I won “Youngest Sigma Deltan” in 1989. It was at an alumnae function in the Mondragon House. I was newly initiated and inducted, 16 going on 24 (a good friend would later say, “24 going on 88”), a freshman when freshman weren’t allowed to join sororities, and I won P2,500. Which of course my new ka-batches and I spent at once on beer and perhaps some ghastly pulutan like sizzling red hotdogs and onion slices awash with ketchup and soy sauce.
Joining the papers and learning the ropes from my ka-batch Dinah when I was 22, I was once again the youngest in my circles: in the office, I was the youngest desk editor; outside work, I was the youngest in our weekend San Lorenzo lunch group—Tio Paeng and Tina, Richard and Dinah, Johnet and Girlie, Big Richard and Tiffin. Big Richard called me “Baby Batch” (though he isn’t a brod, or a sis). A few years into publishing, and still I was still being called “Baby”: Lulu Tan Gan, in a thank you note to our team in Mega Magazine, called me the “baby writer”; many years later, when I was already editor in chief of Working Mom, Jun de Leon called me “baby editor.”
And so on. While, on the outside, I used to say that I wanted—needed!—to look older, especially in an industry that valued seniority (ah, how that has changed since!), inside I reveled in the deceptive, youth-giving qualities of my puffy cheeks (which also make me totally unphotogenic). Good genes have given me the gift of looking several years younger, in spite of all the abuse I’ve given to my body and my sanity, but wiser eyes have seen the truth. I remember a blind masseuse once asking me how old I was. I think I was 26 at the time, confused with my spirituality and running my health to the ground by subsisting on alfalfa sprouts and tomatoes and smoking a pack a day. She said that her hands told her my body seemed like it was 60 years old.
During a recent dinner with my ka-batches, I handed some photos over to Mireille to scan for our 20th year birthday presentation. “Gina, di ka nagbago,” Milen says. “Thank you,” I answer, but the thrill is gone. The smile may be the same, the way I flip my hair over my shoulder for a photo, but I know I’m no longer young. The chick is now a chicken. An inahen. The writer of a recent article on the demise of The Oarhouse saw through my ruse. “A black-clad girl in her thirties comes to the bar to order drinks,” he writes. “She gives Wilson a hug. ‘Saan ka na ngayon?’ she asks. Wilson just shrugs. ‘Dito-dito lang muna,’ he replies.”
That black-clad girl is me.
Nothing radical has changed about my appearance—and in fact, now, thanks to a more prudent approach to health and vice, and no longer agonizing over whether I should remain Catholic, I have the energy of someone in their 20s when it comes to partying and staying up late (one early morning during closing an issue of our magazine, I kept wide awake while the rest of them slept at their desks; I wondered if I had killed them with exhaustion).
But history has seeped into my skin. My face sags with the weight of it when I stare long and close enough into the mirror; my hips and thighs groan against the lie that a girdle tries to control. No matter how perkily and carefree-ly I try to walk (a gait I try to copy from Hindy Weber-Tantoco, already in her mid-30s but with blessed with a girlishness of speech and bird-thin bones), my stride reveals the sense of purpose of one who has no time to wait, because the luxury of being untroubled can only belong to the young.
Several times over the past year, I’d tried to reclaim it, this feeling and belief that I would always be (mis)taken for being younger than I chronologically am, but found myself shuddering at the illusion. The idea that I’m the “baby”—the notion of being infantile, unsullied—doesn’t sit comfortably with me anymore.
In a twisted way, it hurts, accepting that I’m almost 40, no longer a “baby”, and that I should “grow up.” Because what else am I doing as I raise my children, hold down my job, and run my household? But I embrace it as well, this power I now have, to share my opinions and feelings without the fear of being judged; this (at most times) certainty of self, this humor and indifference toward the kind of criticism that can slay fresher, more fragile souls. This screening of outside stimuli to make our blood race as if we were 20 again; the kinds of experiences chosen with more discernment, as they get distilled more and more, until only the essential is left. An extreme way of putting it would be how Marge Piercy once put it, “My idea of Hell is to be young again.”
The folly of being young is thinking you are immortal; powerful forever, and repeatedly absolved by life and karma. The folly of being young is thinking you know it all.
Of being afraid of not knowing.
Which is why, I invite us all to ask ourselves, in all humility and understanding: “What The Fuck Do I Know?”
January 18, 2010
7 years ago