THEY KEEP asking me what triggered it because I was with him when it finally caught up with him.
And most of the time, I just shrug the question off, and tell them that, perhaps, it was inevitable, mortality is something we need to confront as we age. But deep in my heart, I know, because I was the first to witness his surrender.
It was early evening, the distinct aroma of escabeche wafting through the room as I, alone inside my own, impenetrable bubble, was hammering away at an assignment from my online employer.
All of a sudden, the sound of breaking glass shattered my concentration. I rushed to where it came from, and there I saw him. The glass apparently had slipped from his grip. He was lying motionless, his eyes empty—and his face that of a defeated man.
From then on, his physical condition went on a downward spiral—it started with his loss of locomotor skills, then his speech abandoned him until, finally, he regressed back into infancy.
My grandfather, at age 84, became a heart-rending specimen of senility.
Sometimes when I looked at him, I just knew that he had drifted to some faraway world. Yes, he would give me longish gazes at times, but I could no longer see the real person inside the stoic exterior.
Prior to writing this, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to write about: I had wished to describe him down to his minutest endearing qualities: how he looked, how he was passionate about World War II and Manny Pacquiao, how very delicately he would prepare papaya slices for dinner, how he beamed with pride when telling friends that one of his grandchildren was the batch valedictorian, so on and so forth.
But each time I tried to search for the adjectives to paint a clear, exact picture of him, I find myself at a loss because, apparently, love is a beautiful abstraction, and words are never enough to describe the dictates of the heart.
But one day, as I was rummaging through his things, I just found myself in tears after realizing how his prized possessions had been reduced to a few belongings he had kept hidden from all of us.
One who was easily drawn to sentimentality, he kept a lot of mementoes in his room. That day, I saw his favorite hammer on top of his drawer, a blue ball cap that was hanging on his graying wall, a Vietnamese hat that my mom got him from Bohol, a solar-powered flashlight that rested on a monobloc chair, a walking cane beside his bed, even empty bottles of menthol rubs spread here and there, in disarray.
And there was the wooden box that he always kept locked, but not this time. I carefully pulled the lid open and peeked inside.
What instantly caught my eye was a packet of papers wrapped in plastic. When I unpacked it, there stared in my face two most beautiful things: a yellowing love letter from my grandmother before she passed away; and the kindergarten test paper, dated 1990, of a cousin that had a perfect score.
Lolo, even when most people think otherwise, I believe you can still come back. I love you, and we miss you so much.
Alvin Clyde O. Gregorio, 27, worked as a copy editor for a market research firm in Cebu for two years. This coming June, he plans to be enslaved by a law school.
By Carlo H. Andrion
AT 20, I decided to have my head shaved. For the first time. And for no apparent reason. I just wanted it, and went through it.
Or, maybe, I was just driven by teenage angst (at 20, still a teenager?). Or it could have been because of a word of advice I heard from a professor: “Try everything once, except incest.” Sure enough.
The barber, Manong Gary, asked me the kind of haircut I wanted. When I asked for a skinhead, he reacted as if he heard a joke. “You’re sure?” Despite resurging doubts about my decision, I nodded.
Manong Gary started with a three-centimeter clipper, then took out the 2-centimeter, and finally the “uno,” which was the thinnest. The clipper made some tiny squeaking sounds which annoyed me. As Manong Gary proceeded, I could feel myself increasingly tensing up, and I didn’t know why. Then it was over. Mang Gary’s next words made deafening reverberations inside my ear: “Your hair is gone.”
When I looked at the mirror, the face that stared back at me was unfamiliar. My best friend Imelda had constantly told me my hair was an “asset.” I felt like I have lost something very precious. I felt like crying. But I managed to keep my composure like a real man.
I went home wearing a cap lest I’d scare the bejesus out of friends I might meet along the way. I myself was afraid of the thought of them calling me “Kalbo.”
When I got home, everyone in the family was upset at the sight of the “new me.”
My eldest bro reprimanded me: “Kung anu-ano ang ginagawa mo sa sarili mo. Gago!”
My sis mocked me “Mukha kang itlog!”
The youngest broke into laughter.
And Mama wailed, “Sa hitsura mong iyan, hindi ka na irerespeto.” She was obviously very dismayed. And I knew that if Dad were still alive, he would have been very angry.
I couldn’t fault them for their negative reactions, though their words did hurt me. Words may not break bones, but they can crush a heart. I slept that night with a broken heart but confident that this will come to pass.
Then Monday came. Long hours of classes awaited me. But what I dreaded most was the moment my new haircut would be exposed to all and sundry at school, and my new look being made fun of. My anxiety was justified. My classmates were shocked and puzzled and they wondered if I was losing my sanity. Some called me “Adik.” Others referred to me as “bagong laya” (just out of prison). And many had their pictures taken with me, with them wearing big, sarcastic grins. Of course, I didn’t want to be the “pikon” and so I played along.
I think Mama is partly right. Some people find “kalbo” ridiculous. I try not to think of this, and I tell myself that what matters more is the advantages a skinhead enjoys. Grooming is effortless—“wash and wear,” so to say. And there’s no need to buy gel. Most of all, this “new hairdo” gives me a sense of freedom. Now I really feel like a “bagong laya.”
I have dared to be different. I have challenged the mainstream. No regrets. I’m still a nice guy. And I thank people who still call me by my real name—not by any other name or “Kalbo.”
Now that my head is shaven, I like it.
Carlo H. Andrion, 20, is an incoming senior BS Civil Engineering student at the Pangasinan State University.
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