I feel like most of our lives, all we ever did was say hello and goodbye.
Amidst all the partings and grieving, we do not say the words but I feel the love.
Belated happy birthday, Ate. For once, I’d like to say it.
I love you.
Though my elder sister and I grew up together, there were many times when we had to part.
The first time was when she graduated from high school. I was nine at the time. She left our small island in Laoang, Northern Samar for Manila so she could go to college. Our uncle—our deceased mother’s younger brother—was supposed to take her in. My sister, however, knew our uncle had already helped us enough, so she went with our father instead. But our father didn’t send her to college.
A year later, our maternal grandparents who raised us, died. They went 22 days apart. She didn’t learn about it at once so when she finally went home, it was already for our grandmother’s funeral. She refused to go back to our father after that, preferring to stay with me so she could take care of me. This time around, I really felt we were orphans. Though I never voiced it out, I was glad and at the same time, relieved she was there with me.
The second time she had to go away, it was because our aunt—our mother’s younger sister—sent her to one of our relatives to become a yaya to our distant baby cousin. That would be over a year later after our grandparents’ death. I was 11.
She came back for me a month after I turned 13. I couldn’t bear living with our aunt and uncle anymore, I wanted out. It was then when I stopped schooling for a year. In desperation, my sister wrote to our father who was then in Alabat Island in Quezon province, and asked him to take us in. And he did.
We lived again together for a few months but our father and stepmother sent her away to care for an old woman that was the mother of her godfather—our father’s friend. For two years we’d write each other, until I left our father’s home and asked her to live with me. This would be my senior year in high school.
We parted again after a year, when I went to college. We won’t live together again until after six years, when she got pregnant with my nephew. The guy left her to fend for herself and their child. I told her I would take care of them but then she probably didn’t want to be a burden to me, so she went to live with our aunt in Alabat, Quezon—our father’s younger sister—instead.
It frustrated me a lot, how it seemed to me like she didn’t want to live with me. I’ve been coercing her and our brother since I was 13—that we live together. The idea that we will be a ‘complete’ family even if we didn’t have parents was appealing to me. Apparently to them, it was not. It was after all, economically difficult if not impossible, for a 13, 17, and a 21 year-old to live together. And so, they would just listen to me rumble on and on and make plans of things that I wanted for the three of us. As if they were just indulging me.
I know deep down my brother and sister were doing just that. Even as I was saying those things, I knew, the things we lost are now lost forever. We could never get them back. Just how the time and love we lost will never be again ours.
But that is another matter for another day.
My sister won’t come back from Alabat until after four years though I did visit them a few times. By then, I had already given up asking her to live with me.
When our father died, I had the opportunity to talk to our aunt alone during his wake. She told me amusing anecdotes about my sister. Apparently, while my sister was under her care, they opened a sari-sari store. It was my sister who repacked their goods for sale. Our aunt related how Ate seemed to count every piece of garlic, every piece of peanut diligently, consistently to the point that it was amusing and at the same time, exasperating.
She felt that way because, you see, it was not as if she would ask my sister why a pack of peanuts have more quantity in them than the rest. But indeed, that is her through and through. Every pack must be evenly numbered, down to the last grain, no matter what that is.
Our aunt commented how the millionaires of this world could use an advice or two from my sister on how to save and earn more revenue from just about everything. True, that.
We were both amused, we were both laughing. I laughed with our aunt for what it was because that is my sister all right
My pitiful sister.
She, who would do anything to ensure we had something for breakfast and dinner everyday when I was in fourth year high school even if it’s just bread.
And so she would count every piece of peanuts if it meant we would have an extra peso for extra bread at night. With her, every cent counts, because it meant I would be able to buy one notebook at a time for the next school year. She had been doing the same thing for years.
To ensure I did have notebooks, my sister would make handmade Christmas cards practically every day of the year when I was in grade school. Come December, many students in our sleepy town in Laoang would buy them so they would have a card to exchange with their classmates during Christmas parties. Some of them ordered in advance and bought a few dozen just for 0.50c apiece. The demand was so high we won’t be able to accommodate every order.
Why she bothered buying me notebooks knowing I didn’t write in them was a mystery to me. Then again, maybe deep down she knew it made me happy, having brand new school stuff every year.
For each day she was with me meant that I won’t have to wash my clothes, clean the house, or cook. Being with her meant that my notebooks would have notes in it because she’d write those for me, do my assignments and draw my drawings for me, even cut my hair for me.
With her beside me meant that I won’t have to roast the peanuts or make the yema I sell to my classmates myself because she would do those for me, too.
My sister allowed me to do everything I wanted to do. She won’t scold me even if she knew I didn’t study every night, preferring to read novels instead. In spite of this, she would still do all these things for me.
She was that sister who would get up with me at five in the morning everyday during my senior year in high school to make sandwiches so we could sell them at my high school canteen.
My stingy sister who, even if we had barely enough money to spare for anything but food and rent, bought me snacks including chocolates for my admission test in UP. This, because she didn’t want me to go hungry in the middle of my exam.
She was not a risk-taker, she was a shy person, but my sister would do anything knowing it was for me. She was weak but she would take on anything and be my strength knowing she was doing it for me: do odd jobs for me, go hungry with me, suffer in silence with me, be brave for me. But most of all, she would let me do anything I like because she believed in me. Even if whatever it is that I want to do seemed hopeless and impossible at the moment.
Ate, I want to tell you that even after everything, especially after everything, that I have not forgotten my promises to you when we were younger. I will make them happen, even if it’s the last thing I do.
And I do not believe I have said the words ever so I’m saying them now.
In the flurry of things, in the middle of the muck that was our life, we didn’t say much, couldn’t say much. We’ve experienced so many things together—some of them way too traumatic and way too painful to write in here—that we do not, could not, discuss our thoughts and feelings.
But I feel your pain.
I feel your love.
Thank you. For everything. For sticking it out. I know I’ll never be able to say that enough.
I’m mighty proud for having you as my sister. Being your sister is an honor. I know there isn’t anyone like you in this world.
I love you.