Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Confession Fourteen Years in the Making

Fourteen years ago today, at 6:05am, my Dad died of lung cancer. I was sitting by his bed, singing him songs, and my cousin Anna was with us inside the ICU. Since midnight of August 29, after pulling the plugs of several apparatus connected to his body, he had been revived four times, and that fifth time was the last. When he flatlined, I ran outside and called everyone. They all went inside, cried, and said their goodbyes. I don't remember exactly what I did after that, but I remember leaving the ICU, still wearing my Girl Scout uniform from the day before, and using the stairs to walk around Manila Doctors Hospital.

The day before he died, I was still in school, preparing with my classmates for a Filipino play called "Dula sa Plaza Miranda" (incidentally about a policeman) where I played a market vendor. My cousin Jane called me on my cellphone and told me why we weren't at the hospital when my Dad's condition was already deteriorating. Even at that time, I hadn't really comprehended my Dad's condition. Weeks before, when he laid in bed at home, I was oblivious to the slew of people coming in and out to take care of him. I was busy being a teenager.

But most of all, I thought my Dad was invincible. To me it was just a phase, a battle he would conquer. He was only fifty-five. Yes he smoked, but he had clear lungs during his annual X-rays and was at the forefront of the PNP's health campaign, showing up in his jogging gear and running at the camp's quadrangle. But the disease took everyone by surprise. Stage four, and the doctors gave him only five months to live. Still, he was my Dad. Dads don't die on their young children.

My Dad had his wake at the Camp Crame Multi-Purpose Hall. It was almost immediately filled with flowers three times over, and the people who worked there said they never saw as much flowers from the past wakes held there. A lot of politicians and famous people went, including then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and the Hall was always filled with people. But more common people went, those whose lives were helped and touched by my Dad. I remember not sleeping, because I didn't want to dream of my Dad. Everything was too fresh and so many family drama was happening which I just didn't want to be a part of. My cousin Kuya Allan from Cabuyao said he remembers me being interviewed by radio stations talking about my Dad. I also asked Ate Nora, his longtime secretary, to prepare his CV and provide it to the media. I remember making sure the chairs were always arranged like so, that there were enough food to feed the visitors, and that they weren't bored because I remember my Dad saying during a PTA Conference at the INC Tabernacle that after two hours being confined in an area, a crowd gets agitated and may start to get unruly.

During the week of the wake, I had a debate competition to attend to. Looking back, maybe I shouldn't have went, but maybe my family thought it would help with my grieving, or I probably told them I could handle it. It was held in Collegio de San Juan de Letran in Intramuros, and I was the team captain for our school. I talked to the opposing team captain (who would later be my UP Pep Squad teammate, he was a drummer I was a dancer), and I think we discussed who should go first.

It was a disaster. The debate was different than what I had imagined, and I thought I was a lawyer arguing a case before a jury. So instead of talking about my argument at length, I became tired and instead dumped a stack of papers by the panel of judges, which included Teddy Casiño. Obviously, we lost.

After the debate, I asked our driver, my uncle whom we called Kuya Jojo, to pass by the INC Central Complex because I was going to pray inside the Sanctuary. After exiting the compound, instead of going back to the car, I hailed an FX and got inside the front passenger seat. The driver asked me where I was going and I told him to just follow the car in front of us, thinking it would go to Camp Crame because it had an Iglesia Ni Cristo flag sticker on its back compartment. He asked, "Paano kung sa kamatayan tayo dalhin niyan?"  (What if that leads us to death?) I answered, thinking we were indeed going to my dead father, "Eh doon naman talaga tayo pupunta." (That's exactly where we're going.)

I gave him the one thousand peso bill (a bill given to me earlier by my half-brother and the only money I had on me) to shut him up. He took a turn on Visayas Avenue, and offered to pay for my meal. I began to feel afraid and told him I was going down. I got down in front of the Montessori school and right across (where the Wilcon Home Depot now stands), there was a small carinderia (eatery) called Aling Christie's. Actually, I don't know if that was really the name, it's just what I remember gravitating to because at that time, a woman called Christie from Chicago was being talked about by my family at the funeral. I took it as a sign and crossed the road.

I went inside and the family who owned the eatery immediately took me in. It was raining, I was alone, and maybe I looked lost. I was wearing a turquoise floral printed top and skirt, a beige windbreaker, and  a set of diamond ring and earrings that my mother made me wear for the debate competition that morning. I don't think I had my phone with me. I was lost.

They made me eat rice and Tinolang Manok. And then they asked if I could call someone. Instead of calling my family, I called the only landline that came to mind. I dialed the landline of my grade school friend who, without thinking twice, asked me to hold still and wait for him. He came several minutes later, and together with his cousin/nephew, drove me back to Camp Crame. Sitting at the back seat of his car and seeing lightning strike as we passed by East Avenue, I told him about the nearing Judgement Day. Talking to him about it years later, he told me he had been worried.

He didn't go down to the Hall anymore, and when I walked back to the wake all my relatives were fussing all over me for having gone missing. I didn't look at them, I just closed my eyes and let them lead me to the dressing room where the relatives stayed. They were all forcing me to either go to sleep or talk to them about what I was feeling. I did neither.

A eulogy was held the night before the funeral, and I spoke before the public. I told everyone what a good Dad he was to us, how important it was for him to eat together as a family despite his busy schedule, and a late-night talk about resting your mind, in between gulps of warm milk and bites of hot pandesal (which he probably bought from that certain bakery along JP Rizal in Makati). I was still wearing my Girl Scout uniform at the eulogy, up until the funeral the next day. I don't know why I did that, and now I cringe whenever I remember it, because I should've dressed more appropriately, in white like my Peña relatives, or black like my Laygo ones.

No, scratch that. Now that I'm being honest, I dressed in my Girl Scout uniform because in my mind my Dad made me join the GSP because it was the closest I could be to being a policewoman. When he was still alive, sometimes while walking around the malls we'd just break into a march and he'd lead our little pack saying, "Left, left, left right left..."

At the funeral I was in green, complete with the pink and white scarf and the black belt, with a Discman hidden inside, tucked in my underwear, the earphone cords discreetly wired inside my dress. My Dad's remains were first sent to the Makati City Hall, where he was honored for having been a Pulis Makati for a good part of his career.

Then he was interred at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani.

I remember after the funeral, we all went back to Camp Crame, changed our clothes, and went to eat at the Barrio Fiesta on Edsa. I  was wearing a teal and white henley top with a cat print, a teal skirt, and navy blue suede sandals. One side of my sandals was missing a sole but I went ahead and wore it anyway. I don't remember what everyone was talking about, I was busy staring at nothing in particular, letting my thoughts percolate inside my head.

When my Dad died on August 29, 2001, my Kuya Anton was 16 years old, I was 14, and our younger sister Juliet was only 9.

Nobody thought to make us go to a grief counselor. Everyone was too busy fighting about the money.