The Pangs of Building Chapter 2: Burned Books and Bridges
J.E. Santos 05/02/2018
Chapter 1: Saturn Devouring His Son
Chapter 2: Burned Books and Bridges
Chapter 3: The Commune
Chapter 4: The Uncanny Threat
Chapter 5: The House of the Toughest Thirty-five Year Old
Chapter 6: Destruction and Creation
2: Burned Books and Bridges
Karl Michael Cruz, a man who thought that his life could’ve gotten a little better if he stepped out from his father’s looming shadow, had now decided to run away from home at the age of thirty-four. He thought about this all night, staring at the drab stain on the ceiling which looked like the island of Japan. He lived in his father’s home that was before the property of his grandfather and later than that, the property of his great grandfather. At first, he struggled upon the thought of leaving his father and eventually breaking his heart after all the efforts he had put up to raise his spirits.
“Kafka Tamura…” he said internally. “The toughest fifteen year-old boy had a valid reason to leave his father. Both his father’s action and inaction would damage him to the core. And if he became unfortunate enough to live longer, at the age of twenty-five, he would have killed himself or fully commit himself in the act of self-destruction. So his action to leave an uncaring father was considerably justified. But what’s my excuse? My father is a good man. But if I don’t leave now, I may never get past the crisis of an adolescent. I’m afraid that I am emotionally stunted. Everything, every response that I show people is artificial; taken from self-help books, biographies, and fiction. Nothing about my views in life are authentic. They are a collection of voices from the distant and recent past merely used for the purpose of blending rather from the purpose of shaping who I am.” he sighed and then concluded. “And in all of this, I blame my father’s perfection.” another sigh. “That lecture on Goya’s painting was supposed to show me that emotion should not get the best of us, that I can be in control. Instead I imagined myself being the helpless son of Saturn, eaten the moment my mother bore me.”
But Karl Michael Cruz was not always the namby-pamby, wishy-washy, weak-willed sulking carbon-based life form that he is. There was a time—during his primary education—that he felt like a man. He was in fifth-grade then. As an act of defiance to everything he hated in a private catholic school; most especially the rejection of punkrock and hardcore headed by their school adviser Fr. Reyes, around four in the afternoon, when only a few students were left at St. Ignatius Gym, with a black Pilot permanent marker, on the white wall, Karl Michael Cruz drew the biggest and longest penis a fifth grader could draw. Its length was the size of a full-grown cow, its width the size of a full grown man. The scrotum looked menacing as if it was a cross between a snake and a mushroom suspected to be poisonous. The balls were firm and oddly symmetrical which suggested dominance. Some may even argue that the depiction was more art than vandalism.
“This is no ordinary penis.” said Josh Dulay—a sixth-grade bully who was hard to impress. At that moment, he was. His mouth was open in awe.
“It’s definitely not. It is the father of all penises.” said Dick Ileto—Josh Dulay’s lanky sidekick. The other students stopped horsing around. They were drawn to the simple contours of Karl Michael’s drawing, the personalized style, and the emotional nuance. It was—for the elementary kids who witnessed Karl Michael in action—a masterpiece. Indeed, it was not like an ordinary penis shamelessly and senselessly drawn by a kid. This penis asserted self-governance and genuine defiance to all existing things subject to questioning. That time, it was an alternate symbol of anarchism.
“And for the finishing touch,” said Karl Michael as he started making the penis spit. “behold the—”
“Susmaryosep!” Karl Michael Cruz paused half way to look behind him. It was Fr. Reyes—all red and veiny, much like an erect—or we could say angry—penis. “What on God’s name have you done?!”
The next day, whilst the janitor applied white paint on the vandalized wall to cover Karl Michael Cruz’s phallus, Jose Gasset Cruz was summoned to the principal’s office. Father Reyes, whilst staring straight at Karl Michael Cruz almost without blinking, provided the details of the boy’s previous and recent mischiefs. The principal—Mr. Torres—listened intently. It was hard to read his face because of the premature wrinkles etched every which way on his forehead and cheeks. One could not be sure if he was angry or having difficulties understanding what Fr. Reyes was saying. One thing was for certain, Fr. Reyes wanted Karl Michael Cruz expelled at Holy Trinity of Malolos Elementary School. But given Jose Gasset Cruz’s genuinely emphatic and moving tone, he had convinced the principal to give the boy another chance. Instead of expulsion, Karl Michael’s punishment was reduced to two weeks of suspension. Karl Michael did apologize, but in his heart remained a bright flame of defiance. But that flame flickered out when Jose Gasset Cruz expressed his disappointment on Karl Michael’s action for the first time. His father neither said anything hurtful nor anything that could induce guilt, rather he just stated Karl Michael Cruz’s punishment in a monotonous tone. Jose Gasset Cruz’s face, a reflection of despair. Seeing his father’s expression gradually affected Karl Michael’s naturally defiant nature. Being in the house for two weeks without TV, without using the phone, without books, without music, gave him time to reflect. His opposing ways would never survive in a community whose order was the product of certain rules. And whether these rules made sense to him or otherwise, the central point was that they worked.
The succeeding years from high school to college, he became passive until he got used to such a condition. There was no more fight in him. In his tertiary education, he learned about Thomas Hobbes’ contractarianism—that which rules keep communities tight; that which rules keep societies united. Without such and such rules, there would only be disorder. He thought Thomas Hobbes’ contention was elegant—that it represented a necessary truth. He rejected Rousseau’s notion of the noble savage, he rejected Kant’s Categorical Imperative; he rejected Nietzsche’s Übermensch. He thought that those who had revolutionary opposing thoughts or those who created their own morals hardly changed the status quo. The function of their ideas could be reduced to a mere mental masturbation. Bentham’s utilitarianism, was for him, a close competition, but in the long run, the Hobbesian thought of sticking to established rules—in terms of ethics, love, career, social responsibility—to keep things in check was mostly consistent.
This mindset, transposed into a habit, made him miserable.
His goals to a successful life—to be a licensed librarian, to gain many friends, to marry a decent lady and have kids, to win the approval of his father—were in shambles. It took him seven years to finish his degree, he hardly made any friends, he was trapped in a relationship built on the notion that the longer the relationship, the stronger the bond; that long duration guaranteed a stronger foundation on love. He thought he could replicate the kind of bond his father and late mother had. But the longer he was in a relationship, the more he felt miserable. So was his partner—Shelley Torre. But both of them denied this predicament, saying that all relationships are meant to have long and serious conflicts; that fights would make them strong; that recurring problems would make them grow. No one should leave the other. “No matter what happens,” Karl Michael and Shelley said. “even if things get really, really hard, we’ll stay together.” And so each year, whilst Karl Michael Cruz retreated deeper and deeper and deeper into his father’s shadow, as he faced one blunder after another, as he felt Shelley’s frustration to turn him into a man with a harder spine, they stayed together in a limbo of misery.
Somehow, even if he did try to lead a life of order, he couldn’t get what he wanted. Perhaps it was due to the fact that his model of success was his father. The bar was set too high and he suffered in comparison. But his father would stick to the rules just like what he was doing, so he thought. Karl Michael was not especially intelligent, but he was above average. He just couldn’t figure out why he was more susceptible to blunder than triumph.
“Is it because I cannot grow emotionally? That after acquiring all the helpful ideas of great authors, of successful men, my emotion when I was in fifth grade remained as it is?”
The third night after his father’s lecture, Jose Gasset Cruz had discovered that Karl Michael Cruz had run away from home. His room was open. Beside the cell phone and laptop on Karl Michael’s study table was a note saying:
‘Tay, I’m off somewhere I couldn’t tell you. Don’t try to find me. You won’t; you can’t. You said I needed to get it together. I’ll get back when I get it together. Tell Shelley not to worry… Tell her I’m sorry. It seems there’s no other way now. I can’t turn back now.
And I’m sorry about the books.
From Karl Michael’s window, Jose Gasset Cruz saw the fire crackled in the backyard as it consumed voraciously the self-help books Karl Michael had collected and read during the years he was struggling to remedy a disease he could not firmly conceive.
To be continued…
*Album Art Cover: Quantum Noise, “Kaalapaapan”