The Three Significant Men in My Life
A Parable about Philippine Colonial History
It was summer when I met Diego. I was wearing a floral-print dress and a sunhat when we passed each other on the street. His eyes sliced sideward. He stopped in his tracks and glared at me, inexplicably antagonistic. I continued walking, but the saunter in my stride was now gone. My knees trembled. I could feel him watching me until I turned a corner. His icy stare left shallow cuts on the backs of my thighs and calves.
This was the beginning of a turbulent relationship. It was a year long but it could have been several centuries, such was the sheer torture of his toxic presence. It was a time of no sundresses and sunhats; I wore trench coats and wooly scarves even in the stifling heat of summer. But even then all those layers were not enough. More, he said. Put on more layers to hide your bare skin. Don more hats that will shield your eyes. Never show yourself to anyone. He'd see the furrow forming between my eyebrows and he'd justify, your body is mine alone to see.
But I don't think he ever saw me, really. Being with him sometimes felt like being a beat-up old stuffed toy that was never loved very much. I was just something to lug around, something to own and control. Something, not someone.
He was just too possessive, at times even bordering on tyrannical, and eventually I grew tired of him. I told him I was leaving him. I thought he'd be on his knees, crying and begging me not to go. Instead, he locked all the doors and windows. Then he went to my room, where I was on the bed packing my things into my largest canvas weekend bag. He strode right to where I sat and hit me hard across the face.
All my friends liked Jack. He was rich and metrosexual and cultured, as well as classically handsome. An influential boy from an influential family. My friends said, what's not to like? You need a treat after that jerk Diego. And this boy Jack is certainly a catch and a half. Phillie, they said, you must go out with him. So I did, if only to appease them. It was nice sometimes. He'd take me to all the parties in town. I'd be on his arm and he'd introduce me to his friends using my full name. Meet Philippa, he'd say. He liked that. He said it made me sound more sophisticated. I wasn't as smart as him I certainly did not have a doctorate degree to casually mention in polite company but even I could infer the insult from his remark.
Handsome Jack. Party Boy Jack. Condescending Jack.
He had such a smooth tongue, though. Smooth in so many ways that I sometimes forgot that I didn't much like him. With his angel's tongue, he could make the coarsest, crudest words sound positively alluring. He had such a power over me, almost hypnotic. I'd see him wearing his immaculate black suit and starkly white shirt and dark necktie with pale gray pinstripes, I'd see his light brown hair tousled boyishly, I'd see an impish grin tugging on his mouth, fire dancing in his eyes, and just like that I'd do anything for him.
He told me he could teach me to be like him. I hadn't realized there was anything wrong with me in the first place. But before I could even begin to protest, he grabbed me by the hand and towed me along, taking me on a tour of his wild side. I found myself sitting on lime-green-tiled kitchen counters, coughing out the ashes of foul cigars. I found myself licking and sucking tequila from the belly buttons of Jack's stripper friends. I found myself inhaling white powder by the packet and bobbing my head to non-existent music, smiling to the beat of a memory I never had.
I found myself acquiring all of Jack's bad habits, and worse, acquiring that same ridiculous superiority he held for his flawed and infinitely counter-productive code of ethics. There was nothing I could do to get rid of Jack. And I wasn't completely sure I even wanted to. Jack, too, was an acquired habit.
Jack left me lying on top of the dining table and holed himself up in another room of the house with some other girl. I was giggling, all curled up, all limbs and sweat and human garbage, and I couldn't even bring myself to care that Jack wasn't there anymore, he never was.
Another drunk boy climbed up next to me on the table. He peered at me with narrow black eyes, watched me with unashamed desire. He looked familiar. One of Jack's rich friends. I asked him who he was. He said his name was Hideki. He asked me who I was. But I couldn't remember.
He started touching me all over, and even though I was high on Jack's latest wonder drug, I could tell that I did not like this at all. I tried to push Hideki away, but he slammed me down on the table, hard enough that I felt something in my body crack. Then Hideki unzipped his designer jeans and started cracking me in other places.
In the two minutes it took for Hideki to rape me, he became the singly most significant man in the history of my life.
Satisfied, Hideki clambered off the table and drifted up the marble stairs of the house. As if on cue, Jack was suddenly next to me, lifting me off the table. "We're going home," he said. His eyes were red and he stank of the other girl's tacky perfume.
"Jack, wait," I murmured, disoriented. "Didn't you see what happened?"
Not even listening, he carried me to his car. Once he threw me into the backseat, he leaned on the open car door and puked all over the grass. I didn't bother to watch. I stared at my reflection on the rearview mirror. Who was that girl staring back at me? I didn't recognize her at all.
"Who am I, Jack? Tell me that."
"You're Philippa," he said, wiping his mouth, looking at me as if I was insane.
"I'm not Philippa. I'm not. I'm not." I started to cry.
I wasn't Philippa. I never liked that name anyway. I was Diego's punching bag, Jack's project, and the faceless object of Hideki's lust. But not Philippa. Anyone but Philippa. Who was I? Why couldn't I even remember? Philippa is dead, but now I am no one.