Sunday, July 13, 2014

Eat Your Desserts First

I had a crazy idea on how to celebrate my 40th birthday. It was to organize my own living funeral…
For those who have read Tuesdays with Morrie, they will know what I am talking about.  I will invite all of my closest friends and of course, family and they will each have to do their eulogy for me like they would on my funeral. 

Morbid but wouldn’t it be nice to hear what they would all say about you?? What’s good there is they
 would also have the chance to say it out loud…
while you are still sitting up and breathing. In a word, ALIVE!
Unfortunately, my thoughts didn’t make it through the action stage. Thoughts to actions, right? Maybe next time, in a few years…
BUT that is exactly what I wanted to passionately express!! What if there wasn’t going to be a next time? 
Why are we always quick to set aside things just because we worry  about what others think? Or that we don’t have the time or resources to do it…so many other reasons….

DO IT NOW! You don’t know what will happen later. A slogan from a cake shop reads “Life is uncertain, eat your desserts first!” 
I had a laugh because of the truth of it and because we tend to save the best for last not knowing that
 you might not get to that LAST “BEST”!!!
In my 40 years, so many things have happened. A number of challenges to test my faith, my strength,
my character…
I have learned that family is the most important in my life. I don’t think I have ever gone through all that I have without them.
When I say family, this would not only mean my partner and my children but my parents, sisters, brothers, etc.  
When my youngest brother, Brick, passed away last year, it helped us grieve because we all grieved together…even sleeping in my parents’ room, maybe 12-15 of us…including grandchildren and toddler.
I received mail from one of my friends saying that Brick was lucky to have been a member of our family. 
She explains that hers didn’t want to be a “family”.
Our family is not perfect. We have the same  troubles as any other.  Maybe we just decided to overlook our differences and faults and capitalize on the love we do have for one another. 

(Following note written on April 26, 2014)
I attended the burial of my sons’ grandmother yesterday and I told Edman and Tommy, “You know, Nak, someday you would have to do the same things
that your father is doing now”. Preparing for the funeral, procession, mass... Edman said, “Not too soon, Ma... Think about Castielle..”

No, there shouldn’t be talk of dying yet.  There is still so much to be done! We have just celebrated
 Papa’s 91st birthday last month and Trixie’s successful chemo sessions.... I am so grateful to God for all that He has given us.
 I thank God for every morning that Papa is still with us. 
I thank Him for being with Trixie during her 11 hour-long operation..
I don’t know how many times I kissed my little sister upon her arrival from the operating room...
A silent prayer to God: Lord, don’t trust me too much to keep on sending me these trials, please....:)

I still thank Him for that as well...GOOD AND BAD.
There shouldn’t be talk of death, agree. But there should be enough consciousness that we don’t have the luxury of time...
Every day is a miracle. Lest we forget.

In Jail -- Just Visiting

Last year, I learned that one of my car watch boys was in jail. I met these boys in church when they were still so young. It’s funny but I don’t remember having a car that they looked after while we heard mass. It just happened that during my 18th birthday, I invited them all over for some pancit, bread and coke. Then the story began. They would come for my birthdays and Christmas included. I would pack brown paper bags with candies, inexpensive toy cars, coins,etc. and distribute them when they left for their respective homes..which I found out later, they actually didn’t have a home.

Years passed, I lost track of them. They became teenagers, had their own families… I remember Naknak asking me to help them raise funds for their car watch uniforms. I also remember him telling me he wanted to learn how to drive, so he can earn a living driving a tricycle. All of which I wasn’t able to follow-through.

Naknak is now in jail.

His other car-watch colleagues told me after mass. I didn’t even know his complete name and some didn’t know it as well. I had to search for someone who knew. I found out and from Divine intervention, I also knew what jail he was in. I had to come see him. It was my second time visiting BJMP. The first was for a field trip.  

My two sons were with me.  We had to wait for our turn.  We waited at a carinderia with a one-stop-shop of rental clothes, sari-sari, a tiny dept. store and grocery in one. I mentioned rental clothes because we were told by other visitors that we weren’t allowed to be in sleeveless blouses, black pants and black shirt. And we were in all of those mentioned.  My eldest Edman was in black pants , Tom was in black shirt, and I was in a sleeveless blouse….We all didn’t want to go back for a change of clothes. We had to try on items that would fit us. Edman almost didn’t have anything to wear. He was 6 foot and they didn’t have too many pants with that length…

When it was time for us to get in, police officers took turns on frisking my two sons, asked for their ID’s, wrote their names on a logbook and let them through except for me. They said I had to go inside a room with a female officer which I did. Then came the shock of my life….she requested me to take my pants and undergarments down!! I don’t even know if I’m allowed to write these things but it was what happened. I had to ask WHY.
I could see that the female officer was a bit surprised with my question, she can only reply with, “ First time mo, ma’am?” I almost laughed at her remark because it sounded funny. As if it had an entirely different meaning. She just meant if it were my first time to visit.  I said yes. She then relayed that there have already been numerous instances where female visitors try to sneak in dangerous and illegal items through their garments.

After frisking me, they went through my plastic bag. I brought burgers for Naknak. The officers laid it all out and opened all the buns, poked at the patties…another shocker. The female officer offered an explanation for this. Food also has been made instruments to bring items inside jail premises. My fellow visitor remarked in disgust that the Leche Flan she made and brought was sliced in the middle as if they were going through garbage.
Walking with my two boys, I see men in yellow shirts waving at me. Signaling to come their way. I suddenly felt a bit scared. In my mind raced a lot of concerns…could I trust these beings? What if there was a riot?? Oh, what did I get myself into……plus my children were with me! Did I put them in harm’s way??

I said a quiet prayer…Lord, protect us.

I exhaled and surrendered our safety to God.

After signing our names, they had a little solicitation for one of their activities. I told them I would do it on our next visit. Two men assisted us in locating Naknak. We went to two separate areas. As we walked, I noticed that rice was being cooked in a giant pot on the pavement.

We finally reached the area they said Naknak was. It was also where all the meals were being prepared. They used firewood to cook so the room was all covered with smoke. Our eyes stung as we talked and couldn’t help but breathe it in. To our right were a variety of vegetables and I can see a blackboard with the menus of the days of the week. Most of it was vegetable dishes…

To our left were a husband and wife sleeping in an embrace. Oblivious of all that’s around them. All the thoughts in my head…all the emotions. It took awhile before Naknak came. At first he was speechless. I thought he didn’t recognize me but I later realized it was disbelief. He couldn’t believe his eyes…All he could utter was, “Ate…”
Naknak was in jail for “attempted rape”.

I don't know if it was because of the smoke that Naknak's eyes became teary but when I offered him the burger, he said he couldn't eat. I asked why. He answered, "this is how it feels when you have visitors" It's like all hunger disappears and what replaces it is sheer happiness.. of seeing someone you know, somebody who cared...

He told me that he was in jail for a year and a half already. I asked him the nagging question on my mind... “Did you do it?”

He said he did not.

He just entered a guilty plea for a lesser sentence. That was what he was advised. He relayed to me the events of that unfortunate night.  The complainant was a 47 year-old mother whom he drinks with. That night, there were other people with them. They had too much to drink when the female complainant said she lost her wallet and cellphone. She accused Naknak of stealing it. Naknak’s girlfriend upon knowing that they were bringing him to the Barangay Captain pleaded with the complainant to let them settle whatever the amount of the lost items was.

Before long, the complainant filed for... Attempted Rape.

How easily was he brought to jail. Was assigned a lawyer from the Public Attorneys’ Office and till now is awaiting his sentencing. I had several visits after that. I also took it upon myself to check on the status of his case. Call it guilt, but it would have been so much easier if I tried to help him get a license and be a tricycle driver, right? Than talk to lawyers and sit through a hearing....

I met the lawyer from PAO and I was glad that she was female. Don’t get me wrong. My father’s a lawyer and I’m aware that men mostly dominate this arena...but it’s a woman thing. Women are from Venus. Men will never understand that.

Joking aside. I was excited to learn that there was a scheduled hearing in a matter of days. The day came, my partner and I were on time only to hear that they were postponing the hearing because the Judge was attending a conference. The next hearing was slated in two months!!

I was again present at the Regional Trial Court after a long wait. I saw Naknak chained and seated at the left side of the room. He sent a sheepish smile my way. My heart went out to him. He didn’t have any family.  His lawyer even thought I was related to him. She said that I was the only one she met representing Naknak and who actually visited him.

There were other cases being heard before ours. After an hour or so, a witness from the prosecution team approached the stand. Our attorney’s turn came and ended with one question thrown to the witness and another question withdrawn... I couldn’t understand it. That was that. The Judge set another hearing in a few months.

Today, Naknak has been in jail for 2 years, 7 months and counting. He said that he has been advised that the Clerk of Court is new and they had to hear the case over again. He has also told me that his PAO lawyer is operated on. So... more delays for this case.

I tried to ask for a copy of the documents from his lawyer and her reply was, I can get a copy from a certain department...and she also said, that should I wish to request for another lawyer, I can.

I don’t want to talk politics, government matters, gripe or air grievances, but at times, you just often wonder....what the hell happened to good old-fashioned “malasakit”?? (Does this word even have a translation to English?)

I immediately placed myself in Naknak’s shoes...what if I didn’t have enough money to pay for a good, dedicated lawyer to help me prove my innocence...

Imagine yourself in an emergency room fighting for your life, and the resident doctor was overworked, didn’t get much sleep or simply didn’t care enough if you live or die....I think it’s the same case as Naknak’s. I hear that the PAO lawyers have too many cases on their shoulders that the focus and energy is just not there. Underpaid, overworked but please, not the IRDC attitude. Acronyms I learned from my teenage sons. IRDC: I Really Don’t Care.

I visited Naknak yesterday, I promised I would visit him. He asked a favour from a friend to text me an advanced birthday greeting. Brought him some stuff and my leftover birthday cake.
We chatted for almost two hours. Then when I told him it was time for me to go, I could see tears welling up in his eyes....I asked him to be strong, to pray hard and that I would do what I can to help him. Then I felt a tug in my heart when he said, “Ate, ikaw na lang ang pag-asa ko....” (You are my only hope).

I pray that I can make a difference in Naknak’s case, to bring out the truth and give him justice. You are my only hope, Lord.

Burikot Forever

I'm a die-hard fan, my little brother...:) 

It seems at times I don't feel anything...when I see the framed picture of the two of us together in the morning, I say a prayer for you or I say hello. But...I still ask myself that question: "Wala na si Brick?" 

I guess this is how grieving go through your normal routine. Day to day, you just go through the motions. You know that your life has to be lived even when there is something missing..SOMEONE missing. 

Don't even begin to think that we've forgotten about you. I cannot imagine how Papa and Mama feels every day, knowing they will not hear your voice...that they will not ever again be victim to your pranks and surprises.

It was Christmas eve and Trixie felt a tug in her heart when she heard the telephone was your way, you would call the landline because you knew that no one would hear their cellphones during the midnight Christmas greetings. But you know that they would not let the telephone ring endlessly.

I knew you were with us, Brick. A thought of you crossed my mind while I was preparing the fruit salad....and Trixie felt her hair raise when she remembered you as she was cooking...

Forever, Burikot...until we see you again.

"Hindi mo madadala kayamanan mo sa langit"

We got the last batch of your things this morning,Burikot...Papa rode with me. I let him decide if he wanted to ride in your car or not. He said, we just take Eide's car. You must already know, your car has been slowly telling me that something's wrong with it. Your evaporator gave up. Was driving it without aircon..:) the machine shop said we had to take a look at its power steering kit,battery,
 etc. I guess, the only reason for these would be that...your car is missing its owner. Hmmm... 

I have always heard the phrase "Hindi mo madadala kayamanan mo sa langit"...but when a loved one dies and you experience the loss first-hand, death and life, takes on a whole new meaning...

Brick, your things are here, they are a reminder of you. But these are things.....just things.

Brick 101: Lessons from My Little Brother's Life (2nd installment)

(Maybe Brick thought we were all strong that we can weather life without him…

I wish I can say that I am strong.  My friends say I am.

But one of my good friend says even the strong crumbles in moments of intense unbearable pain.

That’s what this is, Brick…indescribable…But if I must describe it, it is a deep cut to my heart that is open and throbbing…my enlarged heart has grown so inflamed, it’s as if my chest could not hold it any longer….

Would the crying ever stop, Brick?)

2001, I had to go on training in Manila for 2-3 weeks. I had a hotel reservation but I chose to stay with him in his one-bedroom apartment. He stayed on a folding bed beside me for weeks. After work, he would either pass for me where my training was or we meet somewhere. Then we would buy lechon manok for dinner before going back to his apartment. Then we would have our usual "sometimes" senseless conversations over dinner and at times "naka-kamay". He took me to my first ride at the MRT. He actually took a picture of me before and during the ride. We would rent a videoke room in a mall and sing for an hour or two. He would love to sing to me, so he can show off how much his singing has improved...:) (And it really did!!!) While I sang, he would take a picture of me belting out a song of Zsa-Zsa Padilla...I knew no one would see me other than him so I sang my heart out...and I have the picture to prove it.

I went back to Davao and as soon as I was home, I received a call from Brick. It's like he perfectly timed my flight and the time I reach the house. The first thing he said was, " Parang nawalan ako ng girlfriend..." His way of saying, he already misses me.

In 2003, I struggled with my marriage. When I decided to end it, I was devastated. I had to get away. Bought tickets to Manila with my two boys, asked Trixie if she wanted to come. So all 5 of us boarded the plane for Manila. We of course stayed with Brick, Mama and Papa were already there with him. We had a great time! We took the kids to Enchanted Kingdom. Brick forced me to ride the bump car with Edman where he took a picture of me laughing so hard!!! We almost lost Tommy…he was only 2 years old then. We sang at a videoke, took a trip to a friend’s house in Sta. Rosa, Laguna…and most importantly, we went to church at Baclaran.

Whenever we were together, he made sure we had fun and that we...laughed.:)

Second lesson: LAUGH! Though your heart is aching..:)

Brick's Cat Casper Died

Brick's cat, Casper, died cat years, Papa said he was 80 years old. 

We were all thinking, he just had to go after his master...

We all had a glimpse of him a day before he died. When I last saw him, he was outside our street, walking ever so slowly. They named him Casper for his white fur. I don't like cats that much. I can't remember why, maybe I was shunned from it because of my asthma? I don't know. 

Mama loves cats, she has three now. I recall her story about losing her cat in a fire in Manila when she was young. I guess Brick took it from Mama. He was also so fond of them. He brought Casper by plane to papa and mama years ago. 

It was Brick's 9th day, when one of mama's cats, Houdini, acted totally strange. Houdini has never come up to me in the months that he has been at Mama's house. He even scampers away whenever guests came. But that day, he jumped up on of Brick's closest buddies in high school. That move even surprised Bryan and he shouted, "BRICK!?"

And that wasn't everything, Houdini also jumped on the empty seat beside me. Sat for awhile then walked to my lap and settled. He kept moving his head on top of my hands as if asking to be stroked....and so I did. I found this so unusual. So "supernatural". 

I remember this movie by Keanu Reeves, Constantine. He used a cat to bring him to purgatory and back. They say that cats are "half-in, half-out", living in two realms...

Houdini usually sleeps outside the house and very rarely comes in. But during Brick's death, he walked all around the house. Purring and letting his body glide on papa's legs, sleeping beside mama. As we were talking on the bed, he would transfer from Trixie, to me, then back to Mama.

Psychology could explain our reactions another way. It could say that we are acting on our desperation or it may be just one of our coping mechanisms. But with the paranormal, it would be a whole different story, right?

One day, during breakfast, Kuya Mel told us that he used the comfort room after midnight...out of the corner of his eye, he saw Houdini... coming out of Brick's room.:)

Brick 101: Lessons from My Little Brother's Life (1st installment)

40 days… seems only yesterday.
I keep telling myself, “Wala na si Brick, wala na si Brick…then say it again, “Wala na si Brick?”
It doesn’t sink in and I doubt it ever will…
Brick has brought so much meaning to our lives much more now in his death…
If I could write a book dedicated to him, it would be entitled “Brick 101: Lessons learned from my little brother’s life”
I said this before and I’ll say it again: Brick has lived a full life.
It is not to find comfort in the thought that his life was short-lived. I hear some people say “What a waste” or “sayang” but I would respond by making them see all his photos…
They say a picture paints a thousand words and so it does with Brick’s albums.
I tell Papa and Mama that Brick was ready to go. I just learned last night from mama that Brick had a flight to Japan where almost all of the flight crew members’ inserted a piece of paper in their mouths with their farewells to their loved-ones, thinking that it was their final flight.
Maybe it was these incidents that prepared him. He had a job that exposed him to the possibility of death….everyday.  He was no longer afraid to die. In Paulo Coelho’s words, “and afterwards saw death as a daily companion, who is always by my side, saying:” I will touch you, but you don’t know when. Therefore live life as intensely as you can.”
That is what Brick did. He visited and traveled to as many interesting places as he can. Most of the time, took papa and mama with him. He had this threesome date with them and proved three was not a crowd.
These dates were a conscious effort on his part because it was a challenge to make free time. I keep telling papa, not too many sons can do these for their own parents…in their own lifetime. He made sure you had a fun time and he made sure we laughed…
He lived each day as if it were his last. He tried to make all relationships he was in to be memorable, unforgettable…he invested much of himself, his whole person in every friendship.
In Manila, I learned just recently, that the pulot-boys in his tennis club all made it to the wake. Mama said that some took a seat and cried…
There were his labandera, owner of a carenderia where he rented in Baclaran, where he stayed a few years. His landlord and landlady were also there…all cried before his coffin.