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  • Dan Albert S. de Padua

If At First You Don't Succeed

The two young people in high school uniforms slowly strolling home yesterday afternoon reminded me of, uhh, two other young people decades ago. Each of their steps was aimed at extending their walk together as they talked about, who knows, probably everything from their favorite colors to their deepest secret hopes and dreams. An unexpected breeze pressed the girl’s white blouse and pleated skirt into her curves, and the boy took pains to look away. They weren’t holding hands. They never touched. The afternoon died into evening, and they each said goodbye hoping, I imagine, that tomorrow they would somehow manage to accidentally on purpose meet to walk home alone together again. Ah, the delicious pain of being young and infatuated—

Odds are, however, these two will not go on to become a thing, get married, raise a family, and die within two weeks of each other. How often does that actually happen? No, more likely, life will come between and push them apart—different class schedules, distant colleges, demanding work. As Bruno Mars put it, one or the other might turn out to be “too young, too dumb to realize that I shoulda bought you flowers and held your hand.” Maybe another prettier, more accessible girl will catch the guy’s eye, or perhaps the young lady will simply decide she’s not interested. What happens then?

Brings to mind—and please bear with me—my own little story of being young, very young, and madly in love, or so I thought.

She sat behind me in class. Brown, naturally curly hair, a high nose, and thin lips that went perfectly with her gentle voice. She never laughed out loud. She had instead a vulnerable sadness that came with the little black ribbon she wore for that year of family bereavement. We never talked, except maybe once in April of 1971, but as you can see, I was obsessed. For years. To the point that for a fourth-grade assignment to write about someone we admired, I submitted an essay about her.

Finally, at our very first school dance, I waited all night for the spinner to play a slow song—“sweet”—and screwed up the courage to walk across the vast floor to the girls’ side of the hall. When I came up to her with my heart threatening to beat its way out of my chest and held out my hand, palm up, in the traditional wordless invitation to dance, she chose someone else.

I was devastated, shattered, destroyed. I was twelve years old.

What does one do when what seemed inevitable, what you believed to be your forever, proves to be something much less or nothing at all? What if the guy who walked you home just disappears or the girl you waited to dance with ends up dancing with someone else? How does one cope when the great flame goes pfft like a cheap matchstick?

The older boys hanging around outside the Acquaintance Party, as the older boys were wont to do back then, had the answers. These guys were friends because I used to chaperone my older sister to their parties all the time, or maybe they were just drunk and extra friendly that night. In any case, they were wise beyond their years and more helpful than they realized. When they asked why I wasn’t inside dancing, I blurted out that the one girl I asked had turned me down. At first, they threatened to take me back inside and make the girl dance with me. They were those kinds of friends. Or, yeah, maybe drunk. I demurred, of course. Told the goons to stand down. Then, in not so many words, they said: When a girl won’t dance with you, shit, go find a girl who will. When great love or something like it doesn’t work out, go find something else. Give yourself a second chance.

Getting busted or breaking up happens much, much more often than fairy tale endings. Some guys are just assholes. Some girls are mean. Or it can be a case of a lovesick fool so besotted as to lose touch with reality. Like a guy who stands outside a girl’s house wringing his hands, twirling a ring on his finger continuously, thinking it’s time to pop the question, until he can finally ring the doorbell and walk in, only to get the classic answer, “I like you like a brother.”

It can be as simple as a couple who can’t decide if they want to eat at Shakey’s and, thus, split up.

Or, it can be far more complicated, like the story of the girl who had made a big thing of telling a guy that the locket she wore used to have her grandfather’s picture in it when her grandmother wore it and her father’s picture when her mother wore it. Only the man she would marry, she said, would be in the locket. Hence, the guy was understandably excited when she finally said she’d show him the locket. He looked inside and thought to himself: When did I have a mustache? Oh, shit, it’s not me.

Each of these strictly hypothetical situations ends with people terribly disappointed, broken up, and alone. And each time, from my experience, the thing to do is to get up off the ground and go for another chance.

Now, the question of the day is: Does it matter if the shit happens when you’re 15, 18, or 65?

Let’s say, after a picture-book wedding, many years of blissful marriage and three or four grown kids, the relationship goes sour or seriously stale for whatever reason [NB: I’m not talking about me.] You divorce or under antiquated Philippine law simply separate. Sad, depressing, heartbreaking really. But, hey, why does your story have to end there? Why should any man or woman walk home alone if he or she doesn’t want to? Why limit yourself to sulking outside the dance party or mourning about stupid lockets? Why should society begrudge you the enjoyment of your later years and, more so, your twilight years? Why can’t bliss strike twice or even thrice?

Again, the inimitable Bruno Mars says, “Leave the door open.” I’m sure the goons would add, now with the wisdom and poetry of all their years: Find someone new, someone to whom you can tell your stories, someone with whom you can share the beach sunsets. Go find a new Valentine and dance again. Thank God for second chances.

Happy Valentine’s Day.




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