Years later, now

There was a boy I used to love who was always in love with somebody else who, except for a few fleeting exceptions, never loved him back. He pined after them as I pined after him.

There is a decade-old picture of us and friends that I don't even need to see again to remember: he stands apart from us, wearing his tie-dyed shirt, looking at his watch. I remember this picture because we weren't on good terms that night; the camera had captured him hurting and wanting to go home.

I don't remember why we weren't on good terms, as I don't remember at all any of the tiny little fires that went between us. I suspect it is because I, being in love with him the way I knew how then, blew more meaning into these tiny little fires than were worth smarting about.

Ordinary love is biased, and while I was so convinced back then that what I felt for him was the most beautiful wasted thing in the world, I know now the way I loved him was ordinary. If it hadn't been, I wouldn't have hurt him over trivialities.

But while the love was ordinary, the boy was -- and is -- special.

Two or three years ago, he wrote me a strange letter. He'd been reading our old letters, he said, and finally, after all these years, the message of love I'd cowardly penned into my friendly letters had reached him.

His letter was long, written on yellow pad paper and enclosed in his trademark long letter envelope, the faded kind that brings to mind dusty, sleepy sari-sari stores and Skyflakes and 6 oz. Pop Cola. Like his other letters, it was bursting with beautiful words and images that all spelled out, "I had no idea!"

At the time, I was crazy in love with somebody else, and his letter was, more than anything, a blast from the past, something to giggle about, to feel nostalgic about, something to remind me how silly I'd been at 19, so convinced my life was cursed forever because I couldn't even get my college love to love me back.

It was also something I could touch base with old, loved, lost friends about: a postscript to a beautiful, tragic, dramatic, magical period of our lives; an epilogue to a love story I so wanted to be true because he-was-a-poet-and-he-knows-it and I wanted my own Orion and my own clichés. The magic was back for a second, and then --

I was sucked back into the current love, and his letter, no longer relevant, went to my forgotten memory box. There was slight scorn, I have to admit. What to do with a boy you loved who only realized it eight years later, the darling dear idiot, who's now married and a father, and seeing the past with clearer and yet nostalgia-clouded eyes?

And then --

This year's letter, crammed among bills in our mailbox. It was a few days after my birthday, I was figuring out a present love. I was on my way to work, and I saw the long letter envelope, still the faded kind, peeking out at me. I knew instantly who it was from.

He's still reading old letters, he says. He quotes some of them. He is more self-aware now, and he is thankful. He misses me, he misses our old perfect little universe of friends, and, in his missing, allows himself to be sometimes slayed by old feelings -- the only lingering proof that the past was real.

He feels guilty about something, and I know him well enough to understand that it's the same thing I'm feeling guilty about when I think of our picture -- he wishes he had treated me better, as I wish I had treated him better now that I know our time together was meant to have been a short chapter in our lives, and that the time we had dreamed about when we were college friends, that of staying really close friends as adults, would likely never come.

And he sends me a message that I need to hear from an old love, years later, now that I'm in the middle of the story of a new one:

"I am more than thankful I met you. And the love I took for granted before, that didn't go to waste. I hope, as Newton's Third Law of Moving Bodies say, it is still bouncing off somewhere but it will never fade."

He mentions several other clichés, calls them such, and tells me not to puke when he says the love I gave or the love he gave wasn't ours; it has been there even before us. He ends his letter saying he has ran out of clichés, so he just says he loves me--and I understand him well enough to know exactly what he means.

I read it again one particular sad evening, and in that moment I got from him something I'd forgotten I'd wanted so bad when I was 19: my own version of a friend's night, up in a rooftop in Quezon City, where she's reading his love poem under a constellation which, right then, she called as theirs. It's different, and yet the same. We now have our own moment, and I know now that I am special to him, as he was, is, will always be special to me.

Just as my love reached him years later, his love bounced back to me even more years later. For both of us, it wasn't the kind of love we'd expected from each other, neither was it the kind of love we'd wanted at the dissonant points in time we actually wanted anything from each other. But it is exactly what we both need.

He needs his dead stars to create the dreams that make him beautiful; I need to know someone at the other end of love, unrequited or otherwise, can still see beauty after a star dies, no matter how long it takes--and be grateful for my part in it.

The end we think it to be is never the end that is. In fact, as he says, it's never even the end at all.

Everything works out, hurt fades, only beautiful things remain, and they come back to you if you were sincere in your struggle to be true, no matter if you failed--if you loved with your beaten, broken, fallible, stupid, selfish, but truest heart, someday this ordinary love can gift you something extraordinary.

November 30, 2007