Elements of a V memoir

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Jan 2 2011

By Don Robespierre C. Reyes, MD

Don Robespierre C. Reyes, MDI. Grounded

I wanted to be a journalist when I was younger, but to cut the story short, I am now a cardiologist. Raised in the province and schooled in a private catholic institution run by nuns, I pictured the big city as a jungle of characters and personalities. Initially, I was focused on maintaining myself on the so-called upper class, the cream of the crop, or the homogenous type of professionals who bury themselves in books and researches and get themselves evaluated by written and practical examinations to become successful. Introspecting into what lies ahead for me, I felt something lacking. And then I joined the V.

The first characters I met were senior staffers, who were singing broadway songs from Miss Saigon, shortly after which I joined the singing. Then I met the Chief, a chubby demure-looking girl in white uniform, whose twang when she spoke made my nose bleed. Then, there were V staffers of the third sex, whose literary and artistic genius made me look past through their sexual preferences and just praise them for their God-given talents.

And there were more. There was one who would cry in the rain for no apparent reason at all. Another would engage you in provocative issues on religion, politics and economics. The list is long, I realized. I was just one of them in a jungle of characters. I was like anybody else.

For four years, I stayed with the V. Fortunately, I was exposed to the real world with real people. I had my regular taste of carinderia food that would later on wreak medical havoc in UST.

I had my first sip of original lambanog in the V mezzanine. I had my brushes on the arts and literature. We would have our own spontaneous movie reviews in Megamall at around one o’clock in the morning. I talked with the powerful and powerless. I had my bouts of troubles, endpoints of misjudgment, bad luck and bad timing, and sometimes, bad company.

I look back into my V days with fulfillment. No regrets. For in every one that I met and in everything that happened, there is that essential lesson in life that contributed to what I am today.

II. Breathless

March 31, 1997. Three months after a controversial lampoon issue that almost denied five of us of a Thomasian diploma, I graduated from pre-med, at least on time. Such was a cause for celebration for my family that they decided to hold a luncheon party at my uncle’s residence in Project 8. Of course, my celebration would not be complete without my comrades in the V who stood by me throughout my four-year stint with the university paper. So I gave them the directions going there. Since Project 8 was not an easy maze, they decided to go together and hire an FX that was somehow new on the city roads that time.

Being V staffers, the pack led by Charmaine, Henry, Beth, Chris et al, easily got an FX driver that obliged easily apparently unchallenged by the maze of directions going to Project 8. The ride was smooth and easy for the pack of V bashers, but not for me. Being the man of the day and since I was not with the group, the one-hour ride was so ripe a time for bashing. Obviously, I was the main course for bashing. A whacker myself, I know the gravity of jokes being thrown – from trivial to unimaginable no relative of minewould simply shrug off as jokes blurted in the

spirit of fun. I could imagine how their reckless bellows of jokes would make one breathless laughing and their unruly guffaws would cause the van to explode!

Although they were enjoying themselves during the ride at my expense, they were quite surprised the driver perfectly knew where they were going. In no time, they reached my uncle’s residence. They alighted from the van and headed for the main door of the house. A little bit more surprised, the driver also got off the vehicle and went with them through the main door. The group of V bashers got the biggest surprise for the day that made them breathless even more when the driver went straight into the house, took my aunt’s hand and put it against his forehead. “Good morning auntie!” the driver said. The driver, as it turned out, was a second cousin of mine.

III. Ablaze

It is our last night on the island. The early evening sky is beginning to be studded with glittering tiny heavenly bodies and amihan as it always is in April is gentle on the trees surrounding our nipa cottages. By the beach, a masculine figure is piling up driftwood that goes ablaze almost an hour later.

Strangely, the smell of kerosene and burning wood blend pretty well with the saline sea breeze of Sual and the appetizing aroma of barbecue roasting nearby. Such peculiar whiff wafts swifly through our windows and invites everyone to gather around the bonfire.

As people start gathering around the bonfire, some, mostly men, start seeking confidence from bottles of cold pale pilsen. Some prefer to squat on the sand quietly and some are conversing in low tones. The atmosphere is generally silent and heavy and harried, as if it were on the verge of bursting. One can hear distinctly the crackling of burning wood or predict the rhythmic lapping of the sea waves against the shore.

Sir Gilbert clears his throat and breaks the silence. He utters his piece with his distinct northern region accent – hard and heavy on consonants yet soft and uplifting in meaning. He just sounds so fatherly. Then, each one take turns to say something about everyone, especially the outgoing staff members.

The night grows deeper and testimonies of a storied past about friendship and hatred, joys and sorrows, admiration and scorn, and apologies and forgiveness have intensified emotions. With the bonfire still burning passionately in the middle, misty eyes and silvery tracks of tears glimmer in the dark. The women sob and wail. Men become boys weeping. Embraces become tighter and more filial, unwanting to let go. Then someone strums the guitar and a sweet melodious voice sings “Sketch my soul, build me a castle…”

In the morning that we wake up on the sand, only charred coal remain from the bonfire last night. But memories woven that night will be eternally ablaze within. V

*Don Reyes was the editor in chief of the Varsitarian in 1996. Reyes now a resident cardiologist at UST Hospital, Perpetual Help, Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, and Alabang Medical Clinic. He is also a professor at the College of Rehabilitation Science and Faculty of Medicine and Surgery.