MY WOMEN friends are my Easter eggs. I have found them in the likeliest as well as the unlikeliest of places, and have kept them all these years. They are golden finds, turning up at various stages of my life, not accidentally but, as the writer Stephen King says about everything else, eventually—friends who, though un-searched for, are treasured eternally.
Maitet, a new friend I met at cousin Malu’s home, finds common ground with me, having also studied in different schools and found the very best of friends along the way. She says she felt not the slightest envy when a classmate in college received the Loyalty Award at graduation for staying in the same school since Grade 1.
Indeed, how impoverished she’d feel now, she says, if she had not, like me, gone around picking up little rosebuds of friends from campus to campus. She now has made a whole, full-blossomed garden of them.
Too young to be admitted in Maryknoll for Grade 1, cousin Ninit and I, both age 5, were enrolled in the more accommodating Far Eastern University, which relatives owned. A year later, with report cards showing us ready for Grade 2, Maryknoll took us in. But after grade school I had to leave Ninit in Maryknoll, which by then had moved too far for my convenience—to Diliman in Quezon City.
I went to St. Theresa’s, a new school in the neighborhood where my parents had built a house and moved in with me along, removing me from my grandmother’s charge. I walked to school and back, as did many of my schoolmates, and easily made friends not only from my own class but also from other sections and levels—friends to add to those I had made in the course of my academic flight.
Between high school and college, Ninit and I joined another cousin, Sylvia, and a friend and virtual family, Bea, for two years of special studies in Madrid and Paris. There friendships were further struck, and, with fellow compatriots away from home in particular, not only carried on but, as evidenced by our singular closeness to each other, also extended to our children in some cases.
Back in Manila, I returned to St. Theresa’s for college, on its Manila campus, and became reunited with many of my high-school classmates from Quezon City, although they had gone on to third year. As a freshman I was with mostly younger friends, and it is with them that I have become especially close; after all, we broke into the real world together, starting careers, getting married, having our own families, becoming one another’s bridesmaid and godmother to one another’s children.
With my St. Theresa’s friends alone I already have a pretty active social life—birthdays, reunions, homecomings. And now, with an alumni association president taking leadership with the seriousness of a secretary of health, which she in fact once was, we can only expect a social life even more active and serious. She means to unite St. Theresa’s alumni behind health efforts for our less fortunate countrymen—her own healthcare program!
Meantime, despite the relatively little school time I had with them, my Maryknoll friends have not lost touch with me, either. Not only do I see them at cousin Ninit’s birthday party every year, I’m a part of their other socials as well as their civics, mainly efforts for the environment.
In fact, their High School Class ’55 has adopted me as an honorary member, a privilege that carries with it the weighty responsibility of hosting a meal for the class along with its February-born members.
And then there are friendships made off-campus. Two types of these are special in their own ways. The first I have found in my spiritual search, a long-running and varied journey on which I met precious specimens of beings with whom I share some of my deepest bonds—bonds held together by life’s philosophies and values.
The other type is a collective friendship. It is one formed 10 years ago, and is now, for me, in full fruition. All nine of us were heart-picked by Gilda Cordero Fernando, one scarcely equaled in putting the right people together; she did it this time for both friendship and the craft of writing. We called ourselves the First Draft Club. At first we met monthly, then once every two months, each with a draft for critiquing.
I had been the only one who had not published a book or anything as part of a book, for instance a collection of variously authored writings—until this year. In February, finally, I brought out my own volume of essays, and doubtless my First Draft friendships provided both the inspiration and the impetus.
As it happens, all these friendships are among women. There’s something about women, I think, that makes for a friendship so intimate and enduring and fruitful, and my husband indirectly concedes.
“Probably, but only probably,” he says, “the machismo tradition holds men back and thus gets the better of them.”
Anyway, he adds, “Ask Stephen King, and greet him Happy Easter for me.”