I wrote this piece almost five years ago, so some time elements had to be changed. It was an unexpected but quite frankly long overdue encounter with someone from the past that triggered me to put my thoughts and feelings into words. It's amazing how one can write effortlessly when a fork in life's road makes you stop, think, look back, then move forward. This is the product of one of those moments.
Ghost In The Shadow
I don't use to believe in ghosts, at least not in the supernatural ones. But there was one that was to haunt me for years, a ghost in the flesh, the ghost of a friend with whom I severed ties more than a decade earlier.
My relationship with Dino was unexpected. He was everything I was not. Brimming with resentment at society for how it has treated me thus far, I was self-centered and wanted all the world to attend to me. He, on the other hand, was generous and gallant. He knew the simple art of listening, and in his silent way he taught me how the simple gesture can make a person feel important.
I was a friend to few, and it was no wonder that he was a friend to most. I was an advocate of clean-living. He had the vices. He was the one who oriented me to nicotine and booze. In the circle of boys at the brink of becoming men, those who had a "tough guy" stance seemed to be looked up to. I savored every puff and gulp despite its ill-effects.
Most of all, he's heterosexual, I'm gay. He was totally homophobic and I was absolutely in the closet. We crossed paths at a time I was struggling at coming to terms with my homosexuality.
Despite these differences and more, we found ourselves constantly in each other's company. Our conversations always struck a balance between the frivolity and gravity of the topic at hand. We'd listen to each other's plans for the future. We'd talk endlessly about the complexities and trivialities of life and love.
I recall vividly the first time Dino and I were to set foot inside a "massage parlor". It was an idea that came out of the blue while having late supper in a district that had an eclectic mixture of world-class cuisines and crass pursuits of the masses. We casted a last glance at each other as our respective ladies-in-waiting escorted us through the narrow, rouge-lit corridors and into the insignificant cubicles of arbitrary pleasure. Mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety filled us as we were on the threshold of becoming "men", at least how patriarchal society saw it.
They say a friend is someone whom you dare to be yourself. I never realized I looked up to Dino so much I almost forgot I was gay. After our "flesh" encounter, we headed for a cheap beer garden and laughed off our failed attempt at getting laid. Ironically, we were relieved to know none of us had taken the plunge.
But his homophobia disturbed me no end. I was also struggling within. If I tell, I could lose him. If I go on with my little show, things will stay as they are. Still selfish as I was, I chose the latter. And as if that mistake was not enough, I fell for my friend. My unwarranted affection was somehow oblivious to me until things blew right in my face. Dino and I parted ways in the most bitter of ways – silence.
It then dawned on me that by befriending him with a mask on my face I made a grave mistake one could commit in a friendship – betrayal. Full of self-blame I vowed to make amends and redeem myself in the process.
A year after Dino and I severed ties and with the accumulative baggage of years of self-denial, I decided to come out of the closet. It has not always been pleasant since then as society feared what it did not know and treated with contempt what it could not understand. But truth was my constant companion, truth to myself and truth to others as well.
Surprisingly, I managed to build meaningful friendships with men whose emotional orientation and sexual affiliation are strikingly different from mine. My homosexuality was never an issue with Gerard. I'd talk to him about the girls he's crazy about, he'd talk to me about the men I fancy, and we'd flippantly buoy up each other's frivolous ideas. If we were paid for going on movie marathon dates, we'd probably be filthy rich by now. His family welcomed me with open arms. I would attend social events with them. Sleeping together on the same bed was never a big deal.
Our relationship was borne out of the universal principle that friendship does not require similarities but rather differences to help each other grow; It's not how you influence one another but how you bring out each other's best. The difference in our object of attraction and affection became more a bridge than a hindrance.
Succeeding friendships with heterosexual men seemed to outdo the previous. It has never ceased to amaze me how I managed to live for almost a year with Michael who was absolutely gender-insensitive. We were practically at each other's necks and nerves. But he had his own issues of defiance against social conventions so to each other we provided not only help in paying the bills but also refuge in batlling society's rebuke of our idiosyncracies and individualities.
Our friendship defied the saying that familiarity breeds contempt. Rather, we were able to see the point of view from the other side of the fence and learned to acknowledge our individualities and rejoice in our differences along the way.
There were still other victories at male bonding that came before and after Gerard and Michael. And through it all, Dino was at the back of my mind. His ghost was lurking in the past, always there to haunt me, reminding me of a failed relationship and nudging me never to fail again.
It served me well. I learned that there is joy in truth no matter how unpleasant it may come across to others. Most of all, I learned that being true to yourself and liking yourself is the first step at having other people genuinely like you. Being a friend to oneself is most important in becoming a friend to others.
One evening, Dino and I unexpectedly crossed paths. With only streetlamps to illuminate the dark pavement, I thought I saw him from a distance and dismissed it as mere mirage. But my doubt deceived me when he finally cried out my name. It was for real. It was the first time in ten years that we saw each other again. I was suddenly thrown into a vortex of mixed emotions as the ghost of a dead friendship was coming towards me in the dark of night. Was I going to run out of fear, or face the wraith for my own salvation?
As I stood there before the friend I left behind, his very presence and the ghost that stayed with me suddenly became one. And as we spoke, all those years of haunting seemed to have reached its end. I simply could not believe my eyes and ears. The encounter was quick and tepid, and it did not seem a bit like nothing happened. We did not talk like we did in the past before we parted bitterly.
I wanted to hook up with him and laugh at the things that transpired between us but I was hesitant to make the initiative. I did not even dare ask for his number. And although I was looking at him and listening to him with utmost delight, he could not look at me straight in the eye. But it was alright not knowing whether he was still bitter at what happened or he simply remained homophobic. It was good enough that our paths serendipitously crossed. Our chance meeting provided an end, no matter how vague, to an issue we left hanging.
Somehow I reached the curtain call of my little show for there was closure. It all ended that night ten years after. The ghost had been silenced. And far had it been for me to realize, it was not just his ghost that I finally made peace with but my own ghost as well, the ghost of a faulty friend who made a mistake at one time but got back at life by coming to terms with the past, relishing its significance, and rearranging its elements to benefit the world around him. As we bid goodbye and went our separate ways through the night, there was an assurance that I was no longer walking in the shadows. I slept with a smile on my face. I was still beaming when I woke up to greet the next morning.
There had not been an opportunity for me to have Dino read this. Chancing upon his profile in a social networking site, I sent him at least three friend requests in a span of two years. There has been no response.