Goodbye, Mamay

mamay

7:50pm

When all the pain is stripped away, when the finality of death removes all the hurt and makes way for the essential, all that remains is love.

She was a tough woman. In her province of Sorsogon, she collected bets for jueteng, the illegal numbers game. When I was a kid she recounted how she was hiding in a vehicle, going through her list, organizing the bets and the money she had collected. A soldier spotted her. “It’s for my family,” she said. The soldier warned her to be more careful next time and looked the other way.

She had been doing things for her family ever since I could remember. When I was in pre-school in Quezon City, we would walk on Anonas St. to and from school. One morning on our way home, a dog was walking towards our direction. She had me transfer on the side of the sidewalk farther from the dog. I understood then that she put me out of harm’s way, that she would take the gamble of the dog possibly attacking her so it wouldn’t get to me.

She loved us sternly, her family. Until she succumbed to using a cane, she would do our laundry. This came with her scolding us for relegating the washing of the clothes to her. Our reminders that we did the laundry when we were not busy and that she didn’t have to were not heard. It was all she knew: how to do laundry, and how to love. Yes, she was stubborn in her loving.

She taught me how to do laundry properly: how to separate the whites from the colored, how to scrub clothes without wearing them out, how to remove stains. Sitting on low wooden chairs amateurishly constructed from scrap wood, we would talk about her experiences during the war. “One time, Japanese soldiers entered our house. One of them pointed at me and wanted to take me with him. My father pointed at a random man in the room and lied that he was my husband. The soldiers went away.” I could have been part-Japanese, without a grandfather.

They were opposites, she and my grandfather. He had a playful sense of humor; she was often irritable. He would tease her a lot; she would scold him a lot. I was twelve when he passed away eighteen years and eight months ago. While his coffin was being put into the tomb, she lamented amidst her sobbing, “He can’t wake you up in the morning for school anymore!” One time we were visiting his tomb for All Saints’ Day. My brother heard her say, “For Hugo,” as she started hacking away at the overgrowth with a bolo.

Old age and osteoporosis kept her from going to church. Her pride in her hard work kept her from confining herself to a wheelchair. Since she could not herself attend mass, every Sunday she would give us money to give to the collection. “Are you going to church?” she would ask whenever she spotted us getting ready for mass. She would hand us thirty pesos—five pesos for each of her grandchildren—or whatever amount close to it she managed to save. Even though she could not attend mass she said the Rosary in the language the old-fashioned catechists taught her: Spanish.

I would often complain of her criticizing the way we did the chores. She must have thought it was all she could do since she could no longer separate the clothes into piles of white and colored. I resented it, her constant impugning and nagging. Who likes to be told what to do while in the act of doing? Still she tried to guide us in the way she taught best. She wanted to make sure that the chores were done properly when she could not do them herself anymore. Her loving was flawed, yet in her own imperfect way she loved us. She loved us in the way she knew best.

I like to imagine her in heaven, her wrinkled fingers now restored to when she was a young adult in her twenties, her red lips mouthing Ave Marias as her fingers moved through each bead of the Rosary. Mother Mary places her hand on Mamay’s shoulder, “Look, they’re doing laundry. You taught them that.”

“Yes,” she smiles. The she would know that her love lives.

9:24 pm

Villains

Jaguar will be debuting their Super Bowl ad in February.

Now I don’t care much about cars or football. I don’t drive, and even if I do, I probably won’t be much interested in luxury cars. However, it’s the new ad that got my attention.

jaguar

First look at the picture with the caption “good to be bad” (though it’s not on this snapshot) told me the men in the snapshot are featured in the ad because they played villains in the movies. Not bad, not a bad crop of villains at all. After a few seconds, I realized they are all British.

Now Jaguar is a British company and the whole point of the ad is featuring British villains. But I didn’t know this when I first looked at the snapshot.

This  got me thinking about movie villains. Though I’m always on the side of the good guys, I’ve recently realized that it’s not just about good and bad when it comes to the movies. It’s not just about sides; it’s about the character too.

So here are some villains that I think are interesting:

1) Dr. Hannibal Lecter  (Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs)

hannibal_lecter

Now I know he was a psychopath, but he was a very interesting and intelligent psychopath. He was always calm, in control and calculating. He’s like a light that a moth is drawn to. I know I’m not supposed to be anywhere near that man but for some reason, my eyes are fixed on his cold stare and I ignore every instinct that tells me to run. I was in grade school when I first saw the movie and heard him say, “Well, Clarice, have the lambs stop screaming?” in that calm voice that sends chills up my spine. I remember feeling dread hearing that voice, but I also remember feeling secretly pleased that he was able to escape.

2) Cardinal Richelieu  (Tim Curry, The Three Musketeers)

cardinal richelieu

The last time I watched this movie was at least 14 years ago, give or take a couple years, but I can still remember how I loathe Cardinal Richelieu and his scheming ways. Tim Curry made the Cardinal really hateful, but, with his witty and wicked lines, made the story even better. I could almost see the gears turning in his scheming mind, and he wore that evil smile so well. What I still remember all these years was when he told the King and Queen that after the death of the King, the people would naturally turn to him and he will assume the throne with the Queen by his side. The Queen said she’d rather die and the Cardinal screamed, “That can be arranged!”

3) The Joker  (Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight)

Joker

As Alfred Pennyworth said, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” Now that’s a winner, villain-wise. How do you reason with that? You can’t. Vengeance, thirst for power, hunger for money, they can be appeased or reasoned with at some point. But for a sociopath who just wants to watch the world burn, reason won’t work.

4) Col. Hans Landa  (Christoph Waltz, Inglorious Basterds)

hans landa

Now here is a man who can strike terror into people’s hearts while amiably smiling. He has all the appearance of charm, but underneath it all is a merciless fiend. Whatever he was being paid with would have been well-deserved. They should just terrorize people with his name so he can just spend his afternoons having tea.

5) Any villainous character brought to life by Rufus Sewell

rufus sewell

There’s something about this man that makes a good villain. A suave gentleman, but a cold villain. Whichever character, I always am glad he gets vanquished, defeated. He’s the kind you have no doubt belongs to nobility, but his cold cruelty is simmering just underneath his smooth voice.

6) Commodus  (Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator)

commodus

Commodus is a villain, but only because he’s a misguided man. He just wanted the people he loved to love him back and to be assured that he had what it takes to be the emperor. But alas, the virtues that he possessed and valued did not lead him to the path of good leadership. He was feared and he was cunning, but he was choking the life out of those he professed to love: his family and even Rome. I felt some sympathy for him, but Rome would be better off without him.

7) Lord Blackwood  (Mark Strong, Sherlock Holmes)

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Now this man gave me the creeps. Maybe it’s because he was cultish, maybe because he put on the cloak of dark magic. Whatever it was that made him sinister and dark and mysterious, I feel like he can suck the warmth and light right out of the sun and make people dwell in shadows and in fear.

8) Loki  (Tom Hiddleston, Marvel Universe)

Loki

I didn’t really set Loki apart as a particularly interesting character at first. With the Marvel biggies in one movie, everybody was interesting. But a friend invited me to watch Thor 2, and I started thinking, why would I want to watch it? The thought of seeing Thor and Jane Foster profess undying love onscreen seemed rather tedious. Then I remembered Loki. Yes, I’ll watch it for Loki. And true enough, he didn’t disappoint. He’s not so much a villain as a broken man. Underneath all the mischief is a man who wanted to prove that he had what it takes but wasn’t given a chance to show it. What he lacked in strength he made up in wit. He’s the kind of villain who makes one rethink their side: It’s not just about good and bad; it’s about the person too. I don’t really see him as a villain, but he’s not a hero either. I think Tom said it best: He’s an antagonist, but only because every villain is a hero in his own mind.

I’m sure I’ve missed some other interesting villains. I’d be sitting for days gazing into the abyss if I am to list down all the ones that I find interesting.

But I realize now the list is not the point. What do I learn from all the villains I’ve listed? Not just them, but all the villains throughout history?

Misguided and seemingly beyond redemption as some on my list may be, they weren’t born evil. They make choices, much as I do. Much as any one of us. And I can consign them to the deepest pits of hell for all the villainy they wrought. Tempting thought, but I can’t.  I cannot condemn them without condemning myself.

“No one just starts giggling and wearing black and signs up to become a villainous monster. How the hell do you think it happens? It happens to people. Just people. They make questionable choices, for what might be very good reasons. They make choice after choice, and none of them is slaughtering roomfuls of saints, or murdering hundreds of baby seals, or rubber-room irrational. But it adds up. And then one day they look around and realized that they’re so far over the line that they can’t remember where it was.” (Jim Butcher, Cold Days)

Confessions of a College Dropout

April 2004. A typical summer in Los Banos. No classes. No exams. No hell week. I just woke up from an after-lunch nap. Suddenly, my friend came in through the door, closely followed by her mom. She was a picture of beauty with her elegant dress and her properly done hair and makeup. “What on earth is up with the world?” I thought to myself. And then I saw the long, black cloth she’s holding. A toga. Oh, snap! I remembered. It was graduation day. Or rather, it was supposed to be OUR graduation day. Only, I was not on the list of graduates for that semester.

After a hurried chit-chat, my friend and her mom were ready to go to the ceremony. “How about you? Aren’t you coming?” my mom’s friend asked me. “No, I’ll just stay here,” I said weakly. I decided to stay home and drink in my frustrations of not graduating.

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Four years earlier, I had my student life well-calculated. The plan was to get through college without any failing grades, finish the degree on time, start working right after, and so on. I know this is rather a mediocre goal for the average achiever, but sometimes we have to plan according to the capacity of our brains.

The plan was rather crooked from the onset. Turns out, college life was not a walk in the park for people like me. My very first semester introduced me to my very first failing grade. And it was not just a failing grade. It was way, way below the ‘normal’ failing grade. (Blame algebra and all its axioms). I know it’s embarrassing. But to my absolute relief and amazement, a lot of the people in my class got much, much lower grades than myself – a pathetic excuse, but still…

That first failing mark led to a string of mediocre grades, with a few 5s on the side. But on my third year, thanks to summer classes and the constant nagging of my sister, I was still six units ahead of the normal load for third year students. I was fired up.

The next semester produced a clean slate…until my supposedly last semester. I think I had all but 15 units left. But I made a mistake of getting two seasonal elective courses that required a manuscript and a lot of time for conducting surveys . I was working on my undergraduate research that time and I had another major subject as well. To top it all of, I had this part-time job teaching English to Koreans which consumes four hours of my time every day. But I bravely said to myself, “I can do this.”

I firmly believe any person could do anything if they put their mind to it,  but I guess I was too weak then and had problems managing my time. The pressure from two seasonal subjects was just too much that I had to sacrifice one subject. I chose to let go of the undergraduate research since I could enroll it the next semester. But that also meant that I would not be graduating on time. I accepted that fact with a heavy heart. And then the chaos began.

I enrolled the subject again the next semester. But this time, I had a different and more important goal. Since I was supposed to be working full time already and not studying, I got caught up in looking for a job and eventually decided to move to the big city, being too guilt-stricken about not graduating on time. And since I only had one subject enrolled, I was very confident that I had more than enough time to do it. I was wrong. Being far from school made me lose focus in doing my undergraduate research. At the end of the semester, I got a 5 with a “no output” remark on my class card. Just goes to show how irresponsible I was. Totally irresponsible.

Now, the rule in UP is that if you fail 100% of your subjects, you get PD (permanently dismissed). I only enrolled one subject and for that, I got a 5. You know the drill.

It didn’t register at first. Me? Dismissed? Kicked out? A college dropout? What the heck happened? I felt like I was the greatest student delinquent in the world. I know I deserved it because I was irresponsible, but it was still hard to accept. I felt more like a criminal than a college dropout.

Then I felt a new wave of determination come over me. I would not let this prevent me from earning my keep. I did not appeal for readmission. I decided that it was better to just quit school and focus on work. I needed the money more. After all, I still got hired by companies that didn’t require college degrees. Though I had this guilty feeling of not finishing school, I reasoned with myself. I enumerated successful people that didn’t have college degrees: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, et cetera, et cetera (as if I was like some kind of a genius like them).

And so I worked my ass off. I was the only undergraduate in my company (aside from the janitors and helpers).

After three years, I realized that promotions and growth opportunities are a bit far-fetched for undergraduates like me. So I decided to come back to school and finish what I started. It’s only a few units anyhow.

I appealed for readmission and immediately got accepted. Everybody was supportive. Even my former company was kind enough to grant me the opportunity to go back. I worked three days a week in Makati and went to school in Los Banos two times a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) – pretty tough on travel and expenses but definitely worth the new experience.

Going back to school was a bit similar to my freshman days. The students were much younger than I was, the culture was different, and I was surprised at the rush of new technology in the school.

I suddenly had this whole different outlook. I had a new-found confidence that came with my work experience.  I was wiser in many ways. I understood what I wanted to accomplish and saw the importance of everything I was doing. I didn’t feel pressured. And somehow, everything paid off. I earned better grades, much better than my usual “pasang-awa”. And I eventually got my degree.

I usually tell this story without shame, but let me get this straight: I’m not proud to have this history of delinquency. And I’m not implying that getting failing grades and being dismissed is good practice. In fact, it’s definitely a waste of time and resources. But then it happened. What other choice do I have but to accept it?

I’m not ashamed of the mistakes I’ve made. They may have made me bitter for a moment but they definitely opened my mind to a whole new way of thinking. Those unfortunate events taught me to treasure my experiences no matter how bad they are, and to see those as learning opportunities instead of just storing them in the cocoon of my memory. Those seemingly “wasted” years have often turned out to be my most treasured life-changing experiences.

Too many times, we judge people by their ability to perform in school. They get a failing mark and they’re doomed. They get kicked out for whatever reason and they become losers forever. But consider this: Maybe some people are just not cut out to follow the convention. Maybe they are just meant to follow the road less traveled.🙂

Zoe or Amelia…I guess that’s her name.

She is about five or six. She has shoulder length hair, a wide smile that reveals a missing middle tooth, an infectious laughter, and the enthusiasm and energy that is characteristic in a child. She loves giving hugs and kisses. She likes food but I can’t recall her favorite dish. Spaghetti, I guess. She has always wanted to have a dog but never had the chance to get one yet. A big, furry one she once said. I enrolled in her in tennis and piano lessons and we get to hang out in the tennis courts during the weekends. She’s a little angel that is so dear to me but I can’t remember her name!

And she calls me Daddy.

little-girl-playing

She is my daughter. My adopted child. And I have no idea what her name is.

And this was all in a dream I had way back in college. I guess what triggered the dream was that it was Father’s Day and everyone was talking about dads and stuff. I remember hating myself for waking up, and in the process ending the dream. You know those times when you had an awesome dream and you don’t want it to end (well, you don’t know it is a dream while you are in it) and then you woke up. Then you try so hard to go back to sleep and to return to the dream, but it won’t come back. It sucks, right? The same thing can be said about bad dreams and you wanting it to end quickly but it seems to last forever and after the dream ends, you wake up shivering in cold sweat.

This one was a good dream. And it wasn’t just any good dream, it was a life-changing dream! A revelation. A scales-falling-from-my-eyes moment. It was a dream that made me change the way I see adoption.

Before I met my daughter in the world of imagination, I used to be an idiot thinking that adopted children are in a league one step lower than biological kids. I thought of them being unloved and neglected by their parents that is why they were raised by people not related to them. I thought that it was some sort of a curse to be adopted. In the Philippines, the phrase “Ampon ka (lang)” is meant as an insult. It is shameful to be adopted, I used to believe. I was discriminating and short minded. But I was so wrong.

And now I see that the reason why I was so negative about adoption is because I was seeing it in all the wrong places. Adoption is not about rejection. It is about love. For someone not related to the child to get out of his comfort zone and care for this person like his own – that is love. Adoption is about acceptance. It is about a new beginning. It is about second chances. It is about family. It is about so many good things that I am ashamed of myself for thinking the way I used to and at the same time proud of myself for I now see it in a different light.

I remember in the dream that I was told by a friend that there is a girl waiting for someone to adopt her and the minute I saw her, I knew immediately what I should do. I loved her in that instant like she was my own child. I remember in college talking to people about the dream that changed me and that even until know, whenever I think about it, it still gives me the chills.

For someone who was an ass about adoption, I now consider adopting a child (or children) in the future whether I am married or not. I feel that I will be a blessing to this child but more likely, the child will be a blessing to me. I believe that people who adopt are inviting the good graces of God or the universe to come to their doorstep. I believe that people who adopt are bringing happiness to their lives. And I also believe that people who see adoption like some sort of a burden is missing so much in life. So much.

Kahlil Gibran said in The Prophet on children:

“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with his might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness; For as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

Adopted or biological, children are just the same. The thing that matters the most is that they are loved.

Zoe or Amelia…I guess that’s her name. That’s what I would have called her.

A Village Christmas

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Growing up, Christmas cards with village scenes were always delivered by the postman around Christmas time. After reading the yuletide greetings of a relative I haven’t seen in years, the cards were placed in a big red plastic stocking with Santa’s face on it, which also happened to serve as a Christmas wall decoration. I didn’t really think of the pictures on the cards, but years later, I realized they are more than a vague memory of Christmas past.

Have you ever had that feeling where you feel like you have already experienced something but you’ve forgotten about it until something triggers your memory, but then the truth is you’ve never experienced it? That’s how Christmas village scenes are for me. There are times when I feel like I had spent Christmas in a village at the edge of a forest where I went sledding on snow-covered hills with my friends and with our dogs running to keep up with the sleds. It is the kind of village that has less than a hundred houses and with some somewhere in the middle of the nearby woods. In the afternoon, snow begins to fall and I go back to my house, over a stone bridge at the edge of the forest. There would be a roaring fire and candles are lit and the smell of good things cooking waft in the air. A giant Christmas tree, freshly cut from the forest, sits in the living room decorated with tinsel and surrounded by gifts. Holly leaves with red and gold ribbons decorate the mantelpiece. After dinner, everyone gathers around the fireplace in the living room and sing carols in between sips of hot chocolate with marshmallows on top.

Then next day is Christmas. Everyone piles up on the carriage pulled by a horse with bells on its neck and off we go to hear mass. The church bells and the horses’ bells toll merrily and the sound is heard across the nearby lonely forest. Everyone seems to be heading towards the church with the white steeple and the silent tombstones in the graveyard powdered with snow. The somber atmosphere of the graveyard is overpowered by the joyous festivities of the yuletide celebration. After the mass and loudly-sung Christmas carols, everyone greets one another a happy Christmas. Mothers exchange fruitcakes and fathers smoke cigars while children run and shout in the churchyard.

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Then when everyone has been greeted and Christmas wishes have been exchanged, the villagers go home to their own houses and celebrate a quiet Christmas. The smoked turkey is carved and milk is poured on hot potatoes, gifts are opened and you can hear squeals of delight from the children.

christmas-decorating-fireplace2

After the day’s excitement, children and their parents go to sleep, the horse in the barn paws the ground and snow falls quietly on this small village. The bitter wind may howl through the pine trees but everyone is safely asleep on their warm beds.

Sometimes, I’m not sure if something is imagined or recalled, as the poet says. When I think about the village scene, it’s like a half-remembered memory of a past Christmas or maybe a dream of a Christmas that I have yet to see. All I know is that a part of me belongs there somehow. The longing to be in that place and to spend Christmas there can be sparked by a piece of music or a picture or something seemingly unconnected. It may be imagined, but the bittersweet longing for that place and that time remains.

Desperate Measures

13-moneyTimes have become desperate. I could not believe that right now, I’m thinking too much about money. Gone was the idealist part of me. As I grow older, I realize that I can never get to what I want without money. I don’t mean to sound so desperate, but the truth is, right now, I need money.

I need money to go to the places I have been dreaming to go ever since I was small. I need money to live a comfortable life. I need money to help people. I don’t want to sound like Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa, but it is one of my childhood dreams to contribute financially to the great mass of hungry people in the world. Right now, it’s far from a possibility because I hardly earn enough to help myself. I still have a long way to go.

I’ve been quite an idealist ever since I was a child. I didn’t really see the world in a practical point of view. I didn’t really consider money as a priority. I’ve always believed that sticking to your principles as well as wisely using your talents is the best way to gain a satisfying life. Actually, I still believe in that. But I cannot go away with another truth. That really, money can make the world go round.

At this time and place, money is the answer to everything, materially. You can’t go anywhere without the big M. Do you need food? A drink? Shelter? Do you want to look good? Lose weight? Well, you can’t go anywhere without it. You even need money for you to walk on a three-foot log across a flooded area. So, the bottomline is, in this materialistic world, you cannot survive without the big M.

People around me are grabbing any chance they get to get a firm hold money. People are turning their backs on love because of it. Sometimes, women marry someone because of it. Never mind that he’s old and wrinkled, he has millions in his bank account. People are turning their backs on their dream jobs because there’s a higher paying job offered to them. People are leaving their families behind because they want to take a shot in a foreign country. And it’s all because of money.

On my part, I can’t imagine marrying someone for money. Or delving into a totally different area of work just for the sake of getting my pockets full . I would never be happy with such arrangements and money, then, would never make me happy.

But of course I still need to find a way to gain a liveable income, and I can do that using my skills, if I have any. I just need to keep in mind that money should never be the center of everything, otherwise, I will get in serious trouble. I might go somewhere foreign if I have to.  I would not have any problem working in another country, most especially in Australia, because it has been my childhood dream too.

So in the end, I would have to say that I’m on the right track. I should just have to push myself more to try other opportunities out there. Sometimes, I don’t have the confidence to try more. But, you know, it really doesn’t hurt to try. I would never go anywhere if I didn’t try anyway. It would be so much better than being stuck with this dead-end job that really gets me out of my wits.

*This was written five years ago. I was 25 then and had a slightly different outlook. I’m five years older now and I fancy myself thinking that I’ve grown a little bit mature so I have more understanding of money matters now. But I love comparing my younger self to the older, more mature me.🙂

Of Trains and the Mob

This morning, on my weekday morning commute, I was once again exposed to the mob-like tendencies of the commuting Pinoy. This was at the MRT, of course, and we are talking women pushing and shoving to get into an otherwise almost-empty train car. I’m not into women’s-behavior bashing, but I prefer the first car in the MRT where the women, elderly and disabled ride, so I don’t see how men fight it out. Let’s just say I’ve learned my lesson early on not to ride in the second and third cars during rush hour or any other hour for that matter. It’s a nightmare.

I don’t rightly know what category the cops fit in, you know, the ones who ride in the first car. I mean, they’re obviously not women and not elderly, so disabled? Aside from the reading and comprehension disability (which of course I can only assume), I am at a loss as to what other obscure disability they might be suffering from. With their training, their gun and whatever else they got strapped on, they could just as easily fight it out with the men in the other cars. But no, they prefer the first car, with the women. And the elderly. And the disabled.

Anyhow, if I get to run the MRT, I’d do some serious disciplining. If they don’t follow my rules, I’d kick them out of the train. No explanation needed. I mean, for pushing and shoving and elbowing people? what kind of explanation would reasonably explain such obvious lack of discipline and disregard for other people’s welfare? Every one of us is in a hurry to get somewhere. Never mind that we don’t always want to be where we’re going. All I’m saying, we can all get to where we want to get to without being barbaric and hostile.

So if I’m in charge of the MRT, here’s what I’ll do. I’d weed them rule breakers out from those who do have discipline (can’t have them spoiling the good batch and start a stampede). Then only let them ride after three trains have come and gone. Or maybe after five trains. Or until they’ve learn their lesson, whichever comes last, as Makunga says.

(this was written maybe five years ago)

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