Thursday, September 2, 2010

Goodbye, JT - David Nugent

Goodbye, JT

By David Nugent
Last updated 17:41:00 01/16/2007

WHAT a way to start 2007.

Joel Tantoco -- “JT” or “the General” -- an extraordinarily beloved son, brother, cousin and uncle to his family, and adored friend by so many, passed out of our world and into God’s in the wee hours of Monday morning.

His passing is a loss that, for those who were lucky enough to have had a connection with him in this life, is hard to bear. For a few years, Joel was one of those constants -- no matter what went on in our own day-to-day lives, there was a place in this world where the sun shone brightly, the house music soothed and waves rolled gently onto a beach where a deeply tanned, smiling Joel was King of the Day.

Joel was so many things to so many people and perhaps because each of us had our own uniquely personal experiences with him, that to cherish his memory is so facile, and to accept his death, so hard.

I met Joel maybe 6 or 7 years ago in one of those smoky moments in a Makati bar. Other than the chance nightclub run-in, I don’t think I got to know him well enough until a couple years later when he moved into my condo building, and took an apartment across the hall from me.

I think we found solace in each other then because the circumstances and choices we’d made up to that point in our lives had so many commonalities.

We’d sit in my flat, eating homemade pizza or roast chicken and we’d ruminate on our respective lots in life. Joel hinted at family dysfunctionality, and I shared my own family’s wacked story with him.

Maybe we bonded so well then because we saw the same glimpses of a disjointed childhood spread across continents and cultures. Late at night we’d find each other and sit on my balcony, cigarettes in hand, seeking a respite from relationships and a refuge from the toil of the daily grind.

Joel loved fashion -- the look and the cut and the feel of well-made clothing -- and he knew the history of the great brands that he’d been exposed to since his childhood. Being a Tantoco, it seemed to me, was for him more about enhancing and enlarging that great legacy that he’d inherited from his grandmother and grandfather, and which was being stewarded by his father and family. Donnie was his idol.

Eventually, Joel moved out of the apartment across the hall, into a house he shared with his sister Kat, and over the next couple years I began to see him less and less. I’d run into him, myself on the periphery of the nocturnal party crowd, and of which Joel was usually in the epicenter. Good nights, good music, good times were as much a part his ability to create ties with others, and were far more than just an excuse to be licentious or irresponsible.

Though, to be honest, he could be irresponsible at times, just like all of us. It was part of his irrepressible charm. “It’s just JT,” a close friend would say with a wink and a smile and you couldn’t help but never feel anything but tenderness towards him. Joel chose his friends well and he could sense whatever experience they were having.

Time and time again I recall Joel -- himself dealing with his own dreams and demons -- taking the time out to listen, to laugh, to try and make whatever pain you had at that moment disappear. His innate ability to give empathy right when you needed it was never demanded in return.

My very last memory of Joel was sitting on the terrace of a Boracay hotel, sunglasses on and sharing a joke, last Monday. We talked for maybe half an hour, not long really. He had clearly left one phase of this life and was determined to be happier in another. His search for peace and contentment in recent months had brought him back home, and I remember him looking me in the eye, explaining that while there had been some speedbumps along the way, his life’s trajectory now looked positive, open and hopeful.

I don’t think it would have ever occurred to me to think that the home he’d return to only one week later would be a far more ethereal and peaceful place than his home on earth.

James Dean once said that one should dream as if one would live forever, and live as if you’d die today. In my dreams Joel will forever be on that Boracay beach, white sands blazing, the heat creating droplets of perspiration on his perpetually tanned skin. In my dreams he is at peace and surrounded by everyone who has loved and shared a moment of his life. In my dreams the music never ends and the smiles go on and on. In my dreams Joel lives forever.

Bye for now JT. See you again one day.


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