the thought of growing armpit hair.

It's been almost three years since I learned how to drive, but only lately have I really been driving. Until a few weeks ago, the farthest I've gone was Festival Supermall, which is roughly twenty minutes away. (This was when my ear got blocked by all that ear wax, and I had to head to an ENT to have it cleared. My ear wax is wetter than usual, turns out.) Suddenly, I'm driving my dad's car from my office in Ortigas to our home in Cavite - on a particularly rainy Friday. Sure, that means I can say I've driven my car with NU 107 in the background, but it was still a stressful two hours, especially with heavy traffic along the SLEX, and the fact that I was driving at night, which I've never done before.

Since then, I've made two trips from my house to Ortigas, driving myself and my dad to work. I've taken my mom's car to a gas station along Daang Hari. I've picked up my brother from his friend's house fifteen minutes away - and went face-to-face with a truck who decided to beat the red light; it was, obviously, a really stressful experience, and one that's definitely miles away from bringing the car to the car wash, something which I've been good at, or so I think.

"Mabuti nang nagpa-practice ka para kapag wala kami ng mommy mo, ikaw na maghahatid sa kapatid mo sa school," my dad rationalized. I get him, but I still cringe whenever he gives me the keys to his car. I don't think I'm a particularly good driver, or at least not yet, since I tend to not look everywhere, or otherwise. And I still have my impulses. And I'm a chicken. A relative chicken, sure, but still a chicken. And I still struggle with parking in malls. I can't get it right at a relatively empty one at Festival, and that thought will bring me back to when I found myself in a car with Cait, headed to the grocery, and watching her park her car effortlessly. Of course, there was the time when we returned to her house and I tried to help her park in a particularly tight space, which I failed on. Miserably. I'm a guy and I don't park very well. Sure, I'll learn it soon, but you know how I deal with these things, right?

Yesterday I took my dad's car - more of, him offering me the car when I pointed out there won't be any shuttles late in the afternoon - and headed to the Alabang Town Center. I was going to meet Valerie, who found time from her busy-even-on-a-holiday schedule to meet me for coffee and, most importantly, the Blender issue with Katy Perry (and, well, David Cook) on it. I've been driving long distances for a while at this point, so this was no biggie. Somehow, I even looked forward to it. Parking was still a bitch, though, especially when the car beside the empty slot I first found was parked so badly I had no choice but to find another slot.

And yet, when I maneuvered the car, trying to park in that bad slot, I felt stupid. Reverse, drive, reverse, drive, and a lot of turns on the steering wheel, and my left side mirror is still so close to that stupid van. I can only imagine what the other drivers who found themselves watching me fail were thinking. "He's such a bad driver."

I eventually found a better slot, and I parked it better than the first time I tried parking in a mall. At least I was within the lines, and reasonably straight.

It does take experience, and lots of it. I was this nervous student driver who, on the very first day of lessons, cringed when my instructor told me to take the driver's seat and drive on an empty road, stuck in first gear. It didn't help, of course, that he insisted on wearing shades and had this if-you-crash-the-car-you're-toast air around him. And now, I'm this guy who's driving fairly long distances, pretty much fighting Manila's notorious traffic head-on. But I still suck at parking.

Growing up is still something I'd like to resist, but at the same time it's fascinating. More so, now that there's no tangible anything to look for. You're not looking for pubic hair. You're not looking for a deeper voice. You're not telling yourself to do certain things because it's more sensible: it just happens, and the longer you're at it you realize that something has changed.

"There's something new about you," Valerie told me last night, as I sipped my prerequisite Starbucks blended drink. "I can't really explain it, but you've changed."

I think she meant I've changed for the better. I never fully understood what she meant. I know there's some added confidence in my step. Maybe I've really moved on from the past. Maybe I've already entered a new stage in my life, without having to make a fuss about it. Yes, that is a good thing.

"Don't burst my bubble, okay?" she added.

I couldn't burst her bubble. I kinda get her. I kinda agree with her. And, also, I don't get her, so there's no way I could burst her bubble, which is probably the whole point.

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