June 2, 2023

I think the one thing that bothered me most about Chariz’s passing is that I could not find any photo of us at all. I scoured through our high school yearbook and social media and realized we didn’t have any. We are early millennials, and during our high school, we did not have Instagram to remind us of things that really happened. You get validation by becoming the subject of the biggest gossips in campus. In our high school, these turned out to be me in my year level and Chariz in hers.
Chariz is the type you become friends with because of personality. To be close to her, you do not need to know who her family is, nor her favorite subjects or teachers. She has a loud and personable laugh, an easy demeanor that reminds you of an Avon catalog, and she seems to know a lot about everyone. I take back what I said about us being gossips. She would probably say she was just observant, and people ease around her and reveal a lot personally about themselves to her. That is how she knows everything.
We became friends through our morning line assemblies on the basketball court. I was a freshman; she was a sophomore. Despite our verbal giftedness, we did not have the height to be placed at the back where we could talk more and still be obscure. We are at the front of the line, where it is easier to be seen and rebuked when the Prefect of Discipline reads his announcements. Chariz and I would compensate for this by being in our spots early for the flag ceremony, boisterous as usual.
Somehow, Chariz always seemed to teach me new things. She was the one who taught me how to borrow more than the prescribed number of books in the library (befriend the student assistants) and how to deal with teachers (she knows each one’s antics). She has not said one mean thing about someone, but she could make an embarrassing anecdote or a terrible moment sound like a brazen experience – something to laugh about but also to be proud of.
I consider this to be her greatest gift. You take her very lightly because of her bubbly façade. She was the loudest in her clique, but no one detested her. She still had her share, although she obliged to these grudgingly, of literary and musical competitions and maintained a spot in the honor roll. You cannot remember to use the word “intelligent” when you think of her. Instead, you remember her punchlines and grating laughter. She was an intermission all on her own.
We have not kept in touch in college. On rare occasions when we saw each other or slid on each other’s Facebook, we would just reminisce about high school, and we would remind the other of one’s mishaps. Last year, when the pandemic and our anxiety started to rise, we got back to chatting online again, giving each other a virtual hearth to get through the looming and perturbed months. She has a son now, and she is very proud of him. She would use that as a yardstick to speak about “adulting” things instead of yapping about high school memories.
So about “adulting,” we talked. We had a mutual friend, Dhava, who was our age, who passed away a few months before the pandemic broke. Chariz loved her dearly, and the three of us had fond memories in high school, too. “We both have to keep healthy,” she told me. “Even if you won’t have any kids,” she teased.
I know we have crossed the threshold of “adulting” when we no longer use the laughing emoji. “There are things I would have wanted to ask Dhava,” I texted Chariz one night. “I have memories of her that I needed to clarify.”
“If you don’t hold your alcohol, you’ll definitely meet her and ask her yourself,” she replied. More chats later, and she would let her “adulting” guard down. “I want you to train my son soon for Q&As when he joins pageants,” she would say randomly. That’s when I knew the same old Chariz still resides in her. We made more promises soon after. “When you write a book, put something about me in it,” she requested.
Then one evening, my girlfriend messaged to say that Chariz has gone. I was stumped, but the tears would not flow. The first thing I did was to find a photo where we are together. There was none. The next thing I did was review my Inbox for our chats.
It seemed that Chariz had plenty to teach me yet. She was more perceptive and well-rounded, and she tried to impress new things upon me. The pandemic was too much to carry, and during my moments of loss and confusion, she was the more cogent and practical one. During my tirades, she was the person who helped me unpack the quarantine experience. I was clutching to her for support. I realized just now that we somehow managed to pick off from memories to sustain survival in our current situation.
Of course, she did not know to say goodbye. She was the one who reminded me to be healthy and maintain a warm disposition. I would think she would outlive me. Her passing does not make sense to me, as much as these things happening around us at once. I cannot think of any lesson she wants to teach me by passing on early, but cliché as it is, maybe grief teaches us to live for those who left. It takes a village to raise a child, but I guess it takes a village to make sense of how one loses a child, too.
It had been two weeks since Chariz departed, and I have not cried for her yet. Sometimes, when emotion would come, I would remember her boisterous laughter, and the moment would pass, replaced by repressed anger but also of resounding gratitude. Thank you for the laughter and stories, Chariz. We will try to make sense of this grief. You have taught me life and how to live it well. (IVAN JIM LAYUGAN)