Tag Archives: nostalgia

Would you like fries with that? (Or, why I miss my first grade teacher so bad right now.)

Eating a pack of fries at the moment. (My logic: dentist said doing salt gurgles every twenty minutes would help get rid of my toothache. French fries is salty. Ergo, french fries will help me get rid of toothache. Suck it, logic.) I started thinking if there’s any legit reason why I like these wonderful and unhealthy Mcdonald bits, aside from the obvious.

Well, I can think of one reason.

Which is still pretty pointless now that I roll it around in my head. Maybe it only really ever mattered to me.

(Now here’s where I go off tangent to reason it out, and hopefully it all coagulates into one big cause and effect at the end because I really don’t understand it myself.)

You see, back in first grade, I had a favorite teacher like all kids do. Sadly unlike most kids, I didn’t develop any genuine favorites after her. ‘Favorite’ would actually be an understatement. I really did like her. The like you give to best friends, parents, and siblings. The kind of unconditional like that you experience because you just do; liking the way she is, liking the way you are when she’s around, that kind of sappy stuff.

I can still spell her full name, a feat that I can’t even manage with my professors from last semester. I vividly recall her voice, her mannerisms, her face (before and after) as if I’m expected to attend my first grade classes the next day.

It was a small public elementary school. There were good teachers, bad teachers; spartan teachers, compassionate teachers. All kinds of people in one institution cramped in a room for a maximum of eight hours a day with at least thirty kids screaming and playing and angsting it out with each other.

You only ever truly know them when they’re angry, these teachers. And I remember her anger. Partly because I never wanted to disappoint her again, partly because I thought, “When I grow up, I want to have that kind of anger. Anger because you cared, anger because it’s needed. A calm but fierce anger that made the one you’re angry at feel sad and loved at the same time.” Of course not that eloquently thought, but such thoughts I had all the same. She gave french fries in private after I confessed my sins and cried my eyes out.

I was occasionally trained for quizbees, oratorical contests, spellingbees or some other academic stuff. I was pretty involved back in elementary now that I think about it (until I deteriorated into… well, me.)

She was my mentor most of the time. My parents were there, proud of course. Pride for me that made me happy and crushed me, suffocated me all the same. She was different. She was proud not because I won contests. She was proud because I liked to read and draw, two things that meant the world to me back then. She tucked me in the school clinic bed when I fell asleep over some tests during after-school review sessions.

She dropped by McDonalds and gave me fries while we chatted about this or that. I was five then, but she talked to me the same way she talked to any other adult with enough sense. I thrived in it. She didn’t coddle me, she appreciated me.

Eventually I grew up and advanced grades. Had different teachers and different lessons to take.

Every teachers’ day though I’d be there, waiting. She was the only one I remembered and willingly gave a gift to. Not that I’m ungrateful to my other lecturers, but I’m the type of person who’s not very keen on keeping track of special occasions, nor comfortable with giving out presents. Up until now I willfully forget even my best friend or my parents and other siblings’ birth dates. I remember to make a small gift though, every teacher’s day.

On regular days when I had the time, I’d drop by her classroom; always that classroom at the first building, first floor, beside the stairs. I’d sit in the back and sometimes take care of the kids when she had errands to make. After each class, she asks me to have lunch with her. A variety of meals she’d choose, but each and every time I’d pick fries on the side. I assumed that she thought it was amusing. Years later I’d come to realize (when there wasn’t much time left) that she laughed because she was happy, happy that even after years there are some things that didn’t change.

When I was in my first year of high school, she got sick. She had to do dialysis and went on sick leave. She couldn’t teach anymore; she couldn’t do the one thing she’s dreamed of doing all her life.

I visited her at home with another female face that was part of my childhood as much as hers was. I realized why I never met a guy in her life all those years I spent with her. She looked fragile, but more than that, afraid. I told her she was the best (the only– I didn’t say, she wouldn’t have approved) teacher I went to each teacher’s day. We talked more comfortably after that. They held hands, and I missed her teaching me again. She still looked beautiful and fierce, the teacher that showed me my worth wasn’t based on my achievements but on who I am. Beautiful, despite the darkening of her milky skin due to the constant blood transfusions. Beautiful, even if she couldn’t sit up nor walk anymore. When I went home, I bought myself some french fries and stared at it, not really eating any.

In my second year of high school, I thought it was cruel. It was that point in my life where I blamed and thanked God for everything and anything, as if everything really does happen for a reason and I should just take things as they come. God must have known, I thought. He knew. So why her? Why now? Cruel, cruel, cruel.

I was a day late, see. I just got home from the province, a day after teacher’s day. I had everything I wanted to give her; I wrote something quite like this, a chronicle of those days that only she and I would remember and laugh about. She would like it, she would laugh despite her pain, I think- and they tell me I need to attend her funeral the next day. It was more painful for her partner. Those days she looked as if in between entertaining the other mourners, and handling expenses, she never ate or slept and only cried.

People thought I was probably going to cry during the funeral too. I didn’t. It’s been my way of telling when something really, really matters. I know it the moment I try to cry and no drop comes out. It’s like I’ve shriveled up from the inside and something vile is trying to claw its way out of my chest and burn my lungs. Like I want to scream but I can’t. I usually pull a blank when I try to recall whatever was happening around me at that time. It’s always blank. When my sister got confined to the ICU for a month. When my grandfather died. When one of my best friends died. When I accidentally injured another kid out of sheer blind rage, the blood blossoming on his chest and I thought he was going to die. When they cremated my favorite teacher who was the only person in this world who never told me I was lazy, or that I was a waste, that if only I tried hard enough when I was already doing my best. She smiles that exasperated smile and says I worry too much about making mistakes, and how I shouldn’t because I make wonderful things when I don’t worry.

I hated myself for being selfish. She’s dead, she’s gone, she can’t ever talk or love anymore- yet all I could ever think about is what do I do now? How do I do this without her?

I didn’t want to look at those stupid fucking french fries that still dared to exist on this stupid fucking planet when she didn’t anymore. Anything remotely similar-scented made me vomit for a month.

I felt a little closer to okay eventually though. She would have wanted that.

.

I hate writing about death-

but hey, sometimes spewing words without having to think is the only way to cope, when something happens and you try to find that person who can make it better- only to realize you won’t ever be able to find that person again. That you’d have to make it better on your own somehow.

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It’s an elaborate reason for liking fries. A stupid reason, if you will. But when I wonder why I like fries so much, why it’s the food I usually eat alone when I feel angry or worthless or mad- she’s the only one that comes to mind.

Wow okay that got gloomy real fast. Have a nice day folks.

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Of High School and Curtain Calls: When reality far exceeded the drama on stage

It’s funny how high school makes you treasure the simplest things that probably don’t count much out in the proverbial “real world”.

Remember that time we went for weeks without sleeping just to finish up this booth for some project and it ended up not being used at all? Or that time this classmate sawed half his thumb trying to construct a haphazard wooden bed for Sleeping Beauty’s school parade and you suddenly decided he’s probably your ideal guy?

Out of all these nuggets of sentimentality, I vividly recall one school play during my first year. Our class was divided into two groups and each group was given free reign on what topic to choose. So we elected a leader and zeroed in on which plays to use.

Weeks went by without anything special happening. The other group was avidly rehearsing pieces and conducting a lot of methodical acting. (From what I heard that time, they even had this panel of people who forcefully made one single person ‘absorb’ his or her character’s emotions and express them on demand.) Their play was heavy drama. Ours? I can’t really recall our first choice now.

So they had grueling rehearsals and we… well, we waited for an announcement and after every class, it’s always a nonchalant, “We don’t have practice today.”

Hey, it’s not as if we were complaining. Truth be told, we cheered and felt relief that our assigned head was laid-back, foot loose and fancy free. It seemed as if we had all the time in world. A little jealousy and unease maybe that the other group showed intense dedication and were making evident progress. (But who cares, sleep right?)

And then there he goes. Our leader. He up and announces that he switched to the other group.

Good bye, good luck suckers.

Anger, betrayal. It was such a TV cliche turn of events that it was easy to fall into the role of hurt and bewildered subordinates. Then came the panic. The other group- progress. Intensity. Method acting, for fucksake. Fuckfuckfuck- everyone felt it. We were in deep shit.

And here’s the part where I sometimes hate myself: we needed a new leader. (Even a new play. The one we chose proved to be… inadequate.) Groan. I’m not the most responsible person out there. I’m not a leader, not really. I’m a huge control freak and I just love having everything make sense for me. That’s the problem. I’m not a leader and I’m so used to working alone, to having everything in perfect order in my head. So what do I do? Stupid little me assigns all the tasks to myself. They assign two of us as unofficial leaders and we’re already crushed enough that neither of us thought to refuse.

I use this magnificent indie play I heard by word of mouth. I stay up all night, ignoring my assignments to make a script with the scene, the sound, the entrances, the exists, the cast, the setting, the costumes, the stage all specified. I worry over the fact that I might have difficulty illustrating this wonderful play I’ve created in my head to the audience- even to my group members. I add in details. More details. I disseminate the script. I play director. Scream, scream. Cry here. No, laugh. Like this, like this- no! Like this. Don’t recite it, you’re not a fucking robot, say it like you would in any other conversation. Court her. Anger her. Appease her. Slap him. More screams. Go over there and study your script. Wait, what the fuck do you mean you have to go home, we haven’t even finished yet and we’re running out of time, and god, can everybody shut up for a second-!

We rehearse till midnight for the last remaining days.

We argue, bicker, fight. Cuss. Fuck you, fuck this. What the fuck are we going to do. Time time time. Shit.

Despite that, I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.

We laughed. We had breaks and ate together. We discussed the play itself. We had delirious and jittery fun. There was this instance where, to make the order of the story clear- in my desperation to make them feel, make them see, because why can’t they imagine the soft yellow glow of a lamp casting shadows on the hero’s face and his lover’s tears?- I told the whole story in a narrative form. My voice grew scratchy an hour later. I was afraid they’d get bored. But they didn’t, and even though it didn’t miraculously enhance the acting of some stiff cast members, they listened, and they got it- and that means more to me than anything.

It was stressful, and draining, and fun, and exhilarating- it just made me feel alive.

A sort of pre-presentation event happened in class where we show our progress just to ensure that we’re actually getting somewhere before the actual performance.

I know all my group members would agree with me on this: we performed like crap.

We were half-baked and totally unprepared. Cues, what cues? Script? Positions? What?

We messed up.

Needless to say, the other group performed spectacularly  which further buried us in shame. Our ex-leader, the git, was actually a good actor in his own right and it’s like a fucking stab to see him perform so well and amplify the other group’s performance while we writhe in incompetence.

I felt horrible for my group members.

I felt horrible myself.

Troubles just started to pile up from there. The props. The sequence. The time. The members actually having to attend practice, hello.

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Fear not, fear not. This is a prompt about triumph against the odds, is it not?

Now imagine this on the day of the performance:

There were three sections with two groups each, so six performances all in all, and whoopdeefuckingdoo, we get the last slot where the panel of judging-youuu teachers are probably sick of all the kids doing their plays and most of the invited students are eager to go home.

I paced and bit my nails. This is it. THIS IS FUCKING IT, GUYS.

God bless one of my group member’s mom, we borrow these glaring stage lights (the warm, archaic yellow I’ve always wanted).

We get curtains (not the splendid ones, but hey, it’s still something compared to the other group’s patchworks.).

The performances drift one by one. There’s a concurrent theme of the TV drama violence, the comical sitcoms- even dancing cats. (Idk man.) They were good. Like, really-prepared-for-this-thing good.

Did I mention that our play, unlike all the others, was a complex faux romance play that actually symbolizes patriotism and sacrifice for our motherland, with a lot of deception and plot twists and screaming and conflict and shit?

Our turn. Ohgodohgodohgod was the general chant.

And then for some insane, magical reason, all that practice paid off and everyone acts like fucking pros on stage with everything they’ve got.

The symbolic intro was a fucking blast that gave everyone chills. All cues followed, all comedic relief scenes go well with the audience, all shouting matches charged with tension… dear god. The intense yellow lights cast just the perfect shadow for a 90’s circa film.

And it’s really fucking great that we were pretty much crap at the pre-play performance because they so totally did not expect this, oh boy. Significance and talent all in one ball.

Every single time I recall how everyone performed out there, I get the shivers and an intense pride for everyone involved.

Then we bowed and smiled, the kind of tired and electric smile you get when you know you’ve done your best and you don’t even fucking care if anyone liked it or whatever they thought about it- you did your best and you loved every moment, that’s all that mattered right then.

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Bonus: when the grades came out, guess who got the highest.

Aw yeah, *vague wave in our general direction*.

I can almost cry. (Specially when they all dwelled on the fact that hey, yo, ex-leader could have had the same grade but… oh well.)

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(On a side note, like I said, high school has that way of making the most trivial things seem like your life revolved around it. This particular defacto leader of ours is still a great friend at present. Irregardless of the high school drama, he’s a nice dude.)

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