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August 20 has always been a red-letter day for me; well, for the past 18 years that is. 18 years ago, I was involved in a vehicular accident that took the life of one of my friends, and caused another to be too dispirited to continue with her undergraduate studies. I can tell you all the wee details that make up the entire tragedy, for yeah, I still remember everything as if it all happened yesterday, but I won’t. I’m too tired to narrate the story. I’m too old. I’m too far away, and far too different from that Frankie.

Whatever remains, though, stay the same. The memories, for some reason, have retained their too real quality despite the passage of time. I can’t seem to shake ’em off. I remember what I had for lunch 18 years ago. I remember what I was wearing. I remember my headband. I remember the car. I remember the roads. I remember the people—-strangers trying to help, the doctors, the nurses, the cops.

I remember everything.

Anyway, since I’ve been revisiting my old Multiply blog of late (yes, because Multiply is on the verge of death, I’ve been trying to figure out how to save all my precious blog entries from that particular social networking service), I chanced upon my old August 20 entry from ’07.  It’s the story. So if you don’t mind, I’m pasting it here for posterity’s sake. You do have the option of stopping right here, right now.

13 years ago today, right about this very hour, I was getting ready to leave for Antipolo with Laarni and Che-pie, friends and thesis mates from DLSU-Manila. We were on our way to start Day 1 of our documentary about cloistered nuns in a monastery somewhere in Antipolo. All our bags were packed in the trunk of Che-pie’s Toyota and all our gadgets—microphones, cameras, V8 tapes, TV set, tripods, gels, numerous cables, head phones, etc were safely secured along with our luggage. It was a good, sunny day, and we were excited, ready for the month-long immersion in what was to be a project of a lifetime.

Since it was going to be a month-long program, the group decided to do some last minute shopping for supplies at SM North EDSA. We even had early lunch at Dunkin Donuts. I can still recall what we had for lunch. Che-pie and Laarni had doughnuts of the Bavarian kind while I had Bacon and Cheese croissant. It was a good, light, early lunch.

Eveything seemed to be good and just fine.

Well, as all plots must twist at some point, ours did a sharp curve that threw us off. Well, quite literally if I may add.

It was around noontime when it happened. I don’t know the exact time, but I recall the time to be 1:20 when we were being transferred by some good samaritans to a cab to bring us to the nearest hospital. We had to leave the wreckage behind—-bags, cameras, wallets, everything. What’s more important was, well, the three struggling souls inside the cab. I wouldn’t say this storyteller was really struggling, that’s too melodramatic. She couldn’t even feel pain. Heck, she didn’t even know how serious it was until she saw her reflection on the rearview mirror—her broken headband precariously dangling from her blood-soaked hair. Still, no pain. She even had the gall to sing; I don’t know, maybe as an attempt to pull everyone’s spirits up. Che-pie was screaming “my eyes! my eyes!” in the front seat (the good samaritan was cradling her). Laarni, next to me, though unscathed (she was the one driving Che-pie’s car) was too shocked to do or say anything. One can only imagine what she was feeling at that time, she with no scratch at all, transporting two bleeding friends, and leaving the combined wreck of our car and the truck that we hit.

Upon arriving at some hospital, this storyteller still had no idea as to the gravity of the situation. She thought that after a few dabs of alocohol they’d all be up and about to continue their journey. It was so surreal she thought she was dreaming.

But as all tragedies go, no amount of alcohol can stop the bleeding at a snap.

Che-pie had to be transferred to St. Luke’s and Laarni had to go with her. Good thing Laarni still had the presence of mind to make decisions at that moment. She even took this storyteller’s watch, I don’t know why. Maybe she thought she could pawn it somewhere to pay for the emergency bills, I’m not really sure.

So this persona was left in that hospital to be stitched up good. It wasn’t that painful. You won’t really feel the needle, thanks to the anaesthesia.

The scars on the forehead are still there, a reminder of an afternoon that will never be forgotten.

She was branded a “survivor” over at the muggle university. Everyone, from professors to counselors to classmates to technicians to people she barely even knew wanted to hear the story, the tragedy. An instant celebrity, she became. Mang Norman the technician, to this very day refers to her as “yung pumutok ang noo.” She became a fashion icon too. Well who would have thought berets can be worn in the Philippines despite the heat? Those berets covered the scars, yes; even the uneven cut of hair the doctors hastily did prior to the stitching. But no beret can quell the story. Especially if everyone wanted a piece of it.

13 years ago, Laarni decided not to continue with her studies. She was too traumatized to even finish her last 1.5 units. She coudn’t finish the thesis. And who could blame her, really? That was that. She simply returned the watch to the owner, said goodbye, wished her luck, and left, not to be seen again.

13 years ago, Che-pie passed away. The university decided to give her family her diploma anyway. She had a seat reserved for her at the PICC during that term’s graduation.

13 years ago today, this storyteller made a decision. She will not graduate on time, oh no. But she will finish what the group started. She’ll do it alone. It’s going to be difficult, yes. But nothing in life is easy. It will be done.

And it was done.

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It’s fascinating how something so unexpected can change a person’s life for all eternity. And it’s even more fascinating to note that the scar that was initially abhorred still serves its purpose, something like a Remembrall.

People can’t easily see the scars on my forehead, thanks to make-up indeed. But no amount of make-up can cover up the past. Heck, I don’t even conceal them anymore. Truth be told, I rarely notice the scars anymore. It’s still there, oh yes. But I’ve become so used to it being there it’s no longer fanciful. It has become a part of me. And hey, who would’ve thought 13 years ago that right about that moment, a British woman was on her way to conjuring a boy with a similar-looking lightning-bolt shaped scar on the forehead?

Scarhead Frankie. Sounds like a gansta to me. 🙂

The story is still the same, but the storyteller is not quite. That’s the way all things go, I guess.  I still do wonder, you know, about some things. I wonder about Laarni and how she’s been for the past 18 years. We never kept in touch, you see. I wonder about Che-pie’s family and how they tried to cope with the loss.  Last I heard Che-pie’s dad passed away a couple of years or so after she died. Must have been difficult for her mom.  I wonder about the nuns, the subject of our study. While I did finish the documentary (I even gave them a copy of the final cut), I never went back to the convent after it was all done. I couldn’t bring myself to. I couldn’t see the point.

Now I look at my forehead and my hairline. My face hasn’t been the same since that day. You probably wouldn’t notice (thanks, in large part, to good make-up), but they’re there. Time may have softened the scars, but it wouldn’t wash out the memories.

With apologies to Ms. Rowling. . .

The scar had not pained me for eighteen years. All was well.

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