One Way Ticket

Either we’re gonna live or we’re gonna die. If we die, we gotta deal with being dead. If we’re alive, then we gotta deal with being alive. Sounds simple enough but not quite.

Dead is easy. You just go on your merry way to where it is that dead people go. But the moment of dying is not.

Going through the motions of dying is a painfully short process that has both its good and bad points. Monochromatic memories play in full color, vague feelings get stronger definition, and the
determination to turn things around catches fire.

You can’t.

There are not enough miracles in the world for heaven to randomly dole out. Competition’s real tough and well, somebody has to get that entire life cycle stuff going.

Nobody knows who’s the next lucky stiff to bag this role. Could be me. Could be you.

Life is a mighty serious business. If you’ve got no management and decision-making skills whatsoever then you’re in mighty serious trouble.

The language of survival is time, lots of it. Time that is wasted on procrastination, bitterness, and a claptrap existence – the story of anyone over four.

Everybody’s got issues. Some may be real while others result from a rather myopic view of life. Anyhow, people get a kick out of owning one, manufactured or not.

Drama with all its accompanying elements is a heady aphrodisiac. Pain and anger can take you to great heights and great lengths. What’s more, you’ll never get better excuses to lash out at life than these two.

A pretty explosive combination that works wonders for those “who have arrived”, people who’ve channeled all their worldly gripes to their blooming careers while they set aside things that used to matter. Like family.

Most especially family.

The world calls them lovely butterflies that have came out of their cocoons in a special way. I call them mutants.

They’re special, they’re powerful and a sorry bunch of lost souls. Always searching for family and acceptance.

I’d think that these supposedly smart people wrongly prioritized the latter over the former, judging from how miserable they are on their comfy beds at night.

Apparently, they weren’t told that gazing beyond what we cannot see, towards the dreamy landscape that might be found beyond the horizon, is a futile attempt at trying to find real happiness.

Happiness could be growing ‘neath our feet and we would not even notice, so thick is the blanket of fear, frustration and bitterness keeping us immobile in the dark and dank places we have caged ourselves in.

Years of nurturing these albeit very human emotions can banish almost every last vestige of warmth in our lives and our one shot
at happiness.

Beauty, fame and fortune – the necessities of this custom-made society. Seems like the mutants have got it all. They are the ones who like to work hard, party hard, and live hard. But the truth is they’ve got nothing and they know it. Reason why they cry just as hard.

A dear friend of mine once told me that I should grab the chance to live the good life with all its trappings and fripperies while I’m still young and able.

“Take me for example,” she said. “Despite my poor background, I’m respected and feared by everybody. I look great for my age. I’m rich. I have an even richer husband. I can afford to live a spoiled, lazy life. Money and power and everybody’s respect. I have it all.”

Then it came.

“But I’m not happy.”

Now, how was that supposed to convince me?

I would have smirked my way back home but as it was, her last statement was just too heavy and too depressing to even warrant any reaction. I really felt sorry for her so I suppressed the urge to gloat.

There she was – wonder woman who leaped from the other side of the fence and straight into the big time, with Armani and Gucci coats, Italian stilettos, manicured nails, fat checkbooks, boxes of baubles, separate bank accounts, BMW convertibles, a fawning entourage – a trés chic beauty and brains, and a tough, jaded moneymaker with the sophisticated and cool exterior…

and she wanted to cry like the little girl in her past.

Her life was spent chasing luxurious and glamorous dreams that were supposed to make her complete. Well, what do you know? They didn’t.

Rich people are extremely insecure creatures who always eye those around them with suspicion. After all, how can any filthy rich Midas be sure that he’s not being “loved” and tolerated only for his gold?

Along the way, her family and a loved one became casualties of her one-track trip to the top and her inability to give and take love. The yellow brick road to the big city was set heavily on top of rotting soil
cultivated by spiteful words, painful scenes and bitter exchanges.

‘Fess up. We all have said some things and have acted in ways that have hurt people deeply one too many times. And it’s a pity that most of them are the last persons we intend to hurt.

Somehow it is easier for us to ridicule and maim those we love and those who care for us the most. Sad but true.

My friend had tried to backtrack and begun to escape more frequently to an old dream in which the people she had always loved and who loved her back unconditionally surround her.

She had been detoured from this simple goal but now she planned to carry out all her simple, “insignificant” plans like having a quiet chat with a friend, playing with her son, making up with her family, and a lot more.

All because she had realized that her money could neither buy people’s love nor solve her petty issues, anymore than it could any longer make her stay in a convenient, loveless marriage or make her self-hate and hatred for her treadmill existence go away.

She was finally going to be free, loved, and genuinely happy. She flew to the States planning to stop arguing with the past, take an overdue break from work and stress, and to set things right when she gets back.

A couple of weeks later, she’s dead. Brain aneurysm. Doctors said cerebral accidents like this do not come from overwork. They come from frustrations.

Now I can’t help but wonder what could have been going on in her mind while she had lain in a coma. I don’t know if was crying inside or thinking about her dashed plans. I know only this:

she didn’t die happy.

To the rest of the world, she will be remembered as an extremely classy dame with sharp brains, a compelling presence and a real success story.

To her family, she will always be the headstrong sister who put sleeping pills on her old folks’ milk so she could go to the prom.

But to me, she will always be a sad figure in the dark whose life gave a more profound meaning to two words:

too late.

This piece was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2003 when I was 21, newly graduated from university and was working as a freelance scriptwriter for TV and events. Featured image taken by author in Perth, Australia in 2013.

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