A dinner between a jaded young staffer and a hopeful older candidate.
1995In the darkness I fished out an old, white sock from the drawer.
My tubes are usually tied in knots, taut enough to stay together, comfy enough to loosen for a quick getaway.
This was a straggler. With a hole in it. It was 4:12 a.m. and I held onto it in a state of restless stupor. In a few minutes, the phantom alarm would ring in my head again like clockwork.
My condition and temperament leaves with a distaste of the unfamiliar. Less margin for error, more time to figure out the critical things, and certainly not to wade into something as trivial. Like the past.
I am up again, staring at an open knapsack and my arsenal: tampons, stapler guns, Kitkats and Mentos for me, and Ricola for my boss. The sock has found its match, and they snugly hold on to my ankles. I zip the bag, walk out of my parents’ house, and into my new silver blue car. My feet test the brakes, step on the clutch, and then the gas as the Honda goes into reverse. My heels dig in and neither feels a hole where it should be.
I’ve got a rally to advance, and there’s hell to pay if FMR gets there ahead of me. I needed to get out of here.
The haze filtered the dusk light into a stifling grey, and as soon as I got off the last traffic light, I felt free. The kitsch of billboards, their ads of whitening cream on ageing celebrities and political figures, and the mottled concrete I drove under gave way to an open sky and quickening road. I was barely ahead of schedule. Forgetting my caffeine drip, my thoughts wandered as I fought to stay awake.
The pager buzzes. My heart skips a beat. Just Martin sending his love. Telling me his fellow residents are giving him the night off. Dont b L8 hon drive safe & stay kool. Celebr8 l8r. Messages like these, and what we had, put me at ease. We shared just as many years as what separated us in age, and it almost helped me to trust myself, against my deeper impulses, like this leap into FMR’s world.
Then came another: this time the stubbles on my legs start stiffening. “ETA 1300.” I had a couple of hours left (2.5 to be exact), and Morris’s message told me he would be ferrying the Senator at hyper speed and they might just get there ahead of me.
I remember Dad nagging me to break the engine in gently, but I just floored the pedal and yanked the stick into fifth. At over 120 kph, the caballero trees appeared to leap out with their orange flame buds, pacifying my angst, hiding within them the black shiny worms that gather on the ground when the flowers die.
As the roar settled, I ease into the memory of my job interview. Six months already and I still keep replaying it in my head. That first time I wandered through the preliminary vetting, the hall of bookcases, and stepped into his study.FMR took off his spectacles, and set them down a pile of committee rulings. His eyes were curiously attentive, dark but full of outpouring. One of them kept on twitching, something I’d seen as a harbinger of brilliance or anger forthcoming. I came prepared with my codigo, scribbled on my palm — about how I wanted to be a litigator, then an international jurist bringing despots to The Hague, and how in the meantime, I could cut my teeth as a policy wonk, passing the women’s rights legislation he wrapped himself in, all while helping him with the youth vote in the May elections. My smile was bold, but I gritted my teeth, ready for interrogation armed with my ambition and OCD. He stood up, his paunch barely concealed by the piña barong he straightened out as he transferred his gaze from me toward the window, where the sun was just setting.
“Tell me. What’s your favourite novel… and why?”
I wanted to be clever and tell him it was like asking what my favourite city was, even if I’d only read mostly about them.
“Gatsby.” It just leapt out of me. “Because I want to leave and come back as someone else. Someone with the means to reach my dreams.”
“Even if it meant losing sight of it, if it already lay behind you? Fitzgerald, Dumas, and even Dr. Rizal—they’re more connected than you think. The desire to disappear quietly, beyond memory and return reborn, to face your unwitting foes, and win back love and all its promises. We all feel it. Want it. Even if we fail to recognize who we once were. I once almost did… But we’ll save that for another time. You will start tomorrow, and we all have some work to do.”Just as I thought I got away from the city, I entered a newly christened one. The road narrowed as the dust-ridden car crossed the archway into Lipa. Overseas remittances and the unbridled demand for housing had aimlessly shaved off bucolic farmlands, replacing them with faux European villas and row-houses of poured concrete.
I parked by one of the remaining trees, its orange flowers strewn on the ground; their dark larvae underneath, feeding on the last days of summer.
I unfurled the posters in the strangling heat, then I groped for the stapler gun from my knapsack. I looked around for branches that hadn’t already been crucified by the other staffers.
Bernie came up to me as I surveyed the area. He always managed to arrive an hour earlier, with surplus gear and an eye for detail.
“Hay nako, tulungan nga kita,” he teased me as he grabbed a sheaf of my posters. He unfolded his ladder, and started pumping industrial-grade staples, and my candidate’s meme, onto the tree trunks around the plaza.
I removed my shoes and summoned my childhood skills to climb the tallest one. After some contortions, I nailed the last, largest banner in place. Right where FMR would see it when he emerged from his motorcade. I slid down the tree, its bark slowing my descent, white cotton threads from the balls of my feet coming undone as I touched the ground. I marvelled at my handiwork. His once-chiseled face — an earlier, retouched photo — and his name emblazoned underneath the neckline, now looked upon the town, as T.J. Eckleburg once did upon West Egg’s valley of ashes.
The town, this province, mirrored the others in Southern Luzon—a congealment of the teeming masses, controlled by political warlords on one hand and the Catholic dioceses on the other. 1995 was the new 1984.
All in all, a gross tally of humanity: 1.2 million hapless voters. Enough of a block to swing us over the top. FMR and I, along with the other senatorial candidates and their ragtag retinue, were at the sweet spot.
I entered the cathedral to escape the sun and the great unwashed that grew around the plaza, and took refuge near the altar under the only working electric fan. From there, amidst the ivory heads of the saints, and the Stations of the Cross carved from disemboweled forests, I watched as people wallowed in the Middle Ages.
Bejewelled matrons with their white-laced belos lay prostrate, sweat and rosary beads hanging from their flabby necks. Each waited for her turn to kiss the hairless, almost embalmed fingers of the well-fed Archbishop Arguilla.
I heard shouting by the freshly painted Romanesque entrance. A small, uniformed man was waving his truncheon, trying to evict this taong grasa I thought I’d seen on the way in – faceless, half-clothed, his kind multiplying across the landscape. The veiled women shook their heads in disgust and then quickly went back to their glorious mysteries.
I felt like vomiting from all this lunacy until my candidate appeared, crossing the pews and shaking hands along the aisle. I remembered to grab my notebook. Just a month before, he scolded me: “Write everything down, Olivia! Memory is treacherous…”
I rushed towards him, and cleared my throat.
“There you are…. All set?” he said.
“Sir… I have something to tell you.”
“Not right now. Ah, there he is.” He strode down the aisle.
“Your Eminence…” It was his turn to smooch the ring.
“Mr. Senator… Good of you to come…our parishioners have high hopes for you…”
“Did you meet my aide…”
“Yes, of course… a fine specimen…. What’s a virgin like you doing in a job like this?”
“Well, I wanted to serve and …” He waved me off and looked at his benefactor.
“Your support to our diocese’s pilgrimage to St. Peter’s this year is most appreciated. You did receive the letter I sent a month ago, no?” The bishop sneered at me.
“I will gladly look at it after the campaign, and see if it still fits our pork barrel. As you know, the poverty programmes come first, Your Grace.”
“We will be waiting for your generous response—if you get re-elected, Mr. Senator.”
“I will be responding most decisively—when I do.” He flashed his signature Cheshire cat smile, then turned around. It was my cue to follow and smile myself, and we left just as the lector urged everyone to rise and break into a dirge.
“Medieval Prick,” the Senator muttered as we shuffled off the centre aisle, and finally we were outside. “One day, they finally won’t matter. Until that happens, you just have to humour them and subtly put them into their proper places… There isn’t a Catholic vote, but I’ll be damned if there still isn’t a Catholic veto.”
More people milled around the senator as we walked outside the cathedral and he greeted them warmly and clasped their hands. He clapped their shoulders and hugged the grandmothers as the camera flashes popped in the cloudy afternoon.
When the crowd had cleared, we resumed walking. The senator spoke again. “Tell Bernie he did a great job. We’ll need more of the same to catch up with the bitch.”
The polls showed him at number 2 amongst the senatorial candidates. With the 12 slots now being contested by has-been comedians, slacker scions, and faded beauty queens, he already stood out and could just coast along. But there was the Presidency, of course, and we would do well to harbour these with a good showing at the senatorial re-election, and more legislative coups ahead. No slacking off now.
The rally started late, as expected, but more than I feared. Martin and I had our 7 p.m. moved back to 9:30 p.m. I was always of the under-promise, over-deliver kind, but even this new ETA was cutting it really fine.
Twelve candidates would speak, and at the clip of about 10 minutes per speech, with equal opportunity given to the plodders and the entertainers. The easy way to win was through a song- and-dance repertoire, one of the staffers gloated, and a medley usually did the trick. All told, I would still get out of there in time and speed it back to my resident surgeon boyfriend.
This was only my second rally, and I already knew what I was up for. Everyone was always sitting on a veritable firing line, like a motley crew of entertainers waiting for their cue.
To play fair given the audience’s diminishing attention, the coalition organisers put us close to last, with the alibi of going by alphabetical order. So from A to R we went, and what a pathetic medley matinee we had in store. Most of the crowd just lapped it up, along with the packed merienda and tetra pack Kool Aid knockoffs to keep them engaged.
First was this coup d’etat plotter, hirsute and macho, his belly straining in the same fatigues he had sported in the 1986 People Power revolution. Despite the paunch and the slurred speech, the men, women and children swooned as he clenched his fists and snarled about killing all the gangs, drug lords, and criminals he himself was coddling on the side.
Next up was the silicone-stuffed wife of a dead general. Even I forgot what she was saying amid the thick heat and her considerable assets barely contained under a sweaty blouse. Then followed the erstwhile Goebbels of the Marcos dictatorship, who resurrected his career through his resurgent loyalist network. Here he was, in his Marian blue, touting his “Pro-God, Pro-Life, Pro-Family” values. Who could argue with that in the land of boiling frogs, motherhood, and amnesia? That’s when I went a step further than Fitzgerald: you could hold opposing sensations at once—one of retching, begging for pity for the country, while wanting to burn someone alive—yet still keep smiling at the hapless crowd. My consuelo de bobo: just like Judas, he didn’t make it to the magic roster when the counting was done and dusted.
A few decent re-electionist candidates, shriveling under the heat, decided to sing together, matching campaign vests and all, this ditty and managed to insert an “Iboto n’yo kami” line right into the stanza. Not too clever, but it cut the ebbing time, and the clouds gathered to mollify everyone.
One of the few saving graces of the campaign showed up. One of the barrio doctors who made good, pint-sized but big enough to matter. Enough to get on the Party slate and before that rise to Health Minister, taking on the Magisterium with his promise to make family planning available in every village. He was the only one whom I’d forgiven for cracking jokes and catchy slogans, while his army of volunteers spread out guerrilla-style and did the teach-ins as he once did as a young man. Even after a diatribe from the mighty Church, he managed to land 5th.
Then it was her turn. Daughter of a former head of state, whose only memorable achievement was to stand by in adulation when his successor lay down Martial Law on my elder brother’s generation. The runt outspent us by 10:1, thanks to the manoeuvres of her frankenhog of a spouse and their litter of accomplices who had the feckless loyalty of bleached sheep and the collective IQ of a pork rind. Here we were, on a shoestring campaign, right behind her. And with the block votes coming from FMR’s overpopulated region coming in, there was a chance we would squeak by and never look back. She came prepared—with a canned speech and a surprise guest. Joining her on stage, in a matching outfit and made-for-TV medley, was her “box-office twin,” Nora Moreno. The crowd quaffed it all down, swayed along, not unlike the hysteria I’d seen upon leaving the cathedral.
A couple more snoozers went on about free jobs, free schooling, free everything.
I looked out at the crowd.
No matter what I’d thought about the hapless sheep these folks were, I could spot a few faces in the crowd. Some elderly, in their barong tagalogs and Sunday best, representing a time when politics wasn’t fully perverted. In a corner, with arms folded—young students, with jeans and tank tops that would’ve been banned in the church. All of them, looking for something real beyond the pandering slogans, mind-numbing jingles, and gaudy gestures.
Amidst all these, I conjured up the time I would be up there and how I would change the discourse—less histrionics, more meat—without losing the crowd. I’d frame things differently, take the cliché of the family as a “basic unit of society” and our proud “matriarchal culture” and stand it on its head. Talk about maternal health clinics to give family planning choices (note to self: steer clear of abortion rights) across the 1,492 municipalities and 43,240 villages that don’t have them. Get the World Bank and qualified corporations to bankroll a rural electrification and microfinance programme run by women, so their husbands don’t fritter it away on prostitutes, cockfighting, and pomelo gin. Reverse fiscal allocations from Imperial Manila and allow local governments to build their own agenda that fit their needs, and channel them into empowerment programs with annual audits, not white elephants and lined pockets. It would be my agenda, taking a giant leap from my boss, and I wouldn’t even need pork barrel like FMR and all his contemporaries.
I snapped out of my daydream as the rains set in. It was his turn. The crowds were about to scatter, but then he walked off the stage. In an instant, he stood among the audience, and they cleared a few feet around him to let him speak. I strained the other way amidst a sea of rainfall and body odour just to keep the eye contact that close-ins needed to keep with their principals all throughout.
“If you want to know what I’ll really do, the kind of laws you need, what I’ll do for you if you re-elect me, you can ask Olivia, my staffer. She’s the expert and I learn from her.” He pointed to and smiled at me, already shivering from the downpour. Somewhere in that gathering of pressed flesh I could hear Bernie snickering, “Yes, that’s right, it’s the young who will show the way.” He then switched into the vernacular, and my mind, with my barely decent Tagalog fluency, fought to keep up and translate it in my blue-blooded head:
“This campaign is increasingly about money. My opponents and colleagues have poured everything in just to get elected, and when they do, think about how they and I will try to get that money back. But I’m here to tell you something more important.
“. . . We have always said money is important. It is good to have money. But the more important thing is strong human values and strong human efforts to excel. You may have all the money in the world, but it will be lost unless you have good human values and you strive to excel. That must come from within. It cannot come from America. It cannot come from the government. It cannot come from anybody. It must come from you, the Filipino.
“And for you to remember that, I will share with you a story. Remember Cesar Legaspi? He was our National Artist. When I was practicing law, I made his will and kept it in the vault. He went abroad for six months. When he came back, he gave me a one-meter long painting. His paintings, [even] one foot long, are worth over half a million pesos. So that is my trophy painting. If you come to my house, I’ll show it to you. The painting is in all different shades of green.
”When he gave it to me, I asked him, ‘Ka Cesar, how were you able to paint this when you are colour blind?” Because Cesar Legaspi, our master of colours, was indeed colour-blind. He could not distinguish green from red. So, I asked him, ‘How do you paint the various shades of green?’ And he said, ‘The colour green outside, that is important, but you must find the colours within you. Then the paintings are beautiful.’
“We too, must find the colours within us. That is what we as a people are longing for. We keep getting bad news and bad advice and bad opinions all over. We must find the colours within us. If we are able to motivate our people to find the colours within them, we shall finally achieve development in our country.
“It is not money; it is the heart, it is ideas, it is our beliefs, it is our legends, it is our courage that will make us grow. And that is my only message. Development cannot be done by money alone. Development cannot be done by materials alone. It must begin with the spirit. It must begin with the heart. It must begin from within us, within the talent, ingenuity and creativity of the Filipino. Then we can have true development in real time. Maraming salamat po. I hope you remember.”
The crowd’s applause was expected, but not raucous like what came after the song-and-dance gigs of his colleagues, or the mindless clapping that followed them. It felt like it crested on the rainfall, gentle and contagious. Then, with a couple more speakers left, the people finally began to leave.
I almost pitied the last two candidates. With the continued downpour and no more packed food, they faced an almost-empty and wet basketball court strewn with styro food containers and the smell of urine. The other candidates had already executed their French exits as soon as they’d finished, off to their gaudy, debauched weekends before the circus came to another town.
Except for a handful of stragglers, who I thought were looking for another meal, it was all over. I thought of a corollary of Stalin’s dictum, and felt that as the mass of the great unwashed disappeared, the ones who stayed had regained their humanity. A woman, possibly in her early thirties—how poverty disguises age so well—approached us. She brought along her six children, all gaunt with big bellies, all clinging on to her as she held on to the tiniest one, slung on a dirty blanket. They all shivered from the steady rain. FMR winked at me; I knew the drill: I unleashed my notebook, ready to take their details (names, village addresses, requests which we would deliver in a fortnight). She went past my cordon sanitaire, and went straight to the Senator.
“Naniniwala po kami sa inyo, Senador.”
“Salamat, hija. Ano po ang maipaglilingkod namin sa inyo?” the Senator asked.
“Malala na po ang kalagayan namin. Gusto ko po lamang na ipapangako ninyo na patuloy ang laban ninyo para sa mga kagaya namin.” And with that simple wish—not to be forgotten through his work—they brought us both to an unaccustomed silence. Before he and I could even counter, she had already left, the children looking back at us, as their shadows faded past the lamppost.
Thunder dragged back into nightfall. I realized I’d left the pager in the car, and when I got there, I saw Martin’s frantic messages beeping madly. It was half-past seven, barely enough time, but better late than never. I called out to Morris, begged him to use the massive Motorola no staffer was allowed to even come near. In hindsight, with all that radiation from those clunkers, it was a good policy.
I bent to reach for it inside the passenger door, called the pager operator, hesitated, then dictated: Pls go ahd & eat, so sori hon, wl make it up to you… it’s still my bday ‘til mdnyt and VDay dis wkd;). My pathetic attempt at intimacy, with a slightly older but even more wooden man. I knew after messing up the last few times, it was going to take a lot of penance with Martin, who bent over backward despite the tyranny of his residency, and always knew how to collect. I thought I heard a chuckle from the faceless agent at the other end of the line as I jammed my finger on the large red button.
As I wiggled out of the car, there he was standing right behind, looking at me with pursed lips.
“I hear it’s someone’s birthday… Let’s celebrate.”
“Sir, I have a…”
“A date? You do now… and an important one.”
“We’re also celebrating my daughter’s birthday, but knowing her bedtime – and this — I already asked to make this up tomorrow and Valentine’s with SAR Saturday… Tell him you’ll do the same, and we’ll honour them over dinner. Tell me more about him in the car, I’ll get Morris to show us to my favourite place.”
I figured it pointless to send another excuse through, and noddingly smirked at my Boss. We both squeezed into my car, then Morris drove off in his for us to follow.
I hadn’t had time to dry off, and neither of us prepared for the rain. Still, with showers gone and the tricycles piling on the road out, the heat reasserted itself and I had to turn the aircon on for my passenger. I figured we’d have at least half an hour of driving, and it was on the way back, so I might get home eventually, with a good story to tell apart from all the lambing I’d need to shower Martin with. I just let go, stayed in the present, and made my thinking visible to my boss.
“So how do you keep this up, stop from getting frustrated with the audience? I mean, the system’s so messed up — the audience so – ignora… ” Just then he cut me off.
“You never patronize them given what you and I have!” He had a legendary temper, and I know this was just a smidgen of it.
“But sir, don’t you see it? What’s the point of all these policies and beautiful words, when most of them don’t get it, and these losers keep getting elected because of them?”
“Don’t you think that’s all the more reason to keep fighting? If no one else, who will?”
I nodded, even if I barely agreed.
“And remember. The best way from a speakers’ lips to an audience’s heart is through stories. It’s in our DNA, from the street gossip we hear to the ghost and fairy tales you and I grew up with. You just have to find a way to get all that good stuff in there, to them, through those stories. Then they will understand, and do better.”
“Yes sir, but at the rate we’re going, we’re 86 million Filipinos now, in a decade over 100. And every year, there’ll be poorer, larger, more helpless families to reach out to, bamboozled by these clowns and Pharisees, who’ll never even get half the chance I did… and I’m not even content!” I was being carelessly real.
“As opposed to what?” He slammed his fist on the dashboard. “I had the chance to live the life of picket fences and picnics, commuter trains and college funds, just like the rest of my generation who left. But I came back, put all these grand ideas to work, and I never looked back. Not for a moment.”
It was dark in the car, but I knew he was looking away, at the vast open fields, thinking if he really meant it, knowing what little left lay ahead of him and the country he knew. His voice changed, from gruff to gentle, as he turned to me again.
“Speaking of stories. Did you ever hear about the one about the little clock?”
“No, I think I missed that one growing up.”
“Well, dear, that’s because it’s an early one of mine.” He cleared his throat and started out as a story to his daughter. I eased up on the gas, let Morris stretch ahead, and relaxed in his company.
“There once was this little clock, who wanted to get to the end of the day when his master would come back home so she could watch over him, then watch him wake him up again. He looked up to the grandfather clock across the room, because of his age and stature. One day, he couldn’t help but ask him how he managed to stay so calm, and so wise in doing his noble work of marking time. The grandfather clock bent over, smiled with his ivory, moustached face, and told him something he’d never forget: ‘My dear, you have a lifetime of joys, sorrows, and friends to make and watch over… and the only way that makes it all worthwhile is to go from tick, to tock — being ever-present, moment by moment with grace and attention to make everything count.”
I could feel him smile and believe again, and just in that moment, I let myself succumb to that mawkish reverie.
Morris took a left, and I followed until we reached a faint sign that read “Rose and Grace.” It was 9:30 p.m., and the last of the diners had gone home. I could hear the pager beeping, and then I just fiddled with it and yanked the battery out as FMR opened the door and wandered inside.
The dinner was a big blur, and I don’t know if it was the lambanog that flowed freely. Or that it was the first time I tried bulalo, the house specialty, with its massive shanks of beef and golden marrow.
FMR kept joking that he learned the hard way of never eating the dish in a restaurant located next to a cemetery or hospital, which is why R&G was the chosen place. He taught me how to use a barbeque stick to jab into the bone opening, reaching all the crevices. Then at the right time, overturn the femur onto the plate, and then bluntly tap the base until the marrow gurgled onto the plate, to be mixed with the steaming rice, then wolfed down before it congealed on your throat, and swig the lambanog to hit the spot. I’d never experienced anyone with this mirthful abandon for life, from words to sustenance.
We shed our defence mechanisms along with our table manners as we devoured every morsel of boneless tawilis, punctuated by occasional slurping of the syrupy gelatin cubes in the sago’t gulaman.
I thought I saw his gaze stay longer below my neck longer than I thought decent so I folded my arms while he pretended to keep telling stories from his early life. It wasn’t the first time, and surprisingly, I didn’t feel offended. Someone I have always looked up to suddenly became more human, and it created between us a newfound propinquity.
A few weeks back, Bernie took me aside and warned me that people were already talking. The typical principal-staffer shenanigans. I laughed then, for it was absurd and frankly too early on. But it also felt strange. Empowering even. I felt that connection tinged with pity every time we’d be alone, when he would coax a few details here and there and then offer something of himself – a story, a compliment, an instruction — almost as a present. This happy unease — this poorly-cloaked ardour — was mine alone. I knew if I could bear it, it would make the ascent just as satisfying as when I climbed up that tree and saw everything. How things, then and now — even the sordid — all looked so small and harmless, and worth the deed.
Just then, he asked for the bill and looked at his watch (I didn’t even bother anymore with mine). There was a pause in his hoarseness, one you could feel beyond the gust of his voice. One that already betrayed the metastasis that whispered through his bowels. Morris left the table to start the car. FMR’s face, once and always handsome, turned and shone on me as if there was only mine to behold in the room. His hands trembled on the table, trying to reach mine. He looked gravely at me and said: “You are young, there is much more to do. The best and the worst challenges are still ahead of you. You might be as stubborn as me, but try to remember when these times come: Never lose the power to walk away from it all. I wish I had sometimes. But we are what we do, and I can still live with what’s in front of me.”
There was more love revealed in those moments than I was to come home to, or have ever since. As if the world had opened up that night, and then sealed shut seven years after. The night I flew out to take on my Juris Doctor enveloped the same dusk that flooded FMR’s hospice room as his last defences were breached.
I entered a darkened apartment, still fresh with his scent. Near the untouched dinner cleaved with a surgeon’s delicate hands, lay a small, empty velvet box: the last tenderness I would receive from Martin.
The day we were graduated, before the alcohol and weed set in… something was carved into me, something I cannot escape in moments like these. Even now I could still trace the words as it rained on my ears, this Jesuit prayer that stood out from all the benedictions that day.
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,
What you will do with your evenings,
How you will spend your week-ends,
What you read, what you know breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.The law caught up with some, as it usually does outside the country we both left behind. I even managed to chalk up a fair share of despot convictions for other hapless states, without any of the horse trading I’d have done if I’d left the international jurisdictions and brought my trade back home.
Coming back to settle my parents’ affairs, within the same walls and the cloister of books that lulled me before that journey, I still come back to that day.
I looked at the empty room, traced the hole in the frayed sock for one last time, and put it back in the drawer.