Stars are strangely alluring, aren’t they?
I rarely see stars anymore, and maybe that’s why I’m thinking about them tonight. I spent a good chunk of my early teens just marveling at their beauty. I wrote poems about them too, but what young girl didn’t? The cool ones, probably.
Four years of my youth were spent in a boarding school carved on a slope of a mountain. Our kubo-style dorm rooms were connected by stairs and bridges, and from our verandas we could see the sprawling veins of the city and the quiet bay that hugged its contours. We were far from everything else but we were so close to the stars. At night we could just lie on the road, use our sweaters as blankets and admire the glittering debris of the universe above us. It was magical.
But that wasn’t enough for me.
I wanted to get even closer to the stars. So sometimes, when the skies were clear, I would climb up the dorm roofs for the extra height. It was illegal, actually. The school didn’t want the students breaking their bones and risking contusions. We weren’t allowed to climb the roofs, the trees, not even the veranda rails.
But I still broke the rules. I mean, didn’t we all?
My roommates taught me the “tricks of the trade.” The crime scene should always be on the cottage closest to the water dispenser (this will makes sense in a bit). I must also do it at night because, as one of them said, “thou shall not break the rules in broad daylight.”
The most difficult part was making sure that there were no adults around. The kuya guards were the “enemy.” They didn’t have a regular route for their roving duties so I waited until I was certain that they were in another dorm. But once the site was clear, everything else was easy. I climbed up the veranda rail, I used my scrawny little arms to lift my 90-lb frame, and I carefully tiptoed to the middle of the roof until I found a good spot to sit on. The best part was when I could finally hug my knees, look up at the night sky and grin at my stupid victory. Mischief managed, I thought to myself.
I climbed roofs with other friends too, but mostly I did it alone. Some nights I would just lay down, close my eyes, and drown in the pale-blue-dot existential symphony around me — the howling wind, the rustling trees, and the humming silence under this cosmological canopy.
I was alone, and yet I wasn’t.
The horror stories in our school involved the typical cast of characters, from the screaming Tiyanak to the chain-smoking Kapre. Stories about these creatures weren’t just folk tales to us. We heard the Tiyanak wail during rough windy nights and we held classes just beside the Kapre’s favorite Acacia tree. We lived among these beings. And even though rational thought belied their existence, we still respected (and feared) the sacred spirits that lurked behind the mountain’s crevices.
Whenever I was on the roof, I could feel invisible eyes glaring back at me from the darkness. It crept me out when the wind would howl louder than usual and the stars could no longer give me solace. I can see you iha, said the Kapre in my now-praning imagination. Ano, yosi tayo?
Well fuck no, Manong. I’m outta here.
Climbing down the roof was an even bigger challenge. By this time I already lost track of where the guards were. I needed a lookout so I would wait until I see a fellow student filling their mug from the nearby dispenser (see!). My lookout would scan the surroundings and give me the go-signal to climb down. I would thank them, give them the finger-gun if they’re cool, and then I’d go back to doing homework. Fun.
I was caught a few times but I never got seriously punished for it. The kuya guards usually just warned me about the tree snakes that could sneak from the adjacent foliage. It was an effective scare tactic, but the fear would eventually subside and I would go climb roofs again.
I just loved the peace, man, and I loved my stars.
But my friend G did not share the same fascination for stars. She preferred looking at the sky when it’s a little brighter, like during the transitional moments when the sun rises or hides.
“Stars stay the same throughout the night,” she told me. “I think the sky is most striking when its beauty is fleeting.” (She later made a painting using rust, as in kalawang, and the work was just as exquisite as it was ephemeral.)
So it got me thinking — what was it exactly that I loved about the stars? What did I find so beautiful about the night’s monotonous splendor? To be honest, man, I didn’t know.
“Sure, they’re static,” I told G. “But every now and then you see a shooting star, and there’s also beauty in the uncertainty of its arrival.”
Psh, that’s bullshit. I haven’t even seen a shooting star ever, as in ever. But now that I think about it — isn’t there beauty in permanence too? Isn’t that what we all long for? We settle on careers, we settle with people, and we struggle through a system that constantly ebbs and flows — isn’t permanence then the ultimate goal?
Ten years later and I am still light-years away from that goal, from that certainty. Many things have changed too. I didn’t become the writer I thought I was going to be. I also began to question the elitism of the art world, which may very well be the inevitable evolution of my decade-long distrust of rules.
But I still love my stars, for whatever reason that my limited language could not express. I still look up at the sky every now and then, I steal glances whenever I can, and often I wonder: why don’t stars fall when I’m looking?
Will I ever see a shooting star at all?
The featured image is a study — or a draft, in writing terms — for a piece that is a literal (and admittedly stupid) interpretation of the final lines of the song Two-Trick Pony. Nakakatamad bunuin ‘yung totoong piyesa e, so ito na lang muna.
*Apologies to Kate Torralba