I remember nothing about my graduation day, exactly ten years ago today.
I remember lunch, vaguely, but that happened after the ceremonies. We were at this Chinese restaurant nearby, and I remember liking this dish, although I forget what it is now. I only remember that it was an overcast day, and that I wasn't sure if I felt happy or sad. Obvious reasons. I've graduated. Studying is over; everything else is next. I felt ready, and at the same time, not at all ready.
Perhaps it's because the whole graduation ceremony was not a one-shot thing. All one thousand graduates or so spent the Wednesday before going through a lot of business: toga fittings, recognition ceremonies, rehearsals at a humid parking lot. Even before that, you had some documents to get to, some errands to run. Our final course card day had a sense of finality: the very last grades you'll get, the last tallying of the scores, and then you're done, waiting for the retirement ceremony, jersey number up the rafters not guaranteed. We've been prepared for this moment long ago, from the moment we finalized our application to graduate, the moment we finished defending our theses.
Perhaps it's also because there were explicit instructions to graduates to not bring a camera to our seats. I have some photos, taken surreptitiously with a camera phone we'd all call primitive now. They say nothing about what it felt. Boredom, I'd call it, but that doesn't quite cut it, I think. I just don't remember. What I do recall are the moments right after the ceremony, when everybody's gone up the stage and received their diploma - or, at least, a diploma analogue, considering we'd be sent the real thing in a few weeks. By then I already got the proper digital camera from my parents, and I was back at my seat, just taking random photos with fellow graduates. It's over, and then it's all begun.
Eight days ago I was back at the PICC. I drove there - parked relatively far away, "relatively" because it was raining and I, unusually, forgot my umbrella - and went in through a different entrance. The grandeur that I found myself in ten years ago is gone, not even with the coincidence of another university's graduation ceremony happening at that very moment. It was all business. It all was so distant I never even thought about it, at least until now, and only because I am writing about it.
I set a reminder on my phone a few weeks back. "Ask questions on Facebook," it said. It was for what this blog entry is supposed to be: one last retread of the entries I wrote (actually, scheduled) ten years ago today, and then nine years ago today, and then five years ago today. I was to send a message to the seventeen other people who I graduated with, at least within my batch, and ask them about how they've been.
Actually, the first question would have been along the lines of "are you willing to take part in this?"
Provided they said yes, I would have asked everyone the same set of questions. I never finalized them, but they're basic ones. What do you do now? What have you learned these past ten years? Where do you see yourself ten years from now? Stupid questions, really. Slam book questions. We're grown up. These things are embarrassing.
I did not push through with it for two reasons. One, I expected people to either turn me down or not answer at all. Two, I wasn't sure if I was ready to hear their stories, because I know I would end up comparing them with mine, and I would feel woefully inadequate. I never, clearly, lost that inferiority complex I ended up developing in college, and it chose to act up just a little bit more in the past month.
I have little contact with most of the seventeen. It really was just a random, arbitrary grouping, made by someone who was, and still is at times, desperate to have a group he can call his own. Apart from the few things we share in common, I feel like the odd one out - the guy who did not get that far, ten years after take-off. Someone will argue that I actually have - that I have genuine accomplishments and, by some fluke, I am actually writing for a living now - but then, that inferiority complex never really left me.
Sometimes it doesn't act up, though. In other days I would not say "I have little contact with most of the seventeen". There is no excuse to have little contact, because we don't really go far away from each other. There's the Internet, at least when it works. You can always say hi. If you made a bit more effort, you can always see each other in person. I only realized in the past couple of weeks that, for the longest time, I have been hanging out at the Tim Hortons near Edsel's office. But then, that happens on the weekends, and nobody comes unannounced now, not to people you weren't closed with. That's just creepy.
I would have pointed out that I have also met some of the seventeen in person across the years. Not often, understandably, but it did happen. I did meet Jackie in Taipei, twice - technically thrice - and it was always good to catch up, although it did help that she has this ability to make people feel at ease. I remember catching myself lapsing into old habits, like we were still students, and not a foreign worker and a tourist having dinner at a xiao long bao restaurant.
We met again a couple of months back. She's in Manila again; after years of talk of moving back, she finally did, ditching an easy commute in Taipei for the chaos of the Philippine capital. The meet-up was spontaneous, as these things ought to be now. Ariane and Kaymee were there too - Kaymee, I have not seen her in ages, as she was based in Melbourne, I think, for a few years - and over ramen we talked about what we're up to, and wondered what the rest are.
"May balita ka kay Sars?"
I didn't quite know how to answer that, because the information I have at hand was outdated at best, and inaccurate at worst. There's no excuse for that, though. There's the Internet, and it works more often than you give it credit for. But then, it's been ten years, and we're all busy with our own lives, and there's really no point to keeping tabs unless the need arises, right? And that need never comes up often, if at all, unless a reunion is called and you're up for it. That's this July, essentially.
In case you're wondering, Ariane's gone deep enough into the voiceover artist life that she bought herself a car, while Kaymee is now married and has moved to Tokyo, I think, with her husband.
"Alam mo bang kasal na si Kaymee?" Ariane asked me.
"Ay, oo nga pala!" I said, before realizing that, in fact, I didn't. "Congratulations!"
I am definitely sure that I am not ready to find out what everybody else has been up to. I don't think I will ever be ready. Even at the best of times I will just feel terrible about myself. And then I will realize that it's creepy, this fixation with being at par with everybody else, despite recognizing, long ago, that I am essentially in arrested development and things happen to me on a five-year delay or so. But can you really help it, though? Everybody seems to be happy. You know everybody's just hiding things, but you don't always probe deeper; you're just killing time, so it's easier to take things at face value. You're killing time before the next reminder of how far you could have been.
And also, why complain? Ten years ago I was this romantic puppy actively looking for the one; now I am with the one. It only took four and a half years and the worst heartbreak I've experienced so far. Again, somehow, I am now writing for a living, not to mention doing things that some would call "amazing". If I choose to do so, my life can be Instagrammable. People will see the photos and think, hey, isn't that a happy life he's living? Maybe there is something about the whole "be positive" bullshit. You do believe the hype after so long. But it's hard to lie to myself.
Don't get me wrong. I am grateful for the things I have. I am hopeful for the things I can have. I do not admit this; I don't have to, as they're unspoken, unknown ethos. Nonetheless, I often think about what could have been. A part of me still sees college as that one last chance to calibrate myself into the person I see myself as being. Maybe if I did things a little differently, I would be in a much better place now. I was talking to a colleague three weeks ago about how I got an invitation to be part of P&G by sheer virtue of being one of the better graduates of La Salle. I didn't make the cut. I recalled that story because we were meeting at the P&G office, and it can be funny, how things go full circle.
And then it isn't, because I am not working for a multinational company. I was not deemed fit for it. I ended up in a job that I enjoyed for the most part, but felt ostracized in. I then moved to a job that I tried to make the best of, only to be forced out by politics I did not want to be part of. This job? It's interesting, but I still can't help but feel it's a stopgap, and I am not ready - and maybe I will never be ready - to finally be decisive and move on. It's the inferiority complex at play again. I will never be good enough. Perhaps that's why I, subconsciously, banished all my memories of graduation day. That was when I had no choice but to let go. I didn't know it at the time, but it's a funeral in birthday wrapping.
"I don't have time to think about what others have achieved at this point," Camille told me last night.
She was in La Salle the same time I was. She graduated three months after I did, although she was from an earlier batch. It's easy to see why I would never remember even seeing her on the corridors (or is it because she is, err, not tall?), although a part of me thinks she may know this person who I had an argument with in class about whether she, a psychology major, knew more about ADHD than me, a guy who has it.
Here's what I do remember distinctly, though, about those three years of my life.
I remember passing this blog's URL around and asking Jackie about her full name.
I remember turning to Ian during ARTAPRE class and agreeing that our classmates were just repeating the same things just so they can have recitation points.
I remember agonizing about whether I should buy Confessions On A Dance Floor for Kizia, and then agonizing about whether buying her a copy of The Little Prince was a really good idea.
I remember accompanying Jason to the bank, for some reason I never ever understood to this day.
I remember going to the McDonald's beside South Gate, when it was still old, to look for this one participant to the ABS-CBN studio tour before the coaster left. That is my first ever memory of Yas, who is now in Canada, I think.
I remember how happy I really was when the BonoSoc surprised me with cake on my birthday. I don't think I ever deserved the cake, but fuck it, it's cake.
I remember all of us winning fourth place in a dance contest.
I remember bonding with Monica for the first time - this girl who I thought would be permanently annoyed at me, this girl who turns out to be one of the nicest I've ever met. Now I think about it, I miss her calling me Henrikuh.
I remember scraping my elbow in the name of film, because Derek and Sars and I were running to the CCP and thought we were late to the premiere.
I remember being Icka's husband in a music video.
I remember Sir Doy telling the whole class that the plural of "footage" is "footage" and not "footages".
I remember the horror that was the news broadcast project for TELEPRO class, and how the ladies in my group - I was the only guy - broke down in tears. Well, they're all successful advertising executives now, and I am not.
I remember Mae - one of those girls - say "personal space" to me often.
I remember discovering newspapers from the Japanese occupation - actual, not microfilm - in the library.
I remember Naomi asking for extra soup whenever we had lunch after philosophy class - one of four, forgot the course code - while she crushed over our professor. (She's now a lawyer.)
I remember Yas laughing heartily after seeing a gas station named "Jetron" on our way to our thesis shoot.
I remember Edsel, Anna and Jose panicking over a cracked microphone stand during one of our recordings for ADRADIO, and Mang Ric - ah, Mang Ric - telling us that it was always like that, just before we could blame the lower batch.
I remember a lot, come to think of it. It just comes back, unprompted, one after the other. I remember too much, and they're all just kept away somewhere because those days are long gone. I have had to let them go and face this, the fact that I am never going to be as good as they all are, that I have always been adrift, and will always be adrift, wondering what could have been, knowing that any change to that would mean losing the few good things I do have right now. And yet, how come it feels so daunting for me, and so easy to brush off for them? It's just a matter of being positive, of being optimistic, of attracting all the good energy the universe has to offer. But I had nothing in common with them, so that's a non-starter. I don't know. I don't know where I am going with this anymore.
"One day at a time na lang," Camille - one of the few friends, arguably, that I have made in the ten years since - continued.
"True," I answer. And so I try, again.