Published December 24 and December 25, 2015 in LOVELIFE of Inquirer.net / Opinion section
The silence of the afternoon brought me back to long ago, when my children were small, when the house was so noisy, when we were always busy in the kitchen, when household chores were aplenty.
How time flies.
Two rings brought me back from my reverie. I ran hurriedly and lifted the phone. It was my son Dondon. I knew he would call. It was, after all, Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2009.
“Hi Don, Merry Christmas!” I greeted him happily.
“Merry Christmas too mom,” he answered back. There was no joy in his voice. Not his usual jovial tone.
“What is wrong son?” I asked with a little tightening in my chest.
Even if your children are married and have families of their own, and even if they live far from you, the presence of the umbilical cord will always be there. Their problem is still your problem, their joy still your joy.
“Mom, Ninong Jess is dead. He died about an hour ago.”
Silence. I could not answer right away. Jess is Pareng Dodong to me, husband of my friend Julie, almost a family.
“How’s your Ninang Julie, who is with her?”
“She is OK mom, we are all here. Janice, John Paul, Liza, and the rest. I’m calling from their phone.”
I heaved a sigh of relief, grateful and proud of my son and his wife Liza. Janice and John are Julie’s kids and the rest meant their other friends.
“Mom? You still there?”
“Yes, can I talk to your Ninang Julie?”
While waiting for Julie, my thoughts went back to the times when we were still neighbors in Mandaluyong; when our kids were born; when our kids started school; and when our kids married.
Yes, our families grew up together. Julie and I, we went thru many happy times and we went thru many sad times too.
I vividly remember this one sad day:
There was a knock on our door. It was Julie. She was crying and between sobs she said, “Mare, can I stay here for a while? I just needed to cry.” We call each other Mare because we are godparents of each other’s children.
“What happened?” I was a little nervous. I never saw Julie crying before. For me, she is as strong as steel.
“It is your Pareng Dodong,” Julie said.
I was beginning to get the picture.
“Well then, no one is in the house except me. Cry to your heart’s content, nobody can hear you cry.”
I let her cry and she really cried buckets. I knew when to keep silent. I just waited. I knew she would tell. True enough, after several minutes of crying, she did tell.
“Dodong could be leaving us at this very moment Mare,” she said.
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“This afternoon when I came home from work, my maid called my attention to so many crumpled papers in the trash can, she said ‘better read it, seems like your husband has a serious problem, he is not himself the whole day’. And so I took one paper and read it.”
She cried again. “Oh Mare it hurts,” she said in between sobs.
“He wrote to a girl that he loves her, that they could live together. It seems like he is planning to go with the girl.”
Did you confront him? I asked.
“Yes of course. I told him if he ever opens the gate and made one step out to meet the girl, even just one small step, he will lose his family and he cannot come back anymore, not even to get his clothes, so he better pack up all his personal things before he goes out. And then I left for here so I could cry. I cannot let him see me cry Mare, I want him to know I am serious and Mare, I really mean it.”
And she cried buckets again. I knew Julie meant it. And then she said:
“Mare, I am thinking of the children, what will happen to them? They will grow up without a father. I endured so much just so the children won’t grow up in a broken home, but this time, I just can’t swallow this anymore. He has to choose, between us, his family, and the girl.”
Yes, I am privy to Julie’s sacrifices for her children.
One day, many years ago, she came to my house. She just came from enrolling her eldest child in grade one and she asked me to keep her child’s school books for her.
“Just until the school opens,” she said.
“No problem Mare, but why leave it here and not take it home?” I inquired.
“Dodong does not want me to enroll the kid in a private school. He said it cost so much and we cannot afford it.” She looked me in the eye and, almost pleadingly, said: “All I want is a better future for my child.” She paused, as if waiting for me to agree with her, then quite suddenly and with a confident tone said, “anyway, I’m sure God will help me.”
Julie is a very religious woman and she said it like she has a direct line to heaven and God has just given her that assurance.
True enough, God did help her out—not only with the expenses but with guiding the kids too. The children finished their courses, got good jobs, and grew up into fine adults.
As for Dodong, well, after that make or break day, I visited Julie.
“So Mare, how did it go? Did he make that one crucial step?”
“No Mare, when I arrived home, I found him on the sala. I sat beside him, he held my hand and he cried. He asked forgiveness for what he had done to me and our kids over the past years. He said that when I gave him the ultimatum that he cannot set foot in our house again, he suddenly realized that he loves us so much that just the thought of losing us already breaks his heart.”
If there is a turn that is more than 360 degrees, Dodong has surely made it. From one who is always absent on weekends, even on special occasions, Dodong became not only a devoted husband and father but also a devout Catholic. He involved himself in Church and community works. Julie could not pray for more.
If only happy endings are forever.
“Hello?” I was woken up from my reminiscing by Julie’s voice on the other end.
“Mare, I am sorry, say goodbye to Pareng Dodong for me.”
“It’s OK Mare. Dodong is not in pain anymore; he died peacefully. The kids are all here, we were holding Dodong’s hands up to his last breath. We were able to say goodbye. He will be with his Maker any moment now.”
What a beautiful way to die: To die in your own bed, with your loved ones holding your hands.
Julie’s acceptance of Dodong’s death somehow eased the sadness I felt.
Years later, Julie and I met again.
Like warriors that had just won a glorious battle, we talked of our grandchildren and how we were able to cope with the trials we went thru in our married life.
“Ay Mare, it was hard. If not for the vow that I made before God, you know, that part about ‘in sickness and in health, till death do us part’? I could have given up. Do you know that just to appease my wounded pride, I would often tell myself, ‘my partner is sick in spirit, I must be strong,” said Julie.
“And there is the love for my kids. Many times I swallowed my pride for their sake.” Then she looked at me and said, “My sacrifices didn’t go to waste, right Mare?”
Yes, Mare’s efforts and sacrifices didn’t go to waste. The dream that she dreamt for John Paul and Janice came true.
“Maybe I didn’t tell you this Mare but there was a time when I went to see a parish priest. My heart then was so full of pain. I desperately needed someone. I do not know how but I ended up in a church.”
Julie never mentioned this to me.
“I am glad Mare that I did, what he said gave new meaning to my sacrifices, gave me courage to go on.”
“What was his advice Mare?” I asked.
“He said: ‘Persevere, for you are the light of your family. As long as there is light, no matter how dark the situation is, the family will survive.’”
“Suddenly I feel so important. I am the light of my family … how important my part is. If I let temptation and lust put out my light, my home will be in total darkness, so I said to myself, I will persevere; my light will guide my children and my husband.”
Then with twinkle in her eyes, Julie smiled and said, “You know what Mare? God never ever left my side; in my sorrow and in my happiness, he is always with me.” She paused as if searching for the right words to best describe her feelings, then she continued. “And at times when I felt like giving up? I could feel Him lifting me up. Mare, He lifted me up so many times. I am truly blessed.”
She said it like she really felt God was beside her. But yes, maybe this is the pillar of most marriages, the secret that keeps it intact: Faith and commitment. Seems like with love alone it will not survive.
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