An attempt to make sense of things in a random universe, one Friday at a time.

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Location: Philippines

Leaving my footsteps for you to find and follow, my love.

13 October 2008

The two October thirteens

Two men born on the same day but years apart. Two men who had both undergone heart bypass surgery by the same doctor. Two men from the same biological source, but had gone different ways. One became a lawyer, one became a farmer. One married late, one married early. One is boisterous and loud, one is silent and keeps to himself. One is dark-skinned, one is fair-skinned. One had a mustache, one had none. One is severely myopic, one is not. One has a full head of hair, one began to grow bald when he approached middle age. One is skinny, one is chubby. One is my own father, my "Da," and one is the symbolic father of our family, Papa Herbie.

One died and is now ashes in an urn, the other has continued living and now has hair that had turned completely white. The tragic news of the death travelled via cellphone and landline from the hospital in Albay to the aunts and the uncles and the cousins. And after the words, "Papa Herbie is gone," none ever followed except the sound of crying from both ends of the line. I myself got the news from my own father via cellphone as I was entering my apartment after having breakfast, and after that statement, we both cried and said nothing else. I held on to the edge of the table by the door and somehow was able to reach the bed, and there I stayed until mid-afternoon. The nine other children of my grandparents called each other not to say any words but just to hear each other cry, and that was how they coped on the first day.

I prepared a eulogy for Papa Herbie during his memorial before his cremation, and in his memory, I post it here.

Four years ago, I almost lost my own father. I was in Dumaguete at that time, and I didn't quite know how to handle it. My father is okay, but now a father figure has died, and although I am four years older, I still don't know how to handle it.

For how do we really move on after a pillar in the family has died? We will never be the same again.

Papa Herbie, to me, and I'm sure to all my 46 cousins, loomed so large in our lives that it is impossible to imagine this family without a Papa Herbie. He was our Santa Claus, our big fat teller of funny stories, the one who had fathered four of my best-loved cousins, the irascible uncle who got drunk one night and drove an owner-type jeep off a pier in Tigaon. The jeep lived a long and useful life after that incident, and fortunately, so had Papa Herbie.

I knew so little about him, just like the little that I know of my own father, these two men who share the same birthday. But I also know so little of Lolo Berting, but he has always lived in the family long after he passed away. It is a credit to our elders how we have all formed the habit of keeping him in our hearts.

My father called me just half an hour ago while I was outside and the choir was singing. He asked me who was singing, I told him it was thechoir. He asked me the name of the choir, I said I didn't know. Normal chitchat for us. He was crying when he called me Friday morning, just after Papa Herbie died, but now, he sounded okay.

We will be okay. How could we not be, after having lived most of our lives basking under Papa Herbie's reliability? And Papa Herbie, like Lolo Berting, will live on in our hearts with the power of legend, with the potency of myth, looming still ever-large in our hearts, just like always, never changing, never gone.

Ever since Papa Herbie died, whenever I or anyone from my family greets Da a Happy Birthday on October 13, there is always a short, very subtle pause afterwards, where we all feel our hearts stopping very briefly, and we all remember where we were and what we were doing when the call came to tell us that Papa Herbie had died. I don't think anyone will ever forget. Now, years after, every October 13, after greeting Da, we whisper another greeting into the air. And in this way, there will always be two October thirteens.

02 October 2008

Lost loves

One afternoon, as I was browsing through the digital archives of the Moll family's photographs, spanning the 1920's and onwards, I came upon these two photographs of a pretty young lady. The photos are inscribed at the back. I have a hunch who "Dearest" is, but that will remain a family secret.

I was much moved by my find. I don't know who she is, really. I have never heard anyone talk about her while I was growing up, and I don't know her real name. I saw her in some other photos of groups, at soirees, wearing tea-length party dresses made of taffeta or lace, the women sitting together in a row, their knees and feet close together and poised at a practiced slant, as if choreographed. I never asked anyone who she was the first time I saw the albums as a young child. But as I looked at the photos in 2004, when I had gotten older, instantly, I knew the importance of this woman's presence in the group photographs. Instantly I knew how she felt, writing at the back of these two photos, perhaps kissing the envelopes before sending them off. Instantly, too, I knew how she felt, being away from her Dearest. And instantly, I knew how she felt when she realized that it was over.

I've had my own share of heartbreaks. I began to see images of myself in various ages in the later photos, and I look quite strange to myself. It was as if I was looking at an entirely different person. Even now, when I try to remember myself as I was a few years ago, I feel detached from that person, that woman tying up her waist-length hair into a bun, packing up the laundry to drop off to the laundromat, driving herself to Bicol while listening to the Electric Light Orchestra on her iPod, and suddenly bursting into tears for no reason. It was as if I were someone standing at a corner, watching myself, myself as "that" woman living through her years. That woman could very well have inscribed photographs of herself to her beloved, and then lost him, lost him to time, to distance, to differing interests, to growing older, to destiny.

I scanned all of these family photographs one summer in 2004 after finding out that Bita's albums, the ones that were made with black pages and required photo corners to attach the photos, were falling apart, and the photos themselves have started to fade. A few have been partly eaten up by silverfish. Several had begun to turn silver at the edges, the silver nitrate used for developing photos decades ago rising up to the surface now, as if from death to life.

The actual photographs are now permanently stored in a large box, meticulously arranged with sheets and sheets of acid-free paper, in a sealed wooden box lined with a UV protectant material. In a while, they will go into a fire-proof safe. After almost one hundred years of being looked at, of providing remembrances, of showing now-deceased people as they were when they were happy and alive, of showing now-widowed people as they were when they were still in their beloved's arms, of showing weddings and funerals and christenings and graduations and birthday parties, they have ended up in my hands because I had the time and the yearning to scan them in hi-res on the summer of 2004.

My fingerprints would be the very last imprint these photographs will carry, and these photographs will nevermore see the light of day. Lost loves have been beheld once more, if only in photographs, and shall be lost once more, sealed from the present, but never from our memories. Lost, but not lost -- simply rising to the surface once every hundred years or so, always alive, always aflame in sepia, the color of secrets and regret.