to The WOMEN we Love

the LaST LET­TER

Esquire (Philippines) - - THE WOMAN WE LOVE - Pho­to­graphs by Fran­cisco GUERRERO

WE DON’T RE­MEM­BER THE FIRST TIME WE WROTE A LET­TER TO A WOMAN WE LOVED. It was so long ago we aren’t sure any­more. The only thing we’re cer­tain of was that it was at an age we wor­ried over pim­ples and BO. But that first love let­ter was most cer­tainly to some­one we hardly knew: they caught our eye at the high school fair, sat in on our po­etry class and some­how knew all the an­swers, was a friend of a friend who wore an in­cred­i­ble smile and who smelled good. We saw them once, maybe twice. No pho­tos to flip through and no footage to freeze. Af­ter first con­tact, lov­ing them was an act of pure mem­ory. That was as good as it got. We had wanted to speak to them, but we found courage only af­ter­ward, and thus, and then, only to write.

The let­ter was how we got to know them—by let­ting them get to know us first, and grad­u­ally. We in­tro­duced our­selves by the pa­per we used and the way it was folded, by our pen­man­ship and our lan­guage. We thrilled to the in­evitable for­mal­ity of be­gin­ning with “Dear” be­cause to us it meant so much more, and we hoped they knew we knew it. We groped for an open­ing in the form of a joke or an anec­dote, hop­ing it would call at­ten­tion to our grasp­ing wit, or a kind of promis­ing wisdom. We fed the body of the let­ter with a per­sonal nar­ra­tive that we wished would be pleas­ing enough with­out look­ing des­per­ate.

We learned the art of style: to tease and in­trigue, to talk about our­selves with­out call­ing at­ten­tion to our­selves. We learned to close with a cliffhanger that would dou­ble as a call to action. When we wrote our own name it was the first time we ever wrote it on some­thing that was not a test pa­per or an ap­pli­ca­tion form. But it was noth­ing like her name, which may have been as de­ceiv­ingly plain as Anne or Angel, or as im­me­di­ately al­lu­sive as Tweetie or Zsa Zsa. Writ­ten out twice—in­side and out­side—her name wanted to be writ­ten again, and again, prac­ticed on the backs of note­books and on the tops of school desks, and in the next let­ter, and the next.

There were times—many—the women never told us at all if they’d read them; the let­ter was a one-way ticket, a blind mis­sile aimed into the heart­land. When we saw her again, she would smile at us as if see­ing us for the first time, as if she never knew our agony. There would be an­other let­ter, and an­other, each a model of ter­ri­ble writ­ing and heroic re­straint. Early on, we learned how to keep our des­per­a­tion tightly held, re­serv­ing it for that fi­nal mo­ment when the woman we loved fi­nally deigned to re­ply.

It al­most al­ways came folded, tightly as a se­cret they never ever wanted the world to know, handed over by a des­ig­nated drone in the form of a dis­in­ter­ested rel­a­tive or, if we were lucky, a con­niv­ing com­mon friend. She had folded that note­book page her­self, it was her hand that had pressed it into her homely cousin’s. When we opened it, it was her per­fume that ex­ploded from the folds of pa­per—and her hand­writ­ing that graced the page.

That was her hand­writ­ing, never mind the fact that it was in the in­sti­tu­tional cur­sive Catholic school nuns taught. And that was her talk­ing to us, telling us things, never mind that it was about a most or­di­nary day that they had spent with their homely cousin. We spent hours read­ing it over and over again, read­ing between the sen­tences, read­ing the first words of every line, read­ing our fu­ture with them. We would marry them, grow old with them; they would be still enough for us to paint them and take pho­to­graphs of them, for us to re­mem­ber how they sat and how they smiled.

The women we loved, they were su­per­mod­els, torch singers, celebrities, movie stars; they were age­less and they be­longed to no age. They ap­peared as rep­re­sen­ta­tions and would grow into them. They would flesh them­selves out, hold­ing our gaze, look­ing past it.

The women we loved, we would al­ways love them. But for now, and be­fore all of that, there was that let­ter. They had writ­ten our name. It had crossed their mind and spelled it­self out long enough, and we had the pa­per to prove it. We folded the pa­per back into its shape and opened it again, as if see­ing our name for the first time.

In our fu­ture, there would be furtive phone calls. There would be con­ver­sa­tions, meals, day-long dates. There would be fum­bling in the back seat and the couch. There would be a mar­riage. Kids, con­ve­niences, con­ces­sions. The In­ter­net. The world would be in­stantly fa­mil­iar and known. There would be video calls and vi­ral posts, footage from hid­den cam­eras, and vent­ing and rant­ing on fo­rums and threads.

We would grow old and we would for­get cer­tain things: When did we write that first let­ter? When did we write that last one? We would not re­mem­ber any­more. We would learn to thank the In­ter­net af­ter all, with its con­nec­tions and its im­ages, with its thumb­nails and its mem­o­ries: of her, of them, of us. For Luis Katigbak, who loved women, and who was loved by them.

ANNE CUR­TIS

The chal­lenge was to show Anne Cur­tis Smith as she had never been seen be­fore— and it was a chal­lenge, no doubt, be­cause you’d think that you’ve seen every con­ceiv­able side of her by now: Anne host­ing noon­time shows, Anne star­ring in movies, Anne belt­ing out a song in front of a live au­di­ence, and cer­tainly, Anne pos­ing for mag­a­zines. She is, af­ter all, likely the big­gest of to­day’s lo­cal A-list celebrities, if not only the most-fol­lowed on In­sta­gram. You know her. Your par­ents know her. Every per­son within a kilo­me­ter of where you are right now knows her. Be­cause af­ter twenty con­sis­tently suc­cess­ful years in show-business, her name and her like­ness have grown to such that you al­most can’t go a day in Metro Manila with­out en­coun­ter­ing her in some way.

But it is when you ac­tu­ally meet Anne Cur­tis-Smith that you are re­minded that you don’t re­ally know her—that your idea of her is ei­ther in­cor­rect or in­suf­fi­cient. She is taller than you might ex­pect, for in­stance; and her lips, while full and shapely, are not quite as prom­i­nent as her eyes, which will light up sev­eral times through­out a con­ver­sa­tion, eclips­ing even her most fa­mously fetishized fea­tures.

Be­cause of the ease with which Anne poses, smiles, and laughs in front of the cam­era, you’d think that th­ese are re­hearsed as­pects of her beauty, per­fected over years of be­ing in the business. But they are truer to her than you would ex­pect, be­cause the real Anne Cur­tis-Smith will flash an even brighter beam of a smile, and will let out an even heartier laugh than you’ve seen in pic­tures or on TV, with­out the cues and prompts and flash­ing lights.

She will tell you that she ap­pre­ci­ates the lit­tle things—that de­spite be­ing ac­cus­tomed to the grandiose, Anne Cur­tis’ love is earned by small ges­tures. And if you ask her, she will think hard about the cra­zi­est thing she’s done for love, but will hes­i­tate to tell you what that is. In­stead, she will give you what she says is a safer an­swer: wait­ing a month af­ter her en­gage­ment to an­nounce it pub­licly, in def­er­ence to her fi­ance (which is not ex­actly crazy inas­much as it is un­char­ac­ter­is­tic of her). You will know then that she’s done some­thing cra­zier, but also that be­cause she is Anne Cur­tis, you will never know more.

ANGEL Aquino

The power of the su­per­model lies in her an­gles—she knows them and knows when and how to show them. Angel Aquino’s an­gles begin with her eyes and her cheek­bones, which re­spec­tively gather light and emit it, in an eter­nal loop that is in­ter­rupted only when she breaks her stare and strikes an­other pose. The an­gles con­tinue: Her jaw points here and a shoul­der points there, the line of a drawn leg in­scribes it­self as if de­ter­mined by an im­mutable for­mula.

But that is only the be­gin­ning. The rest of her, de­spite her name, and de­spite every out­ward ap­pear­ance, is per­fectly hu­man. The in­ner Angel is survivor and eter­nal stu­dent, celebrity and de­voted mother. She’s seen some things and been through things, adopt­ing a Gen­er­a­tion-X out­look that paints a broad and blurry line between care­ful and care­free. One mo­ment she’ll tell you about a child­hood spent go­ing to the wet mar­ket with her fa­ther, and in an­other she’ll give you un­bid­den and un­re­strained de­tails on a re­cent re­la­tion­ship. But she’ll be smil­ing all through­out, which is some­thing su­per­mod­els don’t ever do.

The truth is that she has been an ac­tress far longer than she was ever a model. She’s been in more than a few Lav Diaz films and a hand­ful of soaps. She’s played the young mother, the cry­ing lady, the vir­gin whore, and the con­tra­bida. It’s the way she looks that de­ceives you: im­prob­a­bly young for her age (which she’ll tell you) and in­cred­i­bly in­no­cent for all the lives she’s led.

This, per­haps, is Angel’s most pow­er­ful an­gle, in­scribed by an al­most invisible line that marks the sur­face but doesn’t break it: the im­pos­si­ble join­ing of the outer im­age and the in­ner self. —SL

Agot Isidro

Few of a woman’s at­tributes can be quite as sexy as her self­as­sured­ness; and Agot Isidro is a woman who has it in spades. She will show you as much in the way she car­ries her­self: Agot en­ters the room and, with­out need­ing to make any overt pro­nounce­ments or ges­tures, will im­me­di­ately make her pres­ence felt. It’s a strength that she ex­udes, no doubt, but also a sort of grace and gra­cious­ness that can only come from a woman who is as ac­com­plished as she is, and as con­fi­dent in her own view of the world.

The same was es­pe­cially ap­par­ent about her when, al­most a year ago, she de­cided to take a strong and clear po­lit­i­cal stand on so­cial me­dia (which, let’s face it, can be one of the most dif­fi­cult things to do in th­ese times, per­haps es­pe­cially for a celebrity). And de­spite the foul re­tal­i­a­tions that she’s had to face as a re­sult, Agot’s con­vic­tions haven’t waned. Even as the trolls con­tinue to be­devil her, she re­mains as stead­fast in her opin­ions and as de­cided in ex­er­cis­ing her right to ex­press them, be­cause she knows she can.

And the same is ap­par­ent to­day, with Agot in front of the cam­era: Every pose, every gen­tle smirk, every glance to­ward and away from the cam­era is com­pletely nat­u­ral, un­forced, and as if aris­ing solely from her in­nate self-pos­ses­sion. There are no traces or shad­ows of doubt in her pro­jec­tion—just her be­ing her­self, look­ing in­cred­i­ble.

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