Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Jennifer Cuaycong

Sitting by my lonesome, in the middle of the night, in a darkened living room, I find great peace in the silence that surrounds me. Every now and then, when I feel the urge to unwind, I brew myself a cup of tea and sit alone in the living room. At two in the morning, everyone else is asleep in the house and I have my thoughts all to myself.

The house seems larger in the darkness. The pitter-patter of tiny raindrops hitting the roof and windowsills gives me great comfort. I am alone, but not lonely.

Having this luxury of time and space has given me ample time to reflect and think about the choices I've made in my life. Late at night, when you have nothing else left to think of, when the dishes have been washed, the laundry done, the kids put to bed, and your husband sleeps soundly amid the snores of little children, you find the sudden freedom exhilarating.

These nights of silence have ushered a time of change for me. Spring cleaning, I call it, a time to clean house and home, as well as body, mind, and spirit. It is a time to nurture and love the person in me, and to give back a little to myself after all these years of spreading myself too thin. Changing my consciousness, a little at a time, started with analyzing who I was and what my core values really were. Once I was really ready to live out my life the way I believed, it was time to start the cleaning.

This month, I clean up my heart.

They say that in our lifetime, our soul has the task to learn valuable lessons that will help it to grow to fulfillment as God's child. Many times, we fail to learn these lessons out of sheer stubbornness and intractability. Fortunately, we don't get to blow all our chances as life keeps presenting us with opportunities until we finally get it right. I never really understood this until a few weeks ago when, after a long night of introspection, I was overwhelmed by a sudden onslaught of sublimated emotions.

That night, as I sifted through a box of old pictures, I thought long and hard about the people who were extensions of my life. A sharp pain seared my heart as I unburied one picture hidden in the pile. It was a picture of better times, many years ago, when my friend and I called each other sisters.

She was special to me in a lot of ways. I took to her immediately, and as friendships go, I gave her my trust and complete faith. I thought I had hers as well.

And then one day, she suddenly stopped talking to me. I called her and she refused to speak with me. There was always someone, something -- anything -- in the way. For more than a month, I persisted and insisted that we talk, but she shut me out completely. I still remember that moment after the last phone call. It was the last time I tried to reach her. I sat stunned, bewildered, and overwhelmed with sadness.

I did not know what caused her to withdraw her friendship, and for many months, I was ignorant of the truth. Until one day, when someone close to both of us finally told me and I was shattered all over again. Was my friendship that insignificant to her? Were my words too worthless to be believed? I was judged and discarded without ever being heard. I felt betrayed.

From then on, I had to learn to live my life all over again, the knowledge of her emotional betrayal lurking in the fringes of a memory that I tried to ease out of my consciousness. I went on with my life, concentrated solely on the people who loved me -- my family -- and ignored the pain that throbbed still. I moved on.

Years passed in silence. Oh sure, I'd hear snippets of her life from other people, as I'd also hear what they say she said about me. They didn't bother me by then. She was so far removed from my life that I could remember only flashes of disjointed memories. By then, the pain had lost its sharp cutting edge and I could live happily with its dull, inconsistent twinge.

A phone call from her ended the standoff. When I heard her voice for the first time in years, that self-imposed dam of discipline cracked and a flood of unrecognized feelings broke through. I wept in unbridled grief and joy.

Yet, I should have known that things would never be the same after those years of separation. I was naive to believe that there was room in her life for me again, just as I made room in my life for her. Little by little, we found that we had very little in common with each other anymore.

All those years apart made us different from each other. She was a stranger to me, and perhaps I to her. Even as I'd like to believe that I had not changed too much, she was a total revelation to me. I did not know the person she had become.

Our values were no longer the same. She hankered for things I had no interest in. She did not hold the things I valued as sacred. And whereas once upon a time, we agreed on almost everything, this time, staying mum was all I could do to keep my tongue in check.

Perhaps she felt the same of me but I was too blind or too deaf to notice. There were times when I sensed a hardness in her, a new, bitter edge that cut deeply through scathing, disdainful or patronizing remarks. However, I shrugged them all off, hopeful that time will wear out the wariness and distrust and return the warm feelings of fellowship.

That day never came.

Our correspondence today is erratic and superficial, at best. Months will come and go and I will not hear from her, and then one day, a message will come just to say that she's busy with her life, ciao. I used to hold my breath and check my mail daily for the next word, the next line, the next chapter in her life. I got tired of waiting.

And so today, I say goodbye to this friend. We were sisters once upon a time, and I will always look back to those days with fondness. But today, she is a stranger and I refuse to let her in my life again. She will not hurt me again.

Sometimes, the kindest thing you can do to yourself is to acknowledge that not all relationships will work out the way you want them to. Once you find that a relationship eats at your soul and gnaws at your heart, it is time to let go. When spending time with this person leaves you unhappy about yourself, cut the toxic strings. When you find your thoughts and words constantly censored and stifled for fear of displeasing that person, turn away and say goodbye. It is time to prune your life.

This isn't easy for me. Some nights, I still harbor the illusion that my old friend is back, and she is once again the same person I met many years ago. I vacillate and think: what are a few years in the grand scheme of things? I can wait for her to return and be my friend again.

But as I sit here where I find the most peace, staring at the sleeping forms of my loved ones -- Anthony, Alexander, and Alphonse -- I realize that I am wasting my energy on someone who has been lost to me a long time ago. Right before my eyes, within my arms' reach, I have the ones who really matter with me still, and I cannot waste a single moment.

It is true, then, that no matter how many times you knock your head on the wall trying to right a wrong or trying to undo what's done, it won't happen unless it was meant to. And what is meant to be is this: that I stop living for people who do not matter and start finding peace, joy, and contentment with the ones who do.

Goodbye, my friend of long ago. I must stop traveling down the same road with you. But I shall always wish you well on your journey. Godspeed.

PINKY O. CUAYCONG is a homemaker who gave up a promising medical career to care for the three men in her life. To this day, her husband continues to pray she does not wake up from her stupor and wonder what the heck made her do such a thing.

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