By Raoul Suarez

It has been more than 20 years.

We met when we were younger. It’s true what they say. There is always that one person who will make your heart beat differently than the usual, eventually captivate it, and possess it forever. I know. Believe me.

It started out as an elementary kid’s fascination for beauty. They said it was puppy love. They said it was infatuation. That’s what they would say. Old folks would call it whatever it is they wanted to call it because they would always claim to know better. I’ve always known though. I’ve always felt it. The first time I laid my eyes on her, I knew I would never look at anybody else the same way again.

We were the same age. We were classmates but not for a long time. The meeting was very short. Less than a week. When you’re an elementary kid, you never really get to choose your school. I was enrolled in that public school for a short time and was eventually given a scholarship from the private school that I was from. We were seatmates for a couple of days then it was over. We never really got to talk much except for that one time during recess when she told me a few things about butterflies. Then she was gone the next day. I never forgot about her. She was gone physically but she never really left my mind. She never left my consciousness. I would think about her once in a while.

We both got a little older and we went to different high schools. I’d get to see her once in a while during forums, seminars, and inter-school contests but we would rarely talk. I couldn’t start up a conversation. I didn’t even know what to say anyway. All I knew is that I liked her and maybe when the time was right I could tell her outright. It’s funny how time never changed my feelings and how I felt like there were butterflies in my stomach every time she was around.

We went to the same college. I remember searching for her name on the list of passers before I decided to enroll. I was supposed to go elsewhere but decided to take a chance to be in the same university as she was. A friend of mine told me she was going to enroll in the country’s biggest state university and I’ve fixed my choice to do it as well. It wasn’t long before I made up my mind. I had to take my chances.

We met in the summer before the semester commenced. It was a chance encounter. My friends paid me a visit just when I was about to go out fishing. They said it was important and they took me for a ride to this small village. We stopped at a small sari-sari store to get some soda and one of my friends said she remembered something and proceeded to knock on the door of a tiny house. I can vaguely remember what happened next but there she was, that girl from my childhood, standing right in front of me with paint smudged on her clothes. We were reintroduced. She greeted me with a smile and told me she was repainting her room, then she showed me a small butterfly painting she did on her ankle. Time froze. I still didn’t know what to say. It was hard to say anything. I can only remember blurting out if she could give me her phone number, and she did.

I called her that night. I didn’t know what to say. I had to write it down on a piece of paper just so I don’t run out of topics. I even wrote a script just so if her dad answers the phone, I wouldn’t stutter. There were no cellphones back then. When you liked someone that much and wanted to talk to them, you had to dial their landline number and someone random would pick up. Lucky for me, she picked it up. She jokingly told me she was expecting my call, I told her about that one time she talked to me about butterflies, and we talked the night away. Things escalated quickly after that.

We just clicked. We made plans to go to the movies and we did that every weekend. We would take strolls and talk about anything under the sun. We would argue once in a while and we would disagree but one thing was for sure; we were inseparable. It’s true what they say. Things that are meant to be would always work out perfectly. Effortless. Smooth. Spontaneous. It was out of this world. Believe me. I know.

You don’t always find love like that but when you do, you never let it pass. I’m lucky. I know. I held on to it and never let it go. It was fated. It was written in the stars. The universe conspired for us to meet. She was my everything and I don’t think it would change any time soon.

The years have gone by so fast. I would always make it a habit to sit down and talk to her before I start my work week and I would do it again when the work week ends. It has been that way for decades now. I don’t think it would change anytime soon too.

Today, she looked at me intently as if she had something to say. I leaned closer so I could hear what it was. Her voice was forever youthful. Sweet. Calming. Gentle. It has never changed. She was as radiant as she always has been. She never really got old. I got old. I did. I know I did. I must admit.

“It has been more than 20 years. Let it go. It’s really time to say goodbye, my love. It’s time for you to move on.”

She softly whispered as she started to let go of my hand and slowly vanished, leaving me with butterflies fluttering in the air. I woke up from that dream and I couldn’t move. It felt like the hard truth drained all my strength.

It has been more than 20 years since that fateful day. It has been more than 20 years since that
accident; that plane crash that took her away and left a large gaping hole in my life. It has been more than 20 years since I have been religiously paying her a visit every week; lighting a candle and waiting for it to die out just so I can fill the void and the emptiness.

I have been telling her how my week was. I have been telling her how I have managed to live on and cope for the last 2 decades since she was gone. I have been telling her how the world has changed so much and how she would have enjoyed it if only she were around. I have been telling her about all sorts of things, and I have been apologizing to her every time that I still wasn’t able to work on that butterfly farm we both wanted. I didn’t know how to start. I still don’t know how. I haven’t really moved on. I don’t know if I ever will. It would have been easier if only she never left.

It has been more than 20 years.