Sweet dreams and sleepovers

When I close my eyes I remember, even smell, the bedroom I shared with my sister Caren, on the second floor of our old house in Bonifacio Street. It had white-washed wooden furniture on wooden floors the color of caramel and milk chocolate. Except for the thick closets that crawled across one full wall there were two of everything else — beds, dressers that doubled as study desks when we put the lid down, matching no-nonsense chairs with padded and upholstered seats and back rests, metal wall lamps over each desk, wrought-iron clothes racks painted white.

Our bed was arranged in an L-shape, tucked in one corner, something we liked because it left lots of space in the center of the room. Between the two beds was a big cube, with shelves running across the two sides pressed against the wall, that doubled as a headboard we shared. That was where we kept ourSweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High books alongside volumes of the more junior Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. We had yellow blinds that peeked serenely behind yellow lace curtains made by Pilar — she who made curtains for practically all the households in Ormoc and was simply known as Pilar tighimo-ugkurtina, all said in the same breath, as if the latter was really her family name.

Our room was always bright, thanks to the windows that spanned two walls, in the same spot where our L-shaped beds were arranged. In hindsight, I may have taken for granted glorious mornings, for there were many of them, but I remember them well — the yellow sun shining through the drawn curtains after the blinds had been pulled up, hitting the wooden floor, drawing happy images on it.

Our room was nothing fancy but it was very pretty. And we were inspired to keep it neat because of that. On weekends we had to make our own beds and tidy up. Mommy wanted us to be very good at it. She said it was an important skill to know whether or not there were helpers in our midst. She was/is right, as usual. There is nothing like a freshly made bed, and you can never quite underestimate the quiet peace of knowing that you have what it takes to make a room neat, not just if you wanted to, but more so if you absolutely had to. Like riding a bike, it is a nice skill to have. So we would fluff pillows and make yabyab(in Tagalog, I now know it means “make pagpag”) our bedsheets, before tucking them back very tautly under the mattress.

Every day I would wake up to see Robby Rosa and Ricky Martin smiling at me from where the Menudo posters were on all three of the closet doors. They were the Jonas Brothers and Justin Bieber of our generation. Back then, there were already rumors that Ricky Martin was gay, which did not matter, really. It did not stop him from being cute, although he was always too much of a pretty boy to be totally my type. Our closets had smaller compartments directly on top of them, where we hid our “treasures” — stamp, sticker, stationery and currency collections we patiently accumulated over the years and pretty little things like fancy bags and beautiful vases and fragile stuff we received as gifts that we felt we could put to better use only when we were bigger and/or more grown up. Speaking of which, that was also where we hid our “forbidden” books. My sister and I were reading Harold Robbins, Danielle Steele and Sydney Sheldon long before Mommy allowed us to. She said we could read them only when we were well into college. Of course, because it was forbidden we desired it all the more. So we would read these thick luscious volumes in the dead of the night, exchange titles among ourselves, before passing them on to our classmates and schoolmates who were just as addicted. Of them all, it was Danielle Steele I liked the most, except that it dawned on me one fine day that I spent way too much time crying over her stories. She likes killing her characters a lot.

I kept all the letters and notes I got; I guess I’ve always been sentimental that way. I remember my first puppy love. He would write me beautiful letters in his nice penmanship, all of which I would keep, and because he was a good artist I could not wait to receive from him something he drew or painted himself. So. That day finally came, and when I least expected it to, at that (it was just a regular day, not Valentine’s, Christmas, or my birthday). I got a wrapped something that was big and mounted and I knew in my heart it was a portrait of me. Charcoal? Watercolor? I was beside myself with excitement. Heart beating, and with my sister looking over my shoulder, I slowly unwrapped the present. It was… a picture of a tiger. I stared at it, speechless, and in defiance it stared back at me with steady eyes. Apparently, Puppy Love had been working on it for months and felt that something that special had to be turned over to someone special. Or so the note said. So I kept the tiger. I think I still have it somewhere at the back of that same closet. I should look for it to show to Juliana — that should be a good reminder of how unexpected, and funny, life can be.

It was in that room that I tucked flowers I got in between the pages of very heavy dictionaries, stored letters and postcards I received in big plastic envelopes, kept ribbons and clips in a box that once held a wall clock. It was where I enjoyed the impatience of youth, and yearned for the day when I would experience for myself what falling in love was all about. Also, why the fuss over a kiss and what makes it so good, my high school friends and I wondered. And how do you even know how it actually happens? What becomes of the nose and how do we know which side to tilt the face? We would giggle over random stuff like that, and in the same breath wonder if Maricel was really with William and who among Sharon and Gabby, Snooky and Albert would get married first.

An Avon lady would sometimes come to the house and sell stuff. It was fun, pointing to a catalogue and ordering something and soon enough, because everything in Ormoc is so near, the same lady would come back not without Sweet Honesty perfume in tow. Oh, that brings back happy memories. I wonder if they still have Sweet Honesty to this day? My cousin Johanna and I would put some on even when we were in our pajamas, just for the heck of it, and at midnight we both padded down with my sister Caren to eat Spam and corned beef with rice and eggs. We would go back up to brush our teeth again and snuggle under the sheets, where we would talk until sleep would silence us. Sometimes my sister, who has always been scared of ghost and needles, would wake up in the middle of night convinced that a ghost or witch was roaming somewhere near (the room beside us was haunted). She’d stick out her hand, cutting across one corner of the cubed table sandwiched between our headboards, and I would hold it till we both fell asleep again.

Those were wonderful times and I smile when these memories play in my mind. When I close my eyes I remember — and almost smell — very well the bedroom I shared with my sister in the second floor of our house in Bonifacio Steet. I sometimes visit our old house and that old bedroom and each time I do, I get a glimpse of how it feels to be so young and so innocent yet again.


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