I just did the foreword to a classmate’s memoir, and the undertaking brought me back to the good old ’50s, my high-school years, in my beloved St. Theresa’s College, still in its infancy, in Sta. Mesa Heights, Quezon City. So please indulge me; I could be warming up for my own memoir.
Sta. Mesa Heights was a new town. There were very few houses around. Except for the one on the corner, ours stood alone, amid empty lots. Two or three blocks away, I could see another solitary house. The soprano Remedios Bosch Jimenez lived there, and I could hear her vocalizing early in the morning. Her daughter Baby and I were grade-school classmates at Maryknoll, on Pennsylvania Street, off Taft Avenue, in Manila.
I studied at Maryknoll when I lived in my paternal grandparents’ home, which was close enough, in Park Avenue, Pasay City. When I joined my parents in their newly built bungalow in Quezon City, on Macopa Street, I transferred to St. Theresa’s.
Maryknoll itself followed me to Quezon City, transferring to Diliman, but I was already happily settled at St. Theresa’s. Baby herself moved to Philippine Women’s University, in Manila.
Walking from St. Theresa’s, on D. Tuazon, one of the main streets of our neighborhood, we passed by yet unoccupied commercial lots covered by tall, silky cogon grass. Beyond the next street, Banawe, lay the forbidden territory of Biak na Bato, a dumping ground of bodies. “Salvage” had yet to gain currency as a street word for summary execution.
On Banawe’s safe side were creeks teeming with mudfish and fields not unlike those Amorsolo painted. Sta. Mesa Heights exuded a residual provincial charm. Every morning, fresh carabao milk was delivered to our home. The air was definitely much cooler and fresher than around crowded Zurbaran Street, where my parents had rented an apartment unit before building the house.
Zurbaran was in Manila’s second district, which dad would eventually represent in Congress for five terms, the last cut short by Marcos’ martial law.
Those of us in the neighborhood walked to and from school in pairs or groups. We quickened our pace when we passed by the wild grasses, where there was no telling what monsters lurked. Only one monster showed itself that I knew of; I was only told about it by companions who had seen it themselves. Mercifully, I was myopic. The apparition sent everyone running and screaming; I just ran and screamed along. It was a flasher!
My neighbor on Macopa, my walking companion and pal, was Cynthia Sun, a year younger in age and grade. I walked to her house on the corner, and clapped aloud three times at her gate to signal her for our walk to school.
People who saw us together said we were a pair of Liz Taylor—that’s her—and Pier Angeli. Being judged a Hollywood look-alike was a top compliment in those days. I was not quite 14.
Cynthia was good at sports. Me—I couldn’t even catch a ball; bad eyes compounded my poor physical coordination. But she taught me to bike and somehow succeeded. While I pedaled and worked the handlebars, she rode in the back and used her feet to prop us up and keep the balance.
That’s how we ventured past Banawe. Once, for a split second I looked back to say something, and the next moment we were in a wet ravine. No more biking for us, said our moms, from whom the accident could not be kept by a leg cut I suffered and the wetness that could not pass for mere sweat.
Soon boys, mostly grouped by school, began appearing on our street, on bikes or on foot. Our mothers kept us indoors. But Cynthia and I stayed on the phone giggling as we listened to the boys outside singing and whistling, in some modern adaptation of the harana, I suppose—Tony Bennett’s “Stranger in Paradise” or Vic Damone’s “On the Street Where You Live.” Soon we were allowed to let them into the garden, one group at a time.
After high school, I left for Madrid and, on the night of my departure, the boys were there to say goodbye. My shoulder-length hair was now a short bob, and for the first time I was wearing sheer stockings, for the trip. I didn’t come back until after two years.
Cynthia went to Assumption for college. She married an American basketball import, moved to the United States, and had four sons. We continued to communicate for many years, but eventually lost touch. Maricyn, as her family called her, belonged in a happy time and space forever lost, except in memory.
Thank God for memory! I’m really surprised at my own. I was never known to have a good memory, not when I was younger, not in old age. Almost all my souvenirs and albums have been lost to a freak flood in my parents’ home. And to think I had put them away for safekeeping. I will have to write my memoir without them.
Only the other day I saw a cartoon of a mother who, pointing to her head, says, “Why should I clutter my closets with souvenirs and albums when I have everything filed in my memory?” I hope she’s proven right.
But I’d be pointing to my heart, instead. Caring seems the key to memory for me. Who was it who said, “What the mind forgets, the heart remembers”?