It’s that time of the year again when it is tradition to remember our departed beloved— though in my case, I guess I’ve been remembering her a lot more than I realized. No, I haven’t been lighting up candles for the past two years since Mama finally rested from her long struggle in her atrophied state. But everytime I cooked, I remembered her and how delicious her meals were (except the clam and squid dishes, I never ate those). Everytime I meet mothers of various ages, I remembered her and how she tried her best, even in her worsening mental state, to be what a mother can be.
And in my own recurring depressive moments, I can’t help but remember her— and wonder why I had to inherit her madness as well.
I’ve long since stopped enjoying Undas (All Saints Day), and going around graveyards to collect melted candle wax does not appeal much to me anymore. As an adult, I’ve learned to resent intimate conversations with my relatives, whose interest mostly revolved on when I’ll have a wife, and when I’ll have kids. And seeing their disappointed eyes as I wordlessly answer their questions.
I wish I could have asked my mother awkward questions, too, while she was still around and able. I’ve given up on interrogating Tatay about these— in that sense, I guess I have inherited my father’s penchant for awkwardness, secrecy, occasional antisocialness, and his own personal brand of madness.
What would I ask Mama?
How did you meet Tatay?
- I tried asking Tatay about this; twice, I think. You were still around; I was around 19, and seriously in love for the first time. I was hoping for some fatherly insight about romance, some encouragement maybe. I wanted to know badly how you both met, and maybe learn something about love— love that drove Tatay to defy his own family, love that helped him cling on even though you were losing your mind. But Tatay just evaded my question, ignoring it. I’m sure you would have told me, though I’m not sure which parts would still be a real memory and which parts would have already been corrupted by your illness. But I guess I’ll have to wait until my siblings decide to tell me what they do know. Someday.
Was I really not part of the plan?
- Don’t take me wrong; I’m not holding it against you. I remember overhearing about it from a relative, or maybe it was my siblings. I’m just curious how you really felt about me— the Caesarian child who left a big scar on your beautiful body. I wonder if that was the only mark I caused, or if you regretted having me because of all the troubles I caused before and after you were diagnosed with your mental illness. Would you have had a sounder mind if not for all the problems I brought?
Did you know when you were depressed, or losing your mind?
- Maybe it was because I was too young, but during those chaotic years, I never understood why they said you were losing your mind. All I remembered was that you acted weird, but you were still so full of love— or at least, towards me. Even if my sisters experienced physical hurt because of you, you never laid your hands on me; or maybe it was because I was meek and submissive when you would drag me around to God knows where. Were you aware of your actions then, the words you said, the thoughts and emotions and all the plans you hatched? I never understood what went through your mind during those days when I was separated from the rest of the family because of you— but what I was sure of was that you loved me, us, even in that state you were in. But did you know, Mama? Or didn’t you mind, as long as you didn’t lose your heart?
Did you hate me for not visiting as much as I can when you were helpless in your paralyzed body?
- It wasn’t just about the money; though travelling to the province is really a financial challenge for me. No, I was scared— too scared to remember you more in your sorry state than in your jolly memories. I didn’t want to remember you as that frail creature who resembled my mother and could barely communicate; I wanted to remember you when I and my sisters would gather around you and just enjoy random conversations and your animated storytelling. I was embarrassed that every time I tried to visit, I knew my family less and less, and I felt more and more as a stranger around you. I forgot how to hold you, to touch you, to be that child who would snuggle on your body. So I did the only thing I knew I could do for you— to keep on living and make you somehow proud that the son you raised was strong enough to overcome the hindrances life has laid before him. But still, I was just too much of a coward of a son, too afraid to be around when you finally breath your last. Did you hate me, Mama?
• • •
There are more better questions I could ask, but I guess these will be the ones that will torment me the most until I finally find the answers on my own.
And until then, I’ll have to learn from you and keep on loving even when I’m out of my mind.