There wasn’t much fanfare that day. The storm was at its peak, flood was all over the Metro. What was supposed to be his farewell gig, his last goodbye to music, became an intimate gathering composed of fifteen or so strangers and loyal comrades.
The night became his past persona’s funeral procession, his songs elegies. With the storm raging outside, he felt the thump thump thump of his heart as he walked inside the bar’s cold comfort. He longed for a drink, a double shot of whiskey to warm his insides, but he wasn’t permitted. The drugs he was on would battle with the liquor. What heat he needed to feel anything on his skin would have to come from the stage lights.
He dreaded it, the moment he was to walk in front. He’s done it before. Not a hundred, a thousand times like his contemporaries have, but enough to feel at ease in front of people. Even if the people watching his every move, his every strum, his every facial tic, were his closest confidantes, he felt dread.
He was in his musical Mecca. The music venue that, in his younger days, he frequented to watch and photograph his favorite bands – Up dharma Down, Narda, The Dorques, Drip, Sino Sikat, etc – and wondered “what if I had a band and I sang up there? Wouldn’t that be my own definition of perfection?” It’s the same music venue that he dreamed of playing when he, the boy who always seemed down on his luck, became a musician. He only dreamed about it. He only put it in his bucketlist. He never thought it would actually happen, especially when he had already decided to let go – to move forward – from the life that made him feel that happiness he has longed all his life for like the double shot of whiskey he needed that night.
And yet, there he was, two months removed from the decision he made. His hands trembling, his voice crackled. The storm was raging for him, for all the emotions he never could’ve felt that night for whatever reason. Depression. Unrequited love. Bitterness. Anxiety. Loneliness. Anger. Happiness. Depravity.
His mind was only on one thing. That silly dream from the past that came true in the present. There was no room for anything else. Not for feelings, not for outside interference, not for thoughts of that stranger he fancied but couldn’t make it that night, not for his friends who were watching. Everything that night was for his dream.
But the moment he came up on stage and sat down on the chair and placed his Nina – a beautiful weathered vintage acoustic guitar much older than him – on his lap, every single thing he wanted to block from his mind came rushing in. Like floodwaters rising up to sidewalks, the memories and emotions and the people around him and thinking of him and the fires burning his every fiber in his body unlocked themselves and all rose from the vaults he built hours prior to the call time. Every precaution he took was all for naught. Every strategy he made, every machination, all fell apart.
His mouth was inches from the mic. He opened it and stopped. Not because his words were pulled back by the stutter that has afflicted him all his life, but because he suddenly realized where he was. He suddenly realized what was happening.
It hit him like decades worth of loose change in a bag. It wasn’t about his dream anymore. It was never about his dream, not entirely, no. Perhaps it was once about his follies, but in the days and weeks from the moment he played his first A Minor chord to that night when he was sitting in that chair with his old girl on his lap and a mic in front of him, that night became about everything.
It was about his journey. It was about the battles in his head that went on all year. It was about the people who always had his back and were on his side even though he felt he was a singular entity. It was about his lifelong war with depression. It was about his God damned revolver that he had to have someone hide from him. It was about his anxiety attacks that once made him leave the same venue when he couldn’t handle every single noise in his head. It was about the relationship he jumped into head first without even thinking if it was right or not. It was about his rekindled love for capturing and stealing moments on a digital camera that he’s not even done paying for. It was for all the despicably tragic characters and stories he wrote down both in his head and on his laptop’s word processor. It was about his “Person,” one of the only few who ever understood his darkness, and her departure to a new much deserved home. It was about that Thursday that changed his life. It was about the photos he took of his favorite musicians. It was about the new friends he made despite his crippling self-loathing. It was about the man who wanted to be a version of himself he’d always dreamed of. A better version. A better man.
The man he was always meant to be.
“Welcome to Indie Manila’s Subdued,” he said after summoning the courage to calm himself after the realizations in the short seconds that felt like forever. He introduced himself. He played. He sang. He sang about an imagined love triangle. He whispers in the end “So who’s it gonna be, him or me?” Then strums the C Major chord that ends “Instead.”
“Fucking hell! I did it! I’m here!” he screamed inside his head, silencing all the voices that told him that he wouldn’t amount to anything. Applause. Cheers. He smiled. One of the most memorable smiles he must have done.
Before his second song, he said to whoever had his ears on him that his set is dedicated to two things: To a fallen compatriot in the music scene, and to the people everywhere who was suffering from all sorts of mental health illnesses. “We’ll get better,” he said with conviction. Holding back tears, he added “We’ll be better.”
And he played on. And he sang. And he cracked jokes. Whether it translated as jokes to the few in the audience is a matter up for debate, however. And he felt good. He felt alive. He felt like he was the version of himself that he’d always wanted to become.
It saddened him that most of the friends he invited couldn’t come. That night was also about them. For them. Those friends who were there for him and inspiring him with their stories of daily survival. In a way, they were in that room with him. They were in his songs, in his voice. They were there in the strums of his beat up guitar. They were there in the crackle of the monitors, in the heat of the stage lights that doubled as the whiskey’s warmth he wanted. They were in the floors and the walls and the glass on his right.
And when the last song was done, a song by his Music God, the aggressive and unnecessary repeated strumming of the G Major chord signaled the end of his short life as a singer-songwriter. And then the silence. And then the loud applause. And then the loud cheers. And then the savored smile on his face that will last forever. He spent a second taking it all in. Another second that felt like a lifetime, where everything that happened – every demon he faced, every battle he won, every emotional distress he felt all his life, every inadequacy he drowned in, every cigarette and alcohol he oversmoked and overdrinked, every storm inside his head, every happiness he wanted to feel but couldn’t, every anger he shoved inside, every thought about pulling the trigger or ramming his car onto the highway’s barriers, every bitterness he intended to acknowledge but never got to, every single good thing in his life he couldn’t see – all the things in the shadows that dragged him down were left on that stage.
And then the end. The end of that book. The end of that song.
And then he smiled again. Just for the hell of it.