Curly white gray hair, puffy cheeks and light brown eyes that always twinkled with mischief.
Growing up, Sunday had always been my favorite day because it meant you and your sari-sari store. While the grown-ups were busy chit-chating and what-nots, you were stuck with the kids inside your store that we transformed into our playground. I remembered how you used to complain that your white rabbit, corn chips and safari were always running out because they were our favorite “forbidden food.” But you never told on us anyway, for you insisted they were “childish treats” that couldn’t kill us and the only thing it can probably do is just murder us with happiness.
When you had your morning nap, you always hand the responsibility of taking care of the store to us and we loved it because you made it look like we were doing grown up stuff. You were the first one who taught us math and it was the only time that I actually loved learning it.
In the afternoons, we stayed in your room for our siesta but what the grown-ups didn’t know is that we are actually reading stories and playing card games. On some days, you would let us slip out of your window to play on the roof, despite the others telling us to climb down because we might fall. You had insisted that sore muscles and scratches on our knees only meant we were great at being children and I believed you.
You loved being in the kitchen and you loved it even more when we’re there to meddle. Once, you taught us the different ways to cook bananas because there was an over abundance of them in your backyard. You made the world’s best nilusak and I have always loved your banana cue.
Sundays were always the perfect days for me. Until that one late afternoon, when we were all gathered in front of your store playing hopscotch on the street, when a terrible wail from inside the house started ringing all the way to the next block. I was frozen midway into my jump so I fell on my knee and actually wounded myself. But it wasn’t because I was a child, it was because of the limp hands and unmoving eyes that lost its twinkle, I caught a glimpse on before somebody started hustling us back into the streets, assuring us everything will be all right.
But it wasn’t. Because that very night, everyone’s eyes were red rimmed in our house, their knees touching the floor. The next time we visited, the house I was always excited to go into suddenly looked very foreign to me. The tattered couches were replaced with a huge white box, and the usual smell of old wood and sampaguita was replaced with an intoxifying mixed smell of too many flowers. My mom urged me to step forward, so I did and I was horrified when I see you lying inside that box, looking so frail and lifeless.
The whole week was a torturous routine of prayers and meeting the well-wishers. I asked mom where you were and she simply answered, Heaven. It was the first time I ever hated that word for teaching me death.
I had always naively believed people in my life are immortal. But you proved me wrong because you were the first one who left. For good. It was the first time I felt my chest tighten too much I had trouble breathing. My tears wouldn’t stop flowing even when I tried to blink them back. You were my first heartbreak and the reason for my first nightmare because I couldn’t unsee those glassy eyes that looked right through me.
But despite all that, I want to thank you. For the happy childhood memories, for teaching us a thing or two about talking back to our parents ;), for showing me that just because I can’t find that person I’d want to spend the rest of my life with, doesn’t mean I’d be lonely. Also, thank you for teaching us, even at an early age the tragic reality of death, and for letting us learn that after all the pain and hurt, wounds no matter the size are always meant to heal.
Life did move on for all of us, we experienced another loss, but we also gained more people. Can you actually believe that the numbers had not only doubled, but tripled? But sometimes, I look up the stars on lonely nights and wonder which one of them is you. We’re all grown-up now, but I think I speak for all of us when I tell you that we suck at adulting. I want to go back to your store where the most grown up thing we do is toss coins on the money box and hear it jingle. I wonder, are you proud of what came out of us, just the same?
And lastly, thank you for making me love funerals because you made it seem like a chance to say goodbye to the people who have moved on to the next journey.
My only regret is that the younger ones never had the chance meet you, hear all your stories from your rocking chair, and will never get to enjoy the protection you had for us against the adults.
I don’t exactly know how to say this appropriately, but, Happy Death Anniversary, Nay. May you have a good one there in heaven.