Chapter 6: Vertebrae Of Freedom





“Faith, sir,” replied the story-teller, “as to that matter, I don’t believe one half of it myself.”

–           The Legend of Sleepy Hollow / Washington Irving



December 22, 2010


Two days more to go and it is going to be Christmas.  I am in the Philippines and there’s gaiety everywhere.  The lights of Manila was blue and green and as I crossed the street to Baang Coffee, leaving the taxi driver a huge tip for making me listen to 99.5 RT and I smiled to my merriest not really knowing why I was smiling at all.  Maybe because I remembered Vince Saint Price and Ken Fortun of 99.5 RT.  They were my gods of the 90s music back in college – that DJ today, wuzhizname, sounded like a razorblade got stuck in his oesophagus.  Then I remembered I had a date with a 21 year old guy named Ronald and I was meeting him for spaghetti bolognaise and coffee for a bit of sex after that.  I think that was the reason why I was smiling inside.  Or maybe because it is Christmas and I am spending my very first Christmas in the Philippines after eight years?  No.  Not at all.  I never cared for Christmas after I turned fifteen.  I think it is such an overrated time to remember kindness and compassion because I think each one of us must be kind and compassionate every single day. Also, I think that the birth of the infamous Jesus Christ has turned into an ornament rather than empathy over the century, so why make a heck out of it every year?  For years, Christmas has turned into fatiguing family reunions, which makes sense because our lives has turned so broad for a simple, meaningful and earnest catch ups with our families that once a year is more than enough defence that we belong in one.  I have been in the Philippines for four months now and being with my family have become appalling.  Not that I am holding any grudges, not at all, but somehow it has become too glorified to a point that it has climbed even to my private distinctiveness.  It has turned into a time when I’d rather be dancing alone in a roomful of my own disorders and not theirs.   So, no, it is not about Christmas.  I guess have seen enough Christmas since December came into full view I just need to work on feeling its spirit.  Have I stopped feeling celebratory?  Have I become the Grinch Who Deplored Christmas?  No, not at all, because as I was met by the firewood aroma of Baang Coffee, I was still smiling in between my brutal wool-gatherings. 


Is it because I knew I’d be having sex tonight? 

I saw Ron sitting inside and realized he was hundred years younger than I am and that made me stop smiling. What was I doing?

“Hey Jon!” said Ron, candidly flashing his perfect pearly whites, probably thinking why I did not bring my cane or if my seemingly perfect pearly whites were actually dentures of an 80 year old man. 

Huy (Hey),” I said, “Matagal ka na? (You’ve been here long?)”

Hindi naman (Not really).  No worries.  I was on Twitter updating my status,” said Ron. 

“Great.  I am sorry I was late.  Dreadful traffic!”  I said, and thought, “And your status reads:  Dating an artefact is no party!”

“That’s OK, Jon,” Ron said and sweetly drummed my hand.  I noticed he was wearing a bull cap which made me look like his uncle.  Or his dad.  Or worse, his buyer, as I was beginning to feel like a dirty old man paying a little boy for sex by the minute.  What was I doing?  I know there was no harm in dating a younger man but looking at Ron, in his blithe persona and his Jejemon hat, I was already considering therapy.  In truth, Ron was a good-looking guy, a graduate of a brilliant state university and a verbal Virgo, a gym buff and somebody I can really talk to.  After the first time I met him, I was mentally clasped by his comely hands and his very beautiful pair of feet.  He was not wearing his tsinelas (flip flops) tonight but his smile was the same when I saw it last; persuasive and gullible, and his touchiness was still the same consequence of my loss of logic. 

He’s 21 years old! 

Yes, he is young and sweet.  His cum should taste like granulated sugar.

I look like his father!

You are out of your mind.  His younger brother would even fuck you.

He’ll just use you for money.

Who cares?  His dick is above your ideal average of six inches.  Your money’s worth, bitch.  He might even suck your dick.

Alright so it is just sex?

No, IT-IS-SEX.  Go for it.  Go!

No!  This coffee time will do and then I am watching Kris Aquino’s movie Dalaw (The Visit).  Maybe my lunacy needs a horror flick.  Something to de-shock my unperturbed pettiness. 

It has been a while . . .

It won’t be long until . . .

Until what?  Until you realize you are no longer in your twenties, wake up one day and it is your fortieth year on earth? 

Before, I can even reply to myself, I sipped my coffee to stop the sprawling debate in my head and got my tongue burned.  My latte was a molten lava and I did not realize how freshly brewed it was.  It was a good thing, in fact, because it brought me back to Dasmarinas, Cavite and apprehended that I was sitting



-telling stories in my head – making things easier – retelling stories that I have faith in –

in this morning, under a very old pine tree, facing a gigantic football field, babysitting my nine year old nephew Joaquin who was warming up under the sun

and it was not three days before Christmas but a week before Christmas – and I was sad and missing my boyfriend who broke up with me a month before.  I was alone in my thoughts as my mind wandered off dying

to move on and

to be with someone who I can be with to ease the hurt that killed me many nights after November 3.  I am, in reality, sitting on the grass

. . . without a 21 year old guy named Ron in front of me but a giant reproduction of God’s canvass and the whole wide world paying no heed to pathetic, heartbroken people like myself.  As I sat there with watercolours being gripped by my head – a vertebrae of my own freedom to reflect – hoping to paint the fury of my heart.

Moments later, my nephew gave a great pass to an almost goal finish and I shouted, “Let’s go Joaqx !!!”  knowing inside that as I shouted to my heart’s content, my voice would still trail off to the sound of my heart beating at a snail’s pace.  Telling it to heal.  Telling it to be free from ache.  Telling it to be free.



“Hold your own.  Know your name.  And go your own way.”

–          Details In The Fabric / Jason Mraz




September 2, 2010

This is Dasmarinas City, Cavite.  Freedom center in its history and in my Philippine diaries.  One of my favourite places in the Philippines not only because this is home to my two treasured nephews, but also this is where I nursed myself back to the rightful “me” twice in my lifetime.  This is where my sister Angeline and hubby Freddi live, in a charming little apartment blocks away from the church and the main city.  Dasmarinas City is a hill, kindred to the legendary Taal Lake in Tagaytay which is in close proximity to the city and my sister’s house is positioned downhill which means there is elation somewhere between the fresh October air and the adrenalin rush that overruns the body wonderfully when taking a walking.  And I do walk my nephews to school every time I am here and I am openly up to it each time I was needed to babysit.  This bungalow and the radiance of the place had been quite a safe haven to me because it is where I can be completely limitless with my perspective of getting away.  Also, 15 minutes away is Tagaytay with its lake, volcano and where the best Starbucks in the whole wide world sits on top of a cliff where the view of the lake is worth a million smiles.  There have been abundant times when the family have sat in that Starbucks either alone or with friends to invigorate the senses and to get a bit closer to one’s soul.  In more ways than one, for me, Dasmarinas – the home, the place, the church, the walks – is where I can disentangle from the perimeters of a busy life in Dubai, in a home where I am incessantly reminded that family is the most fundamentally pure of revelations and lessons.  An enticement to a character that is obsessed with nonconformity and euphoric with the idea of being free like books are recipes to logical architecture and the cartographer of philosophical discoveries.  Besides, this is the Philippines.  Family is so overrated and yet, we, being Filipinos, adulate on family more than we kneel down to our Catholic God.

The origin of the name “Dasmariñas” is “Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas”, a Spanish governor of the Philippines from 1590 to 1593 from San Miguel das Negradas, Galicia in Spain which literally means “from the marines” in the Galician language.

This town started as a barrio of Imus and it was made into an independent municipality in 1867. The Spanish government named the town of Perez Dasmariñas in honor of Don Perez Dasmariñas who was the Governor General of the Islands from 1590 to 1593. Chinese oarsmen whom he had hired murdered him. His son, Don Luis Perez Dasmariñas also lost his life in the hands of the Chinese in 1603. Don Gomez Dasmariñas was well remembered because he was the one who ordered complete fortification of Intramuros and the construction of Fort Santiago.

The town of Perez Dasmariñas was founded by the Recollect Fathers in the year 1867 under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception whose feast day is celebrated on December 8 to this day. Perez Dasmariñas was formerly a “visita” of Imus that was also founded by the Recollect Fathers in 1795. According to records, the first settlers must have arrived in 1861 and were believed to be the families of Gil Tirona, Vicente Guevarra, Eleuterio Geda and Eustaquio Paulino.

Dasmariñas has a vibrant history. And on the contrary, a bit brutal. On February 25, 1897, the Spanish forces came and brought demolition to the town and its people. Almost fifty percent of the population was killed during the attack and almost all buildings were burned down except the Roman Catholic Church which remained undamaged. The Spaniards operated it as their garrison. At the coming of the American fleet of Admiral Dewey and the legendary naval battle of Manila Bay in May 1898, which defeated the Spanish forces under Admiral Montojo, the people of Dasmariñas under the leadership of Placido Campos, fought and drove away the Spaniards occupying the town. Noted Filipino generals like Flaviano Yengko and Crispulo Aguinaldo (elder brother of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo) died in action in Dasmariñas during the encounters.

All in the pursuit of freedom. 

The people who resettled back thereafter rebuilt the town that was heavily devastated. So sooner was it rehabilitated, then in the late 1800s, the Filipinos were again up in arms, this time against the Americans. Then again, Dasmariñas was annihilated and identity was lost in a heap of rabble. Two years later, the American regime took over and in 1904; the town was again reverted to its former distinction as part of Imus. In 1917, however, Dasmariñas regained its recognition as a separate municipality. Consequently, provincial Governor A. Soriano along with leading officials of the town particularly Placido N. Campos, Francisco Barzaga, Felipe Tirona and many others, assembled and voted to drop the name “Perez” and retain “Dasmariñas” as its official name.

Today, Dasmariñas sits as one of Cavite’s cities placed within the Metro Manila urban area. It serves as the main catalyst for a major economic expansion and sustained growth throughout the 1990s. The influx of industries and real estate developments is unheard of in a town outside of a financial district, attest to the fact that Dasmariñas is way ahead in crossing the bridge to the 21st century. To me, it does not only compliment the bloodied battles during the Spanish occupation or that the church that used to be a garrison where I spent quite a few Sundays praying, Dasmariñas is my vertebrae of freedom in the Philippines.  A place where I can think well if not think clearly.  Also, this is where my sister Angeline Verzosa-Cayago lives.

Angeline is child number three in our family tree.  We all grew up looking up to her because not only was she the first family valedictorian, she was, in fact, the most stylish of us all.  She never cared.  She just had to be “her” at all times.  There have been countless classic stories of her raiding the markets of Baclaran and throwing a virtual festoon of clothing that could have been called the Boho look had Misha Barton thrived in the early 90s when all the girls were into monochrome tank tops over printed spreads.  She had Mary Jane shoes, bell bottoms and flower-patterned shirts when most of her classmates at De La Salle University were into tight chemises.  The 90s look was androgynous, so when most of the girls were flourishing to look like Cathy Dennis or the post-Nothing Compares To You Sinead O’Connor, Angeline wore her tresses down to her waist like an anti-thesis Rapunzel who ate her blind prince alive because not only did she recoup her bachelors through studies of literature and teaching, she also soared her way to the University of the Philippines and then back to De La Salle to foster her Master’s thesis she vehemently called The Concept of Masculinity and Patriarchy in Selected Philippine Short Fictions.

Angeline is a tomboy.  A theorist.  She talks like your conventional girl next door and can be really sweet in turn but she walks in strides and runs four kilometres everyday.  Also, she knows literary deconstruction and has dabbled on ancient and modern masculinity in most of her works.  I know she is a feminist being a mother to two gorgeous and gifted young boys, with a full-time career as a professor of English and a wife at the same time.  In a lighter mode, I always visualize Angeline in a grocery, pushing a cartful of items with one hand and reading Martin Luther King with the other hand.  Most of all, Angeline and I are good friends.  We lived in one apartment in Manila when we were in college, alongside my other sisters Kit and Noreen.  We had mischievous and comical stories to tell about college, henceforth, Angeline and I became friends more than brothers and sisters mainly because we can both catch a glimpse of what is reality and what can free you from such.  I know that sounds vague, so let me just say, we both share a distinct attitude towards seeing life in broad-spectrum as a dare – a crossword puzzle – and we can all write the correct words we know how for which the actual vertebrae of freedom can materialize.  Other than that, Angeline and I like to cry.  We do so even at this age.  Like I said at an earlier time, we defy our rage and know how to sputter it out, if only to get acquainted with it for a while and then we set it off on a kite.  I guess this is the reason why we have blossomed into writers as the years rolled on.  In total, we both know how to see things the way it is and the way we want it to be.  And we also know the disparity of both once mixed together.  Again, an insinuation for both people who are in tuned with reality, with the prospect of mental independence steadily prowling by, expecting it to come in full flesh any time soon.

What is there to freedom anyhow?  Why am I so lovesick with the idea of being unregimented?  Interminable?  Immortal?

Joaquin and Jed are Angeline’s children.  Joaquin is ten and Jed is eight.  Joaquin is the alpha male.  Jed is the surveyor.  Both my nephews were born with an eerie semblance to me.  Or at least that’s how I see them looking through the eyes of someone who is uncultivable as I am.  I see Jed’s suspicious idiom of thought to be my baby steps to the written word and Joaquin’s esteemed respect in the academics and God to be my obsessive hunger for almost anything under the sun.  Yes, I see myself in my nephews.  I am proud of that.  And I continuously scrutinize the words they say, their smiles and the way they answer my questions like, “What makes you really happy?” or “What is the movie that changed your life?”  So far, I got answers like “The weekend makes us happy and Cats and Dogs The Movie changed our lives.”  As both run here and there, chattering monotonous chow-chows of unending whys and hows, picking their noses, laughing at us adults behind our backs and looking into space by the driveway or by the garage where it is a playground for them, I listen closely to the beat of their infantile breathes and somehow ask myself what actually traps them.  What makes them feel unfree?  One day, I overheard Angeline doing her rhetorical litany to the boys because both had bad grades in Filipino.  The rest of the subjects were very good.  After completing the homemade quiz that their mother facilitated for them, I looked at their weary eyes and asked them if they were OK.  Jed shrugged.  Joaquin said, “Opo”.  Both undoubtedly eluded the veracity of discomfiture and saved their real feelings by saying “Yes, I am OK” and by shrugging it off. 

And then I got it:  even children, with their happy feet and unsullied state of mind, stumble on barricades, getting in the way of freedom more than actually addressing it because in many ways, the vertebrae of freedom is responsibility.  And we all choose to be lazy.  Why?  Because we think freedom is giving it all up, even the act of breathing itself i.e.: suicide, sleeping, drugs, depression and misery, sexual conquests and generally the exploitation of any undertaking to make it all feel easy is artificial freedom we all thought of as the real McCoy.  Freedom, like any relationship, is work.  No wonder when you are younger, you acquire teenage angst.

No wonder why I am so lovesick with the idea of being unregimented, interminable and immortal.  I may seethe here forever and call myself a truth-seeker, when, in fact, I am just a lazy son of a bitch.

I am convinced that no one loses anyone, because no one owns anyone. That is the true experience of freedom: having the most important thing in the world without owning it.
~ Paolo Coelho / Eleven Minutes




May 15, 1992

From The Diary of The Virgin Not Pure

My greasy, shoulder-length hair was tied in a bun.  I had facial hair that almost covered my mouth. Retired General Fidel Ramos of Lakas-NUCD successfully won a six-year term as President of the Philippines, by a small margin, narrowly defeated populist candidate Miriam Defensor Santiago of People’s Reform Party.  ALSO, I was riding in Neil’s car, rolling a joint and I can smell my sour alcohol breath from the rolling paper that was now unbelievably wet.  We were both on our way to Tagaytay, at 3 in the morning, to catch the sunrise.  We left our friends somewhere in Remedios, after a big throw out party because we both wanted to drug up and have breakfast by the lake (and the view) more than we actually wanted to catch the sunrise.  The entire night was filled with absolute allusion and Absolut vodka, but somehow, it was never enough.  Also, it was not enough that I have a crush on Neil and his girlfriend was my “friend” and that the only reason why he liked me was because I can afford to buy him McDonald’s and I can supply him marijuana anytime he craved for one.  Had it been enough then perhaps I could have offered him a blow job when he wanted to split from the party but a good, behaved, friendly to the straight crowd fag that I was, I did not once dare to even hold his hand.  It did me well I guess much to my bleeding heart every time we were together.  I did not suffer any indifference from him and there we were, in his Sedan, hustling to Tagaytay to burn up and perhaps, watch to that stupid sunrise.



He parked the car near the cliff where huge stones blockaded the ravine down below.  As I walked towards the morning, towards the stony lip of the precipice, holding my unlighted joint, Neil was laughing behind me.  I gaped behind me and said, “Fuck off” admiring his longish hair that was going in his eyes that beclouded his beautiful dark face. 



“You wish” he said idiotically to which I countered, “I did not say Fuck You.  I said Fuck Off.”



“That’s right.  So I said ‘You wish’ “  he grabbed the joint in my hand and lighted it.



I wished alright.  I wished I could take that same smoke that was in his lungs right now and engulf it straight to my own.  We did not talk for a minute and then he passed the drug to me.  I puffed.  I puffed.  I puffed.  I let the light blasphemous wonder smoke madden my senses until all I could actually think about was to jump off and then fly back up before reaching the stones of my death, like Superman.  I dreamed a dream.  I dreamed a little light kiss from my crush that was looking even more luminous by the minute.  The radio in his car was playing Come As You Are by Nirvana  and the enormity of space, the amiability of the morning and the world where we both sat – heaved by Oh God Bless The Grass – rang melodiously in the innards of my head that squeezed my unrequited attraction to this very beautiful man.  I just did not want to kiss him at that moment; I also wanted to tell him that I can even love him if he wanted to.  But I did not dare.  I never did.  I was weedy like that to almost anyone I am fascinated with.  God, I sometimes wish I was bolder.  At least under the influence of alcohol and drugs!



Neil started rambling about him and my friend “the girl”.  He was complaining about how demanding she was and how everything had to be her way.  I did not hear the entire story but I kept watching his mouth as he narrated what happened last Tuesday and what happened the day after.  In my head, I was barely calculating how many gay men at 19 years old endured this kind of shit with their straight male friends?  That in the midst of all this, their gay friend would actually do anything for them, apart from the fact that they will always end up being the sponge and not get anything from it?  The guy would walk away hand in hand with the girlfriend in the end and the gay friend would be open-mouthed calling his other gay friends and bellyache about the love that would have been?  And so Neil went on and on as the grass clicked its sluggish wooden marker upon my perception and all I did was say, “Yeah”, in retort to his every “Right?”



“ . . . And Neil, the wind is weaving your thin hair and it is now going to your eyes.  Can I brush it up for you?  That curtained haircut is way too cute but it covers your eyes.  I want to see your eyes.  Did anyone tell you that you are so handsome whenever you’re lashes are outlying?  Of course it is the junkie charisma that you have on tonight.  How I wish you can look at me for a few more seconds, just to scour all the things that needed to be seen.  Just enough time for you to chronicle that I have the eyes of a snake once massacred.  Don’t you see your face there?  Your unsmiling, sombre face?  Oh, you know but you are scared that it will obscure everything like our friendship?  You wanted to tell me that it is alright to be besotted by you but you wouldn’t because I am too good to be at large without you.  That as a friend, I am, in fact, a keeper?  You want to put your hand in mine, perhaps, you also want to put your head on my shoulder just to make me feel that I am worth your love too but not quite because you couldn’t.  You wouldn’t taunt yourself as much as I wouldn’t taunt me.  So, you go on and on with your girl problems for me to know and realize that you trust me more than your girl:  an unspoken justification of your love for me.  A freedom worth comprehending even for a time.  Under the persuasion of marijuana and Kurt Cobain.  Yes, I want to brush your hair up from the wind.  I want to make sure you are OK with everything because here, in my head, your girlfriend is dead.”



“You are not really listening Joni boy!” my friend, the straight guy shouted.  He shouted at me in my reverie.  I recollected my thoughts and told him, “I am listening to you.  I . . . “



“Liar!  You were looking at me but not listening to me.  Nagpapa-cute ka lang sa akin eh! (You are just making yourself cute for me!)” Neil said boldly, wetted his lips and tried to poke me.  “May tama ka na, pare! (You’re high, my friend!)



I looked at him, squinting from the sun that is already chirping from the bird’s layer of the Taal Lake, and wondered why the word liar shook me and smashed my drunk and drugged body to the pragmatic truth.  Furthermore, defiance of emotional rage can be a good thing because it is safe and safety is a prescription for any prolonged existence.  So I chose to lie.  I chose to keep it all to myself.  At least, for now, I have my imagination that I can play with when reality begins its harmony with pain and discontentment.  Only time will tell I guess and for time to be the father of resolution and purpose, well, that is the kind of freedom that I want to believe in.  I am young anyhow.  Things will perpetually change.



 I smiled my spurious best at Neil, knowing that at least freedom lies in the head and for that matter, I am contented with the way my endowed psyche can set me off at any given time.  I said,



“You wish.”


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