Five Out of Eight

      I consider myself blessed to have been born into a large family. My brothers and sisters amply contributed different textures and patterns to the tapestry of my existence, our lives separate but intertwined by a common thread.

      My mother bore eight children, only five of which lived. The firstborn was named Maria Teresa. The first sign of trouble was when my mom didn’t feel the baby move inside of her for a while. When at last she went to the doctor, he confirmed her suspicion – the baby was dead. They would have to induce her labor to get the baby out. When my dad heard that my mom was in the hospital, he rushed to her side loaded with toys, including a bike for his baby-to-be, only to be crushed when he heard the sad news. We do not have mementos of her, nary a lock of hair, a snapshot or a set of footprints to remember her by. All I remember is visiting her little grave in Pilar on All Saints’ Day, wondering what she would have been like if she had lived. It was only when I became a Labor and Delivery nurse did I realize that there was a co-player in this tragedy: a young woman expecting her first child, carrying it to term, suffering the pangs of labor with the grim knowledge that she would never hear this baby cry. Did she blame herself and wonder what she could have done differently?  Did her Catholic faith make her more accepting of her fate? Back then, there was no support group for mothers of stillborns, no Social Service counseling, no shrinks. You bore your pain and dealt with it. Even back then, my mom displayed an inner strength and resiliency that have served her well through the tough times. Of course, having my dad around made all the difference.

 

 The second child was named Joy Lourdes, whom we younger ones called Achi Joy – Achi or ate being a title of respect we gave to our older sisters. She was the epitome of a big sister to me. She was patient with me and always looked out for me. When my other sibling teased me to tears she would scold them away and coax my tears dry. When my dad, whom I idolized but whom I was scared of when I was a kid, would bark out orders to me like a drill sergeant, I would scamper out of the room to do what he told me, and then realize with dread that I had forgotten what he had told me to do.  I would always run to my Achi Joy and beg her to intercede for me. She would always brave my dad’s wrath and simply ask him what it was that he wanted me to do, and she would do it herself. I guess I must have been babbling with relief each time she did that. It was only years later that I found out that she was the apple of my dad’s eyes and he could never bring himself to scold her and that sometimes he would even scold my brother for something she did. I was not aware of such undercurrents back then but I sure am glad I picked the right person to champion my cause.

      Achi Joy also didn’t mind me tagging along even when she was with her barkada (peers). I remember her in her blue-and-white long-sleeved Stella Maris uniform, long hair parted in the middle, enjoying a nice chat with her friends, swinging leisurely to the rhythm of a lazy afternoon. That she would tolerate the presence of a pesky little sister like me was a source of pride to me, and I always tried to behave my best when I was with them. One time, one of her friends offered me some peanuts.  Filipino etiquette dictated that you refuse offers of food initially, so I declined.  Hunger soon got the better of me and in the same breath, I accepted. Hence was born the private joke “di ko bi,” which loosely translates to “no, I don’t want any, but can I have some?” My sister teasingly reminds me of that incident every now and then. I didn’t mind being the butt of jokes occasionally, as long as my sister reserved a spot for me in that swing. She always did.

      It was a struggle for me later to reconcile this sentimental version of her to the angry young woman who broke my parents’ hearts by supporting what was then a lost cause. She carted away sugar, coffee and everything you could think of to the poor of Ermita, joined anti-Marcos demonstrations that often turned bloody and violent, and in an act of supreme sacrifice, left the comfort of a middle-class existence to take to the hills to continue her fight to right what was wrong in this world. I couldn’t understand at first why she couldn’t’ be like the rest of us – armchair revolutionaries, crying out for justice for the poor yet secretly thanking the Lord above that we’re not one of them (poor being a relative term, as I’m sure someone with a tad more money than me is grateful he’s not me). I longed for the Achi Joy of yesteryears, until it dawned on me that the big sister who reached out to me then and who would have taken the blows intended for me was the same person who was now taking up the cudgel for those too weak to defend themselves, namely, the poor and oppressed. She also had the courage to be a Gabriela Silang in a world that worshipped Maria Claras. Thankfully, we got her back several years later, but we were too grateful to have her back that we tiptoed around her, afraid to shatter the peace by probing too deep and in so doing, we passed up the chance to learn more from her. I don’t know if I ever told her how much I loved and admired her. Well, Achi Joy, I’m telling you now.

      Growing up, Achi Joy seemed to me like the promise of maidenhood fulfilled, but she was standoffish around boys, and attracted them like a silk flower attracts bees. It was no minor celebration when she relented enough to say yes to a guy name Jing. All I can remember of him was that he had curly hair, a moustache, and was about as exciting as stale cereal. It didn’t last. I didn’t thing it would.

      Then came Glenn. Glenn started off like a wish upon a star. My sister and I would just be content to admire him from afar. We both agreed that he was the definition of a dreamboat. He was of slender build, had handsome features, and seemed like a real gentleman. The hitch was, he was HITCHED, to this girl named Neri, who was the daughter of a wealthy and well-known physician inour city. And if that wasn’t enough, Neri was also popular and attractive and accomplished in her own right and was going to be a doctor someday. You couldn’t have picked a more formidable rival. It was a shock then when one day, my sister screamed out the news to me: Glenn had broken up with Neri and was asking her out! After my initial disbelief, I recovered and joined my sister in a laugh-til-you-cry and dance-til-you-die victory whoop, stopping only to recall instances when we had sensed that Neri and Glenn were not right for each other after all. Who would have known that this victory was going to be short-lived, a couple of years, at most, when Glenn bowed out of the relationship, saying that he felt suffocated, that he felt pressured to commit to something he wasn’t ready for, that he felt like he was married to the whole family? We welcomed him into the family and treated him like one of our own, and there he was using that very same reason to excuse himself. Boy, did he let us down! My brother later told me that for a while, he couldn’t pass by Glenn’s house without feeling the urge to throw a bomb at it. I couldn’t blame him. I felt the same way.

      I knew that if my sister were to fall in love again, it would have to be with someone really special. So when Jaime entered her life, it just seemed right for them to be together. Jaime was actually an old flame of hers. He was tall and good-looking with a low-key personality and a boy-next-door charm. They had drifted apart and found each other again, the stuff of which real-life romances are made of. I knew that Jaime would be good for her, and I was delighted to witness their exchange of vows in a very private ceremony. Today, that union has produced two handsome boys nicknamed Yayoy and Job Job, one taking after the Balberan side of the family, and the other, the carbon copy of his dad.

      As for my Achi Joy, she still looks out after me, as this incident I’m going to relate will show: When I first came to the U.S., I had no idea how to cook, having been raised with maids around.  After weeks of eating canned goods, I was Spammed-out, my stomach grumbling and in a state of civil unrest. I phoned my sister in tears, convinced I was going to waste away to nothing in this land of plenty. My sister listened, and calmly suggested that I try to cook. I was dumbfounded. Moi? Cook! Didn’t she know that not only was I a stranger to the kitchen, I was actually considered an enemy, having mangled recipes beyond recognition!  But she never gave up on me. She patiently went over with me again and again the steps to cooking mongo, until even I with my below sea level culinary IQ caught on. I cooked mongo, and it looked and tasted like it was supposed to. I was shocked. While it never did make a chef out of me, at least, it gave me the confidence to go beyond frying eggs and Spam.

      The third child in the family was a boy. My dad was relieved to have a boy, because boys were scarce in his family, he being the only son in his family. My dad, of course, exercised his manly prerogative to name his first son after him, hence my brother was called Gari Gregorio, Jr. I called him Kuya Gari, kuya meaning big brother in Tagalog. As a kid, he had a reputation for being a handful. He was what my mother jokingly referred to as “balad” or “bad.”  He would chase girls around and try to peek under their skirts, among to the things. He was famous though, or should I say, infamous, for biting other kids. My mom would have company over and the next thing you know, somebody would be screaming his head off and the poor unfortunate soul would have two rows of teeth marks on his forearm as a souvenir of the visit. I don’t know if they ever had to put a muzzle on him or tie him to a leash. All I know is I am glad that when I came into the picture, his doggone days were behind him.

      I have fond memories of growing up with my Kuya. We would have boxing rounds with me standing on the bed so I could reach him. Whenever I felt like he was losing, I would pretend to be hurt, and as soon as he had his guard down, I would let loose a volley of blows and he would stagger back in mock hurt. I would be so convinced that I had mortally wounded him that I would rush to his side and cry. Sometimes, we would spend the afternoon outside, staging a mock battle with his toy soldiers. One time, he showed me what he claimed to be a duwende’s or elf’s sword.  Every time I would look at it, I would marvel at the wonder of it all until one day, I looked at it and realized that it was just a jagged piece of broken glass, and I knew that I had grown up. Another time, we had both fallen asleep on the upper deck of a bunk bed.  Sound asleep, I accidentally rolled over down to the floor and got an egg-sized bump on my head to show for my pains. There was also a time when we kids decided to do a manito-manita or Kris Kringle. Being a kid then, with no money on me, the only thing I could give him was a white flower with black ants crawling over it that I had picked from our backyard. For days, no, years, I beat myself up mentally for not being able to give him a better gift. Another time, he was in the hospital because he had twisted his ankle playing soccer. I had brought him a bag of chips to cheer him up but on the way to the hospital, I decided to munch on a couple of chips and another, so that when we finally got there and handed him the bag of chips, it was empty. Another guilt trip! I also remember one time, he was pulling me along in this red Radio-Flyer-type wagon, and we were going around and round this place where there was a barber cutting someone’s hair. It seemed to me that our circle was getting smaller and smaller, and my brother seemed to be going faster and faster and the barber’s toe seemed to be getting closer and closer. We narrowly missed running over his toes by a few inches, but during the last trip, we ran over four of the five digits. The barber gave out this huge yell, and my brother and I ran for our lives with the barber in hot pursuit. Don’t ask me what happened to the red wagon!

        My Kuya was also the one who taught me how to ride a bike. To my then 11-year-old mind, it seemed to defy the laws of gravity for a two-wheeler to stay up, carry some weight, move around and actually not fall. We practiced on this big old bike. He would made me pedal at first for me to get used to controlling the speed and learning how to brake while he manned the bike handles, then later, we switched and I was maneuvering the bike with the handle while he pedaled around. Then, when he felt I was ready, he made me ride the bike by myself, with him running behind me, ready to grab the bike seat to steady me in case the bike wobbled. Things were going pretty smoothly for a while until I realized that he wasn’t behind me, that I had been biking on my own for quite sometime already. Of course, as soon as I realized that, I crashed straight into a tree almost immediately. I only sustained minor bruises, but the injury to my ego was more massive. Later, we were able to convince our parents to buy us a bike, and I cruised around the neighborhood in it. It wasn’t a hot-pink Barbie bike, but it was mine and I loved it. It expanded my world and helped me pass my summer more fruitfully. Of course, if my dad or my Kuya had found out that it gave the guys more reason to stop me and talk to me, I doubt if I would have been allowed to venture outside our fence in it at all.

      If there was a term to describe Kuya Gary while I was growing up, it was a “slowpoke” or “slopot” as my mom would say. He seemed to do everything at a snail’s pace, and that got him in trouble so many times. He would hog the bathroom to himself for ages, and when he came out, he hadn’t even taken a shower. All the rest of the family would be ready and he wasn’t even dressed. There were so many times we would all be in the car waiting for him, my dad impatiently honking the horn and growing madder every minute while I silently prayed for him to hurry up, and he would come sauntering in like nothing happened. One rare occasion, we kids decided to see a movie together. My brother must have beaten his record for slowness that day. Fist, we waited for him in the living room. No sign of him. Then we said we’d wait by the road so that he could just catch up with us. A dozen jeepneys must have passed us by and still no sign of him. Finally, my Achi Joy got fed up and said, “That’s it” and hailed the next jeepney. I was in tears because my heart was being broken at the thought of him being left behind. As we boarded that jeepney, I looked at our house and caught a glimpse of him looking out at us from the window, a towel around his waist. He was not even dressed! I went to the movies with a heavy heart that day, not even comforted by the thought that we gave him a lot of chances before giving up on him.

      I’ve always had a soft spot for my brother. Maybe because I felt that he always got the raw side of the deal, that they expected him to be tough just because he was a boy, but I always sensed the hurt behind that tight-lipped exterior. I always felt the need to shield him…from my Achi Joy who scolded him a lot, from my Achi Ichuk with their cats-and-dogs fight, from my dad whose idea of teaching him how to swim was to throw him in the sea, and most of all, from himself because he could be his own worst enemy. I guess that tough love was what my brother needed, after all, because the “balad” and the “slopot” surprised everyone by maturing into a responsible, intelligent young man. While before, he was so-so with his grades, in college he excelled and was a university scholar, a title that was bestowed only on students with a very high grade-point average. (My Achi Joy was also a university scholar.) He was active with the school paper, becoming and editor-in-chief of Tug-ani at one time.

      He was also active in student politics, even leading a successful boycott against the dean of the University of the Philippines at that time – the first mass action after Martial Law was lifted. He was also the first president of the Student Council which he helped create. He was also the corps commander of their ROTC unit. Even before he graduated, he had a job waiting for him at San Miguel Inc., one of the biggest multi-national companies in the Philippines, which had a plant in Cebu. He could have played it safe and taken the job, but he chose less conventional options. Time and again, he took the road less taken, but since his choices were guided by his personal convictions, he surprised the skeptics each time by coming out victorious.  

      My brother likes to recount his “exploits” when he was “balad.” He would chase the girls around and try to peek under their skirts, not to mention sink his teeth into their arms. He also boasted that when he was in high school, he bearded the lion in his den by visiting a girl in her house while a nervous dad paced nearby. I was too young to remember any of those, but there were two women in his life that I came to know.

      When it came to women, my brother was not the strike-anywhere kind of guy. Even if a girl blared out signals that she was willing and able, my brother would ignore her if he didn’t really like her. He was also not afraid to be a zero in his love life, unlike other guys who would settle for anything with a skirt to avoid being alone on a Saturday night. So it came as a surprise to me when then when I found him juggling time between two girls (actually, three, but I didn’t know the third one personally). 

      The first one was Marivic. She was a popular campus figure. She was smart and attractive. She was also obviously smitten with my brother. I rooted for her, but my brother told me that after visits when he had to step over two sleeping dogs, and had to listen to her talk to her “babies,” her birds, he decided enough was enough and split the scene.

      The other girl was called Marcelita or Mercy for short. Most people called her by her nickname, Inday. When my brother first showed me her picture, my heart sunk. She looked incredibly wholesome and pretty even without makeup, and you could see the goodness of her heart shining through her smile. She brought to my mind images of those girls who were just so perfect that success, money, and guys just naturally gravitated towards them. I hated her instantly. Added to the fact that a lot of intrigeras were hinting that a girl as beautiful as her could never be faithful. I told my brother that I thought Marivic was a better choice over her. He thought about it for a while then told me that although Marivic was very intelligent, her head was up in the clouds, whereas Mercy was simple, down-to-earth and had a good heart. He added that she could be taught (whatever that meant).  

      It wasn’t his words that convinced me though. It was the look on my brother’s face that said it plainly: the poor fellow was in love, and my brother in love was as hard to shake off as a rabid dog latching on to someone’s leg. It came as no surprise then when he announced that they were getting married. By then, I had already grown to like Mercy, especially since she let me borrow her clothes. My then nine-month-old daughter, Chessa, was one of the flower girls in their wedding, and she took her role too literally by trying to eat the flowers at the ceremony. Other than that, the wedding went smoothly, and the reception was at my cousin Kuya Bingbing’s palatial residence in Silver Hills. The whole event was videotaped, which was a new thing  back then, so everyone was a little self-conscious, trying to look nonchalant but hoping the camera would get their best angle. Today, the relationship has endured, and they have a lovely daughter named Gregga Marcelle. My brother proved the skeptics wrong once again.

      I feel lucky that my brother and I live not too far from each other. Our respective families enjoy each other’s company and we like to do fun things together, along with my Mom and Dad and our younger brother, Gregory. Our daughters also found a sleepover buddy and best friend in each other.

      The next child was called Maria  Azucena or Marichu, or Ychu for short.  She was the undisputed beauty in the family. She had large expressive eyes with long straight lashes, a perfectly-shaped nose and a small mouth set in an oval-shaped face that was framed by dark thick hair. I could have been jealous of her, but our four-year age difference made us move in different circles, so this defused what could have been a major case of sibling rivalry.

      I idolized her as a child. I heard about things she did that I wished I had the courage to have done. That she had the spunk to shave off her doll’s hair, put one eye out and transformed a cherub into a monstrosity. That she had enough imagination to put on a cape, pretend she was Supergirl, and jump off our two-storey house. That she wore Mom’s jewelry to school, lost them all, and didn’t flinch a bit throughout the spanking. Then as a teenager, she was fearless enough to entertain suitors in the house even under the vigilant eyes of a strict father and an even stricter brother.  

      We went to the same school, she in high school and I in grade school. She was popular, so I always proudly pointed her out to my friends, while she mad it a point to ignore me. Who could blame her? Not only was I the pesky little sister, I was also a snot-nosed kid with the hems of my skirt either stapled into place or hanging loose. Her male admirers bribed me with candy, little suspecting how little influence I had over their object of interest. I also drove her crazy by copying everything she did, down to having an autograph book like hers with the same entries. It must have been sheer agony for her when my Mom underwent a phase where she dressed both of us in similar clothes.  

      I remember her as sullen and stubborn. I was too young to try to figure out if this was just teenage angst or a middle child’s cry for attention. All I knew was that every time somebody asked her to do something, she would reluctantly unglue herself from the chair, put on a sour face and drag herself to wherever she was supposed be going. This behavior was puzzling to me, because as a child, my elder’s word was law to me, and I obeyed promptly. Achi Joy even recalls that one time, they tested me by asking me to fetch something, and as soon as I sat down, they would ask me to do something again, and again and again, and that I did everything without question until they took pity on me and laughingly let me in on the secret. Unfortunately, or is it fortunately, I lost that zeal and blind obedience to authority somewhere along the way.

      College was a different story altogether. Achi Ichuk, who was a consistent honor student throughout her school years, passed a nationwide NSDB exam that allowed her to go to a university in Manila on a scholarship with paid board and lodging plus allowance. While she was there, I hesitantly wrote to her and was surprised with a reply. That started our correspondence by letters. When she went home for a vacation, I was astounded at what college – and all that distance and time away from us – did to her. She had metamorphosed into this sweet delightful creature, fashionably dressed and incredibly tiny-waisted! Best of all, she had become a friend I could actually talk to and who was fun to be with. When she chose to teach in Cebu instead of Manila, I was overjoyed to have her around. I will always credit Achi Ichuk for giving me “sanity breaks” in the midst of my teen pregnancy and motherhood, and my first years of wedded crisis, oh, I mean, bliss. We would just go off together, just the two of us, have a quick snack and tête-à-tête, then go back home. That gave me the breathing space I needed to go on.     

      In college, my sister met Joel. Now, I know people use the term “soul mates” so frequently that it has lost its meaning, but you will rediscover it if you knew Joel and Achi Ichuk. Never have I known two beings so attuned to each other. They’re both super-smart yet sensitive. They have similar interests and way of thinking. They even speak the same language: numbers. He in Physics, she in Math. And they’re still gooey-eyed over each other and huggy-kissy even after all these years. Sometimes, I read her emails from Australia and they are so perky and filled with wonder over even the most mundane things that I am reminded of old TV sitcoms where dad and mom are always happy and the children are oh-so perfect. And indeed her kids are perfect. Mari Anjeli and Quantum Yuri with their polite manners and stellar performance in school. Well, as they say, “Asa man maliwat?”  Their mom and dad both had their PhDs in their early thirties with top grades.  

      I must not forget to mention that at their wedding, I made a spectacle of myself. My sister made a radiant bride in her long white dress and everyone was looking pretty dapper themselves. Everything was going smoothly and the priest intoned, “I now pronounce you man and wife.” People were getting up to congratulate the bride and groom and I stood up, too, because I wanted to be the one of the first one to greet them. That’s when it hit me – the realization that my sister was going to be this man’s wife, that she would not be spending as much time with me as I would have wished, that this man might take her to go live with him in Baguio where his family was, that this relationship was just going to be a long-distance by-letters-only kind of deal. Then it was like a dam broke, and unleashed a flood of tears. I tried to dab them away because for one thing, I did not want my makeup ruined, but there was no stopping those tears, and I had to sit down. 

      Then I was horrified to feel a sob struggling to come out of me, and another, and I bit my lips hard to subdue them. My eyes by now were swollen from crying. “Get a hold of yourself,” I screamed to myself silently. And to think the whole affair was videotaped and here I am looking my absolute worst! I was finally able to join the last group of well-wishers, although still not entirely dry-eyed, exhausted from my crying spell and totally embarrassed. I felt a little better when I saw my sister was al little teary-eyed herself. Now I’ve heard about people crying during wedding, but this was absolutely ridiculous.  

      My mom’s next pregnancy baffled her doctor. On one visit, he would find the baby’s heartbeat in the lower abdominal area. On another visit, he would find it in a totally different spot. My Mom went into preterm labor at around her seventh month of pregnancy, and she was rushed to a hospital in a nearby city. The doctors were unable to stop her labor and she delivered a baby girl, a stillborn. While waiting for the placenta to come out, out popped another baby girl. The dilemma that baffled the doctor earlier was finally solved. It was a case of undiagnosed twins, one breech and the other vertex.  The second twin survived a mere few hours, having been deprived of precious minutes of oxygen while undiscovered at the moment of birth of the first one. Born in the dark ages with no fancy resuscitative equipment or Neonatal Intensive Care Units, my sisters didn’t stand a ghost of a chance. The nuns at the hospital baptized them Maria and Perla, and they lie in identical graves in a cemetery in Mabolo. 

      My mom had another little girl after the twins, but since she’s so special she deserves a whole chapter. If you haven’t guessed it yet by now, that little girl is ME!

Me with Achi Ychu, Kuya Gari and Achi Joy

      1972 was the year the Philippines decided to do something about its population explosion. Family planning was advocated and the rallying cry was “Tama na ang Apat” or “Four is Enough,” referring to four (or less) as being the ideal number of children in a family. My Mom, at this point, was in her 40s, had her living four kids, and was past her childbearing years, or so she thought, until life sprang her a little surprise. While touring the countryside giving out lectures on birth control methods, she found out she was pregnant with Baby #5 (well, actually #8, if you count the ones who died). It was a little embarrassing for her, I guess, but she took all the good-natured ribbing in stride, and laughingly referred to my brother as “The Accident.”

      I eagerly awaited the birth of my baby brother. In my mind, I had this picture of me leading my brother by the hand while behind him was a pull-along toy. My concept of time was a little fuzzy as a seven-year-old because although I knew my bother would come out as a baby first, I thought that I was only a matter of time before he would be big enough to play with me. At that time, I had a classmate who was so naughty that my teacher said, “Stephen, if you misbehave one more time, you’re gonna stay in first grade.” The thought alarmed me. I told my Mom that day that I was so scared for my baby brother because Stephen would be waiting for him in first grade and who knows what Stephen would do to him. But I was puzzled to see my Mom treating my statement like a big joke. I would lay awake at night, worrying about my brother in my mother’s belly, and thinking about the dangers that awaited him in first grade.

      My brother was born on the 14th of August at Cebu Doctors Hospital. He was named Joseph Gregory III. (When my Lola Ima heard that he was going to be another Greg, she wondered out loud, “Don’t these people know any other name?”) We called him “Totong” or “Gory.” He was cute, with a round face and chinky eyes, and straight hair that curled at the ends. It soon became apparent to me that it was going to be a long, long time before he would do anything but sleep, cry and eat, and Stephen would have to repeat first grade a lot of times before he could be a threat to my brother. My interest soon waned. I do remember my Achi Joy playing Mommy to him and his having a very loyal babysitter by the name of Lucing.  Other than that, I have few recollections of him as a baby.

      When he was a toddler, I remember giving him a bite-sized candy as a treat. He must have tried to swallow it whole, because there he was, choking on it and gasping for breath. The maid and I were scared out of our wits, but in the rush to take him to the nearest hospital, she grabbed him by the stomach and unwittingly performed a Heimlich maneuver on him, dislodging the candy and saving the day. After that, I was even more reluctant to interact with my brother.

      As a kid, Gregory was quiet and kept to himself. He missed out on a lot of the fun that having siblings your own age can bring, because we older kids were born in clusters, while he arrived late on the scene almost as an afterthought. He rarely got into trouble except for that one time when he took it upon himself to remove pictures from an album and “develop” them in our bathroom sink, thereby ruining those pictures forever. Thought quiet, he could be stubborn and was not easily reduced to tears, which posed a challenge to me. We would fight over our TV viewing rights and I am ashamed to admit that I was not above being physical to prove my point. I would also mercilessly tease him about anyone that happened to wander onto our territory, from Pamela, his childhood crush, to Epang, my Mom’s masseuse, to Monching, a gay neighbor who had a crush on him.

      I never realized how bad the situation was until one day, I asked him what he remembered most about me in his childhood days, and he replied, “You were mean to me and I was glad you got married and moved away.” I was so astonished to hear this. I mean I don’t remember playing games with him or having him tag along or anything, but I never thought of myself as mean until he pointed it out. It was like somebody threw a bucket of cold water on my face. No wonder my brother was so cold and aloof. He must have reached out to me so many times as a kid, only to be rebuffed each time, that he finally learned to put up an armor of aloofness to hide the hurt. What made it more poignant was the fact that my parents left for the U.S. when he was only 12 years old, and we stepped in our parents’ shoes in the eight long years that we were separated from them. I think we were guilty of overdoing our roles.  Achi Joy would nag at him like my Mom, Kuya Gary was as strict as my Dad, and I was the “wicked stepsister.”

      Only then did I realize that I had been given the chance to make a positive impact on a young person’s life by being his big sister, and I had failed miserably. There were so many times I should have been his defender and not his tormentor, his best buddy instead of his worst nightmare, but I chose to be the latter. I grieve for every book I could have read to him, for every toy I could have shared with him, for every smile I could have brought out in him. If I could press the rewind button on my childhood years, I would erase all the ugly memories and be the sweetest and most involved big sister as a kid could ever have. Sometimes cruelty can be deliberate or unintentional, a cutting remark or a snub, but always, it finds its mark in the most vulnerable spot in someone’s heart. I cannot undo what has been done. I can only try to make amends. To my brother, Gory, I can only say, “I wish I’d made the effort to get to know you better when we were younger. I wish I could have been the best sister that you deserved to have. I may have a strange way of showing it, but I do love you very, very much.”

      To all those who have younger brothers or sisters, take a lesson from me. God has given you a chance to make a positive impact on a young person’s life. Don’t squander it like I did. It will take a lifetime for me to make up for my childish insensitivity, and that’s what I intend to do. Hopefully, in time, I will be able to give my younger brother what my other siblings gave me: a cache of beautiful memories and a bond that will last a lifetime.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Pena Lynn
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 04:52:59

    Hi Gingging- I chanced upon your blog from Mari’s blogroll. I enjoyed this piece and the others that I scanned through. I didn’t realize that you’re a writer, too. Mari has the gene from both sides of the family. For sure, I’ll check in from time to time.

    Keep on writing!

    Pena Lynn (kapatid ni Joel)

    Reply

    • emmblu
      Apr 12, 2010 @ 07:01:00

      Hi Pena. Thanks for the comment. As I have said before, I am a nurse by day and a writer on the sly. I wrote a lot of these pages a long time ago but started writing again after I found this website which is very user-friendly. I would not be surprised to hear that you and your siblings write. Even back then when Bits and I corresponded, I was already entertained by her witty letters. Mari is indeed a gifted and prolific writer. As she herself stated before, wit and humour run in both sides of her family. Add the writing gene to that. Amen 🙂

      Reply

  2. Czy girl
    Nov 24, 2010 @ 19:18:11

    I LUV IT, CZY GIRL!

    Reply

  3. emmblu
    Nov 24, 2010 @ 22:48:43

    Thanks, Czgrl. This piece has not been updated but most of the facts remain true. You are and always will be the undisputed beauty in the family, second only to me and Achi Joy, of course.

    Reply

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