I walked the familiar sidewalk heading towards the Arts & Science Building and climbed the stairs towards the Office of the Faculty. Nothing has changed. The cement walls are darker though due to smog and aging which added more to its dreary look. I opened the door of the Office of the Faculty and sighed with relief as the cold AC caressed my face, at least there are improvements. I inquired to a petite forty-ish woman of the status of my clearance form so I can get my grades. I had to wait for her to finish rummaging around her messy desk and drawers. I realized then she lost my clearance. She told me to ask Sir Ian if he has my form because she gave it to him. I looked across the room and saw a small man wearing a red shirt who was talking to a student and then I knew I had to wait some more. Time for me to sit down and look up the ceiling as I listen to Silent Poets transport me to the sunshiny place of Boracay only to be brought back my a noisy ceiling fan that has seen better days.
There were a group of students waiting like they always do every year at this time of the year only this time it was of different clothes but if you look closely on at their eyes they are all the same. Faces of people waiting, tired expectant faces, hopeful faces, desperate faces. As if at that moment their souls are laid bare and they are to be given judgement by their deeds. But there is no God to judge them here. Only professors and faculty members who adjudicate without consideration of how much allowance they have left or their personal issues that tend to clog their reasons at times. These undergraduates are judged by what they write, about the survey results, of case studies, of their thesis. Their testimony is black and white, double space, font size 12. Or so I hope to believe.
I like to believe that I am no optimist. I walked in this office with dread like I've always had six years ago. It hasn't been that long ago, has it? Six years ago when I gave up on this silent form of prison. That was how I've always looked at college, a prison without walls but only long stretches of expectation from my parents whom I have defied. I felt trapped in courses I did not want but I am certain The General would have 10 sentences to negate mine. She couldn't understand why I left university when other people clamor to be given the opportunity. She let me go through psychological test after test to know if my IQ made me unfit to the University of the Philippines (UP) - the most prestigious university in the Philippines where people are labelled intellectuals, ideologists, reds, and gifted. Different adjectives that still resulted to greatness no matter what. Apparently, she said, I am borderline genius, no reason whatsoever to fail.
I was once one of the many proud who had their left hand formed to fist raised to the air
while singing UP Naming Mahal
. I used to walk the road to the University with my head held high while I smiled and greeted my professors who come in late in class. I used to be hopeful that I would be illustrious, influential, and impressive. But after so many years all I am known the records of UP is a number... I am merely 96-53408. I had so much promise, so much talent, so much potential. I heard this said and I still hear it being said once in awhile. What happened, you asked? Simple. One phone call on 1998 made me indifferent. I realized then that family didn't care if you are intelligent or you have high grades or you have friends who accept you for who you are or if you want to follow the desires of your heart. They base your success if you did as what you are expected and put whatever you want in a backseat. When I realized this I knew that I would not be able to contain myself and while my siblings will always be afraid of the Power Couple I refused to be dictated on what defines my happiness. So I removed my tiara packed my bags looked at the General and made a promise. As she looked at me with anger and betrayal in her eyes I turned around and left. I ran away, I ran fast and far, I ran without fear.
For four years after I ran I tried to still finish my degree out of pride. I will never allow them to have the audacity to even say, “We told you so” they expected me to come back begging for forgiveness. But professors cannot understand the difficulty of going to classes while balancing an 8-hour job. You can only serve one master, they said. And so I served my job. Because of this I failed, so it seemed. I failed their standard of success. I am, of all my siblings, at the bottom of the pit hole without a ladder to bring me up with only my nails and gut to push me upward. The woman who had the potential but was stupid enough to run away. I had a different notion of success, yet while I feel liberated I can still feel the shackles of disappointing my parents weighing down on me.
A silent voice echo over and over in an empty room in my mind, “If only...” but these words though it is said over and over is left unfinished. Often times I challenge it and think, “If only I finished my studies” but my experiences mock this thought. “If only I listened to them and tried harder” but my growth disqualify this wishful thinking. What do I really regret about, I wonder. Nothing. What I feel is yearning. I yearn to keep the promise I gave the General ten years ago. But it isn't a form of regret that has crippled me. It is a silent longing that doesn't wane or wax at times goes by. Yes, despite by foolhardiness it is something I aspire not for the Power Couple to enjoy but for my own personal satisfaction. If only...
I have the patience to wait. To wait for professors to come to class on time, wait for faculty to sign clearance forms, wait long lines as I enroll on prerequisites and required courses, wait for faculty to criticize my thesis, wait for classmates stop gushing about who got the high scores, wait for grades to come out at the end of 5 months. Because in the real world these things I should wait about isn't as important as when I make things to happen.
As I look up from my computer a 20 year old girl with windblown hair walked out the internal faculty office and half ran to her friends saying her thesis was accepted and she just have to wait for finals. Like a voyeur eager to share other's pleasure to build my own, my curiosity made me stop what I was doing and watch their exchange of pleasantries and congratulations punctuated by questions of how it went and what were the questions asked. The windblown hair girl parried their questions with futility, she was a bottle of Dom Perignon uncorked all bubbly and tinkly and pink.
They caught me staring at them and they smiled shyly but lowered their voices the same time. I looked back down at my computer and tried to remember what was my fingers spouting. Ah yes, waiting. I asked myself if I am willing to wait again like a sixteen year old waiting to grow up. I can't, I shouldn't, I refuse to. I am not waiting again. But the yearning will never end.
Sir Ian came by my chair and I asked if he has my clearance. He said he gave it to the the secretary a couple of days ago. So she really may have lost it. Alright. I am not waiting. I am going to run like what I have been doing for a decade now. But this time I won't be running away. I will be running towards what I yearn. And there will be no more third party expectations to try to reach. Just mine.