Grace and AJ are like Christmas lights—off and on, again and again. But their last breakup was devastating. It was enough to make Grace want to run him over in her pale pink Beetle. She even composed 12 steps to quitting him, which wasn’t easy because he admittedly was her first love—the boy she lost her heart to when she was still collecting Hello Kitty stationeries; the boy she never stopped loving since. But something happens that changes Grace’s life forever. Now it’s time for her to reevaluate everything she has going for her and make a decision. Is this the end of Grace’s life as she knows it? Or is she finally going to have the happy ending she so desperately needs?

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Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

It’s Not It, It’s Him and Me

I drove my pink Beetle through Ayala Avenue at sundown, as Carole King sang “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” on the car radio. I mulled over baby powder tagline options as I got caught in the gridlock. I was debating the merits of “Smell as sweet as a baby all day long” over “The scent of baby cuteness” when it hit me. That what was wrong with me wasn’t really wrong per se. Maybe an accident of spectacular proportions, yes. But not wrong. In any case, I didn’t think it was really an accident. It had been almost three months since. I thought it was stress that threw my body out of whack. I wish.

Still, I thought, if it’s really coming then it’s still going kill me in some way. I had just revised my five-year plan. I had things to learn and places to see. It wasn’t penciled in anywhere because I had never considered the possibility of such a thing. I couldn’t even bring myself to think of it being a him or a her.

If AJ had been crossing the street right then, I would’ve run over him. Really, I would have. It wouldn’t have been a fast hit-and-run thing. I’d keep running over him until all that was left was a puddle of his blood thick with shredded skin and powdered bones. That was if my car was capable of achieving that kind of gory consistency. Sometimes it’s nice to think about turning the man you love into hit-and-run goop. It would serve him right. I trusted him. How the hell could he? Bastard!

I flinched at the word and I checked myself. Can it already hear my thoughts? If it could, I wanted to say, “Baby, it’s not you.” Seriously, it wasn’t it. It was so not it, because it was all him and me.  

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Define Love Story

I don’t think ours would qualify as a love story. We’re a genre all our own. Like a CSI: Las Vegas-Animal Planet hybrid that’s been turned into a romantic comedy. I can’t even tell our story straight. I don’t have definite dates for when things happened. I don’t have all the details laid out neatly.

I have absolutely no Facebook-worthy photographs of our shared memories either. AJ always said that the moments that really matter hardly ever have any pictures anyway. He’d say something like “They don’t have actual pictures of Gabriela Silang kicking Spanish ass, do they?” Possibly a very original thought, yes…but it was not the stuff romantic movies are made of.

I blamed my mother, the still-fabulous ex-beauty queen Juliet, for my skewed definition of a “love story.”

I was eight when she made me watch that cursed movie. She had lined up to get a VHS copy of it at the neighborhood’s video rental shop. Based on the Erich Segal novel, Love Story starred Ryan O’Neal as Oliver Barrett IV and Ali MacGraw as Jennifer Cavalleri. I remembered the scene where Jennifer is sitting out in the cold and she tearfully tells Oliver, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  I turned to my misty-eyed mother, who has always been a sucker for romance, and said, “That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.” Of course, she did her best to explain the concept of unconditional love to me. But I told her that if I were Jennifer, I would have sucker punched Oliver.

AJ and I never had any “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” moments. To us, love means having to say you’re sorry…and that it’s all your goddamn fault. It’s a bigger sacrifice for either of us to own up to mistakes than to wimp out and forgive somebody without demanding payback. That much we agree on. But then again, maybe that’s why we have a problem.


Pussy at First Sight

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Whenever people asked how AJ and I met, I always said, “He got to know my pussy before he knew my name.” I said this with a straight face. If AJ happened to be standing next to me, he would enthusiastically add, “I sure did…and what a cute little pussy it was.”

Our routine never failed to elicit gasps. But while our statements were true, the circumstances of our first meeting were not nearly as dirty as we would have liked them to be.

AJ and I met in 1981, when I was barely four months old and he was two going on three. Our families lived in UP Teachers Village, on Maginhawa Street. My mother, whose mission in life is to be Miss Congeniality, invited all the neighbors within a three-house radius to come to my post-baptismal luncheon. AJ’s mother, Georgia, who was a Karl Marx fan, was not too keen on attending a gathering that she referred to as “an offshoot of an elitist religious ritual.” Opium of the people and all that. Much to his mother’s shame, little AJ was all gung-ho for the ice cream my mother had mentioned to him in passing. Thus, he demanded to be taken to our house as soon as he woke up that day. “It was either take him to the party or suffer his wrath for at least three hours,” his mother later said. So, against her principles, she brought him over.

They came too early and saw my mother giving me a bath in the kitchen sink. Of course, I was naked. AJ, who didn’t have sisters or any girl cousins, took one look at my squirming naked self and asked, “How come it doesn’t have a penis? How does it pee?” (In complete sentences, I’m told. According to his father’s journals, AJ started talking when he was just ten months old. His first word was, believe it or not, “Mao.” For Mao Tse-Tung.)

In any case, both our mothers found his idiotic statement quite cute. They even told him to take a good look at me “down there” so he would know what a girl was supposed to look like. To this day, they relish retelling the sordid tale.

My mother didn’t get it when I told her that the incident would incite the rage of feminists. “You had him inspect me as if I were a tilapia for sale! You treated your own daughter like a commodity,” I pointed out. My mother only laughed coquettishly (the same provocative laugh that she claimed got her disqualified from Binibining Pilipinas) and said, “Grace you’re so funny. There was no malisya in that, hija. You were like an anatomy lesson lang.”  To which I said, “Anatomy lesson? If I were an anatomy lesson to him, he would have become a doctor. But he became a veterinarian. Ano ‘yun? Did I remind him of animal anatomy?” When I told AJ about this, he guffawed and said, “Well, I did see a pussy.”


Christmas Lights

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As break-ups go, AJ and I did it whenever we felt like it. We never took any of our break-ups seriously and nobody else did. In the four years that we’ve been together as a couple, our breakups have lasted from half an hour to three days. They never took. We always got back together and laughed over how stupid we had been. Most of the time, we hardly remembered why we broke up in the first place.

We’ve known each other practically all our lives and we knew how to push each other’s buttons. We argued. We called each other names. We said things we didn’t mean. We gave back gifts (him) or set fire to them (me).

In the end, we kissed and made up. (And then some.) On again, off again, and back again. Our mothers said, “You guys are like Christmas lights.” And, no, that was not a compliment by any means.


Break-Up Playlist

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Couples who break up habitually are sure to have a break-up playlist. They reach an emotional saturation point when they’re already too tired to analyze the emotional yo-yo that is their relationship. They let song lyrics dramatize their dysfunction. This way, when somebody asks them, “What happened?”  They go, “You know that song? It’s like that.” No need to rehash the series of unfortunate events. That’s what we’ve been doing.
    

Our Top 3 Break-Up Songs


1. “I Can’t Tell You Why” by Eagles
The song is about a couple attempting to explain why the shit is hitting the fan and not coming up with any sane answers. The song title is self-explanatory. There’s a thin line between love and hate—and the couple in the song are just about to cross it. The fact that it’s sung by a group named after animals is a delightful bonus to AJ. His favorite part is “Nothing’s wrong as far as I can see/ You make it harder than it has to be.” “That’s so you, Grace,” AJ said.

2. “White Flag” by Dido
Our relationship is like a zombie. It keeps coming back to life even when everyone thinks it’s dead. This song is as close to a zombie as it gets. It’s all about never surrendering. “It’s actually a military term,” AJ told me when I made him listen to this “girly” song. But I call it our zombie song.  

3. “Tatlong Beinte Singko” by Dingdong Avanzado
Break-up songs need not be literal. What could be more tragic than a song that has outlived its charm? Gone are the days of Metro Manila phone booths with calls that cost seventy-five centavos. That’s three twenty-five centavo coins. “The way Dingdong Avanzado keeps begging, ‘Sige na, papalit ng barya,’ just kills me. He can’t even call his woman! It makes me want to go back in time and lock myself inside a phone booth so I can forget that you hate my guts,” AJ said. He then went on to tell me that he used to just put in two twenty-five centavo coins in those red pay phones. “You just press the two coins close together and then drop them in the coin slot,” he explained. “Then, presto! You get a dial tone for fifty centavos. I bet Dingdong Avanzado didn’t know how to do that. He was a preppie pretending to be a proletariat!”

AJ and I decided to stick with these three songs no matter how many more times we break up. We decreed that a break-up playlist that didn’t eat up half of an MP3 player’s or an iPod’s memory meant that the couple always had a fighting chance of getting back together. Or so we thought. Our latest break-up was epic.

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About the Author

Faye Ilogon is a Library Science and Creative Writing graduate from UP Diliman. She likes words. A lot. She’s been getting paid to string them together since she was 18. She lives somewhere in Quezon City. For a time, she lived on Maginhawa Street in UP Teachers Village.

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