Of late, I had been musing myself with the past – the have-been’s and the should’ve-been’s. I had been digging up recollections of what life used to be twenty long years ago. I had been transporting myself back into that time when khaki brown shorts, white polo shirt and white knee-high socks covered in black shoes were my daily fashion. The scent of a sweaty child freshly baked in the hot afternoon sun was my standard aroma. And the life of a child in grade school was what I was living.
Looking at that almost faded photo, I could only laugh at myself. How did I survive those years looking so scrawny and feeble? And along stride my then classmates, I could only laugh some more. It was just like yesterday, as the memories of the fun I had in grade school comes showering back like a faucet on a hot tub. It steams.
I went into grade one in 1984, which gives the math geeks out there a chance to instantly compute my age. I only have sporadic memories of that grade level, but I’m sure the stress of the first day in school was nerve-racking. I never went to nursery or preparatory school, so grade one was literally my first day in school. I was so afraid of being alone in a room of strangers that I followed my mom who was buying books at the shop four blocks away. How she was surprised to see me come up to her when she was thinking I was in class! I guess that was the first time I ever cut class.
Then I met friends. And playmates. And more.
Grade school was Tom and Michael, two kids I considered best friends. I never did understand what it is that brings people to be friends, nor did I bother if they’d consider me the way I’d considered them. Doesn’t matter now. Ours was friendship of developing souls, caught at a time when grade school mattered. I could almost swear we were always together, but that’s just me. They might have remembered things differently. Tom introduced me to Fra Lippo Lippi. I can never forget that. We were laughing at him for always bringing up this new British pop act that none of us had ever heard of before. Then, about two months after, the pop duo hit big in Manila. Séance?
Grade school was fear of third grade, where the teacher has a notorious reputation of punishing students, even to the extensive imagination of pre-puberty kids that she would do all wonderfully hideous things to naughty students. I can still remember how her voice sounded as she screams “you get out-chide! now!”, and that’s not a typo.
The rest of the grade levels were the awkward stages. I remember this was where boy met girl, and (probably) the birds and the bees, although I fought myself really hard to use that cliché. It was a time of first crushes, of second ones, and false heartaches. It was a time of misunderstood understandings, misdirected and yet innocent affections, the prototype of love. It was a time of stupid foundation days where someone with a handcuff pairs you with the one you have a crush on, upon paid instructions by your so-called friends who’d let you be dumped into the snake pit. It was a time of volleyball games and basketball tournaments on intramural days where one can show off to impress the opposite sex. It was a time of educational field trips where each would jockey against the other for the seating arrangements inside the bus, hoping one would get seated next to his or her crush. You might think that I had done all these. Yes, go ahead and think that way.
Sixth grade was probably the most difficult of all. It was a time when one had to make a choice – of staying a child, or facing the reality of growing up. It was this decision making time that defined us. It was a signal that grade school is over. And the fun that came along with it must also bid us farewell. Old crushes would give way to new ones and new friends would replace old ones in high school. And the memories of those I knew in grade school slowly drifted towards the back of my mind, as I had occupied most of my brain with the new challenges that beset me. New challenges – mature decisions, tougher tests, life itself – became my priorities. I had to live life now, not only as a mere spectator, a child with cotton candy on one hand and a G.I Joe action figure on the other, but as an active participant.
Then came the pictures, the silent frozen reminders that I was once part of grade school. I see them now, and I relive all the moments that I had unknowingly saved in the corners of my memories. I see my old friends’ faces, some of them I have no name to put on. But most of them, their names are still intact. I see old crushes; some of them have families of their own now, with loving husbands and a horde of squiggly kids. Others have remained single, yet blissfully content. Some have gone to greener pastures, as that stupid cliché goes, in foreign lands, where I hope they’re not alone. Still others have stayed in the country, either by choice or by lack of enthusiasm. I have stayed because of the former.
I have not seen most of them for twenty years. My last recollection of some of them was on that last day of sixth grade, the graduation day. All of them were smiling, happy to have conquered six years of childhood humiliation and utter academic terror. We had given each other our contact details, and the promise to stay in touch after grade school. Apparently, none of us was keen on fulfilling that promise, so much so that twenty years have passed and yet none has attempted to contact each other, save for some.
I will see my old friends soon. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and that social phenomenon called Friendster, I had found some of my grade school friends. Soon, when the vectors of chance are again aligned in favor of us all, we shall have the opportunity to reminisce together the times we had spent in grade school. Because we have our own lives to lead, reminiscing is all that is left for us to do.
That is all we can do.