Since he had studied in the Ateneo from elementary to high school, Mark during our freshman year already knew many people in campus, unlike me who was still insecurely groping my way around. He was very active in ACIL (Ateneo Cathechetical Instruction League) and in organizing "Days With The Lord" retreats in college. I should know: he recruited me to both orgs. ACIL is a college org whose members spent their weekends teaching cathechism to kids in Taytay, Rizal. I was adamant to join ACIL at first because I thought we would be like Mormons peddling religion to whomever gullible enough to listen. But due to Mark's persistent cajoling and because I had nothing better to do during weekends, I decided to join the org. And besides, ACIL chicks I noticed were cute, nice and the "decent" (the "you-can-bring-home-to-mom" types). Eventually, I enjoyed the experience of playing with the kids. I also began looking forward to eating barbecued isaw (chicken entrails), which Mark introduced me to, in Taytay every weekend. I didn't realize it then, but my experience with ACIL opened my eyes to the suffering and widespread poverty in our country and contributed to my decision to pursue a career in government after college.
Isaw was not the only food that Mark introduced me to. I remember that he was also the person who first introduced me to cheesecake. He knew how to bake cheesecake, and he served it to us during one of our group study sessions in their rambling house (more like a compound) in Marikina. Of course, I was too embarrassed to tell that it was my first time to taste cheesecake and show my "probinsiyano-ness" to my classmates but I remember wondering how come there was no cheesecake in my province when I was growing up. And since the Jesuits encouraged the development of "well-rounded" individuals (it is said that an Atenean can talk intelligently about any topic under the sun), I thought that this ability to eat both isaw (a poor man's food) and cheesecake (a rich man's dessert) in my mind's eye is an apt representation of one's "well-roundedness."
I lost touch with Mark after graduation. My last memories of him was when our entire PolSci block went for an outing to his family's beach resort located in Iba, Zambales sometime in March 1994. We were about to graduate then, relieved to have survived and happy to be among the privileged few to possess an Ateneo diploma, and that beach outing in Zambales was easily one of the most memorable in my life. Every now and then, our batch would have pocket reunions but Mark never came. I would just hear snippets about him from our other blockmates - that he is leading a quiet and simple life in Zambales managing their beach resort, that he is getting married, that he recently took up surfing, that he is planning to go into agriculture, etc. The city boy became a probinsiyano by choice.
So imagine my surprise when, after thirteen years of not having any kind of contact with him, Mark suddenly called me up in my cellphone last Friday. Momoy Lopez, another PolSci classmate, was in Zambales at that time and, on a whim, thought of paying Mark a visit. The two of them talked about setting up a reunion and they called me up to ask my help in inviting our other blockmates. Mark initially wanted our block to go to his beach resort in Zambales but I told him that it was hard enough to gather people in Manila much less travel all the way to Zambales so we just decided to schedule our reunion in Manila during the first week of December. I was still in the process of RSVPing people when Momoy called me up last Sunday bearing terrible news: Mark was dead. I cannot believe it. I just talked to the guy Friday and he was dead the next day!
Mark was diabetic. It seems that he went surfing right after Momoy left his beach resort. His blood sugar dropped and he felt dizzy while in the middle of the sea. His surfmates saw him drowning and rushed him to shore and tried to revive him but Mark was already dead by the time they got him to the nearest local hospital. He was 35 years old.
Mark Ordoñez is the second in my college block to pass on, the first being Mon Abarico (another good friend) who died of aneurism two years ago I think. Both were just starting out in life. In Mon's case, he just finished building a house in Parañaque for his wife and two kids and, at the time of his death, was busy buying stuff (garden hoses and such) for his new home. Mark has not even started to live life. He was still single and was planning to get married ("hopefully," he said) this year. Their deaths certainly put life into proper perspective and makes us appreciate the really important things in life - good health, family, friends and what people will say about you when you're gone. Anyone can go anytime.
When a person dies unexpectedly, people have this habit of giving special meanings to that person's last actions with the benefit of hindsight. I usually don't subscribe to such kind of talk but Mark's surprise phone call to me a day before he died was too much of a coincidence. I could not help but see it as his way of "pamama-alam" not only to me but to the rest of our block. It was as if he had a premonition of his death and wanted to see his college friends one last time.
To Mark, thanks for introducing me to isaw and cheesecake, for showing me how to be a man for others, and for teaching me a couple of other things. May you rest in peace man.