Chapter 38 – The Family Holidays
Every Christmas, kuya and I spend it with our mom. It was always a quiet event for us, during Christmas Eve, we would eat dinner with mom and our household staff. Christmas morning, kuya and I would be opening our Christmas presents right under the tree with Yaya serving us our eggnogs. Then we would go to the Church for the Mass.
We would eat brunch back home and after brunch mom would give us an hour to call everyone we needed to greet for Christmas. Then we would all go out, mom would give our staff a day off and give them money for them to spend for the day.
Then the three of us would go to the mall, we were still a normal Filipino family and of course, Christmas meant watching MFF movies. We would watch one or two movies depending on mom. After the movies, we would go shop, mom would buy us anything we want.
I loved spending Christmas with mom and my brother, I wouldn’t want it any other way. It was the bonding time we seldom get because mom was always busy and when we had arranged for a day together, she would sometimes bail on us but not on Christmas, on Christmas we got her for ourselves.
At dinner, my other siblings with their families would go to our house and mom would cook our dinner. There were no staff yet and my sisters-in-law would help and set the table while I play with my nieces and nephews.
The only thing that was missing on my Christmas tradition was Louie and his family. Sometimes, the Salazar family would join us for dinner or sometimes it would just be Louie. Louie never missed Holidays with me. We had always been together every holidays.
Nandito sa bansa yung family ni Kim at nagpunta sila nung party ni mom. Hindi ko sila masyadong naka-usap dahil napagod ako sa byahe ko, kakauwi ko lang din kasi nun galing Tagaytay. Hapon na kasi ako nasundo, sabay sabay kami ng mga kaklase ko.
Napagod ako kaya pagkarating ko sa bahay pinagpahinga na ako ni mom dahil sinisinat na ako. That meant I didn’t join the party downstairs. Umakyat sila Aunt Sachi sa kwarto ko para tignan ako at batiin ako pero saglit lang din yun dahil aalis din sila agad.
Ngayon New Year ko sila makikita ulit, mama invited them for New Year’s Eve. At dahil during New Year kay dad kami, nandun ako kasama sila.
Kakatapos ko lang magbihis nang may kumatok sa kwarto ko, nagpunta ako sa pinto at binuksan to. “Kim?”
Kim stood there wearing a vintage shirt of the Beatles and ragged jeans. I furrowed my eyebrow at him he seemed different. “Hey.” He said shyly. “I came to get you, we’ll be going to the Church.”
“Ah hindi ako sasama sa inyo. Hahatid ako ni Karl kayla Lani ngayon.” I told him. Inaya kasi ako ng parents ni Lani na sakanila mag-dinner ngayon New Year’s Eve. I can’t say no to them after all, they’re Louie’s family.
Dad said I could go, basta daw ay makabalik ako before Midnight dahil nandito rin yung mga aunt and uncle ko.
“I’ll drive you.”
I smiled at him. “Ayaw din pumunta ni Karl sa simbahan kaya mas gugustuhin nun na hatid ako.” sabi ko at naglakad sa may kama ko at kinuha yung purse ko. Pumunta ako sa may desk ko at kinuha yung phone at nilagay to sa purse ko.
Lumabas na ako ng kwarto at sinara ito, nakatingin lang sa akin si Kim. Ngumiti lang ako sa kanya. Pababa na ako ng hagdan nang nagsalita si Kim. “Are you going because you want to avoid spending time with me?” he asked.
Liningon ko siya at gusto kong sabihin sa kanya na hindi lahat ay tungkol sa kanya kaso nang nakita ko ang mukha niya, nawala na yung sasabihin ko. He looked hurt. “Kim.” I started. “I’m not. I’m going because I want to spend time with them. There was once a time when I thought that I would be part of that family and I really want to be there.” I told him.
Siguro mas mali yung sinabi ko dahil mas lalo siyang mukhang nasaktan. “Can I at least drive you?” he asked, his eyes pleading me to say yes.
So I agreed to let him drive me to the Salazar’s place at Tagaytay, tuwing Christmas kasi nasa Tagaytay sila. Bago kami umalis ni Kim ay nagpakita muna ako kayla Aunt Sachi at nagpaalam ulit kay dad.
Tahimik kami sa byahe haggang sinabi ko na mag stop kami sa 7-eleven dahil bibili ako ng paper bag, naubusan kasi ako ng gift wrap sa bahay pati paper bag para sa regalo ko sa mom ni Lani at ngayon ko lang naalala.
Hindi na ako bumaba at si Kim na yung pumasok sa loob ng convenient store at bumili ng paper bag. Nang bumalik siya at pumasok sa kotse ulit, binigay niya sa akin yung paper bag na kulay green at may mga Christmas balls.
Nilabas ko yung regalo ko mula sa bag ko, nilapag ko to at kinuha rin yung crepe paper para ibalot lang. Habang kinukuha ko yung crepe paper ay kinuha ni Kim sa akin yung regalo ko at tinignan.
I waited for his reaction because I know there would be.
“You look so different.” Kim said as he looked at the photo. “This the girl I saw that day.” He added. I know he’s talking about the day he first saw me back at dad’s place, the one. “This smile, I’ve always longed to see that to your face and know that I’m the one that put it.” He said as his fingers traced the photo, his voice pained me and I wondered how many times do I have to hurt this guy beside me?
“How could you say that it’s the same girl? It’s been years since you first saw me.” I said trying to soothe him, even when I know that girl he saw and the girl in the picture was the same.
“I have an eidetic memory, Mary.” He huffed. “I don’t know this girl, only that she was the reason why I believed the nonsense of falling in love at first sight. I’ve argued the phrase throughout elementary debates, said it was only attraction at first sight but that girl proved me wrong. I miss that girl even when I did not know her then.” He handed me back the picture frame.
I took it and stared at it. “I miss her too.” I painfully admitted. It was painful to admit that I was not the girl I used to be. “I guess when Louie died, she also died with him.” I never used the word died/dead when talking about Louie, it just hurt more, this time it seemed appropriate to use the word because the me back then also died, she just didn’t leave, she died with him.
“Do…” he started uneasy. “Do you sometimes wish you could return to being that girl?” he asked.
Do I wish? No. Why would I wish to be that girl when I could wish for something more, when I could wish for God to bring back Louie? And why would I want that girl to come back when Louie is not here anymore? She’s just the reminder that I am still the broken little girl Louie saved.
I shook my head no. “I can’t be that girl anymore, Ian.” I can’t be that girl because that girl was vulnerable, that girl was broken—I’m still broken—but Louie was there to pull her up from drowning too much from the sorrow. So that girl was dependent to Louie. The day Louie left me, I knew I couldn’t be dependent to anyone else anymore, they’ll just leave one way or the other. So I shut that door and locked it with so many locks and throw the keys from the edge of the cliff.
Funny now, I remembered what Dr. Collins told me the first time we met, that one day I will find myself falling from the cliff and I would never pull up. She didn't know then that the keys from the locks that I put on my heart was on that cliff too. She was right though, once I fall I could no longer go back up on my own or even when someone finally took noticed because then that someone might see all those keys beside me and take it.
I couldn’t risk anyone taking keys from the cliff. I threw it all for a reason and that was to never let anyone in ever again. So, I think it would not be too bad if I did fall someday, at least I have the keys with me and no one will ever find it.
I shook my head mentally, trying to go back to the reality. This is insane, one picture just brought back some thoughts I buried deep, to admit even to myself that so many things had changed when Louie left, that I had changed. But I didn’t change, I simply hid beneath the facade I created.
“When was this taken?” he asked, he knew me too well to know that I can’t keep talking about that girl. He knew I’d pulled back.
I stared back at the photo and smiled. It was a photograph of me with the Salazar clan. Complete with Nana—Louie’s grandmother—it was taken when I was nine years old, I just cried and Louie comforted me as usual. “Nine years old. I cried over not having my parents or anyone in my family come to Family Day at school. Tradition sa school yung Family Day pag grade three ka. Epic daw lagi yun. Excited ako kasi naalala ko yung Family Day ni kuya.” Sabi ko, hindi ko na dinagdag pa na nung grade three si Kuya, pumunta sila mom at dad akala ko tig-isa kami ni kuya, naghintay ako sa kanila tas dumating si Yaya. Sabi ko nun, ayos lang may next year pa naman eh. But the next year, Yaya attended mine again. There was no reason for them to not attend that time because Family Day was only for Grade one to three.
Sabi ko ulit, busy lang sila. Ayun din ang sinabi ko sa mga classmates ko nung si Yaya na naman. Pero nung grade three na ako, inamin ko na sa sarili ko, dati ko pa naman alam yun. “Dinala ako ni Louie sa kanila nung tinawagan ko siya at umiyak sa kanya. Nandun yung Tito at Tita niya pati si Nana. Lalo akong umiyak nung na-realize ko na ayun yung isang bagay na wala ako. I can never have a family who could love me unconditionally. I can never have a family period.” I forced the tears that were threatening to fall to stay right where they were, inside my eyes. Silence enveloped us and I knew he was waiting for me to continue my little tale, this was his only way of getting to my head anyway. “Tito picked me up and rocked me back and forth, telling me to stop crying…” —comforting me the way I never was comforted—“Tita was there right by our side and her hands on my head gently patting it and she told me that I have a family in them, I’m part of their family. That family was never about blood, it was about who can love you unconditionally and that was her way of telling me that she loved me unconditionally.” And I let the tears to fall. “Sabi ni Nana, dapat daw may family picture kami para maalala ko lagi na hindi ako nag-iisa.”
I still remember that day, ayun yung isa sa mga pinakamasayang araw sa buhay ko. I was surrounded by people who accepted me and I would never forget their kindness. Si Kuya Drake, kinuha agad yung camera at tripod at si Lani, pinunasan yung mukha ko, si Louie hawak hawak lang yung kamay ko habang nakangiti sa akin na sinasabi na I would always have them—him—in my life.
I brushed the tears aside and looked at the photograph once last time before I’d wrap it on the crepe paper. “I will always remember yung sinabi ni Tita nun, sabi niya one day talagang magiging part ako ng family nila legally. Alam mo yung inisip ko nun?”
Kim shook his head but smiled. “I’m guessing you thought about marrying Louie.”
I shook my head. “Masyado pa akong inosente para maisip yun. Inisip ko lang dun na aampunin na ako nila Tita. Natuwa ako sa inisip ko kaya habang umakyat sila Louie at Lani para magpalit at magsuot ng parehas na damit ay sinabi k okay Kuya Drake na magiging kapatid ko na sila Louie at Lani. He just laughed at me and said Lani, could be my sister but never Louie. Iiyak na sana ulit ako nun kasi sympre bakit si Lani lang pero sinabi ni Kuya Drake na one day, Louie would mean more than a brother to me. To think now, Kuya Drake even at fifteen was always deep.” I chuckled at the memory. I missed everyone, I distanced myself around them since there was no more Louie, I talk to Lani but it’s still different, si Kuya Drake, I don’t even know where he is right now.
“You mean, when you were still a child everyone just assumed you’d be Mrs. Louie Salazar?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I guess. I knew I would be Mrs. Salazar when I finally saw Louie as a boy. I knew that no matter what the future holds for us, I would someday be the Mrs. Salazar wearing the family heirloom.” I admitted. I gently wrapped the picture frame to the crepe paper. “Nung nakita ko yung picture frame sa antique shop na dinala ako ni mom, I knew instantly that the photo would look so beautiful in it so I bought it. It was meant for me but Tita called and well I remembered her words so I wanted to tell her that I’m still part of them, I wanted her to remember that their family helped me a lot during my childhood. That the love they gave me unconditionally is requited.” I explained my gift. Pagkatapos ko itong ibalot sa crepe paper ay nilagay ko na siya sa paper bag. “It’s a simple gift, hindi nga gaanong kamahal dahil scanned lang yung picture pero I’m sure it will be appreciated. It’s more than the picture anyway, it’s about letting them know that the photo helps me get through everything because I know I have a family out there somewhere.”
“I never knew about your past with your family.” Kim remarked. Of course, he never knew, I never told him or anyone about it. I doubt Karl told him the crappy past I had, what my family put me through. Why would he when it clearly would dent the image my family held on for dear life?
“It’s never in the past, if it was then it would mean it stopped from hurting.” Hindi ko alam kung bakit ko to sinasabi ngayon kay Kim, siguro sa isip ko isa tong means to an end. “It never did stop.” I murmured.
Kim looked at me and all I could see was the sympathy I never wanted from him or anyone else. This is why I never did tell anyone, why I put a facade in me. “What happened to you?” he asked putting aside his sympathy, needing to know what could possibly happened in the past that would never stop from giving me pain.
I shrugged. “I got broken.” I said and before he could utter a word, I said the words that needed to be said. “Louie saved me but he’s gone now and I don't think anyone could save me ever again.” I said.
He opened his mouth to say something but then closed it again. He breathed deeply before opening his mouth again. “Louie saved you.” in those three little words held so much emotions, meant so much, he agreed with that I just told him with those three words.
Louie saved you.
I could see that it was hard for him to say those words, to admit that I could never be saved by anyone other than Louie, so might as well stop trying.
Hindi pa dapat ngayon yung oras para sabihin sa kanya yung isang bagay na alam ko na expected na niyang marinig sa akin at tatanggi na naman siya pero alam ko ngayon, he would get it.
I told myself when I was with Allen that it was not just Louie holding me back, it was my sickness and yes it was but Louie would forever be holding me back to let anyone in. To be saved by anyone would be wrong.
Kim would be trying to save me, I know he’s trying. He thinks that he could save me from HCM, that he could save me from dying, he’s trying Aunt Sachi told me how he spend his time in the library and the hospital to learn more about HCM.
Kim’s a lifeguard. He needed to save me but he could never do it. It will just hurt him more to try when we both know he can’t. That not I’d be forever stuck but I’d be dead too. He knew that but he won’t admit it.
He was still living his life through rose colored glasses. Who could blame him?
But I needed to tell him, I needed to stop the pain I’m inflicting. Kim would stay no matter how hard I tell him I’m dying, so the one thing that could make him go is also Louie.
Louie saved you.
Those words would forever be etched to his memory. Hindi man ito yung oras na plinano ko para dito pero eto yung perfect time para gawin to. Habang nasa paligid pa namin yung sinabi niya. Yung kinuwento ko sa kanya. Habang fresh pa ang lahat.
It was really time I do something selfless.
“Ian, let me go and forget about me.”