You’re naked and you’re thinking, the premature lines on your forehead as deep as your thoughts. You blink at the yellow ceiling that was made even more yellow by the early morning rays softly entering the blinds. You’re lying on the cold tiled floor. In fact, you’ve been lying there since last night until you realized that it was cold. But you don’t heave yourself up, you’re too busy thinking. Your arms are folded beneath your head, your legs carelessly spread apart. You’re a girl. 18 going on 19. Suppose that makes you a woman. Then again, none of them called you a woman. You were a girl. To them. Always.
“You’re…different, you know…from all the girls…I’ve ever met,” RJ would tell you in broken sentences as he would, in between phrases, take his time to kiss your hand, your chest, your neck, your lips. He did quite a clumsy job, as any stumbling 13-year old who had his first serious shot at making out would, and you’d have doubts whether he had really met that many girls in the first place. “You’re such a special girl,” said Ricky once in the movie house as he lightly touched your cheek. While he closed the gap between you as you kissed, you couldn’t help but wonder what “special” meant. Was it really a compliment? Or a stupid euphemism for “beautiful on the inside?” After realizing that that one, too, is a stupid euphemism, you opened your eyes only to find surprisingly that his were also wide open. A year later, Ralph would cheat on you with a girl who had bigger boobs. He would apologize profusely, ask you to forgive him, and call you “my girl” to which you’d retort, “I am no man’s girl! I will have one mistress here—and no master!” with the same passion as that of Cate Blanchett when she delivered almost the same Oscar-worthy line as the Virgin Queen. You hated his guts and, well, you were 16. You lived for the drama. In between sobs, you’d mutter to yourself that somebody would make him pay for it—“somebody ought to make him pay!”—then you remembered that you didn’t have a father who could do just that, because you and your mother lost him to the same incitements of unfaithfulness before you could even learn to say “Papa.”
Came college and you met Benedict. Even the sound of his name is different. It doesn’t begin with the letter R. Oh, and good kisser, too. No, excellent is more like it. And the feeling that always envelops you whenever you find yourself in his arms makes you quite certain that he’s the only man you’ve ever known. He did say once that you were “such a surprising kind of girl.” But eversince you proclaimed to him that you are now a woman, he never called you “a girl” anymore. Reminiscent of John and Yoko, he’s since called you “my woman.” And just like that, you fell in love.
Or did you? Whenever that question nags at you, you try to shrug it off with a nervous laugh and say, “Sheesh! It’s just your vagina talking!” You see, you lost your virginity to Benedict. Suppose you did not. Suppose he wasn’t so damn good at it. Suppose you said “No, Ben, don’t” the night that he first cupped one of your breasts in the dark of their living room on the couch instead of, say, moaning your approval. Suppose you first kissed him when you were actually sober instead of being drowned by a bottle of Gran Matador because you might have felt too invincible to take the chaser, or because you knew that you would not have enough courage if you were indeed sober. Suppose you started out as friends without any romantic motives whatsoever and he eventually saw the “inner beauty” that boys whose names all start with a capital R (a mystery you never could work out for yourself) also found irresistible. Suppose it were the usual virgin’s fairy tale: stolen glances to kilig moments to courtship stages to the hook-up dates to the corny “monthsaries” to “happy anniversaries”—all the way to happily-ever-after’s. Suppose Benedict were your “prince charming on his white charger” and you were the “damsel in distress.” Suppose sex wasn’t part of the package.
That’s not to say, however, that you hate the sex, or that it’s really just all about the sex. You see, Benedict’s only a god as far as foreplay is concerned. Everything else after it, and he’s a soldier on a mission. Merciless. A man of honor. You do talk after coming, though, or pretending to have come for that matter, a skill that you have since mastered because he can’t make you orgasm all the time. A skill that’s necessary just so you can avoid bruising his ego with a poker face and a shriek of his name in a monotonous voice, or worse, a remark such as “maybe next time” or “you tried your best.” So you talk. A lot. You talk until dawn, in fact. Then again, you must’ve begun grinding at three which is ironically the “devil’s hour,” although you never really reflect on all the “evils” that you do. Not even a single mention of them in statements like “I know this is wrong, but—” so on and so forth has ever found its way into that small living room in the dark house that you frequent only when it is empty enough for two naked bodies to find their way deep into, deeper within, and deepest as each other. Two bodies whose discourse’s lack of honesty betrays the nakedness in which they lay. And so you talk about different kinds of stuff that you both decide are more important than the guilt that should be there. The meaning of life, for instance. The correct enunciation of “either” and “neither.” The real reason Rizal kept on writing to Blumentritt, because one of your previous professors insisted that they were really gay lovers. And a thousand other subjects that would make him whisper to your ear, “Know what, you’re a woman beyond your years,” and that additional sentence that just took your breath away: “You’re amazing.” And yet, the talk is the nicest part not because of the talk itself. It’s when you both pause every now and then to find that his legs are interlocked with yours, your head on his chest, his hand caressing your head while the other is on your left breast right over your heart, which is beating in chorus with his, a tune that the hushed night graciously allows to play. It’s these moments when you seemingly reach that point of silent agreement where things just feel right, which automatically makes everything alright.
And then after weeks of pondering and weighing and replaying all those words that “take your breath away,” all those moments that “feel right,” you hit yourself in the head in a rare fit of emotion. “Of course, it’d feel right! It’s the sex, godammit!” If only that sank in. Suppose it did. And you broke it off with him once and for all. Suppose you had enough guts to say, “It’s over, Ben. I’m sorry” while the inner depths of you would cry, “Ha, I faked it! You never made me come all the time, anyway!” as you walked away from him and his neat, vintage Porsche he’d inherited from his grandfather.
But what if it really isn’t just all about the sex?
“You write well, I like that you still did some research on the lost Pinoy films in Thailand. I saw it in a documentary once. Incredible, huh?” he once told you with a smile that seemed unnecessary for an already beautiful face such as his. You took your paper, returning him a shy smile of your own.
Kasaysayan I became even more interesting for a B. A. Journalism student who was only aiming at finishing her G. E. courses. Your eyes always sought Benedict’s and they never failed to meet each time, always exchanging the passions that perhaps shouldn’t be there. Or were they really there?
It was the end of the semester and you swallowed all the inhibitions that an awkward 18-year old could acquire in the ten or so years that she had previously spent in an all-girls school, a holy community of sorts, run by nuns who give credit to those who are mahinhin and frown upon those who either walk around in pekpek shorts or who sport deep cleavages, or both. Forget the nuns. Forget all the R’s, those silly little boys. You waited for all your other classmates to empty the room and you walked up to him.
“Uhm, hi. We have this org fundraising event,” you started what you hoped would be a complete sentence, “and there’s gonna be free booze, and a live band—“
“Whoa! Hey, you drink?” he smirked as he tucked his hair behind his ear. He had long hair and dressed and looked like Kurt Cobain, except that he didn’t come across as someone who was on crack all the time.
“Yeah, a bit,” you replied, smiling—shyly, as usual, but with a small hint of pride artlessly expressed by youth who live long enough to come of legal age.
“Cool. When’s it gonna be?” Easy. You didn’t even have to finish your sentence. He wanted to come, you could tell. His distinct swagger could come off as totally nonchalant but his hopeful, deep-seated eyes couldn’t. You knew that every time they laid on you, they could see something else, probably someone other than that girl from the all-girls school who fell in love with boys. And you’ve since been infinitely curious about that someone, a person you yourself have yet to uncover. Then again, it could have been just happening in your head. No matter. You mustered the courage to ask him out. And he said “cool.”
You didn’t know that your summer, aside from your mediocre classes in the morning, would be filled by more of those nights with Benedict. You shared interests that you could not seem to make interesting to your girlfriends, the girls you went to the nuns’ school with. All they talked about whenever you hung out together were their boyfriends, or suitors, or the best shades of lipstick that could match their skintones. You were sometimes tempted to share about your nights out with Benedict but you were too ashamed to admit that you only went out with him when Gwen—a painfully screeching word to your ears—was not around, and she wasn’t, every so often. You did try to tell Joan, whom you believed to be the most understanding and open-minded among the girls. You knew she’d be up for anything. You shared about your first kiss with Benedict and how he adores you and calls you “his woman” to which she giggled excitedly, like the schoolgirls you once were. “Come to think of it, though,” she quipped, “he calls you his woman, and yet you’re more like the ‘other woman!’ Naughty, huh!” A rush of blood to the head. You tried your best to smile as she laughed your dreams away. Since then, you never tried to tell a soul about Benedict.
Your orgmates, on the other hand, weren’t exactly the crowd whom you’d like to hang out with. They had regular gimmicks in Katipunan and they weren’t your sort of thing. You were contented with Joyce Carol Oates, and movie marathons, and occasional visits to bars that featured The Jerks…and conversations with Benedict, of course, both sober and wasted, but which were always a probe into each other’s souls. The world suddenly seemed larger than your dorm room’s walls all at once, and yet it became all the smaller at the same time, closing in on you and Benedict. It was a forbidden world, a secret space. But the night he cupped one of your breasts, the night that he acknowledged your being a woman, and the night that he took that portion of your life away, you swear that it was a kind of death that you didn’t mind to relive over and over. Over and over again. A carnal sort of death that must have involved some kind of divine intervention, a brief meeting with God, just like what the nuns were telling you back in high school, making you wonder whether they were really referring to a different kind of death. And so, you know, “It just can’t be all about the sex.”
What if he has, over time, shared with you his secret frustration of not being a rockstar, laughing at himself all the while before resorting to a five-second silence probably filled by nostalgic moments with his first guitar? What if he shared with you his dreams of getting a PhD. because it was the only respectable title he could attach to his name at this point in time? What if he shared with you that Gwen wasn’t exactly the woman he first knew she was, that she’d changed and that he was glad to have met you, known you—every depth and curve of you? What if he kisses you on the forehead as some sort of asking for your acquiescence before he explores the rest of your 18-year old delicate body with his warm, moist lips, making you shiver in the very areas of sin that you never thought God could actually create along with the day and the night and Mother Teresa? What if he whispers to you “I love you” during random moments when those words were quite unexpected like, say, after laughing over a worn-out Erap joke, or scuffling against the rush-hour crowd in the MRT? What if he holds your hand even in front of his friends—only those friends who care for him enough to keep their mouths shut? What if he’s brought you to his nice apartment in Teacher’s Ville whenever you’d get the chance to be alone, and has made love to you in the living room, all over the living room—on the couch, on the tiled floor among Lego blocks and miniature vintage cars, against the wall beside a genuine Malang oil painting? What if he really does love you after all—even if he can’t make you come all the time?
You sigh. There’s too much going on inside your head. You reach for the nearest source of comfort: your crotch. And you stroke it the way he does. You stop. You stop because it reminds you that he does it better than you do. “Shit!” You suddenly suspect with all naïveté, “What if love and lust were one and the same?” No, what if love was just another euphemism for lust? You cringe at the possibility. You’re suddenly reminded of where you lie as you feel the sting of the cold, tiled floor, making your hair stand on end. You shiver. Like an old, silent movie, everything’s on replay: Benedict would whisper a lot of I-love-you’s but he never says it out loud. Why should he? Benedict would hold your hand in front of his few, trusted friends, and all they knew was your name, and you could spend long hours of coffee-induced conversations with them until you’d wonder why they never asked who you were in Benedict’s life in the first place. Why would they? Benedict did bring you to his nice apartment, and you did have crazy sex all over the living room, but you pointed shyly once at the door beside the kitchen because you knew there’d be a bed in there somehow, and he whispered—as he always would—“But, baby, we’re fine here,” and he made you forget with all his warm, wet kisses. Although, you never really forgot. The bed. The bed was all you needed to know if you really could bring yourself to believe everything that he said, no, whispered, to your ear.
You close your eyes. Tightly. You hope that you’ll be in a different place when you open them. And when they do, you’ll be a virgin again. An innocent 18-year old. Fresh and sweet. That kind of Filipino cliché. You open your eyes. You don’t feel anything unusual. Just the cold of the tiled floor. And then he turns to you, still asleep. Beside you, as naked as yourself, on the cold, rigid floor. You run your fingers through his long, disheveled hair as you stare at his face. The kind of face that smiles a lot and never grows old but always appears more attractive when it isn’t smiling because it’s just so darn sexy when he looks serious. Suppose he didn’t have those piercing, deep-set eyes that made you feel like he was uncovering your soul’s deepest desires every time they lay on you. Suppose he didn’t have that perfect, little nose with that cute, little cut in the middle—a flaw that never really ruined its perfection. Suppose you didn’t chuckle whenever you’d remember that he got it when he fell while climbing a santol tree when he was seven because he wanted to see a maya’s nest upclose. Suppose he didn’t have those pinkish lips which, you swear, could’ve belonged to a woman, considering that he smokes chains and chains of “macho” cigar. Suppose you weren’t “his woman” like he’d say you were. Suppose you weren’t 18 and suppose he wasn’t 36. Suppose you weren’t a smart, pretty college student and he wasn’t your Kasaysayan 1 professor who looked and dressed like Kurt Cobain. Suppose he didn’t wear a gold band around his left ring finger. Suppose he wasn’t married to Gwen who happens to teach Communication 3 in the neighboring college in the university. Suppose Gwen wasn’t so pretty and well dressed that you wondered when she ever stopped satisfying Benedict. Suppose they didn’t have a beautiful son named Tyler who loves toy cars and is a genius at making robots out of Lego and is going to turn six two weeks from now. Suppose you were happy.
You’re thinking, the thoughts whirling inside your brain as fast as the actions you’ll be taking after this. You pick up all your things as you put on your clothes. Panties on the couch. Shirt covering the scattered Lego pieces. Benedict does not wake on the floor because he’s the deepest sleeper you know, not that you’ve already slept with ever so many. You slide out of the door and you hurriedly lock it. You run off into the early morning sun, not quite on the verge of tears and yet not quite overjoyed. You just run. And walk briskly. And run again. Mindlessly. You board the parked Ikot jeepney and amidst the noise of the boombox, the radio station’s DJ’s deafening “Magandang, magandang, magandang, magandang umaga poooooooo!”, Manong’s “O, dose-dose yan ha, dose-dose!”—amidst all that racket and rush of Manila’s morning traffic—that’s where you begin to think. You hand in a crisp, new P20-bill and say “Ilang ilang po!” although you’re not quite sure if you want to go back to the dorm yet. You think, and you realize that you don’t know where to go, and you actually don’t have anywhere else to go. The jeep is already filled and Manong revs up the engine as the jeep takes on the busy highway. You’re still thinking. Gwen and Tyler wouldn’t be back from Antipolo until after the weekend. Suppose you stayed. Suppose you were still lying on the cold, tiled floor, your fingers getting lost in his hair, your thoughts getting lost in his quiet, sleeping, youthful face. Suppose you did not leave him. Suppose you stopped thinking.
“Miss, sukli mo,” the ale beside you calls your attention and your thoughts are brought back into the jeep once more, which is now making its way through the university’s gates. You take the coins from the ale’s plump hand. Robotically, you count. Fourteen pesos. You have more than enough to take the ride back.