Friday, June 10, 2011

ako ang mabining patak ng ulan.

It came unexpectedly, on a weekend that was meant for fun with friends, a last hurrah for the summer.

Instead, I drove in hard rain, with his tiny MP3 player that I hoped would not run out until I got to the beach house.

Once there, I was surrounded by a jolly group armed with drinks, games and enough food to sustain us for a week in case a tsunami hit the peninsula. I came earlier than the others, and had a chance to be in a room all by myself. I changed into a swimsuit, and took a dip in the pool. Uncharacteristically I decided to swim crawl-style (or "freestyle" as it is popularly called) for a few laps. I realised I was still conscious about how my body was not smoothly rolling from side to side as it should, and I could have sworn I heard a familiar "tsk, tsk" in the background. It began to rain and I thought, maybe I could just run a bit tomorrow morning, then attempt to swim again right after.


He called me "lampa" for as long as I can remember. He never questioned my intellect or my musical talent, but he was always skeptical about me when it came to sports. I got straight A's in school only to be ruined by the B minus in PE (oh, and in art class, too). I was always last in races, dropped the shot put before even getting to throw it, messed up everything that had to do with balls, and was the butt of jokes when I decided to try playing badminton with officemates ("Nakakapalo naman? Hindi puro pulot? Hahaha").

But swimming was another thing. He had been swimming even before he learned math, and he used to swim for survival, to put food on the table. It was his passion, and he taught me to love the water and not be scared of it at a young age. He tried to train me but I didn't learn how to breathe properly while swimming until i needed to: the last PE class available for my last semester in college was Basic Life Saving and I surely needed to save myself first before I could attempt to rescue others. I took extra night lessons to prepare me for class in the morning, and I finally was confident about my swimming skills, except for crawl style -- the one he did best.

"May rhythm yan. Matututunan mo na lang siya kapag hindi ka na nag-aalala kung anong pace mo. Huwag mong intindihin kung mabagal ka, basta steady ka. At tsaka yung ulo, ikot lang, huwag i-angat. Itikom mo na rin yung bibig mo at baka makalulon ka pa ng tubig imbes na makahinga," this he used to tell me, chuckling at my clumsy strokes.


I guessed it was almost 6am by then, with the cloudy sky trying to give way to the sunrise. I moved to my side and opened my eyes and was surprised to see the wall of my parents' room. I blinked, knowing I was not home, but I couldn't take the image out of my head. I closed my eyes and then heard a familiar whistle. He just came from the bathroom, towel wrapped around his lower body, looked at me and said, "Hi."

I immediately hugged him and I felt his damp, loose skin against mine. I kissed his cheek and he said,

"Ok na ba kayo? Kung ok na kayo, pwede na ako. Ok na rin ako."

I called out to my mother and she saw him, too. They hugged and I was so happy to see them together.

Suddenly I was outside the house, and saw a lot of people walking in one direction, as though they were going to gather in one place. I recognized some of them, but these were relatives who had passed away a long time ago. I asked,

"Ano po'ng meron? Saan kayo pupunta?"

One of my dad's sisters-in-law, who had been dead for more than 20 years, told me, "Si Leno, handa na. Sasamahan namin siya." Beside her was her son, who is actually still alive. I asked him if he knew where he was going, and he said he didn't know but he felt the urge to go in that direction. I also asked him if he saw who he was with, and he replied that he was walking alone.

"Wala kang nakikitang kasama mo?"


"Eh ba't ako may nakikita?"

His mother replied, "Kasi mulat ka na."

I went back to the Malabon house and saw Mom put down grocery bags like she just came home from the supermarket. She smiled and told me we were going home. Just then, I saw a big photograph of Dad underneath the glass table, surrounded by red rose petals. Strains of Martin Nievera singing "Kahit Isang Saglit" could be heard, as though Martin himself was rehearsing for an open concert that day.

And then, I woke up, crying, and saw I was at the beach house again, with my friends sleeping in the same room.


Roused from a vivid dream, I went out quietly, put on my rubber shoes, and went out for a jog around the neighborhood, then went back into the pool and finally did the crawl, improving my technique with every lap. I stopped midway into my last round, and looked out into the sea. The view was overwhelmingly beautiful: the sun's rays were peeking out of the dark clouds, the water seemed empty but the waves were dangerously coming one after the other. No one was awake. I wept, and my sobs were muffled by the wind and a gentle drizzle. It was as though my emotions were perfectly mirrored by the weather: I was silent, but I was not still. I felt it happening all over again, in the dream, that I was left alone once more, that I had to accept that I was to remain while he was to move on. I whispered for the Father I prayed to, and the father I had lost, to help me be at peace, to fill the enormous void in my heart and turn my troubled soul to calm.

As the storm pattered on my car's windshield on the way home, I felt a semblance of the peace I was looking for. Suddenly it wasn't so lonely to be alone, and my heart was brimming with gratitude that I had a home to return to. Listening to the beat of the raindrops, I remembered to develop a rhythm inside me. I need not to speed up, but to find my own pace. No matter how fast or slow it may be, it will keep me steady, and keep me moving forward.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Here's to long life.

We are having pancit tonight, lovingly prepared by Mom. Funny how pancit in our family is treated like ulam with a platter of steamed white rice on the side.

It is a late dinner even by our standards (we usually eat between 8:30pm and 9:00pm), having returned from the Easter Vigil mass which ended at 10pm. There still is a bit of kare-kare and adobong pusit left over from the past few days, but we had those already for lunch. All these festive dishes remind me of Noche Buena and Christmas Day, as we celebrate the Resurrection with a special feast. However, we gather for each meal quietly, with a somber and reflective mood, as it is our first Easter without Dad.

It's times like these when I miss Dad the most. He would be second to the last to come to the table for a meal (I would be last), and everyone would hear his deliberate sigh and the heavy steps leading to the dining room. I knew I only had a few seconds left on the phone before I would hear him call me three times. "Chise, Chise, Chisey!" (he corrupted all of our nicknames to his liking.) I would then hurriedly say my whispered goodbye over the phone before he would blurt out, "Tama na yan! Oras na ng pagkain, puro telefono pa rin ang inaatupag!"

Meals were sacred at home, and everyone was expected to be at the table even if one had already eaten out. I was seated across him, and he would always scrutinise what I ate (and what I didn't). It would revolve around permutations of me eating too much rice or why I suddenly stopped eating rice, and how he loved to watch me eat. Magana raw, at nakakagana akong kumain. He always expected me to like anything he liked, and he was right most times. He would encourage me to eat the food of his days in Malabon, and I indulged him. In fact, it was an unwritten rule that any male friend or suitor who would visit the house would win his approval (to at least visit the house) if he had the appetite for an unfamiliar dish served to him -- be it eel (igat), horse (tapang kabayo) or sinigang sa dugo. He would actually feel a bit insulted if the offer to eat was declined, but it was almost always welcomed with gusto, since he also ate his meals so heartily, he could even make a man eat dirt if he wanted to.

Thus, meals at home were not just instances to feed our stomachs, they were important social events. It was at the dining table when we were at our most candid selves, and if ever there were any misunderstandings or grievances, it was always settled over a good meal. Somehow, food was usually enough to ease our misery because it just tasted so satisfyingly delicious.

When Dad started becoming very weak, I made it a point to dine with him whenever I could, be it early breakfasts and dinners during workdays, and every meal on weekends. Sometimes, when I would bring Mom to mass on Sundays, I would sneak back home and join Dad for his late breakfast, since he would just be waking up when we were already preparing for church. I wished that each time I ate with him, he would eat a bit more. His favorite was pancit, and we had it at least once a week, and, of course, with steamed rice on the side.

When I had trouble eating these past few weeks, I thought about Dad a lot. I never missed a meal while he was around (or at least I was good at hiding it), because he was always asking me to eat with him. He would even call me at work to check if I had lunch already; and if I left my lunchbox at home, he would drive to the bank to give it to me. That fateful day when I was hospitalised, I was having our favorite brunch fare of pinangat na banak, and I knew Mom ate it with me not because she liked it (she preferred it cooked paksiw-style) but because she wanted to see me eat again. Honestly, though, I felt all the more lonely because I missed Daddy.

Tonight, as I count the minutes before Easter Sunday, I look at the pancit served before us. More than the usual symbol for long life, it is an invitation for me to celebrate what my life has given me thus far. Here is Daddy, asking me to eat with him, and to let go of my loneliness. I sit beside my Mom, and get some. I make room for rice on my plate, and I imagine him laughing at my appetite for carbs.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

before you go, let this moment be sweet again.

Today was a good day. We had lunch at Holy Cross by Dad's grave and had the usual picnic fare of adobo and inihaw na liempo with a siding of red egg and tomato salad, never mind if I mostly ate bananas due to my upper GI ailment. My nephews and I each had our own set of wheels to try out on the grass, and each attempt was a success (or, a success in progress).

I planned this day long before everyone else, but even if it turned out completely different, it gave me a short but significant sense of relief.


I was brought to the hospital last Monday after I vomited blood with my breakfast. Too bad; I had a really nice meal -- I hadn't eaten pinangat na banak in ages. Honestly, I hadn't been eating well lately. I guess the erratic food intake got the best of me and my gut. After about 4 hours in the ER, I was admitted to a room where I would not be able to eat until the endoscopy which was scheduled for the morning after.

Great. Now that I was craving for food I shunned for days, I couldn't eat. Then, Mom had to leave me alone for a few hours because she prepared the hospital documents and had to get my personal stuff from home. Moreso, I missed my friend who gave birth in the same hospital and was in a room directly below mine. I felt very lonely in the room, and I cried myself to sleep.

And then, one July evening, it felt like I was a child again, on my side of the bed, but this time it was Daddy who needed comforting. He had been shivering and I eased myself onto the hospital bed while I rubbed his arm for warmth. He whispered a meek "Thank you", and just when I thought he was about to sleep, he spoke to me.

"Matagal na kitang hindi nakatabi."

"Oo nga. Eh si Mommy naman ang katabi nyo mula nung lumipat kami ng kwarto diba?" He then put his arm over mine and stroked it lightly.

"Salamat, salamat. salamat sa panahong ito. At sa iyo." He rested his head on my shoulder. I held my tears as much as I could, but they wouldn't stop.

Dad and I continued to talk to each other that night, as he tried to remember every good thing that happened in our lives that he was thankful for. He asked me to take care of Mom and my siblings. I asked for his blessing to accept whoever I choose to love; he gave it on the condition that I must be truly happy and that I wouldn't forget what I was worth. Then, he said,

"Naalalala ko kung ano yung sinabi ko noong kasal ni Joy (we just watched the dvd again earlier that evening), at sana hindi kita nasaktan. Mahalaga ka sa akin. Huwag mong kakalimutan 'yon."

I kissed his forehead and I knew that even for one brief moment, I had my old Daddy back. By then, it was not I who was comforting him but rather he who was comforting me.


I opened my eyes and saw Mom was back in my hospital room, with my clothes, my laptop and her own stuff. She read that I was allowed a general liquid diet for the evening, and inspected my food tray of rice gruel, soup and jello. Then, a few visitors came -- my childhood friend, a couple of sports buddies and even my friend's husband who took time out from new daddy duties to check on me. But the best part was when my siblings, their spouses and my eldest nephew all came in to visit. D crawled into my bed and lay beside me while he changed the TV channel to Nickelodeon. It was an all-familiar scene, sans the Chinese food. I felt better already.


As I took off my gloves and packed our stuff back into the car, it occurred to me that it had been 5 months already since Dad's passing. Not a day has gone by without me missing him, and as we tread on without him, we realize that we still have a lot of things to do. Yet I believe he allowed us to enjoy this day to remember him, and to remember that each of us are loved.