Subject: Atisan, et. al.
Atisan Boy! Kamusta? Friendster never fails to surprise me ha-ha-ha. Kilala pa kita, siyempre. How can I forget our storyteller? It was good to finally hear from you. I wrote you letters, pare. Akala ko tinatamad ka lang sumulat. Kami ni Erik, nagsusulatan pa. He just emailed me the other day. Ikinukuwento ka niyang madalas. Pero never niyang nabanggit ang Atisan. Minsan lang.
Bro, I miss Atisan. Kahit hindi naman talaga ako tagaroon. Siguro, I just miss your stories of Atisan. Would you believe pare that I saw this monograph on Atisan? I couldn’t believe it myself. Pero I found it while I was researching on it for one of my college papers here years ago. Ganun ako ka-loyal sa ‘yo. Dito pa talaga sa Canada. You should read it. I mean, the monograph, not my paper ha-ha. I sent you a copy pero mukhang di mo rin natanggap. God, ang tagal na pala nun. But Erik got a copy. I was thinking na ipinakita n’ya sa ‘yo.
Kumusta ba kayo ni Erik. Minsan, he would send me these weird e-mails. Alam mo naman ‘yun, tahimik lang, laging pa-mysterious ha-ha-ha. He would tell me na ang alam n’yo nina Michael, he already died. Na ibinurol pa siya. Na inilibing n’yo pa siya. Nagugulat daw siya kung bakit hindi n’yo na siya nakikita. Kapag umuuwi ka raw sa Atisan, nag-iinuman kayong tatlo pero nag-uusap kayo ni Michael na parang kayo lang dalawa ang andun. Hindi n’yo raw siya tinitingnan man lang. The fuck, di ba. Kinikilabutan ako sa mga kuwento nun. Sabi ko sa kanya, pag bumalik pa ako d’yan, ako’ng papatay sa kaniya pag di n’ya tinigilan ang pananakot.
Pero mukhang malabo na. I already got my job here. At magastos umuwi, pare. Ikaw, balita ko, di ka pa rin nakakatapos. Mukhang may phobia ka na yata sa graduation a he-he-he. At lumalaki na rin si Dustin. Alam mo na ba, may junior na ako. Ninong dapat kayo, pero kawawa naman ang bata na lumaking walang papamaskuhan ha-ha. But Marissa and I were never married. Hindi mo rin nga pala kilala si Marissa. We’re just living together. Dustin’s turning three na next month. Siguro someday, iuuwi ko siya. Dadalhin ko siguro siya sa Atisan. Inglisero, pare.
Alam mo ba, when I sent Erik the manuscript I mentioned, sabi niya, it was just made up. Kahit sa email lang, dama ko na galit siya. Sabi ko, hindi niya naman kailangang seryosohin ‘yun. I mean, ni hindi ko nga kilala ‘yung nagsulat nun. May byline, I just forgot the name. Babae, pare. Therese or something. Pero alam mo ba kung bakit galit na galit si Erik, kasi nga, and this was the only time he mentioned the place in all the emails he sent, kasi nga, wala naman daw talagang Atisan. Would you believe he said that? And he meant it literally. Walang Atisan.
Pare, ano ba’ng nangyayari kay Erik? I’m glad you wrote, that you finally found me. Laging nalilimutang ibigay sa akin ni Erik ang email mo e. O sinasadya na ‘ata nun. Nawalan talaga ako ng connection sa iyo. I was sending you mails, kahit cards pag pasko, pero di nga ‘ata nakakarating. Baka may mali sa address na ibinigay mo sa ‘kin. Minsan, I was thinking, putek, baka wala talagang Atisan a. Pero minsan lang ‘yun, kasi nga, ang weird. I mean, bakit di nakakarating ‘yung mails ko sa ‘yo. Pero siyempre, nawawala rin ‘yun agad, I mean ’yung doubt, kasi nga I was there. Nakita ko ang Atisan. Pero sa mapa ng San Pablo, I searched for it talaga sa net ha, minsan, at walang Atisan, alam mo ba. I-try mo. Pero maliit lang kasi ‘yung map, siyempre, ‘yung bigger barrios lang ang makikita dun. It can’t possibly name all the 80-plus barrios in San Pablo, right? Eighty ilan nga ba? Ganun, kaya baka wala ang Atisan.
Pero minsan, natatakot ako, paano kung wala talagang Atisan? And it was just part of your stories––it was just in your imagination? Pero nakakatakot i-pursue ang ganung line of thinking pare, kasi baka bumalik sa akin. I mean, baka pati ako pala e part lang ng imagination mo. Tang-ina, nakakabaliw iyon. I mean, even these fingers that now type these letters are just doing their part to feed your fantasy. O, Atisan boy, puwede na rin akong storyteller di ba. Ha-ha-ha. I know you’d love this kind of narrative twists and shit.
But seriously pare, kailan ka pa ba huling umuwi sa Atisan? Naroon pa ba talaga ‘yun? O, wag mo akong pag-isipan ng masama ha. I meant that figuratively. Another way of thinking about it pare, maaari namang hindi iisa lang ang Atisan di ba? I mean, malawak ang mundo. There could possibly be a lot of other Atisans. Baka nga sa Pinas lang, meron din. Sino ba kasing isang tao ang nakatuntong na sa buong Pilipinas. At posible ba kasi ‘yun. Basta ganun.
Pero hindi ibig sabihin, hindi na espesyal ‘yung Atisan mo. Natin. Of course, it’s special. It was the only Atisan we had. But it was special only for us. Sa ‘yo, kay Michael, kay Erik. Sa lola at tito mo. Sa Papa mo. Kay Orange. Teka, nagkatuluyan ba kayo, pare? Wala ring binabanggit dun si Erik e. Pero nakuha mo, nothing is special in itself. Alam mo naman ‘yun siyempre. Someone, some people make us special. We are never special just by being who we are. Naks, philosophical pare. I mean, o halimbawa, si Dustin, special siya sa ‘kin, at kay Marissa, pero hindi siya special sa lahat ng makakasalubong niya sa daan, o sa lahat ng batang makakalaro niya, di ba. Sasabihin, uy, ang cute ng bata––sorry for bragging, bro, call me biased pero guwapo talaga ang anak ko. Pero hanggang doon lang. Kahit sa lahat ng makikilala niya habang lumalaki siya. Why am I saying this ba. Alam ko naman na alam mo’ng ibig kong sabihin.
I think, humahaba na ang email na ito. Just want you to know that I’m glad you wrote. But I have this weird feeling that the road somehow ends here. Kaya nilulubos ko na. I mean, even friendships should end somewhere, di ba? You were my friend, well, you still are. But I just remember you, the idea of you, your name, us singing the Beatles song, the humming, I can even see our feet walking, I still carry the faint smell of our mornings in Banahaw, but I’m sorry pare, I tried thinking hard but I couldn’t even remember your face. I’d probably recognize you when I see you, though. You don’t even have your picture in your Friendster to remind me of how you look, and of how you look now. It would have been great seeing you again, kahit sa pic.
You know what, let us call this the Atisan syndrome. Images fading. Slowly. Exhaustively. Until I totally forget that I even had memory of those images. Ikaw, would you recognize me kaya when we see each other? Weird, ano? Ilang taon na ba, five? Six? The things we forget in less than a decade. We had better capacities for keeping memories when we were younger, ano? But we are young. Got to blame this Atisan syndrome. After leaving someplace, you continue living as if the place you left no longer exists, but was there, in your past. As if it ceased to exist the moment you left. Pampawala ng guilt.
Alam mo, I realized, may espiritu rin ang mga lugar. Di ba, kapag may nakikita tayong maganda sa paligid, o magandang lugar, for instance, that view in Banahaw when we were on top of it, di ba, we say, buhay na buhay ‘yung lugar. Buhay na buhay. Kaya it’s possible then that places also die. Alam natin ito, I mean, literally. History had lost so many civilizations in the past. If there really was Atisan, can it be possible that now it’s dead? That Atisan is no longer.
Pare, don’t mind me if this sounds weird to you. Alam mo naman, when you’re miles away from home, you’re always confronted with existential questions. Who am I? Ha-ha-ha. What is my purpose in life? Holy shit. And then, in the end, we all surrender.
The day I first read your message, you see, I don’t regularly open my Friendster, I was reading a book on love. Hindi love story shit ha, philosophical book. On love, pare ha-ha. That’s why it took me sometime before I finally decided to write this letter. Yes, I still read books, write occasional poems, get drunk with the songs of Beatles. Kung ngayon tayo nagkakilala rito sa Canada, I believe we’ll still have reasons to be friends. Totoo. And the thought really helped me work on this email.
I’d like to think that I still forgot to say something, kahit ito na ‘yung pinakamahabang email na nasulat ko. Pero di ko rin maisip kung ano. Wala na akong maisip. I hope you get to read this, kahit may takot ako na hindi na naman makarating sa iyo ito. Basta ingat ka na lang, pare.
(This is an excerpt from my first novel Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog, first published by Anvil in 2009. The novel won Grand Prize in the 2005 NCCA Writer’s Prize. In 2018, Visprint released a complete edition of the book. Go to BOOKS to see all my books. If you want to include this work in your textbook or anthology, kindly contact me to ask for permission. Art work above is by Sean Sonsona.)