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Many years ago (how many? Try B.C.  As in Before Consciousness), think High School (definitely B.C.), I was this girl with a headband neatly fixed on her hair. My uniform was this finely pressed blue jumper over a long-sleeved white shirt with a little blue ribbon on the collar. Match the ensemble with white knee-high socks, shiny black shoes, and a white hanky on the pocket, and I was good to go.

That was me everyday for four years way back in High School. Well, save for those first Fridays of every month when we had to wear the all white gala dress.

Anyway, back to my reminiscing. Since I was a nerd (oops, still am!) and loved going to school (I think it was the routine that appealed to me back then), I was always punctual. More than punctual, truth be told. There were days when I would stand in front of the school gate, waiting for the guards to welcome the early birds, I mean, early bird (it was usually just me) at 545 am. Imagine that.

Now being an early bird had its perks. For one, I could go straight to the classroom, turn all the lights on, open all the windows to let the fresh air in, and basically just settle in while I have the room all to myself. I could sing and talk to myself out loud and I wouldn’t be bothered.

For two, I always got first dibs on being first in line during flag ceremony. I knoooooow. Nerd alert, right? But hear me out. Being first in line was actually quite nice. While that spot was usually reserved for the littlest girls in class (and I was pretty much average in height compared to my other classmates), I valued that prime piece of asphalt, yes (sorry, dear Hobbit classmates). You see, I didn’t really like it that much when I had to stand behind somebody else while something, anything, was going on in front, even if it was just a bunch of tweens and teens singing the Lupang Hinirang, or swearing the Panatang Makabayan, or heck, praying the entire rosary.  And I’ve always hated standing in line amidst giggling classmates I could see right in front of me, so the front spot (where my view was limited to the flag pole, the prayer leader, and the nuns) was always my first choice. And I’ve always liked having a good, clear view of anything.  . .

And that view included this boy who belonged to the other section.

He was in my year (3rd) and I remember how he would also be the first in line during the morning ceremonies. He also wasn’t the smallest in his class; I remember he was at least 5 or 6 inches taller than I was (and that’s just my guesstimate, from those daily, err. . . observations. I told you, being first had its perks).  And like all the boys in my school, he had on a white shirt with the nametag sewn on the upper left breast pocket, black trousers, white socks, and black shoes. Typical.  But what I discerned during those morning reflections was how he made the uniform look really good.  He looked, well, very nice in them.  You know how a guy, any guy, looks good in a navy Full Dress White?  Looking all starchy and proper and every bit a gentleman? Yep. That’s how he looked like to me back in the day.

He looked very. . . neat.

What can I say? The high school version of me had very limited vocabulary when it came to the opposite sex. To say that some boy was “neat” was like the ultimate word I could use without going overboard, and later on feel guilty about having contaminated thoughts, heaven forbid!

Anyway, back to the neat boy.

I remember enjoying those morning ceremonies, simply because he was there, to my left (the lines were girls and boys, alternately, per section), looking all, well. . . .you guessed it—neat. His pants were always well pressed. I don’t remember seeing any wrinkle in ‘em. His shirt was always spotless white. No Ovaltine stains. No Colgate marks. No Rexona telltale signs anywhere.  His hair was always well combed, with a hint of gel perhaps to keep it in its ideal form. He had his Trapper Keeper on his right arm, no loose leaf or any annoying scrap of paper peeking out. He was just . . . .perfect.

The thing was, despite those many days, and weeks, and months of standing practically side by side with Mr. Neat, I never really got to talk to him. No surprises there. Come on. This is me we’re talking about. I was practically a champion when it came to the sport of not talking, under the special category, Most Tight-Lipped Student Ever to Walk the Hallowed Halls of my high school.  Even up to now, my sisters would make fun of those Olympic years of Frankie; they’d imitate me and regale other people with stories about how I would often be seen alone at the library steps (if not inside the actual library), or just killing time in some forsaken corner of the campus, or how I wouldn’t even acknowledge them, my very own sisters, every time we pass each other along the school corridors. Yep. I was that weird. I lived in my own world.

But that neat boy, though. He took my mind off of my world for 15 minutes every morning, every day.

But like I said, nothing came out of it. We never talked. He never even glanced my way. I mean, who would? But I remember me stealing glances at him from the corner of my eye. That was all I could do.

That was all.

Fast forward to many decades later. Here I am, a recovering wallflower (or maybe a closet wallflower, I can’t really say for sure), suddenly attacked by a memory from ages ago. A memory that involved some well-groomed guy who stood in line next to me every morning of our junior year. The tragedy is, I can’t even remember his name.

His face I can still recall, though. But what of that? There’s no face recognition app on Facebook (is there?). And even if there was, would I have an iota of courage to look him up, this time after many, many years of nothing?  All we really had was that 3 feet of space between us. That and just air. Nothing more.

Besides, would I risk the memory for a possible disappointment?  I recall the famous last line from Dead Stars by Paz Marquez Benitez, “So all these years—since when?—he had been seeing the light of dead stars, long extinguished, yet seemingly still in their appointed places in the heavens.”

Would I really want to be disillusioned upon realizing that the memory, my memory, could just be a blown-up version of a dreary reality? That it was all just a product of my hyperactive imagination (hormones)? That perhaps everything was just the result of not having too much sleep (imagine waking up at 5 am every freaking day), or a hurried breakfast, or a stiff white collar choking my neck on a daily basis, or heck, a very strict Catholic school? All of the above?

None of the above?

What if the memory was genuine? What if it was real as the headband I used to wear on my noggin, carefully pulling my hair back from my face, allowing me to see my daily subject of scrutiny so much better than without it?

What if reality catches up with the memory?

Ah, here we go again. I don’t like playing this game.  I don’t even know what triggered this trip down ancient times. I have full consciousness now (A.C. as in After Consciousness), I think. I’m way over high school. I swear those years were my own version of hell and I’d really rather not linger on those adolescent recollections.

I just wonder why oh why I’m suddenly reminded, tonight of all nights, the most ordinary of nights, of the boy I used to stand in line with.

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