They were just one-peso coins

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Saturday, April 12, 2014


IT WAS an offhand comment, the kind of nonchalant statement you make to fill in the gaps in the conversation, when he said, “Aw, don’t worry. I’m your friend. I’ll always be here for you.”

Three months later, he and I would pass by each other in the hallowed corridors where we first met, exchanging half-hearted smiles and forced hellos. When Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got A Friend in Me” used to play in the background when we made HOHOL (Hang Out Hang Out Lang), now I would be hearing the woeful, dulcet sounds of “say something, I’m giving up on you.”When the conversations before used to last for hours, today they would barely last a second. They would gnaw at my insides begging me to open up a topic, but then the inevitable “I’m busy” on both parties would come up and suddenly the conversation would end even before it began.

That is the travesty of friendships, I suppose. They are stories, and whatever has a beginning is bound to have an end. Oftentimes happiness is short-lived as resentment is perpetual.

I am writing this somewhere my friend and I frequented. As I left the counter and headed back to my seat, suddenly the sound of “ting tingtingting” spiraled into my earlobes in a rhythmic clattering. It was then that I realized my purse was open. Carrying several bags at once, I had to make the life-and-death choice between several one-peso coins and my baggage. Also, crouching down to the floor would mean an uncomfortable position of sticking my behind into the air, narrowly exposing some bits of skin to the crowd. In the end, I retreated into a farther table, hoping against hope that nobody noticed.

They were just one-peso coins… but I had never found myself so stirred by the sight of them artfully exhibited on the gray, marble floors.

In John Green’s novel “Paper Towns” I was introduced to Margo Roth Spiegelman, the beautiful yet eccentric runabout who gives Quentin Jacobsen the night of his life, minus the sex and romance factor usually associated with nighttime escapades. When Margo is suddenly reported to have run away from home the next day, Q finds himself thrown into a wild goose chase for Margo Roth Spiegelman, using clues on her whereabouts that she apparently left behind for him.

However, when he is finally reunited with her, Margo tells him that she did not mean for him or anyone to find her at all. She is sick of being a two-dimensional, paper girl in a paper town. It is perhaps one of the most bittersweet, most striking scenes of confrontation written in the history of literature, immortalizing the line, “It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamn thing in the world.”

Admit it. We have all been there: The friendships that mean like family to us, the nagging hope that it lasts until everyone in the barkada is reunited along with arms full of teat-sucking babies with my eyes and my husband’s hair—but in the blink of an eye, the texts are unanswered, the calls rejected, drunken messages are exchanged, hellos are awkward, goodbyes are relieving, and the once-solid foundations of a beautiful future are all just paper memories.

Suddenly, you are those silver, rusting coins left on the floor—waiting for the next purse to call you as their own.

Has the age of social media spawned the “one-peso coins” culture? When have we turned human beings into circular, metal bits with voluntary Alzheimer’s Disease? Is the convenience of “un-friending” at the click of a button teaching us detachment at in the blink of an eye?

According to Richard G. Jones, PhD, some scholars in the field of sociology have decried that through new technology the quality of relationships is deteriorating and the strength of connections is weakening. And while there is some blame to be put on the part of social media, we are still responsible for the quality of the relationships we forge in our daily lives. Unanswered texts, rejected calls, drunken messages, and awkward hellos—like the “add as friend”, “like”, and “comment” buttons these are all options. Social media does not control us in such a way that it does not leave us without a choice.

In the words of my mother, “We always have a choice, anak.” I often dismiss them as wisdom from someone who does not quite understand the logic of present-day adolescents, but statistical data has proven that, unfortunately, mothers are very often right.

Several studies show how the expediency of modern-day technology has substantial impact in the way we see and act with our “friends.” At the price of convenience, however, quality is oftentimes compromised. But there is no such creature in this planet—regardless of the general opinion of celebrities—who can point the finger at social media for defeating its purpose. After all, it is not our abilities that show what we truly are, but rather the choices we make.

And no one can turn the world into a piggy bank without your consent.

*****

(Maria Karlene Shawn Isla Cabaraban is currently taking up Bachelor of Arts in Sociology-Anthropology at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. She spends her non-studying hours writing or reading or both in coffee shops. She spends her studying hours hoping it will make her a lawyer someday.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on April 13, 2014.

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