It was the third day of September, 7:40 in the morning. I had just finished watering the plants on my postage stamp-sized porch. My cellphone beeped. It was a text from Jojun Loanzon with whom I had worked at McCann-Erickson Philippines around 42 years ago. We were the Coca-Cola team forged with friendship, warmth and good times. Our friendship has survived all these years.
To us, time just whizzes by, like air: always there, but insignificant. We do not feel how important air is to us until one day we cannot breathe. We may not see each other for many years, but who cares? We are friends who love each other to the max though we never tell each other how deeply we feel. We take for granted that our friendships are there, just waiting to be picked up by a chance meeting or some reunion. We will always see each other again. We will always laugh together again, pick up where we left of as if we saw each other only yesterday.
Jojun’s text was a photograph of Linda Barretto, smiling prettily. Under it read “HSN70 | COL 74.” Under that: “AUGUST 24, 1951 – AUGUST 30, 2022.” And under that: “May she rest in peace.” I stood there frozen. Linda B is what we called her. She’s gone. She was one of my closest friends. What happened? She was much younger than me. How can she go so suddenIy?
Initially, nobody knew. Jojun said one of his old neighbors passed the card onto him. I remembered Holy Weeks spent at her house in Antipolo. My children and I would go there with our other McCann friends to swim, joke, laugh, have a lot of fun. I remember Butch slipping on the wet floor and falling with a resounding thud. Once Linda fought with some neighbors and even brought out her father’s gun. It wasn’t loaded. But it scared the enemy, and the friends alike.
We used to hang out a lot together — Carmen “Mameng” Lim, Linda B and I would often got to my flat and watch Camelot on my Betamax. We loved that movie. It always made us cry then we would laugh at how foolish we were. We would argue about the actors. I loved King Arthur. The two of them liked Lancelot. We would argue and banter but we would be giggling foolishly in the end.
Wherever you are now, know that I love you. We love you and we will never stop, not even when we see each other again.
We went all over the Philippines launching the new package for Coke. We piled into coasters packed to the ceiling with lights, posters, equipment. We would bring pillows to put on top of our heads as we slept so we wouldn’t get hurt by anything falling on us. We stayed at the worst places —in a motel where we were five to a room. But I am forever grateful to Linda B for the graciousness with which she accommodated my daughter and me when we went to the States. My daughter was coming to join me in Houston but she suggested we spend a few days together in San Francisco. I called Linda, who then was in San Francisco, to see if she could accommodate us for three days. She ended up hosting us for three months.
It was a horrible time for me. Quite unexpectedly, Houston had closed its doors to me.
It was totally unexpected. I was totally broken. We spent days doing jigsaw puzzles, a metaphor for me putting my broken pieces together. Finally I managed to find my own apartment, found a job that would see my family and me through the next four years.
I remember one afternoon we were watching a Tagalog drama on her TV set with George, an American friend of hers. There were three characters in it, and we were three Filipinas there. We arbitrarily took on the TV roles and translated them into English. We stopped as suddenly as we started because we realized we were being silly. But George jumped in and said, “No, continue.” It was interesting.
Linda B, you will always be one of my most cherished friends. I never forgot about you. I remember your wedding where you got me to be one of the sponsors but never told me what to wear. So I wore the wrong thing and was afraid you would hate me forever. But you did not. That wedding and my work swept us in different directions. In the end you went and lived in Las Vegas. I lived here permanently, hardly ever traveling again.
I remember once having lunch with Tessie Tomas and Butch Tan in my apartment, before I got married again, and we reminisced about us. We wondered where you were. Tessie said you were in Las Vegas. We didn’t hear from you. Wherever you are now, know that I love you. We love you and we will never stop, not even when we see each other again.