I begin writing this in my mind earlier — it is 2 a.m., there were six of us that just had a midnight snack and in the car on our way home, my four-year-old nephew Valiant sits beside me. He is an old soul. He has this little red car equipped with a radio and while driving it he loves to listen to a station that plays really old songs. It seems to calm him. That amuses me endlessly. He gets my phone, goes through my playlist, and listens to half of Stacey Kent’s rendition of Manhattan. “For Valiant sleeping,” he tells me with a happy grin. Everyone in the car laughs. I try to make him listen to Etta James’ At Last — that did not sit too well with him. “Duunlike (don’t like),” he says, his thumb nimbly going through the albums in my playlist. I guide him to Ella Fitzgerald’s Baby, It’s Cold Outside, a duet with Louis Jordan. He sits still through the entire song, fully attentive, the adorable old soul that he is, even bobbing his round head a bit on some parts, and I clasp his little hand in mine, thankful this very moment for the fact that Ms. Fitzgerald’s song is all of 2:40 long. It is the longest I have been able to hold his hand without him wriggling it away from my grasp.
The past few weeks have been quite lovely for us as a family. My sister Caren is here with Valiant, and so were Rica (our sister-in-law, wife of our youngest brother Jules) and their daughter, the youngest member of the family for now, Baby Julia. They left already though about a week ago. I miss her, too. I so love the pitter-patter of little feet around the house, seeing toys only little ones play with and a lot of Juliana’s old storybooks being taken from the bookshelves where they were practically just decorative, used again. I sometimes wish my own Juliana were that small again; I remember her at that age. That was back when I was her world and she wanted to come with me wherever I went. She giggles when I tell her this strange thought and ends it by saying the same thing each time: “Just reproduce again, Mom.” If only it were that easy. But yes, a little one would just be oh-so-nice to have and hold. Dear God, when can that be, please?
But for now… where did the time go? I remember myself when I was Valiant’s age, I remember how I was when I was my daughter’s age. Life was so much gentler then. I could turn over tables and chairs and already I had hills the same as Maria’s in The Sound of Music. My male playmates would wear towels as capes and already they were Superman or Batman or, if they managed to get their hands on goggles or shades, Robin. I would put on a crown and gown and right away I was a princess. My girlie friends would get tin foil from the kitchen, fold it into wide bands to be wrapped around each wrist and we could all be Wonder Woman! One time my mom left me, my sister Caren, and our cousin Johanna under the care of her sister, our Tita Liclic. By the time she and my dad came back from the party they attended, all three of us little girls had blue eyeshadow and red lips, and we wore Mommy’s half slips as dresses, our little feet stuffed in high heels. We were showgirls! When we wanted to taste wine our yayas would pick flowers (if I remember correctly they were pink bougainvillas) and use the petals to color plain drinking water. Imagination was key, and make-believe was just as happy as reality. I remember wanting so much a playhouse. Daddy asked the carpenter to build one for my sister and me, this little wooden square that had a real roof, windows and doors. Valiant wants a nipa hut and my sister will make one for him in their backyard. She tells me tonight I once owned a blue chicken. I kind of remember picking one from the lot, calling it mine, but I do not remember it being blue. She says the feathers were blue. The cook used it for cooking some dish one day and that was the end of my making friends with any other chicken, ever. My brother Matt had a little goat he used to drag into our house during mealtime, like a playmate. He never had a name but he was part of the family. Those were definitely fun and carefree days.
I wonder, now, at what point did life get so serious? After college? Did it just escalate and escalate through the years, reaching its peak… when? I do not even know. There are just days when it is so much easier to be a child, or at best even just have a child’s heart — all-trusting, all-believing, all-forgiving, all-loving, detached from all things sad. I thought about the latter a few nights back when I, unfortunately, got dragged into watching The Fault In Our Stars. I say unfortunate, not because the movie is bad (it is beautiful, as a matter of fact), but because it is just oh-so-sad. See, when you are an adult, with responsibilities, work-related stress, TFIOS is not the kind of movie you watch unprepared. The story and the dialogue is so beautiful, in a heart-wrenching kind of way, and the boy… Oh. That. Boy. Adorable. How could he have that fate at so young an age? It breaks me. It is the kind of movie that makes you steep in sadness, one that cruelly encourages you to ponder about all the other sad what-ifs the world has to offer in this day and age. Truly, for me, that day at least, when I was not exactly having a very easy work week because there were numerous little kinks I had to iron out and set in place, watching the movie felt like attending 10 funerals. I had to make pag-pag after. As I was eating quesadillas I could not really taste because Gus Waters was still on my mind. Juliana, on the other hand, gushed about how I should read the book, too, just like she did. After watching the movie and soaking in all that sadness, how can I? That will just be plain masochistic. The only way I got through it in one piece was because I purposely diverted my attention by scanning through IG posts on my phone while the film was playing. Only teenagers can emerge from a movie like that in one piece, the memory of it brushed off and gone by the time they leave the theater. Adults, on the other hand, tend to be less resilient.
They say there is that place inside every person that no one can touch, or put a lock on, much less take away. That place is almost magical, like a fort you go back to for refuge, for some healing, some rest, a defense mechanism for when the day gives you something a little rough to bear. I find that is not always true when you grow up. Because then you somehow unlearn what it is like to believe in magic, you don’t dream as often, and you tend to process everything by breaking them down into real facts. There are times when you don’t even leave anything for yourself, and the only way you get through today is knowing that the same is all that is required of you, anyway.
By the time we enter the village I have allowed Juliana to roll down the window. She and Valiant, sticking their faces almost out but not quite, looking up to the night, the summer breeze rendering its magic on their faces. I see two pairs of round cheeks silhouetted in the dark, Ms. Fitzgerald has stopped singing, I have a few more hours till sleep and right this very moment, I realize just how happy it must be to be a child. I have much to relearn from them. Maybe I can start tomorrow.