February 8, 2016.
Five more months to pass and Julio will be celebrating his birthday. For many, an occasion like this is so special that it may involve music, gifts, cakes and candles, delicious foods, intoxicating drinks, grand revelries with families and close friends, or an extravagant travel to the most beautiful destinations within or outside the Philippines. There will be numerous, meaningless, and generic “Happy Birthday” greetings sent via SMS or written on one’s Facebook wall, while others go to great length by writing an inspirational message on a traditional birthday card or personalized e-card. There are countless ways to make someone’s birthday wonderful and memorable.
But none of these would match Julio’s way of celebrating his next birthday.
When the clock announces 12:01 in the morning, he will lie peacefully, stripped into his nakedness on the white, powdery beach with the pale moon hanging in the sky. He will give out his one last cry in sync with the parting sound of the great waves, and afterwards everything in the world will vanish from his senses as if nothing has existed before. All the misery, loneliness, heartaches, sufferings, and struggles he has been trying to endure will dissipate. Not a single emotion will disturb him. Not a single memory will break him down. Not a single love song will shatter him into pieces. Not a single problem will manifest itself. No more feeling and thinking for his physical body will simply turn into pricking coldness and stop functioning.
This is truly a differently special day because time ultimately comes to an end and the world permanently stops itself from spinning…for Julio alone. While other celebrators are giving thanks and wishing for more birthdays to happen in their lives, he will simply call that birthday the grandest day.
On the second Monday of February 2016, when he turns 28…Julio decides to die.
His suicide note will tell his loved ones that he wanted his corpse to be burned into ashes and sprinkled into the interiors of the famous caves in Sagada eight days thereafter. Why Sagada? That is where he first felt the coldness of death – embedded onto the mighty walls and rocks and lurking in the darkness of the abyss more than six feet below the ground. That was the first time he heard that death has spoken to him. Julio has not seen its face, but he received its message sharp and clear even when it was just a soft whisper on his ears. At that time, he was so engrossed with the lifetime adventures he has planned in mind in anticipation that someone would be joining him soon. He ignored the voice of death…and the latter willingly and patiently waited for the right time to come.
Julio has chosen the best way to end his life. Actually, he asked me to write this post in the hope to reduce the drama and soften the shock that his death might induce. His passing away will be very sweet like the tiny, red aratiles that he would patiently wait for the wind to cause to fall on the ground because he was too small and young to climb the flimsy tree. Or the ripe, fleshy mangoes that had become a satisfying part of his modest lunch on one stormy day of his distant childhood. His death will be painless too, something similar to the part of the body injected with anesthesia in preparation for a major life-saving surgery. How Julio relished the idea of having an anesthesia for every painful life experience, like an aborted love.
“I am not afraid to die,” Julio told me during a cold summer night, while we were watching the full moon sometime in the middle part May. “Death is a natural part of life,” he said, “I’ve seen it in every life situation, but most people just barely recognize it as an option.
He went on to say that the ugliest part of death is allowing it to take you down very suddenly. “Death has to be planned. Maybe I have my special powers to defer death. It goes away at the sound of my commanding voice. It leans on me when I summon it for comfort. Death always smiles at me which I always appreciate, unlike life whose mood is very unpredictable and changing. It’s difficult to master…and win.”
Sometimes, Julio plays at the idea that if someone is born, somebody must die, and in doing so life and death maintain their balance. Imagine what happens to the world if birth outnumbers death. “When I die, someone very close to my heart will be reborn,” he said in a calm voice. I gave him a puzzled look. He met my gaze with a sparkle in his eyes. “You will understand when the final day comes.”
What becomes of Julio after he breathes his last breath? I do not know and neither does he have an idea or he merely does not want to know. It is another sort of adventure for him. Julio is just like that, always excited in exploring the unknown. I kissed him on the left cheek where a childhood misadventure had impressed an indelible crescent scar. He broadly smiled without looking away from the moon whose brilliance created a glittering reflection on his braced teeth. He took my hand and pressed on my fingers one by one like he was counting the remaining leaves left clinging on the tree of life.
“In life or in death, there is nothing you can be certain of,” he said, “maybe I’ll fly to the moon after I see my inert body slowly converting into its original form by a blazing fire.” I cried. “When that happens, I want you to keep watching the moon, but without those tears you’re shedding now, thinking that I’m there looking back at you.”
“What happens between now and your birthday?” I asked him. He put on his Wave Inspire 9 and straightened out his legs. Then, he rose from the bench and visually traced the asphalted track around the park. “I’ll devote the remaining days in adding some meaning and purpose to my life,” he said before he ran away.
In the same way as the world rejoices at the cry of the new born, Julio believes that death must also be a celebration. What makes people afraid of death? If we are inclined to say the words “Happy Birth Day” to someone who just gained a year on life, wouldn’t it be fair to also chant the words “Happy Death Day” or any other more euphemistic expression to someone on the deathbed? What is there to celebrate in death?
Endings have its beginnings and Julio cannot help getting excited.
He wrote on his note, “There’s still a life worth living after my death, for you and maybe me.” On the last line, he concluded, “I’ll come back when I can.”