by Myle Tiu Macalam
We met when we were babies. I am a year older and was one of the first visitors at the nursery when she was born. We both lived in our family compound on Silongan Street – in between Maternity Hospital where her Nanay and my Mommy used to work and the Magsaysay Bridge.
Our friendship was forged in the joys found in making mud pies and the sound of raindrops on our roofs. We were each other’s best playmates and spent most afternoons playing with our toys within the safe walls of my lolo’s compound. On sunny days, we found our childish thrills in chasing dragonflies and grasshoppers and plucking gumamelas from mom’s garden out back – and when it rained, we played balay-balay with our plastic kitchen sets in our living room.
One day, Dad found the two of us squatting before the drainage canal where the rainwater passed, deeply engrossed in the fine art of making mud pies. Dad approached us from behind, intent on scolding us for playing with mud – but when he loudly called our names – Myle!! Jojo!! he found his displeasure melting in the wide-eyed innocence of our shocked gaze which was immediately followed by sheepish, guilty looks and a long drawn out — yes, daaaaad/Uncle Saaaaam??? Instead of getting scolded, what we got was a soft smile on Dad’s face and an admonition to go to the kitchen to wash our hands with soap and water and rub alcohol all over.
As children, we laughed, we played and we chattered on and on about nothing and everything. And we became fast friends. We went to the same kindergarten school run by the nuns and learned our ABC’s from the same teachers. But she and her family moved away soon after, when their new house was built. And for a while we did not see much of each other.
However, upon entering grade school, we found ourselves in a new playground right next to the church and the kumbento – Urios College. Although I was a year ahead in class, we shared many common interests that brought us together.
We were both star scouts, then girl scouts and proudly wore the green uniform on scouting days. We were active in the student government – and learned to launch campaigns (and duck from our political opponents’ darts) as early as grade school. Both of us got good grades, played softball, wrote for the school paper and joined the Glee Club (as background noise more than anything) and the Theatre Guild (she facing the audience as an actress while shy me stayed behind the curtain and worked on production management).
We did not look alike at all – she with her cafe au lait brown skin and round, sparkling eyes, me with my fair skin and chinky eyes – so nobody would mistake us for sisters. But we shared a lot in common, certainly more than many siblings would, and a bond that would last until adulthood.
Being a year older, I was the Ate between the two of us. And when I went off to UP for college and she followed a year after, this became even more pronounced. Away from our families for the first time – I felt all the more the big sister – responsible for making sure she was safe inside and out of the campus. After all, I was party to the pleading and the campaigning that went on that summer of ‘85 – just to get Nanay’s and Tatay’s permission for her to join me in UP.
Like a big sis, I’d always looked out for her. I remember panicking at the onset of the EDSA Revolution and running all the way to Kalayaan Residence Hall to check on her to make sure that she was okay. Of course she was nowhere to be found in the dorm, as by then she and her friends had already gone to the nearby Church to work as volunteers and make sandwiches for the yellow army of tita Cory. That’s when I realized she was ready to spread her wings and soar.
In UP, we both flourished, though we started off a bit shakily in the beginning, being promdis and terribly homesick at first. But once we got our bearings, we were off to conquer the world – or at least that’s how we felt at the time 🙂 We were both Kalayaan kids and later Ilang-Ilang ladies (the resident “convent” in campus). It was at this time that I asked her to drop the Ate and start calling me by my first name. And the reason for this was that Jojo was so popular with her batchmates that upon knowing that I was her Ate, everybody else whose student number started with 85 began calling me Ate too. And I just was not ready to have 100++ new younger siblings all at once!
The college years flew by and soon it was time for me to find work and she to enter law school. Through the years at UP and the years that followed, we were at some point classmates, dormmates, neighbors and flatmates – still for the most part sharing the same air space though by now we had developed our own bigger circle of friends and went off in various outings with them. But even as work and life got busier and more complicated – we kept in touch by snail mail and phone and met up once in a while when we found ourselves in the same city at the same time.
Our lives are so different now. She is back in Butuan with Bebot and their four kids, enjoying the comfortable pace of our home city yet leading a life so full that it continues to amaze me – practicing and teaching law, and being an advocate for women, children and the environment, while I live in the big city, travel a bit and enjoy a corporate career that is both challenging and fulfilling but frustrating at times.
Through all these, our friendship has remained strong and fresh. And whenever we find ourselves in the same space, we tend to forget about time as we still talk on and on about nothing and everything. When she used to visit me in my lily pad, Jojo would indulge my nocturnal body clock and stay up with me so we can chat deep into the night while I would wake up early enough in the morning so I could send her off when it would be time for her flight home. When I go home to Butuan, she offers me the comforts of her home and the wonderful company of her kids. She has been my lifeline to Butuan news and I, hers to the world outside.
As we celebrated our silver high school jubilee one after the other, the madly exciting and joyful celebrations that we had in Urios made me cherish all the more the value of friendship and kinship. And as I basked in the company of my batchmates during homecoming night, I knew that our celebration was made seamless because our hosts were old friends of ours. And the following year, as I saw Jojo celebrate her silver jubilee with her own batchmates, I could only smile and join in the celebration of friendship that was unfolding before me. And this time, I did not mind being an Ate.
More than four decades after and still counting, Jojo and I continue to be the best of friends. For even as our lives have traveled along different paths – they have a way of meeting and crossing at various times. And even as innovation drives technology and change in our lives and moves the years forward in ever faster ways, I can still lean back and relish one thing that has not changed at all. And that is the deep friendship, forged out of mud pies and carefree days, that I share with my dear friend, Jojo – accountant, lawyer, teacher, environmentalist, children’s and women’s advocate, girl scout, wife, mother-of-four – and Wonder Woman all rolled into one petite frame.
This piece was written on 12 June 2010, a month after Jojo’s birthday.