Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Last Song Syndrome 9: Something I Learned Today (Husker Du), Missing Zen Arcade

Something I Learned Today is the first track off Husker Du's fantastic album, Zen Arcade.

No fancy reason for my choice. It's just that I miss listening to this song. We lost our copy of the CD some years back, and though I have a digital back-up of all the songs, nothing beats having the real thing. I miss Bob Mould, his pained voice, his tortured guitar riffs.

That's about it...almost.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Post-Mortem Lesson 3: Definition of Bereavement Revisited

Even repeated experiences of death of loved ones, as in my case, do not sufficiently prepare a person for another one of these episodes. Two years after my mom died, a friend and a mentor passed away. I was praying hard: I felt that I cannot endure another death, so please God let it not come so soon. But it did, again, a month ago. And this one is the most devastating, to date.

Initially I was telling people, I want to drown myself in work, I want to be extremely busy. I guess it was all self-defense. Friends and family members were very sympathetic and tried to help to make life a little easier. But nothing and no one really protected me from the impact of this loss. No one seemed quite sure with what to tell me, no matter how well-meaning they are. And so there are times I would feel that I want to simply disappear in thin air.

So I decided to talk to people who have had the same experience: a friend who has had the same experience as mine, and a psychiatrist friend who for a time was dealing with her own loss.

They both told me essentially something similar. Appreciate the experience, and allow yourself to mourn. This is something I can read in the book, but it sounds very credible and honest coming from them. I certainly appreciate that they did not pressure me to get over it, did not give me a time limit, and instead assured me that my emotions are expected (illogical as they are, bereavement is inherently illogical). To suppress mourning is to prolong it, which is not good.

This is probably the best advice I got...

...except that the world does not wait for people who grieve. This world of bills, employment, heavy traffic, inconsiderate people, diplomate exams, and all earthly concerns (immediately pressing but insignificant in the final analysis) can be really, really cruel.

The world simply does not wait.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Blog Rounds May 2009 Edition: Birthplace

My entry to this edition of The Blog Rounds (hosted by Doc Harry) is a reprint from my Multiply account. It is a post with a topic I feel strongly about (Doc Che and Doc Ness have previously read and left comments). I am not too sure if this article speaks somewhat of my (*gasp*) artistry, but I am certain that it touches on a vital childhood experience which influenced much of the way I think and look at life at present.

This is something I should have submitted to Doc Gaya last month as well.

It does seem that I am doing you disservice by rehashing an old post, but really, I do not mean to be lazy. At any rate, I hope you enjoy this entry, which is far from meriting a Palanca or even a mention from some literati, but probably the best that I could come up at the moment.

(It was Mother's Day last weekend, so reposting this is also akin to hitting two birds with one scalpel.)

Reposted from my Multiply account, June 1, 2008

For the most part of her life, my mother lived in Manila. But she was born in Marabut, Samar, during the post-war era. Mother was said to have worked hard doing the household chores (which, I was told, included fetching water from the poso, washing clothes, and scrubbing the floor, and other countless tasks), being the eldest in a brood of eleven. She claimed to have played (if she ever did) just as hard, climbing coconut trees and swimming in the pristine beach that was practically at the backyard. Ma eventually left home to go to Manila in her mid-teens. It was the 1960s: the world by then had largely recovered from the ravages of World War 2, and mom was dreaming of a better life….

I was a child when these things were being told to me the first time around, and I could not quite understand my mother’s intentions for doing so. And so from my innocent but impaired point of view, my mother’s birthplace was a land of squalor and poverty, where there is not much to be done except fish and do the chores. Definitely different from my father’s more cosmopolitan hometown in San Fernando, Pampanga where the paternal ancestral house was a whole lot bigger with many air condition units, where I used to spend my summer vacations playing pekwa and karate with my male cousins while my Ima prepared our merienda or dinner, depending on the time of the day.

This birthplace of my mother, Marabut, she often referred to as “Bisaya”. As in, “pupunta ka ng Bisaya pag di ka nagtino (If you don’t behave, you are going to Bisaya)”. It was an admonition that sounded ridiculously dreadful, but dreadful nevertheless. As fate would have it, my mother one day received news that her grandmother died, and that she was being asked to go to Marabut to oversee the funeral proceedings. She tugged me and my younger sister along with her on her trip down south.

I was going to my mother’s birthplace.

The plane landed in Tacloban City. My mother dressed me and my sister up in white frocks and was eagerly taking pictures of us as we waited for transport to the pier. It was near sundown when we were picked up by a frail banca that will take us to Marabut. The boat trip across the channel seemed forever. It had become incredibly dark, we were at the middle of the sea, and the strong currents nearly capsized the rickety banca. By the time the hapless boat was approaching the shore, a considerably-sized crowd made up of men bearing torches had already gathered by the beach. Our pilot shouted in the vernacular, while my mother whispered to me. The people initially thought we were aswangs, she said. Or rebels. Or probably both. We were finally brought to a two-storey nipa structure, and I was too tired and confused.

That was how we arrived at “Bisaya”: a community by the sea, populated by people who spoke a strange, gruff-sounding dialect (as opposed to the sing-song Capampangan), not exactly too friendly towards us kids I must say. As we went inside the house of my grandparents, my eyes were caught by the art paper cut-outs stuck on the wall: it bore the name of my departed great grandmother and the date of her death. Beneath the cut-outs was an altar and some photos. Pretty soon I was about to lie down on the mat when my mother stopped me.


Before I could even ask, a relative came in with cloves and cloves of garlic. She painstakingly made a garlic ring around our banig. Maraming aswang, I was told in hushed tones.

Outside, a tall calamansi tree stood, its leaves extending through the window as if eavesdropping.

Apparently, our purpose became clearer by the day. We were there to attend the pasiyam, the nine-day novena for the dead. I had very little recollection of the prayer sessions: I was seven years old, and concepts such as God, prayer, and death were hardly existent in my mind at that period of my life.

Instead, what I remember was the smell of the sea, the very unusual Samar weather, the day-to-day activities in that little barrio, and the pervading fear of aswangs, manananggals, and mangbabarangs.

The smell of sea was not foreign to me, having gone to the beach a few times. But the beach here did not seem to like me. It tend to grab me menacingly by the feet whenever I attempted to wade, and just as it was about to pull me off the shore, my mother’s voice would ring a few yards away. “Balik ka dito!” I would then scramble back to the house and sit by the window where the calamansi tree stood nearby. I could not even remember playing with the kids (not even with my sister), and there was nothing in the house that could amuse me, not even a toy or an interesting flower vase. The house was practically bare: no TV, no radio. NOTHING. It was during these boring moments that I would see the sun compete with rainfall for the most part of the day. How horrible it was to me to see the bright afternoon sun marred by rain, everyday! How lonely it felt for me to be staying here, not understanding the dialect, getting depressed with the horrible weather. My only physical clue to the community’s livelihood was the sight and the shrill call of the vendor passing by the houses every three o’clock or so in the afternoon: Pating! Bili na kayo ng pating!

Further into the mainland, I could see mountains, and once I asked my mother if I could go there, accompanied by an adult. She refused vehemently.

Hindi puwede. Maraming aswang doon.

I started counting the days with my fingers: I wanted to go home so bad.

It was the last day of the pasiyam, and a feast was being prepared. Two cows were slaughtered, I think, and two pigs. I watched a huge cauldron that contained boiling water and entrails. Everyone was in high spirits. I was, too, for we will be going back to Manila really soon. A few days back we, together with our relatives, spent half a day swimming in the beach, teasing the sea as it sent its strong waves rushing towards us. But that’s about the only excursion I had; most of the time, I was boring myself to death in the house.

Our last night was spent at my mother’s aunt, whose house stood on stilts by the sea. For dinner, she served us small shells with safety pins. I pulled the little creature out of the shell with a pin and popped it in my mouth, and I found it tasty. It was the first time I actually enjoyed being here, prying pins inside shells, guided by the light of the moon and the gas lamp, overlooking the sea which seemed so still and yet so foreboding. Food does have a way of enhancing some pleasant memories.

We left the following morning. The weather was cool, and the sea breeze cavorted with me as the banca took us back to Tacloban City.

In the next few years following my visit to Marabut, I was revolting against going back. It felt as if my wings had been clipped during the entirety of my stay; moreover, I felt like a stranger in a place where my mother spent her young life, treated like a stranger even by my own relatives. Growing up, questions of this mysterious visit continued to pile up. Or more like, the urge to seek validations intensified, but I did not have the heart to ask my mother ever.

Did she leave her birthplace because she felt the same way I did, somehow? (The mere fact that she never taught me how to speak Waray seemed telling.) Maybe I did not want to hear the answers as well.

It was only until adulthood, when so many things both joyful and bitter have gripped my life, did I think that many events may have changed a lot of my life’s perspectives. Travel did that to me too, as I went to various places both cosmopolitan and rustic. Slowly, my mind and heart started to open up to a little more.

During my mother’s wake a few years ago, I met some of the folks whom I had encountered in Marabut. I could hardly remember their faces, but they remembered me as that quiet little girl. They were present for the most part of the wake: quiet, reserved, unobtrusive, and, to my immense relief, never the ones to claim exclusivity of knowledge of my mother’s ways (which, sadly, is an irritating habit that afflicts many Filipinos during the wake: the dead suddenly becomes a relative to many and a friend to all.) It was then that I felt a slight tinge of embarrassment for some of the thoughts that have ever crossed my mind about matters related to Marabut.

I came to the realization that it was actually I who had set a perimeter of loneliness around me because I did not care to understand these people’s ways, their beliefs, their lifestyle that so differed from mine.

Roughly a week before my mother passed away, she expressed her desire to come back to Marabut, Samar, and see the beach. This wish was not granted, as her condition continued to deteriorate, barring all manners of travel, worse, all possibilities of getting out of the hospital alive. Looking back, she must had been meaning to set her sight on her birthplace, Marabut, the place that formed the very essence of her person and helped her survive life’s hardships. Probably her way of paying her respects, of expressing gratitude, of being physically one with the sea, sand, and the breeze in the land she once called home after being away for so long.

It is high time that I, too, go back to Marabut as well, and make reconciliations with the sea, sand, and the breeze….

(Photo credit: I borrowed the above photo from this website. Please take a look at the other Marabut photos as well.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Walking Around Ateneo

Yesterday I found myself inside the Ateneo de Manila compound, my vehicle tearing through torrents of rain as it dashed towards the Christian Life Community Center. It was an appointment with Je's sister-in-law: we were ironing the details of Je's 40th day death anniversary celebration. The meeting lasted for about two hours, and by the time I got out of the building the sun was shining ridiculously bright, as if it did not rain at all.

I decided to walk around, which I haven't done around ADMU in a long while.

I love roaming around the ADMU campus, even though I did not study at the Ateneo. In many ways, I have linkages to the Ateneo. My cousins studied here, and most of my friends are Ateneans. Je is, likewise, a product of the Ateneo.

(I have nothing against La Salle, before you begin to think otherwise.*smiles*)

Before, when I was a lot younger, it was just, at most, a matter of comparing my own school with the Atenean landscape. (I certainly care about my school, UP Diliman, but I always felt that it is not as pretty as Ateneo. But this is just my opinion.) This time, as I trod along the roads awash by the rains, scintillating beneath the afternoon sun, I realise that walking on Ateneo grounds now means a whole lot more to me than just roaming around.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Post-Mortem Lesson 2: Cooking To Save My Life

I love food, but I don't cook. I heartily disagree with the pervading idea that a person does not know what good food is if he cannot cook. It is almost like saying, one is not equipped to love flowers just because he cannot grow a rose or a gardenia on a pot.

This does not mean that I have zero knowledge in food preparation. I can cook rice, noodles (I'm not talking about ready-to-eat-just-add-hot-water varieties here), omelette, and simple sauteed and fried dishes. It's just that I simply do not have the patience to stand in front of the stove nor the skill to balance flavours just by eyeballing, like how I see those marvelous chefs do it.

Je did all the cooking throughout the past six years that we were together. Every dish he did, in spite of the hits and misses, was done with care and passion, much like the way he put some choice songs together into a seamless mix (he did all my playlists at Trash Radio Manila). And so when he died, I felt, apart from from the barrage of emotions I had and still continue to experience, an indescribable craving for flavours that I associate with pleasant memories. Which is the reason why, one day, I found myself pondering in front of my electric stove.

[In my mind at that moment, I ran a list of dishes that Je used to prepare...I miss his curry, the first dish that he ever served me. I miss his soy chicken, which he packed for me to bring to the hospital during duty days. I miss his moussaka, the recipe for which he inherited from his mother. I miss his caldereta, kare-kare, lasagna...heck, I even miss his corned beef....]

I was staring long and hard at the stove, the pans, ladles...and decided on what to whip up the following day.

And so it went that the first dish that I did after a long while was one that I had never ever done before: FRENCH ONION SOUP.

[Oh God. I hope no Frenchman is reading this post right now *blush*]

The outcome? It was disappointing. I did not get the flavour that I want. Besides, I missed an important ingredient: French Gruyere cheese. (Embarrassing Point 2: I used cottage cheese, the cheese I had in the fridge that time.) Then again, I too have my hits and misses (with the misses far outweighing the hits). Cooking is something that I am, well, learning to do, in my attempt to replicate good memories, and eventually make new ones.

And as far as my relationship with the stove is concerned, this is only the beginning.