The One Who (Almost) Got Away (Reposted from 2019)

When I was 13 years old, I had a classmate who caught my eye. He was a quiet, bespectacled kid who generally kept to himself or hang out with his sisters. He went by the name of Theron.

As far as I can remember, Theron never looked at me, spoke a word to me nor showed the slightest interest in me. Didn’t matter. That didn’t stop me and my friend Lily (not her real name) from spending many a delightful moment giggling over his boyish looks. It was puppy love at its most innocent. Until that one morning when my friend Lily came up to me and appeared very agitated…

She greeted me by saying, “Emm, sorry kaayo. Nakasa gyud ko nimo.” (Emm, I’m so sorry. I wronged you.”)

I thought to myself, “What could she have possibly done?”

Then Lily continued, “I called Theron at his house!”

She looked like she had just confessed to a major crime!

Hmm, I mean, it was sneaky of her to have called him, but then again, he was not my boyfriend, so I did not have any rights over him, so I shrugged and said, “So?”

“Emm, I called his house. His mom answered the phone. She gave me a ‘sermon.’ She told me, ‘Dai, ayaw sige’g panawag sa imong classmates nga laki. Huwata silay motawag nimo. Concentrate sa imong eskwela oy!'”

Translated loosely, it means , “Girl, don’t keep calling your male classmates. Wait for them to call you. Concentrate on your studies!”

I chuckled when I heard this. I could just imagine her discomfort, listening to Theron’s mom lecturing her over the phone. I would not wanna be in her shoes.

Then my laughter was cut short when something hit me. “Hey, wait a minute. You called his house and spoke to his mom. Why are you apologizing to me?” I started to have a really bad feeling about this.

Lily then confirmed my worst fears with her next words. “Emm, when Theron’s mom asked for my name, I was so rattled, I answered, Emma Balberan!”

Oh my god! She had given Theron’s mom my name and now the whole world was going to think I’m this pathetic creature who calls guys up at home! You know back then, for a girl to make the first move was a big no-no.

My whole world turned upside down with that revelation. Now, the tables were turned. Instead of Lily, I felt myself in her place, squirming in embarrassment while being lectured by Theron’s mom. I imagined Theron pointing me out to his sisters and saying, “Yep. That’s Emma Balberan, the loser who called me up at home.” I pictured him having a beer with his buddies and laughing at lonely lovesick me. The thought was enough to cure me of my puppy love.

Bruised ego and wounded pride later, I resolved to rip out any tender feelings I had of Theron and shred them to pieces. I swore that any thoughts of him would be intercepted with deadly accuracy and shot down. I decided that any future encounters would be avoided and aborted without hesitation.

I had blocked him so effectively that my memories of him stopped at freshman year in high school. I do not have any more memories after that and I did not even know he left after the third year.
And yeah, I told myself, if I ever run into him again, the first thing I would do was straighten things out and tell him, “It wasn’t me!”

Almost forty years had passed before our paths crossed again. We had been friends in Facebook for years but we never really connected until that one fateful night when he called me from out of the blue.

He called about one thing, but as soon as I got the chance, I set the record straight about that fateful night with our classmate Lily. I made it perfectly clear to him that I was not the caller. I told him the full story about Lily using my name. After all these years, it was a relief to tell him that I was not the loser who got a sermon from his mom.

There was sheer confusion on his part. He had no idea what I was talking about. No clue whatsoever. Apparently, his mom never told him about that phone call. All those dreadful and dramatic scenarios I imagined? Never happened.

So there I was, agonizing all these years over an incident that I had totally blown out of proportion, punishing this guy for something he knew absolutely nothing about.

Then he turned the tables on me and ‘fessed up to a secret he had been hiding all these years. Turned out he had a crush on me all this time! Surprise! Surprise!

“Really? How could you have a crush on me? I never saw you look at me even once. All my memories of you are in profile or sideways because you never looked my way. ”

“That’s because I was afraid that if I made a move on you, I’d be ‘busted’ (jilted). That would have made things very awkward at school. Had I known you liked me even one tiny bit, I would have pursued you and braved your father and Kuya (older brother) just to visit you at your house. You were my first and only crush in high school. You can ask my barkada (buddies),” was his earnest explanation.

Then, to convince me further, he told me his memories of me in high school. He said, “The moment I first laid eyes on you , I thought to myself, ‘What a pretty girl!'”

I teased him, “Are you sure you’re remembering the right girl?”

He said, “Yep. It’s you. It’s always been you. You had your hair parted to the side, and you were always flipping your bangs because they would get into your eyes. Your skirt was so long it went way past your knees. You always folded the top of your socks. Your shoes were black with a buckle on the side. You also had this bag with tassels.”

Whoa! To be honest, I don’t even remember what my bag or shoes looked like back then. Guess somebody was paying attention.

He continued, “We were classmates in freshman high school Bartlett class under Mrs. Reyes. Our classroom was in the annex building. You were seated in the last row center aisle. I was seated to your right. I kept stealing glances at you but you never noticed coz you were always reading something in class.”

Yeah, that would be me. Hardcore bookworm.

“Even when you were outside with your friends, you still had some novel or another in your hands.”

Story of my life. My high school life, at least. Always had my nose buried in a book. (Though ironically, now, you couldn’t pay me to read a book. )

So what started as a random phone call about some random thing turned out to be a major turning point in our lives. I didn’t wanna hang up the phone. This classmate whom I barely exchanged a word or two in high school hit all the right notes with me. Was it possible to be on the same wavelength with someone you barely knew? How was it possible to be so comfortable with somebody that you felt there was no need to pretend, impress or fake anything at all? It was unbelievable and unexpected.

At that point in my life, I was still reeling from the blow of my late husband’s death and was slowly picking up the pieces as the years rolled by. I had resigned myself to widowhood and was certainly not looking for love.

He, on the other hand, was at the lowest point in his life and had been plain miserable for years. He told me that things had gotten so bad that every year, on his birthday, he felt like a nail was being driven to his coffin. He felt like a car running on empty and he was afraid that any day now, his engine was just going to sputter and die. The only thing that kept him going was the thought of his kids, especially his youngest, whom he was especially close to.

Now I had lost a husband and was no stranger to heartbreak, but this guy’s despair was even worse than mine. The pain in his voice was raw. Clearly, this was a guy who was nearing the end of his rope. Something in me stirred in response. I felt like we were kindred spirits at different points in our lives struck by Cupid’s arrow.

Next thing we knew, three to four hours had gone by. This may be no big deal to most, but it was to me, because I’m not the type to gab away on the phone. Neither was Theron. Believe you me, two antisocial taciturn introverts having a phone marathon was a big oxymoronic deal indeed. This was the start of many such phone calls to follow and the beginning of a beautiful friendship and eventually, a wonderful relationship.

Reconnecting with him was like finding a missing piece of the puzzle in my life. When my first husband passed away, I didn’t think I could love again or be comfortable in anybody else’s presence. Despite having been married more than half my life, I never considered myself “wife material.” I never felt domesticated enough to fit anybody’s idea of the perfect woman. In fact, I always told my friends that if I were a guy, I wouldn’t marry me.

Lucky for me, Theron thought differently. After all these years, I must be doing something right coz he always says, “First thing I do in the morning and last thing I do at night is thank God for you.” Sweet, don’t you agree?

One day, I bought a lottery ticket and prayed out loud, “Please God, let me win!” I nudged him to join me in prayer, but he just shrugged and said, “I already told God that I don’t need to win the Lotto because having you is like winning the lottery.”

To which I responded in mock anger, “What! So that’s why I never win the lottery, because you blocked my prayers each time!”

As of this writing, I still haven’t won the lottery, but I got the winning ticket right here next to me. God has given me so many blessings, and one of the best is returning to my life “the one who almost got away.”

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