(Photo courtesy of Niña Fuentes.)
I can remember that night. There I was, a wallflower to the core, meeting new bloggers (and not-so-new friends) old and young. There was this tall lanky guy in gray long sleeves, tie, and dark gray slacks. He stood out among the sea of bloggers in casuals, so you won’t fail to notice him.
Then Ms. Toral decided to humiliate us all by introducing ourselves, in front, using a mike. I had to use my usual spiel. You know, “My name is Arbet, but you may call me Loggins. But never combine the two.” It got the expected response. I really wanted to just vanish, I am not really used to speaking in front of people – ironic for a once-upon-a-time teacher.
The the corporate guy stood up, introduced himself as AJ, and then said “I blog at Bakla Ako dot com.” I had to do a double-take. Him, gay? As I have said in the blog post linked above, “Mas macho pa boses nya kesa sakin!”
I got to meet him intermittenly after that, during blog events, several Philippine Blog Awards nights, Plurkfiestas and bump-into-each-other-randomly events. When I dropped out gradually from blogging, I had not seen him since. We got to talk on Twitter and Plurk, and some random text messages.
Then last year, he dropped out of his social networks, and that’s when I’ve heard he was sick and hospitalized. It was distressing because he was the second friend of mine who was hospitalized back then, and more distressing – both were near death, though not of the same time. I am glad both recovered, though I was shocked when I saw AJ in photos after his hospitalization.
The last time I saw AJ, it was virtual – he opened a Google Hangout session, and so I joined. I knew how he looked like before I joined the hangout, and I was still surprised by how he looked. He’s been a lanky guy, and he looked gaunt. Never got to talk much that time, as the connection was intermittent. I did not know that it would be the last time I would see and talk to him.
Several days ago, I was informed by friends that he was again in the hospital, and that he might not make it. There was supposed to be a dinner in his benefit last night, but I was not able to go.
And when I got online today…..
I’ve talked about death before, and the way we deal with it. When my paternal grandmother and paternal aunt died, I was saddened, but no tears fell, no surprise nor shock. If a loved one suffered from lingering illness, and knowing that there won’t be a cure, you were confronted with death everyday. You do not know if tomorrow they will still wake up. You do not know if you are prepared for the inevitability of death. You do not know how you’d deal when death comes. You do not know how you’d live after they are gone.
And death forces us to deal with regrets – the laughter and tears that will no longer be shared, food and movies and books to enjoy, seeing the sunset and frolicking in the sea – lost time with a loved one brings the most regret.
I do have regrets: I could have spent more time with him, talked with him more, visited him at the hospital, visited him at their house in Rizal. Yes, there are regrets, but these are nothing compared to the memories shared with AJ. Yes, there are regrets, but AJ’s gone, and all we have are his memories.
AJ’s a brave man, one of the bravest men that I know, even braver than so called straight men. When and where gays are ridiculed, he stood tall and proud. When he was in the hospital, he fought a fight that lesser men would not dare fight.
I admire AJ’s unwavering and unfaltering faith, despite the fact that the leaders of his faith call his kind unkind and un-Christian names. And I am sure his faith has prepared him for this new journey, and I am sure he is happy where he is now.
See you again, AJ. Now you have to pray for us.
“In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night. . . you– only you– will have stars that can laugh!”
And he laughed again.
“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure. . . and your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you. . .”
And he laughed again.
“It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh. . .”
Antoine de Saint Exupery, “The Little Prince”