We sat side by side in silence as we looked at our former partner’s grave. My mind was still disoriented but my heart felt tranquil. Seeing Kyle’s resting place after a lot of confusing thoughts made me smile a little. I remembered that same smile he gave me in my dreams and how he told me to be free.
Maybe he felt the same, I thought, while glancing at Andrew.
After hearing what he had said earlier, I was sure that we were on the same boat. He too lost his lover and I think that was the main reason why we felt connected to each other.
“Mapaglaro talaga ang tadhana,” bigla niyang sabi at napangiti naman ako dahil ‘yon din ang nasa isip ko.
“At tayo ang napiling mapaglaruan,” sabi ko naman.
Silence followed our short conversation but it wasn’t uncomfortable nor suffocating. In fact, it was soothing. Tumingin lang ako sa puntod ni Kyle at nandoon pa rin ang mga bulaklak na iniwan ko noong unang beses kong dumalaw rito. The flowers had withered but one remained alive and radiant. Kinuha ko iyon at habang nakatingin sa bulaklak ay tanging mga masasayang alaala lang kasama si Kyle ang nasa isip ko.
Siguro kung nandito pa siya, professor na siya tulad ni Nigel, pero imbes na History ay Mathematics ang itinuturo niya. Maybe he’d text me corny pick up lines just like what he did in high school. Maybe he’d write letters and give me roses because he was a romantic. Maybe he’d always give me what I want because he was that selfless.
“Hindi ko tuloy alam kung dapat ay hindi na lang tayo nagkita dito dati,” I said while looking at the flower. “Simula no’n, nagbago ang lahat. Nagbago ang nararamdaman ko,” pag-amin ko.
Parang may kung anong natanggal na harang sa isip ko dahil hindi ko na mapigilan ang mga sinasabi ko. Nakatingin lang ako sa bulaklak dahil hindi ko siya kayang tignan, maging si Kyle.
“I don’t know if it’s possible to be attracted to someone in a short span of time since my first love was my best friend, someone who was with me for a long time.” Napangiti naman ako nang maalala ko kung paano ako niligawan ni Kyle—his efforts were what made him so attractive.
“Me too,” sagot naman niya at biglang bumilis ang tibok ng puso ko. “Ilang taon kaming magkasama ni Lei at siya lang ang babaeng minahal ko nang ganito katagal. She was my first love and first heartbreak. I was ready to live my life alone, staying loyal to Lei, yet you came along unexpectedly.”
Napahinto naman ako sa pag-ikot sa tangkay ng bulaklak pagkatapos niyang sabihin ‘yon. My heart was acting crazy and I couldn’t breathe properly. The tension between us heightened and I was terrified to hear his next words.
“I was curious about you and why I didn’t see you visiting him for the last five years,” he said while looking at Kyle’s grave. “I thought it was just transient curiosity but our accidental encounters made it deeper, stronger. Napapatanong ako sa sarili ko kung bakit lagi tayong nagkikita, at sa tuwing nangyayari ‘yon ay lagi kang malungkot. You showed me your vulnerable side and seeing that made me want to protect you.”
We locked eyes, and although there was silence around us, my ears could only hear the heavy pounding of my heart. We were both broken, haunted by our own memories, and faithful yet meeting each other in unexpected ways changed something . . . everything.
“I feel the same way,” I softly said while looking at his eyes. “I was drawn to you because we experienced the same tragedy—losing someone we truly love. Natakot ako nang nag-iiba na ang tingin ko sa’yo dahil nangako ako kay Kyle na siya lang ang lalaki sa buhay ko. He lost his life to protect me and I don’t want to throw his sacrifice away by loving someone else.”
Pagkasabi ko no’n ay bumigat ang loob ko dahil naalala ko ang panaginip ko. I was sure of my decision few hours ago but having the both of them here made me waver.
“And then I realized . . . maybe we’re drawn to each other because we miss the feeling that we have forgotten. We miss the thrill of having someone beside us. And we miss them by looking at each other,” I said as I held back my tears. “Maybe we just confused yearning to some kind of affection.”
Pagkasabi ko no’n ay parang may kung anong lumubog sa loob ko. I might sound immature and dunce but I decided to pick Kyle over Andrew. I’m still not over him.
“I see,” he said and I could see the pain in his eyes. My heart sank deeper upon looking at him and for a second, I wanted to take back my words.
“Andrew, Lei is—”
“These past few days, I’ve been dreaming about Lei,” he said, cutting me off. “I felt guilty because of my growing feelings towards you but do you know what she said?” sabay tingin niya sa akin at naalala ko na naman ang panaginip ko kanina. “You deserve to be happy, Andrew, and the person who could give you that is not me. Iyon ang sinabi niya.”
Ngumiti naman si Andrew at kinuha niya ang journal sa gilid niya. He flipped the pages and stopped, a smile escaped his lips while looking at a certain page.
“Pero sana, wala kang mahalin na iba. Sana ako pa rin. Please? Kasi pag nagmahal ka ng iba, baka hindi ko kayanin. Wala namang masama kung mamahalin pa rin kita ‘di ba? Mag-aaral na lang rin ako ng mabuti pero sana wag ka munang magmahal ng iba, please?” he read and every word seemed to shatter his heart into pieces.
Naramdaman ko naman ang pagtulo ng luha sa mga mata ko dahil naiintindihan ko siya. Alam ko kung ano ang pakiramdam lalo na't nangako rin ako kay Kyle. Maybe for others, it was a selfish request, but for me . . . for us . . . those words were their most honest thoughts and deepest fears.
“She loves you so much,” I muttered and I saw him smiling through the pain.
“Yeah, to the point that I don’t think I deserve it.”
“Why?” I asked.
My heart did a somersault when he suddenly looked at me with such intensity. His gaze was dreamy, as if he was searching and looking through my soul. I wanted to break our eye contact but I couldn’t.
Not those words please, I wished, but what he said next almost made me breathless.
“Because of you,” he softly said. “Hindi ko alam kung dahil ba iba na ang nakalagay rito o naramdaman ko lang ulit ang isang bagay na matagal ko nang nakalimutan,” sabay hawak niya sa dibdib niya at naalala ko ang kalagayan niya.
Nagbago bigla ang pakiramdam ko at nagsimula na naman akong maguluhan. His words left an impact to me. I couldn’t even hide my emotions anymore.
“Minahal ko si Lei nang sobra at umabot pa sa puntong gusto ko na ring sumunod sa kanya nang mawala siya sa akin. Alam kong alam mo rin kung gaano kahirap na bigla na lang mawawala ang taong naging mundo mo na. It was hard to accept yet we don’t have a choice because that’s the only way to save ourselves from drowning in that sea of misery,” he said and I silently agreed.
After Kyle’s death, I had attempted to follow him for several times but my parents managed to stop me every time. Looking back, it was really hard for me but it must be harder for them to see me like that. I was too occupied with my own share of despair that I failed to see how the people around me had suffered.
“But you know what? In my dream, Lei said that I should love someone who makes me feel alive, not the one who will make me kill myself,” sabay tingin niya sa akin. “I was just barely surviving this kind of life but after knowing you, somehow, I would find myself looking forward to our unexpected meetings. Weird, isn’t it?”
Me too, I wanted to say but I remained silent.
Sa gitna ng katahimikan ay kung anu-ano na naman ang naiisip ko. After Kyle’s death, my mind was only drifting from the past to the present but looking at Andrew, for the first time in years, I could see the future in his eyes. My mind was suddenly filled with what-ifs and thinking about them hurt my heart.
“I’ve been thinking about this after our third meeting. I realized I was kind of attracted to you but I was afraid to admit it to myself,” he continued, his eyes constantly searching mine. “I don’t even know why I’m interested even though I barely know you and we just had a few encounters with each other. Parang bigla ka na lang pumasok sa buhay ko nang wala man lang pagkatok.”
Hindi ko na napigilan ang sarili ko kaya tumayo na ako. Akala ko kaya kong panindigan ang desisyon ko pero habang tumatagal ako sa lugar na ‘to ay unti-unting nawawala ang lakas ng loob ko at lalo lang akong naguguluhan.
“Why are you doing this?” tanong ko habang pinipigilan ang nagbabadyang luha sa mga mata ko. “You’re making it difficult for me.”
Napatayo rin siya at sinundan ko ng tingin ang mga mata niya. Halos isang metro ang pagitan namin sa isa’t isa pero pakiramdam ko ay naririnig niya ang malakas na pagtibok ng puso ko. I was scared to move and speak.
He suddenly put his hand over his chest and said, “because of this. Because of this heart that keeps on pounding heavily whenever I meet you.”
After he said that, I felt my heart doing the same thing—thumping crazily against my chest as if it wanted to go out, to burst. I wanted to tell him that I felt the same way but I was terrified of the consequences.
“Andrew . . .”
“Pumunta ako rito para sabihin kay Lei ang nararamdaman ko at para maharap kita bukas. I’m really scared right now but I need to do this because I know I’ll regret it sooner or later when I don’t. My own heart got broken and died with Lei five years ago but I survived with a new one. I never felt this kind of thrill, this erratic heart rate, for a long time and it scares me because of my heart’s history but at the same time, it excites me. It makes me feel alive.”
Nagtuluy-tuloy na ang luha ko dahil sa mga sinabi niya. It has been a long time since I felt this way and like him, it made me feel alive. I, too, was scared to admit this lingering attraction towards him because of Kyle but seeing his display of courage stirred something inside me.
“Wow, you’re really blunt,” I said while looking at my feet because I couldn’t look at him. “I wish I’m as brave as you, Andrew, but I’m not.”
I wanted to tell him how I feel about him, that he too gave me a reason to look forward . . . to start anew. However, saying this in front of our past lovers felt like a crime, a betrayal. I just knew him for a month but our fateful encounters were like a series of storms that swept my feelings and turned my head into chaos. It was weird because I didn’t expect to feel something for a complete stranger but it just happened that way.
“But it seems like my courage didn’t reach you,” he muttered and I could hear the pain in his words. “Maybe you’re right. Or maybe you don’t feel the same. Maybe this is just me. I . . . I’m sorry.”
Nakita ko namang gumalaw ang paa niya at nagsimula siyang maglakad palayo. Inangat ko ang ulo ko at tinignan ko siya habang nadadagdagan ang distansya sa pagitan namin. I suddenly remembered that dream, the one where Kyle walked away from me and I wasn’t able to do anything. Watching Andrew’s back, I felt the same agony and terror. The decision I made a while ago was easily dissolved by the fear of watching him walk away, of the thought that I’m not going to see him anymore.
“It’s because I’m afraid!” I yelled and he halted. Gaya kanina ay tumingin akong muli sa paanan ko dahil hindi ko kakayaning tumingin nang diretso sa kanya. It was hard to breathe but I continued. “I’m afraid to move on from Kyle. I’m afraid to feel happy again. I’m afraid to get hurt again.”
Hindi ko na napigilan ang mga gusto kong sabihin. These raw thoughts and emotions I’ve been keeping ever since I met him were flowing out of my mouth without any restraint.
“It’s just been a short time since we met yet I’m here, thinking about the possibility of us. I’m afraid that people will think we’re just finding comfort because of our past tragedy. I’m afraid of the consequences, Andrew, but I . . . I’m really starting to like you and that’s the scariest part.”
Pagkatapos kong sabihin ‘yon ay nanginginig na ang buong katawan ko at hindi ko alam kung panic attack na naman ‘to. I was able to say what I wanted to say but it still felt heavy.
There was a minute of silence and I thought that he already left, or maybe he chose not to hear my side. I started to sob because of the rising regret inside me and how I ruined my chance to start again. I was bawling my eyes out when suddenly, I heard his voice.
“Then let’s be scared together,” he said and that made me look at his direction. With just those words, my worries started to melt away. I tried to stop myself from crying but it was too hard. My emotions have already overwhelmed me and his words made it worse.
He suddenly walked towards me, making my heart race crazily. He halted a few steps away from me and smiled.
“With our scarred hearts, let’s get to know each other slowly,” he continued and I saw the tears that fell from his eyes.
His voice was like a gentle breeze and it gave me strength to continue looking at him. I smiled in return and remembered what my friends told me.
“You have loved once and lost him but that doesn't mean you can't love again. Don't close off your heart this early. You deserve to love and to be loved.”
With my trembling legs, I took a step forward, but before I could even walk, I felt a light push behind me. I quickly turned around and for a second, I thought I saw Kyle smiling at me, as if he wanted me to do this too. My tears fell again but this time, I felt thankful.
“Thank you and sorry, Kyle,” I murmured and looked ahead.
With my eyes on Andrew, I chose to break the chains of the past, and this time, I chose to be free.