Will & Grace in Atok

NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. - The Philippine Star
Will & Grace in Atok
The author and his best friend of 27 years, Christine Dayrit, at Northern Blooms in Atok, Benguet.
STAR/ File

Two peas in a pod, they say we are. Best friends we are, we say.

That’s what Christine Dayrit and I are to each other — best of friends for the last 27 years.

I am her Will. She is my Grace. Christine Dayrit and I are known among our circle of friends as Will and Grace, from the American sitcom Will & Grace, which is about two best friends living together. We are what Will Truman and Grace Adler do in the sitcom — roommates, confidantes, sounding boards, guardians, each other’s sleeping pill, each other’s Energizer Bunny, wind beneath each other’s wings.

In times when my spirit needs to be moored, she acts as my guidance counselor, the “judger” of my lovers and protector of my dreams. In our major life decisions, we listen to each other’s thoughts. We don’t fight. We will take the bullet for each other.

Northern Blooms, a three-hectare flower farm, is a popular destination in Atok.

Twenty-seven years of being travel partners is just another aspect of our best friendship. Recently, we celebrated our friendship in Atok, a fourth-class municipality in Benguet reached after a two-hour scenic drive from Baguio City. Atok is popular for having the highest point of the Philippine Highway System, which is a part of Halsema Highway.

Tourists troop to Atok because it is home to Northern Blossoms, a three-hectare flower farm. The experience at the flower farm is made more magical by the presence of Mt. Pulag, which seemingly serves as the sentinel of the town.

As we traipsed in-between plots of snapdragons, statices, cabbage roses and other blooms, Christine and I were non-stop in our reminiscences of the experiences we have shared for almost three decades. Our friendship has seen mountains and oceans, hills and valleys, winter and fall, spring and summer and everything in between. We have remained committed to our friendship.

Mt. Pulag serves as the sentinel of the municipality of Atok.

Atok is bucolic, the best backdrop for our late-morning conversation. A slab of rock fronting Mt. Pulag served as our chair. The mountain breeze was intoxicating. We drowned ourselves in laughter as Christine and I remembered how we met.

It was Aug. 23, 1995, around 1 p.m., I was lining up at LRT Central Station in Lawton to buy a token to ride the train to Buendia Station. I was going home to Gulod — a failure. I had just resigned from my job at a magazine, my first ever job for a promdi like me in the city. The resignation was caused by an unfair labor practice.

When the long queue was not moving, I decided to buy my train token in a stall below the train platform. The token was more expensive by P5 in the store that doubled as a pay phone booth. I only had P15 extra that day that I reserved for my snack of turon. I bought the token just the same.

The lady selling the token was wearing an apple green shirt. My memory of that color belonged to Christine, whom I met when I interviewed her four months earlier for a feature in the magazine about her family’s restaurant named Vincent’s San Mig Pub. I was so forlorn that day, going home without my take-home pay, that I decided to get in touch with her; I only met her once, during the interview. I had never spoken with her again after that. I paid P5 to use the telephone. (By this time, I only had P5 remaining.)

From memory, I dialed her beeper number: 150-323464. “Hi, Christine. I hope you still remember me. I’m so depressed I need a friend.”

She beeped back: “Please call me at 844-****.”

Using my last P5, I called her. With just one ring, she answered the phone. “Balita?” And I recounted my tale.

Next thing I knew, she was picking me up in Lawton. She brought me to her house and introduced me to her dad, Ting Dayrit, who was looking for me “for the longest time” because he “fell in love with the article I wrote about his restaurant.” And right away he “adopted” me. There was so much love and trust involved in that first-ever meeting with Tito Ting, who asked me questions about my parents, about my life, about my dreams. I answered sincerely, regaled him with stories of my days of want, and how my dreams started to afford me a chance for my future.

After less than five minutes of meeting Tito Ting by the foyer of their house in Makati, he told me: “You and Christine will live together in our other house.” I thought it was a prank. It was a fairy tale made real.

In between paddies of statices in Northern Blooms in Atok, Christine and I laughed remembering that fateful day. My grateful heart will always thank God for giving me my Dayrit family in the city, a place where I have no known immediate relatives.

We always have kind words for each other. She’s the queen of diplomacy. From her I learned to be diplomatic, too. “An act of kindness is never wasted,” she always tells me.

We practically like the same things, laugh at the same jokes, finish each other’s sentences. The differences in our backgrounds — her jackstones when she was a kid, so to speak, were precious stones because her family owns the fine jewelry company Miladay while my makeshift toys were balls fashioned from dried mud because my parents were tenant farmers — were no deterrent in celebrating our friendship.

We know our simple joys. For Christine, mangga’t bagoong with sili and ChocNut; for me, V-cut and banana cue. When we feel the day is heavy, these lift us up.

We are each other’s concomitant variations, especially pre-pandemic. Wherever she is, expect me to be there. And vice versa. Even now when I have to spend more time in Gulod, we are never apart because we videocall each other every day.

We are both main characters and supporting actors in the stories of our lives. I was there when her parents died, 20 days apart, from cancer. She was there when I lost my father in Laguna. She was the only one who could convince my father to go to the hospital for confinement in days when my old man stubbornly refused to seek medical attention.

Our decision to stay together was also brought about by our promise to her dad on his deathbed. Tito Ting called us both: “No matter what happens, don’t leave each other.” I only enjoyed the company of Tito Ting and Tita Mila Dayrit for two years from the time I met them.

We have kept our promise. And Will and Grace will keep it for life. *

Mt. Pulag serves as the sentinel of the municipality of Atok.

The author and his best friend of 27 years, Christine Dayrit, at Northern Blooms in Atok, Benguet.

Northern Blooms, a three-hectare flower farm, is a popular destination in Atok.


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