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Love Letters
Feature by: Tiffany Limsico

Love Letter for a Drowned Film Archive

From Kiri Lluch Dalena

November 13, 2009

I have a confession. My first boyfriend was not my first kiss. There was another young man before him. I no longer remember his name nor his face. But I can tell you about that kiss that took place fifteen summers ago.

It was a warm Sunday afternoon, I was traveling with my sister down a highway in Zambales. We had spent the last few days location hunting for a short film in the lahar landscapes of Botolan and Iba. The ride was not memorable until we reached a turn overlooking a wide expanse of ocean. Traffic slowed. A jeepney began to cut into our lane. It was filled with half naked men, still wet from frolicking at the beach. Then I saw him. He was lying on the floor of the jeepney, face down. I noticed his feet first. The soles were very white, deathly pale. I asked our driver to stop and transferred to the jeepney.

It was 1994. I was 18 and on a break from being a student at the University of the Philippines in Los Banos. I was already in my second year and had started to join student organizations. Red Cross Youth was my first civic organization. I was the batch leader and became a full fledged member after fulfilling the basic first aid training course. I knew how to administer CPR and I was armed with an ID.

He was on vacation with his family. And it was their first time to swim by that beach in Zambales. A younger sister ventured into deeper waters and was pulled down by the undertow. He came to her rescue. He was a good swimmer but was overcome by strong waves. He was already unconscious when his uncles and cousins pulled his body out of the water. His sister was still missing.

They told me he drowned fifteen minutes ago. I listened to his breathing. There was none. I struggled to find a pulse. There was none. I pried open his mouth and quickly turned his body to his side. Water from the sea, dark sand and bits of debris flowed.

His father hovered above us. His face was distraught, frightened. I asked him to help me put his son flat on his back. I placed my hands over his chest and started the compressions. Then I quickly moved towards his head. One hand holding his nose, the other to hold his chin firmly. I covered his mouth with mine and started to breathe for him. I remember that his lips were soft but cold. I remember the grains of sand. Their texture, the dark contrast against his white teeth. I remember the taste of salt from the sea as it slipped into my tongue. The jeepney continued to negotiate the highway, until we reached the nearest hospital.

That was my first kiss. It was his last.

When I learned that you drowned during the flood that hit our province a month ago, my heart broke. I had not seen you in a long time but you remained in my thoughts, always. You were young. You were meant to live a long life. With or without me, even without us. You were witness to the turbulent days of our generation, of my youth.

If this love story can be written differently and I was there when the storm came, perhaps it could have come out this way:

I would have swam to you and brought you to a safer place. I will find your heart and I would place my hands over it. I will find your mouth and I would seal it with mine. I would breathe for you. I would swallow the mud, the lilies, the floodwaters from the angry river that rose too swiftly and took you too soon.

That could have been your first of many kisses. I would not mind if it were my last.


Kiri Lluch Dalena is a visual artist and an independent filmmaker. She currently works and resides in Quezon City, Philippines. She studied BS Human Ecology from the University of the Philippines in Los Banos and 16mm documentary filmmaking at the Mowelfund Film Institute.
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