"Life lived without a struggle is not a life worth living for”, Ronald would declaim on a makeshift podium like an old wounded man. “At the end of each struggle is victory”, so he would say, with clenched fists and closed eyes, savoring the word “struggle”. His voice would trail off as if his last breath of air was taken away all too soon. His friends would laugh at him, as his struggles were convenient, and more imagined than real.
Whenever he was asked how his day had been, he would always say, “It’s a struggle, man.” While biking to school, “It’s an uphill struggle, bro”. While eating a Popsicle, “lick and drip, it’s a struggle till the end,” or when calling someone on the phone, it was always a “struggle to get through”. At a Christmas party at his parents’ home it was “a struggle to be civil with relatives.” Struggle became his filler word. He used it like others did with “really”, “oh yeah” or, “I know”. His struggle to find the exact sentiment was answered by struggle. He was in constant struggle with struggle. Struggle became his mantra, an expression that shaped his life.
High school in the late 60’s was a struggle in itself. His daily struggles began with choosing the right tattered denim pants, a faded shirt and a pair of worn out sneakers. His driver would struggle to keep pace with him on the road while he chose to ride his bike to school. His mother struggled to send a maid every day at the cafeteria so he could have a decent lunch. The other children would gawk and wonder what the hell he was doing, struggling to eat whatever food his pocket change could buy.
For two years, he struggled in a relationship with a schoolmate, carrying her books and giving her a bike ride home. She was more of a struggle than an inspiration. In college, he struggled to find the course to pursue and took general Bachelor of Arts classes while struggling to decide. He dabbled in painting and theatre and often referred to himself as a struggling artist: the struggle being which art to struggle with.
In 1970, militant students disappeared and reappeared dead. The man in power wanted to tweak the Philippine Constitutional Convention with his cohorts to be assured of a third term.
“Enough is enough!” The students protested and marched down the University Belt to the gates of the palace where a dictator had sat comfortably for five years. Ronald found himself struggling through the crowd, chanting “Makibaka, huwag matakot! Ibagsak!”, “Let’s struggle, don’t be afraid! Let’s put him down!” over and over again, his voice drowned by the thousands cheering and taunting the military guarding the gilded gates.
The crowd was pushed forward and a senior school mate pulled him out. “We do not belong here. Nothing will happen here.”
Ronald struggled to understand why thousands of protesters could not impact an issue or make a change.
“We need to go to the mountains and fight this government, “
“But the struggle is here and not in the mountains.”
“There is a movement that would end all of this suffering”, his senior stressed.
The protesters jostled to push past the palace gates. The military, in full riot control gear, whipped their batons and hurled tear gasses. Gun shots were fired. Painful cries were heard. A mass of convoluted bodies were trampled in their attempt to escape the chaos.
Ronald left everything behind, his struggling college education, his struggling relationships with his girlfriend and his wealthy parents. He joined the 25,000 students and took up their war in the mountains. It was a struggle for him to remember that he was no longer Ronald but Ka Hernan, or Comrade Hernan.
The New People’s Army of the Philippines believed in the new democracy as Mao Tse Tung professed, the same Mao who had said “Once all struggle is grasped, miracle is possible”, and the same guy who sugar coated violence as a necessary evil with “Classes struggle, some classes triumph, some eliminated.”
Though born in the city and shunned pampering all his life, Ka Hernan never struggled with his rifle or its purpose and quickly embraced the ideals of the revolution. Ka Hernan and his rifle became one and the same. From then on, it would be a struggle to think one without the other.
“Sorry, sir, this is all we have.”
“That’s what you said last month. We can’t go on like this.” Ka Hernan struck the rice mill’s owner on the head with the butt of his rifle. The owner stumbled, tried to get on his knees and pleaded. Another blow to his head rendered him unconscious.
Ka Hernan’s men struggled to open the secret passage to the warehouse where the owner kept 200, 50 pound bags of milled rice. “Revolutionary tax,” to support the cause was the sole purpose of their visit once a month when they come down from the mountains brandishing their firearms and instilling terror in the town peoples’ minds. It was a struggle to hike a day and half from the mountains and a struggle to find the perfect time to do their rounds. On the other side of the fence, the military were closely watching their activities, determined to crush the movement.
After such brutal encounters he needed time alone. Raised as a Catholic, he struggled with his morals and emotions. He often had to struggle to stop a tear and stifle a sob.
“This damn thing will be over soon.” Ka Jose patted his back and sat beside him. “Funds are coming in from Russia. They’ll send us arms and state of the art military equipment. We’ll take the damn motherfuckers by surprise! They’re doomed!”
The struggle for small talk unsettled Ka Hernan. Ka Jose was always reserved and distant, a recluse almost, who seemed to be lost in his own world, negotiating with his own demons.
Ka Jose had joined the movement two years ahead of him. He was a failed business owner who imported cars – but the damn government had heavily taxed him. Everything on four wheels was classified as luxury vehicle, regardless of its condition or age. While the cousins, nephews and nieces of the Custom’s Chief got their brand new BMW’s and Mercedes Benz’ every quarter, tax free. While he tried to keep up with payment of bank loans, he fought with depression that wouldn’t go away, even with medication. His wife who always thought “she was all that” but in reality was morbidly obese, threatened to leave him for another man.
One day he snapped. He ran amok at the Bureau of Customs and killed a police officer. He was doomed. He hid and ran and ran out of options. He soon realized that the only place to chill would be the movement.
On a briefing for an operation code named “Nickel”, Ka Hernan sat beside Ka Jose while Commander Parrot reviewed the maps, the topography in and around the mines. Ka Hernan’s eyesight had begun to fail in the last year and without eyeglasses, he struggled to follow the blurred curves and lines.
“We will attack by midnight. You know your targets. Let’s bring them down.”
For the first time, Ka Hernan struggled to understand the Commander’s motives. How can they bring down 132 dump trucks, 22 backhoes, 9 barges, 2 cranes, 2 bulldozers, a compactor and a grader without a struggle, without having to kill a single soul? He buried his head over his jacket and struggled through the thoughts of death and considered his final words to humanity.
After twenty years in the mountains, he no longer believed in the struggle. The means to keep the movement alive by raping, killing, and committing crimes against humanity, now struggled to dominate his being. “This is a struggle with no end and this is the last time I’ll do it.” His whims of reintegrating with society and reuniting with his family struggled to get through the task at hand.
Disillusioned comrades increased as their tactics of warmongering were quashed by the military, leaving thousands upon thousands of cadres dead, and the armed struggle, struggled. The movement’s latest classification as a terrorist group was bad for public relations and so they struggled to clean their acts by purging and punishing within. It would be a struggle to reeducate a comrade but never a struggle to execute one.
“Here, have a puff, it will calm the damn nerves,” Ka Jose passed on a doobie, held his breath to keep the fumes in for a few seconds and then coughed them all out.
“I don’t do that stuff anymore,” Ka Hernan said as he struggled to resist temptation, “I’m fine.”
“Then why do you tremble?”
“5,000 workers will be displaced. We will cripple the whole community.”
He struggled with his words for fear that he would be viewed as an idiot.
“That’s the whole god damn fucking idea! They’re doomed for not paying taxes. Damn motherfuckers make the Japs wealthy while mining our own resources and using our people as cheap labor. Remember, we are 100 percent behind the people’s fight. ”
Ka Jose closed his eyes and leaned on Ka Hernan’s shoulder. Ka Jose could not ignore the warmth of his body against his, while Ka Hernan struggled to suppress the comfort it gave him. Ka Jose put his arm against Ka Hernan’s thigh. He thought that he would give a struggle but he was surprised that Ka Hernan led him on, guiding him to the spot where his passion struggled to break free.
When they finished, they struggled to disengage from each other’s embrace. Ambivalent thoughts ran through Ka Hernan’s head as he struggled to deny that the experience was both pleasurable and dangerously exhilarating. He struggled to accept that a single encounter would redefine his sexuality.
The signal was sent and the waiting game was over. All the bombs were in place and ready to go. Without a struggle of conscience, he blew up the targets as planned except for one, failed. The administration building still stood, a straggler, not a struggler by all the bombings that went around it.
Ka Jose, amidst the commotion, tried in vain to give his instructions. In his eyes Ka Hernan saw a struggle of concerned sadness and fulfillment. As he walked back to the building, he struggled to hold on to a possibility of a new beginning. He paused, looked back to Ka Jose and took a deep breath, for the struggle that waited behind the door was at its end.
The door opened and a blast threw him flying into the air. Shock waves fried his internal organs and tissues, and the shrapnel broke him up into pieces. A million pieces of him scattered without a struggle.
Chris Rich, AKA “Monkey”, claims to be a writer but a jack of all trades. He doesn’t speak much but he loves to travel. He hangs out in North Hollywood with a guppy and Ness, a Ficus Benjamina.