Friends for Life

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 

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Mud Pies and Childhood Friends

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.

mud-cupcakes-sepiaOne 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 to check on her to make sure she was ok. Of course she was nowhere to be found in the dorm, as by then she and her friends were already at the nearby Church working as volunteers and making 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 & 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. 

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