A little after New Year’s Day this 2016, I pawed through a box of old CDs left in my old bedroom. My mom had been badgering me for the longest time to sort its contents so we could throw out what needed to be thrown out already.
A few of the CDs I uncovered were my own—dating as far back as to my last few years in high school and early college. I had always been a bit of a downloading fanatic, especially in the days of Kazaa, and I had grown quite a collection of mp3s. From songs from the ‘80s to random ‘90s cartoon jingles—you name it, I probably had it.
One of my quirkier interests included acquiring anime and video game soundtracks—a hobby I shared with a good friend from high school, Melbin Asturias. Melbin went through the extra effort of copying the soundtracks of Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy X and Tenkuu No Escaflowne onto Sony CD-Rs, which were some of the pricier recordable CDs back then (If I remember correctly, they were at 40 pesos a pop). Kids our age weren’t normally into listening to classic music, or any orchestral-arranged music, for that matter. We would use these soundtracks for our many plays in school.
I suppose it was the love of anything Japan-produced that brought us together.
We fell in love with Rurouni Kenshin and soon, Melbin was even creating fan fiction about it (She is amazing at it). Back when Sta. Lucia East Grand Mall had a skating rink, I also vaguely remember us talking about how we learned to use chopsticks (I was just starting to learn it then) while eating a bento meal in Tokyo Tokyo.
I visited her house once in high school, and she proudly showed me her freshly re-organized bookshelf. These included some of the classics we had taken up, such as Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth and Hamlet, as well as Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (sadly I never got to read the whole unabridged version—some parts bored the hell out of me). As of writing this paragraph, I also recall how we both loved with a passion Greek mythology. Melbin even had a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. She would always ace the exams on Greek mythology because she knew all of these by heart.
Our friendship, as it turns out, would grow even further because of a shared love for books and writing. When the Harry Potter books and film series came out, we ogled over the October 2001 (yeesh—was that really 15 years ago?) Vanity Fair cover with Daniel Radcliffe (as Harry Potter), riding a broomstick. We couldn’t get over how manly the veins were on his arms (LOL). Of course, we had the soundtrack too to the The Sorcerer’s Stone and knew each note to Hedwig’s Theme.
Singing was also one of the things that we both enjoyed. We were both members of the high school chorale, the Komusikasyon Club, and we bonded over many, many days preparing for the annual Eco Songfest.
As we grew older and joined the workforce, we spent less time together, busy navigating the meandering paths of our twenties and so-called careers. Nevertheless, we kept e-mailing each other and would catch up with our other high school friends from time to time. By that time, Melbin had already been to Japan (I think several times already) because of her brother who works for a Japanese company.
We would e-mail each other jokes, and Melbin would send me her brilliant fanfiction.net write-ups, as if expecting me to find something wrong with them. Of course, they were all beautifully written. Melbin had a way of writing that envelops you into the worlds she creates. And effortlessly, at that. She would continue to be inspired with her favorite series like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Frozen, Big Hero 6, and use her writing prowess to weave the imaginative stirrings in her mind. She was childlike like that, with a penchant for cartoons.
One time, she invited me to go bowling as she just felt like joining an office bowling competition. I brought my boyfriend along with me and we had a great afternoon. Melbin was like that. She would decide on something she wanted to do and there would be no stopping her.
The last few times we got together, she would invite me to a mall to watch the latest Hunger Games movie or to catch an animated flick. I remember meeting her at one of those coin massage chair places in the mall. I tried it out and we were just lounging around and chatting while feeling the roller mechanisms knead our weary muscles.
She would tell me about her new work, how she manages to do a U.S.-time shift while still doing English tutoring for the Japanese on the side. She also told me about how she went on a solo trip whim and spent a weekend in Cebu. I envied her for her adventurous spirit, as I also wanted to experience traveling alone. I messaged her in 2015 to ask if she was watching the annual Eiga Sai film screenings, but she was busy with her new work. It seemed at the time she had already found a job that she felt like keeping, and I was happy for her.
Recently, I was devastated to hear about her passing. I thought it was a really bad joke—I was going about my usual watching reruns of my favorite local romantic series while having breakfast (tikoy and coffee, to be specific—not that you had to know), when I received a call and heard the news.
The sadness wasn’t automatic. It wasn’t a great wave of melancholy that washed upon me, like how you would see scenes in soap operas. It was a reluctant mix of shock, disbelief and confusion.
I was overwhelmed with an adrenaline-like rush and went through the robotic motions of showering, dressing up and commuting to meet the friend who had given me the news. We would be going to the wake together.
Nothing can ever prepare you for seeing a dear friend encased in a coffin. The feeling is horrific. I usually have no qualms about looking at deceased relatives in their final moment, but my friend and I were trembling as we wept and looked upon the face in the casket.
Two days after the news, I sign into my old Yahoo! e-mail account and search for my past conversations with Melbin—there was the time she would forward Jose Rizal Facebook memes to the batch e-mail distribution list, the time when she was reaching out for help to look for law students for a research she was doing, and the many e-mail exchanges on her short stories. I felt myself smiling despite the saddening reality that she is already gone. Melbin, Ann, Melbapu, Melbatoast, toastyann.
Melbin had never seemed to lose her fun-loving and lighthearted personality through the years—those shoulders heaving helplessly as she would laugh at my various accent impersonations (my Science Congress teammates would remember this with our electrostatic precipitator project); her drumming her fingertips together while raising her eyebrows in her “scheming” pose; her sometimes wry, sarcastic and nonchalant remarks; her high-pitched, incessant giggling. Her matter-of-fact approach to life. Just today, I realized with a smile that Melbin would always be one of the first few in line at the canteen when the recess bell would ring. I noticed it many times.
Though we can’t turn the wheels of time, we do have these heartwarming memories to turn to when we think of Melbin. To me, she would always be the same round-faced, jolly, pensive girl who was both carefree and pragmatic, bizarre yet just like everyone else. I can still see her face in my mind now, lighting up with the simple crack of a joke, the skin crinkling around her eyes.