Before I learned how to use the Internet chat rooms, before MMS, there was a service feature from a cell phone company that allowed me to search for “buddies” within the subscriber base.
That was how I got acquainted with this young chap from Cebu. Joey was 16 at the time and I was 10 years his senior. He described himself as moreno, five-foot-seven-inch tall and 120-pound heavy.
Normally, when the guys I make contact with happen to be in far-flung locations, the sending of text messages taper off rather quickly. After all, what are the chances of meeting, unless you shell out hard-earned money for a round-trip airfare — rather costly for an eyeball!
But there was something about Joey. He possessed a profound wisdom far beyond his years and had a witty sense of humor while at the same time retained a natural boyish charm. I could relate to him. He was currently taking up the same engineering course I had taken. Coincidentally, or should I say, as fate would have it, our birthdays are only two days apart, falling on the first week of September.
In short, we connected.
Both of us happened to be discreet bisexuals. Joey had a girlfriend when he was still in high school, but broke up with her upon entering college, though they remain friends to this day. During the course of our text messaging, we revealed our true selves, bared our secrets, our hopes, our dreams. We developed a fraternal love for each other. He would call me his “bro,” favoring me over his older blood brother, whom he dismissed as a jerk. Over time, via text messaging, Joey would “wake me up and prepare coffee for me,” “playfully ruffle my hair” and “tuck me in bed” at night, but not without giving me a virtual kiss on the forehead.
From my inbox: “Ei, bro! (snuggles next to bro and tickles him till he wakes up) gising gising gising! (Thigh grazes against a hard thing) Oh… somebody’s ‘awake.’ He he he… ü”
Several times, during moments of affection, he would give me a patented “bro hug” and let me know about a “warm fuzzy feeling” inside him.
We discovered we even had similar interests in music. One time a friend gifted me with a DVD box set of The History of Rock and Roll. To my surprise, despite our age difference, we were both drawn to the music of the 1960s and 1970s, music which preceded both of us: Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley. As far as contemporary music goes, Joey introduced me to Lifehouse. “Their songs come straight from the heart,” said Joey “It’s pure emotion transformed into words and melody.” This was the music my bro liked to listen to, and I shared his passion, eventually establishing the song “Everything” as our theme song.
“Would you tell me how could it be any better than this? ‘Coz you’re all I want; you’re all I need; you’re everything… everything…”
He introduced me to songs by an Irish band called Snow Patrol. There was one in particular called “Chasing Cars.” The lyrics were simple, yet they struck us profoundly at the core, reflecting a yearning to be together.
“If I lay here, if I just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world?’”
We both exposed our prowess for singing. Joey would send me his voice recording, crooning “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “It Had to be You.” I would call him up during a videoke session with friends, shrieking out a Creed song in a drunken stupor.
From my inbox: “Bro, are you alright? I thought you were being sodomized. Gave me chills, bro…”
At this point, I don’t know whether to thank him for his concern or give him virtual asphyxia.
Joey was instrumental in making me a fan of the TV series Lost. He’d watched it before, and I was able to obtain a DVD box set for the first season. We engaged in character analyses and marveled at the surprising twists as the plot unraveled at the conclusion of each episode. We would later update each other on “post-Lost sightings” (Claire is in The Hills Have Eyes, Shannon is in The Fog), and we both developed an insane crush on Boone.
Our discreet nature provided us with a common cause for helping each other out. I remember him asking for my advice.
From my inbox: “Some girls are teasing me, saying I’m gay. What should I do, bro?”
Never one to give sound advice on gender issues, I told him to reply with “Would you like me to prove my masculinity to you?” accompanied with a seductive wink and a knowing smile. It worked.
The girls never again raised the issue. When Rustom Padilla came out in Pinoy Big Brother, discussions at the workplace and among friends caused discomfort to both of us. One colleague jokingly asked me, “So when will you confess your true nature?” Did he suspect, or was it said in innocent jest? Joey had experienced a similar tension with his friends. We did not yet possess the courage to come out, and at this juncture in our lives, we leaned on each other for support.
One day at school, Joey’s class was tasked to list down the five people who have influenced them the most. I was deeply moved to learn that I was included in his top five. I experienced a “warm fuzzy feeling.” It was like being selected among hundreds of contestants to be in the Final Four of the Starstruck reality show.
Now, this is a TV program that a man approaching his 30s would normally gloss over while surfing the TV channels. That is, unless you had a vibrant and enthusiastic bro like Joey to readily convince you that the concept of “Dream… Believe… Survive…” does not merely apply to ambitious adolescents out to carve their niche in the world. When the series premiered, I found myself rooting for Joey’s favorite candidate, Christian Esteban.
Christian was a childhood friend in Cebu, explained Joey, but had since lost contact with him. With Christian in Manila for the tapings, I was hoping to meet up with him and somehow revive his friendship with Joey. I stalked the GMA building and trooped to events sponsored by the TV network, hoping to hand Christian a personal message, a note requesting Christian to get in touch with his friend from Christmases past, asking him to contact Joey at the cell phone number mentioned. The crowds and the security made it impossible for me to achieve my mission. Besides, a guy of my age would look awkward mingling with a crowd of mostly screaming teens, trying to get Christian’s attention. No luck there. After some time, Joey had made a confession to me: Christian is not really his childhood friend. He had never known Christian and is merely infatuated with him. It took me only seconds to recover from this revelation. Strangely enough, despite the time and effort I had exerted in trying to establish contact with the Starstruck Avenger, I felt no anger for my bro. He reminded me of The Da Vinci Code — cleverly deceptive, yet purely entertaining throughout the whole exercise.
Although expressive in many ways, Joey was, in fact, shy, or so he told me. He had never sent a picture of his face, even as technology makes it possible to display yourself in myriad ways: via the cell phone and the Internet, for example. When Joey finally upgraded his handy (It is now MMS-capable), we would exchange pictures of our private parts, videos of phallic eruptions and sound files of erotica. But no face picture. I confess I have acted in a reciprocating manner. Quid pro quo. Send me your picture and I’ll send you mine.
After almost four years of communicating, we still have no idea what each other looks like. Once, I sent a picture of me straddled on top of one of those huge cannons of Corregidor Island, directing his attention to the long, hard, massive thing between my legs. My face, however, was too distant to register clearly. Recently, I sent a picture of my right eye. He sent a picture of his torso. I replied with an image of my ear. He sent a picture of his scalp. In time, maybe I can manage to put together a montage and reconstruct Joey’s face.
Time passes by fast. I will soon be 30 years old. Joey will soon be leaving his teenage tag. Several times I asked him when we can finally meet. I am prepared to fly to Cebu, if only to see my bro face-to-face. Joey prefers to have the ultimate encounter after he graduates from college in March 2008. A wise decision. I have always emphasized the importance of education to Joey. Joey is a consistent dean’s lister, as I was (another striking parallelism). Two more years, and our friendship will reach its pinnacle after years of patience and challenges.
In the recesses of our minds, one question prevails — how will a physical encounter affect our years of close bonding, all the playfulness, the emotions, the sharing? Will the friendship we have forged be strengthened, or — I dread — will it simmer down into just another eyeball, the mystery evaporating like a thin mist, an inevitable denouement signaling a waning and fading into oblivion?
One thing is clear to me, though. I want to feel his “bro hug,” to smell his breath, to taste his manliness, to gaze upon his eyes and penetrate his soul. As the character Locke of Lost would say, “Everything happens for a reason.”
I could hear Julio Iglesias singing in the background: “Hey! It isn’t accidental that we met….”
Two more years.