’TWAS the prettiest Valentine’s morning sight: a clump of deep pink bougainvillea flowers seemingly straining to “get inside” the screened bedroom window of my late brother, who passed on five years ago.
Then I noticed how expansive the flowers had grown, pink blossoms beautifully coexisting with the white flowers of the Kalachuchi tree that were planted together with the bougainvillea when we first moved into the house 14 years ago.
The pink and white blooms blended well as the branches seemed to stretch ever more heavenward, with some diverging toward the window where I had often caught Kuya Ed staring out on mornings as he prayed; or simply reflected on a life seemingly wrung dry by heartaches, but nourished constantly by his faith that love is either just waiting round the corner or something one makes.
The pink and white blooms had also formed, five years after his untimely death in December 2015, a thick, lovely carpet on the wooden trellis just below his window. As if a reminder of some other trail he had constantly fantasized about, where a lovely bride would walk down toward him, fetched by his loving gaze.
Happy Valentine’s Kuya Ed! It took this clump of pink flowers straining to enter your room, to remind me that, all this time, it was for you such a day as this was made. Because you had searched for the one true love, in vain, all your 60 years of life on earth, only to struggle with one heartache after another. This day is for you because, in your sadness, you poured out all your love on the ones closest to you—mom, auntie, and us, your three sisters and cousin-sister; and later, your ever-growing gaggle of nephews and nieces.
Come to think of it, most Valentine’s were spent with you quietly at home, us sipping beer or wine which you painstakingly curated because that was your job, after all. We mostly ended up with you on Valentine’s because my husband of nearly 40 years had sworn, on our first Valentine’s as a couple, that we would never again mark the day: all because I failed to fly back in time from a coverage and he, the newly minted boyfriend, waited six hours, flowers, chocolates, balloons and all, for a date who never came.
So I played along with that “sumpa” and we avoided Valentine’s in our 40 years together—avoiding, as well, the traffic, the congested restos, and all the commercial blitz that we felt so cheapened a day of love.
In avoiding mixing with the crowds, we invariably ended up with you, all three of us nursing drinks as we mused over the girls who came into your life but didn’t stay.
We your sisters never quite understood how all this could happen, when everyone could see you were handsome and very smart. You overcame a speech defect to become a salesman – of wines and liquor. Quite a feat, as you were forced to talk to some very important people, and in time became so good at it.
But beneath the occasionally raucous drinking sessions and small parties you liked to attend, always the loneliness was palpable. Was it because you had such very “high” standards of the woman you want to be with, or was it just a case of plain lucklessness? We’ll never know. But one thing we do know—in all the years that the ineffable sadness trailed you, you compensated by pouring out your love on those around you. Like us.
Remember Grade 3 in San Juan? How you looked for Pedro, that down-on-his-luck kid whom you’d “adopted,” sort of, by giving him your baon because you pitied him? Remember how you angrily pulled him by the collar and boxed him, because he called me “pilantod” months after I recovered from mild polio and was undergoing therapy?
Remember second year high school in Paco? When you rushed inside the church, after classes, because an old man had made lewd advances on me?
Remember that serial, bike-riding maniac on Fabie Estate, who liked to prey on women out to buy pan de sal on early mornings? Hmmmm….was that daddy’s air gun you took out to chase the guy?
I don’t know why it was that you were always the one who happened to be there in your sisters’ moments of distress, but I thank God forever you were there. Through all the years you became cranky, occasionally hard to understand, the love and protection you were so quick to provide us always served like a lifetime “pass” for all the imperfections. And yet, it was our tragedy that we failed to see really up close how the sadness was eating you up, perhaps making it so much easier for you to rationalize, unconsciously, not giving your health more serious attention.
Maybe if we had looked more closely, maybe you’d be around still this Valentine’s sipping beer with me and hubby, an unlikely trio of souls happy enough to just stare at pink flowers seemingly aching to “gatecrash” our small party.
Maybe…but regrets should have no room in this conversation, only the joy arising from a certainty that once we had such a fine earthly companion who loved us, in his own way, though the love he wanted kept eluding him. The calendar on your bedroom has remained, five years later, on the day you last crossed out that fateful day in December, just a few days before Christmas and your birthday. We will always keep it there, with your “XXXXX” and all, to remind us that, like the flowers, life goes on as seasons change, with the one immutable thing called love as our only reason for being. Be happy with God, my Kuya Valentine.Image credits: Chuchay Molina-Fernandez