Today I mourn the loss of one of my best friends, Johnny Danganan.
This may come as a surprise to many of you because Johnny was the very picture of health and there were no indication whatsoever that there was something wrong. We purposely kept the circle of people who knew about Johnny’s state small in accordance with his family’s request for privacy.
Johnny suffered several strokes some time ago and it was discovered that it was because of a tumor growing in his head of which he was unaware of until then. He was rushed to the hospital where doctors, after subjecting him to a battery of tests, admitted that they didn’t know what else they can do for him. The tumor was already in the latter stage of growth and the series of strokes has left him half-paralyzed and weak.
He refused to get further treatment because of the following:
1. Monetary cost, even after Gerry and I assured him that the money can be raised.
2. The operation needed to remove the tumor is very risky and he can end up paralyzed or worse.
3. There’s no guarantee he’d get better even if he undergoes the operation.
Thus, after carefully weighing all his options, he decided to leave his fate in the hands of God. Johnny, ever thinking of others, decided that he didn’t want to subject his family to further hardship and asked to be taken home instead.
Gerry and I visited him as soon as he got back from the hospital and, by some miracle, Johnny has regained full function. Despite being a bit weak and uneasy on his feet, he was lucid and it looked like he was going to beat the odds.
It was short-lived however as the weeks after that found Johnny’s physical and mental state steadily deteriorating. So much so that his family requested that we not visit him anymore because the presence of visitors stresses him out. Not because he didn’t want the company but because it now took a great effort to access his memories and he had such difficulty carrying on a conversation. It frustrated him so much that it raised his body temperature and he actually had to be administered a sponge bath to cool him down. With great sadness Gerry and I agreed not to see him again, waiting for updates instead via text and social media.
Johnny and I go way back and, like in most friendships like ours, we accumulate a lot of stories. I’d like share one of those stories with you.
I first met Johnny during my sophomore year in UPLB. I was a volunteer for the New Students Orientation Program and he was a new freshman, all wide eyed and green. Part of my work as a volunteer was to help freshmen make a smooth transition to college life through a series of student block counseling sessions.
These sessions were held in the Student Union building and I would run into him there, Johnny attending his block’s regular meetings and me facilitating one for my assigned charges. We would also bump into each other in the local thrift shops where they sold cheap second hand comic books, hunting for our favorite titles. I would trade him copies of The Legion of Superheroes, one of his favorite comics, for issues of Batman and its related titles.
As time passed we would find ourselves working together, first in theater productions where we both did backstage work and then again on events like rallies and outreach programs.
As luck would have it, we also had a few class together.
One such subject required a project which would be determined collectively by the class. I was taking up video production that semester and was quite enamored with making videos so I suggested we make a movie for the class project which caught the imagination of our classmates. Unfortunately, as I was to find out later on in the semester, making them agree to the idea was the easy part.
Those were the days before smart phones and digital cameras. Cameras and videos were expensive and few had access to the equipment.
Since I had the most know-how I became the director by default. Our classmates however, unfamiliar with the process of shooting a video, soon became uncooperative. They would often not attend meetings, skip out on pre-production days, and generally became recalcitrant. I was getting desperate with a deadline looming and the movie barely started.
It was at that point that Johnny stepped up and asked me, “What do you need?”
He told me to instruct him on the things I needed and he would make sure it gets done so I can focus on putting the movie together. He kept our classmates in line, handled scheduling, sourced out props, and everything else that slipped through the cracks (which was a lot). We finished the movie on time and made the submission through Johnny’s sheer force of will.
The movie was presented to our instructor, a man notoriously stingy when it comes to grades and praise. During the viewing, in a particular scene where one of the characters disappears into thin air, Johnny commented, “Ah! So that’s what supposed to happen!”
Surprised, I said, “Yeah…I thought you knew?”
He told me, “No but I know you knew what you were doing. That was enough for me.”
Our teacher, after seeing our movie, begrudgingly admitted that he was impressed with our work and gave us a 1.00, the highest grade he ever gave for a group project.
Since then Johnny and I have continued to work together: we organized comic book events, volunteered for relief efforts, and took up causes. He was a crusader and gave selflessly to the people and advocacies he believed in.
He was unwavering in the face of adversity, generous in times of want, and a good friend when you have none.
Years later, after spending some time living in Davao, Johnny comes home to Luzon and proceeds to have a serious talk with his closest friends. Soon enough it was my turn and he was quite nervous about how I’d react. Finally, he just blurted it out.
“Jonas, I’m gay”.
“Okay” I said.
He was taken aback at my lack of surprise. Looking back I think he was expecting a more violent reaction and he later confessed that he was scared that all his friends would reject him because he was gay.
“Didn’t you hear me? I said I’m gay!” he emphasized.
“Yeah, I heard you the first time,” I told him.
It didn’t change a thing. Not one bit.
“We’re still friends…always will be.”
Today, I received news – the one that I’ve been dreading: Johnny is no longer with us. While it comes as no surprise at all at this point it still hit like a ton of bricks.
Part of me is relieved that Johnny no longer suffers and now far removed from earthly woes and concerns. A bigger part of me however is sad that he’s gone and that all I have left are the memories of my brother in arms, my fellow crusader, and my dear friend.
Rest easy, Johnny. You will never be forgotten.