Monday, April 16, 2007

THE FRIEND I COULDN'T KEEP



Let me write down her name -- MENCHIE PERLAS. A name I haven't said aloud in decades. A name written in the fine print of my mind. A name that now and then haunts guilty nooks of my memory.

Menchie is the friend I couldn't keep, the promise I couldn't deliver, the opportunity for grace I threw away.

Her mom entrusted Menchie to me on the very first day I stepped into college. Why she chose me among the hundreds of wide-eyed girls swarming that school building corridor, I hadn't quite figured up to this day.

I can't remember how her mom looked anymore, but the girl she was thrusting towards me made a vivid impression. Pony-tailed, fair-skinned, almond-eyed, slightly built. With a pretty face -- broken by a harelip.

We were both 16 and belonged to the same English Journalism class, girls section.

"Please take care of Menchie," the woman implored. I must have said "Yes," for she smiled gratefully before heading for the stairway. I took the girl's hand and started to small-talk. She answered in a hollow, smothered voice. I couldn't understand half of what she tried to say.

I tried to keep my promise for a few weeks. Menchie and I sat together in class, drank Coke together, went home together. We were mostly silent, however, while all around us was a flurry of girl-talk, laughter, and banter. I was anxious to make more friends and tried reaching out to other girls. But we were pariah together -- Menchie and I. Nobody else wanted to come near.

Little by little, I extricated myself from Menchie. Unloading the "monkey on my back," I made way for more exciting, "with-it" friends. I joined a cool group of giggling Elvis Presley fans, then the college sorority, later the Circulo Literati. When I was firmly ensconced in college society, it didn't occur to me to try to draw Menchie in.

I'd meet Menchie in class, say "hi," then walk on. I tried to ignore her "little-girl-lost" look and let my promise to her Mom go hung.

Before the semester ended, we submitted an essay in English class. Professor Policarpio read aloud a few she found notable -- including Menchie's and mine. I submitted a piece about my mother -- actually a take-off from my own dad's tribute to Mom on her recent birthday. (Those were the days I plagiarized shamelessly.) Menchie's essay was a cry for help, friendship, and compassion. It harangued a cruel world of selfish, insensitive adolescents. Her words -- for once crystal clear-- spoke directly to me, and I felt a jab on my chest.

The next day, I avoided -- more studiously than ever -- looking at her.

The following semester, Menchie did not enrol. She was unheard from ever since.

Decades later, I ask myself: what would have happened if I didn't let Menchie down? Would it have changed her life? Or mine? Or does a life once lived need not be altered at all? I am told God is so big no one could ever miss Him. And that Hitler went to heaven simply because there's nowhere else to go. (Many are shocked with this "Hitler-went-to-heaven" stuff, but I find it infinitely comforting.)

Some things I know now I couldn't have known then. For example -- that nothing takes place by chance but rather always for a purpose. God gave Menchie to me and me to her. Why I turned my back on her -- that happened for a reason. The guilt and shame (mine) and the loneliness and pain (hers) -- those couldn't have been wasted too.

I haven't really unravelled all the strands and snags of my life -- but I am getting there. I can now manage to smile as I attempt to figure it out. You see, I know one other thing now that I am older. And it is that "underneath every circumstance is a treasure; within every condition, a blessing." Menchie and I actually blessed each other; we continue to do so.

What could I tell Menchie if I met her now?

Well, I could tell her I have six grown children -- to whom I try to impart lessons from my bitter-sweet life, hoping against hope they might leap-frog over the "bitters."

I could tell Menchie that one lesson I've tried to pass on to my children is NEVER, EVER to spurn an opportunity to make friends with someone with a lost look, almond eyes, and a pretty face broken by a harelip.

Notes:

1. Menchie Perlas is not the real name of the friend I couldn't keep.

2. Image from Stockxpert

63 comments:

gibbs cadiz said...

oh, but anna, maybe you needed to grow up and have a bit of yourself more before you could assume, with some decency, the task of 'mothering' another kid? :) -- anyway, off-topic, beautiful new look! i'd say, very you. :)

zeroimpact said...

I know what it feels
And another sad part is knowing this and you seem to see it slipping away right in front of your eyes due to some unforseen reasons

lady cess said...

naiintindihan kita bakit ka ganoon noon. nagkataon lang na sa iyo naibigay ang pagkakataon, pero hindi malayong mangyari na kung iba ang naatasang maging kaibigan ni menchie, dadaan at dadaan din sa naramdaman mo. pero sabi mo nga, it happened for a reason.

im so moved... i can relate. napapamuni-muni tuloy ako.

annamanila said...

Oh, Gibbs!

A very sensible take. That occured to me too --- to exculpate myself. But perhaps it is more romantic to dwell on the guilt and shame.

Ikaw talaga ... you spoiler you. LOL .. Joke.

Thanks for appraising the site and giving it good reviews.

annamanila said...

ZImpact!

Yes, I felt it (Menchie/the opportunity for grace slipping away before my very eyes. But I preferred to be "in," hip, and cool. It was more fun.

Oh well ...

annamanila said...

Lady Cess!

One of the things that stood out and kept bothering me about that episode is that I was chosen, but I blew it.

TY. We learn a lot from each other's sharing, di ba?

diogenes said...

Thanks for coming by and leaving an informed commen to Sexy Mom that lead me here. You have a content rich blog. Happy Blogging.

diogenes said...

BTW, I am locked here to find out about blogoging boohoos and woohoos when they are publish ;-)

Gypsy said...

We all, in different ways, have "Menchies" in our lives. The thing is to recognize that and move on and be better people to present and future Menchies we meet, which I am sure you are doing.:) Cheers!

houseband00 said...

That is so brave of you to face past demons, Anna. =)

We all have things we regret about and sometimes it's never too late to make things right.

kate said...

hay tita, this entry struck a nerve. i left my high school best friend for a similar reason -- to be with a group that laughed more. worse is that i seem to have a pattern of doing this -- my college thesis mate and i also had a falling out last year. (apparently, the bonch and i have a certain kind of staying power, so to speak.)

the up side of things? i was just talking to my high school best friend a while ago over ym, and my college best bud and i have patched things up a few months ago. :)

so malay mo tita di ba. the whole experience may have also changed menchie for the better. :)

annamanila said...

Hi Diogenes!

I should thank Sexy Mom for leading me to your site and in turn bringing you here. :) Haven't really explored your place; will go back sooner than soon.

Blogging boohoos and woohoos, as the title implies, is written in a flippant, half-joking manner. I will have to refine it before finally publishing it (maybe later in the week). Thank you so much for the interest.

annamanila said...

Gypsy!

Yes, we all have Menchies in our lives just as we have Annas too. :) You know what I mean.

I just know you are one those who are trying their mighty best to make this world (or at least the part of it which you can influence) a better place equally for all menchies and annas and whats-their-names of this world.

annamanila said...

HB!

I am in that stage when I really have to straighten the kinks and snags of my life, and yes exorcise monsters -- otherwise, it might be too late.

Actually, in Menchie's case -- I really don't know what to do, I mean directly. You know what I mean.

annamanila said...

Kate!

Be glad you're very young and yet so very wise and have a lot of time and opportunities to make things better.

Hope your friendship with the Bonch endures. But it has to be time and conflict tested too. I wonder ...

pining said...

Hi Anna :-)
sadly, that's the harsh reality of life especially for a young person who thinks it's cool to be with "impressionable" people--
well, now we know better-- that we can't judge the book by the cover and all that..beautifully written post by the way :-)

myepinoy said...

Now that you have said her name here, how does it feel?

Curious lang ako, what if she, by chance finds this post at gusto nyang makipagkita sa yo. What will you do and what else will you tell her?

Share ko portion ng REASON…SEASON…LIFETIME na napulot ko somewhere:

"When someone is in your life for a REASON, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed....

Then people come into your life
for a SEASON.Because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn....

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons:..."

julie said...

Annamanila, you've moved me to tears. And its just 722am. You can't be blame for what you did, you were young, you wanted to feel that and be vibrant. What is important is you looked back and recognized the "guilt" and if-only-I-could-have-been thoughts and was honest about it. Thanks your sharing the story. Btw, the two names are almost the same names as my two of my dearest friends: Menchit and Pearl. :D

annamanila said...

Pining!

Even at that age I knew what was the right thing to do but I couldn't do it for more than a short spell. It was so important then I guess to be with the "in" group. It often takes time and seasoning to be one's own person and not care over the superficials.

annamanila said...

I submitted this essay to a daily a year ago but it didn't get published. I wanted then (as now) for Menchie to read it. Although this is not her real name, it is likely she would recognize the events. If she gets in touch, I will surely meet up with her if she's willing :). From there, I will see what goes. I am ready to grab a second chance at friendship.

I guess she came to my life (and vice versa) for a reason and maybe we could have another season together?

sexy mom said...

know what, Annamanila? you have young readers out there who are learning from you, learning from this post. at least whatever it was that you blew away when you were very young, these young readers now would be able to pick up.

we cannot turn back the hands of time, but we can for sure make a positive thing out of it just like what you did--writing about it, for others to learn.

as for Menchie--she must have come out stronger. for those with disabilities out there (whether physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual), FIGHT! don't just give up...there so much goodness in this world, the Lord is good.

Belle TH said...

hi anna,

how old were you, did you say? 16 years old? you were just a kid yourself, sophomore lang iyan dito sa amin. maybe, it happened for a reason, for both of you. i wouldn't feel guilty about it.

Leah said...

Hi Anna,
This post in itself is a great tribute to Menchie and good refelction for you and your readers as well. Its true, there are so many people that touch our lives and somehow we dont see all of them. We learn....

myepinoy said...

Going deeper and beyond, I realized na lahat tayo, merong mechie sa ating mga buhay-buhay at sa sarili natin mismo.

Like we have a harelip sa ating ugali na gusto nating itakwil. harelip represents something we think is our weakness or our defect inside us.

Pero pag dating ng panahon, ma re-realize natin na di pala bingot ang pagkatao natin. Nasa isip lang pala.

Parang magulo. sana naintindihan ninyo. ha ha ha.

kathy said...

This is such a moving piece. At the start I really thought that you gave out her real name (as you did with your HS buddies in your previous posts). Anyways, how about trying to Google her, who knows maybe you could find out something about her? Or maybe you have already tried that. How about Friendster? I was able to reconnect to my elementary school classmates that way, you know.

I've never had a friend like Menchie, but in college I'd experienced being out of the circle - you could say that I was the shyest bespectacled girl you could find in our institute. Sa UP ba naman, it's so easy to get drowned in the sea of students. :) But fortunately, I outgrew that shyness.

annamanila said...

Sexy Mom!

You really think so? That Menchie came out of that experience stronger? Became a fighter?! That's good to contemplate.

Yes, we often share our experiences and insights for whatever good others can pick up from them.

Thank you for this well thought out comment Dine. It gives me a lot of comfort.

annamanila said...

Myepinoy!

Ikaw talaga ... pinapagisip mo ako. With a slightly used mind, medyo mahirap gawin. Joke.

Yes, gets ko naman what you're saying. Lahat may imperfections -- yung iba naitatago. Yung iba nakakapagpretend. Yung iba naman sobra paranoid o insecure ... they magine so many warts and wrinkles in themselves na di naman kita ng iba.

Nice take Rolly. Ty

Abaniko said...

What a touching story. I feel you'll meet her again one day. For all you know she's also a blogger. Hehe.

annamanila said...

Julie!

Sorry my piece made you cry so early on a summer morning. Tahan na, baka magalit sa akin ang yung honeybun. Joke.

Seriously, am also glad that long-ago episode is touching my blogger friends and making them reflect. Kung mabawasan ng kahit isa ang Menchie sa mundo na nasaktan ng isang kaibigan -- then my bloging about my Menchie would have been worthwhile.

Menchie Perlas is a disguised name ... pero may reason pa din siguro why I chose that ... :) Menchie is also the name of my best friend in college. Yung Perlas, it sounds close to Menchie's (the friend I couldnt keep) real family name.

annamanila said...

Kathy!

Touched din ako sa comment mo and the sharing of your experiences as a painfully shy freshman in UP. Shy din ako (something I haven't really overcome) -- maybe it showed then (it doesn't show much now) -- perhaps the reason Menchie's mom chose me.

Kathy, I published Rolly Lampa's name after he gave permission. "Centerly," he said. haha Trying to make patawa lang kasi sobra serious ng post kong ito.

Ty ty.

annamanila said...

Kathy!

Forgot to tell you ... yes I will try to google her. Friendster .. hmmm aren't we (meaning Menchie and I) too old for friendster? But .. well who knows. I will ask my daughter who has a friendster account. Ty for the suggest.

sheilamarie said...

hi anna. as the other readers have mentioned, you can't be responsible for someone else when you yourself are still searching for your own little niche =)

as for purpose, i also believe that we have some lesson to teach and learn from people we meet.

i hope you meet her again. and be able to tell her what you feel :) i'm sure she'd understand

liz said...

this well-written piece probably goes out to all of us who still copes with the guilt of leaving a friend behind for selfish reasons. it's the kind of guilt that jumps up during awkward moments while looking out the train window, or hearing a name long lost to memory but always ready to surface again. this is one awkward moment---and i myself remember a name.

i hope you meet her again, too. the world is small, and i have a tiny feeling that you will see her again.

annamanila said...

Leah!

Inadvertently skipped your comment (duh me!). Iksi kasi eh haha.

Yes, friends touch each other in more ways than one. Even a friendship gone sour may have a sweetness hidden underneath .. somehow.

And you, Leah, and I will have a sweet blast together at isc sooner than soon. Gina and I did last night. :)

annamanila said...

Sheilamarie!

Ano nga kaya ano? With so many of you wishing Menchie and I cross paths again, baka nga mangyari. I feel jittery, actually. Bahala na!

Yes, may the lessons life teach us be not lost on us ... pero blogging really make us look inwards, di ba?

annamanila said...

Liz!

Ang ganda mong mag-comment at ang ganda mong sumulat (chockful of imageries) at ang ganda ng blogsite mo. At ang dami pa nang igaganda ng lahat ng ito para sa yo. Where have you been all my (blog)life? :)

You also remember a name? I guess most of us have names that we try to push but manage to sneak out at some unexpected moment or other.

Ok ba ang mga gutfeel mo, Liz? Sana.

annamanila said...

Abaniko!

Wow. I should have thought of that -- that she might be blogging herself. That's one thing she should be able to do well.

I googled her name as suggested by Kathy, but my search yielded zilch except for one in a list of homeowners association officers/members. I still have to pursue that lead.

annamanila said...

Abaniko!

I meant blogging is one of the things she should be able to do well. :)

annamanila said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sasha said...

Naiyak ako, naalala ko yung 2 friends ko na I have lost contact with. Something happened and it changed us forever.

Things happen for a reason, ate (can I call you ate?). Ganun naman talaga. That probably happened because you needed that lesson to be able to impart to someone else. Baka isa sa nagbabasa/nagbasa nito.

I pray that Menchie was able to move on and is now living a good life.

Take care po and God bless! :)

SASSY MOM said...

Hi, anna! I was so moved by your story. I agree that nothing takes place by chance but everything has a purpose.

Sometimes we are so immersed into worldly things (looks, wealth, etc.) that we forget the real purpose we are here on Earth -- I am quite guilty of that.

But then, as we grow older and mature, we realize that we need to be a medium of blessing to other people.

I, too had just recently fall out of friendship but definitely not the same reason as yours but still I haven't got the heart to reunite with this friend for the reason that my heart is not yet ready.. Quite complicated.

I wish you and Menchie will have chance to renew the friendship that you once had.

Take care and God bless!

vernaloo said...

I also have my "menchie perlas". She was my bestfriend in college. Actually she was my first ever bestfriend but stupid me I took her for granted. Met cooler and newer friends that I slowly forgot about her. hayyyy

I dont know how she is now. I can get in touch with her and say sorry for everything but I just dont know where to start. Maybe someday...

aCey said...

hi, annamanila! what a beautiful post... i like it. it's poetic. it was fun looking around your blog, too. :)

faith said...

Ms. Anna,

There was a girl in our class from elementary to high school who was "different" too. Everytime she talked to even the smallest student, she had to look up but the effort always came with a bright smile. I always remember that about her, plus that we shared a love for the piano. She had her set of friends. Back then, I didn't have time to dwell on why I kept my distance. Until now, after reading this.

Such bravery to face old ghosts can only come from someone whose heart is in the right place.

Gina said...

Anna, I believe what matters most now are the lessons learned & the wisdom made richer with life's experiences...You met your first Menchie and were not able to give that friendship, I'm sure you have met more people like Menchie (may not have a physical drawback , but more like the underdogs,the outcasts,the abused) and you were compassionate with them and were able to help them in some way--in my humble opinion , you have redeemed yourself. Now, if ever there came a time that you two cross paths again, there's nothing wrong with starting fresh and have a second stab at a possible lasting friendship.

rhodora said...

Hi, Anna!

You were very young then, you deserved to twirl your skirt too!

Perhaps what the mom meant by telling you to take care of her daughter was - to just look after her, help her whenever needed - not naman that you would be with her all the time! You had a life to live too!

I'm okay now, Anna.... thanks for your kind words... :)

auee said...

It took a while for me to comment on this post, I feel guilty just reading it. Parang confession that I'm not supposed to hear.

It's a good post though. But given you're age when Menchie came into your life, you cannot be expected to carry her around without other's help or even Menchie's help. She should have made efforts to include you & herself in the world around you. It can't just be you & her.

annamanila said...

Sasha. Yes, I needed that lesson (among others) -- though it didn't impress on me immediately but took many years. Yes, I guess and i hope it is a lesson best passed on to others for whatever it's worth.

This post is touching my blog buddies and others too? :) Sana. Hope things turn out better with your two friends. Sometimes, it just takes a bit of reaching out, di ba?

annamanila said...

Sassy Mom!

Here's to friendships -- friendships for a season/reason/forever, broken ones, mended ones, ones one keeps and one blows.

May we all be richer and wiser with them.

Thanks for sharing. It made me realize most of us have those "sayang" friends in our lives. Sana, in time, you can also forgive and forget and reconcile with the friend you alluded to.

annamanila said...

Vernaloo!

Thanks for posting here and sharing a bit about the "Menchie" in your life. It is probably much easier for you to reach out to your menchie than it is to mine. Then how nice that you and she can make up for lost time.

Have a good weekend. I sent you that email I owed you; na-late lang dahil 'misaddressed.' So what is new? :)

annamanila said...

Acey!

Poetic ba? Medyo ganyan ang style ni ode20ld eh -- archaic (hehaha)

Glad you found my site worth browsing. Will see you at yours soon.

annamanila said...

Faith!

Thanks for sharing about the girl who was different in your class. It is nice to know she had her own set of friends too and therefore wasn't really lonesome. Perhaps thats why you no longer felt any need to be closer to her.

I am trying to take my heart there -- to the right place. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail. I think yours is more or less in place na. :)

annamanila said...

Gina!

Its nice to think of that possibility - a second chance with Menchie.

Yes, it has made me try to be closer to the marginalized around me. But I don't know if my (sometimes) limp efforts are enough.

Thank you for such an insightful response.

annamanila said...

Rhodora!

Thanks for giving me a good excuse for what I did or more precisely what I didn't do. Sin of omission yun di ba?

I am gladder than glad you're okay now. Do you have a new, "out of the woods" post? Let me check as soon as I finish responding to the readers here.

God bless Rhoda.

annamanila said...

Auee!

I am sorry that my post made you a bit uncomfortable? Sobra bang private like? I tried to tone it down, and well, I didn't give her real name (neither do the readers at large know who i am). So, I intended for the post to come out as an abstraction -- an abstract slice of life with shadowy people acting in it but giving more or less concrete lessons. Hopefully.

I agree with you that Menchies shouldn't be that helpless and dependent. But who knows that my Menchie hasn't grown up to be more or less independent ha. Nice to think ha.

Toe said...

Oh, that wasn't your fault. Going to college is hard enough. You couldn't be expected to handle other people's problems too. But you writing about it (and beautifully, I might add) - I do know that you have compassion in your heart and that is why you consider it a monster in your past.

I get that too. I feel compassion for other people... but I don't know how to put that compassion into action. It's not easy. We're all too much involved in our own lives.

annamanila said...

Thanks, Ms. Counsellor, for that brief for the defense. :)

Yup, it's easier to say "yes" to compassion as an abstract, universal idea. But to be consistently compassionate when you go out into the world -- tall order. It is easier to help when we have surpluses (surplus time, surplus money, surplus resources) but not when we're hassled, feling broke or inadadequate, and "very much involved living our own lives" as you say. Siguro ... as long as we try ....

Princess said...

For this your experience, your children will learn. That is good enough reason why things between you and Menchie happened. Oftentimes, we just have to let go.
Thanks for sharing.

Heart of Rachel said...

Hi Anna. I could almost feel the emotion you went through as I read the words. I agree that everything in life happens for a reason no matter how hard it is to understand. Sometimes, life puts us in a crossroad with an option to choose only one path. It's always a risk we have to take but the decisions we make help us understand life more. I believe our decisions can make us stronger if we rejoice from the good ones and learn from our mistakes.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank you for your comment on my post regarding "Friends Gone Astray." You know, I've been toying with the idea that perhaps the incident was a sign of some sort. I never thought of Pauline after all these years but the chance meeting and the mistaken identity made me curious about her. I tried to locate her on friendster and googled her like what others have so kindly advised but didn't have any luck. I'm not closing my doors and perhaps I'll meet her again. I don't want to put my hopes too high but it would certainly be nice to see her again.

annamanila said...

Princess!

Yes these are lessons that should be passed on. TY for coming by and reading about the friend I couldn't keep.

annamanila said...

Heart of Rachel!

We win some and we lose some, we take steps forward and take steps backward. We just pick up lessons from our loses, gain humility from our wins. If we take a step backward but take two steps forward, we are still ahead. Ganun lang yun siguro. We dont have to pay our debts directly but pass on kindness to another. Then the universe will just even it up for us.

Yes, we blogged almost at same time about a friendship gone awry. :) So you had no luck googling or friendstring Pauline too. Well ... who knows that some kind of process has begun ... somehow. Good luck to both of us.

zahflo said...

Ah, I met a wierd grade-conscious guy in college, and everyone else avoided him because he was so grade conscious. But I was always the curious type who wanted to really know the person...so we ended up really good friends until now. :-) and he is indeed a friend worth keeping, kahit may pagka-weirdo sya hehehe.

chateau said...

Hi annamanila.
I have a 13 y/o niece with harelip. Although she has had surgery, the scar on her upper lip formed a keloid and her speech is not as whole.
Just today I found out how she has been hurting all her life because of how people perceived her. She said she felt ugly and she believes that to be true. Everywhere she goes people gawk and giggle. In school she only has a handful of friends. At times even her own siblings taunt her. I'm really hurting for her. I hope people will be more sensitive. I also hope people will learn to look beyond the physical and see her real beauty. Hay, it's a cruel world really.

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