Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Swan Song - a short story

I wrote this story based on a scenario a classmate and I were discussing of an old flame showing up out of the blue many, many years after their estrangement. I thought it would be a good addition to the reunion stories I have been drawn to writing. Since my husband was my first and only boyfriend, I tried to imagine what it would have felt like if we had broken up unexpectedly (before we were married) and never see each other for 40 or so years. The story is also partially inspired by the boys in my high school class who seem to have the need these days to confess their secret admiration to their crushes in high school and college. This, of course, is a work of fiction and any similarity to people, places and situations are purely coincidental and just a product of my imagination. Hope you enjoy The Swan Song.

The Swan Song
A swan song is a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture, effort, or performance given just before death or retirement. The term is derived from the legend that, while they are mute during the rest of their lives, swans sing beautifully and mournfully just before they die. Swan picture is from Internet. I do not know who the artist is)

'Monica!' I heard my name being called. I turned around and tried to put a name to the vaguely familiar face standing in front of me.

"'I'm sorry," I said still trying to connect name to face. These days it gets harder and harder. I swear when I turned 60, half my brain died and every year that followed, my memory is being exponentially erased. I stood there, feeling awkward, smiled and tried not to be rude. My heart started racing.

This man dressed casually in a baby blue La Coste shirt and black linen chino pants stood in front of me expectantly. He looks so familiar, I thought.... so familiar.  I felt very awkward. I should  know this guy; but I’m struggling to remember from where. My brain started spinning and ticking off names, like going through a Rolodex, searching through the database of my life. The process is much slower now that the memory banks are crammed full and the engine is suffering from years of wear and tear.

"'Monica," he said, "It's me…Wi….”

"Willy???...I said, before he could even finish saying his name...Willy!!" "Wow!!! What are you doing here? It's been years!” automatically, giving him a hug.

In a span of seconds, an alarm went off in my brain, and I am filled with trepidation. I took a few steps backwards, uncertain now of what to do, how to act, what to say. I wanted to turn around and bolt.

Smiling brightly, he looked in my eyes, the intense 'taking it all in' way I always remembered he used to and said, " I came to see you. "

My heart began to dance around my chest. I feel my knees going weak. “Oh, please don’t faint,” I tell myself. I am excited and guarded at the same time. I have not seen or heard from Willy in more than 40 years... And now, here he is standing in front of me, at a mall, of all places. This is not what I had expected when I ventured out to treat myself to a new blouse this morning. I brushed my hair back with my fingers, all of a sudden conscious of how I looked.

"How have you been, Monica? You look great.” I did not feel my best in just my jeans and sweater. I'm sure the make-up I applied  before I left the house has worn off by now. I felt downright dowdy.

I stood there speechless, trying to gain my composure and hoping my dread did not show. 

“Would you like to grab some coffee?, " he said.

I nodded in assent, deciding to trust in the moment and indulge in my curiosity.

He offered to take my shopping bags. We walked towards the Starbucks just around the corner. My heart seemed to be beating louder than the squeals and screams emanating from the children’s playground nearby. I am near panic so I tried to surreptitiously draw slow deep breaths. Starbucks was crowded with the usual clientele - students on their laptops, office workers on break, housewives pausing from their morning run. We bee-lined towards an open low table and Willy helped me settle in one of the comfy stuffed armchairs.

"What would you like to drink? Anything to eat?"

"Just a vente caramel macchiato, please," I said.

My head is buzzing with so many questions and memories as I watched him as he went to the counter to place our order and waited for our coffees to be done. It is the same Willy, the same smile, same eyes, same voice, same face - older, of course. His thinning hair is salt and pepper now. In spite being an additional 40 or so pounds heavier since I last saw him, his face seemed gaunt.

A college pal introduced Willy to me at a party. I was 19 then. I guessed him to be 2 or 3 years older. We hit it off immediately and liked each other from the first second we met. After that evening, we became very good friends. He became part the regular gang of close friends I usually hang around with in campus. As a group, we did everything together, movies, shopping, fairs, dances, and joy rides. Willy and I talked on the phone every day. No subjects were taboo, no secrets unshared.

I do not recall how and when our friendship developed into something different. Our friends were the first to notice and started teasing us. We laughed in denial, Gradually, I found myself anxiously waiting for his calls, my insides did flip-flops when he brushed against me or held my hand. It felt that every song on the radio was written just for us. I noticed that when Willy looked at me his gaze felt like a soft caress. There was certain tenderness in how he treated me. He brought me little gifts, flowers, chocolates. I blossomed in Willy's attention. No words of love were exchanged, it was just understood, just like the earth rotating around the sun everyday. Each moment of those years was magical, an endless string of sunny days and starry nights.

Then, abruptly, the phone calls stopped. I never saw Willy again. I had no idea what was going on. I worried he was ill.. All my friends could tell me was that they have not seen him around.  I wanted to find and confront him but my pride stood in the way. I finally found the courage to call him at home. His father answered and told me he was not home. I became clear to me that Willy wanted me out of his life for I can hear his voice beyond his father's voice refusing to talk to me.  I was brokenhearted and inconsolable The rejection left a wound in my heart that could never be healed. Soon enough, in spite of it all, my fickle heart moved on. I convinced myself that there are things in life that are flitting and not meant to last. Willy will be one of many who will occupy a spot in my heart to make me a little wiser for the next time.

Willy came back to the table, handed me my drink and a chocolate croissant. '"Just in case. I remember you love chocolates,” he said, with a wink. I pulled myself from the memories that once started, wouldn't stop. I was feeling the long buried pain in my heart resurfacing and unbidden tears rimming my eyes.

I took a much-needed sip of my coffee to calm my nerves. The cup was soothingly warm as I held on to it with both hands to prevent them from shaking.

"How did you find me? "

"It is easy with the Internet nowadays." 

"No, here in the mall. Don't tell me you've been stalking me, " I said, with a laugh, hopefully sounding nonchalant.

"The truth is I've kept tabs on you all these years through old friends but stayed away. I've seen you around many times over the years. Today, when I saw you here at the mall, I could no longer resist not talking to you."

Five hours have passed; Willy and I are still sitting at Starbucks catching up about each other's lives. I was gradually feeling more comfortable, my barriers slowly coming down. He works at a bank; he married in his 30s, which ended up in divorce, no children. I married at 21 and showed him pictures of my husband, children and grandchildren. We laughed at the remembered antics of our youth and cried for the friends now lost to us. We marched back through the years, eventually leading up to our time together in college, a subject we both seem hesitant to unravel. It is palpable how long forgotten emotional attachments were held in check as they simmered on the surface, threatening to bubble over. For the time being, we tried to pretend  that we were just old friends that got separated by time and reconnected. There was magic in that and we both did not want to break the spell.

I looked at my watch, "Oh, it is getting late, and I have to go. My husband will be home soon." We exchanged phone numbers, email addresses and promised to keep in touch.

"Thanks for the coffee and croissant," I said as I gathered my purse. He stood up and helped me with my shopping bags, and asked, "May I walk you to your car." I nodded. We walked to the parking garage in companionable silence both lost in our own thoughts and retrospections.

As we loaded up the trunk, the nagging question at the back of my mind resurfaced and I can't seem to let it go this time.

I steeled myself, turned around and asked " Why are you really here, Willy?"

He looked into my eyes and I purposely fussed with my keys, avoiding his gaze. I did not want Willy to see the changing colors of my feelings.

" Did you ever think about me all these years?" he asked.

"Of course," I answered truthfully, curbing my emotions, as my heart constricted from memories wrapped in hurt, fresh wounds opening up again.

" I shouldn't have stopped you today but I could not help myself. I am glad to see you so well and happy, Monica. I wanted to let you know that stole my heart back then and I never wanted it back. It has never been over for me."

"But why....? I started to ask.

Willy went on to say, " Not a day goes by without regret over the hurt I caused you. I just wanted to ask if you could forgive me and allow me to be your friend again. I care about you deeply and will be content to be someone you can reach out and hold on to when you need a friend anytime, anywhere."

More questions crowded my mind, foremost of which is why he dropped off my life before. He has offered neither explanation nor apologies. I wanted to lash out, hit him  with all the pain and anger I did not realize I kept bottled up all these years. But instead, I just stood there mute and wavering. Instinctively, I touched my fingers to Willy's cheeks, now wet with tears and he held it there with his hand for a few seconds more.

I got in my car and drove away. I could not fight back the tears. I could not hide the pain and... yes, if I was honest to myself, the joy. On the radio, a songstress repeats her plaintive refrain, "Those wise men that said time heals all wounds forgot about my broken heart. Yes, they forgot about my broken heart."

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