Monday, February 28, 2011

This is How You Mourn P.II

A year and a half ago during my mother's funeral, my family staged an intervention, my father's spending was out of control (nothing different but this time it was effecting them directly) and they didn't like my father's lady friend. They wanted to run this gold digger out of town. I don't mind hanky panky, my uncle said, but I hate gold diggers. This time around I founnd out she'd been caring for my father for the last year. The former caregiver, an arthritic, rolled-tobacco puffing, cackling but kind older woman told me she was let go for no good reason. Her younger burly, hulking sister (who could carry my mom in her arms) would sometimes come to help when my mom was still around (they were the loudest mourners at my dad's wake. The bigger sister sounding like she was speaking through a megaphone her mouth on the plastic sheath that covered the open casket). People tell me that the gold digger was a much better caregiver, gave my dad more regular baths. It's different when you're being cared for by your girlfriend, my Aunt says envoking the L-word. And other relatives corroborate that in the last year my dad was smelling much better. Even my dad tried to convince me that his gold digger had a heart of gold (why didn't she claw out her own heart then), possibly my age or thereabouts with two children, long time widow. But as my mother liked to say about people she was wary of: she had a face like money.

If you can't laugh, then it isn't truly awful.

A few days after the burial, the gold digger came to talk to me one evening as I was smoking alone on the porch, the cool evening breezes wafting down from the bordering mountains. She gave me all the hospital bills that my Aunt and Uncle had paid for (I had tried to send funds but international transactions are notoriously slow. The hospital also managed to tie up funds by using my dad's BofA checking card and his thumbprint in lieu of a signature. The only money that made it through from my end arrived days after his death). The gold digger proceeded to tell me how much my Aunt had paid for my mother's lot in Quezon City. My father had sold the lot which is near a thriving commercial district in a moment of desperation, his pension and SS money barely covering his spendings (yes medicine is expensive here in the PI but so is killing time when you're old and careless, maybe self-destructive). The gold digger had me believe whether through my own misunderstanding (maybe my Tagalog isn't as proficient as I thought) or maybe her deceit (those crocodile tears--your father left me nothing, she said, how woeful am I, and you even more woeful if I don't set you straight on your father's financial situation.) Long story short, I thought I was in the clear, so I let her have the less-than-one year old car (you should have consulted me first, my aunt said), she left for Manila 5 days after the burial (I gave her more money for gas and food) to see her son off to Israel as an OFW. Yesterday my Aunt returning an equally deceitful gesture called her to tell her to come back before my departure on the 3rd so that I could give her more money (we were on our way to the river for the ritual bathing that marks the end of mourning. After she made the call she stuck her tongue out mischeviously and made a smug self-satisfied shrug.

Converting pesos into dollars makes my head swim, the figures still sound like a whole lot of cash in either denomination. My father picked the most expensive hospital to die in. I've convinced myself that even if the gold digger never comes back, I can pay back my aunt and uncle (who graciously asked nothing for for both the burial and catering services. Although I think this may have been part of the bargain in paying less than the highest bidder on my mother's lot. Sell the lot to me, my Aunt inveighed my father, who else is going to help you out if you're sick or after you die.) with my dad's life insurance and his remaining savings that I managed to hold onto for emergencies.

During my mother's wake my father asked me if I wasn't afraid of my mother's ghost, since I was sleeping in her old quarters just ten feet away from her open casket. I AM my mother's ghost, I said half-jokingly in a moment of bad poetic license, maybe a reiteration of my commitment to materialism.

Maybe I was my mother's avenging ghost when I first spied my father's blackened legs and opened sores (who knows how long it had been that way since he'd refused to bathe for at least the last week) and even though I was horrified in the moment I still let him fly back to the Philippines instead of taking him to a doctor, even though he refused follow up treatments for the arterial buildup in his legs. Maybe if I haven't fabricated this in hindsight, part of me thought, let THEM deal with him now.

My father was in the hospital almost as soon as he deplaned. Even with his gangrene, they managed to save his legs (the angiograms files that for some reason I couldn't send electronically, possibly somekind of anti-duplication measures, I had to send via mail and arrived as late as the money.) My father was in and out of the hospital for a month when they finally released him to convalesce at home in QC, he called me and said he was okay. But maybe a day or so later he had trouble breathing and was rushed to the ICU where a host of other problems surfaced, consequences of the diabetes, enlarged, bi-passed heart and his immune system still compromised from his initial disease that left him paralyzed 6 years ago, the survival rate for his initial sickness being 5 years, he beat the odds if only by a year or so.

Maybe I was my mother's avenging angel (my mother's anger being legendary, throwing over mahjong tables when the gamblers had overstayed their welcome, and this at the neighbor's house) when they called me early in the morning (thank god I won't have to fear those early morning calls that never fail to make the heart stop) to ask if I wanted to continue dialysis. My aunt and cousin both doctors had already consulted and agreed that dialysis was useless (there was already bleeding in the brain, and they asked if they wanted to enlist a neurologist, and on top of this a blood shortage in the hospital). Maybe I was my mother's vengeful ghost, when weak of voice then loudly because of the weak phone connection I said no to dialysis, and no to resuscitation. I booked my flight for two days after and waited for the final call, which came the afternoon before my departure when I thought I'd still be able to make it to the hospital in Quezon City to see my father intubeated full of feeds like something fetid taking root. We'll fetch the body, my Aunt said, just take the connecting flight to the Province.

The gold digger with the heart of gold along with my Dad's nephew/driver and other nephew/nurse were at the hospital 24/7 in the waiting room by the ICU (apparently the homeless and down on their luck are known to sleep there sometimes, recharging their cell phones camping out on the floor. But it was the gold digger with the heart of gold that was there from beginning to end, even when my Aunt had to return to the province because it was the town Fiesta (my Uncle in the last year of his nth term as mayor. And so this is also why the woman they wanted to run out of town a year and a half ago, got her name on the commemoration poster with my father's photo and "Papa ... Your memories is worth remembering" [sic], her name following the names of all my father's siblings (he was the 2nd eldest of 5, the only one who moved to the US) all still surviving.

I am in the heart of Marcos country, his hometown just three towns over. Last week was the 25th anniversary of people power EDSA, but not around here, where Marcos's son is a senator, his daughter the governor, and Imelda is a new congress woman. The morning of the EDSA 25 festivities I'm watching live covereage when my Aunt tells me I can change the channel, we're not interested in that she says.

Today in the car on a drive to the capital, even with my barely passable grasp of the local dialect I get the gist of If EDSA never happened we'd be as prosperous as Singapore, the opposition and current leadership claiming we'd be more like Libya.

Death seems to come in pairs. With my mother there was Michael Jackson. This time around my uncle's nephew. Dead of a heart attack and brain aneurism at the age of 36, found by coworkers in his apartment in Singapore where he was an OFW, a civil engineer with an 8 yo son in Manila.

The Ilocanos must have the most complicated funeral rites in the whole country, customarily a 9 day wake. We decided on 6 days for my dad, what with the 2nd funeral to attend. The widow of the 36 yo should count herself lucky that the custom involving the day long isolation of the widow veiled and sequestered to a corner of the house no one allowed to address her or interact with her in any way has long been fallen out of favor.

Somewhere toward the end of the wake, one morning during breakfast the dogs were barking restlessly in response to the screeching and persistent yelping of another dog. I went out back followed the yelping to where the two sister caregivers were smoking and laughing and saw next to them in a drainage ditch, belly-up with it's paws and bleeding muzzle wrapped in wire a scrawny dog, that evenings offerings for visitors, crying for it's life. Why don't they put it out of it's misery I wondered. Do you like dog they asked. No I said with more than a little disdain. Later that afternoon stepping out to the kitchen separate from the house I catch the butcher cutting up the last pieces, the upper and lower jaws detached but discernible on the pavement next to the bowl of meat ready for cooking.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This Is How You Mourn--Part I

You wait at a 12 hour stop over at Manila airport, after a 17 hour flight waiting for the connecting flight to Laoag. Same layover as the last time I was here for my mother. And now the same things I saw and experienced before don't carry the same poetic weight, whether out of the demistifying effects of repetition, the novelty of first blush. the 8 gate terminal of the domestic wing of MNL the polished white surfaces flooded with diffuse light, the entire space like a long hall or sarcophagus for the serpent king. Like that neurologist that wrote a book consisting of several different conceits about the afterlife, I too had imagined airport terminals being some kind of purgatory, all the souls awaiting reunion/release/departure--(Maybe that's what allowed me to attach an undeserved gravitas to the TV show LOST with it's opening plane motif)but this time around I just saw the leacherous old white men with impossibly young girls or boys in tow and the statement printed on the Immigration Declaration forms about how the PI punishes all forms of child trafficking. You marvel at all the scuba diving, adventure seeking, sexcapading tourists, white, Korean, Chinese, Japanese that weren't scared off by the recent hostage incident where a tour bus was hijacked and 6 Hongkongese killed. Maybe if the overhead lights had worked on the transpacific flight (Sorry sir, we'll try rebooting the system that controls the overhead reading lights, when we stop for refueling in Honolulu), I would have been too weary to read for another half a day.

2. Last time the tome I brought along was Pynchon, a hefty volume, the book jacket with it's august typography and simulated patina of generations of sebum and sweat rubbed into the spine and folds, fooling people into thinking I was reading the Jerusalem bible not some mostly obtuse multi-genre puzzle being at heart a mostly obtuse and arcane treatise on the nature of light. This time around I've brought Roberto Bolano. The cover being some possibly Blakian Nightmare of angels in the abyss, against the black inscrutable forms the red laquered title printed off center and clpped at the spine, rife for misreading. What are you reading Kuya? 666? Yes I am reading the satanic bible. During the wake sometimes I hold the book at a shallow angle if I'm embarrased and feeling filialy submissive, other times held aloft in plain sight, covering my face as if to say this may be paradise, lush and verdant but I feel otherwise, all you other people. An island of horror in an ocean of boredom.

3. With both reads, there were passages at the time-- although I can't recall the gist--that were as consoling to me as Psalms is anodyne to any Christian soldier. In that bifurcating way that you can not tell which is casting the light, the life lived on the page or in the world. Would this still make we want to cry if I had read this in other circumstances. Is it only so beautiful because I need a refuge from all the ugliness. And are even the nightmarish passages something that can buouy the spirits?