No Goodbyes

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Eugene and I manning our booth at a company exhibit

I lost a good friend yesterday.

I didn’t even know he was sick. I mean, the last five years or so of my life have been chaotic and that’s probably an understatement.

Apparently Eugene had been feeling sick on and off the entire year last year and finally he got hospitalized in December, even spending Christmas in a hospital room.

He underwent a battery of tests that resulted to three chemotherapies and yesterday, his body succumbed to lymphoma. The cancer has said to metastasized to his brain.

But Eugene had put on a good fight. He fought even when the doctors had already stopped the treatment because he was no longer responding. He fought and at some point he managed to stand up again but sadly, it would never be.

I still remember the first time I met him—him and Bevs, our other friend and coworker—we were all fresh out of college. The three of us all started at around the same time and I noted at once how different the two of us were. Where Bevs and I were quiet and reserved Eugene was outgoing, outspoken, articulate, and friendly.

company outings

First Christmas Party (left photo, Eugene wearing red shirt) and last (right) summer company outing (swimming in Calamba right in the middle of a storm).

Working together coupled with company outings and Christmas parties helped develop our friendship. It was inevitable, we worked in a small company and everyone, with the passage of time, became friends and eventually we called each other family.

@Richmonde Hotel3

Christmas Party ’03 (picture nicked from my cousin, Ate Van)

We worked hard, partied our way out through our hardships and money problems but soon, one by one our peers left the company and in the end, our country for better opportunities and better future.

@Richmonde Hotel whole

Christmas Party ’03 (pictures nicked from my cousin, Ate Van)

You included.

gimiks

At the rooftop of my apartment during two of our numerous gimiks. Me (wearing pink) with Kuya Bogz and my sister Josa, Eugene sat beside Bevs at the far left singing.

You explained to me why you chose the path you chose even though you need not have to because I understood without you saying it out loud. We had lunch for the last time with our other friend and coworker, Pao. We talked about plans, the future, work, about everything and nothing. I realized we were at a crossroads and that from then on we’d seldom see each other again and I was right. Right there and then I requested that our picture be taken, for souvenir, I thought.

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Me, Eugene in the middle, and Pao (June ’06)

Four years later you invited us to your thirtieth birthday. I wasn’t going to show up, but I hadn’t seen you for years, not to mention I gave you my word I’d come so I did. I arrived in your party sleepless having spent the entire night before monitoring my sister’s progress while she looked for hospitals with CT scan because my nephew Jonrae fell down the stairs. And when they finally found one, we had to rush to the hospital to arrange for his brain surgery and then wait, as the doctors performed it. It was excruciating.

But when it came down to it, I was having a shitty year. July that year my brother-in-law passed away due to aneurysm, over a month later I miscarried. So I said, why not? Party? But who partied when their nephew is in the hospital?

izakaya

October 2010 @ Izakaya

Now, I’ve never been so glad I attended your party in spite of my initial misgivings because that would be the last time I see you in person. I went off the grid because my life went even more downhill after that.

In between my and my family’s frequent trips to hospitals, dodging bullets, figuring in vehicular accidents, surviving a miscarriage, operations performed on various family members, my loved ones dying one by one and you being thousands and thousands of miles away, we drifted apart.

I regret that I have not known your pain just as you have not known mine. But I do hope that during those times we were always together, that you have felt my love, our love.

Eugene, thank you so much for lending your talent. I loved going to our gimiks, I loved receiving you and our friends in my apartment if only to hear you and the others sing. Thank you for letting me drag you to sing to my friends Alvin and Yeni’s wedding in my stead. You said yes without hesitations, saving me and my friends from a whole lot of embarrassment because, God, who wanted to hear me sing? Lol. 🙂

One

My favorite picture of us taken during our sendoff for Anj before she left for  abroad. We were playing Alin, alin ang naiba? Roughly translated as: which one is different?

So brilliant and so young; my heart breaks, just thinking about the things you wouldn’t be able to do anymore. But I find comfort in looking back and thinking you’ve done everything you can when you were alive. You lived your dream, you found your love, and you helped your family, made your friends happy.

whole

We wanted to know if other people can pick out which one of us was male because Eugene then sported a long hair while Anj had her hair cut short. I remember wanting to cover my butt because fucking hell, I had a period and I was afraid I may have gotten period stains on my pants. (Eugene and I at the center.)

 

I hope you’re living now in a world without pain. I never said it before but thank you for the friendship, Eugene. WE love you.

I love you.

So long, my dear friend. Rest in peace.

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A card for my sister Ate Mae from Norway with love

Jonina Mae wishcard

 

My good friend, author Jessica Larsen drew this card for my sister, Ate Mae. The flower in the card is gladiolus. It symbolizes strength, sincerity, and remembrance.

Jess sent the physical card by post and it comes with a letter for my sister inside.

Thank you so much, Jess. For taking the time to do this for Ate.

Maraming salamat. Tusen takk.

 

 

Throwback Thursday: To the Greatest Sister in the World

 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.

***

with my husband, Mark; Ate Mae; and my nephew Jonrae

with my husband, Mark; my sister Ate Mae; and my nephew Jonrae

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.

For Jihan, with all my love.

I have a best friend since birth. She was this little girl who lived a house away from mine. We probably even have photos together as babies or something hidden somewhere. And, for as long as I can remember, she would come over our house frequently to talk to me and play with me.

She would talk, and I would listen. That was our role.

Over the years, she would be that girl who would help me do my household chores and help me take care of my sick grandparents. She would be that person who would help me go through my turbulent days – the one who held my hand when my grandparents died and the one who was beside me as I tried to withstand the domestic violence in our home. As a teenager, she would be the one who would encourage me to finish my studies and reach for my dreams.

We don’t really get to see each other regularly nowadays anymore. But every time I stumble and fall, I would remember that small voice of hers. Crisp and clear and confident, encouraging me, urging me, and telling me that things will get better. That I can do this, I will live through this. That she believes with all her heart that I will become successful someday.

My story therefore, is as much as hers as it is mine.

Not every Cinderella has a fairy godmother. But they should at least come with a best friend.

Thank you for being that best friend, Jihan. Thank you for hearing my silent cries. Thank you for sharing my pain.

Happy birthday! ❤

Another Christmas Card!

I received another Christmas card! It came all the way from Canada this time. It was from one of my favorite fanfiction writers in the Naruto fandom.

Thank you so much, Sarge! 🙂

I get so happy (like a kid – smiling ear-to-ear which is actually so unlike me) every time I receive something from the mail. (Yes, because once upon a time, when there was no Internet yet, I was one of those who would write to friends diligently. And yes, they write back, thank God).  Anyway, I miss receiving mails that way so I get all giddy every time I get one.

This card, however, made me extra happy because my favorite writer was thanking me for my support. I was really teary-eyed when I read that part. I mean, I was the one who should thank her. Her works were the first foreign fandom works I’ve read (the very first one I’ve read was Kasumi Hayashibara – a Filipina – I loved Kasumi’s works so much I explored for more and that was when I stumbled upon Sarge’s works). And Sarge was actually the one who got me hooked to the fandom. LOL.  🙂

Sarge, thank you for writing all those stories. You brighten up my day every time you write.  I hope that you’ll publish your own book soon. ❤

Here’s to another year. Cheers! 🙂

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Christmas card and my New Year’s resolutions

I received a Christmas card from halfway across the world (Pennsylvania)! Yay! 🙂

Thank you so much to my friend, Cai, for my beautiful and creative Christmas card! So happy. 🙂 The card’s design coincides with the side-theme of the short story – Coming Home by AJ Matt – that we published recently. What were the chances? Seriously! 🙂

My Christmas card from Cai <3

My adorable Christmas card from Cai ❤

That said, I’m going to post my 2014 New Year’s resolutions.

I know this is kind of late… and I don’t really do this. But, I seriously think that I need it this year. So here is my list:

1. Read less. I read more than what’s in my reading challenge in Goodreads. It said I finished 359 but really, I’ve read more that that. Probably even twice that number. I read fictions and fanfictions until I can hardly see. Like I can’t get enough. Like there’s no tomorrow. I read so much I can’t keep up and search the title or add them in Goodreads anymore.

2. Read more Pinoy works (more than I did last year).

3. Review all the books I’ve read.

4. Write more. Learn how to write. 😀 Enroled in Mina V. Esguerra’s steamy reads class. I really hope I learn how to write.

5. Publish more books. ^_^

My Christmas card from Cai <3

My adorable Christmas card from Cai ❤