Life is a game…

That's what I've believed my whole life. Life reminds me of a chessboard, you have to move the characters according to strategy. If you make a wrong move, your character is eaten. If you make the right move, you win. Simple, isn't it?

Wrong.

It's not very simple, in fact, it's very complicated. Every move you make is filled with thought; every action determines your consequence. If you make a wrong move, you are in trouble. You can never seem to win. There is absolutely no path to success.

I learned this fact when I was seven, but acknowledged it when I was ten. It took me so long to realize something that was right in front of my face the whole time. It took me 3 years to notice that nothing in my life has been won.

Reality bites. You can never win.

I used to have a friend named Sam when I was around 7, who always reminded me that I should never feel down because of a loss. I believed him, because if I didn't, I would've lied to myself. I didn't know I was already lying to myself by just believing his words. He died a year after; just before his birthday… he died because of suffocation! He couldn't breathe because of an asthma attack that shouldn't have been so severe. He died because he was chatting with me, and I felt guilty about that. He could've lived, he could've played in the interschool basketball tournament, and he could've won!

That time, I was only eight. Eight, and yet I had learned something that an 8-year old shouldn't have learned yet.

I learned about death.

No one seemed to care though, because no one came to comfort me. The only comfort I had was the fact that he told me that I should never consider this as a loss. He told me that this is his chance of winning, because he always wins. I believed him, with all of my heart, because he never lies. He always told me good things, he always told me the truth, and he never tried to hurt me. Yet, at that time, I was hurt very deeply. It was as if a snake had poisoned my heart, and my eyes have dulled out into dark emotionless circles.

No one ever knew about that fateful day, no one but me. I kept it all inside, pretending that I was not hurt by this loss, and eventually it felt better. I was able to smile happily again, and I was able to talk and laugh, and even make jokes. I was a regular kid again, someone who just wanted a banana split, someone who wanted to play tag. I was back to being me again, or so I thought. The talks meant nothing, the laughing was hollow, and the jokes never sounded funny. It was nothing compared to the loss, because no one could ever separate me from my misery.

I acted as if I was normal, and grew up fairly normal. I didn't have any problem communicating with people, and I was very open to the councilors I've met. There was one certain councilor, from another school, who never seemed to have time for me. I knew why he was like that though, I've always known why. He thought I was a freak, a loser, a weirdo. He thinks that I can never be a regular child; he thinks I've lost it.

I haven't lost anything though, except my best friend.

People always thought I was weird, because I liked to sing a lot. They have no problem about my singing; it's just that they find it weird that I sing Japanese. They think I don't understand the lyrics, and that's what they find weird. However, they couldn't have been more wrong…

I know the meaning of the words; I know the meaning of the song. I try to hide the fact that I was singing about inspirational songs from them by singing another language. I knew my classmates understood Chinese, and even more so English and Filipino. Japanese is not a common language in schools, making it a get-away for me. My friends do not sing because they understand it, but they don't sing it for the same reason I sing. They sing it just because they want to, which I knew helped in my self-escape.

I needed the songs, they were my only refuge. Singing is my talent, and I want to use that talent to the best of my abilities. It comforted me, something most of my councilors can never do, and that's what made me glad. It made me happier that I found something to comfort me, especially when I needed help. The councilors just confused me, saying things over and over again, making me doubt their abilities. The music was my solitude, and in a sense, it is also my little world.

However, shortly after becoming ten, my little world shattered during a trip to the 'loony bin' with my aunt. It was more of a building with a small garden outside, filled with gumamela flowers. My aunt was a psychiatrist, and she wanted me to be just like her. So, she decided that it would be a good time to start when you were still young. She was wrong about that idea though. She had dragged me to a torture pit! The people there looked insane, as if they were about to chew on your rotting flesh at anytime.

She led me to a boy who looked a lot like Sam, except he had black hair and seemed to have an evil look in his blood-shot eyes. He scared me, intimidated me, but I refused to back down. I was never one to give up easily unless the going gets too tough for me to handle. My aunt had left me to talk to the guy for a while, just try to get to know him. Also, she gave me a clipboard filled with boxes and scribbles that I can't even imagine answering if I was the boy.

The boy's name was Jake, and he was 12, two years older than me. He is mentally unstable because of drugs, and he has this weird obsession with fishes. He used to study at home, where his tutor usually visits to teach him. He doesn't like vegetables, but he isn't a carnivore either. Strangely enough, he sounded a bit sane when you actually talk to him. We were just conversing about anything and everything, but both of us knew we can't relate. He likes rock music, and I liked classical. He hates colors, and usually wears white and black, while I like colors, and abhorred black. He dislikes girls, and I don't like boys. We did agree on one thing… We can't agree on anything but our disagreements. After a while, we were talking about the sports we liked, which led him to say something that struck me harder than a ton of bricks.

-You always lose, don't you? - He sneered at me, a satisfied look on his face. I was half-tempted to say he was wrong, and that I won a bunch of contests already, but I just kept silent. He hit my cord dead on, he understood my weakness, and that's what I was afraid of.

'You have nothing but problems in you; you never seem to be happy; you always have a stupid mask on! You gave up everything in life, and yet, you want everything back! You're a pathetic excuse for a human being; you just lost everything without your notice.'

These were the exact words he told me that day, and every word stung me. For a mental retard, he knew things that a lot of people didn't know. He noticed my suffering, when a lot of people didn't even spare a glance. He actually tried to understand me, when others just shrugged me off. Sure, his words stung, but it is nothing compared to the shrugs of others who appear ignorant. He hurt me, but at the same time, he healed me.

I cried in front of him that time, the first after 3 years. He was surprised too; an emotion appeared on his face as he stared at me. Then, a soft smile descended on his face as he suddenly stood up and hugged my crying form. I remembered Sam's smiling face, and hugged Jake back, finally breaking down for the first time.

I couldn't forget about Sam! He haunted my mind, and made my life harder each day. He made me suffer, and made me carry such a burden for so long. He made me lose face of the good things in life, making me live a lie filled with pain and suffering. He made me grow up years older than intended. He made me so sad… yet I didn't want to let him go. He was my first friend, the only one who stuck by me when I was sad. He was more brotherly than my sibling, and he cared for me despite all my flaws. He didn't let anyone hurt me, he always protected me. He was the one who helped me up when I fell, and the one who reached the things I couldn't reach. He was the one who helped me grow.

Jake understood this; he understood what I was going through. He experienced the pain of being alone, and knew the reason why I was so miserable. His parents had no time for him, and he had no siblings living with him. His tutor hated him with passion, and always starved him whenever he did something, whether it was wrong or not. He never had friends, and he hid behind the songs of 'Within Temptation', a rock group in Germany, to comfort himself. He was always bullied, and he never fought back. He took refuge by taking drugs that he stole from his classmate, and quickly became addicted to it. He knows the feeling of losing your sanity, and he knows the feeling of losing a battle.

At that moment, he was all I had. We were two total strangers; we didn't know anything about each other before all of this happened. Yet, I took refuge in his arms, seeking comfort I was not able to experience during my childhood. I took what he had offered, and selfishly claimed it as mine. He gave me comfort, and I grabbed it greedily, like a dying man in the desert to an oasis, filling his pack with the fresh water.

We sat there for about 10 minutes, my tears drying up as he whispered words of comfort to me. How can someone who is so wise become a mental retard? He was smarter than most people; he knew a lot of things that even philosophers don't even understand. He was wise, and I admired him for that.

My aunt came in later; Jake and I were sitting together like old friends. However, when he saw her he reverted to his old, evil self, looking as inconspicuous as possible. It was as if nothing happened at all, as if I had never cried in front of him. I had to thank him for that, because I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of my aunt. She just brought me home, still a bit curious as to what happened between me and Jake. No one knew of the conversation inside, and no one would ever know.

However, because of that encounter, I was even more miffed about life.

Everyday was a struggle, and I couldn't handle the pressure. I kept thinking about the words he told me, the words that pierced my heart greatly. It was too heavy on my shoulders, and I felt like I was about to collapse from the stress and exhaustion. That's what made my high school life harder. The teachers never noticed, because of the number of students they have to take care of. My only source of comfort was God, because Pastor Greg always told us he was going to help us when we need him. So, my burdens were eased a bit whenever I prayed to God.

God always helped everyone, and he is also helping me. Pastor Greg was a good man, and I believed him wholeheartedly. He was the one who convince me that God is there, and the one who is unconsciously comforting me. However, the pain still resided within the chambers of my heart, and I know I can't take it away unless I let go, but I know that I won't even if I tried.

That was when it happened.

I reached Second Year, which is my current year, and joined JEST. JEST is short for Jubilee Evangelical Student Theater, an acting club led by Sir Mark Aranal. He was a great director, someone I hoped to be when I grow up. He was strict, but nice, and he was a good director.

It was during the rehearsal of BEATITUDES, a piece with nine different plays. He gave me the part of being the friend of a fretting mother, and also as salesman. Ironically, both plays are the exact opposite of each other. One was angst and the other was comedy, making me feel a bit awkward playing the parts. However, I didn't complain about it, even though I secretly wished that I wouldn't be a salesman anymore. I felt weird just trying to overdo my acting to look funny.

Sir Mark granted that wish when he placed me in Vassie's old role, a woman in a conference. It was better than the last one, because this acting required you to be natural. It was an easy role, and I had quickly adjusted to it.

I was not nervous on the designated day though, because of the countless times I've been on stage. In fact, I was one of those who had the most confidence in the group. However…

'Oh Sally, I just don't know what to do anymore! It seems as though I struggle and struggle, but things don't seem to get any better… it seems as though God is not with me! What should I do, I need some help, and God just doesn't seem near anymore…'

Those words had hit me hard! It didn't touch me during rehearsals because we were always joking around, so I nearly forgot to speak after she said those words. It reminded me so much of myself, so much of my situation. It reminded me of how I was suffering, and how it was hard for me to rely on God all of the time. Another irony is that I was supposed to comfort her. The words left my lips, but they never left my heart. It was the first time I've actually thought about the meaning in my words… it was the first time I actually thought about what I never noticed!

I just watched as Beatrice and Vassie acted on stage, even if it was just acting, Beatrice had hit me right in the core when she said those words. She caught me off guard, and got me realizing something I didn't think was possible. I kept chasing comfort, and I became a slave to my own suffering. I always believed I lost, that I could never win. But the truth had been kissing my face since I was born…

… Winning is not everything, everything is winning!

I have been winning since I was but a child who did not understand the ways of the world. I won everyday, I won every minute that passed by. Every second I'm alive I'm a winner, I win by just living. Sam never wanted me to forget that, but I had just ignored his words for the pain of blind trust. He had wanted me to know for so long, yet I was too scared to acknowledge it.

Not anymore!

I don't need a medal or a trophy to show that I'm a winner! Sure, I'm not athletic or popular, nor am I a genius who excels in my subjects. I'm still a winner at heart, and for me that is everything! Not everything won is good, because if you do not acknowledge the real meaning of winning then you are a loser.

I was so glad about this revelation that I prayed to God wholeheartedly. He had helped me realize something I never knew, because he had loved me so much. He always regarded me as a winner in everything I do!

Later on, right after the play, the show went on. I just watched it, a new feeling bubbling inside me as I smiled with sincere happiness for the first time. That was when something caught my attention from the stairway. Curious, I told my friends that I'll be right back and went towards the stairs.

I smiled as I saw someone familiar at the stairs, and came down to meet him. It was Jake, all grown up and actually looking a bit sane compared to last time. He had grown mature, and he looked more handsome than the first time I met him. He was grinning at me, with a small box in his hand. I ran to meet him, and we met in a hug that I missed for 3 years.

He was released from the asylum the year before, and was living a fairly decent life now. He was able to stop using drugs, and is trying to improve in his studies. I offered him to study in Jubilee, but he flat out refused since he can't afford it. It did not deter me one bit, because he was there, and I was happy.

-So, you've won right? – He asked me, a simple yet meaningful question. I just smiled at him and hugged him once more.

-Yes, I have… I truly have…-

Winning isn't everything, because everything is won. You don't have to be the best; you just have to be yourself. The Lord sees you as a winner wherever you go, so don't start moping around. I lost a valuable amount of my childhood, and I'm going to make up to it in the name of the Lord. He was merciful to me, even if I had ignored him when I was a child. I may still find it hard to forget about Sam, but that's all right, because he is the one who has strengthened me all of these years. Without him, I wouldn't have met Jake, and that is one thing I would never have wanted to happen. Jake is my second source of comfort, because in his and the Lord's eyes, I am a winner.

Are you a winner?



'Are you a Winner?'
-Zlankrilanchinage
(Based on a true story)