I had the strangest dream last night. I woke up feeling a mixture of nostalgia, sadness and confusion. This was the second time I dreamed of my childhood friend, Jonathan. I couldn’t even remember what my dream was all about except that I was at the back alley of our house in Mandaluyong. There were so many kids playing, women doing their laundry with their hands, babies crying and I remembered a faint scent of leaves. He was just there, smiling at me.
Jonathan was the first boy who had ever made me feel special. I was a sheltered little girl who had never experienced playing on the streets when it was common in the neighborhood. I went to the same private school from kindergarten to high school so I didn’t have friends where I lived because most kids my age went to a public school. Jonathan was half-Chinese and he went to a private Chinese school. One rare day when I was actually outside our house, just looking around, I saw a note written with permanent, black marker on the cement where our plant/flower pots were located.
“Eliza, sana makilala kita.” Eliza, I hope to meet you, the note said in English.
Maybe, those were not the exact words but it was something to that effect. I was 12 years old and I felt giddy, happy, scared… It was the first time I experienced that. I was thinking of ways to erase that note because my dad would surely see it and even though I knew nothing about it or who wrote it, I was so nervous because surely, there was no other Eliza in that house.
The house next to ours had a big wall with so many graffitis on it. On another day, while I was passing by from the convenience store going back to our house, I noticed my name on the wall. For some reason, I saw my name, written in the same handwriting and black marker, amidst the vandalism that almost covered the entire wall. “Eliza, crush kita. – J.” My little girl’s heart pounded and I had to re-read the note.
“Who was J? Was that note for me? Was there an Eliza in that house next to us?” My mind raced and again, I was giddy and happy. I had something, a secret that just made my young heart thump like crazy. I had no idea who it was. I knew of nobody in the neighborhood.
Then one time, as I was at my grandma’s garden (her house was just across ours), there he was – this boy who was leaving me notes on the wall. He was a little bit older than I was, just a tiny bit taller with brown skin, small eyes and a boyish grin. He didn’t tell me it was him but I had my suspicions right away. Maybe because he was staring at me and when I caught him, he sheepishly smiled like I just found out his secret.
Weeks passed or maybe months and Jonathan would leave me small notes in our little flower/plant pot or sometimes in my grandma’s plants. He wrote on a small piece of paper and told me how he liked me and I would read them a few times, relish the feeling it gave me, then tore them into the tiniest pieces I could ever do with them. If that wasn’t enough, I would put them in water until I see the letters fade away into nothingness before I threw them in a garbage can outside our house. That was how scared I was of my mom and dad that I couldn’t risk keeping the love letters. His dad was a seaman and Jonathan would give me chocolates every time he came home and that was prolly the first time I told my mom that the chocolates were from him.
Then my grandma had her house divided into 3 apartments because it was already too big for her. I remembered seeing Jonathan’s mom and it was sort of a happy surprise when I found out that they were moving into the apartment directly in front of us. I was already 13 or 14 years old by then. It was safe to say that at that point, I had a crush on him too.
But that was all it was. We would see each other and smile. He would tease me as I was growing up, flirted a little but I was a shallow young girl then. I wanted someone really tall and he was half an inch shorter when I was on flats so I thought I should not feel anything even when he always made me smile. On my last year in high school, he was already in college and I brought home one of my good friends. She saw him and told me she like him. I felt a small pinch in my heart when she actually said hi to Jonathan as he was leaving their apartment. He stopped and smiled at her. He then looked at me and with his usual teasing stare, said “Musta, Eliza?” I stuck a tongue out like I always did and turned my back on him to go back in our house.
He ended up dating my friend for a month or so. They would make out in front of me while I pretended not to care or not to see anything. I would say I was not in love with him because I couldn’t remember having my heart broken. I didn’t have a memory of crying over it either. But I remember feeling sad and lost and thinking shouldn’t I be the one to kiss him? What would happen if I dated somebody an inch shorter than I was. Did it matter? I didn’t have the opportunity to find out because they moved when I started college and though I see him every once in a while, we grew up and lost whatever we had while we were growing up. The small chats became one liners that became a simple “hi” and ended up as awkward smiles.
Years passed, maybe even a decade and I never saw him again. In 2009, I came back to the Philippines and I saw his mom while riding a jeepney. Her face lit up when she recognized me. I said “hello” and asked how Jonathan was. It had been so many years. Her face, I still remembered, how sad it became. Her eyes glistened like she was about to cry. “He passed away a year ago due to severe asthma… he had a wife and a baby…” My heart broke. He was the first boy I ever liked, the first one who made me feel pretty, who gave me my first ever love letter… he was the boy who wrote my name on the wall… and he was gone. Just like that. I rubbed my eyes, embarrassed that his mom would see my eyes tear up. Then I said, goodbye.
I will never know why he shows up in my dreams every now and then but today, I am thankful to remember him and that special part of my growing up…