Burnt memories
SECOND WIND - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura () - April 14, 2007 - 12:00am
I passed it again this morning, on my way to visit my son in Alabang. There she stood, the sad skeleton of what was once a simple large building with room for all sorts of offices on the first to the third floors and a car display area for selling cars. It was called the Mantrade Building, at the corner of Pasong Tamo and EDSA. At the back, up the stairs to the third floor, was Avellana & Associates, Inc., a Filipino ad agency where once upon a time I used to work.

Now, of course, everything is gone and what remains is the building’s skeleton. No more floors. Those burned. No more ceilings or roofs, those burned too. Every time I pass my heart is wrenched, saddened, twisted. I stop breathing for a little while waiting for my tears to break. It hasn’t happened. I have not cried like I should have when the building burned.

Avellana & Associates was the first advertising agency I worked for. Before it moved to Makati it was on Roxas Boulevard, at the building that now holds the Museong Pambata. When you look at that building you will notice three long glass windows on the left. The center window belonged to my office then, before I decided to quit and lead a domestic life with my children. After that the agency moved to the Mantrade Building. It started small and as business got better it grew larger and larger. First, I worked there part-time. I was slightly unhappy in my private life but did not want to admit it. So I decided to go back to work part-time. Then I became largely unhappy with my private life and decided to work full-time. We were all on the third floor but the office was considering expansion.

We went to Tagaytay after my relationship broke up and my private life was a mess. Outside I looked like a whole person. Inside I rattled like a million little pieces. Otherwise I was profoundly grateful for my job. It gave me an alternative to the unhappiness I felt when I stopped working. It gave me something to do, enough money to advance the support my children required but I had a hard time getting. It gave me a good life.

When we returned from Tagaytay I was vice president for the Creative Services Division and our office was moved down to the mezzanine floor. It still stands, the room that used to be my office at the left-hand corner of the building but after the fire it has lost everything. It is just barely there but when I look to see what’s left, the apparent emptiness of it, memories jump out at me.

Remember? The Christmas party you went to dressed as a Christmas tree with a star hat that lit up on and off with Christmas tree lights that you forced one of the artists to work on for you? You moved your home library to the room next to yours, bringing over all the books you had no room for in your new house, which was about one-tenth the size of the last house you lived in. Remember the sorrow you felt when you came in for work and faced the room alone, the tears that would rise waiting to be shed but you insisted on swallowing? The children enjoyed this office. They were still small then. Sometimes on Saturdays they would come to work with me.

My son would come to pick me up dressed in those ridiculous little boy clothes I used to buy for him. "If you can’t find me in my office, look for me in. . ." I was telling my daughters, and the youngest said, "Never mind, Mom, we will just listen and when we hear you laugh, we will open the door and there you are." Laughter apparently marked our lives then.

I loved my days in Avellana & Associates, the entire spectrum of those days. Some were wonderful, others downright deplorable and miserable. But at the end of the day we would stray into Totoy Avellana’s office and run into each other, pour scotch and the brandy, drink together and have fun. We were such a big group then but many of them are dead now. Boy Javier first, then after many years, Baby Lopa, Bonnie Ocampo, Bolix Suzara. Months after my stroke, Totoy himself.

I look at the old Mantrade Building. I remember when it turned into a construction outlet, sort of a mall of materials. I bought my Italian kitchen appliances for my Calamba home there, somewhat in awe at what had become of the building where once I worked.

Then one morning, I passed and saw that it had burned down, had turned into the scorched skeleton of what was once a simple large building where I worked so joyfully and my heart broke at the sadness of it. I don’t think it will stop breaking, lamenting over the wonderful memories that live there for me. I passed it again this morning. Again my heart broke.
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Please send your comments to secondwind.barbara@gmail.com or lilypad@skyinet.net or text 0917-8155570.

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