The First Guy in Line

He was only 22 when he died. He drove his motorcycle home one early morning and hit a tree.

I was in New York when my father called. He said, “Brace yourself. Julian got into an accident this morning. It was fatal.” A wave of emotions and tears flowed through me. It was my first loss of a person,  my first experience in dealing with death and what came after. 

Julian was the first guy who moved me. I was 18 when I first met him at a friend’s birthday party. We connected instantly and were two for the road for most of the five years we were together.  He was the first man I surrendered to and I dreamt of spending a lifetime with him.

But it wasn’t like that, as the roads were alternately smooth and bumpy. We went steady, broke up, came back together, cooled off and warmed up again, and pretty soon our friends described our relationship like ”Meralco, on and off.”

After his passing, I grieved for the rest of my stay in New York. I walked around feeling an open wound in my heart. The pain was overwhelming. It was frightening and tormenting, and it was beyond the physical and emotional. My soul was tearing apart, and I wanted to leave this life as well.  I was in denial and angry with the gods that be.

It was only when I returned to Manila that reality faced me squarely, and I accepted that he had gone ahead. From the airport, I proceeded to his family home, as if hoping to find him there. His sister Joy showed me the motorcycle in the garage and the helmet that he was wearing. We went to his room and sat there for some time. Then she told me about the day he died and after.  

But like all things, this too passed. I fell in love a few more times and eventually I found that, indeed, there was such a thing as single blessedness. Now, I have a memory chest, where I hold people who have mattered to me, who are no longer in this world.  Every now and then, some of them surface to make that connection from the world beyond.

It’s been 42 years since that motorcycle accident, but Julian continues to be present.  Through the decades he has manifested his presence through different ways. One morning, I was on my desk when one of my helpers pointed to the shelf above me. There perched by the books was an owl, eyes closed.  When I thought about who it was from the spirit world that was visiting, it dawned on me that it was Julian as it was his death anniversary.

Another time, I dreamt he came to visit me, carrying a light suitcase. We sat together, held hands and talked. He did not stay long. 

Julian has also come to me through a letter he wrote on the day we last saw each other, the day I left Manila.  He started by saying that he just came by to say good-bye. It was handwritten on four pages of yellow pad and it was unfinished. Joy found the letter among his things when they moved house, and she thought I should have it. It has helped that I have remained friends with his siblings so his memory is kept alive.

When I am asked who the love of my life is, it is easy for me to say it is Julian. When he died, he became bigger than anyone and all his faults were erased and forgotten. I remember only the good times, but you bet there were bad times too. When I look back I wonder, if he was still alive and we ended up together, would we have stayed together? Could we have withstood the pains and trials of growing old together?  

Maybe not.

Baboo Mondoñedo

Baboo Mondoñedo

Baboo Mondoñedo is a writer and an artist based in Baguio City. She writes a column for the Baguio Midland Courier and heads the Cordillera News Agency and the Baguio Aquarelle Society.