Special Feature: KALAYAAN, THE DORM
Our 9:00 p.m. dorm curfew was worse than the midnight martial law curfew, and yet at Kalayaan Residence Hall, the U.P. freshman dormitory, somehow we felt we were for the first time fully free.
No parents. We had a residence hall matron but I never really saw her. As for the other dorm staff, I recall their matchmaking efforts more than anything else. They pressured me into using the intercom system to call G____ in the girls’ wing because they didn’t like that I had “dated” C____ for merienda at DiliMall. She wasn’t the right girl for me, they said. But I could choose for myself, right? Wrong. It wasn’t up to me. As I recall it, both girls rejected me.
No bossy big sister (or brother). We had one Resident Assistant per floor who was supposed to be like our kuya. Our R.A. held teach-ins in his room with us sitting cross-legged on the floor drinking lambanog out of a pail and reading underground HMB newsletters. I may be confused about this, though, because I was drunk. At the same time, I regularly received invitations for spiritual formation at the Lauan Study Center. I actually went a couple of times, but my spirit wasn’t ready to be formed. Instead, largely because I shined my combat boots for the first day of training, I was recruited into the cadet officer candidates’ course, and ended up being unfairly labelled a fascist for four years and really for the rest of my life. Talk about the roads not taken.
No history. We each arrived at Kalayaan with a clean slate. An opportunity to start anew. To reinvent ourselves. The vast majority of the people in the dorm didn’t know who the hell you were. You could have been an asshole snob back in high school or a super shy ultra-nerd or a straitlaced teacher’s pet, but as soon as you were dropped off at the Kalayaan steps, you could suddenly be friendly, funny or footloose and fancy-free. (I’m loving the letter F today.) The point is: we were at liberty to use whatever effing language we wanted and be whoever we thought we could be.
I thought maybe I’d become a college Casanova. After all, we were living in a co-ed dorm. From around 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., the lobby was like a magazine gallery of girls. The svelte twins who borrowed my Math 14 book. The Cebuanas who sounded like they were singing when they said, “Kaluoy n’ako uy.” The mysterious lady from far Zamboanga. The voluptuous one. Even now, my heart is beating with a little more purpose as I think about all the choices . . .
In the Eraserheads musical Ang Huling El Bimbo, three young men—boys really: Hector, Emman and AJ—from couldn’t-be-more-different backgrounds arrive at Kalayaan dorm ready to enjoy their new freedom and eager to form lifelong friendships along the way. Those long lives are still ahead of them and they have big dreams in politics, art and business. All they have to do is reach up and everything can be theirs. On their first ROTC training day, they meet and befriend Joy, an impossibly attractive and charming turon (or was it banana-cue) vendor, who is constantly struggling to make ends meet but who also dreams of a better life. Hector, Emman and AJ come to love and fall in love with Joy each in their own way, and with the earnestness of unobligated youth, pledge to help her when they graduate.
Hector, Emman and AJ might as well have been named Gerry, Bong and Joejay. My own roommate and lifelong friend had the physique of The Rock and liked to stand like Gibraltar guarding the first-floor corridor in shaved-head and bikini brief-clad glory. He had chosen to join a fraternity even though freshmen were not supposed to. Come to think of it, so did I. Which was funny because our frats were often at odds. But in our tiny dorm room, we only talked about girls. He had fallen hard for one girl named M____, until he got to know another girl named M____. As for me, well . . .
Joy, the love interest in the musical El Bimbo, could represent the Philippines, a free Filipino people or literally the pursuit of happiness. Or she could be a stand-in for all the promises and friendships that were made during that one transformative year at Kalayaan. Or she could be just one girl. Who knows? Anyway, it’s Joy who brings back Hector, Emman and AJ after many years apart to face the searing question: “Kailangan bang mamatay bago natin pagsilbihan?”
All I wanted to say is that it’s not too late to suddenly decide to show up at the Kalayaan Batch 1977-1978 reunion.