Below is an excerpt from my Nanowrimo Novel 2010, Palpitations:
It all started with you, I guess. You with your anatomically-correct drawings and confusing Tagalog terms. Baba would mean three different things, depending on the accent. After my morning classes, Ate Remy would be reading some local comics rented from the neighbor for 2 pesos a day and she’d read that to herself in bed while she attempted to make me sleep beside her. I would have to read you and then sleep afterwards. I couldn’t sleep, and Ate Remy would take one of mom’s beaded belts, and threaten me with it if I failed to obey her orders to sleep. While I pretended by closing my eyes for a long time, I would sometimes sneak glances over her shoulder and see her reading something like Love Story comics with Manilyn Reyes in the cover and I’d long for the time when I could read what she’s reading.
Dear local comics:
Since you were found right beside our house, I saved 2 pesos or more and picked my victim for a day. I despised the romance wakasans, finding it so boring, and I’d settle with gruesome horror or sci-fi ones like “Nightmare” or “Fantasy”. I loved Fantasy the most, with tales like that old lady who aged backwards. In Fantasy there was this story about this pervy guy who became bath soap because of his desire to be near this woman. Of course she used “him” all over her body. It wasn’t very appropriate for an 8-year-old to read, but we never had censorship in our house. The ending had the guy back to his pervert human form, only to find out that his crotch area was now flat because of the girl’s soap usage. It was my first exposure to the world of speculative fiction, but this was in graphic form. The rental factor made me less careful with you, so I bought you everywhere with me, and sometimes I even bought you to our spiritism church and got a scolding for reading while the session was ongoing. But I didn’t let that incident take you away from me. I bought you with me to my cousin’s house, and we’d try to copy your drawings in the pudding cartons that they were using for their business. I discovered the more wholesome world of Bata Batuta and Funny comics, and every Friday my baon would be spent there. I had amassed quite a collection. A friend I just met named Cynthia invited me to her house and she had a kuya who made my collection seem weak. I stayed there in her bed, pretending to listen to her chatter while my mind was with the Planet of the apes, which I was reading while she was talking. Our neighborhood hair dresser always had this tall comics pile and I’d gladly accompany anyone who wanted to get their hair cut. I was so amazed at how I could enter new worlds just by learning how to read. It felt like discovering a hidden talent.
I remember your cover. It was ube violet, with a papier mache owl. I wondered if there were others as marvelous as you. With more than twenty colored stories and poems, it was like entering wonderland. Each poem/story had a different drawing than the last one, with review questions at the end. You reminded me of that reading comprehension by color skill exam we had in elementary. I loved those exams. I get all excited when the teacher brings a huge box filled with the reading materials and pencils. I imagine how lucky they are, these kids from where you came from. You were hardbound and thick and sturdy and had glossy paper. Everything was colored. It was delightful, and I’d maximize my library card borrowing books which reminded me of you. My classmates called me a “nerd” before being a nerd became cool because I lugged as many as three of your kind with me from the library to class. Even if you had different covers, you looked and smelled the same inside: a different illustration style per story, no less than twenty stories inside. You all had the same tattoo: Books for Asia.
Dear Mysteries of Time and Space:
You really mystified us. My classmates and I would each get a book from your encyclopedic series and nudge each other when we came upon really gruesome photos. Through you I learned about vampires, werewolves and poltergeists. I saw pictures of crop circles like those ones appearing in the OBB of that television show Shaider and that convinced me that everything inside you was real. You were colored and glossy, and talked about things in an encyclopedic (read: boring but factual) manner so you must have been true.
I was at that age where even the psychic connection of twins mystified me, that age where the scariest thing we could do was climb up to the highschool science laboratory and shriek when we saw that real baby fetus in a bottle. I heard about that from a friend, and a couple of girls and I went to see it for ourselves. It was small and hunched, preserved in formalin. We were afraid that constantly staring at it would cause it to open its eyes and become alive. We wondered if it was aborted. We wondered about where the parents of that baby were, how they felt about their baby on display in the lab, like a science experiment.
The time I was reading you, I was also reading my lolo’s old issues of FATE magazine. I was obsessed about the paranormal, and each year I’d eagerly wait for the Halloween special of Magandang Gabi Bayan, where they’d feature reports about the paranormal happenings in this country. My classmates and I discussed the show when we returned to class and we’d pepper our conversation with our own ghost stories, overheard from siblings or friends, things that happened to a friend of a friend of a friend. When “Are you afraid of the dark?” was shown on television, we watched it religiously, and in school we would sit ourselves in a circle, with the standard opening spiel for “Are you afraid of the dark?” memorized:
“Submitted for the approval of the midnight society, I call this tale….the tale of the White lady”, we’d begin, then launch into Tagalog for the storytelling section. In Grade 6 our classroom was near the stage, and backstage there was a spiral staircase leading down to the office of the school newspaper. That area was creepy, and there were rumors of ghosts haunting that general area, so we seldom explored it by our lonesome. One time a teacher was talking in class when he suddenly stopped, because he claimed that he saw a spirit in black crossing the room and disappearing in the blackboard. He had to tell us the tale when we asked him what happened and this caused us all to scream and to stampede towards the door.
Dear Ms. and Mother Jones:
When my mother brought home copies of you from Booksale or wherever, I’d flip through the pages and stare at the toy ads. Fisher-price toys were the best, with children looking like they were having a great time playing with these Technicolor plastic toys and I’d secretly envy them. My mom cut out the children’s story that came with the magazine, and filed it inside a plain folder so we can reread it when we wanted. I was just learning how to read, and to motivate me, she’d buy a nice Hootenanny-like book (see Dear Hootenanny above) and ask me to read a poem or short story aloud. If I finish it, I would be getting a red tag which I’d put in a book and when a page is completed, I could pick myself a new book. I loved this routine and there is no doubt that this highly influenced my passion for the written word.