Part I – Elementary school days
I woke up the other day with Mr. Big‘s songs in my head. It must be because of the band’s recent concert in Manila, which I was not able to attend. Bummer! Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the night, staying up late as I looked up Mr. Big’s videos on YouTube.
I’m not exactly sad about being that way, but I have to admit that were days when I sometimes wished that I were popular in class. After all, I was pretty popular and had many so friends in our neighborhood then. Besides, now that decades had passed, my elementary batchmates couldn’t seem to get enough of having reunions or mini gatherings lately, and I couldn’t seem to enjoy much being with them because I was never really close to most of them in the first place.
Going to school when I was in elementary was more of a routine to me, a must. There were very few days when I had been very excited to go to school. In fact, my mother used to drag me out of bed, and if I didn’t have a school service, you could bet that I would always be late in class. I was able to maintain good grades though, usually not lower than 85 in every subject, so I was always in the first section.
It’s not that I’m not interested in learning; in fact, I started reading about the life of the Philippine National Hero Dr. Rizal when I was only four, was writing poems and fictional stories by the age of seven, and keeping a diary by nine. Reading and writing were my passion then. I had a very active imagination and was very energetic. It would be unusual to see my hands idle. Even when I was watching TV, you could be sure that I’d be doing something else, like coloring a book, reading the comics section of a broadsheet paper, assembling a paper doll house, and so on. I guess I was more like bored in school then.
Although I would celebrate with my classmates when a teacher was absent, deep inside–more often than not, that is–I would be disappointed. Why? Because I wasn’t very sociable in class, so having no teacher meant that I’d be forced to make small talks with my seatmates. And some of the seatmates I had then were not exactly friendly or simply didn’t have anything in common with me. Unless I could find someone who would play word games with me while our teacher is away, you’d be sure to find me slumped on my seat or drawing circles on a paper. Sometimes, even fighting with boys.
I guess I was more of the silent, soft-spoken, prim and proper type, and both my teachers and classmates had always perceived me to be shy. In fact, during card giving day, my advisers would always tell my mother that I could have gotten a higher mark if I would actively participate in class discussions. They would even enthused that they believed that I could excel because when asked, I could always give an accurate answer and even perfect some of my tests. But for some reason, I just won’t speak up unless I was asked by the teacher herself. Well, I think they’re both right and mistaken.
First, speaking with a loud voice had always been a problem for me. I just don’t have a huge voice box, period. Second, I didn’t usually speak up in class because I hated the thought of pursuing a discussion or an argument. Asking questions for the sake of earning a mark in recitation was never my style. I thought that was a very cheap shot at trying to get a good grade, and I secretly disliked those teachers who fell for those pranks. I mean, come on, the teacher’s lecture is already crystal clear or the topic is rather self-explanatory, so why would someone still raise a hand to ask a totally unnecessary question or repeat what the teacher had said? Waste of time!
Besides, if those kids were really smart, how come they couldn’t ace a written test? To this day, I believe that people who like to ask questions without trying to figure out the answers first are dumb and lazy. And teachers or discussion moderators who cannot tell a show off from a real genius are insipid. And, I also don’t like teachers who keep asking questions to buy off time because they came to class unprepared. Yup, I could easily spot one!
Although I was able to achieve some success in making friends and remained to be friends to this day with some kids in school, I never belonged to a group of more than four persons, and never had the same best friend or peer group all throughout my elementary days in school. Somehow, the girls I became very close with in class would later be transferred to another section, if not school, or would have a new BFF if I were ever absent for more than a couple of days because of sickness. Their seemingly lack of loyalty would bother me for a few days, but then again, I never really went out of my way to make friends, become part of a group, or keep my friends, so in the end, I would just try to shrug it off and move on.
In the end, I have learned to choose my friends and tried to steer clear from show offs, loud individuals, and those who referred to my mother as my grandmother. (My mother had me when she was 38 while most of my classmates’ moms had them at a much younger age.) I guess you can say that I had started to create my own list of stereotypes at a young age, but I still think that I was right about them all along.
Somehow, I was able to keep two personas when I was young. At home, I was outspoken and had many friends in the neighborhood. I was always the team leader in group games, and I would always find my team winning in almost any game. I was very good at street football, Chinese garter, syato, patintero and tumbang preso, as well as jack stone and pick-up-sticks. I was very competitive and enjoyed winning very much. But in class, I bet no one ever saw me as an active girl, much less a potential athlete or a leader. I was just always a regular team member without much to say, a meek follower.
However, even if I tried to keep my distance from most kids at school, I still experienced bullying, especially from girls. The first time I experienced it was with a classmate who was way bigger, taller, and a year older than me. Our mothers were very close, and I was probably the first person she got acquainted with in class, but for some reason, as time passed by, she started to snub and make fun of me.
I was only eight then, but I was already good at ignoring and avoiding unpleasant personalities. So I did my best to avoid and ignore her, even tried to forgive her by thinking she deserved my pity. For all I care, she might just be envious of me. Although she lived in a nice house that was much bigger and prettier than ours, it wasn’t a very comfortable place because it wasn’t really their home. Her mother was a helper at that house and they’re not related at all to the people who owned the house. Moreover, I had learned that her father was supposedly working abroad, but he never came home to them since he left.
Eventually, this girl and her mother moved back to their hometown in Pampanga and my mother and I never heard from them again. (Her mother looked much older than my mother, by the way.) I guess that was another odd thing about me, especially for a kid at that age: I was good at rationalizing, especially if that’s the only way for me to forgive someone easily and move on. I know that’s not a good thing to do, but it somehow helped me keep my sanity and self-confidence intact during those times. And yes, ignoring the person(s) had always proved to be a useful weapon to me against bullies.
I think growing up in a household full of adults made me very different from kids my age. Being the youngest and the only child in the house, I was exposed to games, music, and TV programs that children my age could not appreciate until they became a lot older, or should I say, until I have outgrown those things. My two brothers are 9 and 11 years older than me, respectively, while my sister is 12 years older than me. Since they were always in control of the TV and radio, I was exposed to the shows and music of their age and time. They also taught me how to play the games that they enjoyed. For example, my eldest brother taught me how to play chess when I was four, while the other taught me how to play MatchBox, Lego, and the Super Trams even before I could write a complete sentence.
At the age of nine, I was already beating the male adults in our neighborhood, in the Game of the Generals (Salpakan). Of course, I had the advantage because the board game was not yet available locally, but we already had it and I had been practicing with my big brothers. Some of the toys that I had which were not locally available until a few years later include a walking doll from Japan, Barbie Skipper with her own bed and bath tub, Spelling B by Texas Instruments, Candy Candy stationery maker and sewing machine, a Pac-Man game console, and a variety of stuffed toys, of which, my favorite was a unicorn or the white horse with golden wings. I suppose those toys were one of the reasons I was very popular then in our neighborhood–they’re very interesting and it seemed that I was the only one who had them.
Moreover, at night when my classmates and playmates would be sleeping early, I would be staying up late with my father and big brothers watching wrestling, especially when Hulk Hogan and Brutus the Barber Beefcake (my favorites) would play. Once, I tried to engage one of the supposedly cool boys in class in a conversation about wrestling and Games of the General. But he only looked at me as if I came from another planet. He admitted though that he didn’t know anything of what I was saying. I tried asking the less popular ones, even girls, but I also got the same answer. I realized then how much different I was from them.
Charlie’s Angels, McGyver, Wonder Woman, and Mission Impossible, were also some of the programs that I would hear from my siblings and sometimes even watch with them on TV. I also remember having my eldest brother turn off the TV or switch the channel whenever he would catch me watching Tagalog programs, with the exception of Batibot. We also had a Sony Super Beta that came with many features, allowing us to watch our collection of Superman, Rambo, Rocky, and Madonna concert series, to name a few, in different modes. Such movies or shows were not the usual interests of kids my age, not to mention that such console was not yet available in the local market then. (We were rather lucky to have one of our cousins to be always traveling in Japan and the US as a seaman, and my father would give him some money to buy us some of the latests gadgets, movies on beta tapes, and yes, toys, for me.)
Eventually, I learned to reach out to some of the girls in my class. I tried, just to achieve some balance in my life. Music became my tool. We would exchange song lyrics or Song Hits and sing together in a corner during recess. With them, I would sing the songs of Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, Whitney Houston, Menudo, and some local artists. However, at home, I would be drenched with the music of various foreign artists and rock bands such as The Culture Club, Tears for Fears, Gloria Stefan and the Miami Sound Machine, The Police, Sting, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, U2, Boy George, Toto, A-Ha, Abba, Air Supply, The Beatles, Billy Joel, The Cars, Cindy Lauper, Duran Duran, Kenny Loggins, Phil Collins, Roxette, Spandau Ballet, Survivor, Wham, and yes, Mr. Big. (I just realized how numerous they were and how much I could still remember them!) My brothers and their friends would usually spend the afternoon in our garage listening to their songs, sometimes even early in the morning at weekends.
I believe I was also the kid who watched MTV the most–if not the only kid who actually watched it–during those years. I also remember how much I envied my older brother Manny for watching Phil Collins’ concert and having a souvenir ticket which was made of plastic (ATM-card type) with half of Phil Collins’ face printed on it. I knew then that I have learned to love the music of the generations before me more than the music of my own generation–another reason for me to think that I was an odd girl, indeed.
I also frequented places that most, if not none of my classmates had visited at all, like bars and discos. I remember having my eldest brother and one of our male cousins bring me with them to Shakey’s Pizza Restaurant late at night. At that time, they had live bands in their restaurants. I would devour the pizza along with a tall glass of chocolate milk shake–my all-time favorites–while my brother and cousin would have some beer with their pizza. At eleven, I had seen Martin Nievera, Pops Fernandez, Zsa Zsa Padilla, and Dulce–some of the famous Filipino international artists–perform live at a posh club along Pasay Road, Makati, where our cousin worked as a DJ. I had my first taste of Four Seasons and Margarita before I graduated from elementary school. (No, I was never an alcoholic and couldn’t even drink more than a glass of very cold, super dry beer in college without getting tipsy.)
However, the oddest thing about me, I think, was my penchant for dragonflies and pebbles. I would sneak out in the middle of the day, right when the day would be at its hottest temperature and my mother or brother would be taking a nap, to go to a nearby barren farmland with my friends to catch some dragonflies and pick up stones of different shapes, colors, sizes, and texture. I would play with dragonflies, set up a house for them in the corner of our bedroom, using match boxes and a shoe box. I also had a rock garden right in the middle of my mother’s small garden. My midday adventures ended, however, when my brother discovered that I had been sneaking out; he put our humongous dog by the gate, which would automatically bark each time I would attempt to come out of the house and alarm my guardian for the day.
I suppose being odd never really bothered me at all when I was growing up. I did not come from an affluent family, but I always had everything that I needed and even more. Although I wasn’t always happy in school, I still made a few friends and was very contented with the activities that I did both by myself and with others. I just knew right from the start that I was different, but I had always been confident with my abilities. I was always aware of my own family’s love and support for me, even if they didn’t always seem to spend much time with me. My big brothers were my role models and my protectors as well, and I had always been satisfied with that. I guess I simply have always known who I am, what I want, and what I am capable of doing. And I am proud that I never lived to please anybody or pursued a group of popular but stupid girls and be part of them.
Odd one out? Who cares? There’s nothing wrong with being different. You just have to learn to love and respect yourself, and others’ opinions will never have to bother you.