A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of Sept. 3-9, 2014
TRUTH OR FICTION: WHICH IS WHICH?
In this issue, let’s have some fun! How about these couple of my creative outputs for a mind game? Which one is the true story and which one is fictional? Will you be able to tell which is which?
I reconnected with my first love on my last night in Manila.
Last December 2012, I attended our silver year reunion at the Manila Science High School. During the plane ride from San Francisco to Manila, I kept myself psyched by playing British 1980s new wave on my Pandora: Depeche Mode Radio, Aztec Camera Radio, New Order Radio, you get the drift. Those hits were the theme songs of my generation. I was determined to enjoy my first vacation after migrating to the U.S. in late 2004. I was determined to dance to “I Melt with You” or “Dancing with Myself” or “Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)” when the dance floor opens up during our reunion after all the routine welcome speeches and awards.
Many say that I was one of the most popular figures on campus. Thanks to Facebook, batch mates I didn’t even know have been expressing how they admired me. In the school year 1986-87, I was the editor-in-chief of The Nucleus, our school’s English-language newspaper, which was declared the over-all champion among the public high school papers in the country in the National Secondary Schools Press Conference held in Olongapo City, Zambales.
According to my “admirers,” my crowning accomplishment as the president of the Senior Assembly was to hold an afternoon dance party outside of the school premises. This was precisely against the express wishes of the school’s administration. The Christmas dance party “Rebellion Defined” was a huge success among Batch 1987!
Coming back home now to Manila for the reunion, I wonder if I’d see him: the one who promised me a lot but broke my heart in high school. I heard from other batch mates that he is now a consultant surgeon at the Philippine General Hospital. ‘Wow, he’s truly a big shot now,” was what I thought. I wonder: “Is he already married? With children?”
Well, I would find out.
The reunion night in our high school campus was my last night in Manila. I spent Days 1 through 12 reconnecting with my classmates and other friends from the various phases of my life. I was all partied out and determined to simply drink my margarita in one corner and watch all the frenetic, joyful dancing my batch mates are doing to 80s music.
Oh, those songs do bring back memories!
I felt a somewhat familiar tap on my shoulder when the DJ put on Blue Zoo’s slow tune, “Love Moves in Strange Ways.” I remember that during a group date way back in high school and I was dancing by myself to a Madonna song, he also tapped my shoulder that way and quietly asked for a dance. Déjà vu. Oh God, I thought, it’s happening all over again.
No words, just eyes, just touch.
After the song ended, we walked back to where I was sitting. “How are you, Dr. Lazaro?” I asked. “Please, Bles, I’m still good ol’ Alex.” “OK, Alex, it’s been a while, 25 years. What’s up with you?” “My life is boring. Let’s talk about your life in the States,” he countered. “Well, my life is boring, too,” I replied.
We sat there nursing our drinks. The tinkle of ice, the moisture on the glass. He cleared his throat. “Bles, you know it has always been you, right?” “Nuh-uh,” I replied while shaking my head. “You went to med school, plus 5 more years of residency and all that. Your family can afford it. I took the shortest way out of college because I have to send my siblings to school.” “Is there someone in the picture now?” he asked. “Alex, I simply have no time to spare for those things.” With suddenly vehement eyes, he asked, “Would you spare the time for me now?” I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say.
Then he said, “Please!”
That’s it. I refuse to mar the moment with doubts. Be in the moment, be in the moment, I was exhorting myself. When he reached out for my hand, I had no qualms.
I gently ensconced my hand in his.
I won $20,000 in an international poetry contest held in Las Vegas, Nevada.
I remember how I created that poem months earlier. Maybe the poem was already fully formed within my mind and I just needed to write it out on paper, and my 10-minute break was all it took. Cross out something here, replace this word with that… all of that came later, but the initial genesis took only 1/6 to ¼ of an hour. I created a villanelle.
Now my youngest sister and her boyfriend drove me from Hayward, CA where we all live, to the contest venue, Riviera Hotel. The poetry convention was four days long and they could not stay, so it was my father who was on pickup detail. Since it was July and the weather was stratospherically hot, my Dad simply wore a simple polo shirt and above-knee length shorts for the final program. All he knew was that he was supposed to bring me back home after the convention-slash-competition.
My Dad and I sat beside each other in the audience of 3,000 participants during the culminating program of the day: the final hour when they announce the winners of the international poetry contest. I remember praying hard, “God, let me at least be in the top ten.”
And so I was.
The 10 of us, in no particular order, were asked one at a time to read our poem to the audience. Before I read my villanelle, I told the crowd, “I come from Hayward, CA but am originally from the Philippines.” The Filipino-Americans in the crowd roared: “That’s our girl, a Filipina!” I got back to my seat next to my Dad. Whew! That was Round 1.
Dr. Len Roberts, the International Library of Poetry President, jolted us with: “And here are the Top 3!” Then he pointed out the criteria for judging the entries. I couldn’t really comprehend what’s happening but my father nudged me. “Your name is being called again!” So I read my poem again, but not before I declared, “Dad, I thank you today for your presence and support!”
Finally, I heard my name again, “Blesilda Carmona.” It was the last name called. I jumped up as I shouted in disbelief, “I won first place!”
I took by storm roughly 2,999 other participants from all over the world with my “Villanelle of a Retired Overseas Filipino Worker.” “Dad, join me onstage! Please. Please.” Cameras clicked and flashbulbs went off. Dad replied quite self-consciously, “But I’m wearing shorts! I’m just supposed to take you back home.” “That’s for later, Dad. Please be here with me on stage. Let’s enjoy this moment of triumph!”
And so we did.
In the 8-hour trip from Las Vegas back to Hayward, my father and I had one of the profoundest conversations we ever had, talking about the poetry of James Taylor, Jim Croce, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Beatles. My father has always been artistic: he can sing and play the guitar beautifully. He also composes poems which he turns into songs. I am truly my father’s daughter,” I affirmed to myself. I don’t pretend to fully understand my Dad, but during that long drive, I got a precious glimpse into his soul.
This, I believe, is more valuable than my $20,000 first place win.
Would you like to share your thoughts on Stories A and B? Which do you think is truth and which is fiction? Please weigh in by emailing me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I may publish portions of the more interesting comments I will get. Abyssinia next week!