The Objects of My Affection

I have always had a grudging admiration for those people who declare that they have never been interested in the opposite sex until, say, they were in their 20s or until they met their present mates.  To those people, I say, hats off to you!  As for me, it’s been a totally different story.

Rummaging far back into the recesses of my memory, I come across remains of old heart-throbs littering the hallway of my mind.  My early crushes were mostly my older brother’s friends, but they never lasted, because my bother had the uncanny knack of zeroing in on my crushes and demystifying them with such unsolicited remarks as “he farts a lot” or “that guy is a faggot.”  Dampened by such remarks, my flames usually flickered out into mere wisps of what-could-have-beens.

When I did a headcount for my autobio, I found to my dismay that I averaged a guy for every grade in school.  Now don’t get me wrong.  My bark is worse than my bite.  I like to daydream about people, but the threat of physical contact or even face-to-face conversations with them will send me scurrying back to my corner.  l like to confine the object of my affection in a fantasy world.  Reality far too often bares zits and sweaty armpits and other unpleasant surprises which I would prefer not to know about.

In the first grade, I had a best friend named Corina and everyday we would ask ourselves this question: Between Andy and Michael, who was going to be paired with whom for that day?  We tried our best to be fair about such a monumental decision, so we almost always ended up alternating days. 

Now these two people in question had no idea they were the subject of our daily discussions.  If somebody had even hinted to them what was going on, these two unfortunate souls would have ran home screaming home to their Mamas.  As they say, ignorance is bliss, so our two heroes went on their name-calling, hair-pulling ways, oblivious to the fact that the two girls sitting next to them had already staked their claim on them.  

Andy was the more reserved of the two.  He had Chinese features and a fair complexion.  Michael was more animated and outgoing and he had dark mestizo looks.  The two never played with us except to tease us.  But Corina and I took it as a sign of affection that among all the girls, they chose us to torment.  Those carefree days were soon to end, however, with two incidents that occurred sometime near the end of the year.

One afternoon, I was waiting for my ride when I spotted Andy sitting on the front steps of the lobby of our school.  I did not really pay him that much attention, because he “belonged” to Corina that day, but curiosity soon got the better of me and I sneaked a peek.  Major mistake.

The sight that greeted me made me age in a millisecond.  For there, hanging out of Andy’s loose shorts, was something white and round and wrinkled.  To my horror, I realized that I had seen a part of his male anatomy that I did not care to know about.  I was sick to my stomach on my ride home.  

The next day, I went straight to Corina and said, “You can have Andy for as long as you want.  I’m sticking to Michael.”  She became suspicious and demanded to know why, so I told her that Andy was such a snob and I get along better with Michael anyway.  The answer seemed to satisfy her.  Besides, it was a relief not to have to decide between the two of them.

So it was that Michael and I sat next to each other every day in class after that.  Our teacher would usually let the whole class read out loud together certain stories in our books.  That particular afternoon, we were reading the story of Tsonggo and Pagong or The Monkey and the Turtle.  

Michael and I were in high spirits that day, because we stumbled across a new word – “either.”  Every time we came across that word in the story, as when the bird said to the monkey, “I don’t eat bananas, EITHER!” we would raise our voices and just beam at each other with pride and pleasure at having read such a grownup word.  

In all the excitement, Michael got a little carried away, and in a burst of affection, started to tease me by saying, “I’m an angel and you’re a devil,” making an imaginary halo above his head and flashing two fingers above mine to indicate horns.   

Rising to the challenge, I said that I was the angel and he was the devil, and we just went back and forth like this, when all of a sudden, I heard a deafening silence.  Sensing danger, I looked up to find our teacher purposefully marching down the aisle in my direction, with eyes a-flashing and nostrils a-flaring.  

She was known as a terror teacher, an old maid who regarded the world with a spiteful anger, and at this moment, this anger was directed full blast at me.  She dragged me to the front of the class by grabbing a handful of hair from my sideburns.  Once there, she pulled me up by my nose as far as I would go, all the while warning the class that they would meet a similar fate if they disrupted the class like I did.  That was the height of humiliation!  There I was, star pupil and teacher’s pet, reduced to a laughingstock by a teacher who delighted in crushing little people’s egos.  I was so embarrassed by this incident and I took out my anger on Michael, whom I snubbed the rest of the school year.

You would think I’d swear off boys forever, but an eight-year-old’s memory is blissfully short, and come second grade, I liked not one, but two guys.  (Sigh!)  Actually, there was nothing remarkable about either of them at that time, but one, Mario, grew up to be a professional basketball player for a nationally renowned team in the Philippines, while the other, Kasey, had a sister who became a beauty titlist and a successful model.

Third grade was weird.  I had a hit-and-miss “relationship” with this guy named Conner.  It started off with him telling his friends who told my friends who told me that Conner had a crush on me.  I was not interested, so I told my friends who told his friends who told him that I did not like him.  This did not seem to faze him.  While he never attempted to talk to me, he and his friends always hung out where my friends and I could see them.   

I guess he kind of grew on me, because one day, I told my friends who told his friends who told him that I was starting to like him.  I was not prepared for his reaction.  

This time around, he told his friends who told my friends who told me that he liked someone else now.  I nursed a broken heart and broken ego in silence, and when I was so finally over him that the mere mention of his name was enough to make me throw up, word got around that he was interested in me again!  

Would you believer this cat-and-mouse game went on until sixth grade, our timing so totally out of synch!  Wait ’til I tell you what happened in sixth grade!

Fourth grade passed by like a blur.  I do remember a classmate of mine named Ryan.  He was a short chubby kid who wore glasses.  He had a sort of a crush on me and I even overheard his mom telling our teacher that he had begged her to get me a special card for Valentine’s Day.  I did not really give him much thought, until, one day our teacher announced to the class that Ryan had passed away due to some kind of a brain tumor.  It came as a shock to me.  I had not even cared that he existed, and now, he was dead.  It was my first brush with death and it had a sobering effect on me.

Fifth grade found me in love with an “older guy” named Russell.  Russell caught my eye because he looked like he came straight out of a Tide or toothpaste commercial.  He looked like someone had vigorously scrubbed him from head to toe, liberally dunked him in a vat of Johnson’s baby powder and garbed him with the most neatly pressed trousers and the whitest of white shirts.  

To somebody like me with a grubby face and scruffy uniform used to seeing other kids with grubbier faces and in even scruffier uniforms, he shone like a polished brass buckle amidst a clutter of tarnished gold-plated trinkets.  He also had eye bags like mine when he smiled, meaning someone can still be attractive even with eye bags.  That endeared him to me even more.  I felt like I had found THE ONE!  I even had a special song for him that went like this:

I met a boy, Russell, was his name/Since I first met him/I’ve never been the same/Oh, I love my boy, Russell, Oh, Russell is his name/Russell dear, do you love me?/Answer yes or no/If you love me, say “I do”/Cause I love you so/Don’t try to hide your feelings inside/Cause Russell, don’t you know/That my heart beats for you/I love you.

Now, that must be the corniest song this side of puppy love, but to me at that time, it sounded like a Top 40 hit, and I sang it heartily each time I would take a shower, lowering my voice only when I said his name so that my parents couldn’t hear.

I confided my secret to my best friend, Reyna.  Her brother was a classmate of Russell’s, and that kind of gave us an excuse to sneak a peek at them during their P.E. classes.  

It was important to me that my secret remain a secret, because in the unspoken code of the grade-school world, boundaries between grades were rigid, fraternizing with the lower grades (or lower class) was a no-no, and to declare your love for an upperclassman was to subject yourself to scorn and ridicule, or so I believed anyway.  

I thought my secret was safe with my best friend, until one day, I noticed that Russell was looking self-conscious in his class and his classmates were giggling at some big joke.  I glanced over at Reyna and saw a knowing look pass between her and her brother.  I realized that I had been sold.  

I got up and left without a word, angry at my best friend’s betrayal.  Sadly, I realized that, under the mocking scrutiny of his classmates, my childhood crush which had been a source of joy and wonder to me was to others nothing more than a foolish bout of a schoolgirl’s fancy.

I ran into Russell again during my college years in Velez College.  He was taking up B.S. Biology as a pre-med course.  His girlfriend was petite and had China-doll features and looked like she starred in the same toothpaste commercial that he did.  I heard that he was an accomplished guitar player who played classical pieces like a virtuoso.  Later, when I was a nurse at Cebu Doctor’s Hospital, I ran into him again.  He was visiting his sister who happened to be confined at that time for hepatitis.  

I was totally unprepared to seem him again.  I couldn’t think of any cool moves or witty remarks to show him what he had been missing all these years.  Instead, back at the nurses’ station, I agonized over things like did I hang the correct I.V. drug for his sister or did I smile too much, too little, or not at all, or did I act like the complete idiot that I was.  It would have been a nightmare if I had messed up in front of him and his brat of a sister.  I later learned that his dad was a big-shot doctor who was on the board of directors of that hospital.  (That explained his scrubbed-down appearance.)  If I thought he was way out of my league back then in fifth grade, now I knew with absolute certainty that he really was out of my league!

Sixth grade.  Remember Conner of the hit-and-miss phenomenon?  For one brief moment in sixth grade, we finally moved to the rhythm of the same beat.  We even actually exchanged a couple of hellos.  Just when everything was finally clicking into place between us, somebody asked me this seemingly innocent question:  “Do you like Craig?”  

Craig was Conner’s younger brother who also happened to be in the same grade as us.  I had never really given him much thought, but feeling generous, I answered, “Yes, but in a sisterly way.”  I had no idea my answer would cause such an uproar, for it reached Conner’s ears, but someone conveniently dropped the “sisterly way” remark.  Conner was furious that I “two-timed” him, and swore never to talk to me again.

“Love is not love which alters when its alteration finds, or bends with the remover to be removed.”  If we could not weather the breath of a scandal, how were we supposed to withstand the storms that were headed our way?  My interest in Conner soon dried up like yesterday’s rain.  So it came to pass that I graduated with honors from elementary, but merited a dismal “F” on Boyz 101 at the University of Life.

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