When I think of R, I think of being young: beach-hopping and stargazing and dolphin-watching in Dumaguete, where we met; spending languid hours in the Faculty Center in Diliman laughing and talking about unimportant things in between his classes as a new instructor in the English Department and mine as a med school dropout and new recruit to the writing program; watching a saccharine coming-of-age flick at the Film Center and jointly concluding, like the protagonist, that we (now colleagues in the same department) needed a way out of the same old same old life that we seemed to have ended up signing up for; getting on different planes to different states for graduate school in the US, he in MA and me in PA and us vowing to meet up in NY, which we did, for a day. When I met R, I was a skittish teenager so tentatively undoing over a decade’s worth of miseducation from an all-girls’ Catholic school and he was a soft-spoken Atenista who was bookish about spirituality. I was new to writing, painfully unsure of my attempts, easily undone by the cutting appraisal of my work by the editors of the campus paper that I was part of, easily swayed by the tastes and preoccupations of the campus poets I so admired. R was a good (writing) friend to have around–intense but not overbearing, smart and not a show-off, capable of being silly and not taking himself too seriously, talkative without ever talking over you. I was at ease with R–a big deal, if you are a bundle of nerves.
We lost touch when he stayed on in the US and I went home. Eventually, he moved back, but we didn’t pick up where we left off. Different lives, I guess. We did occasionally bump into each other, and these occasions were always light and easy, just talking and laughing. I saw him last in August.
It’s strange to be in a world where it is no longer possible to bump into R. The brutality of these days is made even more stark by impossibility of coming together to condole with those who loved him best.