Thursday, July 30, 2009

Let Bella Be Chaka

It’s my fault, of course. No one put a gun to my head and ordered me to read Twilight (and its sequel, New Moon)…or else. I picked it up on my own volition after watching the film with no expectations and coming out of the cinema catatonic, my whole supposedly grown-up psyche run over and totally mangled by the juvenile love train. Wha—! I thought. What just happened there?

Also, I had been sufficiently warned by friends who have read the phenomenally popular four-book vampire romance series by Stephenie Meyer. “It’s going to suck you in,” my friend Kat said. And, when I started complaining about Bella’s over-the-topness in book one, my sister Jof said, “Naku, wala pa ‘yan.

So I only had my unquenchable curiosity to blame when, in the middle of New Moon, a heat crept from the center of my body, spreading out towards my neck, my arms, my legs until I felt it on my face, my scalp, my hands. My breathing came out shallow and labored and I was thinking in a panic, I can’t take this, anymore. I was gripped by an uncontrollable urge to grab Bella, the book’s 18-year-old heroine, by her hair and slam her head against the wall. As I looked down at my hands, clenching and unclenching them as I paced my room (I didn’t notice I had gotten up from my bed), I was almost surprised that I didn’t, er, transform. (Jabob, is that you?)

But I had to do something with my hands, so I snatched my phone from my bedside table and typed out an SMS to both Jof and Kat: “WHAT’S WITH THIS SUPER LOW SELF-ESTEEM LOSER GIRL?!!!”

ANG CHAKA! CHAKA! CHAKA NG BABAENG ‘TO!

I wanted to punch Bella in the face REALLY HARD—nang matauhan—even as I took note of my violent reaction with a mixture of shock, mortification and fascination. Aba, overly affected ang lola. All I wanted was to know how the story was going to end—it was too late for me now to not care about it, I was in too deep; I had, as Kat predicted, been sucked it--but…did I really have to endure this? This horrifically pathetic display of I’m-not-good-enough-for-you-Edward and I’ll-give-up-my-life-for-you-even-if-you-don’t-want-me-because-I-don’t-really-matter-anyway?

CHAAAAAKAAAAAA!!!

“Yes,” was Kat’s grim response. “You have to suffer through Bella’s un-boongzeehness! And it WILL get worse!” I gulped. It will? And did I detect a sadistic glee there, as if my friend was glad she could share the painful experience of watching Bella slowly chip away at her own self-worth? “But plod on, it will be worth it in the end!!!” She ended that text message with a smiley face icon. I stared at the icon closely, trying to make sure that there was sincerity behind those black-dot eyes and that the smile wasn’t, in fact, a sneer.

Please let it be worth it, I prayed, rather desperately. I didn’t want my curiosity to be the only thing spurring me on—that reason sounded too much like an addict’s. Just one more hit, just to see how that feels. And I am still a recovering love-junkie. I wondered if maybe it was too early to be taking on unapologetic, do-or-die romantic stories such as this one; I wondered if maybe I was pushing it. And that’s why I needed to believe that there was something big, something awesome waiting for me as a reader at the end of this story. I needed to believe that Bella’s self-destructive idea of true love was just a phase she would eventually get over, that she would later on “break on through to the other side.” I knew I would hate it, hate it, hate it if, after staying with her through this very dark, utterly frustrating and downright moronic part of her journey, she would remain as stupid and suicidal and spectacularly twisted about love.

I took a deep breath, sat back down on my bed, picked up the book, gritted my teeth and, as Kat urged, plodded on.

An hour later, I took another much-needed break. By then, I was ready to drag Bella up to the rooftop of a 30-storey building (I was racking my brain for one nearest my house) and kick her off the ledge—nang matapos na. So we can both be done with her already.

I also took this break as an opportunity to ask myself why. Why was this fictional girl getting to me this way?

I didn’t have to wait long for the answer to come to me. In fact, hardly had the question formed in my head than the answer pushed past it like an overeager, know-it-all class nerd (Hermione, is that you?). The answer made so much sense that I didn’t even try to deny its validity. Yeah, yeah, I thought, rolling my eyes. Then I sent Jof another SMS, admitting to her why think I was so pissed at Bella I could barely see straight. She agreed with my reason, recalling her own experience with books two (New Moon) and three (Eclipse) when she’d skip pages—the alternative to hurling the book across the room--because she was so “ASAR, mehn! Punyeta sha!”

“That’s why we’re so bothered by her,” she said in her SMS. “Because we were her before. Haha, shucks.”

Shucks, indeed.

OK, Bella darling, you can relax now. I promise I won’t slam your head against the wall or push you off a building. It’s not about you, dear. I know you’re only eighteen and, of course, it’s natural to go totally wacko over your first love and all. So, you know…go ahead, knock yourself out.

Really, I understand what you’re going through. Listen, when I was 20—the first time I was in a relationship—I went through the horror of having my boyfriend’s three beloved Great Danes attack me. He and I had tearfully broken up the night before, so of course, I didn’t sleep all through that night, until at 5:00 AM I decided to take the bus from my house in Las Pinas all the way to my boyfriend’s house in Fairview (trust me, dear--that’s far) to try to get back together. He didn’t know I was coming, so he wasn’t expecting me. But more importantly, I didn’t know the dogs were let out of their cages for breakfast, and so I didn’t expect them to come barreling at me when I was inside the gate. Yup. Rar! Rar! Rar! I was screaming my head off, woke up his whole house and the neighbors, too…but it’s a lucky thing my boyfriend was able to throw himself between me and his hungry dogs AND I was in a jacket. Thank God, that jacket was the only thing that got ripped.

I know it’s nothing like being attacked by a vampire, but in my world seeing extreme close-ups of three sets of bared Great Dane teeth snapping and lunging at you can be pretty intense. The things we do for love, right?

Now, that’s fine when you’re young—we can somehow forgive ourselves our insanity when we were a certain age, laugh about it even. But I think that when we find ourselves acting irrationally sometime in our supposedly mature, level-headed mid-20’s and 30’s, it’s just harder to laugh about it. Maybe because most of us expect to have shed that crazy nature, leaving it in our teens or early 20’s. It can be incredibly unsettling to realize that, despite the years added and the experiences gained, something of that will-do-anything-for-love crazy teenager still lives and breathes in us. And that it can be triggered again…when the next person we ordain The One comes along.

You see, some of us reading your story are in our 20’s and 30’s and we desperately want to believe that we don’t do wacko, anymore; that we’re so over that. Except that our most recent experiences resoundingly refute that belief. For some of us, it’s not been that long since we last lost our head over someone. In fact, my own recovery began only less than two years ago. The wounds may not be all that fresh or exposed, anymore, but they are still scabs. And reading about your, um, walk through that pitch-black, seemingly endless, hopeless tunnel—reminding us all too well of our own walk—is like rrripping off the scabs and revealing the still wet wound underneath. The pain—and the furious awareness that it’s all really quite unnecessary and stupid (why the hell would you do that to a scab?!)--is such that you want to lash out, grab someone by the hair and slam—!

Sorry.

It’s not your hair I want to grab, really—I know that now. It’s mine. Because I still get angry sometimes when I remember how I let myself get so self-destructive, when I remember how I disregarded my own deepest needs and desires, how I all but trampled on everything that was sacred and important to me…just because I had this idea in my head that that’s how you prove you love someone. That you have to feel all hollowed out, emptied of everything—including your soul—to prove to yourself just how much and how deep you can love. When I think of all the things I’ve put myself through, it does make me sometimes want to drag me up to the rooftop of a building and kick my stupid-ass, sappy self off the ledge.

But at the same, I have to admit that, during those recollections, I also can’t help marveling at myself: Wow…kinaya ko ‘yun? I have sat through some really seemingly interminable awful times, when, with every step forward, the way just got darker and more hopeless than I ever thought was possible. And I marvel that I have pulled through, that I’m here. I’m in one piece. I’m happy. And—most amazing of all--I’m more hopeful than I’ve ever been. I think that’s usually what happens when you feel you’ve been to hell and back. Hope gets a real beating in hell. When you’re in there, burning and yelping and hopping around like Yosemite Sam (“Sure is hot in here!”), the part of you that doesn’t really expect to survive seems more overwhelming than the hope that you will. So that if and when you do make it, that small hopeful part of you packs on more muscle and gains serious leverage. There’s nothing like surviving your own personal inferno to transform that hope in you from a na├»ve belief into an unshakeable, solid certainty.

Was this certainty in myself--and in the things I most value--perhaps the thing that I was expecting to gain, if subconsciously, when I entered a relationship that scared me--a relationship I once compared, in my journal, to “throwing myself into a furnace”? Were all those tears and crumbling self-worth and claustrophobic emptiness and nervous break-downs in movie theatre toilet stalls really worth it? Were they necessary?

The answer, I have to admit, is YES. Looking back from where I stand, there is not one thing I wish I could have done differently. Everything was really a step forward, even when I couldn’t feel or see it then. I had to go through the chaka parts—I had to be chaka. I had to be the complete opposite of strong and clear-minded and confident. Much as I wanted then to have skipped those parts—to not have to see the ugly, the unflattering, the self-denigrating and soul-insulting parts of me--there was just no way around them. Not if I wanted to be where I now find myself: altered from the inside out, possibly forever.

So, fine, Bella—be chaka. Stay there as long as you need to. Annoy people, make them uncomfortable, remind them of their not-so-great selves—and show them how to embrace it because that, too, is part of the process of becoming whole. Isn’t that why we love—to feel whole? Show them not to fear getting lost because we do have to be lost first in order to be found, right? And isn't that why we allow ourselves to be loved--to be "found", to know that we are seen and accepted for who we really are, including the deepest, darkest parts of us?

Hey, why don’t you download Alicia Keys’ song “Lesson Learned”. I think you’ll like it. “Yes, I was burned/ But I call it a lesson learned/ My soul has returned/ so I call it a lesson learned”. Nice, noh? ☺

It's been six days since I finished New Moon. I'm feeling calmer now, less agitated. So I take Eclipse, which I bought along with Breaking Dawn two days ago (thus, still covered in plastic), down from my bookshelf with a mixture of dread and anticipation. Kat’s words ring in my ears: “It WILL get worse!” Shet, kaya ko ba ‘to? But also…”It will be worth it in the end!”

OK. I will sit through this next book with you, Bella. And I will try my very best not to judge you—because I realize that would be judging me—so harshly.

I tear off the plastic wrapping of Eclipse and flip to the first page.

Here we go…