Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Before Ampatuan

Sometimes, we still look back and realize that we have crossed the line between the before and the after; and we are sad because we could no longer go back to that lazy--no, hectic--Sunday afternoon when everybody was packing, rushing to go. We agreed, we had biases, afterall. We are human beings. Our biases will always be towards humanity. Looking back now, we realize that we are thinking of another place, another time; and the thin line that separated our present from the past is the same thin line that bordered sanity and madness. That Sunday, we never had a hint about what will happen on a Tuesday, in between nine o'clock and eleven o'clock in the morning, when our world changed forever.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Lost and Found: Memories

Maybe, because I’ve taken so many detours in the past and gotten lost so many times in some jungles; maybe, because I’ve been stranded too often in someone else’s kitchen or got trapped in some odd jobs, my memories of dates have gotten so mixed up. Since the day I left the university I’ve been having trouble filling up forms that needed dates: I no longer remember things the way I used to remember them before.
But I still remember very clearly how the news of Ninoy Aquino’s death found us inside the upper classrooms of Holy Cross of Bansalan College in August 1983; which meant, we were in our higher years, then; because higher years at the Holy Cross of my hometown were in the classrooms on the third and fourth floors—the freshmen were on the ground floor.
When news about the Yellow Friday movement reached the airwaves, we were aware of the surging excitement in the world beyond, although we were still being kept inside the protective campus walls. One day, the whole class watched Ninoy’s wake on TV—I couldn’t remember where this was, but we were agog over Kris Aquino because we thought she looked like Jane! And here, the memories came back, Marichu or was it Tessa or Angie calling up Jane to catch a glimpse of her look-alike on screen—but this was still when K was still sweet, slim and seventeen; her mother, not yet President; and we watched Fr. Patrick Payton’s show in the park at night, featuring Jesus, Mary and the mysteries of the Holy Rosary, where at the end Fr. Payton would say, “The family who prays together, stays together;” followed by another show of the Exodus with Moses and his long cane in the desert.
Since I could no longer remember dates, I had to figure out many things on my own, which was rather hard to do. I figured that I couldn’t have graduated from high school in 1982, before Ninoy Aquino was gunned down on August 21, 1983 in the airport tarmac. To find the exact date, I’d begin again in 1972, when (former President) Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law. I was still four years old. I can’t forget the sight and smell of lush Bermuda grass getting mixed up with the sound of Ma in the background, as she turned on the radio to listen to static (was this my memory or the memory of someone telling this to me?!). I remember hearing my agitated Ma the following day, talking to her fellow teacher in a slightly suppressed voice, “huh! Marcos has declared Martial Law!” and the rest of their blah-blah-blah!
The following year, I started school. I’d begin counting six elementary years and add them up with the four years in high school to finally get the exact date I graduated.
Just to make sure I got it right, I’d validate it with another memory: this time, no longer in the four-story building of my high school and its perennial sound of trumpets playing. This time, it’s the memory of huge glass windows awash with sunlight; of whitewashed walls and our tightlipped Ilocano professor holding us in his geodetic engineering class when all we wanted was stick our ears on the radio to listen to the reports of people crowding the streets of Edsa. That was February 21 to 25, 1986.
I did not make it to the reunion of the high school Batch 1984. But the huge streamer they put up had put an end to my figuring out.

Friday, January 01, 2010


Late in the afternoon of the last day of the year, the sun made bright outlines of your shirts on the clothesline and painted strips of gold on the walls of my room. Near the corner where you always strummed your guitar, sat an empty chair. I listened to the neighborhood kids singing your songs downstairs. All I had were the debris you left behind, as usual: an abandoned cap of the black pentel pen that dried up long ago left lying on the floor, a drawing pad full of sketches of skin-and-bone kids with angular faces, long spiky hair and half-finished bodies, a tattered notebook full of your dogged attempts at rap, the earphones I told you not to mix with my clutter; your soiled socks strewn in the corner.
Where are you? I strain my ears for the sound of your footsteps. It has been 17 years today since you left my body. I wait for the sound of knocking at the door.
My room is full of shadows.
You are everywhere.

Happy Birthday

What do I have for you today? Our years have been spelled out by p-o-v-e-r-t-y. I should stop trying to send you gifts I can barely afford; stop pretending I could even cook up your favorite spaghetti, or give you that branded hood you wanted so badly.
I have to be more upright; more down-to-earth. All I have are words. Let’s sit down and count the years we’ve been together. I still remember the precise hour when you arrived; I can reduce that entire year to one eventful second—only one second—that changed my life.
I can start at the dawning of the early signs. It was quarter to one in the afternoon on New Year’s Day of 1993 there at an old Tres de Abril apartment. I could not forget the bright red cushions on the rattan chair. Facing the wooden bookstand, I was glancing at the clock, timing the pain every five minutes, seeing your father’s anxious face outside the screen door. He had rushed in from his rented house to take part in this moment of great drama: The rush to the hospital on a taxi, the panic on his face, moments of exhilaration as I was led the way to a mysterious chamber filled with women’s screams.
My first encounter with snotty hospital attendants and edema, a form of women’s torture, angry voices scolding women giving birth to men; bloody sheets and writhing bodies on the beds next to mine, women moaning in great pain.
Sorry to give you these ugly images on your 17th birthday. But ugliness surrounded that moment of great beauty. If I fail to remember this, you wouldn’t understand half your life: You were raised in great pain.
Your father only came in when all the blood had been washed away. He actually missed the whole story.