Sunday, July 15, 2007
2:43 PM |
Patricia on Ana
Flying BarefootBy Patricia Evangelista
I met Ana in the summer of 2006, met her and her braids in the dark dining room of the El Oriente in Dumaguete. I had dragged my black monster of a suitcase three floors up, past colored underwear hanging on window blinds, up narrow concrete steps to a bedroom where the showers were separated from the bed spaces by thin plastic curtains printed with black and white cows. When I trudged downstairs, Ana was in the dining room, eating pineapple and negotiating the wary conversation between.
The first few days were days when criticism, carefully, even poetically phrased, would wake me up at three in the morning and send me hurtling out of the bedroom into the rain to write story plots on wet scraps of paper. I was feeling poetic those days, even if I never wrote a line of poetry; I thought there was something desperately romantic about walking in the dark and feeling miserable. I remember sitting in El Amigo one night, surrounded by my co-fellows, reeling from my third bottle of Red Horse, and letting all my humiliations and stupidities and various insecurities spill out of my eyes to Ana beside me. I remember believing, at that moment, with the clear, unshakeable certainty of the almost-drunk, that Ana cared, and that in spite of the also-unshakeable certainty that I was being a self-pitying fool, Ana would understand.
Until that hot, humid morning in May, Ana was only a name to me, another poet on the list of people bound for the three-week National Writer’s Workshop in Dumaguete. I find that strange now, the idea that there was a time I didn’t know Ana, even if it was only a little more than a year ago when I followed her and her Velcro-and-rubber sandals down the boulevard. Ana was the one who first put a camera into my clumsy hands, and who told me she trusted me. I remember seeing her sway in front of a boutique mirror once, draped in a softly gray dress with slim straps, fake jewels sparkling on her hair. I remember her stopping to ask us if she looked pretty, remember rolling my eyes at the ridiculousness of the question. She would ask us that question, again and again, over the next year, and it’s only recently that I’ve realized that the lovely girl with a butterfly tattooed on her ankle had very little idea of how beautiful she was.
When we went home to the grind of our various jobs, better versed in the powers of the semicolon, wary of the ellipses, half in despair over whether we were writers or not, it was Ana who stayed, just a little longer, just enough to say goodbye to her sea. We all made promises, to keep in touch, to come back in a year, for some sort of grand reunion to celebrate a time when we got drunk on poetry and stale beer and the over-fried chicken drowned in thick ketchup. That reunion never happened, not when it was supposed to. There was work, and empty bank accounts, and the logic that we could always do it another time when it was easier.
We had our reunion last Tuesday, only this time, it was Ana we were visiting. We couldn’t find her in the glass coffin in the cavernous funeral parlor, that wasn’t her, hands clasped over a rosary, dressed all in stiff white. Ana was our wide-eyed gypsy in a flowing skirt, whose eyes lit up at tempura by the sidewalk, the young mother who bragged about the daughter in Cebu who painted while wearing lavender wings, the woman whose very stillness pulsed with aching life.
I am familiar enough with death to accept how it happens, old enough to have seen the bullet wounds and the anguished faces, the aging and the going and rough, ragged marks of pain. I understand that the world is a brutal, terrible place, and that people die. I knew all that, but all that had nothing to do with Ana.
Not the girl whose voice can calm both a clumsy kitten and a cantankerous writer with one too many bottles of beer—our Ana who walks barefoot and stands still to take a picture of the white, white moon caught at the crook of a tree’s branches.
That Ana, who would stay in Manila only for a night, “because I miss my little girl.” Ana, who swam like a mermaid and treated water as air. My Ana, who knocked at my Cebu hotel room and laughed as I bounced in bed, who giggled when we talked about boys with ponytails and boys without; who, because she too jumped on the backs of motorcycles to chase light, understood my need to keep rushing after moonbeams.
There are people, sometimes, who feel too much, see too much, some too sweet to survive. There are many things I learned from Ana. Last month, Ana turned 29, and admitted in her Sun Star Weekend column that there were still many things she wanted to do—include cherry tomatoes in her grocery list, learn the names of flowers, teach her daughter the constellations, learn to care about table settings and small talk, sprint around the Abellana track twice without feeling faint. The point, Ana says, “is to live awake, never indeed be freed of oneself again, that is, the self that is never lost, never shaken off, fastened to us hard enough until we have no choice but to claim it completely and live and love with it well.”
Maybe the world was too much for Ana, too much for a brown-cheeked poet who would lapse into daydreams, too much to live awake. In a few minutes, after I send this essay, I will meet the same poets and teachers and writers who met more than a year ago in another place, by a boulevard overlooking a sea that ends where the sky begins. I’ll take my camera, the one I never had a chance to show Ana, and try to take the pictures she would have taken. There will be stories, and regrets, and prayers winging up the sky. Ana, we like to think, will be reading her poetry with us.
I will not claim to have understood Ana, only a very little, only the parts she let us see. But I will say I loved her, still love her, and hope that now she is among her dangling stars, nothing more can hurt her.
Labels: dumaguete writers workshop, friends, writers
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