By Virginia J. Pasalo
IT is easy to forget others when in grief. I cry at the slightest provocation and the most endearing memories. I cry for losses and victories. And I forget, I forget a lot of things.
For example, I forgot to buy flowers from the little girl who sells camia and sampaguita. I ignored a beggar. I failed to talk to the birds. I forgot to water the plants. I have forgotten the words for a poem. I have forgotten to walk, to be with my thoughts.
I comforted myself with donuts and coffee at J.CO Donuts & Coffee, shrimps with salted egg sauce at Shrimp Bucket, bulalo and tinomok at Gerry’s Grill, and feasted on suman from Tita Paring Suman Latik. Food I considered sinful under normal conditions had become a friend, as easily as cigarette and liquor had become a stabilizing presence in others. I gained weight in so little time, seven days, maybe less.
Just as I was beginning to accept the passing of my mother, a friend suddenly dies. With all her sophistication, bearing and service to humankind, she dies, run over by a speeding motorcycle. A cruel joke, an unglamorous, cruel way to pass away. As cruel as mom’s passing, with all the tubes finding their way in veins that could no longer be detected because they were overwhelmed by the liquid that her frail body could no longer expel. I was informed that the children of another friend, a feisty political activist, had agreed not to resuscitate her if her organs failed. These were women I loved, and loved dearly. It felt like the Prince of Death was on a roll, presiding over a Death March.
Alone, I wailed like a cow. My Facebook Timeline posts literally became obituaries, my Wailing Wall. I have lost guiding posts for my temple. A part of me was getting chipped off everyday, and I was struggling to put broken pieces together. My altar was eerily quiet, and the gift of absence, spoke in devastating riddles. I came face to face with my own mortality.
I remember their lives. Mom lived a life of patience, faith, love and discipline. I remember vividly how she whacked me with a rono (a thin cane) and drew lines on my face with charcoal in an effort to wake me up for school. She was strict and firm, but had an eye for the exquisitely beautiful. She was the one who woke me up to watch the stars, and a comet at dawn.
Josie had wit, she loved fully and bravely, and she gifted me with shoes, knowing I walk a lot, and with blouses that did not fit. She would drive eight hours to get me from my sister’s place to their house in Roseville, California and bring me to stores where I can buy designer blazers and skirts for less. She had the most charming smile I had seen, even when she was sad.
Manang Letty, for whom I am praying very hard for a miracle, is proud of her cow’s milk, something she makes me drink, along with the greens, the yoghurt and the native corn. She gave me her own Indian nightwear to wear, when I had nothing to wear for the night, in her house, which she said was built with Manosa’s artistry and Ilocano frugality.
They had wit and humor and courage. My heart bleeds, I care for these brave women, Urdujas to the core. They cared, and they showed it.
So I forget. And I forget about the moon staring at me. About the rivers that run through me. About the stars and the comets from whom I borrow words. About the miracle of my roots. I ignored the soft breeze on my face. I ignored the soft sun on my skin. I did not notice the smile of strangers. I did not greet the morning.
I forget. I forget even the things I remember. All I am doing now is embracing memories. I am grieving, and I am grieving miserably.
must I embrace the wilderness
of your absence
to catch a hint of your presence?
a whiff of a scent
the kiss of the wind
from abandoned ruins
of a forest
once teeming with birds and snakes
now seeking haven, in a new heaven
where, the light of the moon bends
into a rainbow, as your laughter ends?