Hello there. I woke up at 5.30 this Sunday morning despite going to bed at past 12 last night after a full day of party preps and frolicking in the park in the 40-degree heat. As soon as my eyes opened, I was wide awake. And rather than forcing another hour or two of shuteye, I decided to jump out of bed and make good on one of my new year resolutions: wake up early. Or at least earlier than Mils, who has been my kid-sized alarm clock since the day she was born (four years ago yesterday, I might add).
In the golden light of morning the house is beautifully still; quiet enough for me to hear my thoughts. A perfect time to get re-united with Alrightythen since I took a leave of absence from this space 6 or so weeks ago.
We went on holidays. It was all kinds of happy and different shades of sad balled into 12 days and 4 towns. Like the title suggests, it was a mixed bag of nuts that needed some time to have passed to allow me some degree of distance from it, so that I can write about it well. Well…well enough that it doesn’t read too much like half-digested thoughts.
Part 1: Ghosts
I saw Papa. After previous attempts at seeing him in a hit-and-miss fashion, and (I’ll be honest) previous non-attempts too, I finally took my family to see him. He was at the detention centre in Manila. My step-mum picked us up from our hotel and brought us to the National Bureau of Investigation where Papa is being held while undergoing bail hearings. Before getting there, my step-mum clued Ga and me in on how things were going (Papa’s health, the status of his case, etc.). I was grateful for that time in the car as I felt completely unprepared and ignorant of many things surrounding my father’s situation; I had not seen him in 3 years. I was scared at what I might see/feel when I did finally reunite with him so I wanted to arm myself with facts.
The area where families visit reminded me of a gym with a basketball ring at one end. It was in the middle of the two sections of the centre, the male cell block on the left and the female cell block on right. Metal bars surrounded the cells but in the middle section where visitors gather is enclosed with two layers of thick, floor-to-ceiling chicken wire.
My heart was pounding as my legs took me up to the entrance with Mils holding my hand. Ga and Bean were behind me, followed by my step-mum and the help. I immediate spotted him in the distance through the wire, about 15 meters away. He was looking at me too. He started to walk towards us, limping on his bad hip. As I walked towards him I felt my years drop away with each step. As I got closer, I grew younger until, when I embraced him, I felt like I was 10 years old again and all I could say through the lump in my throat was, “Papa.”
There were tears. Mine and his. He held me for some time which really only lasted a couple of seconds, but to me it felt like I lived my childhood in that hug. When we let go, he shook me a little and patted me on the back, as he does, to say “OK lang yan!” (no worries) and the waterfall of emotion was turned off like a tap. At least on the surface.
My girls thought I was weird, welling up with tears for no apparent reason all through the afternoon as we sat and talked with Papa. They were feeling hot and bored and wanted nothing more than to be back at the hotel swimming with their cousins. But there we were and there we stayed for 5 hours with their Papang. The little one, being too young to grasp the whole concept was easy to distract, but my 9 year old needed to be briefed. Earlier that morning I told her where we were going and why. She was concerned but seemed to understand when I told her that it was just a few hours of our day while it was a big part of Papang’s life right now. That’s why we needed to be there for him. Both girls did very well and made me and Ga extremely proud.
But you see, the “Ghost” in this story is NOT Papa. He’s very much ‘alive’ and real to me. One part of the ghosts in this story are the buried feelings and memories that recent events have exhumed in me (I wrote about them here). The other part represents a company of men I grew up knowing as tough and invincible and good. They were the marines that babysat us as kids and the RAM “boys” that were our uncles and friends. They are ghosts to me now and when I see them (which is seldom and rare) are like apparitions that at either malignant or kind.
I attended Papa’s trial in the town of Tay-Tay. The prosecution’s main witness is one such ghost. When I saw him enter the court room, my dad’s brother pointed him out to me. Looking upon his face a gush of flashbacks came to me and set me time-travelling again. I remembered being six and him giving me piggy-back rides. And him looking at me from across the lunch table, coaching me on how to keep from swallowing fish bones. He came into our home. He was Papa’s good friend. Mama trusted him. He could lift me with one arm. And there he was, old and gray, telling lies with the same face on.
Also in the court room were two-other ex-marines that I grew up with. They are on our side. By that I mean, they too are accused. When they recognised me, one of them, Jab (who looked after us in Baguio at the Philippine Military Academy where my sister and I spent one summer – a summer we spent bouncing on trampolines, planting tomatoes, playing charades, and watching wrestling on TV), reached over with his cuffed hands, smiled widely and said in Tagalog, “So we meet again! But sadly with these on.” indicating his handcuffs. The hearing was frustrating and stilted but it was made bearable by our defense lawyer the excellent LPK.
I was disappointed that the case didn’t resolve that day, even though I knew that the likelihood of that was close to nil. Still I was wishing deep down that Papa would be sent home for Christmas.
Walking out of the court room, I felt bruised and exhausted. The thought of how it must be for Papa and the families involved (including the victim’s) made me feel sick. In the car-ride home I was nauseous and felt a migraine coming on. But uncle Jed was with me and speaking with him was a balm on my spirit. A real saving grace.
Next….Part 2: New beginnings – The wedding