by Noel Alumit
MacAdam/Cage Publ, Feb 2002
"I will never forget saying good-bye to my father. It was 1986. I was a freshmen at the University of Southern California, the Marcos regime had just been overthrown, and my father felt it was safe to return to his province. He decided to leave the United States, leave our family, leave close to twenty years of American life to return to the Philippines, to return to that otherworldly place called Home.
In the airport, I hugged himthe first time I remembered doing soand he was off, flying over the Pacific Ocean. In family photo albums, my father was absent. There were no images of him at my college graduation, birthdays, or holiday meals. He disappeared it seemed.
In my novel Letters to Montgomery Clift, I explored forms of Disappearing. I looked at people and things that managed to slip away: friends, family, and ideals that vanished over time. More importantly, I illustrated the desperate attempts to retrieve some of those people or things.
My young protagonist Bong Bong Luwad wanted his mother back. His mother was one of thousands of people during the Marcos regime who "disappeared." Bong Bong escaped to Los Angeles where he called upon the spirit of a dead moviestar to help him find her. In his search for his mother, he learned of the darker side of the human condition. He also learned the full meaning of the word: Hope.
As a writer, I knew about disappearing. I'd vanished many times. My mind had gone off to another place and time. I'd eat with friends with a faraway look on my face, wondering about a character who haunted me. I had gone to that location-the No-Name Place my young protagonist called it-where imaginary people are more real than the ones around me.
I think that's why I loved movies and why movies were a device in my book. Movies can appear real. I got involved in the lives of men and women I'd never met. Yet, I knew that wherever a film took me, I was safe. A movie took me to a jungle, took me to a dangerous journey in the galaxy, but I knew that I'd be all right. I mean how dangerous can a place get when you're eating popcorn?
Bong Bong found safety in movies, particularly those starring Montgomery "Monty" Clift. When Monty helped a young boy find his mother in movie The Search, Bong Bong was sure the matinee idol could do the same for him.
Movies stained my memory with an image, a time, and a place. And I could return to that image, time, and place by pressing the "play" button on the VCR. It was constant. I knew the beginning, middle, and end. There was comfort in that.
Bong Bong knew this, too. As his dream of finding his mother dwindled, he escaped with Monty to the Nevada Desert, to Hawaii, to Germany, to a cabin by the lake. All of these places featured in movies starring the late film star. In movies, Bong Bong disappeared from a place where parents couldn't be found. He got caught up in the worlds of the handsome actor. It became dangerous, however, when Bong Bong didn't want to leave the black and white landscapes, choosing to stay with the 1950's icon.
I was fortunate. I knew where my father was. My dad eventually returned to America due to health problems in 1998. At thirty, I surmised that my father had to leave in order to recapture a bit of himself that had vanished. That bit of himself secured somewhere on an island in the ocean.
For Bong Bong Luwad, he struggled to know what became of his mother. Without his mother, he couldn't find peace, security. He turned to Montgomery Clift for some semblance of that. In the cinematic glow of a movie, Bong Bong found that otherworldly place called Home."