I never liked going to school. I felt like it’s a waste of time, and that I would instead work than attend classes. Besides, I always knew we didn’t have any money to get me to college. My dad worked as a plumber--electrician--mechanic, but even if he had multiple sets of talents, working like that in the Philippines wouldn’t save us from poverty. Yes, I’m fortunate that he had work, but I wanted to help him than to become one of his burdens. And sending me to school was one of those burdens he had to suffer just because he wanted me to have a good future.
I was still in grade eleven, but I wanted to finish senior high already. It wouldn’t take that long but going to school was insufferable, I hated it. If I could just stop going to school and—
“How many times do I have to tell you that you have to go to school?!”
I cringed after hearing dad’s screech coming from outside my room. I pulled the pillow towards my face, hoping that it would at least help me stop from hearing his voice. But unfortunately, he already barged in my room, his loud stomps coming my way. “Isaiah Julian! Get up, right now! Or I swear to God I’m going to hang you upside down, you piece of shit!”
I rolled my eyes. Jesus, was my dad always been this dramatic? He yanked the pillow away from me, his face scrunched up in anger. “Are you god damn deaf?! Get up, right now! You’ll be late for school!”
“Fuck school!” I cursed out loud only to regret it when dad shot me his signature deadly glare. Before he could reach out for his belt, I was already up and ready, smiling at him as bright as the sun. “Good morning, dad! It’s a nice day, isn’t it?!” I dashed my way outside my room and into the bathroom, startling my little sister who was still inside, brushing her teeth.
“Hey, first come, first serve!” she screamed, closing the door on my face. I heard the lock click and sighed in relief as I didn’t have to take a bath yet. At least, not for another ten minutes. Sam loved to see herself in the mirror and would often take hours before she finished getting ready for school.
Dad came out of my room, a towel on his head as he dried his hair. “Breakfast’s ready. I’ll have to go to Nestor’s to pick up something.”
“Please tell me it’s not his wife you’re picking up,” I whispered to myself.
“What?” dad asked.
Luckily, he didn’t hear what I said. I snickered. “Nothing!”
I walked to the living room and turned the television on. Flopping down on the sofa, I surfed the channels in boredom. Nothing but morning news shows with cheesy segments occupied the television. I finally settled in one of the channels as I caught up what the woman in the television was announcing some breaking news that just happened a while ago.
I narrowed my eyes, listening to the news that covered the murder of that little girl, the same age as my sister, who was found dead in a creek. I remembered hearing the news three weeks ago and was disgusted at whoever did the brutal murder of the innocent kid. And to hear that the criminals were teenagers, even younger than me made me shudder. Not in fear but in utter disgust.
I wished I could have done something, anything to make those three fuckers feel the same pain that girl felt before her demise.
“Fucking assholes,” I murmured.
Dad walked past in front of the television, halting for a bit to watch the news. “What happened?” he asked.
“Three teenage fuckers involved in rape and murder,” I summarized, throwing the remote control beside me before standing up. “I’m telling you, dad, there’s real evil in this world.”
Dad eyed me, nodding in agreement. “I know that, kid. But at least there’s North Vale, huh?” he said, standing in front of the mirror to check himself. “That reformation school is said to be effective with juvies like them.”
I scoffed. “Yeah, right. North Vale is for shitheads. They deserve to be in that place.”
He glanced at me and said, “and you better behave, Isaiah. I know how you love getting into trouble. Stay out of fights or I’ll throw you in North Vale, you understand?”
It’s always been dad’s threat for me to enroll me in North Vale for my bad behavior. I wouldn’t lie, I am a stubborn kid. I often get into trouble no matter how petty it was, as long as I know I’m in the right. In my school, I was famous for being the gangster, someone who you’d be afraid to pass by in any corridors as I could beat you up in a pulp. But of course, those rumors were just exaggerated stories from students who hadn’t even talked to me yet.
Isaiah Julian Montenegro. I wouldn’t say I was ashamed that I was popular for being a troublemaker. The reputation I had in school wasn’t something I regret, as I was only protecting people who needed protection. There were a lot of students bullied by stupid fuckers who wanted to show who the Alpha was in a classroom and I wouldn’t just stand in the corner and watch them terrify these poor kids just because they had superiority issues.
No, I’d rather be grounded and scolded by dad just to save those kids. And besides, my mom (bless her soul), always tells me to stand up for what’s right. Even if the same belief killed her, I still follow it, wherever I am.
“Iza!” Sam screamed my name as the door to the bathroom finally opened. She was dressed in her uniform, her hair damp and soaking through her clothes. “Help me tie my hair up. You’re always good with it.”
I smiled at her in defeat. “Okay, come here.”
I might act like a gangster, but a few people know that I’m a gay gangster. And I loved it.
“So, what if I’m gay? I don’t care!” I asked, rolling my eyes at Stephanie. I hated school and going to classes that would lock me up for hours and hours only to listen to the teacher rambling stuff, but if there’s one thing I liked, it’s seeing Stephanie and talking to her about the most mundane things.
She giggled, amused at what I said. Being gay in a country like the Philippines who had the most judgmental people in the whole damn world wasn’t easy, but I didn’t give a shit. I’d gladly shout I’m gay and would enjoy the outraged gazes I would receive from everybody. “I know you’re gay and all. And I wouldn’t care what you are, a lizard, a pig, or whatever, but please lower your voice!”
We were in the classroom, waiting for the teacher to arrive. It was Math class and I hated to my core that subject. But dad wanted me to go to school and finish it just so I could have a better living, unlike what happened to him. “Well, it’s who I am. I don’t give a sh—”
Stephanie clasped her hands on my mouth, stopping me from cursing out loud. She might be an outgoing girl, but she was too into her religion and would cringe whenever I say bad words. It’s dumb but I kind of respect it. She didn’t judge me when she discovered as I was gay, so who am I to judge her for being religious. “Haven’t your dad told you to stop saying bad words?”
I scoffed. “As if he can stop me from saying fu—” She glared at me and I decided not to continue, raising my arms in surrender.
“If what you’re saying is true, like you’re gay and all, then why did you punch Gavin?” Stephanie asked.
Her question made me groaned. Remembering that fucker’s face brought shivers down my spine, and it’s not because I was scared of that pig. I managed to throw him across the room and punched him over and over again until he knocked out two of his teeth, leaving him bloody and defeated on the floor. That stopped him from harassing Rebecca, the girl he’s been asking out in our class for weeks. She was always uncomfortable whenever Gavin and his goons visit our classroom as they acted like they owned the school or something. Just because they belonged in a local gang that was feared in our place.
Rebecca was too kind to push him away, even if she already made it obvious that she didn’t like the pig. Who would, anyway? He’s fat, he’s ugly, and he smelled like shit. The only redeeming thing about him was that he was kind of rich, at least compared to the majority of the students attending this public school, Gavin was a little bit of fortunate when it comes to money. And even with that, I still wouldn’t date that piece of shit. And I know Rebecca wouldn’t either. She’s too good for that bastard.
I would have kicked his ass a long time ago, but Stephanie convinced me not to interfere, not unless Rebecca asked us to. Everyone in the class witnessed the harassment, the constant stalking, the teasing and every time I would have turned a blind eye just because of Stephanie. But when he suddenly grabbed her and groped her chest, that was the last string of my patience.
I charged towards him, easily throwing that fat ass on the ground, hitting him in the face while I screamed profanities at him. Rebecca was crying but she didn’t stop me while the other boys in the room tried their best to get me off Gavin. The teachers arrived, and even the security guards had to step in to stop me from mauling the fucker.
I was suspended for a week, and dad punished me for what I did. He dragged me back to the house after apologizing to Gavin’s parents who were obviously in distraught that I sent their kid to the hospital with a broken nose and missing teeth. But I didn’t give a damn. He deserved that for assaulting Rebecca. She said way too many times that she didn’t like Gavin, doing her best to be polite as possible as she was scared at Gavin.
Dad wasn’t kind when he brought me to the house that afternoon. He was called to come to school and had to apologize not only to Gavin’s parents but to the teachers and staff involved in the one-sided brawl. I felt bad that he was humiliated, but a part of me was proud of what I did. I just protected Rebecca, and I wouldn’t regret it if ever something happens to her because of Gavin and his friends.
The news I just watched this morning proved that evil on this Earth could materialize into anything, even in kids like Gavin.
“Please don’t remind me,” I said, shuddering at the memories of what dad to me. The bruises I received from his belt and the arnis stick were still visible in my body. But I was used to the punishment. Dad was a very tolerable man, loving and a tad bit serious. But when it comes to disciplining me, he wouldn’t hesitate to use violence, as he was a man who thinks punishing their children would set them straight.
And never would I hate my dad for it. He was just doing his job as a father, as he didn’t want what happened to my mom, happen to me. Besides, if it wasn’t for dad who enrolled me to different kinds of fighting classes just because he wanted me to turn straight, as he already know I was gay right when I was just a kid (he caught me playing with mom’s make-up when I was a kid and since then, dad had his suspicions that I might be gay), I wouldn’t be this strong. Martial arts, Krav Maga, taekwondo, Muay Thai, anything just to turn me into a man, I did it to satisfy my father. And even when he didn’t have enough money to enroll me in summer classes, he still finds ways to earn it just so he would stop me from turning queer.
But in the end, all his efforts were futile. Even after he forced me to join the basketball league in our town, I just ogled at the guys every time I attend practice. Nothing helped dad to turn me into a real man and he just gave up and accepted that I was always meant to be gay.
“What? Did he hang you upside down in a tree?” Stephanie asked, appearing horrified at what dad might have done to me to teach me a lesson.
“Well, he used to be when I was just a kid,” I said, smiling at the bittersweet memories of being tied inside a sack and hanged from a tree branch while hitting me with a dos por dos wood. the good times.
“Man, your father is really scary,” Stephanie commented.
“He can be, sometimes,” I muttered. Weren’t most fathers scary? Or was it just mine?
“Anyway, at least Gavin won’t bother Becca anymore,” she said, looking over at Rebecca who was busy talking to her friends. She hadn’t been in a good mood ever since Gavin started pestering her, and now that he’s gone as he had to change schools, she’s living the rest of her senior high school years in peace.
“Yeah,” I said, smiling a little. I’m glad I would have any kind of regret now that she’s safe. I would endure any punishment as long as no one like Rebecca or any other innocent people falls into the hands of evil shits.
I hated scums like for real I loathed them. Especially people who think they could do anything just because they have the money and power to torment others.
“Anyway, won’t you join me in the mall later?” Stephanie asked as she wiggled her brows with zeal.
“What? Please don’t tell me you have another blind date,” I said, rolling my eyes at her. When she grinned and nodded her head, I couldn’t help but groan. “I told you to stop that online dating shit, didn’t I?”
She pouted at me. “Hey, as long as you’re with me, nothing will happen, right?!” she said, hugging my arms while giving me a puppy-eye look. “Please, Iza? Please?”
I sighed. Why am I always weak to those kinds of gazes? Damn it. “Fine,” I said in surrender.
Stephanie clapped her hands, giggling in glee. “Thank you so much!”
Classes finally finished and we were free to do whatever we wanted, at last. I put my books and notebooks in my bag before turning to Stephanie who was already busy with her phone. “Hey, are you sure about this?”
She always had a habit of finding her supposed prince charming through these dating apps available on her phone, and it would infuriate me at how desperate she was for finding Hell, I was also desperate for a good boyfriend, the man who would sweep me off my feet and kiss me like there’s no tomorrow, but I wouldn’t be desperate to look at them in dating apps. Not only that, but I also didn’t have a phone. Dad already brought Sam a cellphone and I knew how much it costed him to give her one for her birthday. Besides, I didn’t need a phone anyway.
“It’s not the first time,” Stephanie said, sticking her tongue out at me. “Don’t worry too much! I don’t talk to creeps, okay?”
“And how would you know they aren’t creeps?” I asked sarcastically. “What if they’re just posing to be a handsome kpop idol that you love too much, huh?”
“I’m not dumb! Of course, I’ll know if it’s a poser or not,” she retorted, pouting at me.
“And like I said, how would you know?” I repeated the same question to which she ignored.
“Let’s just go, okay?” Stephanie asked. She pulled her bag and grabbed my hand, dragging me out of the classroom.
It wasn’t the first time Stephanie asked me to go with her in these blind dates she’s been going to. I went with her three times already and every time Stephanie and the men she had been chatting for weeks appeared in front of her in a date, she’d usually be disappointed that the man wasn’t up to her standards. And every time I go with her, it’d only be awkward for me as the guy would think I was her brother or something.
But to give Stephanie some credit, she would choose a restaurant that would be jampacked, as she was afraid that something might happen during the date. Not all guys in dating apps have the same intention as her (finding their one true love), and she was always careful whenever they go on a date. And never would she come to meet them without me. Stephanie trusted me and the skills I had to protect her.
I couldn’t understand why she wanted to date that badly. Maybe because her religious parents were too strict with her, or maybe she was being pressured of being the only girl in class who didn’t have a boyfriend. Or maybe it’s both.
“You should really stop it,” I said as Stephanie and I walked to the nearest mall at our school. We would have ridden a jeepney but we wanted to save whatever money we have for the upcoming vacation this summer. “You know it’s not safe to always go to blind dates like this. And what, you’re only seventeen, Steph.”
Stephanie groaned. “I seventeen! I want to experience love!”
I laughed in mockery. “And here I thought you’re the religious bitch in our class.”
“Hey, I love being a Christian and all, but let’s face it, I’m not as pure as you want me to be,” she defended, her cheeks puffing up.
I couldn’t help but smile at what she said. “If I were straight, I would have dated your sorry ass.”
Stephanie’s cheeks flushed and she suddenly hit me on the arm. “Stop joking like that! I would have fallen for you if you aren’t gay, you idiot!”
I laughed out loud and so did she. “You’re too precious for me to date,” I teased, pinching her cheeks.
She cried out, slapping me again on the arm. “You better get yourself a boyfriend too, Iza. You’re too good looking to stay single.”
What she said made me think for a second. I had always admitted that I’m attracted to boys. But I’d take my time to find I didn’t want to be heartbroken just because I fell for the wrong guy. I’m aware of how difficult it was for a guy person like me to find the one I’d spend the rest of my life with, especially in a place like this. I didn’t want to make mistakes in love and end up being hurt over and over again because I wanted to be loved.
That’d be traumatic for me.
“If I find my prince charming, I’ll definitely introduce him to you,” I said, grinning at Stephanie.
“Don’t take too long, okay?!”
(1) Arnis [stick] - Arnis is a deadly form of Original Filipino self-defense, which basically uses the garote; usually rattan sticks as the main weapon and as extension of the hands to maximize reach and power. The bare hand (which is usually the left) is used as necessary support to the right hand in the absence of another stick or dagger. In other cases or styles, two sticks or swords are used. Otherwise empty hands may also be used as effectively as when there are weapons.
(2) Dos por dos - is a 2”x2” strip of wood used in ceiling or cabinet framing.
(3) Jeepney - are buses and the most popular means of public transportation ubiquitous in the Philippines. They are known for their crowded seating and kitsch decorations, which have become a wide spread symbol of Philippine culture and art.
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