Unforgettable: A Memoir

April 11, 2011
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The Last Phone Call~

June 18, 2006, USA — Aleckz’s hands are shaking and are already producing sweat from holding the wireless telephone for too long. She is deciding whether to tell Mama the truth or to tell her a white lie. But if she covers up the bad news, Mama would surely be hurt when she finds out. Finally, she makes the decision not to tell her. So here’s her plan: Step 1) when she gets home from New York, she’ll let her rest first. Step 2) After Mama rests, she’ll set up the table and serve her some chicken adobo with steamed rice. And the ultimate step is 3) hide the telephone from her because she always call her family back home in Manila, Philippines just to make sure they are okay.

She hears a knock on the door: that very same beat that tells her that it is Mama knocking. Her body trembles furiously but tries so hard to calm herself down so that she would not make Mama worried. She finally opens the door. Mama was welcomed by a very forced smile.

“Hi Mama, kumusta? How are you? You must be tired from your work. I suggest that you rest first,” Aleckz says with her still trembling voice.

“No, I have the money already for Cyd’s school tuition. I have to call home to let them know I already put it in their bank account. And plus, it’s Fathers’ Day,” Mama responds.

“Mama, I’m sure the money can wait. Why don’t you rest first and then eat my ‘masterpiece’: chicken adobo!” Alecks says.

Mama walks up to the table where the telephone is.

“Where’s the phone?” she asks.

“I…I don’t know. I talked to Boyet earlier but now I don’t remember where I put it. I’ll just look for it later when I clean the house,” Alecks says. “But for now, sit down here on the dining table. Please, even just one spoonful: eat!”

“Okay! Calm down. But promise me after one spoonful, I can call Papa. They really need the money,” she says.

“I promise.”

Mama eats with hesitation. She feels like there’s something wrong, something missing. She swallows down her rice quickly so that she could call back home. Then she hears the phone ring.

“Aleckz, it sounds like it’s behind the sofa pillow. Quick, that might be them.”

Alecks doesn’t want to give her the phone.


She hands the phone to her but does not let go of it. Mama pulls it so hard but she is too late: the phone stops ringing. Then after the silence follow the sobs and a river of tears.

“Why are you crying?” Mama asks.

No response, just tears.

“Tell me!”
Words Left Unsaid~

June 18, 2006, Makati, Philippines — Jhay-R dresses up in his matching Dallas Mavericks jersey and shorts and ties his white Nike basketball shoes with blue swooshes. His older brother Andrus calls downstairs for Mehl and him to come and play basketball with him. He believes that a breath of fresh air might help soothe down his tense mood from last night’s argument with Papa. He is still arguing to himself whether he should greet him “Happy Father’s Day”. After a few minutes, he decides that he could do it later.

He rushes down the stairs with his Spalding basketball and smells the rice cooking from the stove. It was the usual routine: Papa wakes up early in the morning, goes to market to buy food, and returns home to start cooking. But this time Jhay-R does not care about the dish. Papa walks out of the kitchen.

“Uy, Jhay-R, why don’t you eat first? You’ll have more energy to play basketball if you eat first,” Papa asks.

“Nah, I’ll eat later,” Jhay-R responds indifferently. He says goodbye to him with a light kiss on his cheek; always the proper way to say goodbye to an elder.

“This day is so weird,” Jhay-R thinks. He makes every shot he attempts to shoot, and his trio — Andrus, Mhel, and him — have been winning three games in a row. After the third game, he stops and cajoles his brothers to go home because three victories are enough. But the two says otherwise: they should not waste Jhay-R’s luck and use it to its full advantage. Finally, he agrees to have a fourth game, the last game he promises to himself.
After winning the fourth game, Jhay-R sprints home.
“Why am I running?” he asks himself. He doesn’t usually do this but something motivated him to quickly go home.
The Olivares Street is not far off, maybe three more meters away. As he turns left to the street, he sees a crowd in front of his house.
“Is the house on fire?” he asks himself. To make sure, he sprints much faster than his earlier pace.
He arrives at the gate and goes inside. Suddenly, his eyes go blurry and only hears crying sounds. His tongue is pulled back close to his throat. He tries to open it, but no words came out.
The Witness~
June 18, 2006 — I opened my eyes and looked up at the ceiling. I turned my head to both sides, only to see that I was the only one sleeping. Then I remembered: it was Fathers’ Day. I smelled the scent of the newly-cooked paksiw na pata (pork leg cooked in vinegar) and heard vomiting and coughing sounds (but I ignored the latter). I was excited to greet my dad and so I hurriedly ran downstairs.
I saw my sister Princess watching Mr. Bean. I ignored her and went to the kitchen. There, I witnessed my dad on his deathbed; blood came out of every opening in his body. As he was collapsing, I caught him. He was so heavy that I fell on a thorn-like metal and wounded myself. I gathered him again in my arms.
I sought for Princess’ help, but she was busy watching TV. Then I whispered to him: “Happy Fathers’ Day, Papa.” I think he responded “Thank you” while he was in the battle between life and death. Then, he breathed his last breath.
My brother came in, carried him to a pedicab, and rushed off to the hospital. My sister and I ran so fast to St. Clare’s Hospital, which was two blocks away from our house. I didn’t care anymore. My dad’s breath was more important than mine.
My siblings and I reached the hospital. My father’s body was carried to the emergency room, and we were forced to wait outside.
When someone in your family is at the edge of his death, you don’t care if you look stupid when you walk around in circles while crying incessantly. You don’t care if people look at you when you scream “Papa” repeatedly because all you cared about during that moment was his survival. You don’t care about everything but the time ticking fast as the chances of his survival decrease.
And you never think about the bad memories. You just pray to God and think of the great memories you had with that person you truly cherish.

I remember myself crying at the airport. Mama was leaving the country for America. I clearly remembered her maroon dress shirt and her pencil skirt that Papa probably washed and ironed. I even remember his outfit. It was a striped light pink collar shirt, brown straight pants, and his favorite black pointed shoes.
I remember telling Mama the phrase “I love you” and the word “chocolate” but what I remembered the most was when Papa held her hands with his chocolate-colored hands, which contrasted with her light-colored skin.
“Mag-ingat ka lagi doon. Kumain ka ng mabuti.” “Always take care of yourself. Eat a lot so that you will not get sick,” he said to her softly, while his hands were still holding hers with gentleness.
They hugged and kissed while I hugged both of their legs. Then while carrying her suitcase, she waved goodbye. It was the last time she saw him.
Papa and I cried together that night.
I was only six years old
My dad was not a house wife, but a house husband.
But what does the word house husband mean? If I could describe it in a word, it would be PAPA. Yes, he’s the best house husband, and I think he established the role of a househusband pretty well. He was a former dealer at the casinos in Laos and Singapore. Even though he wasn’t used to playing both the role of a mom and a dad, he became accustomed to it pretty quickly; he grew up in a poor family, where he had to stop schooling in order to provide for his siblings.

Oh, I wish I could explain enough in words about how he worked hard. It’s very extraordinary. He was so different from other husbands: every household chore he did, he did it perfectly. From washing the clothes to ironing the clothes, he made sure that all the collars and the socks were pure white and the clothes wouldn’t have any wrinkles. He also made the best Filipino dishes. Every dish he cooked, you can feel that he really put his effort and love in every spoonful of the dish.

He was strong outside, but there was a side to him that was weak. It was a sign that he was going through something bad whenever he drank beer and smoked cigarettes. Those days were always Sundays, when he listened to his favorite songs like Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”. I liked it when the song started; he would hold my hand and dance with me. And then at nights when the moon was up high, lighting up the pitch-dark sky, I would hug him. I would always feel his warmth from his body and then he would wrap me around his arms and kiss my forehead.

“Goodnight, Cyd,” he said.

I felt secured.

It was 11:45 AM, thirty minutes after we arrived. The doctor came out of the emergency room, saying that it was too late to save Papa. The cardiac arrest usually took twenty minutes. If it didn’t work, it was too late.

“Do whatever you can!” Jhay-R screamed.

The doctor rushed in again to try and make a miracle on the spot. He left the door open for us to see what was happening inside.

I didn’t know what that thing was called but the doctor used it to make Papa’s heart beat again. It looked painful even though I wasn’t the one in between life and death.

He did appear as a strong man, but two days ago I remember my dad taking my sister and me back home to our small town where we grew up.

“We’re going ‘home,’” he said.

The phrase made me nervous.

We arrived there at last. He met with his friends in our two-story house and invited them to drink beer. He also bought pansit (fried noodles) for the kids. And then he called my name. I walked to him and then he suddenly hugged me.

“Always take care of your sister,” he said.

“Okay!” I said.

Then when I walked three steps away from him, he suddenly cried.

“I can’t handle this anymore. It’s too hard. It’s too hard,” he said.

I’ve never seen him cry like that. Countless tears flowed from his eyes.

It was 12:20 PM. The doctor came out once again.

“I’m so sorry for your loss. Honestly, he was dead on arrival.”

Jhay-R punched the wall hard. The doctor’s words struck our hearts and left them broken.

I was a witness to my dad’s death. A death I will never forget.

We went home. His paksiw na pata was set on the table, untouched. I thought that he gave his whole life for us. He truly cared for us, even on his last day. While crying, we ate his last dish slowly, carefully savoring the flavor that he made with his own hands.
My older brothers planned everything for my dad. At least I contributed something to his funeral. I told my brothers that his funeral song should be “Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole because it was his favorite.
Two days after Papa died, Mama came home to see him for the last time.
The song reverberated in my head for several days while my father was in the funeral home.
Then the burial day came.
The remains of my dad were put in a black funeral car. Then, we were on our way to walk to the cemetery.
Unforgettable, that's what you are
Unforgettable though near or far
Like a song of love that clings to me
How the thought of you does things to me
Never before has someone been more
I cried while I started walking behind the slow-moving car. It was raining hard. All the black umbrellas were up. The weather described perfectly how I felt.
Unforgettable in every way
And forever more, that's how you'll stay
That's why, darling, it's incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too
We were halfway there. The raindrops kept falling. The good memories flashed back before me.
Unforgettable in every way
And forever more, that's how you'll stay
That's why, darling, it's incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too
We finally arrived. Even though my heart didn’t want to let go of my dad, I had to. I knew he would be happy in heaven. As they say, good people are not meant to be in this harsh world. I gave him a prayer, a final goodbye, and one last greeting.

“Happy Fathers’ Day, again. I love you so much. You will never be forgotten.”

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