This place is all the places I have ever loved. Skies, libraries, houses, malls, paths, gardens. The air is clear and I am home.
– Luis Katigbak
I’m having a difficult time writing this, just as I’m having a difficult time trying to process how I feel right now. A few days ago, I received some horrible news: a friend of mine who’d been struggling with health issues in the past few years had a massive stroke, and hope of recovery is slim to none.
Luis and I first met back in college during a fiction writing class. He’s a brilliant writer, never afraid to take little pieces of his heart and soul and arrange them into something of heartbreaking beauty on the blank page, always able to reach into the ether to find that perfect word, that perfect turn of phrase, to make a story live and take form. Many of my peers and mentors would say that Luis is the best writer of our generation, and few, if any, would question it.
He also loves music, loves it so much that even during the quiet interludes in a conversation, you could catch him swaying his head to some unheard beat, eyes unfocused, a tiny, secret smile on his lips. I was always half convinced that Luis had the music of the spheres playing continuously in his head, a low-key soundtrack to his life. Music is so much a part of his life that he established two major magazines dedicated to music reviews and writing and short fiction.
But beyond all that, Luis is a genuinely good human being, one of those few lucky souls who brings light and happiness wherever he goes. He radiates a quiet kindness and good cheer, looking for all the world like a young, Asian version of Santa Claus, with his ruddy face lighting up whenever friends are near. I could have been having a really bad day, but just running into him between classes would already boost my spirits. Luis is, as they say, good people.
My favorite memory of Luis was from, oh, about 15 or 16 years ago. A massive meteor shower — the Leonids, I believe — was happening that evening, so a bunch of us decided to go back to our old university to watch it. The school was built on a huge tract of land in the middle of the city, and there were plenty of obliging fields to sprawl on for the show. We’d come armed with food and drinks and blankets and were just settling in when a drunken man wobbled toward us and started harassing us.
We were arguing with the man — the troll, really — when the campus police arrived and asked us to accompany them to the campus headquarters. Luis and JB and a few of the other guys volunteered to give a statement, but it didn’t end there. It turned out that the troll was an off-duty police officer who had a substance abuse problem, and that he was carrying a loaded firearm in the waistband of his shorts. Luis and the others ended up spending the night waiting at Precinto Nueve, one of the outposts of the Philippine National Police, giving more statements and fielding questions. When he and the others finally rejoined us, the sun was already high in the sky and they’d missed the whole thing, but he just laughed and shrugged it off and said that he’d turn it into a story someday.
I last saw him two years ago, when he came to the apartment I shared with two of our common friends. His illness was already pretty advanced by then, and he’d had several major operations to try to regain his eyesight, which had rapidly deteriorated since he’d gotten sick, but the operations just made things worse instead of arresting the decline. I remembered him saying that he’d given up on going out and watching movies because he couldn’t see anything two feet past his nose; going to the movies had become a futile exercise, like listening to the radio while sitting in front of a flickering light. He’d been having trouble seeing well enough to write, and I think it was that more than anything else that took the fight out of him. Luis lived to write and read. But he still put up a brave front, talking about mutual friends and frenemies and the bright, shiny memories of our youth, as the noon sun slanted across the windows and turned into the golden light of late afternoon.
Thinking of him now, lost in The Dreaming that he loves so much, makes my heart hurt. He is loved by so many, and so many of us are praying that he comes back from this, but I am no stranger to loss from a protracted illness, and I fear that wishing him back when I know he’s so tired is selfish of me.
But I will never stop waiting for that story.
20 April 2016: Luis Joaquin M. Katigbak crossed over today, a few minutes past midnight. May his soul rest in peace.