04 November 2011

The Save Point

Many video games have what's called a save point. It can be an object, like a hoop to jump through or a glowing star or crystal to touch; a place, like the plaza of each village you visit or a sparkly bit of grass along your way; or even a person, like a healer, guide, or good fairy waiting at just the right point in the game.

Whatever form the save point takes, it's a typically a point where you save not only your progress but also your character's current state. If it's the last save point before the next big battle, it's a good place to assess your character's skills and equipment and prepare as best you can for what's coming next. And if your character is injured or killed, you simply reload the game at the save point to try again.

So it wasn't such a stretch for a high school crush to once write that life has its save points also. For him, the save points were moments when life was good, he was in a good mental and physical state, he was aware of these things, and he felt ready for anything. If he went through trouble in the future, he had only to recall his last save point to remind himself that things were once better and could be again.

I've never called it a save point, but that's what my childhood home has always been for me. Because it's a place, though, my save point is a little less like my schoolmate's and a little more like a video game's. I go home, see how my family has grown older while my bedroom still looks like a 15-year-old's, see how some trees have been chopped down while others have grown taller, think of what I've left in Manila and what I'll return to, ask myself how I plan to handle it, and steel myself accordingly.

This time, though, I realized that my capacity for acceptance had increased before I'd even arrived. While I was eager to be home again, I knew in the back of my mind that it would only be for a short time and that because my family was older—my parents' and lola's age showing more than ever, my youngest brother a high schooler in a big man's body—things would not be as I remembered. I just had to be glad for the time I did have and go with the flow.

So, I spent my first day shopping with my mom, partly to wait for my dad's flight to come in after mine and partly to reacquaint myself with the idea that getting new clothes isn't always a waste of money.

On the second day, we went to church, then to sing hymns by my lolo's grave, then to our favorite roadside grilled chicken place, then home for an afternoon indoors because of the rain.

On Monday, we went to a secret beach—no fences, no signs; you just drive right off the road and pay some lady P10 per head—to snorkel against the current over a patch reef.

On Tuesday, I finally got to take a walk. I took Buster, because he'd been cooped up recovering from a sprain, and my brother Mon, to hold Buster's leash. When it started to rain, though, they both went home (but not before I had to chase the dog chasing the neighbor's pet rabbit—fun for both me and the dog, though his limp returned afterward). I stayed outside, took a dizzying turn on the tire swing, then walked.

This was the walk I knew I had to take before I left again. I went down my street, up the main street, across the back grass to the quadrangle of my school, down to the pavilion and then back up to the high school, then down again the back way, on the route I'd take with my friends in our uniforms. And while I walked, all the sights I knew, every house and tree and shrub I'd passed hundreds of times on hundreds of walks, runs, and rides seemed to wink and wave at me. My homecoming was complete, even as I was to leave the next day.

I felt happy. I think I was happy that though my life, short as it's been, was behind me, I had lived it. I looked forward to getting as old as my lola, and not all my memories were nor had to be sad. My home and my family would always be there, even after my parents retired and moved away.

And near the end of my walk, under a tree between the houses of my oldest friends, I found blooming some yellow wood flowers I thought had died out, and their seed blossoms littered the ground.


When I got on the plane again the next day, I cried a little, not for the home I was leaving behind—I wasn't leaving it behind—but for a person I'd left before leaving Manila. I hadn't thought about Martin much over the weekend, except to note that he wouldn't have been able to enjoy something my family and I were doing at that moment, but he came to mind then as the crew readied for takeoff.

I cried because I was witnessing the dying gasp of what we were together, because I knew in that moment that I didn't want him back at all, not if it meant more of the hurt and more of the past. A lot would have to change first.

Time now for the present and the future, for takeoff and flight.

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