An episode of Criminal Minds was ending soon in which I caught a few scenes before the denouement. The unsubs were a gang of two men and three women terrorizing house owners in posh areas by holding them hostage and taking over their houses. They then leave after some time to move to another house. One of the young men suddenly changed the modus operandi by shooting the owners of the house they were in, and the tragedy escalated fast from there. This abrupt change caused the other man to question the entire existence of their group – they never killed; they just robbed people – which prompted the shooter to kill him too. In the end, the gang disintegrated: the believed alpha male was shot by one of the women, who turned out to be the ‘alpha male’, scaring the two other women but pushing them to rise against her . The hostages – the woman shooter’s parents – were freed and she, handcuffed, was led to the police car. Then a quote by Mickey Mantle is heard: “A gang is where a coward goes to hide.” 

Mantle’s words hurled me back to my school days in JASMS, Quezon City. Its founder, the late Doreen Barber Gamboa, espoused, among other things, learning to be one’s self and standing alone without being lonely. Gangs, roughly barkada in colloquial Filipino, existed in JASMS and so did the regular bullies that inadvertently pushed the bullied to seek gangs. There was this gravitation of students into a barkada not for their teeming cowardice, but the overabundance of sensitivity of others for people pushed to the margins of school society. Being bullied was a common denominator that eventually led to other points of commonality. In my case, my friends and I found each other because of a tacit understanding that there was nothing wrong with varying personalities and interests. Propitiously, we discovered we also shared a fondness for studying, for reading, for Pierce Brosnan in Remington Steele, for movies like Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink, etc. It also helped that we were big on talking things out, addressing issues in a rational manner instead of drowning ourselves in telenovela emotional drama.

The definition of belonging in JASMS was being accepted for one’s warts and all, which included opposing political views, absence or presence of faith, and pendulous mood swings. Each student found a barkada she or he could be herself/himself without the pressure of transforming into someone else supposedly more acceptable. But wrongdoings or acts of violence and destruction were not enabled or tolerated within a barkada, and one was free to seek out new friends if the former barkada proved, in a manner of speaking, stifling. Leaving a barkada was done without the Hollywood scenario of seeking vengeance or further bullying or overdrawn histrionics. There was either this cordial acknowledgement of the other or the opposite, complete obliviousness.

A friendship that spans decades which started in high school

The glue that held my barkada – we called ourselves JAMMERS, a word formed from the first letters of our names – was acceptance of each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies fueled by common life philosophies that boiled down to always being on the path of goodness that is capacious for committing and learning from mistakes. This path also included space to chart one’s own path, to stand alone and face challenges buttressed by the knowledge that the barkada – JAMMERS – would still be there even if the the meet ups are far and between and intermission communications relegated to social media.