Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Laundering love

Half past seven in the evening on a Saturday, Valentine's Eve. I had just finished loading one of two washing machines at the laundromat.  I looked at my phone and saw a message.

It was from Simoun (not his real name).

In less enlightened times, he was listed on my phone as Ibarra, the hero in the Jose Rizal novel Noli Me Tangere. Noli had a sequel, El Filibusterismo. Crisostomo Ibarra, embittered by loss and anger at the religious order, had successfully morphed into another man altogether. In El Fili, he reinvented himself and went by the name Simoun, consigning himself to revenge. He would bring the system down. 

This Simoun's text was brief; over the years, he had been wont to write short, direct to the point, compartmentalized messages. This was how his mind worked all along. 

"Have a lovely Valentine's Day with family. I will miss you always," he said. 

Harmless enough, but I felt like bursting into tears.

I had last responded to a message from him on New Year's Eve, when he wished me well. I greeted him and thanked him for everything. By "everything" I meant a great deal of emotion: elation, desperation, disappointment, happiness, self-pity, self-blame, defensiveness and, toward the end, a slow, burning, quiet anger. Indignation, perhaps. I had resolved to begin 2016 without him. The last eight years had been painful enough, with just the right amount of joy and tenderness in the beginning to stretch it to the length it had. 

I stepped out to get some milk tea.  

The street was usually abuzz weekend evenings,  but especially so on that day. On the street, children peddled roses, thrusting them to your face whether you were walking with your partner or your friend or your laundry bag or your dog. I ducked. 

As I lined up for my drink and narrated my rather complicated order to the server --  Okinawa large, double pearl, half sugar and full ice, I racked my brain for a reply that would transmit just the right kind of message to this man I've known for ten years and loved for eight. That I was very much the catch, awesome, cool, not at all clingy or desperate, but still warm enough that he should try and ask if i wanted to give "us" another chance. 

I settled for: "Thank you, dear. Love always."

And I meant every word. I could bury myself in work and believe I fancy other men, but on that day I knew nobody still came close to what we had. Or sort of had. 

Simoun and I were not together a lot. At the start of those eight years, we would see each other at most once a week, and never for long periods. He proved a steady friend. He saw me through difficult days, all the time remotely, via text. He would always text often, too, and would ask me to let him know where I was, whom I was with. When something big came up, my first thought was how to share it with him. Examples: I took a DNA test with the man I believed was my biological father, he was the first one I informed that the result was a 99-percent match. When the court finally declared my marriage null and void, Simoun's number was the first one i dialled. 

But the years passed and the illusion faded. No, he was not as in charge as I had thought him to be. 
As I got to know and observe him, the thinking that he was authoritative and in charge of even his own course slowly melted away. He was gullible about products and miracle cures, mouthing statistics without checking their veracity. He did as he was told. He allowed himself to be blown in all directions, never asserting what it was he wanted for himself. 

And what double standards he had, too. He patiently nursed me through my separation, boosting my morale and telling me there was nothing stopping me. In public, he was a religious man, championing the family, rejecting divorce and reproductive health and dismissing homosexuality. 

For someone whose profession was to swim in numbers, this guy just did not add up. 

Eventually, the meetings became fewer and father between. On our last year together, I always wondered whether that day would be the last I would see him, and hear him, and run my fingers along his arms that had always seemed strong and sturdy and dependable. But no -- they were just arms. 

The end was inevitable and it was only a matter of time. And then one day in March, it came.

The finality did not sink in at first. That same week, my office moved into a new building and I was taken up with the novelty of an additional daily task. I had less free time. Over the next few months, I became friends with people I had known for years but never really had the chance to get to know. There were the two other jobs I was holding, and then I moved to a different city. 

For the first two months i alternated between numb and angry. And then I started missing him. On and off, i would pop in and ask him how he was. He told me one sob story after another, quite a contrast from the string of good breaks i was getting, myself. A nagging question:  Did I really want somebody like that in my life?

The nagging answer: No. 

On his birthday in December I casually tossed the idea of coffee. Didn't bite. And when the fireworks came on New Year's Eve, I closed the chapter -- no, a book. No, a sorry set of encyclopedia. 

And now this text. What nerve to make me question whether I was indeed okay, when I had thought I was getting there.

During our time together, Simoun advised me to look out for myself, to watch out for sweet talkers and those who took advantage, and said I was probably better off by myself than spend my time with men who did not have the ability, the confidence, the balls and the good sense to keep me in their life. He might as well have been talking about himself.

I finished my tea and returned to the laundromat. Perfect timing -- it was time to load the clothes to the dryer. For the next few minutes I stared at my clothes tumbling against each other,  already clean, already fragrant, and now being subjected to penetrating heat. In a few minutes they will be ready to be worn again. They are not new, but they might as well be. 




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