i keep thinking of Miss Rosete and her (secret) lover named Clay. of the many short stories i have read and the many female protagonists i have known, it is Imaculada Rosete who stands out (even in her weakness – actually, she figures briefly in the story, mostly just inhabiting the childish imaginings of the narrator who is obviously infatuated with her), and then of course, there’s Maria Concepcion and Miss Emily Grierson.
Maria Concepcion is a remarkable character whose piety was considered exemplary in her community. her strength of character belied her seething jealousy for Maria Rosa… the girl her husband Juan, was cavorting with, while she, Maria Concepcion, was heavy with child. her murderous obsession led her to a moment of weakness, that is… killing Maria Rosa. if i were in her place and were in an uncontrollable rage, i would have killed Juan and not Maria Rosa.
as for Miss Emily Grierson… i feel for her. like the rest of humanity, Miss Emily was scared of growing old alone, with no one to love her. she being a solitary daughter tightly reined in by an authoritarian father left her an old maid. so when the opportunity to find a companion presented itself in the person of Homer Barron, Miss Emily could not let go even as she realized she was just one of his conquests. he actually seemed to prefer the company of his men more than hers. that’s when she thought of buying arsenic, purportedly to kill rats… and, well, we know in the end that the skeleton on her bed with the initials HB was no rat, but the man she clung to and loved to death.
but right now, I’d rather focus on Miss Rosete and her own feet of clay.
back in college, when i first read the short story “Clay” by Juan T. Gatbonton, the story did not particularly strike my fancy… i had very vague notions of immorality and deviance. i only had thoughts on love — the way poets and writers have described it: pure joy, full of passion, drama, rapturous even in despair.
pretty childish of me i know. but what little i knew about love was virtually nil. i had teenage crushes and read a lot of books on love: my mom’s novels, short stories i collected from magazines and my books, not to mention the many films i had seen depicting love in its many guises. but always… always… what i had in mind was an idealized view of love. the hero and his lady overcoming all obstacles and ending up together, living happily ever after. pretty much like any fairy tale i guess.
when i got to know Miss Rosete and realized, ah… she’s the boy’s teacher, crush and friend… and then there was Clay saying: Boy, is she good! Boy, did old Clay have a good time. and how he pronounced her name as “Imacool-ada.” how he would laugh sarcastically in the narrator’s face, unknowingly hurting the youthful sensibilities of the boy.
the story is riddled with symbolism of course beginning with the title “Clay.” Clay’s heavy boots crushing the white flowers near the pool, the rotten guavas, the carabao who muddied what used to be a crystal clear pond… even Miss Rosete’s name “Imaculada” – a Portuguese word meaning immaculate, pure, undefiled. Clay’s character made sure that Imacool-ada didn’t stay chaste for long, even comparing her to the common whores they (American soldiers) consorted with: Once ya get one of those babes convinced, they’re just like the girls here.
Clay – the guy – is, in a way, proof of Miss Rosete’s very own feet of clay… much to the chagrin of the young man telling the story. what better waterloo for an innocent woman than a man of the world like Clay?
the term originated from an event in the life of King Nebuchadnezzar who asked the prophet Daniel to interpret the following dream for him:
“Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.
And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.”
like Achilles’s downfall in Iliad by an arrow shot by the Prince Paris to the only vulnerable part of his body – the heel… Miss Rosete’s “failure,” though not at all epic in proportion, is equally as hard. she is a teacher after all, the epitome of grace & virtue. in the eyes of the young narrator, she was perfect… beautiful, virginal… with an ethereal quality that struck a chord in his young heart. but Clay ruined all of it when he began to speak about her with great familiarity… the way he talked about her – it was like he was talking about an ordinary flawed woman, so unlike the lady of the young man’s dreams. another broken dream.
but what of this expression feet of clay? i don’t know but i have always found it fascinating. perhaps because at this point in time my feelings, so raw, have forced me to rethink my decisions in life. how my own feet of clay have led to numerous failures that i never seem to recover from.
my weakest point being my heart… i live and die for my feelings… i make no distinction between love and life. in fact, i am without a choice, i make no distinction. am incapable of making a distinction, and that is a huge failing i suppose.
most of my misadventures begin and end with affairs of the heart.
i learned about crushes and love quite late in life. i had my first infatuation when i was eleven. my penchant for tragedy made me ask the guy (who actually courted me – he was my partner in the school dance troupe) to court another girl (a gymnast who, by mistake, i thought was my friend) who also had a crush on him.
why did i make such a rash decision? i liked him so much – i cried over him. but you see, that girl opened my bag during recess time and found my diary. she read it and passed it around. he (the boy) had a code name in my diary, but i described him so well that everyone knew i was talking about him. so i felt, when he started courting me, even when he denied it, that he was beginning to show interest just because i was a “sure thing.” the thought of never knowing the truth behind his intent worried me more than actually ‘losing’ him to the other girl. anyway, so he did court her just before graduation and i think they were together for a few months, then broke it off.
after him, i had no lasting crushes and suitors scared me. if a guy i was friendly with started to get sweet on me, it was guaranteed that i’d keep as far away from him as possible & avoid all contact. this happened with a really close guy friend of mine. we were very close and i even thought he was effeminate and he was a really talented artist. he confessed his ‘love’ when we were about to graduate. i was eleven and he gave me a pretty cutout to hang up on my wall – it said: i love you claire. i didn’t talk to him months after that, but i hung his gift on my wall. my mommy asked about it and i said a really good friend of mine gave it to me so it left.
then there was the big brother of one of my classmates. he was a senior and we were still in junior high. he was smart and funny… but, well, it turned out that he wanted to court me. he gave me flowers and a really lovely poem he made for me on valentine’s day… i felt betrayed. he was a senior officer of the club i was about to head once they graduated… i was very upset. it was really childish of me, i know, but it took me a while to get over my shock & irritation.
my real crushes were mostly movie stars / celebrities: barret oliver, noah nathaway, corey haim & corey feldman, michael j. fox, ralph macchio, bryan adams, paul mccartney (even when i was really small i thought he had the sweetest face among the beatles, while john lennon looked enigmatic), the menudo, steve armstrong and prince zardos (of the Japanese anime Voltes V), perseus (Clash of the Titans), that guy from macross, astroboy, macaulay culkin, elijah wood, bruce greenwood, mark lester, shaun cassidy, leif garrett (my aunt’s used to fight over them), john denver, etc.
after high school, i worked at McDonald’s while taking up short courses on computer programming. i was infatuated with our professor who was a very nice looking chinese mestizo. i can remember sir victor’s calm and gentle gaze. he had nice almond shaped eyes and a kindly gaze. he didn’t notice me, of course. he had a very beautiful girlfriend who was also a chinese mestiza.
at work, i had a crush on the “baddest” looking guy… not bad-looking, i.e. ugly – he looked mean and tough, somewhat unapproachable, and yes, he had a girlfriend (he was already in his mid-20s). actually, one time, he and i got into a fight at work (a word duel) then later became good friends. and my, how he danced! they joined the national championships among mcdonalds crew and they were in the top five, thanks to him! then there was sir allan with his chinky eyes. he was married and i was his confidant. he said that even though i was just fifteen, i thought like an adult. when i resigned, he confessed something to me (no, it wasn’t because he was attracted to me in any way!), a secret i will keep till the day i die.
in college, i had a really huge crush on robert who was two years ahead of our batch. i don’t know why he ended up taking botany with a bunch of freshmen (maybe he failed the first time? it didn’t really matter that time)? i called his girlfriend “the pendant”. robert was really tall and she was petite. she would bring him cakes and stuff she baked, and like a pendant, she would wrap her arms around him and walked thus, hence, she hung onto him like a pendant…
then there was superman. i never found out his name since he belonged to a higher year level, but he did resemble christopher reeves so i christened him that way. there was also a nepali engineering student who struck my fancy. he looked like a greek bronze statue. he had a girlfriend of course, and i never found out who he was.
all of these crushes came and went harmlessly into my adolescent life. there was one junior pastor in my friend’s church who, after being transferred to another medical school, confessed his love for me from afar. he wrote me beautiful love letters, alas! i had superman and the bronze statue to distract me. he would have made an ideal boyfriend, but having one was the farthest thing from my mind.
then there was a former classmate of mine in high school. he was our class clown and we were joking friends. in college, he studied biology… but in our old city. he also started writing and said he was in love with me. i was young and falling in love was something idealized, distant from my own life, so i told him that it wasn’t a good time. all i wanted to do was study.
i had a crush on my trigonometry and botany professors, and, much later, on my anthropology professor. they were all much older and i feared and respected them. and nope, i never behaved like a groupie – obvious and brazen enough to confess my “love.” no way. i was never like that.
there were a couple of guys i liked but they never found out of course. there was jonathan and adrian – both student leaders. i was a regular attendee of the student demonstrations they led… during the july 16 earthquake, i had just gone back from home (our province was more than four hours worth of bus travel away) to support the student strike they were leading.
all in all, my infatuations were relatively harmless and had no real bearing on major life decisions i made. i was just another nerd in college, until…
i would call it pride and rebellion on my part. i asked mommy to come live with us there ‘coz daddy was abroad. everything was great, oh well… it was ok at first till things got complicated in the house we lived in (we rented one room). i don’t wanna go into the details, but yeah… coz of a big fight with my mommy over a guy who gave me flowers (he also lived in the same house – he was older than me & already working). i think, before that time, mommy knew and was certain tat i had my eye only on my studies. but the more she cautioned me about him, the more i wanted to bolt. i was stupid, yes. but back then, i didn’t realize how fatal my error was.
i ended up without my mommy and my brother… started living with the guy. got pregnant (and miscarried & got pregnant again) some months after and had to struggle through my last year in college. i had a scholarship but i was so used to just having everything i needed. the guy tried to be responsible although it was obvious on both our sides that, in the beginning, we were not in love with each other the way a couple should, but we stayed together and the affection grew (but not to the point i would say “love”).
am talking about my son’s father, my ex-husband. he was a good man all in all, but getting married was a mistake. we were fine (except for the occasional philandering on his part) just being a couple with a son, but because of a job i was applying for (which i didn’t really get coz i submitted the requirements too late), we had to get married. so we did. his co-workers in the hotel wondered why, on the occasion i found out that he was seeing another woman (it wasn’t serious according to him), i never confronted the woman and demanded that he go away. i thought i was just being an open-minded wife, understanding and all. i was mistaken. i wasn’t jealous like i wasn’t crazy possessive when other women tried to hook up with him before (he’s a handsome guy). i never realized that i didn’t really love him and that i didn’t know what love really was (between a man and a woman).
we eventually separated after being together for seven years – after a lot of controversies and drama – our son has suffered most through it all, i am certain. sigh.
everything went downhill from there. i experienced a reversal in what i thought was the normal lifecycle of an individual.
i never had a boyfriend. i just got pregnant, married, then separated. i was single again – without any idea on how to handle relationships, much less men.
later, i got involved with different kinds of men who, by all appearances, were truly, madly, deeply (like the song :-)) in love with me. some were older, most of them were younger than me… every time i fell in love, i thought that was it… then the relationship would end after some time (my shortest relationship lasted five months; i know, everything and everyone must count… it isn’t the length of time that matters – after all, one can love a person long after he / she has gone) and i was back in the square corresponding to “zero.”
i actually hate to say it, that “falling in love”… makes room for “falling out of love”… which goes against my ideal of love. if it must be called love, it must be eternal, in whatever form, in whatever way.
well, i don’t know why, but the most serious of my relationships were with men who were already married. how sad and pathetic! don’t worry, i was never a mistress. they never had to spend money on me unnecessarily because i had enough for myself, and i never asked about the wife or if he would leave her. they were the ones who made plans and spun beautiful romantic dreams of couple-dom — which, as a matter of self-preservation — words i always took in a stride, no matter how wonderful they seemed.
i called these kinds of relationships “relationships with an expiration date.” i knew from the beginning they would have to end, no matter how happy we both were and how committed to each other we both seemed. am just not built to be a home wrecker. hypocrite! you may say. i don’t really care what you think, but after my own marriage “failed,” i have not felt a strong enough compulsion to go down that road again. besides, i am lover of tragedy. no great love story without a tragedy. no hero without a tragic flaw. am not saying i am a heroine, but i have been one in my own tragedies. and i know that you & i are of the same opinion that i most certainly DO have a tragic flaw or even many flaws.
i didn’t finish my masters thesis because of three men. i ruined myself financially because of two. it is just too bad that i am not alone in my suffering. my family is struggling to know and understand why i am in this state, and my friends have to bear witness to my sad story… how my life has been on a downward spiral in the past few years. maybe you want to ask: was i ever alone? the longest i was without a relationship (after my marriage ended) was around four or five months except in the last almost three years when i sort of drifted alone in an ocean, neither here nor there. there are a lot of men indeed in this tiny city i am in, but very few worth noting. the abundance is just a number but nothing would count as anything real. they refuse to be real. no diamond in the rough. more of sand & stone in the guise of diamonds… how sad… but i can’t be bitter. i’d rather smile through it all and sigh. hope. sigh. hope some more. sigh some more.
but yes, perhaps you already know, that even in a relationship… a person can be alone. at least i have been, many times over.
when i was pregnant with my daughter, her father and i had been on a long break (about three or four months). sometimes i would see him on the street and we would each nod our heads in recognition and keep on walking. i had a good job and my dad sent me money every month so i was fine financially. but yeah, it was basically just me, my son and my unborn daughter. it was a great thing i had a few really true friends and fewer close relatives who knew and understood. no one in my family has ever seen me pregnant, either for the first or second time… to date.
so have you ever had that feeling then… of being with someone and yet feeling isolated or alone? when you can’t even reveal what you feel, who you are at that moment to the one you are with? when you feel vulnerable and inadequate… afraid of being misunderstood?
i sure have and i am not blaming the guy… the man. it just happens I guess. life, nay, relationships are a lot of work. quite contrary to our expectations that love — the thing that poets have written about — must be pure and simple if it is real. but it hardly is simple, especially in this day and age where brittleness characterizes most relationships. how ironic, we have all forms of technology available to keep us close… but what has happened is that, technology has made communication impersonal — has led us to escape from our own feelings and re-create who we are — pretend to be someone else, be not who we are but be who we think others want us to be. to be accepted or admired. how superficial, yet how true…
oh, where has my subject gone? am talking about feet of clay… my very own. oh yes, love is life to me. i live and breathe it. love.
through love, i have experienced the vicissitudes of life… how things that seem everlasting actually come to an end. how something thought of as fleeting outlasts what may have seemed permanent.
and even if others may see me as a failure… i am, after all, still single. disappointed. my travails as a wife and girlfriend are a testament to how i have been in my relationships. after a few months of separation, an ex-boyfriend would be calling me and asking about my life, saying he cares for me still… one ex-boyfriend of mine actually named his daughter after me, and to me, that is one source of great pride.
i must have been good to them right? or at least i must have done something right to still be missed.
and since my feet of clay are here to stay, i will have to keep walking and hoping i will finally stumble upon the ONE. recently, i thought i’ve finally found him, but my own predicament has led me to thinking i should resolve my issues first before i continue. i let him know how i felt, what i thought… most of all, he now knows about my situation and has been quite kind about it. i don’t know if he’ll stick around long enough in my life for him to witness who i was before i got myself into this quagmire i am currently in. i am hoping he would, but who knows? i just need to go on and hope to be the whole person i was before… so that i will be capable of being the best person i can be for the guy in my life and for everyone else in it: my family, my friends.
if not, so be it. i have been alone in the darkest days of my life and i am prepared to enter the darkness still in isolation.
© Lovely Claire Dangalan, 2011