Two old friends reborn
SECOND WIND - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura (The Philippine Star) - September 13, 2014 - 12:00am

I used to play mahjong. I learned when I was a young bride in my early 20s with three little girls born more or less a year apart and a husband who was always out on business. You know that’s a maddening situation sometimes. My neighbors taught me to play and I learned. Soon we all moved away. That ended my mahjong days — until 30 years later when I played again with Eddie Pacheco, Bobby Caballero and a jerk who doesn’t want his name mentioned because he’s in denial about being gay.

 I used to enjoy playing not just because mahjong was fun. It’s like playing gin rummy but with smaller, thicker cards. The friends made the game precious. We would joke, tease, laugh, tell stories about ourselves and others, even gossip sometimes. That would turn night into day. We didn’t play until dawn but we went home in the wee small hours of the morning.

 Bobby and I were the worst players then. It was either he or I losing, but nevertheless we had a good time. Bobby was tall, fair and mortifyingly handsome. He would have made a perfect escort to a society ball, an event I never go to. He was always wonderful company, had a wonderful speaking voice, was articulate, a great laugher and always very helpful. We both worked in advertising and so we shared the ability to charm people and to tell each other the truth about the things — or people — we hated when we were with our close friends.

 Two Sundays ago I received a text about Bobby being in the White Plains chapel on Wednesday. Huh? I thought, frowning. No, Bobby can’t have possibly died. I just saw him a few months back and he looked fine. Then another friend texted me and told me that in fact Bobby had passed away. It made me sad until I remembered a friend who once said that dying was like having a thousand orgasms. I can hear Bobby laughing as I write this. What can I say? I guess I envy him. Maybe he had a million.

 I went to Bobby’s wake all dressed up in an old Patis Tesoro barong Tagalog that she had given me almost 20 years ago when we were working together on natural dyes. Patis is one of the most talented, creative women I know. I am always in great admiration of her. She had a fashion show at Rustan’s Makati that afternoon and she asked us to come in Filipino-Bohemian chic. So I wore her barong with leggings and necklaces I made myself that looked somewhat like Downton Abbey props. 

For a while I worried about Patis. I read somewhere that she had thought about committing suicide, drank a whole batch of pills, slept a long time but woke up anyway. So she went back to work. I have a daughter who once told me she had the solution to her depression. It was suicide. No, she didn’t do it but she made me understand that depression leads to suicide so I felt much for Patis when I read that. Yet, I could understand what she had gone through.

 You cannot imagine the happiness I felt when I saw her fashion show. It was Filipino, very contemporary, very bright joyful colors, very innovative, but still very wearable. Her pants were almost like the Malaysian and Thai pants that I love to wear these days as I’m sort of slowly parting with my leggings but she has colored patches on them and she even makes her gorgeous male models wear them with long barongs

 Patis works well with embroidery as most of her dresses show. But what I liked is she has a lot of what I call — for lack of more imaginative words — patchwork embroidery. She takes different embroidered fabrics including lace with sequins and patches them together in irregular shapes to make an entirely new look. Then she trims the dresses with little balls that look like big ball beads but they are made of cloth — retazos, as the Spanish say. 

 Patis’ show was young, refreshing, a totally new look that seemed to say she had come out of her cocoon of sorrow and found a new vibrant life again. Most of her dresses were wearable even for people like me. There was one I liked that was black and white striped on top then flowed into a field of small red flowers. That was beautiful but I’m too old to afford it. 

 So from Patis’ show I went to say good-bye to Bobby, both old friends reborn each in their own way. I was sad to see Bobby cross over and join Ed leaving me behind but I can hear them laughing together. Their laughter blends with wild applause for Patis. Both sounds ring loudly in my ears and lift me somehow. 

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