Dear Tito Johnny,
When I learned that you had only a few days left with us, I tried to write to you. "Tried" being the operative word; I couldn't get anything down, nothing seemed to be enough. I find this odd, considering I am now overcome with so many things I never got to say. But I suppose this is better late than never, so I will begin with "thank you."
You were the first person who taught me what it meant to be real and unapologetic. I remember the first day of our acting workshop in MDAFI, where you talked about social conventions and how people never really give true answers anymore. How people say "I'm fine," when in truth, it means nothing and says nothing about the person responding to the question, "How do you feel?"
You sat quietly in a corner as we worked, as we figuratively stripped down and let ourselves be more vulnerable than we ever allowed ourselves to be. We felt safe with you, and in every moment following that workshop, I felt safe every time I was around you. And it wasn't because you were such a large, intimidating, and at times forbidding presence that could fend off all harm. I was always safe with you because I always knew your heart was looking out for mine.
The first time I ever directed anything -- a little short film with Ina and Marc that, to be honest, I'm not particularly proud of (for no other reason than personal lack) -- you came up to me right after the screening. You grabbed me in one of your huge, classic, Johnny-style hugs and growled, "Congrats, baby!" I knew you were a man of high standards and impeccable taste, and although what I'd done wasn't groundbreaking, I was assured that I was starting somewhere. (In fact, many occasions after, you would tell me to submit for Cinemalaya, to just try.)
I also remember when we were working on Hush Hush, and while we were waiting for Tita Laurice and the others, you sat with me in the library and told me your issues with regards to the look of some things. (Also known as the infamous dislike for the wall color.) You critiqued my work, and you told me what my weaknesses were. I think you were expecting me to defend myself, because when I agreed with you on the weaknesses you pointed out, you burst out in surprised laughter. We spent a good hour jamming, with you giving me suggestions before we got carried away into other subjects of conversation.
When we did Labing Labing, that was the only time I ever saw your raw anger, that day at the hospital. I remember standing in the rain, making puppy dog faces at you while Ina asked you to come back to the set. And how quiet we were when you decided to come back even though you were still obviously upset. I think you knew that I was scared you might somehow be angry at me personally, because when we were alone together, you smiled at me and said, "Naka-makeup ka ba? Parang gumaganda ka a."
All the times I saw you or heard from you outside of anything really film-related were just as impressionable upon me. Whether it was you poking fun at my heels during the Cinemalaya opening, asking for a little lambing, replying to my Facebook status to ask me if I was in love or feeling gassy, or sharing your general frustrations with the English language ("Putanginang English yan, kung magaling lang talaga ako diyan ang dami ko nang nagawa"), you always left a mark on me. I always felt as though each moment I got to share with you was special, for the sole reason that it was you I shared it with.
I came to see you exactly one week ago. This was to be our last moment together. I'd seen sick people before -- relatives and grandparents -- just as weak as you were, hooked up to machines and struggling the way you did. But something was different; the air was different. I felt I was in the presence of someone else, someone who was waiting to take you someplace where the pain no longer mattered. This palpable, sand-running-out-of-the-hourglass moment made me realize, that although you were no longer very responsive, it was enough for me to be there with you. To ease your pain however slightly with a sponge bath and a song, to let you know the simple truth, that I love you. True enough, less than 12 hours later, Mama Mary took you home.
I'd like to give some sort of mature response to all this, but to be completely honest, I am heartbroken. We are heartbroken. We are grateful to have had you in our lives, but it is quite a loss to walk the rest of the way without you. And so maybe, instead of finding a way to just up and numb the pain, we will let your memory be our muse. You believed in all of us above and beyond our belief in ourselves, and we will not let that go to waste. You will be more present than you've ever been, because let's face it: there is no wind strong enough to knock down the sheer tenacity of one Juan Feleo. Not even death.
So until we meet again, you will be in every frame we film, every word we write, every emotion we portray, every note we sing. You will be in the air and in the sky, in our future children's eyes and in each laugh we allow ourselves to share. You will be in our hearts, most especially in mine. So good night, dear friend. Until we meet again.