The Places We Try to Forget

Travel Anecdotes and Then Some

Hidden

By Naomi Shihab Nye

If you place a fern under a stone
the next day it will be nearly invisible
as if the stone has swallowed it.

If you tuck the name of a loved one
under your tongue too long
without speaking it
it becomes blood
sigh
the little sucked-in breath of air
hiding everywhere
beneath your words.

No one sees
the fuel that feeds you.

There I was, standing at the dimly lighted pavement, unable to take a step towards this familiar road, which I promised myself not to take ever again, many moons ago, on a night of utter pain and shame.

It has been nearly five years since I last passed Metropolitan Avenue, a short piece of road that connects the cities of Makati and Manila, but the memories and pain keep coming back, making my body completely numb.
I looked around and noticed that except for the fresher paint lining the sidewalk, this little stretch of concrete, this seemingly ordinary piece of land, looked exactly the same as I last saw it, through a hazy vision clouded by tears streaming down my face.

I was only 23 years old when Albert and I started dating. At the prime of his life at 35, with a successful career as an architect and a smile that simply makes all my worries disappear, he was definitely someone I could spend the rest of my days with.

With several painful break-ups behind me, I was determined to make the relationship work no matter what it took. I skipped work for days just to be near him.

I did his grocery shopping whenever he had paperwork to deal with. I walked his dog whenever he asked me too. I even trooped all the way to his house in Green Meadows, all those times that he told me he wanted to be with me.

For three weeks, every single day, we made it a point to be together, talking, kissing. just being beside each other was enough. Yes, that was enough.

We promised to attend all nine mornings of the midnight masses because we believed that doing so would strengthen our relationship.

In the succeeding days, I felt so happy, contented. I felt that nothing could possibly take away that happiness I was feeling. I prayed that finally, that relationship would last long, and not end-up as fast as the others.

Two days before the midnight masses were to begin, he called me in the office and asked me to have dinner in our favorite restaurant in Jupiter street. I wondered whether we were going to discuss our plans for attending the masses, so I left the office, three hours ahead of my scheduled time off.

All throughout dinner, I noticed that he barely smiled and that he couldn’t eat much. I had a sudden feeling that something was wrong but I immediately dismissed it. What could possibly go wrong? after all, we were in love and we even promised to complete the masses together. It was gonna be the first time that I would be attending all nine mornings of it.

It was a Friday and we took a road trip around the Metro. We visited our favorite hangout place in Katipunan, we drove to Tomas Morato, for a drink and we then ended up having coffee back in Alfaro street in Makati.

It was already 3am and we drove around Makati for a one last tour.

We were passing through Metropolitan Avenue when he suddenly slowed down.

I felt excited. After all, it was also along this road when we first kissed and exchanged “I Love Yous”. If there was any place, he could take me, to express his feelings, this was definitely it.

I waited patiently for him to do the first move but he didn’t stir. He kept quiet and kept staring at the road ahead of us. It was near daybreak and very few vehicles were passing through. We were parked near beside a well lighted car dealership center and we felt secured.

For several minutes, he didn’t say anything until I finally asked him, “What’s the matter?.

He said nothing. Instead, he hugged me so tightly and began his confession.

Two days earlier, he met someone at a party somewhere in Libis. I remember that two days ago, I was trying to call him but he wasn’t answering his phone. It turned our that during that time, they were having a steamy date.

He said he immediately fell in love with the guy and he just couldn’t take it if he loses him.

“What about me?,” I asked, too stunned to feel anything.

“You’re still young. You’ll forget me and someday, you will find someone who will love you more, more than you love him,” he said, staring at my hands, which he was holding tightly.

It took a moment but tears finally fell and I couldn’t see his face anymore. I was looking at him, a blurred vision of a person, I loved and adored so much. Someone I was willing to give anything for.

He offered to drive me home. I was unstable, he told me.

I looked straight into his eyes. I was trying to memorize his face, keep it inside my heart. I didn’t want to forget him but there was nothing I can do.

I got off his car, and started walking towards home. He followed me and tried to convince me to get in the car and let him drive me home, even for the last time.

I didn’t listen and continued walking along Metropolitan Avenue. He continued following me for several minutes more but when he realized I wasn’t gonna change my mind, he sped off, finally, into the night,  never coming back.

He sent me a single word the day after the break-up. Sorry and that was that. We never tried to keep in contact and later on, he became merely a painful memory I wanted to erase from my mind and my heart.

In the days after the bitter break-up, I continued passing along our favorite road but everytime I did so, I ended up in tears. Spirit broken.

I visited our hangout place in Katipunan, not to see him but to finally get over the feeling of loss and depression. I also frequented the beer pub in Timog where we went during our final night. I ended up being alcoholic.

Though Im not fond of coffee, I also visited the Starbucks in Makati we went to and drowned myself in caramel macchiato.

It maybe a sin, but I stopped attending midnight masses altogether and I never visited any church afterwards. The memory was just too much to bear.

One night, five long years ago, I visited Metropolitan Avenue in the middle of the night, and faced my pain. In the silence of the night, with only the moon as my witness, I promised never, ever, to come back to this place and to the places we used to visit.

I removed Katipunan from my favorite places. I avoided Tomas Morato like a plague and I only visited Starbucks branches outside Makati.

Some people called it stupidity, but I never passed through our favorite road again, though it was the speediest route to the office from our home in Malate. I endured the agonizing traffic jam in Buendia.

Now, five years later, older and wiser, I visited this road once again, not to reminisce the pain and suffering I felt on that night but to, once and for all, let go of my baggages.

I have a confession to make. In all those five long years, I have never ever learned to love anyone again.

All those times that I was dating someone else, I was merely pretending. I was fooling, not only him but also myself. I was trying to convince myself that I could move on and be a bad-ass player like him.

That I will never feel pain, ever again.

I guess I was lying to myself.

Standing on this pavement again, on this road of a million heartaches, at least for me, I know that that one bitter break-up five years ago, has taken my ability to love and to car for someone else.

Now I know, that I can only learn to love again, and be truly happy once I conquer that one great pain I suffered on this  lonely road.

To be honest, I am not sure whether I can completely recover but I know that I will have to try.

I am taking my first steps on this road back to happiness.lonely road.

To be honest, I am not sure whether I can completely recover but I know that I will have to try.

I am taking my first steps on this road back to happiness.

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