Chapter 2: Roadtrip


2.  ROADTRIP

 

“Life is a constant change and nothing stays the same.”

–          Jose Mari Chan / Constant Change

 

 

 

 

ROXAS BOULEVARD TO COASTAL ROAD, MANILA

August 9, 2010

I held on to the fact that I have been given this time to rekindle with my old self.  The self that needed filtering and mysticism. Work, living in the city for years and years and growing up has completely misshapen the way I used to think, give a ruling to ways of feeling and seeing things as they came and went and the preferences I made throughout the years.  As a child, in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, all I wanted to was to draw and to get lost in the books that my father bought for us.  If I wasn’t reading them, I would copy its drawings.  If I was not aping the illustrations, I would build houses and covered bridges out of them.  When our family moved to Zambales a few years later, when most of my cousins played Gameboy and Atari, I would be gone astray, lost in my grandmother’s vast backyard with my garapons (jars) of used peanut butter or Nescafe coffee, under her huge mango, santol (wild mangosteen) and guyabano (soursop) trees, collecting bugs;  ants, beetles, butterflies and dragonflies.  I remember my Aunt Mimi would steer my whereabouts using only her ears.  When she heard the sound of jars clanking, she would know I was the one behind the storeroom, under the kamias tree digging the mud for some earthworms.  Even then, I already knew the moral fibre of both soldier ants and worker ants at five years old and have counted the life span of beetles inside my garapons and would set them free if they surpassed two days of being alive inside their diminutive shut in.  There have been countless humid afternoons back then when I would open the jars and the colours of these winged insects would hoist the entire blue Zambales skies, like it was glass reflecting all possible shades of reclusion, a world that was just entirely mine and I would narrow my eyes, covering it with my stained hands, as it hued the heavens, somehow reminding me that my insect friends will not come back anymore.  I would come home and hear my Aunt Mimi’s bawls in her native Ilocano tongue,  “Ukininam, napanan mo manen? Nabangsit ka!” (You stink, motherfuck! Where have you been again?).   Yes, Mimi can just say motherfuck at any given time.  It was, in fact, her patois of love to all of us.

I looked at my brother Mark, who was on the steering wheel and partly conscious of my reverie.

“How is Mimi, by the way?”  I asked about my aunt who has been at the centre of my childhood growing up in Zambales, before she left the country after her married lover impregnated her and took an eternal time off to be with his own family.

“She is fine.  You should see her.  She misses you.”  Mark said, not looking at me for two reasons;  he was getting out of the worst possible traffic at the Coastal road and he knew I will not see Mimi anyhow.  I have stopped visiting relatives over the years.  Maybe I can’t take pleasantries.  Maybe I am not really a nice person after all.  Maybe I hated to be judged silently.  Maybe it’s a combination of all three.

“Yeah yeah.  I will . . .” I replied anyway, then looked out to the now-tattered Coastal Mall, and veered the topic, “ . . . this mall used to be nice.  Now it is all in its maroon disarray.  Didn’t Auntie Tess used to have her own drug-testing centre here?”

“Yes, now it completely drugged her!”  Mark mordantly said, referring to our other aunt who ventured the drug testing whim a few years back and ended up running for barangay captain in her native Leyte to which she lost to another uncle of ours.

“Yes I remember when nepotism used to be popular in the Philippines. Now even relatives are going against each other.  How heartbreaking! Somehow it may have felt like getting drugged up once you get down to the bottom of all that.  It is sweetmeat betrayal I guess “I said, fanning myself because the car air-conditioning cannot uphold the sticky high temperature outside.

“Fucking politics, bro!  Times have changed again, or maybe, Philippine politics have transformed into the teleserye dramas we see on television every night. It is all about money nowadays.  We all know that it is not about the fame . . . “ Mark justified, now glancing at me every now and then.

“Yeah, look at me?  I am famous but poor.  Well, at least I am famous!”

Mark laughed and said, “That’s not what I mean, kuya. Money talks.  After all this time, the country is still obsessed with power.  Money, being the greed element into all of this, means that it should come to anyone’s hands by bogus benevolence or straight from the shoulder, by blood.  You see, this is where the fanfare of politics comes in.  You get the public’s votes and the get their money too.  So, who cares about blood relatives?  It is all about ME!”

“No, Mark, it is all about supremacy. And yes the “ME” factor.  Fact is it is all about the twisted self love that is so open-ended in our lives.  Selfless versus selfish.  Selfish being the new selfless.  You are right.  Most of the time I guess it is really about this country being so poor and none of us would want to admit that.  I mean, even Imelda Marcos insisted on calling Philippines “the Beautiful” when the country during the 80s when it was already bottomless in its scarcity cord.  Just look at all the people at the mall?  They keep on buying stuff and not really saving.  Hey, can we get a San Mig Lite somewhere?”

“It is only eleven in the morning,”  Mark said.

“My body clock is already four in the afternoon.  Time for beer!”  I said and looked out again, distantly hearing Mark’s chuckle and the sound of my mind, in stages, getting out of his car.

I held on to the fact that I will uncoil in the Philippines with my family.  It’s a side-splitting theory that inasmuch as we want to be closer to our family as years go by, we feel like we can’t.  I think it is already given, being Filipinos, that we listen to our parents and that we all grow up with them and literally, for them.  It is both complicated and customary.  In my own inference, I think that you are not Filipino if you have not shared a part of your revenue to a family member at least in the first year of your working life.  Also, being someone who has withstood the mainstream Filipinism, one would easily perceive a Filipino family if they are meddling at each other’s lives not precisely for the better good but for their own selfish motives.  As we grow older and providentially, if we left the country, we begin to ache for that certain adherence that we grew up with and loathed at the same time.  I clearly remember when I was living in Thailand, I spent a few good dollars (I am lying, I meant $1,500) on clothes for one day.  I went home to the hotel I am staying in for two months close to aneurism.  I splurged on because no one was overprotecting me.  I suddenly missed my mother.  One time, in Dubai, my colleagues were badmouthing me and when I found out about it, I locked myself in the bathroom, cried feebly and stopped myself from severing the ashtrays straight to their heads.  I called my father after that wishing he was there after I dealt with them.  Yes both my mother and father were on hand parents.  As a child, I was repulsed by it but as an adult, I coveted the idea especially that for the past fifteen years of my life, they were almost never there.

“I am sure everyone will be happy that you are back, kuya” Mark said, interjecting my thoughts.

“I am not”  I mumbled, noting that it was only three months ago, back in May, when I was also in the Philippines because my mother got sick and she was never the same again.  Her blood sugar went to summit and it changed a lot in her.  Three months ago, I was busy with my life in Dubai, but when my father called and asked me to come home, I dropped everything and a day later, I was on a hasty 7 AM flight to Kuala Lumpur linking another hectic flight to Manila.

Bakit naman? (Why is that?)” Mark queried endearingly.

“I just lost my job, Mark and left P behind.  I don’t know how to start.  I think I know where, maybe here, maybe back there when I come back in October but everything is just so indistinct right now.” I frowned and wiped the oil off my face using my hands.

“I remember you said that three months ago when you were here.  When Mama got well, we all thought that it was your power that did all that.  You can be a shaman you know and all you did was talk to her.” Mark bore out, looking out to the ill-mannered onlookers crossing en route to the even more ill-mannered Bacoor traffic jam.

 

 

BACOOR, CAVITE

August 9, 2010

 

 

You can be a shaman you know and all you did was talk to her . . .  YOU CAN BE A SHAMAN you know and all you did was TALK TO HER . . . My brother’s voice rang over and over again as I flinched to the half naked man covered in grease by the corner of the overpass, his blackness illuminating a tin can that he was holding.  I wondered how much money he has pulled together and on what he will spend it for.  Drugs?  Rice?  Meat?  Milk for his baby?  Or he’ll drop the entire coinage to the syndicate who trained him to do it?  I suddenly remembered I have entered the notorious county of Cavite, known for its prevailing hooligans and hired guns.  In the middle of all the grease, the thick belching smoke of passenger jeepneys and buses, inside Mark’s tepid car, I thought about how I will be getting my much-needed rest and then come back to Dubai in two months, get a better job and be reunited with P who will be waiting for me with open arms and with all his love.

I guess I was wrong.

SUBIC HIGHWAY

May 2010, Three Months Earlier

It was a four-hour drive from Manila to Zambales.  My brother Mark had an inflexible time getting out of the Manila interchange and he was already fuming mad because when we reached Subic, it rained so hard that it was gruelling to see the asphalt and the compass that overwrought the beautiful mountains that would have been a delight to look at.

“I went home, even in my busy schedule, to see Mama because she is sick”, I told myself, disregarding the fact that the rain and my brother’s exasperation to this agonizing drive was wrecking me up so bad myself that the eight hour flight from Dubai to Malaysia, then another 4 hours from Malaysia to Manila suddenly vanished.  I rearranged my head lest I bang my head on the busy windshield and get smashed with the rainwater that eluded my thoughts by the second.  This concept reminded me of the time when havocs can easily be recited as an ABBA song that keeps repeating in your awareness or something jovial like opening your Christmas socks knowing that Santa Claus has left you with candies and a chunk of charcoal for telling white lies that year.  The wiper went back and forth back and forth back and forth and how I wished I was the one being erased from the firmament of my head than the heavy waters spraying madly on the tinted glass.

But my thoughts were also invaded by my mother’s illness.  And as to why I had to call an emergency leave to come home to the Philippines and see for myself how she was.  I can’t, in any way, erase that.  In fact, when my father wrote me a month before, begging me to check out my mother, I knew back then that this was something that I had to prioritize.  It is not because my mother’s diabetes had sprung up to its brim or my sister told me that our mother has misshapen after she has gone from the hospital or because I needed to reunite myself with a sick mother.  It is because my father wrote me and urged me to come home.

He never writes.  That means there was a good reason why I needed to sign an emergency leave and come home as fast as I can.

As we sped up, maintaining a 60KPH slither toward the wet roads of Subic, I instantaneously looked at my brother who was on the steering wheel, his brows creased and his mouth on mute, concentrating on what’s ahead of him.  It was nearly 10 PM and the rain was still at it.  I looked at him and remembered him as a child.  I am 8 years older than Mark.  He is a Gemini and I am a Capricorn, two very diverse, complex characters that can be a fine balance to any inadequacy.  And any witching hour in that sense, one of which is being stuck in a vehicular traffic amidst monsoon rain and family banter.  Come to think about it, Mark and I had been to a dozen road trips together, even in Dubai where he lived for a while with me and my sister Dess, but this is the most sentimental of all.  And Mark, in all his Geminian standpoint and space oddity, have always veered off the hiccups and dwelled on the paws of dark humor, guffawing even to a point of misconduct from laughing at amputations, beheadings and tornado victims on You Tube.  I, on the other hand, will weld on any sniff story and pepper it with my own, so I guess we make a great long drive buddies because apart from the fact that our music playlist harmonizes both senses and the motorway, we never run out of things to talk about, we can both be silent for hours not minding each other and we both love stopping for Starbucks at any given time.

I looked at Mark, who was hefty with pessimism and asked him, “So how is everything?”

“Catastrophe”, he said casually and laughed beneath his breath, “Mama is beginning to act like chalk and cheese.  She is not even talking anymore.”

Nenette is a moral fiber of her time and making her forget who she is, and if she stops talking at all, will not only be a pity but will shake the inception that her children has gotten into through the years of her being their pilot of inspiration and love.  This can be quite an adversity to her children because they did not only trust her perfectly; they are all, in fact, mothered by her immense vigor and force of will.  As I have written earlier in MY LIFE IN 50 DAYS . . .

Throughout the years, I never really knew the woman behind my mother.  There were years in my own life growing up when I thought I hated her for always being right.  There have been numerous times when I laughed impishly inside when she committed mistakes (like tinkering on the remote not knowing which buttons to push or giving up on driving altogether!) because not only did it happen rarely but she always got away with it.  With subtlety.

This etherealness my mother possessed is her classic docket.  No one literally knows what’s going on inside her head because she meets everything with her Mona Lisa smile and like the Mona Lisa, no one really knew the equation of that smile.  Is she happy?  Is she surprised?  Is she frustrated?  Nenette can fool you with what she says because she barely means them.  Her footprints had been everywhere, from the muddied dirtroads of Jaro, to the cobblestones of Ilocos, to the hot asphalts of Manila and to the beaches of Zambales – she knew the shadows of everything represented and presented.  And its linear backdrop, needless to mention.  She, like me, can embody different bodies and her mental capacity is alternative.  Apart from speaking Tagalog and Waray-Waray, she speaks fluent Ilocano, Cebuano, Capampangan (she worked in Pampanga for a very long time) and Zambali.  And of course, she is an English grammarist, so she knew how it was to have rules around her, suffice to say, she imbibed it fairly well.  Like I said, she got away with almost anything that included dialects, bank deals, work, raising kids, battling with nuns in our school if she thought we didn’t deserve the grades we received, collecting shoes and bags, politics, the church and her humanitarian duties and of course, marital mishaps.

She fought through all this with a smile.  She openly cried when frustrated but when she did, I always knew that it was her way of telling the world, “Screw you, you’ll see!”  And then again, the cycle begins.  She wins at the very end.  Always.  My very sentimental siblings freak out more often than not when they see my mother cry thinking she is depressed.  I tell them to let her because she needed to cry.  This is the only way she can bounce back and replace her worries with her prototypal smile.  Only a few people know that Nenette’s tears is her bridge to reconciling with herself so I tell my brother and sisters, “Let her cry.  It will do her good.  And then tell her how beautiful her hair is.  Or how young she looks at 60 and before you know it, she’s back in her little garden, tending to her orchids humming When You Tell Me That You Love Me . . . “   In my own estimation, anything beautiful makes my mother cry.  I got this from her I guess.  Both of us can see loveliness even in the most mundane circumstances.  And when we cry it did not mean we were sad.  We were simply moved.

Nenette is my mother.  And also the mother to Mark.  We stopped talking after Mark told me that after her sugar went up last month, she barely talked and that her progress was dawdling.  She even stopped writing SMS messages to everyone and had chosen to sleep more than tending to her garden, going to church and meddling with each and everyone’s life.

Mark muttered after a while, “I do miss her.”

That silenced me even more.

Evasive and yet curious, I plugged the American Idol Season Three CD and we both sang Midnight Train to Georgia, chortling nervously under our groans and honking ridiculously for kicks, to ward off the rain perhaps but both afraid to brazen out the possibilities of death and the possibility of losing our mother completely, even when she is still very much alive.  In the meantime , Mark and I both tried to enjoy the journey, the road trip going home to Zambales, even under the impish rain and the roguish mountains lest we get lost in our shadowed realm of panic about our mother’s ailing condition while Jasmine Trias belted her scanty damndest to deafen both the rain and our thoughts.

ZAMBALES

May 2010

 

My dearest Mama,

 

You are my mother.  I would like to regard you as anyone’s mother.  The salt of the earth for any customary kinfolk who can readily call you, “mama”, but while we’re on the subject, you are MY mother, so that makes you MINE.  This is a testimonial that is so hard to put into discourse.  I have done so many times in two of my writings but somehow, nothing came out as unambiguous as it should be.  Perhaps, I am scraping through the curse of the written word which is hemmed in timelessness, indirectly devoured by the acquiescence of poetry alone, and have done so numerous times, because with all its spoken accord, perhaps it is only through poetry where the accent of a mother’s true emotion can be decoded.  If I am not mistaken.  But then again, a big part of me wants to know you even more, because, perhaps, after all these years, I am still getting to know myself.

 

Who am I?

 

It is such an iconic question coming from someone who is as decadent as I am, building written words as my outline for everything that I can’t valiantly say in real life.  But as we speak, I am calling you mine because genetically, you brought me here and I grew up knowing that you are the first person ever to see me through my ABCs, the first woman to piece together for me what it meant to love and how to feel having love, thus, we need to give it as much as we can and the first ploy who initiated in my newborn brain the enchantment of appreciating stories and the existence of the big God and the sleight of hand that He can conceive.  Yes, Mama, you are mine because I profess my source from you.  Yes, you are mine because I believe in the continuation of life through love.  Yes, you are mine because I am a mystic and yes, you are mine because I was led by your stalwart hand that I, in all my questions about myself and what I can do, am robust with all of life’s deceptions and caustically, all of life’s suggestions as well.

 

In my earlier treatise about you, I cooked up many things about your young life in Leyte, your struggles in Manila when you were in college, your commitment to the Catholic church and your depository devotion on being both wife and mother.  I never endeavoured on being who you are for the simple fact that I discerned your guises as the prototype of your authentic self.  Evidently, I was wrong.  How can I be right?  What I saw tonight was the Nenette that we, your children, never saw before; soundless, soulless and stymied beyond conviction.  When I asked you if you lacked exercise, you smiled.  When I was scheming on you about how you can actually curb everything with a positive disposition, you just stared at me and hurriedly agreed.  When I asked you before you slept if you took your medicines, you smiled again and told me, “Come what may.”  with that uneasy period at the end when, fact is, I was groping for that hopeful ellipses.  Something that I learned from you years ago when you said, “Nothing is ever definite in everything we say and that there are always four meanings in every sentence.”

 

Where the hell are you?

 

Mama, I am talking to this journal because I am so afraid to ask you questions.  In a more reclining frame of mind, the ones that we were so used to in conversations, I would have asked you how you felt.  But I was afraid that you would tell me the truth and you would say, “I am tired of my life.”  because would slaughter my strong suit and leave me naked with more questions that only you can get to the bottom of.  On the road when Mark told me how much he missed you, I was affirmative in my belief that I know you more than Mark does.  And now I know he is right because I do miss you.

 

 

You could have easily picked on my long hair and asked me what I did to my skin because it is much watertight from when you saw last.  You could have pointed at my belly and told me I looked ghastly with my long arms and enormous stomach.  You could have asked me how my love life is doing.  How P is and how much love do I have for him.  Could have.  Would have.  Should have.  Where are you now, Mama?  As I look at you while you sleep, the minuscule light glistening on your supple face, I ask myself what could have frustrated you this much to choose stillness this much?  But I guess on that regard, I am beginning to understand myself better too.  In times of dejection and self-loathing, I withdraw from the world and accompany myself in silence.  I have written poems about that as well.  But, Mama, tell me, why do I feel like it is not really about you getting sick?  That it is not entirely about diabetes?  While I watch your pictographic face, your eyes closed tightly, why do I feel like it is all about being worn out?

 

Has life worn you out?  Is this how being 62 years old is all about?

 

Was it us?  Did we transgress above the failed marriages, the failed relationships, the failed careers, our whimpers and insurgence against your wishes, Papa and his estranged world, your life, my life, God, religion, love, HOPE?  Mama, please come back.  Look at me straight in the eye and tell me how my life sucks!   Scream at my face for not making the right choices, for studying Literature in college instead of Accounting, for going abroad to work, for having the wrong boyfriends and for brashly putting one foot forward with everything you hold against me.  Tell me that my face looks old.  Tell me that I am fat.  Tell me I broke and should have been rich at 37.  Tell me I am useless.  Tell me I am selfish.  Tell me I can never beat you at Scrabble EVER!  Tell me I am a devil worshipper.  Tell me I need real love.   Tell me . . . tell me . . . tell me . . . Tell me that there is no use being theatrical in all this because like the usual, I am riding on a road trip that I conspired deviously to enjoy my current yellow brick road.  A ride that have you and me on the backseat, Mark as chauffer, and we look at the stops of our recurrent heartaches and would-have-been dreams like rivulets of our own purple shades of love and maybe, just maybe, of God, too.  Tell me that I need you.

 

Mama, please wake up and be you again.  I miss you.  Do not die yet.  Not now when you are still very much alive.

 

I love you.

IMUS, CAVITE

August 9, 2010

 

 

 

We finally arrived in Imus, Cavite.  A few kilometres away is Dasmarinas, my sister Angeline’s place.

“Aren’t you glad Mama’s fine na (already?)?” Mark said, speeding up a bit to the traffic than began to look manageable.  I faked a smile and said, “Yes of course but is she really back?  Your ate Angeline said she still gets depressed.”

“She looks much better now compared . . .”

“Is she taking her meds regularly?”  I butted in, chasing the story and getting down to the bottom of things.

“Yes and no. There are times when she feels like she is walking on broken glass being dependent on those pills.  You know how she denies her sickness, which is a good thing sometimes because, like you told her three months back, everything is psychological.  Whatever. I must say she is fine.  A bit quiet at times like you don’t know what is going on in her head . . . “

“ . . . and you want to scrape that shadowy gray matter of hers?”  I ended Mark’s sentence.

Korak! (Correct!)” my brother agreed and rationalized, “You know how mama looks at you and then when you ask her why, she’d say ‘You are thin’ or ‘I can’t believe you’re going outside with that creased shirt. Hahabulin ka ng platsya! (The flat iron will run after you!), but now she’ll just look at you and say, ‘Nothing.  I was just looking.’ “ Mark chuckled like he just said something funny.  My brother can really be insane like that; half-wishing I had that flame of slapstick in him.  I guess Mark took that from our forbearers, the illustrious Verzosas of Ilocos and Samar, the interweaving of sorrow, music and comedy in their stories.  I, on the other hand, have gotten the temperament of my mother’s forbearers, the uncompromising Katangkatangs and the Macandas of Leyte, suspended calmly in elation and downright glum in times of misery.  On second thought, I guess I will always be a mishmash of both because throughout the roadtrip, I was playing The B’52’s classic album Deadbeat Club over and over again, crooning to my transcendent contemplations as they sang away, “Love shaaaack!  Baby, love SHACK . . . “

Kuya, why didn’t you go home straight to Zambales this time?  Why Dasmarinas?”  Mark asked as he ascended uphill towards Dasmarinas, Cavite.

“Tagaytay.  It is twenty minutes away and there are a lot of things that I need to see in Tagaytay.”

“Wow, drama!”  Mark bemused himself again, attacking my arty demeanour.

“No, really.  I am planning to write again.  I think Tagaytay would repossess the hand in the mind.  It’s been almost a year since MY LIFE IN 50 DAYS.  I want to write something about the Philippines.”  I vindicated.

“Then you should start in Zambales.  I mean, you spent half of your life there.”  Mark said.

“I am obsessed about the days back in Ilocos. In that creepy old house.  Well, you weren’t born then.  You spent most of your life in Zambales!”  I chuckled, knowing that ever since my brother was born, it was in Zambales where he finitely destined his babyhood days from.  Unlike me who actually grew up all over the Philippines; Leyte, Mandaluyong, Ilocos and then finally to Zambales.

Zambales.  Such a handsome name for a province.  It sounds so pompous and guiltless at the same time.  Most people have coupled its luxurious sticker with its sweet ripe mangoes and its elastic beaches.  Growing up, I have summoned up my earliest memoirs of home drinking madly at the beach, marijuana and virginity.

I looked at my brother and said, “I will be in Zambales in two weeks.  Let me have my Tagaytay glint first. I need the mountain air to clear my head, then I’ll go walk in the beach in Zambales and get my much-needed mysticism!”

Mark aimed his assault on me with his stifling laugh and coarsely said, “Wow, drama!”

I did not get my mysticism in Zambales two weeks later.

But I found something else.


 

 

 


 

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