Guest post: Charlene Fernandez on Youth, Love, and Taking Things Seriously

Once in a while, I ask someone I admire to share their thoughts, or, if they are brave enough, something about themselves. I am honored to have Charlene Fernandez Bobis as my first guest poster. She was my Comm I teacher when I was a freshman in UP, and we became friends after. An awesome teacher, writer, and editor, I am glad that she gave me permission to repost one of her Facebook musings.  

I was eighteen, and he was nineteen. We were both in college; I wanted to become a writer, and he was on his way to becoming a doctor. I’ll call him Hatori.

I met him when I was set up with a good friend of his. His friend—let’s call him Ayame—brought Hatori along for courage, then cheerfully moved aside when he discovered that Hatori and I liked each other. Ayame went on his merry way and encouraged my relationship with Hatori by urging Hatori to call me and see me.

I asked him why he chose that song, and he said, “You’re like that girl; nobody can really pin you down. It’s kind of frustrating how you never seem to really belong to anyone.”

Hatori was proverbially tall, dark, and handsome; he was also mysterious, stern, and remote. He pursued me with such passion that I found it funny. I was a pretty silly girl, and was more interested in pawing through Booksale and writing maudlin ‘memoirs’ for class…and idea of romance instead of the idea of actually working to keep a romance alive.

In order to stay close to me, Hatori tried to join the organization I was applying for; failing that, he took to picking me up after my Spanish classes each day. We would walk aimlessly around campus while talking, and one of my greatest joys was hearing him sing.

I still remember the first lines he ever sang to me. I asked him who he sang like, and he told me, “Rick Astley, and I’ll prove it to you.” Hatori then sang the first lines of “Cry For Help”: “She’s taking my time/Convince me she’s fine/But when she leaves/I’m not so sure/It’s always the same/She’s playing her game/And when she goes/I feel to blame…”

I asked him why he chose that song, and he said, “You’re like that girl; nobody can really pin you down. It’s kind of frustrating how you never seem to really belong to anyone.”

I found it funny then.

As for Hatori, he decided it was time to take things to another level, and told me that I should be a little more serious and a little less silly. I laughed this off, and told him to live a little. He was patient, for a while. We would talk on the phone until the sun peeked over the horizon; we had so many stories to tell, so many things to share—the things everyone who’s been in a college romance knows about.

Then his patience ran out.

I think Hatori got tired of my laughter and silliness. He wanted a deeper, more committed relationship; I was still hung up over my ex-boyfriend. Hatori tried his best to get my mind off my ex, and when he got tired of the subtle approach, he asked me to marry him.

“Marry you?!” I laughed, thinking it was a joke.

“Why are you laughing?” he responded.

“I’m eighteen, and you’re nineteen. Why, you intend to go to med school. I sure as heck am not going to work to send you through school,” I replied jokingly.

Hatori sat for a while, just holding my hand, then asked me quietly, “Do you love me?”

I giggled, and asked, again, if he were serious. He made no reply, only staring at me, waiting for a response.

When I couldn’t stand the pressure anymore, I blurted out, “I’m too young!”

“For the last time—and after this, I will never ask you again,” Hatori said, “Do you love me? Because you already know how I feel about you.”

It only occurred to me much later that he did not tell me, specifically, that he loved me. He wanted me to say it first. I think he didn’t want to take a chance on something that would never be.

But at that moment, my response was to laugh nervously, and remind him that we’d known each other barely half a semester.

He was silent for a long time. After several minutes, he let go of my hand, stood up, turned to me, and said, “So this is goodbye.”

“See you tomorrow!” I waved cheerfully.

He became like the bitterest cold in winter; when I called his house a week later to ask why I hadn’t seen or talked to him all week, he told me brutally that he didn’t hang around with silly writers. I admit I reacted badly, and tried to defend myself; he hung up on me. He refused to take my calls after that last call. Though I would pass him in school corridors, he never again acknowledged my existence—save once.

Ayame, being the good guy he is, tried to get us to talk the spring before our graduation from college, two years after the incident. We had STS class together, and he made the effort to talk to me, as I was scared he’d be snooty because Hatori seemed to hate me. But some people are born to be friendly, and Ayame was one of them.

He felt that there was still hope, as he’d noticed something. I had an early class in Hatori’s and Ayame’s college, and every morning, as I ran up the stairs, Hatori would be sitting there, ostensibly studying. On the stairs. Right in my path. I would feel his eyes on me, but whenever I looked straight at him, his gaze would quickly shift somewhere else. And I never worked up the nerve to say hi after he’d ignored me after whatever it was we had.

He became like the bitterest cold in winter; when I called his house a week later to ask why I hadn’t seen or talked to him all week, he told me brutally that he didn’t hang around with silly writers. I admit I reacted badly, and tried to defend myself; he hung up on me. He refused to take my calls after that last call. Though I would pass him in school corridors, he never again acknowledged my existence—save once.

Ayame found this ridiculous, as their organization had benches in the building which were usually vacant that early in the morning. In addition, Hatori’s classes didn’t start until after lunch; there was no reason for Hatori to be in school at 8:30 AM.

“It would be sad to see such a nice beginning go to waste,” he told me. “It’s been years! So I’m gonna go talk to him, then I’ll get him to talk to you.” We’d met with our groupmates at their building prior to going off to work on the requisite group project for STS.

“I think that might be a bad idea,” I said. “Please don’t go out of your way to do something…”

“No, no! It’ll be fine! What’s the worst that can happen?” Ayame laughed.

We soon found out. That day, Hatori was on the third floor of the building (the former Palma Hall Annex, for UP grads who know of its open layout), and Ayame had told me to wait on the first.

It didn’t take me long to understand how angry Hatori was with me. His voice floated down the stairs, and he was screaming at Ayame. “Shut up! Shut up! I don’t EVER want to talk about HER ever again, and you will NOT bring her up AGAIN!”

Our groupmates avoided looking at me, because I think I went red, then pale. Ayame came back down the stairs, looking embarrassed. He knew I’d heard everything, and he was trying to look for something nice to say. I tried to save him by saying, “Well, I guess I won’t have to climb all those stairs now,” cheerfully. Or so I thought. Ayame looked at me, then squeezed my hand. “I’m so sorry,” was all he could say.

When we graduated, I figured that was the end of it. But, six years later, I was at Megamall, laughing with friends as usual. The man whom I would marry was not yet my boyfriend then, but he was with me and my friends.

I felt a familiar gaze, but didn’t dare turn around immediately. I’d sometimes imagined that gaze over the years but when I turned around, no one would be there. But when it persisted, I turned.

This time, there he was, handsome in his doctor’s uniform (I think he was either an intern or a resident by then), looking straight at me. This time, when Hatori saw me looking at him, his gaze didn’t waver. He held my gaze for a very long time, his sharp gaze gradually softening into something gentle—the sweet expression I hadn’t seen for so long. Yet he never smiled. I couldn’t look away; insert cliches of time standing still—because that’s what happened. After what felt like halfway to forever, he just turned around and walked away.

About Charlene Fernandez Bobis:

Charlene, currently editor in chief of Animal Scene, was the pioneering section editor of the New York Times International Weekly for the Philippines and the Classifieds job search section, both for the Manila Bulletin. This former assistant professor at the University of the Philippines was also previously the Content and Creatives director of one of the country’s most prestigious marketing and PR firms.

It was the last time I ever saw him.

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