Remember that time when one of our government officials scolded a journalist for asking an ‘unchristian’ question? That led me to write this.
IIs it too shameful to remember him now? I can’t help it – I hear “unchristian” mouthed by the likes of those men and what immediately comes to mind are all my regrets about all my mistakes involving men, most of which were during that time when I was at my neediest and weakest, and I was always falling, and were mostly cases without any form of reciprocation, of course.
Only him stands out as the upright one, really, the most dignified and decent, probably because he’s a Christian, and he does live up to the word. I used to wonder whether he does so by choice or obligation, him being a son of a pastor, well, I’d like to believe that even if he’s only choosing to be obedient, he’s still making the good choice. And he’s a gentleman I witnessed grow up, at least from a distance, through all those years I worked with him. I never even heard him cuss, not once, nor can I recall one hurtful word or any cruel act he ever did to me.
Nothing, really, because it was not his fault that he, in his very words, does not see me “that way.” It was not his fault that to him, I am a friend. It was not his fault to not know what to say or what to do, and to opt instead for silence after hearing me confess, which he knows I’ve already done on way too many men, lesser than him and before him. And was it his fault that he’s 14 years younger, in his mid- or even early 20s, and possibly frightened out of his wits after hearing all that pre-mid-life nonsense from me? Definitely no.
I committed three mistakes there. First, I indulged the fondness and fed it and rode it and used it to cover up another previous secret heartbreak – then thickfacedly called it “love” and laid it down before him, poor clueless kid, faced with a rotten offering. Second, great expectations, which I harbored and called “hope,” and with which I insisted I could survive on, before and after the doomed confession. Hope ought to exist, I insisted, because nothing is impossible, and love is patient and patient and patient. Of course that’s hope as delusion, as poison, naturally already spent upon my third offense, which was when I turned my back on him, cut ties and ran away.
On the few occasions left where we still had to transact for remaining work, I employed a new language, devoid of the traces of the supposed mentoring that he apparently preferred. And because he has somehow clarified that the opposite of “that way” is “mentor,” I started speaking strictly civil, at some point even talked down on him, which he answered first with politeness, then silence, until his silence became my silence too, only sharper and colder.
It becomes harder to remember the good warm things at that point. I forgot that he trusted me and entrusted me with some of the first beautiful things he made. And I forgot that he shared time, the only currency any young man has a lot of and could actually spare, and is therefore golden. With help from him, at every instant that I asked him to deliver, and he did, I built nearly a decade of simple little work – so he did give too and it wasn’t all me, within all those quiet years, which I threw away. That kid, he deserved better, and I should have done better. Instead, I forgot that I was supposed to look after, to take care of, to protect and nurture, so what the hell was I thinking?
IIWould it harm her if I continue to refuse to see her? I hope not, because I really do not want to go back to her again, whether for the old weekend visits, or even for an hour, or for any more birthdays or Christmases. We have been through situations like this so many times, the worst of which was when Tatay was still alive, too bad he didn’t drag the cycle to the grave. So if I could risk being beaten up by her husband for every time I resisted, for refusing to just take everything all in like she always did, and still does, for refusing to go on like nothing is wrong, what makes her think I would cave in now?
Last year, after another incident, I told a cousin that I have prepared myself for the possibility of seeing Nanay again only when I am already needed to process her death papers and retrieve her remains. I told this same cousin that such instance would most likely be the last one too where I would face and deal with my brother, and should he impose or assert whatever he wants in the entire process, it would probably be the only time I would let him have his way without any question or objection, just to get things over and done with. If he prefers to do it all on his own, fine by me too, all the better.
That is exactly why I am not so afraid anymore of losing her. The way I see it, after she’s gone, everyone she enabled throughout her life would finally, at long last, learn. Then I’d go, sorry, family and friends, your beloved wellfare program is now closed, you can all go home now and assess your viability for benefits and loans and indulgences and pardons from new benefactors. Of course cousin told me I should not be saying such things. What if I pass on ahead in the first place? I told cousin, aside from not turning over my body to her, that me passing on ahead can only mean I really must not be forced to see her again because death itself took charge to ensure my welfare.
The trouble is I do not agree with a lot of the supposed virtues she upholds and practices. Like “tiis” which takes on a whole new level of intensity beyond enduring, and unbearable and impossible degrees of putting up with, if you happen to have been raised in a household under her care. Her “alang-alang sa akin” spell alone has gotten me tricked for ages. And what woman would even allow herself to be called “martir” by friends? Instead of taking it as a slap in the face, whether as an innocent insult or backhanded compliment, instead of being shaken up and roused and awakened, she embraced it. I have reason to believe that she may have even taken some sort of strange pride in it, because sometimes I heard her say something like, martir na kung martir, para na lang tahimik. Ah, there, that’s one more thing she fiercely believes she has been successful with over the years – keeping the peace. What peace?
I find it hard to accept that for caring about her, and for being at risk and threatened of harm yet again for speaking up, and even speaking for her, I ended up again being the one that needed to go. Otherwise, I must shut up like her, and cower and submit to her new man of the house, who would have not even risen to such power and utter disrespect of her, in her own house, had she stood up to him early on and asserted that hey, no matter how you saw your Tatay treat me, you must remember that I am your Nanay, and you need to revere me, and never abuse me, because at the very least you owe me that. So am I blaming her now? No, because it’s too late for that.
I accept that since there is just too much I cannot accept about her, her many irreversible choices, her blindness and hardheadedness, what she calls her kindness and what I yank her for by calling her an enabler, I cannot stay with her, along with everyone and everything she tolerates.
I accept that I may be in fact an inconvenience to her, with my mere presence being some sort of barrage of silently nagging and pestering questions like, why did you even choose that husband, or why can’t you straighten out your son, or why wouldn’t you ask for more for yourself?
I accept that she’s already too old, and as she was not able to protect me in the past, nor stand up for me and defend me, all the more she cannot do so now and ever. I accept that I have long lost my mother so many years back, even before I ran away the first time, way farther back than when I was a kid pleading to her, Nay, alis na tayo – I accept that it has always been I who must go, because unlike her men, she believes I can hack it and make it, and she knows that I know that they need her.
I accept that, as best she can, she has given me all that she can. I can only hope that in turn, she accepts that I am already so tired, so tired that it breaks my heart, and with whatever’s left right now, I cannot afford to be betrayed by her again. Yes, by her, because it was her whom I trusted, not our weak and brutal men. Her. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to bear another such blow, because I have already been weakened too, so I must choose to be brutal now too, by staying as far away as possible, to stay alive, and what mother would not want that?
IIIIf I do something good, but for the wrong reasons, does that still count as good? The thing is, I can’t remember the last time I voted, nor all the other details related to the actual vote, like if it was for a national or a local election, which naturally hinders me from recalling who I voted for, which in turn makes it impossible for me to ever know if that candidate won or lost. I am not sure if it was for a presidential election, but it sure was farther than two such terms ago, meaning way farther than at least 12 years ago. If so, that means I was still living with the family back then, and brother was still in school because he kept flunking, and Tatay was still alive to brag that he never needed schooling. That’s about as far as I can go, an approximated timeline and the certainty that I did not care about my vote.
That’s because I was young and silly, and indifferent and distracted. I specifically remember looking forward to election day that time only because my voting precinct was in the first elementary school I attended, and I would finally have the reason to go back and go inside, beyond just peeking through the gates and seeing only the same small portion of the building for years, whenever I happen to pass by during dismissals. I had the feeling there must have been many changes over the years, I just didn’t know yet, and that was the only reason I wanted to vote. I wanted to see what happened to my little dear elementary school, with the media room with the TV where Ms. Pangan let us watch puppet shows and English cartoons, and with the choir room with the upright piano where Ms. Mortel played that song which I can’t remember the title of but goes, may diwang malayang tunay, somewhere in the middle.
This is what happened: I was swept by a wave of indescribable joy, not by any concrete change in the structure, but by seeing for the first time again, after so many years, my third grade teacher and homeroom adviser Ms. Elena D. Garcia – who at that point was no longer Ms. Garcia because Ms. Garcia got married. It was her! The same curly pixie hair, the same plain face with no eyeshadow nor lipstick, the same slightly slouched posture even when standing, but just with a different surname. I even felt shy at first to approach her, but after being nudged by my cousin who just finished voting in the next precinct, I mustered the confidence. And she remembered me! Maybe that was why I was extra happy, my teacher who I never thought would get married not only got married but also remembered me.
I remember fearing for her, imagining her growing old and dying alone after retiring with incurable fatigue from teaching mathematics to legions and legions of my fellow 9-year-olds. And I worried for her because she was so kind to me. She was the one who taught us long division, which I never understood, and so for a time I even thought I would never get to graduate from her class because who moves up to the fourth grade without knowing long division? She never called me to the board to do equations. She never asked me to recite, except in group recitations, when all the kids from one row would stand up and recite the multiplication table, and when I would just lipsync by the time we reach the table of threes. I don’t think she ever caught me in the act, but at any rate, I’m sure my answers in the dreaded window cards gave me away. The way I see it, she spared me from every possible humiliation. She let me pass the class. Where did she get the numbers?
And there we were in that classroom precinct where matters of heavy significance hung in the balance. And the fate of a stubborn country that never seems to learn, always charmed by tyrants who caress with iron fists, laid on the hands of the likes of a math teacher who let a girl who can’t do long division pass. And the girl proceeds through life and lives up to that point where she can do something, but cannot even remember what she cast, too lost in her dreams of running away from personal oppressors by chasing after presumed saviors – I am so sorry, I was just too young, I didn’t know how anything I could do would matter. How could I have known that not caring can harm?