Don't Kill Yourself Yet. Have a Drink With Me First
This farewell is two years too late. It only took me turning another year older to finally put pen down to paper. For my birthday, I invited some friends over at my place for drinks. These were my people, and I was happy. But I couldn't help but think of all the people I’ve lost, as well. I started counting the years and the absences that came with the ruin of time. How I miss certain people. How I grieve them. How I memorialize them. I looked around that room and whispered how grateful I was to be in the company of people I want to live for, seeing as though that dying doesn't impress me anymore.
It made me think about my quest for humanity in a world so recklessly devoid of it. Or how rare it was to find genuine connections or just actual "humaneness" in life. And I remember all the times that I lacked humanity in myself, especially for people who needed it more than I did. I could've been kinder, dammit. It left me reminiscing a specific friendship I once had. It was unhealthy, but it was as real as it got.
I lost my best friend a few years ago. That relationship was everything to me, superlatives and hyperbole and all. See, in my youth, he and I, in a depressive fit, went out one night to get wasted at some college bar in Manila. It was a night I'd never forget.
Albert Camus (addressed to his friend, René Char): "The older I get, the more I find that you can only live with beings who liberate you, and who love you with an affection that is as light to bear as it is strong to feel… This is how I am your friend, I love your happiness, your freedom, your adventure…and I would like to be for you the companion you are sure of, always."
We were dumb kids and there was beer pong, booze, and beautiful people all around. And yet there we were, sulking, sobering up to some harrowing realizations: we were on our way to our underpaying nine-to-five jobs with first-class tickets to adult disillusionment and cheap office watercooler talk. We were on our way to hate young people for dreaming of better things and things we someday might never understand. We'd lost some people we thought we'd never lose, and there were the doors, slightly ajar, leaving behind only silhouettes and footprints in their absence. We were going to just be like everyone else and that was supposed to be a bad thing. We were going to pay our bills, our taxes, and our moral debts, made to die to work and made to work to die.
There were waves of the great blah coming and we didn't know what to do but swim away from them or ride them out. The lights were starting to flicker, and the bulbs inside us were bound to die somehow. It was time to brace for the inevitable. In this crowded U-belt bar, on a random Thursday or Friday night (the details are hazy now), we thought of the ultimate indecent proposal. In our drunken haze, we had agreed to this suicide pact. And the worst part of it was that we were dead serious.
When we're 50 and we don't like our lives, we jump. There was always some raggedy apartment building where people would go to die or get fucked. Maybe somewhere in Malate. Maybe some apartelle in Aurora. Maybe at a commune in San Francisco, if we were lucky. Let's wait for our folks to die because of the fine print in this invisible social contract that says that no parent deserves to bury their child. We thought of it all. It had to be clean, the guns, the sheets, the easiest way to cut or suffocate ourselves. It had to be done with precision and with utmost care. It had to be with each other. Call us a couple of romantics, I guess.
"When you come to the end of the line with a buddy who is more than a brother and a little less than a wife, getting blind drunk together is really the only way to say farewell."
But (un)fortunately, we grew up. My friend and I had a falling out a few years ago, and it was for the best. It was one of those coming-of-age moments that leave you in a trance. We had ourselves a wild night that consisted of, well, some stuff (that's between me, him, some friends who'd been closely involved, and god himself). There was betrayal and strong words were spoken. Some knives were pulled out. He wanted to off himself and I just couldn't. That evening marked the end of our friendship in many ways. It was a slow march that ended a 10-year run as brothers. Less than a year later, I heard he was leaving for America. All I could do was wish him luck. I never saw him again.
As we might have learned from The Banshees of Inisherin, best friend breakups can be pretty messy, like, real fucking messy. So does the void that comes from it. It can, nevertheless, lead us to a (somewhat cynical) glorious rebirth, believe me. It's been a couple of years now since that relationship fizzled out. Or a couple of years since we got our heads out of our asses. Or a couple of years since coming to terms with the awe of life. I don't know if that pact still stands. Nor do I really want to find out. All I hope is that he's happier. Because I certainly am.
The rage subsided and what came next was a great sense of calm that came with our collective withdrawal. I took off the rose-tinted glasses and saw that relationship for what it really was: an alliance of dreadful people. We both hated ourselves and we encouraged that hate. Both of us agreed that life was meaningless (and maybe it is) but we never truly understood how beautiful it could be. We created this echo-chamber of toxicity that's emblematic of the common male friendship. Men don't check up on each other or do it in healthy ways. Guys never ask their other guy friends for coffee for a reason. It leaves us too vulnerable. We just can't. It's sort of an unspoken rule: men can't meet with other men unless somebody has an end-of-the-world problem or something to celebrate. We can't go on coffee dates. We can't do casual walks at the park. We can't meet to just talk. It's just the way things are because of some petty standards.
All that teenage talk reeked of children reciting some empty shit theories. It's easy to talk about how the world works when you don't want to be part of it. It's easy to say that life is sad because it is. Things were said for the sake of being edgy; toxic masculinity, too, was a culprit. Impressionable young men and their young rage are susceptible to radicalization and violent ideas. That's why some of us grow up to be alpha losers who get off on fleeting moments of power, status, envy, or greed. The usual yuck male things. We thought we were different. Everybody has thought this way at least once in their life. Some never grow out of it, and thus become pompous assholes all their lives. My friend and I, on the other hand, would, eventually.
Some words from Agnes Varda
"Real friends don't die for each other. They live for them."
We are born to lose everything anyway, mostly all the shadows of ourselves we longed to keep, and even the buddies who we thought would always stay. It's the crucible of growing up: letting go of things a lot sooner than you'd hope to. Their memories pierce through us in the quietest and most random parts of the day. Moments are lost deep in our subconscious, with visions only resurfacing again when we least expect it.
Sometime in the past, our parents picked us up and put us down for the final time. At some point, we'd stop wearing that shirt we wore to our best nights out, and donate it to a local church. That keyboard we used to love now collects dust in some corner of that spare room in our house. An old flame held our hands for the final time at that bar we never want to go to again. Our dead mother becomes just that, just dead, at a certain age. A friend tells us that they're going away for good.
My friend and I have both moved on. Last I heard from a mutual acquaintance was that he was doing well in California. The same goes for me back home, in Quezon City. I'm guessing we found good, honest people and good, honest spaces now, where we can exercise radical freedom and radical expressions of living, minus suicide pacts and all. I've come to find out that that loss was a loss that needed to happen. It taught me a thing or two about real friendships. Real friends don't die for each other. They live for them. Dying is the easiest thing to do in life; to live for other people, now that's love.
Given, we could've handled things better. We know our sins. We were smartasses who thought that escapism and self-loathing were the only ways to go about life. It was pretentious, as most stubborn young idealists are. Of all things, we were young and broke and impulsive. That's a lethal combo. In the end, we're all bound to say goodbye to people, and it comes with the territory, I suppose. The more you live, the more you stand to lose.
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“Habang tumatanda tayo, onti-onti tayong hindi nabubuo.”
We can always expand our capacity for joy, I realize. These days, I think of the small and big thrills of my life, like the stale hamburger I had from last night or a new way of looking at something I’d previously been too cocky to reconsider or getting to talk to people who give a crap. For those who’ve stayed, may they stay some more. For those who didn't, may they go in grace. There is delight to be had either way.
I think of the love and the memories that endure. May they never leave me. And if they should, may they be etched in my heart like a tattoo on a seaman's left ass cheek. Let the new ones come in while we're at it. In yearning, I am at peace. In pursuit, I see beauty and wonder everywhere. Never will I have all the answers. Nor do I want to find them. I can always be wrong. And that’s a nice thought. Finding a profound sense of meaning does not appeal to me anymore. To want to go on is as profound as it gets. And I want to wake up again the next morning.
There's also this point the great writer Ricky Lee once made about aging during a workshop I attended. He said that most people think of growing up as an act of attrition. We’re wired to think that we can become whole again or that we have some perpetual holy healing to do to achieve a final version of ourselves by the end of it. He thinks of getting older the other way around: “habang tumatanda tayo, onti-onti tayong hindi nabubuo.”
In losses like that, I’ve learned that we’re supposed to end up tattered, hearts ripped, in shambles, undone, with our well-earned cavities, creaks, crevices, and all. We don’t want to do this in the fast-lane type of way either. It is our duty to do this as slowly as possible; to appreciate each small glorious dent, each wonderful deficit as they are. Life takes from us bit by bit until nothing is left. And I think that’s beautiful. I want to get to someday say that I gave everything I possibly could. Life took and took and took. And then took some more. And that I was supremely generous.
So I take tenderness as it comes now, even if there's always that chance it can all go down in flames somehow. Today, I have more color. More mystery. More madness. More dreams. More nice feelings. More fuck-ups. More love. More kindness. More truth. And more of that magical kind of faith in the great mundane once you finally know how to look...
... knowing how to really look. There I was at home, just looking, at those who were there and for the ones who weren't. I never thought I'd have friends like these again. Over Sunday brunch, listen to me talk about how this is the most alive I've felt in a long time. Over drinks, we liberate each other. Over my casket, watch how these people's voices bring me back to life. These are my people. My people.
I just always thought he'd be one of them. Wrong again. He's gone, it's over with, and that's that. Such is the case with the revolving cast of our characters who come and go in life. And such is the case with this particular melancholy. Maybe I just got hit with that special kind of birthday blues here—the sorrow of having to relive moments you're never going to get back. Or that it's just never going to be the same again. Whenever I get lonesome, I hear those college kids talking again on their way to the bar. Don't kill yourself yet. Have a drink with me first. Now tell me, how could have I said no to that?