Women We Love

22 Short Stories About Jessy Mendiola

Fiction, as they say, is a way of telling the truth through spinning lies.
IMAGE BJ Pascual
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1. A Girl Named Jessy
We are told that names have power. Many of us were named after saints; some of us, after presidents or actors. “He thought I was a boy,” Jessy says of her father, who named her. “He was hoping I was a boy, but now... it’s a girl, so yeah, Jessy.” There is nothing androgynous about Jessy; her considerable charms are that of a lovely, lively girl growing into womanhood. And yet her name suits her, as none other would, as if to say, no, our destinies are decided in increments, day by day, whatever we are called.

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2. Three Years Old
Asked about her early childhood, before she moved to Manila, Jessy hears the bombs in her head. It was wartime, and her mother always had to be very careful about going out. They moved from Abu Dhabi to Lebanon to Bahrain, from hotel to hotel, wherever her musician father could get work. There were times that they would hide in the bathroom when the bombing was at its worst, there were days holed up in her grandparents’ house with the war outside their door. “No,” she tells the interviewer, “I don’t remember my childhood.”

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3. Songs of My Father
“When we moved here to the Philippines, my dad would always send us tapes of his voice, of himself playing songs. So whenever he would send one, we’d play it. All the time,” Jessy says. You ask her: What was your favorite song that he would sing? “Um... he used to sing ‘Simply Jessie,’ and that song... that Bob Marley song... Girl I wanna make you sweat, sweat ‘til you can’t sweat no more…” As Jessy sings, imbuing the Inner Circle song with a slight sweet melancholy it was never meant to bear, you suppress the impulse to correct her, and wonder why every love song from the ‘70s makes you sad and every reggae song lifts your mood a little, and wonder if, for Jessy, the reverse is true.

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4. Instant Noodles
Between tapings, the young actress finds herself in a supermarket. She walks down a whole aisle devoted to instant noodles in their endless variety of imitation flavors: packets of pseudo-beef and ersatz chicken, of shrimp-reminiscent powder. She remembers harder times, when she would have instant noodles night after night for dinner, just to feel something in her belly. Zero nutrition and sky-high levels of sodium. She hurries past, telling herself she doesn’t miss it at all.

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5. In Manila
“I love Manila. I love Quiapo,” Jessy says. “I love the gritty streets of Tondo. I love it. I have a role right now and it’s very much connected to Tondo... and to the palengke... This is different because it’s a teleserye. It’s not a movie. It’s not a film. Um... I like it. I like going to church in Baclaran or Quiapo. Filipinos are very religious. And I like it.” You imagine the young actress surrounded by old stone and restless ghosts, by the rush and crush of a crowd shaping her sensibilities over time, like a river shaping rocks. “So I couldn’t... I can’t think of any other way, of me growing up somewhere else. So yeah.”

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6. Ask a Gay Man
“I have someone for you,” my officemate declares. “She’s very sexy.” “You’re gay,” I remind him. “It’s highly likely that we don’t find the same things sexy.” “The fact that even I, a gay man, find her very sexy should tell you something,” he retorts. “That she has a penis?” I say.

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7. The Young Photographer Wonders
Beautiful is just a word, the young photographer thinks, as he shoots picture upon picture of the hot new actress. He likes her; she’s the kind of girl who’s funny without actually needing to crack any jokes, and she makes his job easy by being game and being beautiful. They’re all beautiful, he thinks. After this he has another shoot, and then two more the next day, a Sunday. He is tired of capturing moments. He thinks about the industry of images, and about how we are all here to distract each other until we are each ushered, alone, out of life at the end of all our years. “That’s it,” the editor says. “I think we’ve got it.” No, we don’t, the young photographer thinks, his finger still poised above the camera’s shutter release button, his eye still observing the new actress through his lens.

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8. Improve Yourself and Whatever
“I really didn’t want to do this, I swear. ‘Please don’t make me sing, don’t make me dance, don’t make me act.’ That’s how I was before. I was really young, I think... I think I started modeling when I was three. So, I guess I had that experience and I had that exposure, to getting instructions and smiling in front of the camera and everything. But I stopped, because I didn’t want to be an artista. I went back to regular schooling, and then summer workshops came along in ABS-CBN, and then my mom wanted me to go because my mom’s a frustrated singer, frustrated artista. I went kasi I had nothing to do during summer. I had, sabi niya, ‘You don’t have anything better to do, just go to workshops, just improve yourself and whatever.’ So I did.”

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9. The Other Jessys
In her other lives, Jessy is a pilot or a doctor or a lawyer. In this one, she almost didn’t stay an actress. In 2007 she was 14, and far from fulfilled. “I got small roles—mga sister ni ganyan, best friend ni ganito... and I almost quit. I wanted to give up many times.” Not because she was bored, but because she wanted to do more. “The moment that you want it, it gets really hard, because you want to exceed your expectations of yourself. You want to be better.” It is a sentiment that the other Jessys—the pilot, the doctor, the lawyer—no doubt shared, across universes, their voices an unheard chorus of ambition and frustration and eventual vindication.

10. Pa-Sexy
“And then my first show came along, Sabel. So I did it. I kind of felt... I still think... if it was given to me now, I could’ve portrayed it better, but well, what do I know? I was 17 at that time. I hadn’t even experienced first love or a boyfriend. So, I really think it was a bit of a testing show for me. Then I did Budoy... and then came along Paraiso with Matteo Guidicelli. That’s where I started to loosen up. I started to discover things that I could do. I didn’t want to make pa-sexy pa before, kase sabi ko this isn’t for me, I’m not sexy. I’m the type of girl who would wear jeans and rubber shoes and a white shirt to a meeting. Yeah, well this is upgraded... or level up. And then I realized, ‘Okay, I’ll make pa-sexy na lang. Whatever.’ So I did, but the type of pa-sexy na wala lang. The effortless ano... So it just came along, and now I’m more comfortable with myself and yeah.”

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11. Love Team
They are being interviewed: the young actor and the young actress, starring in a new series together and already said to be involved in a real-life romance. What do you look for in a partner?, they are asked. She talks about the efect of appearances, which is all we have to go on at first, and then intimacy, which is what necessarily follows. Eyes, he says, and legs; each quality he names is quickly followed by a compliment aimed in her direction. He says all the right kilig-inducing things, which she will wonder about later on, and he will forget. She makes a joke about her legs and he murmurs his appreciation, saying that he has been observing them for quite some time now.

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12. How to Deal With Heartbreak
First, you swim. You go to the beach; when you can’t go the beach, you go to a pool. You move through the water until the movement stays with you even after you emerge. If you don’t know how to swim, you learn. You go to the gym. You run. You buy a mountain bike. You lose the slight roundness you used to notice in your body. You move. You keep moving.

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13. Showbiz
“Let’s be honest here,” Jessy says. “It’s just... you can’t really trust anyone... right away. I mean after all, it’s a very competitive world out there. It’s not just ‘healthy competition, healthy competition.’ It’s not. I’m sorry. You guys go for one role and only one of you guys will be picked. So, might as well just cut out the BS, cut out all the pretentions, and all the sweetness, and all the everything... all the kaplastikan, and be honest with each other na, ‘Oh hey, we’re going for the same role, may the best girl win!’ I am very transparent... That’s my problem. If I don’t like something I’d say it or I show it. If I like something, I show it also. So, I think if a lot of people were like that, I think it would be better. You know, like walang limitations. I mean, yeah, there are limitations, but walang pretentions. Kase ang panget eh. I really don’t like it. I mean hindi nga ako ma-showbiz eh. Tapos, I am in showbiz, so I’m going to make showbiz pa my life. Oh my God. I mean, eh di sana lagi na lang ako nasa TV o lagi na lang ako nasa tabloids, but no.”

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14. Dream Role
“‘Yung role ko ngayon, which is Maria Mercedes, it’s very… As in, you know, ‘yung mga films ni Maricel Soriano before, where she’d wear a cap, and like a big shirt and jeans and rubber shoes and polo shirt, that’s what I look like. It’s one of my dream roles. ‘Yung wala lang. No makeup, no anything, dirty ka.”

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15. That Could Have Been Me
There are those who are chosen, the ones who catch a director or producer or executive’s eye, and those who are not chosen. We can follow the ones who are chosen; we know how to search for them and watch them and see what becomes of their lives. But the unchosen ones become things we cannot follow, become teachers or account executives or salesladies or nurses or event organizers or housewives – people we do not know who become the lovers and mothers of people we do not know. And some of them will be grateful, and laugh when they see the chosen on TV or on the cover of a magazine, and say to their friends, that could have been me. And some of them will not be grateful, and say to no one in particular, that could have been me.

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16. Real Life
After the interview, the young actress will go to church. When she wakes up the next day, she will go to the gym, and work out for an hour, an hour and a half—or she will go for a run, or ride her bike. If she has time of from work she shops, or does KTV with her friends. There are no artistas in the young actress’ inner circle. I wonder if they, too, daydream of being actors and actresses, as many do; and if so, I wonder if they ever want to ask their actress friend—what do you daydream of being?

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17. The Best Part of The Business
“You good about yourself making people happy, like whenever they see you, their eyes will be, like, out. They go crazy seeing you. Those faces are priceless. Those smiles are priceless. People will say na, ‘Hay, ang showbiz naman is making people happy.’ But it’s a really good feeling.” The paycheck is just part of it, Jessy says. “At the end of the day, why do you do it? It’s because you want to act. Before, I didn’t want it but now, my God, it’s so different.” She recounts the roles that have endeared her to the audience, the roles they identify with. “You inspire people. You inspire others. And it’s a good feeling that you’re inspiring people and you are setting an example for them.”

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18. Everyone’s Greatest Fear
"Everyone’s scared of being rejected. I’m scared of failures. It’s part of life. You learn. I’m scared of having my heart broken again. I’m actually traumatized right now. I desire na huwag muna ako. Huwag mag-fall in love muna. It will come, in time. I have to wait for it na lang. I don’t want to rush things, so siguro, greatest fear ko is getting my heart broken. I think that’s everyone’s greatest fear.”

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19. The Art Director Dreams
In her dream, giant letterforms fall from the sky and clutter her previously minimalist landscape. She runs from the falling type, only to find that she is running in place; the surface under her feet is made up of life-size images of a young actress, her magazine’s latest cover subject, each one sliding off to make room for a new one as her feet pound away, gaining no ground. She knows one of these images is perfect for the cover but they are blurring past so rapidly—she reaches out—

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20. Ask a Gay Man (Part 2)
“What did I tell you?” my officemate says, subtly gloating, if there is such a thing as subtle gloating. “Yes, she’s very sexy,” I admit. “She’s fucking gorgeous, actually. But she’s also sweet and honest and she brings out a certain protectiveness in me, which makes me feel guiltier about thinking she’s so hot. It’s like the dirty thoughts and the protective thoughts are chasing each other in circles in my head, like a dog trying to bite its own tail. It’s very annoying.” “I thought you would feel that way,” says my officemate, smugly. “Damn you,” I say.

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21. Jessy, Years From Now
This is the story that Jessy Mendiola tells herself about her future: “Maybe I’m married? With two kids and a very hot husband,” she laughs. “With two houses. One in the north and one in the south, but all because of my hard work, and not because of my husband. What else? I could imagine my husband playing with my children, and then running across a field and laughing at each other and tickling each other.” It is a happy story, and in that sense a good story, and you hope it comes true.

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22. At The End of Everything
“I want people to remember me. That I was here. That I did this and I was the girl who brought big smiles to their faces.”


 

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This article was originally published in Esquire Philippines' September 2013 issue. Written from an interview by Jerome Gomez.

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About The Author
Luis Katigbak
Luis Katigbak was a fictionist and editor. He served as the associate editor for Esquire Philippines.
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