In the summer of ’93, our local parish announced that they were to open the first kindergarten in our town. I can only imagine excited mothers rushing off to enroll their children immediately after hearing the news, whereas my ‘mothers’, by whom I mean my grandmother and my aunt, were as much in the dark as I was. Apparently, we were the last ones to find out what the entire hullabaloo was about.
Nonetheless, my aunt managed to enroll me on the first day of school. I was introduced to a Sister Annie and a Teacher Marissa – the nicest and prettiest ladies I’d ever seen. Shortly afterwards I was introduced to my so-called classmates. My very first real classmates. I never felt intimidated nor out of place when I first met them. I instantly felt a sense of belonging. I mean, most of them were MY kind – the rowdy, chip-toothed, mucus-eating kind. These people were not so much hard to please. I wasn’t put under such pressure. In fact, meeting them was like the beginning of my life. A new and exciting life.
I cannot recall how many we were in the class, but there were a few kids who were definitely noteworthy:
THE CRYBABY. Cried at the slightest thing. For example, I would make mean faces at him and he would sob as if the world has ended. Heck, I would even make face at someone else and if he saw it, he would still burst into tears.
THE CLASS PRINCESS. She was all about Barbie dolls and cute ribbons and butterflies and all the other girly stuff. My source of envy.
THE B.I. He was an expert in cursing. My mentor. Once we were both given a detention for teaching the other kids some swear words. Teacher Marissa was greatly disappointed and so enraged that she also made us eat chilies in front of the class. As expected, THE CRYBABY cried.
THE INVISIBLE KID. I only came to know about him only on our graduation day. He was the valedictorian.
THE LOVERBOY. The first boy to have ever told me he liked me. Sadly, the feeling ain’t mutual.
THE TOMBOY. She and I were tight. I can’t remember why.
Lastly, there was…
THE PRETTY BOY. Shy, but definitely the prettiest boy there ever was. My first kiss, too. It was customary for the parents or guardians to throw a fancy, if not huge, birthday party for their kids. Aside from cakes and gifts, the party also consisted of special numbers, candy shower, and kisses bestowed on the birthday celebrator. On my birthday, Teacher Marissa made my classmates queue up for the kiss. And PRETTY BOY was the first in line, to LOVERBOY’s dismay.
My kindergarten days flew by, incredibly quickly. We eventually had to move on to elementary school. A lot of things had happened in between, I’ve forgotten about 65% of it. But never will I forget that blue overall dress I really adored so bad my aunt had to wrestle with me because I always refused to take it off; feeling like a proper grown up the moment I learned how a pair of socks work; how I used my height to manipulate the shorter kids into ganging up on a classmate, a distant cousin, who allegedly stole my Crayola (it had 80 colors); Tang Marino driving me to and picking me up from kumbento with his freshly-painted sikad-sikad making me feel like a royalty; being forced by my aunt and her friends to step on a footstool to practice my salutatory speech; my Baguio-residing sister making a surprise appearance at my graduation and feeling proud because who else has a sister who lives and studies in Baguio? Who. Else. Haha.
(Jeez. Writing about these kids makes me feel quite nostalgic now.)
On our graduation day, we sang a song, which as I have later learned, was from the 1979 movie, Voices. It goes:
You can swim like a fish if you want to
Swim if you’re brave enough to try
And the whales will be amazed when they see you in the deepest ocean drifting by.
You can run like a stream if you want to
Run down the river to the sea
And the ocean will be full of envy when she sees you running out to me.
You can grow like a tree if you want to
Grow if you’re not afraid to fall
And all the other trees will be jealous when they see you standing straight and tall
You can fly like bird if you want to
Fly like a bird if you dare
And all the other birds will admire when they see you dancing in mid air.
I remember Sister Annie explaining the meaning of the song to us during one of our rehearsals – how this song, she said, is all about being brave, that there is no harm in trying, no harm in dreaming. That we can fly like a bird if we really want to. “And do you want to?” she asked all of us, her eyes resting fleetingly on me.