The Ice Queen

Bilder von der Polarstern-Expidition ARK XXVII-3 in die zentrale ArktisA couple weeks ago, mom fell and fractured her rib. I was out of town when this happened, so you can imagine my surprise when I came home and saw her walking very rigidly and slowly down the stairs. She finally told me what happened and I wave of guilt came over me. Of course I couldn’t prevent this fall, of course it wasn’t my fault that she didn’t say anything, but I still couldn’t help but feel that way. The minute she told me, I did everything I could to minimize her movement. I reheated her food for her, helped her put her heating pads on, did chores around the house, just anything and everything to make her feel more comfortable.

The next day, I worked from home and my brother, Jr, also came by with my sister in law and their dog to see how she was doing. In all honesty, we really didn’t do much for her. She was able to get around pretty well and the pain meds were starting to kick in. I think the very act of her children being around her, surrounding her with love and support, was enough to give her another kind of healing.

Seeing mom in so fragile a state, it humanized her in a way that I hadn’t seen in a long time. In the last few months, she’s been very vocal about how she doesn’t like how I maintain my relationship with David. She’s under the impression that I spend so much time with him that I’ve lost sight of my priorities. Those exchanges bring out something very ugly in her, and the things that come out of her mouth can be very scathing. But in mom’s current condition of frailty, it’s somehow softened her. She saw how concerned I was, and how I was willing to drop everything for her. She saw and was reminded that no matter what, family will always be first in my eyes.

This past Sunday at church, both she and I were called into spontaneous service. They pulled me from the crowd because they needed another singer, and before Mass, mom was asked to administer the wine for Eucharist because they were short of people. She and I both came to church thinking we would sit together, but we ended up serving instead. I usually never take wine because I honestly think it’s gross, but, it was my mom administering it, so I wanted to support her. (I hope I don’t contract herpes.)

In any case, this whole thing made me smile. Mom and I are so different, but in a lot of ways, I will always be my mother’s daughter. We both seek to serve God by our gifts and help in any way we can. I know they say that you can’t change people, but I have hope for my mom. I know she’s a good person and just needs to learn to communicate better. Last week when I told her I was going up to San Francisco for the weekend to be with David, I was bracing myself for her judgment. Instead she said, “Drive carefully, it’s raining.”

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Whore

women-who-love-too-much

My mother called me a whore.

A few weeks back mom and I engaged in a formidable text war over the course of a couple hours. Ah, text – the passive aggressive medium. I should’ve known not to fall prey to her manipulation. I can’t help it. She’s my mother and as her child, there’s a constant and unrelenting need for me to feel loved and accepted. But in choosing to engage with her, I incurred her wrath and the subsequent name-calling.

It hurt.

In so many words, she accused me of spending too much time with David and used the adage, “why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free.” She thinks that I am way too giving of myself. She believes this is my fatal flaw and that I will inevitably smother David (like I smother all my boyfriends) and that in the end he will be driven to abandon me.

She’s absolutely right. I am too giving, too loving, just clearly too much with the man I love and adore. This is the reason why my friends and family love me, so why can’t you love and accept me like they do? But in her mind, this is the reason why significant others have left me. Some have abused that love and some have downright taken it for granted. Mom is right – who’s to say that David wouldn’t do the same thing?

I don’t know what the future will hold. And I understand that she’s just trying to protect me. But I cannot change who I am. This is how I operate. I’m confident in who I am and I’m putting faith in David and in our relationship. The man who deserves me is someone who will always want to be around me and cherish every moment we have together.

Yes, I am too giving to a fault. If this is what it means to be a whore, then I’m guilty.

A Change of View

D4046B9A-782F-11E1-9A28-D2AD052995DAWhen I had my one-on-one with my mentor, M. Evelina Galang at VONA, I was bout to piss my pants. My manuscript was scattered with no real plot or cohesion. The one story that did have promise was, “A Christmas Robbery,” the one thing I actually worked and re-worked (and re-worked) so that it won me that place in Tayo Lit Mag. I guess it shouldn’t be any surprise that the one piece that I actually spent the most time perfecting was the one that had the most potential.

She gave me some interesting feedback and asked me to write the story from the perspective of the mother. I had never thought to do it that way because I had always been so busy trying to capture it from my point view, the point of view of the little girl, because it’s the way the story has unfolded in my memory.

But Evelina taught me an important lesson in distancing myself from my work. I had been so invested in staying “true” to story that I had missed the potential in exploring the mother’s complexity. No, not my mom’s complexity, but the woman in the story. (Although, admittedly in writing it, I did begin to empathize with my mother during that difficult time in our lives.) In taking this step back I was able to find new paths in developing the character and the conflict that propels her forward through the plot… and I’m still not done yet! Here’s the revision of the story I made while I was in Miami.

I didn’t want to take her into the city, but I had to.  Her yaya fell ill and I had no one to take care of her.  Before the jeepney arrived I slowly bent down and told her, “Huwag mo bitawan yong kamay ko.” She obeyed and took my hand. Manila was dangerous so I pressed on, “If you let go of my hand, walang ka nang nanay.” Tears filed her inchik eyes.  She always did look like her father more than me.  I wanted to comfort her and apologize for my harshness.  She was only 4 years old, but I knew she had to learn.   If she let go, she would be lost.

It broke my heart to utter the words, but how much more if something should happen to her? She needed that fear to survive out there.

We moved quickly down the streets, her little feet struggling to keep up.  I had so many errands to run and I wanted to get her out of the city as quickly as possible.  We were stopped on the sidewalk and I looked down to check on her.  Her cute mouth agape, staring at a banana-q stand.  I wish I had a camera to snap a photo and send to her father.  I asked her if she wanted one but she shook her head.  Her eyes though, always betrayed her.  You could see and know everything by them. I was always at the hospital with J.R’s constant illnesses.  The Philippine pollution and heat were difficult on his fragile body.  Every month he would be in there for a new illness.  I’d have to leave her with the yaya every time.  During those difficult times I would ask her how she was doing and she would lie.  She was so small, but so brave.  She had learned to put on a face for me, while I tended to her brother.  I knew I had to do better by her.   I bought her two banana-q and promised we’d go to Magnolia ice cream shop before returning home.

Paroles brightly lit the streets and this gave me hope.  Soon, Virgil would be coming home to visit and stay for a couple of weeks.  A few months ago, the kids had a small recital at school where they learned “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” It was their first English production.  Ginette vigorously rowed her arms just the way the teachers taught her.  Her sherbet colored sailor dress bobbed on the papier mache waves.  J.R. gallantly wore a miniature navy man’s uniform and sharply saluted the crowd.  His arms were covered in mosquito bites, ones that I tried to cover with makeup.  “Iwanan mo, mommy, they make me look like a real sailor!” I had never been so proud.  After the show I saw both moms and dads rushing to their children.  JR and Ginette could only run up to me.  I didn’t have enough arms to hold them.

Today was a special vigil for St. Anthony.  I had to light a candle for Virgil to assure a safe trip home.  The paperwork never seemed to end.  These 6-month stints were growing more difficult.  When would we truly be a family again?

I positioned my little girl in one of the middle pews.  She sat forward with her short legs hanging over the side of the pew.  The pew was so large, it enveloped this tiny girl.  I scanned the church to see only a few worshipers scattered throughout.  I didn’t want to leave her there but St. Anthony would grant our family special favor today for his feast day.  I needed to pray for us.  Reluctantly I handed her my purse and told her to wait there while I prayed.

The walk down the aisle didn’t seem as long the first time.  I could almost see Virgil at the altar, waiting for me.   I took a padded pew before St. Anthony.   I hated the idea that St. Anthony was the patron saint of the lost.  My husband was not missing, but in those agonizing months apart, I felt lost.  Could I be both mother and father? Was I enough? Ginette was 4 and JR only 2.  Would I lose my family even before we had had a chance to begin?

Hot tears cascaded down my rosary.  And then I felt a tug on my on sleeve.

“Mommy?”

Anakko! Are you ok?” I struggled to stand up and wipe my face with a pano.

She lowered her eyes and faintly whispered, “Kunin nila yong purse mo…”

My heart stopped.  I looked toward the empty pew.  I looked to her small empty hands.  And in the distance, I could hear a rapid click clack of footsteps against the marble floor.  I took her hand and we raced through the church, and out onto the street.

I raced to the Carriedo Fountain just in front of church and climbed onto the edge.  I paced the perimeter of the fountain, feverishly scouring the busy street, searching for anyone with the purse Virgil had given me.  I looked down to my little girl below, fighting back her tears.  What had I done?

I spotted a policeman nearby and explained what had happened, but he hadn’t seen a thing.  It hurt for me to beg for money but I had no other choice.  Somehow I had to find away to get us out of there.  We took the first jeepney to the nearest bank.

I explained the story to the tellers and tried to hide my shame for doing something so foolish.  How could I leave my daughter like that? How could I risk making her lost? Her head hung low all day.  She hadn’t said a word since we ran out of the church.   All the bank employees marveled at her bravery.  I did too.  They all offered her candy but she refused.  My child was needlessly hard on herself.  She needed something more.  I was going to make good on my promise.

We walked out of the bank and down a few blocks.  Ginette’s shoes were scuffed from our tear of the city.  It was much more of Manila than I wanted her to see.

I turned the corner and said to her, “Ah, dito na tayo.”

I pointed to the shop window and her cute mouth opened in awe.  Mango, macapuno, jackfruit, and her favorite, ube ice cream melting before her eyes.

Gusto mo ba?” I asked.

Tears filled her eyes and she couldn’t bring herself to look up at me.  I bent down to wipe them away and took her gently in my arms.

I pulled out pesos from the bank, “See? Wala lang.”

Revival of the Fittest

Inspired by my admission into Miami VONA 2013, I think it’s high-time I get my blog going again. So every day this week, I thought I’d share parts of the submission that basically got me into the workshop. The first of which I kinda sorta cheated on (sue me); it was my winning entry into Tayo Lit Magazine last year. And since it’s the holiday season, how timely that I should begin with it.

Fiction: “A Christmas Robbery” by Virginette Acacio

My earliest Christmas memory is of a robbery.

One December day, my mother took me with her on her usual errands in the city.   Manila is not a safe place.  Whenever we went out, Mom would slowly bend down to meet me eye-level and lovingly threaten, “Huwag mo bitawan yong kamay ko– Don’t let go of my hand. [click here to read more]”