by Babette Cabrera Malbas
I just greeted an old friend on his 45th birthday and couldn’t help but smile at how old we have gotten. Time flies so incredulously fast. The memories of our childhood are still so vivid in my head – days filled with nothing but happiness. Teasing was fun and at times being upset was even funnier. As I look out on our street, I can almost hear the all too familiar “clapping of the hands” that signaled to everyone the start of another day of adventure with the gang. As the sound invaded my mind, so did the memories flood…
Days of Sesame Street when everyone would rush to the nearest black and white TV to watch Ernie and Bert with an occasional argument erupting as to what color Mr. Snuffleupagus really was and why nobody can see him. Endless hours spent reading Marvel Comics; carefully peeling away the dog eared pages as we lived out our fantasies in the lives of our superheroes. There were days spent playing jolen (marbles) competing with each other as to who gets the most wins, with the winner going home with one sock filled with the day’s bounty – feeling proud and accomplished. A day well spent.
There was just no room for boredom under the glorious sun; we all had our bikes that brought us everywhere and nowhere. Our pintiks (slingshots) would hang proudly on our necks ready for the next hunt which usually targeted the helpless dragonflies and mudfish commonly seen in the canals of Malvar Street and the wonderful pitch black drainage systems of Pili Drive. We literally spent hours just sitting on the sides of these canals unmindful of the smell and enduring the mosquitoes in wait for our prey, which actually prepared us for the deeper things in life like patience, timing and handling disappointments as well.
We flew kites and fought kite wars with the same fervor as kamikaze pilots. We sent ants, bugs and lizards on board our kites feeling as accomplished as NASA when it sent the first chimpanzee to the moon. Among all the games we played, shatom was the favorite; with each one trying his best to avoid the loser’s run. It’s a wonder why nobody ever complained about the noise – the shouts and the screams, the teasing which was more done in ridicule than anything else. It also amazed me that in spite of how heated the repartee got, no fights ever broke out, just a silent and lethal resolve to get back on another day at the person who teased you the most – the sweet beginnings of vengeance for such a young heart.
Then there were also days when we just sat silently and just basked in the solidarity of kinship. These were moments of contentment that can never be expressed in words and only understood in the realms of deep friendship. Nothing spectacular of cosmic proportions ever happened during these times, just the silent strengthening of a brotherhood that transcended the formalities of family ties. We were little individuals drawn together through admiration, like-mindedness, acceptance, loyalty, and commitment. There was nothing we didn’t share with each other, from toys to champorado to weird imaginings. We trusted each other implicitly to keep personal secrets, and used each other as a safe base for exploring issues and problems that we dared not discuss with anyone else. Unknown to us at that time, our togetherness would bring strong, solid bonds that would last far longer than we could ever imagine.
As we grew older, weekends remained a thing to look forward to with the same call-out filling the street, the infamous “clapping of the hands” which brought each one running outside the house like an animal hearing the call of the wild. We still shared those strong ties through Michael Jackson (before he got really weird and all), Punk Rock, Break Dancing, Disco, Duets, Piano Sessions, Poker, Piat2 and Mahjong. The shift from childhood games to this was evidence that we were growing up. And the memories continue – first beer, first cigarette, first kiss, first serious relationship, first heartache, first fight over love, first death, first business, first failure, first job, first marriage, first kid… All through these, the closeness stood as strong as ever with an intimacy deeper than anything we can compare it with.
Even as we entered adulthood with its many challenges; when the choices we made either brought us closer together or apart on different paths, there was no waning in the camaraderie I shared with these guys. We no longer had those 5-hour phone calls or those beer sessions that lasted till dawn where we talked mostly about life and this thing called living. Years sometimes went by without us hearing anything from each other but the ties still remained unbroken in the wake of long absences. We all got busier and our eyes grew older with a wisdom that can only come from surviving our own trials. But once in a while, the memories come back, triggered by a text message or an unexpected phone call from one of the guys, light up those tired eyes and send our blood rushing and hearts pounding once more. An echo of a past long gone but still vibrant in our hearts and in our minds slowly awakens our souls. A fragment in time when we were our own superheroes; when we stood in the face of difficulties with a smile and a twinkle in our eyes – where every day was an adventure and everything was a challenge. We were young once again.
The friendships that I made when I was 3 years old still count as one of the most awesome bonds in my life. I never had any friends later on like the ones I had back then. These are the friendships that I will remember forever. These childhood friendships may lack the drama and intensity that is shared in adult friendships but never depth. There is a definite carefree quality that exists between young children at play. We never asked ourselves complicated questions like whether we have enough in common or are good enough to be friends. It was enough that we were kids and that there was playing to be done.
Our street is empty now. You don’t see children playing nor hear laughter anymore. The street where we grew up and which bore witness to our coming of age still holds the secrets of the past. They say all we really needed to know in life we learned in kindergarten. In our case, it was the everyday life on the streets of our childhood where we experienced our most defining moments, where the imagination was stronger than knowledge, where dreams were more powerful than facts, where laughter was the cure for all grief and the love among friends was stronger than death.
Life has its way of ending even beautiful things. The shadow of the axe may hang over every joy, every relationship and every love. And the roads may at times lead nowhere. But, I take comfort in the fact that no matter what I am faced with, I can draw strength from this period of my life when I viewed everything through the eyes of a child, when friendships were real, when all things were possible, even the most improbable. And every day was a miracle.
written on November 19, 2014