Petty Betrayals

Back when we were in high school there were rumors that one of the new teachers was keeping a photo album of guys in their underwear. These boys were supposedly the teacher’s students in the school where he used to teach. It was very Law and Order Special Victims Unit (Dun! Dun!), minus Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler. Of course the entire school feasted on this nasty piece of information, in hushed tones. My friends and I, like all the other barkada’s, talked about this over lunch. Joining the discussion: Payton, Rex, Rax, Japt, and Ruth Marks.

“Did you see the young guy he was with yesterday?” Ruth Marks had asked. “He’s Sir Tooot’s boyfriend! He’s kinda cute ha with his bushy eyebrows! He has a photo in that album!”

The other teachers went on to investigate. One day, Mrs. Leonidas stood in front of the class and asked angrily, “Who’s been spreading these rumors about Mr. Toots?” Payton, one of our dear friends who was pro-administration, raised his hand, stood up, and declared like a total traitor: “Rex and company.”

A few years later, Payton became our CAT Battalion Commander. He was tall, handsome, his voice was very deep, and he really commanded respect. It had been a foregone conclusion that he would get that position. To celebrate our class section’s feast day I asked Payton, who was from another section, as well as the administrative people, if our section could hold a party with the elementary school kids in the public school where we were teaching catechism. This would excuse us from the CAT for that day. So we had the party, but as soon as we arrived back at school, who should be standing there, both hands on his hips, but Payton, angrily telling us that there had been a misunderstanding and we weren’t supposed to leave.

As punishment, he ordered our section to thoroughly clean all three rooms of the seniors. We yelled invectives as we scrubbed the floor with bunot, screaming that Payton was abusing his administrative powers and that we should revolt and tear our cedula’s in protest! Our cedula, in this case, would be the ridiculous CAT “tickler” notebooks. We had our revenge one CAT afternoon, when Payton screamed in full military mode: Drop your TICKLES! We had our revenge by laughing and braying and snickering with condescension.

Still, we loved Payton and had forgiven him for his crimes. For sure, we committed horrible crimes against him as well, but I guess legit high school friendships can survive these petty betrayals. Payton had been one of the few people I remained friends with throughout college when we both attended UP Diliman and we took the same bus for years, when I went into med school and he started working (occasionally falling off the grid), when I went into medical practice and he would see me in the clinic. We used to joke that in our old age we would occasionally set aside a couple of days to visit and change each others’ bed pans, but Payton had escaped that horrific future when he died last September. We all woke up to that terrible news that morning, and we had been struggling to come to terms with it since then.

Payton had a bad habit of just disappearing for long stretches of time, when nobody could contact him, and nobody would have any idea where he was, then he would emerge and drink mojito with us as if nothing had happened. We were able to badger him once to reveal where he had been, and it turned out he had tried to enter the seminary. I’m still hoping that he will show up one of these days, either as a ghost or as a decaying zombie, today most specially, as he celebrates his 42nd birthday.

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