I don’t know how the topic came up. Maybe Alfred sensed my thirst for adventure. It should’ve been obvious to anyone who knew me. Hadn’t I come … hadn’t we come to the Philippines without knowing much about the country?
I had read about the colorful sea gypsies in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and how they lived their entire lives on houseboats. I was easily persuaded (persuaded might not be the right word) to go to the Sulus, though it wasn’t the safest part of the world. Alfred suggested it. And I was going with or without Susan. Alfred suggested that I go on a scouting trip for him, a scouting trip to the Sulus for a movie he intended to make. With or without Susan … I’d preferred to go with Susan and make a holiday of it. .
I had read about the Sulus and the Moros. I met some young Moros at the university and had contacts down there. Having contacts wouldn’t hurt. I read about the Moros being the only group in the Philippines who never surrendered and about how good fighters they were. Alfred said that I needed to be careful. I didn’t need to be reminded, but he assured me that there hadn’t been any killings or kidnappings recently. I was thankful that Susan had gone to bed. The Moro insurgent struggle dated back to the Spanish.
Late the following afternoon I waited for Nick to return from class. I considered Nick an expert on insurgencies. When I saw him coming, he looked in a hurry, and if he were on a mission, I didn’t think anyone could stop him. After he sat down, I asked him about the Moros. He said he had friends who were Moros and alluded to a massacre on Corregidor. It was the first I’d heard of a massacre on Corregidor, and of course was curious, but I didn’t want to seem overly curious … or ignorant so I let him control the conversation. I could always return to the massacre. I wanted to see Corregidor and would go, take Susan, and go first chance we got. Nick talked about the Oblates … French Canadian Catholic brothers … who ran schools in Mindanao and Sulu. He said, “The struggle down there has been going on forever. It’s just heating up again. I’d like to go with you.” He also wanted to take me to where he grew up in Central Luzon. It sounded good to me. It would give me a chance to see both struggles first hand. It was a journalist’s dream.
As I rode a bus back to Guiapo, I felt like I’d been given a gift. How it fell into place amazed me. I couldn’t wait to tell Susan. With or without her, I was going.
I sat next to an open window. Fumes burned my eyes, making me more aware of the congested city than ever. I was already looking forward to getting away. I already had my bag packed. I hadn’t told Susan that we were going, and I already had my bag packed. Manila depressed me. There was too much for me to grasp. I had gone back and forth on the same route for months, the same route from our apartment to the university and hadn’t grasp it all yet. The city was just too big to grasp, and I now had to admit that I’d stopped paying attention to it. I remembered then my first impressions.
An American couple, recovering from jet leg in an upscale hotel on lower Roxas Boulevard after a long flight across the Pacific, slept for God knows how long. They regretted that they slept so long. There were feelings of uncertainty. Thinking of the enormity of the decision they made … the enormity of their decision to leave their country hadn’t hit them, much less sunk in. The honking they heard from their room (before they left it) … though strange … put them in touch with reality. (The honking was my very first impression of Manila.) They were waking up in a strange, foreign land.
When I reached Guiapo, I went into the church. I didn’t know why I went into the church. I hadn’t been in the church before. I didn’t why any more than I knew why we left the States. I sat alone in a pew and felt alone. I sat alone in a pew and felt alone and missed my home. I sat alone in a pew and felt alone, missed home and tried to think it through. What was I running away from?
All through college, I didn’t pay attention to the war. I was in college so I didn’t have to pay attention. I didn’t have to worry because I was in college and right after college I got married. That was when I began to worry about the draft and when I came close to getting drafted. And it became most real to me when a close friend of mine died over there. I came close to being drafted and began to pay attention to the war then. After I lost a close friend over there. It was before the riots, so the campus was very tranquil. We knew about the war, but it didn’t bother us much because we were in college and not until a close friend died over there. After I got married, I still thought I was out of reach and didn’t worry until a friend died over there. It was before Kent State. I went about my business after I got married, but it worried me. I knew it was highly unlikely that they’d take a married man, but it still worried me. It didn’t make sense, but it worried me. And it worried Susan too.
David took my place in Vietnam, and, if I could I’d ask him why he did it. “Ten years ago,” I said in a debate with myself, “we were just a couple of snot-nose kids and dismissed the troubles of the world with a flick of a wrist. There were only advisors in Vietnam then, and we were more interested in girls.” Some of us worried about graduating, I continued, but within a year most of us had wandered off. David was gung-ho about the war. I remembered that. I remembered thinking he had a problem. As for the war, I hated it. I hated it that the peace talks were going nowhere.