Juliana just walked in, wearing her red football jersey. I look at her, realize how much she has grown, and all of a sudden I feel sad, lonely, and so much older than my years — all that, all at once. I also feel very tired, the kind that makes you feel emotionally and physically weary in the same measure, as if all the stress and exhaustion since Nov. 8 when Yolanda happened came together in one big fat roll to rest on my shoulders this very moment. I am exhausted. Where did the time go? And I have been so busy since Yolanda happened the days hold no distinction. There are no weekdays or weekends — every day is the same in terms of workload, one bleeding into the next.
I remember the day I gave birth to Juliana. She was tiny, with big, round eyes and I watched the nurse carry her to me as if in slow motion. I remember how she loved to make what seemed like a million little faces. I adored her. We brought her home, her head kept warm in a yellow bonnet and her body swathed in a matching yellow blanket embroidered with tiny flowers. The days that followed were magical. From the moment I knew I was carrying her, my heart had expanded in a way I never thought possible and my days revolved completely around her. I was in love with this tiny being, truly, madly, deeply. So was her daddy, who could not stop staring at her and holding her.
I have been wrestling with guilt for so long now, and it is taking its toll on me. I feel very weepy. To get my mind off things and to make it rest, I wrap a few gifts, pretending the Christmas season is not yet over. I missed Christmas last year. Yolanda had taken over entirely. I work with my hands, playing with wrapping paper and nice ribbons, writing on pretty note cards using a calligraphy pen as if in an attempt to connect to those days when life was gentler. It all seems so far away now, near and yet quite not within my reach still. It has been a tough three or four months. Grace-filled, yes, but really tough, and most probably almost unbearable if not for the kindness of people. I honestly do not think I have been the best wife, or mother. The latter breaks my heart especially, and that’s only because I know my husband is in a better position to understand the demands of the work that I do more than our daughter ever will. She says she does and she has been so great about it but still — the guilt eats me up daily, to say the least.
I cuddled up to her one night, in her room, and while she was half asleep I asked her what she remembered of me from her childhood. She said she liked how I read her many books, Olivia and Amelia Bedelia, among them, and that she really enjoyed the time we would sneak out of bed in the wee hours of the morning while her daddy was fast asleep, transfer to the sofa that was just a few steps away against one wall, and giggle endlessly as we played name games. We would finally surrender to sweet slumber at some point, tired as we already had become from stifling so much laughter. I wept quietly when I heard that. Really, it is the little things that a child remembers and that realization broke some more my already broken heart, if only because for the past year, the last four months especially, I have not been around much for both the big and little things. Richard and I have been so busy. Thankfully, my parents are always with Juliana. But that does not lessen the guilt in any way, and does not excuse my physical absence.
I watch the evening news and I worry about the kind of world she is going out into. And at this point of her life, what memories will she have of me? That I am always on my computer, rushing out the door to make it to yet another presentation about rebuilding efforts in Yolanda’s wake? That I spend my days on the phone, answering e-mails, chasing after more bancas, more shelter kits, more vegetable seeds and livestock to give the people that lost their livelihood? I remember when we would spend our afternoons back when she was a little girl watching Anastasia and the Sound of Music, making scrapbooks, baking pies, cookies and cakes. I taught her how to wrap gifts by giving her boxes of soap to practice with. I have all the little notes she wrote me and her daddy, all the greeting cards she made in school, I remember how she would pick us wild flowers and stuff them in empty milk bottles, and even as I celebrate the teenager she now is, I so miss, very deeply, the child that she was and the kind of mother I had the chance to be back then. I am so busy now, but I hope with all my heart that I have read her enough stories, shared enough giggles, spent enough time with her for her to know that even now as I am physically not always beside her, I love her and I miss her and I think of her always, more than she will ever know.
Little one, do not grow up so fast yet. And please do not fall in love with any boy just yet. The day will come when this workload will ease up for me and your daddy; and then we can begin to have more time with each other again as a family. Please wait for us.
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