Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A requiem for Tatay

This is my tribute to one of the male figures in my life, a little sentimental but every word is from my heart. Tatay, this is for you.

I gazed at his coffin last night and I have to smile while fighting back tears. Our next door neighbor of 27 years (we lived at Fortune since I was five years old - do the math how old I am now), Tatay as we fondly call him, joined our Creator dawn of Sunday. A day after I came home for good from GenSan. It was bittersweet.

The Carbonillas are our closest neighbors - literally since we live next door to them and figuratively because we welcomed each other's family in our respective lives. Back in the 80s, being neighbors meant looking after each other, consciously cooking a big batch of viand to share and allowing them to have a glimpse of the weirdos living next door. Tatay was the typical father - stern and stocky and our interactions when I was a kid was limited to running out of their house the moment he gets home from work. I was terrified of him. Ram, his eldest became my brother's best friend for close to 25 years now and obviously the best man at his wedding last year. Nikko, the middle child is closest to me as I helped take care of him when he was a baby (I was grade 2 when he was born) and became one of my inner posses; he and my best friend would spend time with "the doctor" during the days when I was under his spell. Pyru, their youngest had his own friends but was the one who monitored my blood pressure and gave me anti-tetanus shots when I was pregnant. Nanay was like a second mother to me and Ton-ton. I remember her buying bread for her boys and there will always be extra two pieces for us.

Tatay retired from his job with a soft drink company - it was not the brand I am addicted to - almost the same time I became pregnant with Leia. He would pass by our gate and would remind me to take more walks so I'll have an easier time pushing. He never asked me who the father is, why it didn't work out. He waited for me to be ready to tell him the backstory. All he told me was that I am tough and I will survive.

I would buy softdrinks from the neighborhood store only after checking that he is not outside their house or he will then give me a lecture about sugar and the corresponding weight it will give the baby. He gave Pyru stern orders to monitor and check on me especially when I was on my eight month. When Leia was born, I got Nanay, Nikko and Ram to be among her godparents; Ton-ton got Tatay and Nanay as his principal sponsors when he got married and thanked them for being our second parents when we were growing up during his speech at the reception. I saw how all of them doted on Leia, particularly Tatay. It was also the time when the Lims who lived across the street had Dylan (a month after Leia was born) and we welcomed another household into our little mafia.

His health started to deteriorate but every morning, the two kids would go to Tatay's house and play with him. Poor Tatay had to carry them alternately or they would start fighting for his attention. He always made sure to be fair to Dylan and Leia. He has to always buy two gifts during occasions and two of whatever knickknacks. Tatay taught them how to sang Lupang Hinirang complete with a miniature Philippine flag. He showed to them his flowerhorns and apologized when they died one after the other because he could no longer clean the aquarium regularly. He willingly looked after two toddlers when their yayas need to do some chores. Tatay was like a real grandfather to two kids who don't have fathers.

Tatay - with his little friends Leia and Dylan
I remember one weekend I was home and I took Leia to visit the next door neighbors. While she was busy eating the crackers given to her, Tatay asked me about work. I said it was okay but it's taking a lot of my time away from Leia. He asked me to consider looking for a job in Davao because Leia is growing and needs a mother's care. I felt his genuine concern and I promised him I will. A month after, I learned that he decided to stay at their ancestral home with his sisters to recuperate. Ate Marlyn, from across the street, initiated one Sunday after we celebrated Leia's third birthday, that we pay Tatay a visit because Leia and Dylan obviously miss him. He was frail then, he lost a lot of weight the kids barely recognized him. But his voice and boisterous laugh remained - I guess that's what made them realize it was good old Tatay, way thinner than when he played with them, but it was him.

That was the last time we spoke with him.

He was admitted to the hospital a couple of weeks later. When he was discharged, he went home to the house next door but could not have visitors due to failing health. I could imagine how it must have made him feel to hear Dylan and Leia's voices playing on the street but could not spend time with his little friends. We remained hopeful that he will recover - he is a fighter after all. He said he will try to feel better so he can come to Dylan's pool party last Saturday. Tatay was still very weak he was not able to come.

Yesterday morning, Sunday, Mom came into our room and softly broke the news. Tatay has rested. I was too stunned to even cry, I was just quiet. I have not even told him yet I'm back for good! When Leia woke up and had her breakfast, I took her to the garage, cuddled her and told her Tatay has gone to heaven. She looked at me and started to cry. I comforted her saying that Tatay will no longer feel nauseous or weak or sick - he is with Jesus. She was inconsolable for a good 15 minutes.

That afternoon, we went to Tatay's wake. I looked at him and saw that he was at peace. It lessened the sorrow but I finally allowed the tears to flow. I told Tatay I made good on my promise. I told him I went home for good to be with Leia, just like what he told me. I know he knows... Leia didn't want to look, I asked her why and she told me that Tatay is sleeping because he was dizzy and won't hear her.

Tay, thank you for the gift of your life, thank you for your tough love. Thank you for loving my daughter and her diaper friend Dylan as if they were your own grandchildren, for carrying them in your strong arms and for giving them a taste of what a father's arms feel like.

I am home Tay, and so are you...

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