That day I found myself in Pagudpud

Is that possible? Could you be living all 23 years of your life without exactly knowing who you are, what you want in your life, where you are heading? In my case, the proverbial question popped out while I was at the end of a press junket in La Union.

On the last day of a surfing coverage, I decided to take the bus further north, all the way to Pagudpud – alone, running out of money (and clean clothes) and with a very heavy heart.

No. I wasn’t broken-hearted. In fact, I have had amorous encounters my gay friends would be envious of. I had love too and a well-paying but dull job I quit just a week before. I had an apartment, a dream job writing for several newspapers – a life of my own. For a 23-year old I had a great life. But something was missing and I didn’t know what it was.

I was yearning for a commitment I couldn’t have. I was not happy in the relationship I was in. I was insecure with my writing skills. And I didn’t know which direction my life was going. There was an emptiness I could not put into words and life felt like it was just dragging me along. It didn’t help at all that during that weekend, I was reading Emotional Wellness, a booked I must have picked up from my aunt’s stash of self-help readings.

So like what I’d often do whenever I’m overwhelmed, I took the bus to somewhere. The ride was long, passing through rice fields, rivers, a steel bridge and provincial towns. It gave me time to think. I could barely recall the thoughts running through my head that time. But they were melancholic.

I found a home-stay rental at the last minute, a few minutes walk from the beach. I spent the first evening listening to cheesy love songs on my playlist, chatting with a lover over the phone and crying simply for melancholy. I needed those tears to clear my head. And it worked. I slept soundly, woke up with puffed eyes but felt much, much better.

With a camera and a bottle of red wine, I set off to the beach very early in the morning.

It was a somber November morning and the beach is far from looking like you typical tourist image of sunny Philippines. The waves rolled beautifully, crashing as white froth on the white sand. The blue horizon was dotted with the famous windmills, sticking out like eye sores in the foreground of scenic mountain ridges. Only two fishing boats were still out at sea, most of the fishermen were already on the beach trading their catch or fixing their nets.

Two children joined me not long after, at first picking shells on the beach and later on watching me downed a bottle of red wine all by myself. I was thankful for their presence as I wasn’t sure frolicking on the beach while tipsy was the best idea. The beach emptied just before lunchtime.

I felt like a carefree kid alone in her universe, jumping in the cold water, being chased by the waves, digging my toes in the sand, lying on the beach. It drizzled for a while but my body drenched in salt water didn’t care one bit except when it became a little chilly that I needed to wrap myself in sarong. The sun peeked out from the grey clouds not long after, enough to warm me up and jump back to the water.

I lingered on the beach the whole afternoon, basked into this solitude that I rarely encounter during that period of my life. The silence in my head, the salty air around me, the crashing waves – they were all I needed to pacify my heart. I reveled on it. I let it overcome my soul. I relished it like a delicious tryst because I knew that it won’t last long. I knew that I have to face the emptiness in my life and make difficult decisions when I go back to Manila.

By the time I left the beach, I had this lightness that I hadn’t felt for a long time. I was also famished. Fortunately, my kind host had two pieces of grilled pork belly waiting for me when I came back to their house, which I devoured with two cups of rice before dozing off to a deep slumber.

I woke up in the middle of the night, grabbed my laptop and started writing until sleep snatched me to dreamland again. The next morning, I packed my bags, happily said goodbye to my host and took the very long ride back to the city.

What did I realize in those two days?

Not all I have in my life are what I want. I had to let go and focus only on things that makes me happy. At the same time, pain and suffering are necessary for me to truly appreciate happiness. I must not be afraid of it.

P.S. At the end of this particular month, a special writing assignment landed on my lap from a guy who is now my husband. It’s almost 10 years ago this year.