by VON ZYRON P. ALIMORONG
“Should I arrive home late, Mother, and see you asleep
at the rocking chair, waiting for summer to come and I
with it—like tantalizing breeze that should pass you by—
then the son’s love will lasso the sun and tie the other
end at the mountaintop, even at blizzard’s birth.”
WHEN I finally arrived home last January—more than a week past New Year’s—it was already deep in the evening. The chill of the provincial breeze was biting my skin, as if the wind itself were sharp and serrated. By the gate was my mother—thinner and far more worn out than I could remember—and she greeted me with a smile. It was a small smile, as if the muscles on her cheeks were too tired to stretch any further.
“Pumayat kayo, Ma,” I remember saying, sorrow tightly wrapping my words. She bent her head down, swung the gate’s handlebar repeatedly and with immense effort, and gave another brief smile—yet this one was so heavy I might have felt my chest compress because of its unbearable weight. It has been five months since I last saw her. I could not remember the day I left for Manila. For some reason, every time I recall any detail of that morning, it comes to me like amateur patchwork—scenes from other memories being stitched together, forming an approximation of what might have happened.
I could not remember how she looked back then, but she could not have aged that much in such a short time, could she?
As words spill out of me right now in my attempt to write this piece, I also attempt to piece together the specifics of that day.
Was she sitting down on the long narra chair, sifting through paperwork so tall I could not see her well? Or was she lying down there? Was she on the rocking chair, swaying back and forth, waiting for me to pack my bags? It was hot that month. She must have been cooling herself down with a rattan fan, with some of its fibers sticking out because of how long she had it in her possession. Try as I might, I could not remember. But I knew for a fact that she bears great vitality, perhaps they were leftovers from her youth, resurfacing only now at old age.
Unlike my words, which I swear are solid objects that I could string together with mastery, my memories kept slipping through my fingers every time I tried to grab them, and it would only take a passing thought to forget whatever it was I was trying to remember.
She was not how she appears in any of my memories. Granted, remembering things as accurately as possible is not a department in which I have that much skill. I am in my early 20s, but my brain might have hurried and aged on its own. Oftentimes, the things I remember most vividly are the distant ones, and the farther they are from the present, the more accurately I can remember them. And in my distant memories, I remember her happiness. The weight that comes as one ages was never present back then.
I was so young, too. In the morning, I would wake up early so as to savor the young light of a sunrise—the kind that does not burn the skin but only warms it. Around seven in the morning, it always passes through one of our windows, and I could see some morning dust dancing in the beam. By the time I wake up, the sharp sunlight would still be there in the kitchen, and I will see my mother cooking our breakfast.
She says she woke up around six, and back then, I believed it. But looking back, there’s a part of me that thinks she might have lied for my sake. I think she has been awake way earlier than that, brooming the fallen leaves in front of the house, cooking, or doing paperwork.
And she would say it with a smile. I would like to think that she does so as not to make me worry that every moment I am trekking through the dream world so carefree, she is out there, washing and twisting our clothes till all the few days old stains perish.
I would go through my day with all the carefreeness and joy inherent to an innocent child, ignorant of the fundamental fact that life can be so heavy that it is almost unbearable—something I only know now that I have grown up. To think that you have to spare some strength just to smile and show everybody that you are fine, it surprises me that everyone has yet to go permanently mad. I do not have that reserved strength even now—the strength to smile. But Mother has been doing it, even in my earliest memories.
No one informed me when I was younger how fast time passes and how short its life is when you have already lived through it. No one informed me that passing through life and only preserving memories, as if they were canned goods you would eat in times of storms, is not enough. I wish someone could have said to me that you have to savor every present, too. If someone did, then maybe I could have said “I love you” when I should have, said “Sorry” when I should have, or said “I miss you” when I should have.
At the end of the day, memories are only hazy representations of what happened from one’s perspective.
Making memories for the sake of reserving them for future recollections is not enough. I could remember all the strength, youth, and vitality my mother had possessed, but what good is the act of remembering? Will she know how thankful I am for her if I attach my thoughts of thanking her to my memories?
Imagine, I have only been gone for five months, and she has become thin enough to make me worry about her health. What good did it do to keep my thoughts and thankfulness to myself? What good did it do to only live through life, turning every moment into memories for my future recollection, and never interacting with life itself? What good did being a passive observer of my own life bring me?
And with such a weak memory, all the moments I did not live through but only remember are put under threat. Perhaps I would only remember how she looked when I left for Manila when I am already old and deteriorating, fixed to a chair for long hours or on a bed, if illness and aging should come hard on me. The memory might come to me like a passing fly that would sit for a moment on my skin and hurry away if I moved towards it.
I wish I could remember better. I wish I could remember more.
Mother, I can only approximate your happiness in my memories now. F