Monday, 6 February 2012

My rooftop buddy: Portrait of a genius as a young man

      Dra Emma Valencia (right) finally connects with her rooftop buddy and   
      classmate Rolly Eclavea at a recent gathering in Manila. – Photo courtesy of 


HE WOULD come a-visiting with this big telescope strung over his shoulders, and sometimes this would be accompanied by a ‘tsako” (think Bruce Lee).

He said the “tsako” was to protect him from bad guys he would meet in the streets since he usually left our house past 12 midnight.

To many, he was a genius and a weirdo. To me though, he was just my rooftop buddy. Come clear nights when all the stars gleefully herald their presence, he and I, sometimes with another friend, would go up our rooftop and probe the skies, weave our stories about life in other planets, about undiscovered sun systems, and other stories that our inquisitive and fertile young minds could conjure.

We usually forgot the time, were it not for the “sutsut” of my father, reminding me that it was past bedtime, and it was time for my friend to go home. Now, when I look back at those times, I realize that my casualness in doing things not ordinarily done by girls my age (I was 14-15 years old then) was because my parents, even then, were very open-minded and trusted me so much that it was not a big deal for me to be alone with a boy, in the dark, on a rooftop.

When I graduated from high school, my rooftop buddy would still visit me. But this time, in the hospital where I was confined after graduation. I remember him bringing tapes, borrowed from Goethe House, on how to speak German.

We would listen to it and repeat the words until we got the guttural sound down pat. He would also bring classical records, also borrowed from Goethe House, and he would analyze each song, but I would fall asleep in the middle of his “analysis”. Sometimes he would bring a violin (borrowed also), and would practice playing it. I and the other patients would cringe every time he hit a discordant high note - masakit sa tenga. The nurse would come in and would tell us to hush up.

Fast forward to our UP days. He was an NSDB scholar then. But he got kicked out of UP because he would get flat “1” in all his math and physics subjects, and “5’s in all others. Ha, ha, no in- betweens.

That’s what you call consistency. I did not see him any more after college, but years later, he showed up at my house, and after the “how have you been", showed me a piece of paper where my name was written as godmother to a certain baby girl. 

His daughter! I thought all along he busied himself with “celestial things”, and led a monkish life. So he did know about the birds and the bees, after all. But then maybe the kid sprouted from a bud that grew out of her dad's head.

And so, the yearly Christmas visits commenced, until the kid was about five years old. The kid was a beauty, tall and big-boned like her mom and possessed the intelligence of her dad. By now, she should be around 14-15 years old, ready for college. 

Her dad did not finish college, for all his intelligence, and so his potential for great achievements of the mind remained unrealized. He could not adjust to the rigors and discipline of formal studies. He was disabled by poverty and a dysfunctional family.

I do not know if my rooftop buddy has any regret on how his life turned out to be.

But one thing I’m sure of, after seeing his eyes twinkle looking at his daughter- that having her was one of the greatest things that has happened to him, much more than the happiness and excitement of finding unnamed stars twinkling at us when we were young, on the rooftop.

And so, wherever you are, my friend, I hope you and your family are ok. May your beloved daughter realize all her dreams woven on rooftops or not.

(Dr EMMA P Valencia, MD, is a Health Policy analyst, writer, poet and journalist, who shuttles between Manila and California. She once worked with Senator Eduardo J Angara to assist him on important health policy legislations.)

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