Once upon a time, I fell in love with a beautiful man, who played the cello, sent me e.e. cummings poetry handwritten on sheets of paper, gave me rides to the bus stop, and shared his dreams with me. We became friends because he was heartbroken over this girl he used to take for granted; you know the story, he was ignoring her and she was in love with him, and he only realized he loved her when she fell in love with somebody else. Instead of comforting him, I laughed at him and told him it served him right. I called him “Panget,” because he was full of himself. He called me “Mas Panget,” just to get back at me.

It was like one of those Anne Hathaway-Jim Sturgess movies where the protagonists were best friends but you wanted them to end up with each other (incidentally, I had just seen the one Anne Hathaway-Jim Sturgess movie and I died waiting for them to finally admit to being in love, it took so fricking long). I was definitely in love with him, and I think it was obvious to everyone who knew us. But I was wise to him; he was sleeping with random girls and I didn’t want to be another drop in the bucket. Also, he didn’t believe in marriage or bringing children into this depressing world, he said. It is so ironic how he ended up married and doting on his talented son, and I’m, well, still not.

But he was definitely my best friend. He watched all my shows, I watched his, and we planned to do a performance of Bach’s Cello Suite #1, with us both onstage. We sat together in class and in other people’s recitals. We would have lunch together in the old Music canteen and when he got water from the cooler, he’d also get a glass for me. We talked about our respective art forms and why it was art for us, our respective bids for world domination, our plans for the future.

He told me his secrets and fears and the last conversation we had before we lost touch was he got this girl pregnant and he didn’t know what to do. With my heart breaking, I think I told him some crap like, You have to do what’s right. Or something. Later, I heard he got married and trained under this awesome cello prodigy and vastly improved his intonation, and therefore his cello playing. I was bummed that I didn’t personally see the blossoming into greatness and when I watched his graduation recital, I was so proud of how much he achieved, but all we talked about after was, this is my wife and son and how I was so happy for him.

Fast forward maybe 10 years. He finds me on Facebook and chats me up, how it looks like I’m doing really well (his exact words). I was ashamed to talk to him about my life, because he did what he said he was going to do – basically make a music profession in a foreign country – and I wasn’t a ballerina, and not really pursuing my own dreams. But he was like, editor in chief sounds just like my thing and he was sure I was pretty good at it. He said more things that only he can say, reminding me how and why I fell in love with him several years ago, and he sent me a video of his son playing Saint Saens’ The Swan.

Half a year later, I find out that he died. From a heart attack. I was devastated. I remember suddenly bursting into tears for several days. I mean, who dies of a heart attack a few weeks shy of your 40th birthday?

It made me face my own mortality, and how I cannot keep putting off my dreams for whatever reason. I then had the most fulfilling 2012, in terms of dancing, creating dance, nurturing dance and writing about dance. I could have done it without him, but he did give me that kick in the butt that I needed these past few years.

Today is his birthday. A long time ago, I wrote him a birthday poem, teasing him how when his hair’s all gray, his wife would be the age he was now. He chided me how that’s not going to happen. How I wish he wasn’t right about that.

(Yes, I’m aware what happens in the Anne Hathaway-Jim Sturgess movie.)

A long time ago, I was sad that he didn’t love me back, or rather that he didn’t love me back the way I wanted him to. Today, I am grateful for how he loved me – it was just the right amount of love that I needed. And it helped me recognize true love when I see it, which I’m also grateful to have seen twice in my lifetime.

Thank you, Miguel. Happy birthday.

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