Sunday, November 27, 2005

FIGHTING KARMA

I've just finished reading C.S. Lewis' A GRIEF OBSERVED, which a friend recommended after news of my brother's death. I had to skim some (painful) sections. It's not been that long since Glenn died....

Lewis wrote this book in response to his wife's death. In the middle of the book, Lewis writes, "For the first time, I have looked back and read these notes. They appall me. From the way I've been talking anyone would think that H's death mattered chiefly for its effect on myself."

Yup. I'd begun a private blog (shared with a handful of close writer-friends) about the effect of Glenn's death. At least according to some friends' responses, I actually wrote some "good" stuff. But I deleted it when I thought that its existence was making me objectify Glenn's death into fodder for my writing.

I continue to reflect on Glenn's death. And I see that the tendency to objectify is facilitated by how he and I had grown apart in the past two decades by virtue of us living in different states.

During his funeral, a few of his friends spoke about him. I learned things I hadn't known about my brother. Good things. Great things. I regret I never came to know or witness the greatness of which he had been capable. Nowadays, whenever I think of Glenn, I keep returning to a particular memory from our shared childhood -- and I crumple a little, too, over how it bespeaks again how our relationship seemed not to have progressed much beyond that nostalgic stage:

I am five and Glenn is three. I had just learned how to disect a fish head. The most delicious parts of a fish are in its head: the cheeks, the membranes surrounding the eyes, and best of all, the brain.

We are seated on the porch of my grandmother's house, along with our first cousin Henry who is about Glenn's age. I am dissecting fish heads. And I would eat some of the yummy innards, then I would give some to Henry. But I keep teasing Glenn, holding back the fish parts, pretending to give to him before quickly putting it into Henry's eagerly open mouth, or mine. After ten passes, Glenn begins to cry.

So I relent, but with much satisfaction, and finally I let him lick some of the fish parts from my fingers. He loves it. His tears swiftly evaporate and his eyes regain their sparkle. He asks for more.


*****

I've been feeling awful over that incident since Glenn's death.

As a toddler, Glenn possessed a seemingly oversized and very round head. When he cried, it disturbed the symmetry of the perfect circle.

How do you grieve someone you've ended up not knowing very well? I focus on the love that I know was genuine between us. But I detest how that love has turned abstract. And how our relationship got sacrificed by a deeper family turmoil not caused by him, and about which I never want to write. Because articulation can deepen reality.

*****

THE POEM:

REBIRTH


How
to unlock
the steel handcuffs

of an aftermath?
How to
live?

Monday, November 21, 2005

BEACHED

Today, I immersed my body in the Pacific Ocean. Wailea Beach, Maui. Salt on lips. Weightless, warm air. Palm fronds waving in the distance. Sunlit sapphire sky. Beach cabanas gleaming white along the shore. And also visible further in the distance, the volcano named "House of the Moon."

And this reminded me:

of a particular childhood summer along a different shoreline but surfed by the same Pacific. We lived high up in the mountains of Baguio City and my parents decided to send me to a relative's house so I can spend some time at the beach.

I am about seven years old. It is my first time being separated from my parents. But I'm too excited to worry or be sad from the separation. Auntie meets me at the other end of the bus ride. We hug and then walk for a few minutes to her house. As soon as we reach her front door, I begin to feel the urge to go to the bathroom. It had been a long bus ride.

"Auntie, I can't hold it," I whisper after taking two steps into the house. I feel it leaking from under my skirt. When I look down, I see two brown trails dribbling down my thin legs.

Auntie sees the same things I see. Her voice rises. She scolds, "Get out. Go out to the back."

I obey. I carefully back out the door, turn to walk towards the side of the house and make a left to go to the backyard. I see an outhouse. I walk as fast as I can even as I try to lock my thighs together.

It is a fun week at the beach, notwithstanding how it began. I darken as black-brown as the local children. Teenagers feed me simple lunches of rice and vegetables which they cook in black pots over fires at the shore. Then we would explore each inch of the beach looking for shells I can bring back to my mountain home. Several love to pick me up and carry me about crooning, "Sweet girl, nasamit nga ubing..." Each night, I am too tired-happy to dream.


*****

I shiver today despite the heated ocean. I can feel the water touching the shores of the Philippines...touching the edge of that memory of my first beach summer without my parents. And the water, liquid sapphire silk around me, cannot cleanse my memory of Auntie reluctantly reaching for my brown, soiled panties after I left the outhouse. How she scrunched her nose and pursed her lips. We had so loved playing together whenever she visited us in our mountain home and I knew she, single and childless, considered the week with me a chance to "play Mommy." Yet she so clearly showed her disgust.

She reached forth but couldn't touch my damp underwear. In a tone I'd not heard from her before and never will again after that day, she chillingly ordered that I launder out my panties. "That basin there...I'll bring you soap..."

I silenced my thought, "Aren't you going to take care of me...?"

Trauma inherently lasts.

I can't remember Auntie's name.

******


THE POEM:

Untitled

(a hay(na)ku)

To
forget your
name leaves me

whole
to defend
against love's death