Sunday, December 21, 2008


A couple of months after Martial Law was declared in the year 1972, my mother and my aunt Patis were both checked into the maternity ward at the Makati Medical Center. On November 4, my cousin Joel Tesoro was born (above, with his sister Nina), and six days later, so was I. And ever since then, my cousin Joel and I have lived parallel lives. It seems that this coincidence of being born on exactly the same week would bind us as both cousins and best friends forever. And when I say parallel, I don't mean exactly identical lives. As we got older, we would actually became as completely different as different people could be. He was the overachiever, I was the underachiever. He went to study in left-brained Yale, I went to ultra-right brained RISD. And during a really blurry weekend (I was high, he was not) we spent together in Providence, we made this strange pact that in life, our endeavors would have to be in sync, but it was he that would be in charge of the "words", while I would be the one in charge of the "pictures".

After graduation, our differences grew even more. He maintained personal discipline, cultivated a strict work ethic, became an accomplished journalist for Asiaweek, and turned into a devout Muslim. I, however, became a hedonist, fluttered around from job to job in New York City, and can barely even call myself a cafeteria Catholic at best today. And even though we seemed to have two completely different personalities, we always made sure that we found common ground, found time to hang out with each other, and make sure that our lives were in, well, sync. And to make sure that we were, we would go on these regular crazy road trips. In 1998, we sailed through the seas of Indonesia to see the Komodo dragons and the natives of Sumba. A catalytic trip wherein we would promised ourselves that we would do a trip like this every few years or so just to look for "words" and "pictures" and keep our sanity. Two years later, we were best men at each other's weddings (he and I both meeting our wives and marrying them within months of each other) and our lives would take us to different countries. And even though we wouldn't see each other for months, once together, it was as if only days had passed. The last road trip we did was in 2003. We both took a month long trip to Sagada, where we holed up ourselves at St. Joseph's Inn just so he could finish his novel, and I could complete a series of paintings and photographs. Instead, we ended up collaborating on a piece called "Sagada Gothic", a non-fiction piece about the suicide of a young man in a small town. Naturally, he wrote the "words", and I took the "pictures".

Two days ago, Joel died when stepped off a ramp at Hong Kong's Chep Lap Kok International Airport. He leaves behind a wonderful wife, Tania, and a beautiful two year old daughter named Paloma.

Today, I tried looking for that piece that we wrote together and realized that I literally lost both the words and the pictures.

And I really wonder if I could ever be capable of ever finding them again.