Love and Basketball

I remember it like it was today.

Some 2 years ago, an old love came back to haunt me again. 

Let’s backtrack.  You see, after college I dated this girl for the better part of 4 years on and off, but mostly on.  We were never really good at staying away from each other.  Even after a separation, we’d do back to normal as soon as we saw each other; right when we have the chance, we always took it.  As if nothing happened, we’d go from saying goodbye to planning our lives to drifting apart to getting together.  Stop. Continue.  We never learn.

Hey, I’m crazy about her.  What can I say? 

During the few weeks- total- that we weren’t together in that 4-year span, I was obsessing about her, to the point of unconsciously (subconsciously?) sabotaging all other budding relationships I was getting into in my bid to move on.  No matter how much I like the girl, I always compared the new to the old.  And usually, the new- I would conclude- was much better than her, but still all I could think about was her.  Yeah, I was whipped.  This was an addiction now officially, a constant yearning, giving into temptation, wanting a taste of what I can not have.  Je ne sais quoi,” as the French would say.

It was not how I wanted our relationship to be.  I was stressed for the better part of four years, working so hard to make us work in the only sense that meant anything to me.  I wanted a serious, exclusive, perfect togetherness; she was, well, scared of commitment.  I will forever remember how cute her face was as she was telling me that she has commitment issues.  But I did feel deeply, sincerely for her.  So I took her anyway I can have her.  No guarantees, no promises. Just me obsessing at night about what we could be but aren’t.  We are, until we’re over.  She’s the reason that, up to now, sleep is hard for me.  I don’t think I’ll ever be back to who I was before her.  It changes you. 

Anyway, the day finally came when I believed we had to say goodbye for one last time.  After a trip from her (our?) OB gynecologist for a not-so-routine checkup, she broke the news to me that she had accepted a job in another country.  This, after the most tender-ever-in-a-hospital-in-the-history-of-mankind moment we just had, she was telling me that she was leaving for good.  How do you bid farewell for real to the one you love, right after you had just spoken to your doctor about starting a family?  Is it even possible?

Yes it was, apparently. 

On my way to her house to join the contingent of those who would take her to the airport, I was thinking of every line possible to make her stay.  Words like “love” and “need” and “please” and “children” and “I am” and “marriage” kept running through my head.  I had flowers, brought along my newly-zeroed camera, wearing my best get-up, with our songs playing on the radio.  Why?  Because I was prepared to give her THE speech.  This was going to be the perfect moment, and I was ready.  ready to be in it, ready to direct it, ready to document it.

Being stuck in traffic, though, made me remember all the time she made me wait for no apparent reason for her to get out of the office.  Or all the times she made me feel little and unwanted.  I love her, but sometimes I feel it was hopeless and that she would never feel for me the same or as much as I felt about her.

Being with her was a constant struggle for for self-worth and acceptance.  I was trying to love enough for both of us; maybe she just wasn’t ready.

I want this girl, I want her to stay, but I’ve been so burned by her that I didn’t know if making her stay was the best idea right now- for both of us.  For a crazy romantic, ideal optimist like myself, it was a novel, but cruel realization to learn that, like the song goes, well sometimes love just ain’t enough.  I’m not certain, but I think God (who else would talk to me from inside my head?) spoke to me in the car and said “Pasensya na, anak.  Hindi talaga nakalaan say o ‘yan.”

So I met up with her, kissed her goodbye, and that was that.  For the time-being.

Fast forward to 2006.  After some two-odd years of wandering into and out of meaningless dates here and in the States where I stayed for a while, I thought “That’s it. I would never find happiness again; never find somebody to devote myself to.”  The memory of her held me back, no matter how I tried.  I felt hopeless, but I was okay.  Over the past year I went from being seriously ill in the hospital to living in the States and being able to reassess my life, and I came to the conclusion that life is not all about the highs and lows.  It’s also about the middle ground; that place where you have what you need but not what you want.  It sucks to be in the middle, but I learned to cope and focus on other things.

But then, I get a call I thought I would never get.  She calls me to tell me that she’s in town, been here for a couple days, that she misses me, and that we should get together.

It felt funny holding her for the first time in two years.  It was comfortable; in her arms, for the first time in two years, I finally was home.  As we walked hand-in-hand (cheesy) in Greenbelt, we got to talking about things, the way we did before, but much mellower.  Coming from an overseas stint, she had a different calm energy about her, like she was ready for real life.  It seems that she too had reassessed her life.  For a while, being away from it all seemed to do her good, make her realize that having someone to share everything with was not necessarily a scary thing.  She had a bounce in her step as we walked side by side. 

Could it be?  Was this girl finally ready to settle down?  I was getting excited, but I was holding it in.  I have the urge to reference my life with music, and at this point, one line seemed to have been written for me: my hopes are so high that your kiss might kill me.  But I’ve been waiting, girl, so bring it on.  I won’t fight fate, I promise.

She started telling about how foolish she’s been shying away from serious relationships.  (Okay, we’re off to a good start.)  She goes on to say that being with someone who genuinely cared about her should have been enough in life.  (Guilty! Go on.)  About how being on her own in another country has made her realize how lucky she was to be with me before she left.  (You’re on a roll, girl! Don’t stop now.)  That she’s finally, finally, ready to stop searching, because she has finally found what she’s looking for.  (“Let’s get married!” I thought.  How’s that for managing expectations?) 

Then she goes on to tell me that she met someone in Thailand, an older Filipino expatriate, and was again relocating to be closer to him.  Tomorrow, in fact, was her flight out.  She goes on excitedly to tell me that this other guy was exactly everything she wanted in a man, and that being with him came so easy and natural.

All this time waiting for her, she was betrothed to someone else.

Everything I had clung onto for more than half a decade went “pffft” just like that.

It turns out she could make a commitment.  Just not to me.

God was talking to me again.  Pasensya na, anak.  Hindi talaga nakalaan say o ‘yan.” 

I felt like a bag of bricks fell from the sky.  I couldn’t move.  I can’t even say if it’s because of shock or sadness or stupidity or regret, or immeasurable quantities of all of those.  She kept on walking, not realizing that I’ve let go of her hand.  I stopped dead on my tracks (hey, I’m pinned by a bag of bricks, remember?).

She finally realizes that I’m no longer beside her and stops too.  She turns to me and says “Hey, what happened to you?”  She was 15 feet in front of me, urging me to keep up.

And the first thing I did?  Lose all my cool, of course.  In the middle of the Greenbelt lunchtime crowd I found myself uncontrollably, loudly blurting out “AKALA KO BA MAY COMMITMENT ISSUES KA?!!?!!”  I swear, the din around us stopped and everybody was staring.  Here I was, portly, happy-go-lucky dude realizing that the past 6 years was only just a game to the one I cared about the most.  Quickly realizing what was happening, she runs over to me and pulls me away to a quiet corner so I can calm down.  She still cared enough about me to spare me from an embarrassing scene.  Or maybe she was sparing herself. 

The rest of the day, I was just crushed.  We shared a booth in a restaurant, and she was trying to comfort me with an “it’s just not meant to be” speech.  That it’s better this way.  6 years of hope, was it really ending like this?  Being with her, waiting for her, waiting on her, pining for her, that had defined the last quarter of my life.  How do you even begin again?  You devote yourself to someone and you think you know their heart.  Turns out you know nothing.

You build up to a moment.  You’re just never prepared for it to go as badly as it does sometimes.  You feel you have some entitlement- a prior claim that needs to be honored.  You just never imagine would go in a completely opposite direction.

As I leaned at her shoulder fighting back tears, blankly agreeing with everything she was saying, her phone rings.  It’s him.  She squirrels her way away from me, but stays beside me.  I could hear her every word.  She was saying things that make my eyes close.  Things that I’d always hoped she would say to me.  Only she was saying them to someone else.  I can’t even convey to you now how my spirit was dying with every word.  My soul was being sucked from inside of me.  The girl just keeps breaking my heart, over and over, worse and worse. 

Still, I thought it was me and her ’til the end of time.  Maybe keep this game for as long as we can, and then get it together and end up together.  Ahh, the burden of expectation.

Can you blame me, though?

Predictably, the next day, I was distraught.  I found myself numb as I made my way through the streets of Manila, driving around, wasting precious petrol trying to find a spot to get away.  I didn’t want to stay at home, where I would mope most likely and drown in my own misery.  I just needed to drive.  I didn’t even know what I was running away from; all I know was that I could never bear another emotional airport goodbye.  I needed an escape.  But how do you bounce back from losing the one you’re madly in love with forever?

Just then a friend texts me that La Salle was playing an FMC2 game in about 30 minutes at the FEU gym against San Beda’s Team B.  “What the hell,” I thought, and went to the game.  I needed an excuse not to be at the airport anyway.  And she knew I was a La Salle basketball fanatic, so she would understand.  Plus, she’s a Blue Eagle fan, so there you go.

Early on as our team was warming up, I was quiet.  I just sat there, alone.  Questioning why I was here, where I would go from here.  “Shouldn’t I be at the airport?” I thought.  As despair and regret was cloaking me once again, the game started.

Before I knew it, I was doing the cheers with the modest La Salle contingent at the game.  I was on my feet at the gallery.  High-five-ing people I didn’t know, as long as they were in green.  For the next one and a half hours, there was nowhere else I’d rather be than here with my fellow La Sallians, cheering our then UAAP-suspended team on in a game that carried no weight.  It wasn’t even an exciting game; we were clobbering San Beda by 40 at one point, but just being there certainly made a difference in my outlook.

Do you know what inspiration is?  It’s when someone, or something, comes along and reminds you that life goes on, just when you feel your world has crumbled.  La Salle basketball did that for me.  Being in the stands, watching the nightmare press, doing “let’s go, archers, let’s go”, I belonged.  I was part of something bigger than myself.  I was with my team, my brothers and sisters, my fans, chanting cheers I knew since I was 5 years old.  For a short while, everything in the world was in its rightful place.

The morning after brings a hangover.  What was one of the worst days of my life, serendipity led me to spend in a La Salle basketball game, and it turned out to be an awakening.

In that hot FEU gym, I was acutely reminded of who I was, where I’m from.  I started feeling comfortable with my place in the world, and my yet unknown path in life.  To be honest, I don’t think I’ve fully recovered, up to now.  When the memory of her crosses my mind I still fall silent, and feel a little sad.  Like I said, it changes you.  But I’m okay; I’ve learned to embrace it.  It is who I am now.  There are times that I will be lonely, but I’m not alone.  I am part of a family, the La Sallian family.  Whatever happens, this is my spot in the sun.  I may never belong to the one I love, but I belong here, with my community.  I am not an orphan.  On the court, that day, I remembered that.

Brother Oca was right.  We care so much about the Green Archers and the games they play because La Salle basketball is our rallying point.

It certainly was for me.  Cheering for my exiled team that day while I was in exile myself was my rallying point.  Probably even my turning point.  I’ve often said I owe La Salle my identity, my values, my nourishment, my means in life.  Now, I owed La Salle basketball my sanity.  I know it’s corny, but being at that game saved me from myself.  It opened my eyes to a society that I sometimes take for granted, but that which will always claim me as one of their own.  I am the prodigal son; flawed and miserable and truant as I can be at times, I will always consider myself part of the La Sallian family.

“For better, for worse, this is where I belong.”  Just being able to say as much, a smile acutely washes over me.  I immediately understand that I will be just fine.

I am La Sallian.  I’m part of the La Sallian family.  That will never change.  I may not know much, but most days, just being reminded of that will suffice.

Even for a shattered heart like mine.

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