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Monday, April 15, 2024

Takeaway from a getaway

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For four days it was just like how it was when we were silly teenagers

We were second year high school students practicing a dance number for PE, to the tune of Cherish by Madonna.

The lunchtime and after-school practices gave way to an easy companionship – sharing of baon, swapping of stories on teenage misadventures, and good-natured ribbing about not quite getting our aerobic steps right.

It was not the last instance: later on that year, for a class on Technology and Home Economics, we were made to sew our own short pants and model them on a makeshift runway as a culminating activity.

We found ourselves gravitating toward each other and deciding on another Madonna song: Vogue.

I particularly remember being uncomfortable because 1. the fabric my grandmother got me for my shorts was itchy and had a too-pink, too-blue floral print, and 2. cutting and sewing evenly were not my strong suit, and the shorts were tight on one thigh and loose on the other.

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But while the performances were forgettable, the friendship that came out of them was not.

Our group had seven core members, give or take a few who became close to us for a time but who eventually drifted away.

It was a time before the internet, when summers and Christmas vacations meant we had no way of staying in touch aside from snail mail – you know, kids, the kind of letters your elders wrote longhand on scented stationery, put a stamp on, and sent with the hope it did not get lost among all the other things in the mailbox.

We thought of a name for our group and decided on “Teen Petite,” not realizing that decades later, the “petite” part would be aspirational.

Over the next 30-something years, we embarked on our individual adventures – college, courtship, marriage, children, careers, and other drama – some seeing each other more regularly than others.

There was, moreover, sickness and loss: Tummy was one of us, always the calm, kind, and mature one, ready with a piece of advice that could talk some sense into you without in any way being intrusive. But she had a heart disease that had plagued her since childhood.

I remember my last visit, and as we said goodbye to her from a corner of Makati Med, I wondered whether I would see my friend, my daughter’s ninang, ever again.

I never did. Tummy was gone at age 32.

The rest of us plodded along.

The children grew up, the jobs became more demanding, the relationships more challenging.

Our parents grew older, more fragile, and we took care of them but lost some of them, too.

One tried to make a living out of the country.

Last year, to compensate for the time we should have caught up more regularly, we decided to have a weekend getaway when we could just be ourselves, not somebody’s mother or wife/ girlfriend, and certainly not a professional.

So for four days it was just like how it was when we were silly teenagers practicing to those Madonna songs.

We were up at dawn, met at the airport, and flew to Bangkok.

We shared a giant room for six with its own kitchen and living area, and gorged on pad thai and mango sticky rice.

We teased each other about shopping and packing miscalculations, and shared skincare routines, among others.

We walked great distances, took what must have been hundreds of pictures, and ate some more.

We rode a tuktuk where the driver was a madman zigzagging through the roads of Bangkok, squeezing in between vehicles at rush hour.

By the end of the ride, our hearts had fallen to the floor of the vehicle, our fingers gripping the bars from terror.

A consolation: the driver, who was trying to make small talk while displaying his driving prowess, got us to our river cruise on time.

There was a lot of giggling and boisterous laughter, but I thought about Tummy as no doubt the others did even if we did not talk about her. It would have been great to have her around.

We came back to Manila on the fourth day, ready to resume the lives we had put on pause.

We could no longer be as petite as we were in high school — save for one, perhaps — but we were “Teen Petite” all over again and I felt good and warm and blessed for the lifelong connection.

adellechua@gmail.com

(Adelle Chua is an assistant professor of journalism at the UP College of Mass Communication. She was opinion editor and columnist for this newspaper for 15 years until 2021)

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