by Marciano Paroy Jr.
Claire’s suicide note simply said “I’m tired.”
I failed to comprehend, or I refused to comprehend. How can I put semblance to her finding a way out of whatever mess she was in? Even with her idiosyncrasies and weird disposition, her decision to terminate her own – her words – “ambling by” this world still doesn’t reflect the oftentimes zany Claire I know. Knew.
I attended her funeral though, directly going against the dictates of my inner voice, chiding at me “don’t you feel betrayed?”
Betrayed? I was fooled – made to believe that the person who taught me now to drink straight brandy would forever be a stronghold that I could cling to. I was misled – given the notion that the person who miraculously wakes up with no hangover the next morning after a heavy drinking spree the night before has an arsenal of antidotes to combat any infliction that life has not yet dealt there.
“The first shot has a really repulsive effect on the tongue, the throat, and the stomach,” Claire lectured as she was handing over the glass with an inch-level of the reddish brandy she has put ice cubes into. “It is best to hold your breath as you take it in.”
I did freeze my breathing as I poured the contents into my curious throat, and down the esophagus went the strange chemical, cascading into my stomach which constricted for a few seconds as it adjusted to this invasion of an unidentified liquid.
After a few more shots, the stomach has grown accustomed to Fundador, Claire’s favorite brandy – which, of course, became mine too. And I have been drinking it ever since.
Claire introduced herself to the world of drinking at the age of 15 – having ransacked her dad’s cupboard of gin, brandy and rum. She fell for brandy right away. She was in junior high-school then.
“Having satisfied my taste’s requirements,” she related. “I took one bottle of Alfonso Brandy and took it with me to school, where I let my closest male friends peek into my bag. We consumed the 1.5 liter of brandy at a school shed after class hours. Since then, I have become addicted to this red liquid.”
Claire became my roommate in college. Bright and smart, she seemed poised for the good life. Taking up public administration for her baccalaureate degree, she was destined to finish law – her family’s wishes, a decision which she didn’t seem to mind as she went about her academic duties and requirements, year-in, year-out.
Claire was a perfect study of balance. At school, she was behaved during class hours. She could be expected to go into enlightening discussions with the best of the class, including arguments with professors. A proposition would be aired, and immediately her hand shots up in the air and out goes her carefully thought out discourse.
Yet after class hours, she could be found in her room rushing to step into her night outfit. She would then be later found positioned either on a stool by the bar of her favorite hang-out, or seated with drinking buddies at a corner table – talking about anything from the day’s goings-on to the latest controversies in the society.
Hours of drinking into the wee hours. And in the morning, she would be in the bathroom, preparing for the day ahead. No headache, no nausea one thing which I somehow didn’t learn the secret to.
When she took me into her world, we were both in our third year in college. I had just transferred to her university, and I responded to her ad for a roommate posted by the department’s bulletin board.
There I was, standing by the doorway, and she – on the other side of the door frame. She gave me one fast head-to-toe sweep, and said “I have a weekend visit from my parents, thus I‘ll be out the rest of the day. I couldn’t help you move in with your things – if you’re moving in today.”
And with that, she handed me a key. “I may not be here already when you move in.”
Claire only wavered with her strong personality whenever it concerned James, her boyfriend. She would have everything planned out for the weekend for them both, and here would James come calling, saying he wouldn’t be able to make it. Sometimes he would accompany it with alibis, sometimes he would simply express his inability to turn up.
But, strong as she appeared to other people, she did not seem to mind these on-the-spot acts of failing her expectations. She would just shrug and carry on with the plan, replacing James with her friends. It was in occasions like these that I truly got to know her much better.
“You’re so stuck up most of the times,” she once told me. “Loosen up.”
Claire had this ability of pointing out what she thought was an honest assessment of a situation or of a person, but she would not just stop there. She would, after a moment of thoughtful consideration, offer her remedy.
“Here, drink more of these. That stuff is too weak for you. Why go for the Light version when you can have the real heavy one?”
Yet as serious as she consumed her mug of her favorite beer in one draining sweep, she could be counted upon to devour the contents of whatever it was that she would be reading – footnotes and all. In one sitting. Never mind that it brought her to the wee hours of the morning. Never mind that it gave her puffy eyes the next day.
“The idea is to get through all of these in one quick phase in your life,” she said. “and move on.”
“Move on to what?” I asked. “In your case, you have you future fully mapped out. It’s law school after this.”
“I mean… move on to what truly matters… to me,” she replied with a blank stare. “I will give my family that law degree, no worries. But I somehow get the feeling that I am entitled to chasing my own inclinations too, don’t you think?”
With a wink, she turned towards her books and dug into its pages, leaving me to wonder what it was that “truly mattered” to her.
NO ONE REALLY SAW THROUGH HER
It was right after the finals in our last year in college. She was lying in bed as I got in – a view that surprised me.
“Not feeling well?” I asked. “People are scheduling parties left and right out there. Have you picked one yet?”
She smiled weakly. “I did. I’ll go later. You go have a great sem-ender. I’ll just lie it down for awhile.”
And so I left her in such a state, never really knowing what must be brewing inside of her. Up to this day, I cannot get over the thought that I was out, having a good time, draining glass after glass of the beer whose bitter assault she taught me to get accustomed to – while she was there inside our room, composing her last letter.
We had to beak down the door after getting alarmed by her refusal to open up. She put on the door latch inside, rendering my key useless. As the door finally yielded, we at the dorm got a full glimpse of the person we never thought would be stupid enough to take matters into her own hands – and just leave.
Explanations ran around the campus. There were funny theories, and there were those offered by self-proclaimed psychologists. But the final statements had always been the same: how could she? Which means going back and attempting a better explanation.
It had been several years. She may already be just a vague memory in the minds of those she partied with during our college days – especially James who showed up only at her funeral, and never at the wake.
But I could not let go. She taught me all about human frailty – why, even with the strongest disposition, we may eventually reach that certain phase, and meekly surrender. True, we all have our own parameters – knowing that to reach the borderlines would cause us to snap and lose balance. And from time to time, I find myself drifting to such dangerous limits.
But I only had to think of Claire. And everything becomes grounded again.