The weary warrior walked up the steps of his fallen home. Around him lay an orgy of rubble. If these stones could speak, they would tell stories of death, struggle and waste. Suddenly, all the victories he won, all the challenges he overcame seemed meaningless. Nothing he ever did in his short life could ever compare to the grief, the immense sense of loss that seemed to rain on him now. What good would it do if he had no one to share it with?
My father walked up the funeral home with a similar sense of defeat. My uncle died over the weekend. He was instrumental in my formative years. We spent countless summers together, playing street games and eating watermelons. My uncle was a bit of a wild child. He never conformed to anyone even when he had a family of his own. In my clearest memories of him, he is coming up to me with a big, ripe watermelon. He’d chop it in half and we’d bury our faces in the heart of each cheek, eating only the sweetest part, throwing out the rest. It showed how he viewed life. He didn’t want to waste his time with seeds or the bland parts of the fruit’s flesh. You gotta take the good parts and throw away the bad, he explained once. Outside, the trash cans were filled to the brim with half-eaten watermelons left to the flies.
His final years saw him wasting away. The last I saw him, he was almost toothless. His smile beamed at me from across the room, the years betraying signs on his face. His daughters, no longer charmed by his careless life, treated him like a prisoner. He rarely left his room, only venturing into the outside world for his daily trip to the sari-sari store for soda and some smokes. That’s what pained my father the most. He looked at them with disgust. How could you do that to my brother?
He’d been dead for hours before anyone noticed. The entire left side of his body was bloated beyond recognition. My father walked up to the closed casket with a stern expression. He’s always been such an expert at concealing his emotions, showing only what was necessary or negligible. His hands caressed the coffin’s trimmings, running his fingers through the wooden carvings. A single tear dropped on the cold wood. My eyes widened. I realized I had never seen my father cry before.
He was quiet for a long time. He sat on one of the pews, speaking to no one, refusing trays of food or drink. My father is the youngest in his family. He has buried so many people, we have all lost count. My uncle was not the first nor will he be the last my father puts in the ground. It seems that for most people born last in the family, it is our inheritance to bury our kin. I looked at my sisters sitting quietly in the corner. How will it be when my turn comes?
I saw my eldest sister staring at my father, her thoughts running parallel with mine. I couldn’t explain it. I rarely cry at funerals but all of a sudden, I found my own dams had burst. I ran to my sisters, hugging them, hoping they would understand why I felt so bad. There was no doubt in my mind we had many years ahead of us. My fear was that we had already wasted the ones we have now.
My family is not known for our emotions. Prior to this funeral, it had been weeks since we hung out as a pack. Time is a funny thing. We never realize how much we’ve wasted until we are faced with our own mortality. My father wiped his tears and as he stood up, his grown-up children rushed to him with the same fervor as townspeople welcoming a hero. We couldn’t explain it. Logic seemed to escape us but it took a great sense of grief and loss to remind us that it is not too late for our family. It is not too late to be a family.
My sister was too tired so my dad offered to drive us home. In the passenger seat, my mother sat half-awake. In the back seat, my siblings and I sat together, like we did when we were kids on our way to church. I was exhausted. The little strength I had left was taken away by all the crying. In the darkness, I felt a small hand grasp mine, my sister seemingly holding the little time we had left together.
We are only given a few years before everything we worked for, every thing we know is taken away from us. I walked up the steps to my home and unlike the warrior’s, my home’s walls were still intact, the roof firmly above our heads. It’ll take years, decades even, before this house falls to rubble. I found my father frozen in the kitchen with a glass of water. It was like he forgot what he was doing or what the next step was. Good night, I said as my arms wrapped tightly around him. What I really wanted to say was that it’s not too late. That our family will be different. And that though I don’t say it too much, I love him with everything I am.
I could tell he found this strange, too. His first impulse was to flinch. Slowly, I felt his shoulders relax. This evening armed us with an openness none of us wanted to explain. He didn’t say anything. I just felt his hold tighten and I knew what his heart was trying to say. Thank you for being here. I love you, too.
Photo Credit: parthenon
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If songs have covers, what do blog posts have? My good friend Victor translated one of my first Filipino posts into English. (And though it’s a little embarrassing to have your three-year-old posts aired out, because of the talented writer I know-he knows-I know he is, me’s izz extreeeemely flattered.) Click here to see what he came up with.