HIGH school is a time that most of us would love to go back to. Who would not? This is a period when we were first allowed a measure of liberty. We had our first sip of alcohol. We had our first puff drawn from a cigarette stick. We made new friends from nearby towns. We met our first crush. We had our first date. We had our first kiss.
These wonderful situations were during a time where the thought of careers were years away, worry about landing a job was non-existent, and making both ends meet was not one of our concerns. We were carefree and hopelessly in-love.
I consider my senior year as the happiest of our high school existence. We made history as the only batch to win the championship of the High School Week from our freshman year and defend it until our senior year. We were also the overall champions of the Provincial Schools Press Conference competition and brought home the five-foot tall trophy. We were also not out of mischievous deeds. We made pranks on our favorite teachers. And we also had our fair share of circumventing exam protocols.
Above all, we were proud to be in our school. The Pangasinan National High School (PNHS) was considered to be one of the best schools of Pangasinan. This is by virtue of the number of academic and non-academic competitions it won over the years. This is also by the fact that its enrollees numbered almost three thousand during that time.
Because of the sheer number of enrollees, we 680 seniors were grouped into 14 sections (Diamond, Pearl, Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald, Opal, Jade, Garnet, Topaz, Amethyst, Zircon, Sardonyx, Moonstone, and Aquamarine). I belonged to IV-Diamond, the top section. But that didn’t stop us from making friends with those from the “lower sections.” We would not have won the High School Week overall championship four years in a row if we were not united as friends.
It is in these happy times that I met Red (not his real name). He was a transferee from another school. He also belonged to a different section. It turned out that he had a crush on one of the girls in IV-Diamond. He befriended my group of friends and this paved the way with us being together most of the time. We had lunch together. We went to sleepovers in our classmates’ houses. We swam in brooks and streams during weekends.
We cut classes to watch Betamax movies or have drinking sessions. We talked about our hopes and dreams. He wanted to become a soldier, I wanted to become a lawyer. We compared notes about the objects of our affection. We requested each other to hand over our respective love notes to them. He was the older brother I never had. During our graduation day, he bought three white roses from me and requested them to be handed to his crush. He was so happy to see that his crush was holding the bouquet of roses during the customary march.
Perhaps, he was so caught up in the moment that he forgot to pay me for the flowers. We never had the chance to say goodbye to each other after graduation day. And that was the last time I have ever heard of Red. I missed him every day since.
In 2001, I was back in the country after working in Singapore for four years. That was a time of my life when almost everything was rosy. I am settled in my favorite Baguio City. I had money to spare. I figured I could afford not to work for a year. And then it occurred to me it was the right time to fulfil my childhood dream to have a dog. That was when I was introduced to the golden retriever and the wonderful world it will open up to me.
For the first time in my life, I have a gentle and affectionate dog inside the house. It was highly intelligent and always willing to please. It was also a sight to behold – it is such a beautiful dog with its kindly expression and coat that glistens like gold in the sun. But I was unprepared with the other things that came along with having such beautiful creature.
Having a companion dog was like having a seven-year-old kid forever. It needed to be fed and groomed regularly. It also needed a considerable amount of physical and mental stimulation which translated into having a home with secured fencing, an ample space to roam, and constant human interaction. The cost of its food, grooming products and medical care was also prohibitive. When it sheds, dog hair is everywhere. And they have a short shelf-life. Because of their nature of being friends with almost every creature, they are prone to go missing or being stolen. When they are gone, they leave you devastated. It took me two years to recover when I lost my first golden retriever.
Yet, despite the other negative realizations I had 18 years ago, I am still in to golden retrievers. In fact, I have three golden retrievers living with me at the moment.
Thanks to social media, I was finally able to locate Red. After April 1, 1985, we were able to speak with each other again. I found out that he was also looking for me ever since. I will have to admit that there was no love lost even if we haven’t spoken for 34 years. Even if he has not paid me yet the three white roses he owes me. He promised he will pay me when we see each other this March.
So today, I am writing this piece and trying to examine the depths of my soul. My three dogs, in a triangular pattern, are sleeping soundly by my feet. I look at them and wonder what exactly makes me love them deeply.
In between my thoughts and admiring my dogs, I chat with my high school batch mates who are still awake. I ask them what they remember about our high school life, and why we keep coming back to each one of us for stories of years gone by. Most of us haven’t been together for almost three decades. And in the last few months of our senior year, there was division that developed among us because of disagreements in the selection process of the honor roll.
In that fleeting moment of our need for affirmation, the bonds of friendship that we have forged and nurtured for so many years were almost severed. Nobody could tell me exactly what makes us crave for that time of our life. Being with companion dogs and my life in high school were not entirely smooth sailing, after all. So why the incessant yearning? Why the eternal flame of love?
Now I know. My golden retrievers, my high school life, my friend Red, simply being with them; there was always a spark of joy.
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