Rain fell in sheets outside my bedroom window – a distraction for a writer who has nothing else to do but sit in front of a blank screen and stare into naught. It was night, dark, and oddly inviting, so I sat in the midst of it, feeling a little like Batman myself. The only light in my room came from my laptop and the occasional lightning that streaked through the sky outside – brief flashes followed by the deafening sound of thunder. J-Rock played from my iPod – a song called ‘Liar’ by ONE OK ROCK – and since the volume was at full blast, it overwhelmed even the chaos outside.
I was all alone, with nothing and no one but my memories to keep me company. In my mind’s eye, I was travelling back in Time – back to 1994; back to when Kurt Cobain of Nirvana committed suicide and the movie “Schindler’s List” won the Best Picture Oscar; back to when NASA and its Russian equivalent did all sorts of space adventures and made the whole world abuzz with excitement; back to when the Formula 1 race driver Ayrton Senna was killed in a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix; and back to when Michael Jackson confirmed his marriage with Lisa Marie Presley – Elvis Presley’s daughter. In my mind’s eye, I was once again just another rebellious teenager involved in several rallies, attending covert meetings that railed against the government. In my mind’s eye, I was once again just ‘Makoy’ – a nobody that no one knew and no one cared for.
Sometimes I wonder who would I have been had I not been guided. Change is an unknown frontier, full of dangers and wonders untold. The fearful fear it and avert their eyes from the truth of it; the brave will always face it, unfailing. We have always been all too ready to pretend otherwise when we face nasty goings-on and cruelty. I was no different back then. In fact, I was eager to become one of those perpetrators of evil.
If not for the teacher who saved my life, I never would have changed.
I was a product of a broken home. I did not know my real father, because he had left my mom before I was born. My mom had chosen to remarry – leaving me stuck with an abusive and alcoholic stepfather. He beat me all the time and pulled no punches when he did. I sought the refuge of the world outside my home; sought comfort in the arms of others – and found joy in the torment of others. I was, in a sense, homeless. The pain I felt was so deep and profound that I was convinced it would never fade. My wounds were always fresh – they weren’t ever given a chance to heal. I was scarred for life.
Then I met Mr. Cuevas. He taught at my college, serving as the Guidance Counselor in his spare time. He was a 40 yr. old man who had seen too many things and had weathered all storms. Indeed, he seemed to me, at that time, an old man in spite of his considerable young age. In the midst of all my misery – and all the suffering that I caused – he became a beacon of light in my private darkness. He showed me my weaknesses and my strengths. He reminded me of my humanity.
I can still remember the first words he spoke to me when we first met: “Your mind is like a howling menagerie, full of anguish and pain. Lost boy, I will show you peace.”
It was January.
Slowly, under his guidance, I changed. He taught me the basic principles of Life and how it wasn’t fair at all – but that Life was there for the taking and all you really had to do was take it. Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero. Seize the Day, put as little trust as possible in the next. The road we travel is long and hard. Defeat today and then tomorrow. Live as you always have and live for the purpose you were given. Do not live your life according to the dictates of others or according to the dictates of the world. Life is short so make the most of it, but never stray from righteousness. Mr. Cuevas taught me to look at myself from a different perspective – then later, he taught me how to view things the same way.
I became someone else. I was no longer just a lost boy, hoping to find Peter Pan. Neverland was just a hopeless dream, Reality was right there in front of me all that time – and it was only I who refused to perceive it. Months passed like the tide on a shore - in one minute, out the next. Days came and went, and before I knew it, January had already become September.
With September came my birthday and I chose to celebrate it with my mentor. After all, I reasoned, it was the highest form of respect I could give him – a sort of thanks for all that he had done for me.
Grace is irresistible. I had been given grace and I had found it hard to refuse it.
Mr. Cuevas was my teacher, mentor and friend. I used to call him ‘Sensei’ just for the fun of it. I happily spent almost a year learning all there was to learn from him – growing in the process. He was right – he was able show me peace. My soul felt a tranquility that it had never experienced before. I was scarred for Life, but sensei showed me that I did not always have to be that way.
Nevertheless, Fate is a cruel mistress and she is merciless in all her dealings. Who can say for sure what Time has in store for us? The future is not set in stone. Those who hold the secrets of Life in their hands write it.
One cold morning, I decided to pay sensei a visit to his house. I knew that he lived all alone and that he had no family. I wanted to surprise him. In all the short time that I had known him, I had come to think of him as my real father. It was a gradual realization.
That day, I found him lying on the cold floor of his bathroom. He was blue all over, and he was struggling for breath, gasping for air.
What could I have done? I did not know.
I ran to his side and held him tight. He clutched at my clothes like a man holding on for dear life. He gasped…and gasped…
“Sensei!” I cried. “Please hold on, I’ll call for help.”
But he stopped me and pulled me closer instead, until my face was close to his. Then he whispered: “Foolish boy! I am dying...will you deny Death what is his?”
He rasped for more breath before he continued: “I am proud of you. You have grown – you have grown so much... no longer a boy now… already a man… I am proud of you… son.”
Son. He called me son. As I had come to know him as my father, he had also come to know me as his son.
“Now do me one last favor,” he continued, “and hold me as a real son would.”
In his last moments as he faced Death, I stayed with him and held him tight. As he closed his eyes in surrender of his Life, I cried endless tears by his side. As Death came to claim him; to wrap its cold fingers around his dying soul, I watched in horror and terrfied realization as my teacher succumbed to a final storm. His heart had given way, perhaps it was too weak to last him a lifetime, and had decided its rest.
In so many ways, he had taught me to be strong; that true strength is measured with your heart. But in the end, he was only human, and his heart was only human. In the end, it was still weak – too weak to support him.
“Goodbye Makoy.” were his final words. His hand on my clothes went limp. Life escaped him, a quiet whisper whiffed away by the Tides of Death.
Sitting alone, with nothing and no one but my memories to keep me company, as the rain fell in sheets outside and thunder crashed, I traveled back in Time – back to 1994. I remembered my teacher. 18 years later and now, I am 36. God has been kind enough to grant me a second chance at Life, to prove myself worthy of my mentor’s benevolence.
A day after my teacher’s death, October 5 was declared World Teacher’s Day. And every year on that day, as well as the one that precedes it – the actual date of my sensei’s death –, I remember Mr. Cuevas.
Teachers are there to teach. They serve to shape the lives of their students. Sensei, Master, Professor or Teacher - whatever name we call them - they will always be the same. They will always be people whose torches light a fire in our hearts. Mother, Father, Sister, or Brother - they are all the same. Like a claypot from the Potter's hands we are molded - every shape, every curve streamlined to perfection.
Life goes on, but the values they have taught us, as well as those they have failed to teach us, will always remain.
Nineteen Ninety-four was the year I found and lost a friend; found and lost a father; found and lost a teacher. In the span of almost a year, I had changed so much. All that I had learned would stay with me forever. And one day, I will pass them on to someone else. Maybe I will search for someone like me.
This is Makoy – the former Lost Boy, now a man. The memories and lessons will stay, but my teacher is lost forever… gone with October.