Padilla: Listening to pain

SOMETIMES, I choose to be deaf.

When we met, she was just one of those pretty young ones who always smiled in my class the moment I entered the room. Sometimes, I think she smiled pretty because she came to the room without preparing for the discussion, or she just smiled a lot and looked really pretty doing so. In time, I got to know that behind that pretty face was a beautiful, thin voice that could soar gently and then explode. But was that voice strong?

She tended to talk in this childlike manner during class recitations and I suppose she was saving that voice like most singers. Sometimes she'd come to class flustered for reasons I never found out. Then one day, her parents came looking for her and she didn't come to school again.

During one semester, she came to visit and looked heavy -- baby weight, I learned. She still smiled a lot but this time, I found her telling stories of herself and her baby. Then she faded again from my view.

One afternoon, dressed in black and with heavy eye make-up, she looked for me in the huge campus, lugging around the first of her many anguished stories and another baby from another man.

Her stories of abuse, treachery, and violence from both partners indeed made fact stranger than fiction. From then on, we became friends and she'd always be in gratitude for the time I would spend listening to her stories not knowing that when she articulated her pains, I was listening to her strongest voice.

She survived the difficult life of young motherhood by singing and engaging in online jobs. We'd meet again and between here and now to eat, whine, and to drink wine.

One night, I was in town and free to hang out, I found her heartbroken again. "Another," I muttered to myself. But this time, she was different because she was already diagnosed with a medical condition that worsened with emotional distress. To keep her calm and hopefully distracted from another wayward lover, I asked about her childhood and damn, I shouldn't have.

I knew that growing up in a province compared with the crowded city was similarly colorful but thought it would always be quiet and safe. I was wrong. Adopted from birth, my friend was reared by women who were closeted, "lipstick" lesbians. She was deeply adored by the foster parents but it was not adoration that she got from another relative, her lolo.

In the Philippines, almost all extended middle-class households would have young children sharing a bedroom with adults and hers was no different. She shared the room and a bed with the lolo.

She related that as far as she can remember, she always played games with the lolo where she was "Sheryl" and Lolo was "Romnick." These were games where Romnick would ask to be fellated or made to enjoy Sheryl's young body until she "milked" and every single time they played, she had to be quiet so they (or just he) would enjoy the game better. She knew there was something wrong with these games but every time she refused, Lolo would threaten to hurt everyone.

My friend did not know what to call it then and only realized she was being sexually abused in intermediate grade. At that time, no one really discussed sexual abuse in provincial, parochial schools.

That night, I was not really prepared to listen to such revelation but I winged it by swigging wine which begun to taste like stale beer.

I have read, written, edited, listened to several accounts of sexual abuse but this one, about a person who was like my kin, was something I was ill-equipped for. After getting back to my rented room that night, I chose to be deaf and avoided her for quite some time, even at Christmas.

Last week, I realized that if she can still sing beautifully through her painful past, I can write about it.

See you soon, Kaz.
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