Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dear Papa

Eighteen years ago today, we arrived at your house all dusty from our road trip and still reeling from that sleepless night on the boat.

A malevolent silence greeted us when we came in, not like the soothing silence that I am used to during naptime after lunch. I remember Manang Daday ushering us in, all anxious and jittery, talking to us in a hushed voice. Then she led Tatay and Nanay to your room, and we kids were told to wait outside.

After a few tense moments, we heard a loud tormented wail – a piercing, broken chord of desperate anguish. I was told later it came out of my Nanay’s mouth, when, upon entering your room, a tear trickled down your cheek and you breathed out your last sigh. You never even had the chance to speak; Mama told me you just seemed happy and content your family was complete by your deathbed.

I don’t remember much the chaos that ensued after your last breath, except that Auntie Rochie came out of your room, her face bearing an expression of dignified sorrow, and then collapsing into Manang Daday’s arms in a heap of heart-breaking sobs.

Young as I was, I did not realize then that I was never going to see you again. Never feel the warmth of your hugs, never again enjoy the haven of your protection against Uncle Junie’s endless teasing. I did not realize yet, Papa, that you would be encased in that wretched box of wood and just lie there with your eyes closed and not reach out and embrace me, and that they would lower you into that freshly-dug earth and leave you there to be eaten by whatever-icky things are found in the ground.

Had I known, Papa, I would never have allowed them to stay at your house at all times of the night, just talking and talking, as if nothing had happened! I know you must be thinking I am being maldita again, but I guess that when I knew I had you to back me up, I can afford to be maldita, even to that Uncle Junie who never runs out of anything to annoy me.

Papa, if you could only see us now, we’re all big and grown-up already, even Jari who you used to cuddle in your arms. But I guess you could see us, huh?

I talked with Mama last night, and she told me it only seemed like yesterday that we were at Siquijor Island, going through the motions of the funeral and burial practices. She can’t wait to be with you, you know. Last month, we had a pray-over on your birthday, and she cried while she recited the prayers. She really misses you.

We all miss you, Papa. You did not have to leave so soon, but I guess you had to. If anything, you taught me about death and losing someone close to your heart. Death is not about saying goodbye; it’s God’s way of temporarily separating us from each other so that when next we meet, we’ll have lots of stories to tell.