In 1925, a woman authored a story that changed the landscape of Philippine Literature for ever. That short story ushered in a new era of Philippine writing in English. Its subject is a universal that has puzzled both the poets and the common man over the ages: Love. The woman was Paz Marquez Benitez; the short story was “Dead Stars”.
In a nutshell, Dead Stars is about “the dear, dead loves of vanished youth”. Alfredo Salazar, a bachelor in his thirties, is engaged for four years to Esperanza when he feels that the intensity of his passion for her starts to fade. He meets Julia Salas at a dinner party, and he eventually finds himself drawn to “the lure of naturalness, of an alert vitality of mind and body, of a thoughtful, sunny temper, and of a piquant perverseness which is sauce to charm.” Society dictates that Alfredo honor his understanding with Esperanza; thus, they marry and start a family. Eight years into his marriage, he goes on a business trip to a lake town where Julia lives, still unmarried. He visits Julia, and leaves with the realization that although he has never forgotten her, he no longer feels the same way about her. The author writes:
Gently—was it experimentally?—he pressed her hand at parting; but his own felt undisturbed and emotionless. Did she still care? The answer to the question hardly interested him.
The young moon had set, and from the uninviting cot he could see one half of a star-studded sky.
So that was all over.
Why had be obstinately clung to that dream?
So all these years—since when?—he had been seeing the light of dead stars, long extinguished, yet seemingly still in their appointed places in the heavens.
An immense sadness of loss invaded his spirit, a vast homesickness of some immutable refuge of the heart far away where faded gardens bloom again, and where live on in unchanging freshness, the dear, dead loves of vanished youth.
Although this was penned almost a century ago, Filipino readers who have a penchant for love stories can still appreciate its honest portrayal of love. Back in college, this was just another story for study. Alfredo didn’t have a face then, and there were no dead stars in my heavens. The best love stories need not have a fairy tale ending, though; sometimes it’s how the story starts—a chance encounter, a walk in the rain, or a night under a blanket of stars—which strikes a chord in the heart.
Perhaps, another writer got it right when he said:
But like a dead star which is so far away, and whose shine could actually be the leftover traveling light from it, he was a long way from getting the girl, and the love he thought was possible, never was.
Or perhaps, nobody truly understands the real nature of Love. Not the poets. Not the intellectuals. Not the star-struck lovers.
First published on Blogger on 9/19/10 at 9:46 AM PDT