This will begin with a memory. It is 1998 on New Year’s Eve and we are outside my in-law’s house lighting fireworks to welcome the new year. A stray firework zings past us and hits my sister-in-law. It is painful, of course and then and there we vow to never use fireworks again.
This is a bit bittersweet for me. Every year, for as far back as my memory can go, my father and I have had a crazy ritual. We would go to Cubao and buy fireworks, crazy hats and torotots
. The game we set up was that buying fireworks was an illegal act (which it was if I remember correctly) and it took a bit of derring-do. Fireworks were never on display. You had to be approached by someone and a deal would be made. My father always made this fun, and even when I had grown up, and considered the whole exercise corny, I did not have it in me to not play the game.
The dead were with me last night, this new year of 2011, which is probably why I am calling this a remembering blog. With my in-laws (my Christmas is always spent with the Bolipatas and thus our New Years are with the Santoses) watching fireworks from windows, balconies and porches, I entered the room of the great-grandmother who had passed away almost two years ago. This is always “Lola’s room” and will always be called such although the room has morphed into a different kind of space altogether. Lola, is not my blood grandmother but is my husband’s. But I grew up in front of her eyes and so consider her my own as well.
I entered shyly, knew that the air would be colder somehow, that the room had retained her spirit and that there were things unseen to me. I stood by her window, watched the fireworks and remembered her and my father, who passed away almost six years ago. I truly think my having visited that space caused a visitation within me.
I perched my arms on the windowsill and could feel my father to my left and my grandmother to my right. I was not at all afraid. There are two mythical stories about these two people. When I launched my first book in 2007, my best friend saw my father at the book launch. His only thought upon seeing him was to imagine how proud he must have been of that moment. It would be days later when it would dawn upon him that my father had passed away in 2005.
As for my grandmother, she appeared to someone in a dream, a few hours after passing away and left this very clear, precise message: ako na bahala kay Teodoro
. Teodoro, as you must know by now, is my special son. Lola had remained quiet and still the last few years of her life and I had presumed she was unaware of how dire and terrible the situation with Teodoro had reached. Apparently, she did know and worry; and was promising that she would continue to worry, even in heaven.
So there we were, the three of us, by that window and I uttered: I am afraid of 2011. There was no response from either side. No sudden magical appearances. No mottling of the skin to indicate that I had been touched physically. But it felt good to say it in front of the dead – they who fear nothing and can only watch us mortals battle life. After all, only I can face my fears. I sighed and allowed myself to cry a little. I felt…not so much relief, but I felt understood.
Today, the first day of January, I cleaned my closets and discovered two items from my father and my grandmother. From him, a pair of pants. I had actually bought these pants for myself and he had grabbed them from me and there was much laughter that day he put them on and joked me about how fat I had become. When he died and we put his things away, I had asked for three pairs of his pants. Through the years, I’ve given up a pair when I have felt guilty about keeping something that someone more needy can use. This last pair I hugged today and have placed them in the pile of items to give away. I’m not sure how I’ll feel tomorrow.
And from my grandmother, an old-fashioned brooch. It is a mosaic of a red flower, surrounded by yellow stones. I used to wear this when I was younger but it is now relegated to a shelf where only precious things are placed. I now promise to wear it as often as I can. What is there to fear about losing it anyway? I can not really lose
anymore beyond Death.
Will I lie to you and say I am less afraid? Yes, I am; less afraid, that is. But it will not be a lie. (Fireworks photo source: sxc.hu; pants photo courtesy of Rica Bolipata Santos)