Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Post-Mortem Lesson 1: Learning To Drive

Photo from this site.

For what seemed to be an eternity, Je has been my driver. For him, driving is his therapy, his de-stressor, despite the impossible state of affairs of traffic here in Metro Manila. I had perpetually postponed my driving lessons due to a combination of schedule conflicts, procrastination, and, partly, Je's lack of enthusiasm: he thought that I have the makings of a reckless driver. And so, for about six years, I was driven around by a (practically) 24/7 chauffeur, like a spoiled brat.

Roughly a week after Je's interment, I headed to the LTO office at Pillilia St. in Makati to secure my student driving permit. Damn, I said to myself, I feel too old to be applying for a student permit, but hell, I am doing this out of necessity. Going from clinic to clinic via a taxi cab is getting to be very very tedious, stressful, and expensive. (I computed my gas expenses and it turned out that it is actually cheaper for me to use the car.) Public transport by bus, MRT, or jeepney, snobbish as this may sound and I'm sorry if I come off that way, is definitely NOT an option.

I must say that, contrary to what I initially thought, getting a student's permit in Makati is an absolute breeze. The staff was very courteous, the waiting area was cool, and in less than 30 minutes, I already had my permit.

Because I haven't touched a steering wheel in more than ten years, my sister made me drive around last Sunday. "Just move the car around and we'll go to the trickier parts later," she said in the vernacular, as I struggled with the clutch and gas pedals. In better times, learning to drive around like this session we had, in a quiet place with trees and the sun lazily setting in the background, would probably make for a good, refreshing experience. Instead, I got frustrated for the most part, as I was unable to smoothly maneuver, doubting if I will ever be able to confidently take on the EDSA jungle and do a deft parallel parking (something that Je is soooo good at) in a span of TWO WEEKS. I know it can be done, BUT.

Whenever I lie on my bed every night since that fateful day, I find myself in the middle of conflict. Part of me tells me to fast track everything (driving lessons included). So far I have accomplished all the things I would have normally completed in six months within just one week. Part of me, however, asks: What is the point, anyway?!!

And then I fall asleep, without any answer as always, only to wake up three hours later and realize again that things have changed, life has changed, and the car key has suddenly, unwittingly, found an unlikely refuge: my hand.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Last Song Syndrome 8: Hurt (Johnny Cash); It's All About The Current State Of Affairs

"I hurt myself today
to see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
the only thing that's real" - Johnny Cash
Today I received an email from a friend. (Thank you, G.) The attachment contains a song by Johnny Cash, a song that, according to the sender, reminded her of me. I hurriedly downloaded the digital file.

There it was, Johnny Cash's somewhat tortured baritone, clearly enunciating the words to the song.

"My sweetest friend
everyone I know
goes away in the end
and you could have it all

my empire of dirt..."

I got a little giddy listening (good thing no one was physically around, I probably looked silly swaying unsteadily while seated on the bed), it was all getting swirly in some dark whirlpool. Then I remembered, I heard this song before, in a not-so-distant past, and I got the same sensation. Indeed. As I found out hours later, Johnny's "Hurt" is a 2002 cover of Nine Inch Nails' 1994 song, which just as anguished and haunting.

The song has long been subject to numerous interpretations, mostly alluding to drug use. For me, however, the line "The needles tear a hole" assumed an entirely different meaning. This particular line took me back to the ICU some 17 days ago, in a cubicle filled with beeps, monitors, and the sickening smell of dried blood. And again, I heard one of those memorable lines off one of our conversations, which went more or less this way.

"My arms are now filled with needle marks from blood extractions...I feel violated."

(And now I try to shut that memory off, again. For it sounded funny in a dark way then, and now it sounds like a very sick joke.)

The song is not just about me. It's about him, and the current state of affairs....

Friday, April 10, 2009

Here And Now, and Forever

Je Bautista (1966-2009)

He is a very private guy in spite of his accomplishments. Under usual circumstances he would not want his face plastered on cyberspace. I got away with it on a few occasions, this counted.

He is a writer (and he thinks my writing style is too "clinical", whatever that means), musician, and editor, as well as a mover and a visionary. A mean cook, a food connoisseur. A mentor and a spiritual guide to many. And a dog. Unfortunately, unlike cats, dogs do not have nine lives.

So long, Je. Enough with this triteness, now....

Sunday, April 5, 2009

I no longer want to be a doctor.

I have seen four people very dear to me die and three people get sick in less than five years. The last death was a day ago and is the hardest because I was with this person in all stages of his illness, from the time he was diagnosed until the time that he died, right in front of me. Even harder that I am a doctor because as he collapsed in my arms I saw on his face that his life was escaping fast and no amount of prolonged resuscitation can revive him and all manners of prognostication were taking place simultaneously. I knew well enough what every figure on the frantic monitoring machines meant in spite of extreme denial welling in my head and heart. Every image is an assault to my soul, which has by now escaped my being.

All I am thinking right now is why, why, why, what is the point, what is the meaning of all these, no it cannot be happening at all, why why why. Why this amount of death, why know more than I should and suffer horribly for the significant amount of knowledge of the human body and its frailties that I possess.

I do not want to be a doctor. I do not want to be a watcher at the same time. It is a cursed position to be in.

Unfortunately. I am both, and can no longer undo everything.