Sunday, April 22, 2018

Correct Isn't

I remember you on your birthday, Ma. And every day.

I still couldn’t tell stories about you. It is still difficult to have to remember how easily you laughed, and how beautifully you loved.

Loving, you expected nothing, accepted things even when they hurt you, stayed silent to keep the peace, and forgave even when you’re exhausted. Your love was perfect.

But I try not to love like you, Ma. I try to expect a little, to hardline against what hurts me, to speak up when it’s not my fault, to stop when I’m tired. I try.

I try to honor how you loved us, and how we had been suffered for, by loving ‘correctly’, but it is difficult to love less than the only way we know how, isn’t it? You knew that, too, Ma. Correct isn’t perfect.

There is a place in my mind I never go to. Everyday, I keep myself from thinking about how much you had to endure. How you had to learn to cut an onion with your one hand…and other things. 

What time did you have to start to make me the dinner you had ready that night, Ma? That night, when I arrived from work, and you called out from the kitchen that it was almost done. It was 8 PM. That night, eight days after we buried Papa, when after you placed my food on the table, you sat down, called me to you, and I came just in time to see all the light disappear from your eyes.

You left, too. With as little inconvenience for us as you could manage.

And all your love for me in my dinner plate.

April 22, 2018

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Do Not Resuscitate

I ordered a Do Not Resuscitate for Mama.

I signed a DNR Form, authorizing her doctors to let her go when her heart stopped; no more drugs, no more CPR. It was me who ordered to withdraw life support.

Visitors are only allowed in the ICU at certain hours, so I camped outside her doctor's office at the first level of the hospital, near the lobby. I had told my brother and my sister to go home. There was nothing else that could be done.

I find it peculiar that I have no memory of how the DNR Form looked like. I think I might have signed it in the ICU; I couldn't remember that either. I had been made to understand that if Mama survived the night, she would be taken off her respirator, the machine that breathed for her.

Camped in the hospital lobby, I learned it was policy that a family member turns off the machine.

And because we just buried my dad ten days earlier, there was no one else who could do it. I was 28. I should have been planning family trips with my parents, buying them new furniture, trying out new restaurants with them.

Instead, I was signing DNR Forms, picking out coffins and buying memorial lots. Instead, I was haggling with hospital cashiers for the ICU cash deposit. "Sir, I'm a government employee. Sir, I work at IIT. Sir, you can have all my IDs. Sir, I swear to God I will pay the rest tomorrow."

He will not say yes.

I was a child; I did not even know how to plead properly. I did not even know how to insist to the night nurse that I be allowed to stay with my mom in the ICU in her last few hours.

When I talked to my mom for the last time, I whispered that it was okay for her to let go. I told her that she had been tired for too long, that it was time to rest. I promised her that my brother and my sister will both be fine.

I held her hand, just as she did during my grandmother's last moments. Her left hand was almost closed in a half-fist, the way it had always been after the stroke that left half her body paralyzed. For the twelve years following the stroke, she had been living with a disability that had caused her to do for three hours what she used to be able to do in ten minutes. Her other hand looked older than the paralyzed left hand. It had large, protruding veins, and longer nails; the years it spent compensating for the other lifeless one, were creased onto her fingers.

I held this hand, like she did with her own mother's right hand, and I told her what she told Lola. "Don't be afraid. I am here."

Today is my Mama's birthday.

It was also the 22nd when she passed away. She passed away before sunrise, before I had to be the one to unplug her, before I had to have one more memory I would need to forget.

They say our hearing is the last to go before we die. If that is true, then she would have known how I had been like her. She would have known that she did not have to be afraid.

She would have known that the love she loved us with, is the only kind of love we are capable of giving. Never less. Never, even when it meant letting her go.

Despite ourselves.

Written, April 22, 2017

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Like This

When I was a little girl, I would fall asleep in the couch and my father would scoop me up, carry me to my room, put me in my bed. Most of the time, I would have woken up from being moved, but I would continue to close my eyes, pretending to still be asleep. I'm sure he knew I was pretending, but he would carry me nonetheless, and tuck me in. He would sweep my hair up from my nape, and I would feel cool against my pillow. He never rushed. And when he left, he would leave the light on, and the door open.

I have a memory of his shirt chafing my cheek, of the creak of my bedroom door, of the sudden warmth of the light in my room.

Years later, he would still carry me, every time our street got flooded and I would refuse to miss my 7:30 class. By this time, I was already a teacher, but in his eyes, I was still his little girl in need of being carried to a dry patch of street, seven houses away, so my schoolteacher's shoes wouldn't get soaked. He would wait for a dyip with me, and I would wave goodbye, both of us quietly laughing at the hilarity of it all.

I have a memory of the sloshing of the water, and of his back as he would slowly wade his way back home. I have a memory of the sound of his feet, and of the rhythm of his breathing.

On the day that he died, we had been laughing about a piece of pastry that had gone missing in the ref. Conveniently, of course, we had pinned the crime on the Chubby Brother, but my father's laughter was his admission of guilt. He was diabetic, and I remember the pastry conspiracy that sprung unspoken between us at that moment. It was my turn to carry him then, towards a reprieve from a hard and tedious life--towards his own dry patch of street seven houses away.

Some days, I look back and I see that we have never arrived on his dry patch. The floodwaters have caught up, and I had failed him.

But some days, I look back and I would know that this could not be true. He never allowed us to feel that we were causing him any trouble, much less allow us to think that we've failed him in any way. I could wash myself clean afterwards, he'd say every time. We'd get to a dry place in a jiffy, he'd say, assuring his girls that it was a small bother. The neighbors who saw us would fondly cheer him on, calling out to us, Palangga kaayo ni Papa o! 

Today, I brave the floodwaters on my own. But when the wading gets hard, it is still him who carries me towards a reprieve, towards my dry patch of street.

And these are what I keep, when I doubt what I deserve. When I forget that I, too, matter as much as the people I love. The memory of this service. 

"See, here," the memory says. "You had been loved like this."

Sunday, July 5, 2015


January 17, 2015

Sometimes, when I put my hair up a certain way, and I catch a wayward reflection of myself on some shiny surface, I see my mother looking back. For a microsecond she is there.

But I have ceased taking a second look when this happens. She is forever lost to me. And irrecoverable, she stands on the other side of the shiny surface, perhaps looking back, perhaps not.

March 19, 2015

On his way back to the village, Jarvis meets Kumalo, the father of his son’s murderer. Despite himself, Jarvis asks the other father if he remembers his son, and Kumalo says, yes. Even if he doesn’t.

How does it happen that there are some things in this world we wish we did not understand?

Like this begging for a shared memory? Or the blinding clarity of how natural it is to need it so much. Or the embarrassment of having to stutter when you try to explain where you are going, because you  were going someplace where you could wait for the longing to abate. Or the immense gratitude for the kind of empathy that does not require a syllable of explaining.

This comprehension, this insight into what the human soul is capable of enduring—where does one give it back?

July 6, 2015

Always. I have to pause in the middle of a lecture, from my tasks, in my tracks. I stop because I have to acknowledge your non-presence. All of a sudden, This does not make sense. 

Towards what end do I slave away, or struggle, or endure? For what am I kind, or thoughtful or honest? Your death eats away at all my reasons.

And I want to stay there, in that pause, where you are.

We will forever be a heartbeat apart, forever a soul away--my breath is our distance; our memory, my curse.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Grays and Goldens

I now love the sea at dusk for a different reason.

I used to like it for the sunset, like everybody else, but one afternoon, lacking a reason to hurry home, I sat a little bit longer, and I discovered that the colors of the sea after sunset are more beautiful--when the sky is quieting down from its explosion of reds and yellows.

The sea gives up its blues and greens then, and becomes so many kinds of gray. Up in the sky, there are usually muted streaks of goldens—nothing extravagant. The grandeur of the sunset has subsided, and the sky and the sea give in to a denouement. This denouement is like a sigh, as if both are spent from all the work required in creating such a spectacle of colors that must accompany the setting of the sun.

From the left, what I come here to watch begins without haste. The goldens burn a little a duller, and the grays from the sea meet those from the sky, wiping away the horizon.

I come to the beach now to watch this disappearance.

Without the horizon, there is no longer a divide. It seems to me that the earth and the heavens continue into each other, as if we could reach the heavens if we walked far enough; as if all the people we have lost, who are there on the other side, could cross and come back to us.

Are they looking, too? Are they sitting down, perhaps, on their side of the shore, waiting out the horizon as well, so that they may also feel us near?

And always, as if my soul remembers an ancient instruction, I look up towards my left—towards the memory of a left hand that could not move, towards the memory of another left hand that endeavored to make up for what the other could not do. I have lost both of them now. I have lost, too, the memory of the last time I had stolen into either of those hands for their comfort.

When did I decide that the weight of my hand into theirs was a burden I could spare them? Why was it never revealed to me that by withholding my need for their hand, I was denying them a pleasure? 

Yes, it always starts in the left. And right up ahead always lies the last piece of horizon to disappear. Soon, the sky and the sea will be seamless. The new singular vastness will be two shades paler than night, and when the wind is right, it will be tranquil, save for the foam that will rise up and roll towards the shore.

The depth that this vastness will then possess shall be breath-taking. From where I sit on the shore, it will be as if I'd be looking right into infinity, and it will feel as if the reckoning of this unimaginable space/time could only be done right there and right then.

It is very, very far, where they are, isn’t it? And forever is a very, very long time.

Perhaps, sitting there on the shore at dusk, across the immense gray vastness, is the closest I will ever get to them. This infinity separates us.

But then the horizon disappears, and for this little while, it is all the distance that I need.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Grief, In Pieces

Because we can never truly handle the enormity of the grief of loss, we deal only with its pieces. We deal with the sadnesses—in the plural.

We break grief down into tiny, deal-able chunks. Into little, handle-able fragments.

What I know for sure is that I am grateful for small, individual portions of grief, even when they arrive together. This is why I think mourning takes a lifetime. One does not really suffer through the colossal grief all at once and then get over it. He mourns because of the small sadnesses, each time dealing with a different piece of grief from the other time.

Some days, I grieve for pastries they loved and which I begin to wrap out of habit; for text messages I am terrified I might delete by accident, for TV ads I am very sure they would have laughed about. Some days, I grieve for God misunderstanding that we do not need them anymore; for friends who are impatient that we get over the loss; for verb forms in the past tense I use when I write about them;   

Some days, I grieve for my name when they used to say it, and for the fear that I would forget. I grieve for the mundane, for the everyday, for the lying down to bed, and then, for the getting up again.

I grieve for the many, many sadnesses that are omnipresent, that render me exhausted from all the toughening up that needs to be made, because there is Everyday that needs to be done.

I grieve that even despite my best efforts, some days, I rip apart at the seams of this Tough I put on, and the sadnesses creep in—not all at once, but in pieces.

I grieve, most especially, for the pieces that arrive on tiptoes, those sadnesses that burrow in a corner of the soul, where they linger and refuse to leave, and where they lay quiet and heavy and inconsolable.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tatak IDS Ako

Almost five years ago, my friend Ron and I put together a video ID for the Integrated Developmental School, where we both were members of the faculty. We decided to use the battlecry (for lack of a better term), "Tatak IDS ako".  
So many things have happened since then--some of them sad, some of them scary, some of them insane, but all of them necessary, and therefore, wonderful. 

Friends, students, teachers, people we work with--I have never ceased to be amazed by all the lives we form memories about, or form a memory in. 

I am inclined to believe that we are all each other's most beautiful coincidences. 

And then again, perhaps we are more.