It smelled like summer

Last Friday: It’s hot, there’s no wind, and the air smells like the sea. I wish it were summer now. When I was a kid I used to spend my summers with my cousins in Pampanga or in Las Pinas. Wake up late, watch some TV, go out, play piko and patintero, pick santan flowers and carefully draw its tiny stem to suck a little drop of what we assumed was its nectar; go to the empty lots where the grass was as tall as we were, chase each other while we threw a few prickly blades of grass at each others’ shirts. Their little spiny things always a hassle to pick out from our shirts afterward, especially when the sun was already setting and we had to go back inside the house. Take a bath, eat dinner and lie beside each other in bed, talking about things I don’t remember anymore. You wish those days would never end.

The past few weeks have revolved around work and seeing a doctor. You wonder how you reach this point where you’re just tired all the time. Too tired to get up, to write that piece for work that you’ve been putting off, to even write something a little useful in this blog. Some food encounter, about not cooking, something about the upcoming Angkor Wat race, something about not traveling, about suddenly wanting to stay put. Slowing down. My body seems to be doing it for me now.

Monday: Still sick. Stumbling upon this photo of My Neighbor Totoro though made me feel a bit good. The weather is also starting to get cooler. Thankful for the little things.

Studio Ghibli

It wasn't Japan and there was no Totoro, but summers with my siblings and cousins spent in Pampanga or Las Pinas cannot have been more perfect

Just another Monday

Last Monday, I heard that a girl from college passed away. She was 36. We used to just smile at each other in the hallway, but we didn’t really know each other. She was pretty, unassuming and quiet and, according to friends who knew her, had a really good heart. She got cancer last year and it had spread to her bones. I remember my mom telling me about a family friend who died of bone cancer before, how she was in so much pain. And I think about that girl in college with the pretty smile; I hope her last days were not spent in unbearable pain.

That kind of Monday makes me think of my dad.

He died on a Monday. While everyone was busy, while all his children were out at work, he was sitting on his bed waiting for my mom to bring him to hospital (he was in and out of hospitals the previous three years) when he quietly passed away.

I was in the middle of a deadline in the office. My cell phone’s battery was dying so calls kept getting cut off. A text message from my aunt who told me to go to the hospital because my dad was rushed there made me get up, save my files, shut down my computer, and leave word with my boss and the rest of the magazine staff on what still needed to be edited and laid out. I kept calm and thought (hoped) it was going to be just one of those hospital visits. He’ll be back home in a few days. There was nothing to worry about. But a little part of me knew it was going to be different. Surprisingly I immediately got a cab. Cabs in the Philippines usually have names and the old, clunky cab that stopped in front of me had “In God’s Loving Arms” as its name. That kind of detail never leaves you. I didn’t know whether to cry at this “sign” or laugh at somebody’s odd sense of humor.

On the day of my dad’s funeral, the one thing that I remembered clearly when we brought his body from the funeral home to the crematorium were all the people on the street–getting on a jeepney, walking up the MRT steps, on their cars driving somewhere, anywhere, going about their lives. All the while, you had this grief inside you, it feels very personal, but it also seems so much bigger than you. You wonder how life can go on. Not so much that it would stop because somebody important to you died (although there’s a moment when a part of you wonders about that too), but that he could no longer be a part of it. Any of it. He’s in a box. He’s not going anywhere. He’s in a better place. He’s not here.

Last Monday, I also heard that two good friends just got  engaged. Happy news. I introduced them and set them up on a disaster of a date almost a decade ago. Years later they saw each other again and disaster date was long forgotten. He proposed in Kensington Gardens. She said it was all silly. I can’t wait to see them. Give her a great big hug. Tell them how lucky they both are.

That kind of Monday also makes me feel grateful to the people I still have in my life. To engagements, to my husband calling in the middle of the day just because, to my family, to friends. Yes, it was one of those Mondays.

Telling my dad’s stories

In the three years that my dad spent in bed, partly paralyzed from a stroke, we got into the practice of talking and praying together before he went to sleep at night. My mom took care of him most of the day while my brother and I, who both lived in the house, worked.

When I would get home from work, sometimes quite late, often my dad would still be up. Like a child waiting for his bedtime reading. To talk and to read to him his evening prayer. “Usap tayo. (Let’s talk)” He would say in almost a sing-song, all smiles. Or “Dasal na tayo? (Let’s pray?)” He would ask earnestly. While he always knew how to make us laugh when we were growing up, he was never one to show affection or ask for it. That changed after the stroke. He became sweet and affectionate, sensitive and prone to tears. He depended on my mom and on us even for the simplest things–eating, standing up, going to the bathroom. I wish I could say I happily obliged all the time he asked that I sit beside him to chat or pray. There were nights when upon coming home I would go straight to my room, mumbling to my mom how I needed to sleep or to finish some work.

Growing up, I think like most other kids, I was not aware, or just not concerned about the mortality of my parents. They were always there to pick me up from school, make dinner, help me with my homework. Sometimes to make myself cry (I was a child prone to the dramatic), I used to imagine what it would be like if one of them were gone. I would feel bad for myself and the tears would come. It was and it felt like an act. I was in high school when I remember staring at my dad who was reading his newspaper out in the garden and only then did I realize that he was, it seemed all of a sudden, ‘older.’ He wasn’t always going to be there. That became more real when he suffered a stroke more than a decade later. And that thought (when I wasn’t pushing it out of my mind) always made me sit beside him, for our evening prayer and conversation.

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Four years, three months and twenty-two days

Today is my dad’s birthday. He passed away four years, three months and twenty-two days ago and though the bed where he stayed for almost three years when he was sick has been disassembled, gathering dust in one of the rooms in the house; though almost all his clothes have been folded, packed and donated; though his drawers have all been emptied, there are still traces of him in the house.

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