By Dexter R. Matilla
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:05:00 07/26/2010
I MET Joey Velasco quite late in his rather truncated life of 43 years. I met him only in 2008, when his show “Manunubos” opened at Glorietta in Makati.
It was not hard to see where Joey was amidst the crowd of onlookers and well-wishers, as he was a big man. Joey expressed surprise, saying he had expected somebody who had written about his previous show, “Landas,” at the UST Museum, to be a bit older.
He invited me to his home in Fairview, which was a long drive from my place in Parañaque. The first thing I noticed when I entered his house was the large “Hapag ng Pag-ibig” that hung in the wall dividing the living room and the dining area.
I told Joey that probably the reason why I found it easy to tell his story was because of how I was able to relate to him. It’s a story that has been told many times, but I never tire of writing about how he fought off a large mass on his kidney, and how he felt so depressed that at times he would lock himself up in his room.
And yet, while others would have succumbed, Joey turned to God and asked that he be thrown a rope, even if it be laced with broken glass just so he could pull himself up.
The image is nothing short of inspiring. For who would hold on to that rope, every inch of which more painful than the last—but a man of immeasurable faith?
It was then that Joey felt being enveloped by light and suddenly felt the urge to paint. He took up the brush to paint “Hapag ng Pag-asa.”
Making life simpler
Last November, Joey invited me to lunch at SM North Edsa. As with previous meetings, he did most of the talking, but this time, he shared with me some of his life experiences not related to painting or art.
This was when I truly got to know Joey, how he was mischievous as a teen and got into trouble at times. Then we started talking about movies, how he enjoyed Al Pacino’s acting. He decided we go to Astrovision so he could buy some DVDs.
As I was looking around for some titles, he said he lost his phone, an iPhone that he got very recently. We searched the store, and when we couldn’t find it we decided to retrace our steps. After an hour or so of looking for it without success, we went our separate ways.
I sent him an e-mail that night, suggesting that we could check the CCTV of the store we went to.
“Bro salamat. Sa coffee shop yun because of my negligence. Kaya ako nakahawak ng mga DVDs dahil wala ako hawak na cell. Ganun pa rin number ko using an ordinary model cell phone. Well, sana mahanap. Pero alam mo, nag-reflect ako na di ko naman talaga kailangan yun. I have to be simpler. Kita tayo ulit. Maraming salamat ha. Pag di ka busy bro.
The first text message I received from Dr. Dan Lerma, the physician-artist and Joey’s close friend, in a long time was “pls pray hard 4 joey.”
This was exactly a week from my birthday, and I asked Dr. Lerma how Joey was. Joey had been confined at the National Kidney for a week already and I said I’d visit him that night.
I was already on my way to the hospital when I texted Dr. Lerma if it would be okay to visit Joey that late in the night because I might just disturb him from his rest. The physician said it would be best to visit him in the morning.
I wasn’t able to visit him at NKTI and eventually learned from Dr. Lerma that Joey was already home but still on dialysis.
I truly believed Joey would be able to pull himself up once more because he was Joey Velasco. I see people and I see those who are built better, those with stronger faith, and those with a higher purpose for being put here, and that is how I see Joey.
The first time I dreamed about Joey was when I was in Hong Kong last week. The dream wasn’t very clear but I remember sitting at the back and there was a priest or maybe it was a lecturer in front writing on a board.
I tried to remember if it was inside a church but the setup was more like a classroom. Joey was at the front row trying to learn a song on the guitar. Each strum of the guitar distracted the person talking in front, who screamed at Joey. I saw Joey stand up and, with his guitar, leave the room.
I was laughing so hard in my dream, and I imitated Joey’s strumming motion. Surprisingly, there was guitar music produced. That was when the person in front turned his attention to me and shouted at me. I showed him my empty hands and said how could it have been me making the sound when I wasn’t holding a guitar.
The first text message I received as soon as our plane landed in Manila was also from Dr. Lerma, saying Joey was on his way to Our Lord’s dwelling place. I had to reread the text several times, and as the passengers were busy getting their bags from the overhead bin, I just sat there praying in disbelief.
My editor Lito Zulueta and I went to Funeraria Nacional last Tuesday, and there I saw Joey once again, this time, however, without that sincere and familiar smile. I hugged his wife Queenie and said sorry several times, “’Di ko naabutan si Joey.”
Queenie said something, but I couldn’t understand it as I started sobbing, too overwhelmed by the moment.
I do not apologize for sounding too personal with this. For this is what Joey means to me. I realize I like making it appear that Joey and I are similar in many different ways but I do know that I will never be like him. What he has accomplished and what he and his works mean to everybody else are a credit to him alone.
With that, I’d like to end this with Joey’s final quote from my article “Joey Velasco’s Light and Shadow,” which happens to be my most favorite:
“Life is short,” Velasco says. “Live with passion. Live a purposeful life. Leave a legacy. Unless one accepts this truth, one can never really truly live because one will have the tendency to take time for granted as if one’s days are without limit.
“Time is a slippery thing and a lot of people go through life half-awake. So don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, and have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”
Joey Velasco was laid to rest last Saturday at Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina.