The last days are always in sepia. Manila’s dust-infected air filters the sunlight into a reddish tint and masks everything in a melancholic hue. These are the days when being in the present is close to impossible. And while I try to busy myself with matters like family and work, I can’t help but be sad. A week from now, my best friend Anna will be leaving the country. She will soon find herself in a world five hours ahead of where she used to be, where she has always been. She’ll be leaving home, a grand and gracious place where a good twenty-six years of her life had been spent, eight of which was in my company. I cannot claim that the friendship I share with her is better than that of others. But she is such a huge part of my life that her decision to move to a new country is indeed like someone taking a big chunk out of my being.
See I don’t really have a lot of friends. Best friends even fewer; I can only count two. I’m not a very sociable person. As an introvert it takes me a while to warm up to someone new. I’m not very good at small talk and often fail miserably when it comes to introductions. Timid and self-conscious: those are two words which would best describe me. Around people I’ve known for a long time, I’m different. The shyness I exhibit surrounded by strangers is in stark contrast to the flamboyance I posses in the midst of the closest friends. But on my own—especially in public places like in restaurants, parks, or malls—I rarely engage in conversation, especially if it means asking someone for directions or information.
Since graduating I’ve tried to be more outgoing by loosening up and meeting new people. I’ve succeeded to a certain degree but not as much for me to claim I’ve completely changed. If anything, I’ve only increased my acquaintances. On most days, I am still the same diffident, second-guessing young man who cannot be prodded to speak in front of an audience without fainting from anxiety, or to mingle with relatives in family reunions because he’s too worried about what people thinks of him. Self-esteem issues plague me. At their worst, they cripple.
This explains why I’ve always kept my circle of friends at a minimum. Yes, I have classmates and some friends from college. And yes, I have my family. But for an introvert, opening up to a mother or father isn’t exactly appealing. And classmates or the occasional friends as I call it aren’t always the easiest people to converse with, let alone meet regularly. My best friends are the rare breed of people who are always present in my life: from the most ordinary events to some of the worst days. They are people I have come to depend on, their physical presence a reassurance whenever I find it difficult to stay on an even keel.
My other best friend, Joseph, left for the states three years ago. Even though we hardly talk these days, I still consider him as such. I wouldn’t say our friendship was strained by the distance but it has certainly changed. Our conversations have become infrequent, and sometimes I even get agitated when talking with him. Still, he knows me like the back of his hand. Throughout high school and during some of the most impressionable years of my life, he was a solid rock I turned to for strength and advice, for laughter and for comfort. I was the same to him.
And so now Anna’s leaving too…
When Joseph told me he was going abroad, our friendship had already turned to something less than that of what best friends should share. In college, we took separate courses and found ourselves with different set of friends. And while I never envied the fact that he was closer to them, it did cross my mind that perhaps I was the only one who thought he was my best friend. So when he sought my help for his visa application I welcomed it because it made me feel useful, and it was my way of showing gratitude for the friendship he offered, my way of thinking I was still his “best friend”.
I knew Anna was planning to leave too but not so soon. Like Joseph, she had expressed her desire to go abroad, to study and work there, and perhaps as I had deduced, earn well and settle, and in the future petition her parents to migrate. Yet it never occurred to me the time will be now. I always felt like she’d be around longer and even entertained the thought of moving out of the hell called Manila together.
When Joseph and I started to “drift” apart, Anna was the one I turned to. She was the closest friend I could ever have in college: my seatmate, classmate, thesis-mate, roommate in overnights. We were even officemates after graduating, making her my partner in commutes between home and work, and my confidant in the office. Like me, she’s hysterically funny and adventurous. We share a lot of the same: crushes, mannerisms, dislikes and other quirks. We have the same boisterous laughter that would shake an entire room. We fought a lot too. We had our own share of jealousies and disappointments, mistakes and misunderstandings, but always found a way to restore our friendship simply because it was too good, too great to be lost over petty maters.
For the last eight years, Anna’s presence has been a constant. Knowing she’s just a jeepney ride away for some spur-of-the-moment dinner is so comforting. We know each other so well we could hear the other’s voice even in text messages. She is as self-deprecating as me, as slapstick as I am, and as humorously desperate for a husband. In many ways, she’s my comfort zone. Even when with our common friends, I find it easier to socialize when she is around. I’ve sort of grown dependent on Anna because she is crazy, and she offers me crazy fun. And introverts like me appear to be drawn to people possessed by a reckless insanity. So to her I open up most of all, more than any living person in this world right now: from my greatest griefs and sins, to my proudest moments; from my fears to my plans.
Next week, the comfort brought by the idea she’s only a jeepney ride a way will no longer be true. She’ll be thousands of miles away instead. Hanging out with our common friends will no longer be the same, because Anna’s always been the grease which made things smooth for me. Our text messages would stop, it would cost me too much! There is Facebook, and there is of course Skype. But the time difference will certainly make it a challenge. I would need to get used to a lot of things, including the fact I can’t just message her to meet me at the nearest Starbucks because I felt like hanging out. I would need to get used to shopping on my own, or keeping things to myself.
Of course, she’ll need to get used to a lot more than what I have to go through. But in her pursuit of a new lease in life, I know she will do well. After all, she is always in my thoughts and in my prayers. And I know she’s doing it for herself as much as for her family. So as she begins a new life in a foreign land, I can only hope to be the memory of things familiar that will sustain her when things get rough. Two years isn’t as long as some would think. But changes will be inevitable. I admire her. I admire her bravery. And I am so proud to say she has taken a great leap of faith. I’ve never been so glad in my life as to see someone take control of her destiny. Maybe one day, I will too.
I don’t know if I’ll still see her a few days before she leaves. I didn’t even get to hug her after her “surprise” despedida party. In a hurry to get home, I was only able to blow a flying kiss inside the cab. Funny, all these years I never told her face-to-face she was my best friend, my greatest friend. Maybe because I still fear it will be like Joseph all over again. But that’s not giving the credit due to her. Like Joseph though, I also wrote her essay for her visa application. And just like Joseph, I started missing Anna the moment I started writing. It never crossed my mind to wish she didn’t pass the screening process. I was more interested in helping her out the way I was able to help Joseph.
I’ll miss her. I can say that now I will truly be on my own, with no Anna to turn to quite easily. Her last days in Manila will be spent having dinner with her other friends, and of course with her family. Even if she’s staying with a relative in Auckland, she’ll be on her own too. So I wish her all of the best that life could give because she did the same for me, and I don’t know anyone else more deserving. And maybe one day I’ll visit her (if I can afford it) anyway. But for now, I can only wax nostalgic remembering how those eight years, though imperfect, were made beautiful because of a friendship that no words could fully and vividly describe in depth.