Europe. Had I known before birth that I would be born in these islands, I would have feigned maturity at the time of my conception and waited till my mother was in Paris or Rome before I finally let myself be yanked from her. Not that I would have preferred being European – I just wish I’d been born in that region where beauty is prevalent and romance incessantly abundant. The old world charm is infectious, lashing out mercilessly at unsuspecting tourists and romantic daydreamers like yours truly. It’s a place where you suddenly imagine being in love – a state you naturally fall into owing to the atmosphere and its utter suggestiveness. A cornucopia of things to see and do, each visit becomes a lasting part of my spirit and soul, constantly molding me to be a passionate lover of life.
On a visit to Italy, I met Giuseppe, a light-hearted Venetian waiter who served us Perrier and the most mouthwatering slices of Bruschetta with Prosciutto that I’ve ever tasted – right off St. Mark’s Square, at this charming side street café. An interesting character, his presence evoked an aura of sensuality and amore at the mere sight of his smile and the feel of his genuine warmth. He passed tables in an almost rhythmic motion as he sang operatic verses, drawing attention to his dark hair and tall, muscular frame. Like an old friend, he told me about Venice’s history and how its canals and cobbled walkways have been part of myriad love stories – a tradition that continues to pervade this fairytale city.
Suddenly, a feeling of melancholy swept over me after I said grazie to him. My heavy-set aunt who was seated next to me, asked for a snapshot of her standing by a passing gondola with a young couple in it, engaged in a tight lip lock. Sighing, I didn’t lose hope that sooner than soon I would meet someone in this magical place and fall truly, madly, and deeply. The hunt was on.
Hanging around Rome’s piazzas and fountains didn’t help nor sitting on the Bateau Mouche as it circled the Seine in the City of Light. Having witnessed every conceivable image of love and romance got me nowhere except feeling frustrated and dazed at the pace I took to make the most out of the trip. Hell bent on having a good time, I took revenge by slapping my plastics silly on designer ateliers and clubbing like my days were numbered. What a place to be! Too bad there was only one thing obviously missing. . .
After weeks of seemingly endless rounds of tourist activity, I found myself back home – worn out, broke, and excited. In me was an impelling need to go out and hug someone – anyone who was willing to be the recipient of my affections, something that I was unable to do in places where it was most appropriate. Riding on an emotional high, I was downtown that evening and somehow imagined I was still in Trastevere, strolling and checking out the hip, trendy Romans who strutted the runway in front of the ogling masses. Slowly however, I eased into my normal daily routine and went about life the way it was before my whirlwind European jaunt.
Being haplessly single, I was naturally invited to be a member of a singles club. Perhaps they intended for me an honorary and urgently necessary membership. Hesitant and skeptical, I thought I’d give it a try anyway. This probably wouldn’t take as long nor cost as much as that vacation, I thought to myself. So, off I went to the inaugural launch that was a gathering of several dozen friendly faces and restless bodies. After the usual preambles, witticisms, and contrived stories, I prepared to leave as I finished the last few portions of my unappetizing dinner. Then, the woman next to me got up to make a phone call and came back to tell me her son would pick her up at the restaurant and take her home. With a shrug, I decided to go down near the entrance to check up on my driver. A few minutes later, I noticed someone entering the swinging doors, coming up to me in a slight hurry, and looking mighty harassed. “I’m looking for somebody,” he said. “Can you help me …?”
There he was, standing in front of me, hardly looking at my face. I quickly assumed he was the son that woman upstairs was referring to. He struck me as some kind of bookish, computer nerd who was bored out of his skull that Friday night and had nothing better to do but drive for his mother. His indistinguishable voice was almost a whisper and judging by his shyness and introversion, he seemed like the type who enjoyed leisurely afternoons every so often baking cookies and playing Scrabble. Acting as though it was a call of duty, I led him to the woman who by now was already very impatient that she started talking to her compact while putting on lipstick. After quickly settling my bill, I left the place in haste, nearly forgetting to buss the hostess’ cheek. Later on, before retiring, I thought about the evening that went by. It was both pleasant and uneventful.
Not long after, I became suddenly free to indulge myself to another night of relaxing aimlessly – perhaps this time by watching a movie. Since none of my friends were available nor did I have a date, I recalled having spoken to that woman at the singles dinner who rang me up a couple of days ago, wanting me to go out with her son. Stifling a laugh, I had said that Mr. Sugar and Spice would be very nice, but then, I may be a bit too pungent for his taste. Yet, I was still open to friendships and felt that this guy visiting from the province probably needed company more than I did that evening. So, I made arrangements with Mark to meet him at the mall in a couple of hours.
Dinner was at a Thai restaurant where they served us spicy Tom Yum soup and Yam Pla Dook Foo, an exotic salad of dried catfish and green mangoes. In between bites, we had a somewhat mild conversation and talked mostly about his work in I.T. and his hometown of Bacolod. We found plenty of things in common as I shared my interest in computers, tech gadgets, and reality shows. He laughed at my stories and showed interest in my views. His soft, gentle manner and open face warmed up to me, making it easier to talk to him and for us to be at ease. I enjoyed myself immensely – a feeling that was carried on after dinner and throughout the movie. As I left him standing at his front door close to midnight, disappointment set in. I asked myself, should I turn the car around and ask him to have a drink?
It became harder and harder to get my mind off the sweet boy-next-door. Not wanting this newfound interest to interfere with my work, I focused on more pertinent and pressing matters – after all, I thought I’d wait until I was abroad again before I got back on my relentless pursuit of Mr. Right. Strangely, I found myself dialing his number more than once and by the end of that week, we already made plans to go out again. Being with him required little effort as he allowed me to be myself – deeply shallow, yet seriously funny. Somehow, I knew we would be inseparable. Then, as if the gods had conspired, he decided to stay in Manila longer and had become my boyfriend. I was never happier.
Mornings were easier to bear knowing we’d see each other at night. Life went faster than usual as we constantly devoured every minute together with gusto. On a row with the good times, our existence became an irresistible ride through a colorful, never-ending freeway. The unavoidable spats led to intense, emotional patch-ups that brought about profound exchanges of mush and uncontrollable desires. Expectant of eternal bliss, we were oblivious to differences in personality, pettiness, and the growing familiarity as a result of constant togetherness. Soon after, heated arguments arose with alarming frequency and before either of us had realized what happened, we were both physically and emotionally drained. Distraught for weeks, communication with each other came to a complete halt. It was then that a trip to the States came as a welcome relief. My presence in California was imminent, owing to a speaking engagement I arranged months ago for a group of Filipino businessmen. Without thinking, I packed my bags and ran off.
The line at the immigration counter seemed interminable and from where I stood, I could see the officers’ tired faces that still managed to intimidate visitors with their suspicious, probing questions. The drive to our apartment was exhilarating though – it reminded me of when I was a student at Notre Dame, a small college south of San Francisco. The chilly wind cut deep into my skin as images of my carefree, wandering days came pouring back. Ambivalent about my stay, I was afraid I’d be hounded by memories of my recent misfortune. The real reason why I came all this way was to get my mind off him and alleviate the immediate pain I suffered from. Somehow, I was reassured by the thought that I’d preoccupy myself, especially in this place where it would be easy to forget.
As soon as I had the chance, I took the subway to the city. I went around with feelings of nostalgia and avoided the customary traps where countless newcomers fall prey. After a savory lunch of succulent roast duck and wanton noodle soup in the middle of Chinatown, I walked about a half a mile up the hill from Grant Avenue and visited North Beach in the neighboring area where bars, coffee shops, and trattorias abound. For something different, I took a detour to Haight and Ashbury – an artsy, upbeat section of town where young, fashionable urbanites converge weekly to shop at the flea and mix with punks, hippies, and leather-clad studs. Walking along the strip took me back several decades with store after store of vintage clothing items, showbiz memorabilia, and rare antiquities. As fog hovered and threatened to engulf me, I hailed a cab that took me to the edge of the city, right past Embarcadero to the wharf. While having an espresso at Ghirardelli Square, I couldn’t help but imagine Mark by my side and how much more fun I’d have if he was there to share the breathtaking view of the bay and nearby Alcatraz Island.
My best friend Caroline, who I hadn’t seen in years, called and urged me to spend the afternoon with her on a drive along the coast. We decided to go to Sausalito, an idyllic, wealthy seaside community that can be found shortly after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. She provided much needed laughter, but was not exactly whom I had in mind to walk with on the marina which was lined with dozens of sleeks yachts, boats, and catamarans. The whole impact of this picturesque town became lackadaisical as I started to feel a pang of bitterness at what I had lost.
That evening, while watching television, a fascinating feature caught my attention: it was the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and their lavish reception in London. An astounding spectacle, it was attended by the royal families of Europe and the world’s jet set. The flamboyance and extravagance of the affair was not as impressive as the faces of the newlyweds which seemed to radiate a vibrant glow of strength and happiness. I found it difficult to not be envious and hastily switched it off.
Desperate, I paced the floor furiously. I knew then what I had to do. His phone was busy the first three times I called. The next three were even more in vain as it just kept on ringing, almost as if it had been left unattended on purpose. I made arrangements to take the next flight out and not long after, I got on the red eye to Manila. My head spun uncontrollably and my heart was about to crack.
I rushed from the airport to his house where unsurprisingly, I found him on the phone. His mom called and was urging him to go back to Bacolod for the holidays. He looked up and found me standing right next to him by the sofa, where he had lain down. His face lit up and his shock at seeing me turned into a smile that was nonpareil, even Kate Middleton’s would pale in comparison. I heard his mom on the line – “Mark. . . Maaark?!”
Since Christmas of last year, I had remained in the country. So had Mark. After the holidays this year, we intend to fly to Europe, particularly to see a good friend of mine. He would still be in that café, serving Bruschetta, and inspiring hopefuls to find true love. He’d be thrilled beyond words.