The Boy Who Tamed Fire


Today my forest is dark. The trees are sad and all the butterflies have broken wings

-Unknown

Image retrieved from: Unsplash.com

It was a sunny afternoon, I was riding a bus back to General Santos City to meet my friends that I haven’t met for a long time after the pandemic. It’s been a year already and now we are only seeing each other again to handle a virtual seminar-workshop together as a group, as part of our course work. But before that, I was so obsessed with my old friends’ fashion taste that I tried to mimic him in front of the mirror. I look at my reflection and saw a guy forcing an aesthetic that doesn’t fit him. Oversized shirt, high-waisted jeans, long socks, and a pair of boots. I know I looked good with it in pictures and I have been rocking that kind of outfit for almost a year. I figure that maybe, I was only doing it out of pressure, it’s on-trend, and I idolized my fashionista friend so much that I tried to be his copy-cat. But that day, I realized that it just doesn’t work for me. The fashion may make me look cool and stylish on the outside, but deep inside I don’t feel any comfort wearing it. I feel like there’s something wrong with me whenever I found myself wearing it. I noticed how the public gawks at me and my style. Are they impressed or disgusted? A question to which I don’t have the answer. So I decided to put an end to that crazy idea and stick to my original style or shall we call it the every-guys-go-to-outfit.  Where it is composed of a shirt, shorts or pants, cap, and sneaker. Now I feel way more comfortable. I sighed to myself.

So back to the bus moment, I noticed this lady breastfeeding a baby with her two more kids sitting beside her. They are squabbling over a toy that at the moment, I am not concerned about, while their mother is scolding the older brother to let her younger sister borrow the toy while breastfeeding at the same time. I just shook my head, rolling my eyes, i turned away from them. And have I ever tell you that I hate kids, especially babies. I don’t know, dahil siguro puro bata ang mga pamangkin ko and they are all as noisy little creatures and as disturbing as I can imagine me handling a disciplining a child. I don’t know what horrible things I could do to them if they don’t stop throwing fits in public. Maybe throw them in the basket or lock them inside the cabinet. I am cruel I know that. If to be honest, I sometimes think that I only love my younger cousin’s nieces because we’re blood-related. Dahil ayoko talaga sa mga bata. Aside from maingay, they are messy and hard to discipline, and I hate baby talks. Okay, enough justifying myself from hating children, because as the old saying goes—everyone has their rights to choose what to like and not. And the fact that I am an Elementary Education major adds to the joke of my life.

Back to the bus, I shrugged my head and put on my earphones, and try to control myself from telling the lady to please discipline her children or just bring them home. Yes, they might be riding a bus to get home, but still… what I mean is that bring them away from me. After scrolling to my overrated playlist, the song entitled, the river by Aurora Aksnes played in the background. As the haunting voice of the artist and the song ethereal melody fills my ears; for a moment, the irritating sound of the bus engine and the crying infant, the tingling vibration and shakes of the bus rubber floor, the nauseating smell of the public transport, and the blurry vision of life, trees, houses, and mountains outside my window have been muted as I close my eyes and drifted to sleep. By the time I woke up, I already arrived in the familiar city which used to be my home for almost a couple of years as a boarding student of Mindanao State University that is located in one of the largest communities in General Santos City. The familiar warm air, sticky humidity, loud traffic, tricycle drivers yelling “uhaw-uhaw, bula, ccc, and many more signature top-overs”, greeted me as I step out of the bus, carrying my luggage. Out of desperation na makarating ng maaga ay sumakay na ako sa isa sa mga tricycles and I didn’t even notice that there were only two of us riding that moment, ended up us paying double the price. Kasi nga siguro dahil sa pagod at excitement, I just paid whatever the driver asked me. I met my other friends in Bula public market, where we planned to do some thrift shop hunting before going to our final destination.

As I enter the array of thrift stores, I headed to my favorite spot sa pinakadulo ng ukayan. Dahil usually, maraming magandang shirt doon na pagpipilian. Habang pumipili ako ng mga damit at pants, my friend called and told me that they are now looking for me sa loob ng ukay-ukayan. I told them my usual spot and they followed my instruction. I can hear their giggle from the background and their confused voices as I told them the direction. For a moment I thought I was tripping. There’s this unwanted feeling that kindles inside me. Nevertheless, I felt comfort, bliss, sadness, and pain while I’m hearing their cheery sounds, like a shard of glass being pushed through my skin. I don’t know why I am feeling weird. And I know to myself that I am not an emotional person, and I always like to wear this facade of a humorous and bright character whenever I am in public for I thought everyone loves it. And that persona usually ends up getting a new friend at the end of the day. Yes, I am a cheerful and sociable person, I like initiating a conversation first and spilling big topics to people I just hardly met. But that moment, when I see a glimpse of their ugly faces from a distance (kidding they are the most beautiful person I have ever met in college, maybe on the whole campus). It’s their unique attitude and lovely marks on their skin that speaks louder to me.

All of a sudden, I felt myself tearing up when I saw them walking towards me, though they didn’t even notice me yet. But hey, let me tell you a fact first before I hear some scrutinies. That moment was the first time I cried pure tears again after nine years. You may call me heartless or even a psycho, but for that nine years, I didn’t even cry at my own brother’s funeral—which I regret now. I mean how can I not cry if it’s my blood lying on the coffin. I don’t know, I just do it. Maybe because I always wanted to look powerful; to be unpredictable so people always see me as a happy-go-lucky person and it worked for approximately nine years of my life. And that moment when I see these idiots getting closer to me, I shed tears and break my own rule of not crying. That is when I realized that I was depressed this whole time. I am always good at pretending, so what I did is that I lift the pants mid-air to cover my face and pretended like I was doing a quality check while I secretly wipe that fucking tears out of my face. Disgusting. I said to myself. As they came closer, they finally noticed me behind the pants and I greeted them with a wide smile. Sooner, they helped me pick good pants and a jacket after I have told them that I gained weight lately and all my pants just wouldn’t fit me anymore that’s why I’m wearing shorts and not that uncomfortable high-wasted jeans. The fact is, maybe I gained weight out of depression if that’s even possible.

By the time we get home. Char. I mean, by the time we arrived at our friend’s house, the crack-heads are already there and we even brag to them our thrift items. And the moment I enter their residence and her mom greeted us, I thought to myself… Wow, the same air, environment, wow the dogs got bigger, and I first looked for Sari; my distanced adopted cat, as what I call it. Then I see the same faces, some got clearer skin, gain weight, and some stays the same, like the first time how I saw myself ending up on this squad. I then masked on my overblown and humorous character to cheer and tease these lovely spirits who made my college life fun and bearable. (Maluya, 2021). Our usual day started together, more jokes and more teasing games rather than doing the task. As we were sitting around the table and eating our first dinner at that house, with different interesting topics and conversation passing right in front of my eyes, I told myself… How I miss these people and this kind of life. How I miss the physical contact, the never-ending conversation, the joy and laughter, and the normalized bullying within our pack. I suddenly jolted into another tearful smile, so before these bitches notice my emotions, I excused myself by telling them that I am just going to get my phone in the room. And by the time that I get into the room, the river flows, and the tears just won’t stop, together with their infective laughter outside, I cried a handful of tears, took a deep breath, wipe that disgusting saltwater from my cheeks, and steady my shaking composure before I go back to the kitchen. As I have said, I am good at pretending and so everyone else, and they didn’t even notice my discharge. Or are they just pretending that they didn’t notice? These people are not keen on observing the depth of someone, and that’s what I love about them. Innocence trapped inside a mature body. But now, I know that they may be reading this, maybe I might as well just tell them the whole story or half of it, as I already spilled the other half to one of them. Maybe now is the time to tell them what really happened to me in that house and these past few months.

If I can still remember, it was the 3rd of April when I first noticed myself getting this weird feeling of homesickness inside my room. For almost a year, my room has been my office, classroom, bed, and even my gym—yes I tried working out but lost interest the second day. I’m lazy asf and I won’t deny it. But for almost a year getting stuck within the four-boring corners of my room has been normalized. It is when the month of April I’ve got my first anxiety attack. I woke up in the middle of the night. I remember I was panting real hard and my chest is beating more than I can imagine. I thought I had nightmares that night, but I can’t recall my dreams. Afraid of sleeping again, I get off my bed and sat on the mat on the floor. Didn’t even dare to pick up my phone and check what time is it. I don’t know what comes to me, but I decided to sit in the very corner of my room and stares at the ceiling as I try to calm myself from hyperventilating. As I was looking at the ceiling for a very long time, I thought I could peek through it and see the sky full of lighters, but I can only imagine the darkness and heavy rain. Weird cause it is a very warm evening after I notice the sweat building up my nose and forehead by the time I’m quieted down. It goes like that for a week, I thought I was just dreaming and it was just a usual night where I felt tired but couldn’t sleep. Day-by-day, waking up in the middle of the night becomes a hobby and turns into a dangerous routine. To the point that I am not scared of the silence anymore, the pitch dark, and scary thoughts. If I were to describe the feeling at that moment, I became cold and felt no fear of anything. Then, night-by-night, I just sat there, on the corner of my room, and watch the same moving pattern of waves on the aluminum surface of our roof. I felt hallucinating. I was staring at it until I reach nothingness, and wondering why I am doing this to myself. I know I am tired but my brain is telling me to wake up and just continue staring at that roof for no fucking reason. I don’t know what is the point of waking up in the middle of the night then doing the same dangerous routine that could kill me. I even told my friends that I was having a healthy gadget break for 4 hours every day that’s why they can’t reach me through calls or chats. Some even praised me because I am aspiring to be a healthy person, little did they know that the 4 hours break is a cover-up. For I actually used it to take a nap in exchange for sleepless nights. It’s this unexplainable feeling when your brain sets the standard of a nonsense staring competition with the roof. It took me almost two weeks before I realized that what I am doing is not normal. Alam mo yung feeling na angsarap mag-scroll sa social media hanggang maabutan ng umaga. But mine is different, I just stare like a freezing statue on the roof, on the same spot, and at the same time: 1:30. It became an addiction that I don’t want to do, but my body forced me to. Hindi ko alam how it happened, but I usually forgot every morning kung ano ang nasa isip ko every night while ginagawa ko yun. All I can remember is that, I’ve been depriving myself of sleep, but I can’t stop it. Hinahanap-hanap siya ng katawan ko every night. That sometimes, I feel like someone is controlling my body. Maybe there is.

The usual night got worse, it became a sleepless night fueled with salt water that won’t escape my eyes, siguro dahil pinipigilan kong umiyak. I don’t even know bakit ko gustong umiyak and bakit ako nasasaktan deep inside. It is the most painful thing that I have ever experienced. The same thoughts just come over my head… No one will ever understand what I am truly feeling those lonely nights. It was unbearable, but I can’t stop doing the same thing even though it hurts me so bad mentally, physically, and emotionally. There is this specific pain that overwhelms the voidness of my body every night and that pain just goes off every morning then turns back at nighttime. Ang weird dahil mismo sa sarili ko hindi ko alam kung bakit ako nagkakaganito. I am not blaming my study for it, dahil kayang-kaya lang naman ang online class para sa akin. Hindi rin sa financial dahil maayos naman ang trabaho ng parents ko despite the pandemic, sa health hindi din e, even sa family issues hindi din. I don’t know how I develop my anxiety that turned into depression. I tried coping up with it, dahil alam kong diyan ako magaling. Akala ko kaya ko kasi nasanay akong maging independent at masikreto, akala ko hindi ako tatablan ng depression dahil matapang at masayahin akong tao, akala ko hindi ako iiyak dahil nagawa kong hindi umiyak sa loob ng siyam na taon, akala ko malalampasan ko kasi I have trained myself to be tough. But I failed to protect myself. And that is when I realized, hindi ko pa pala kilala ang sarili ko.

On the third week of April, everything turns into the worst nightmare of my life. No more U turns, I have decided on ending the pain while at the same time, encouraging my friends and loved ones to not surrender the battles of their life while I am succumbing to mine. How ironic it is. I thought that I don’t have anyone that I think would understand and listen to me at that moment. My reason is that I have trained and condition all of my friends and relatives that I am a tough person who hates dramas, crying, hugs and kisses, and weak personalities; but I ended up becoming the person I hate the most. That night, I cried, I wanted someone to listen to my drama, I wanted someone to hug me and tell me to not give up and choose to stay because life is full of surprises, at least for once to change my mind. But I felt hopeless after thinking that what would they say if I told them that I’m not that tough Jack that they know, but a weak loser and a clown. I was afraid that they would think I was joking and laugh at me. I know now that there is nothing tough about me, because it is the façade that I made to lure them away from my real soft identity.

As I was writing this, I can’t help but cry… It is still crystal clear to me how I was tempted to hurt myself by gashing my wrist with a razor blade as everything around me darkens and there’s this only one sound I can hear other than my muffled cry; a high pitched buzz that I can’t discern where it is coming from, and it keeps getting higher. When I was about to pick the blade from the table, my mother calls my name. I still remember exactly what she said… Nak… luto na ang gulay ni ginapangayo mo, kaon na diri kay init pa ang sabaw, tama nana dara nga thesis maka boang na. I suddenly drop on my knees and cried silently. What am I doing? I keep the blade on my wallet and cleared my throat before saying: una lang kamo dara ah…tapuson ko lang ni. I started to have second thoughts that night if I wanted to end the pain or continue living with it. And my parents don’t have any clue about what’s happening to me.

You guess it right, I tried continuing and gave myself one more week to think of my decision, but the suicidal thought still lives in my head and it is very tempting. I continued the last week of April and spend it by staying in my friend’s house, while we prepare for the upcoming seminar. I tried to be a leader and look like I know everything, but I am broken inside. I don’t know if my friends noticed it, but I easily became irritated, jealous, anxious, clingy, or that I sometimes yell at them when they commit mistakes, will not do their task, and I always find reasons to argue with them. I don’t know what I am doing because no matter how I tried to focus, the lethal thought keeps bugging me. So I would also like to take this opportunity to tell them how fake and sorry I am. I am not a tough guy and I am as weak as everyone else.

Every shower means I have to cry just to ease the pain and try to get over it so that we could make the workshop a successful one. I don’t want to open this up, but I think it is also the perfect opportunity for me to spill all the tea… It was a successful day after our workshop, as promised, we cooked simple but mouth-watering foods. Thanks to our practical chief, we only got to spend a hundred and fifty to fill our growling stomach and to celebrate our friend’s birthday. After dinner, I stayed in our usual room and I couldn’t stop but felt like crying again. I have these wonderful people around me now, do I really have to do this? But there’s also a part of me that tells me to actually try ending my life that night. My thoughts even got interrupted by my friend’s mom that night in the room as she entered and rummage for something in the cabinet, but I was lucky that I have finished crying that moment and I just pretended like I was busy on my phone and smiles back at her. After she left, I felt the same sharp object on my palm and looked at it again while contemplating whether I should do it or not. My body is tired, my soul felt hopeless, my eyes are both worn out from crying. I am a void person. Maybe I should do it. But, just when I thought of picking the razor blades, I was again interrupted by Sari as she walks inside the room. Muffling /my sobs, I called the cat to pet her but she won’t come any closer to me and just meowed at me. I don’t have food you stupid bitch, I told the cat jokingly. And then that moment, I heard voices of children and footsteps coming from the outside. I was interrupted then again, so out of frustration of getting caught, I kept the blade as I feel someone is approaching the room. It was the kids, they were looking for Kiana I believe. He smiled at me shyly and not any longer, he left the room and I heard talking from the outside, it was them conversing in English with the kids, they sound like they are all having fun so I get out of the room and watch them. I forced a peal of laughter and tried to join in the conversation every time they will look at me or call my name, but let me tell you, I still feel empty that night. But after a few moments, while witnessing them conversing with Yohan, I felt my lips parted into a genuine smile. I felt lightness over me, yung gaan ng loob na for a month hindi ko naranasan. I continue to watch them joke with each other. Then I thought to myself, this kid is genius. For a while, negative thoughts left my head and it was replaced by pure bliss and happiness at that moment. That night, I stayed in the other room, they thought I will be sleeping in that room, but I was actually crying again…and deliberating against unexplainable thoughts that can’t express by any words. But this time, those were sweet tears. I cried for myself, thinking how I ended up like this and why I have only seen the truth just now. From that night, I’ve got the best sleep for that month. The next morning I  mentally woke up to Riza and Yohan conversing again. They were laughing themselves off, so I joined them in. That was the first time I felt cooperative with a kid. I listen and he speaks amazing stories, that I feel like they were all for me. I remember him saying: God says good morning. When you don’t wake up, it means it’s the devil. The funny part is that most of my friends who are sleeping are now forced to wake up because of what he said. Then what he said echoes back to me on repeat… God says good morning. When you don’t wake up, it means it’s the devil. Just perfect timing that a realization occurs in my mind. He’s right if God still wakes me up despite all the things that I have been through. Imagine sleepless nights for a month, who would survive that? But I did and I still wake up healthy and active. And if I don’t wake up or decided to end my life that night, it means it is not God that’s whispering in my ears. If I am not mistaken, God speaks through the heart. That’s what our pastor said in the last sermon I attended, 6 years ago. That morning since we don’t have anything else to do, I played and talked with Yohan and teach him how to paint and get messy. He is the most energetic kid I have ever seen. Lmao. But little did they know that Yohan made me realize a lot of things. One is that, I want to teach more children to grow like him—a genius and empathetic child, I still wanted to have my own kids, I regret that I hated children, and most importantly, spending time with him wakes me up to the reality that life is truly beautiful if we see it through the eyes of a child. He reminds me that no matter how old I am, I am still that child who needed help, love, care, and most importantly, can cry when everything is not going well then just start all over again. We can’t deny that sometimes pain has been our food, but let’s not wait until we became its food.

Think of it, I get anxious to our teacher because of this school project, but this workshop is a blessing in disguise to me. I’ve been very depressed for no specific reason, but this workshop leads me to a miracle that will change me forever. I met my friends and I realized I don’t have to fake my emotion when I am in front of them and I realized how important they are for my well-being, I met a good mother who cooks delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner for us despite our annoying behavior in her humble home. And oh my gosh the mess that we created on that room—I’m sorry. And lastly, I met an angel in the form of a very energetic, genius, and adorable boy whose name is Yohan. He saved me from my depression and he saved my life. I just can’t thank enough his parents for letting him stay in that house with us. In the end, what I have learned from this experience is that we don’t know when miracles will happen to us…and when it arrives, it won’t knock; you’ll just cry and be thankful. Yohan lit his torch for me when everything is dark and made me believe that things might be very hard, but hard doesn’t mean it is impossible to overcome. Until now, I still can’t believe how a kid can change a 21-year-old adult and how a boy can tame a fire.


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X x Song of the article x X

Try listening to: The River

Written and Performed by: AURORA

Image Retrieved from: Aurora.Daily

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