Spaces in togetherness
I can never write about how my father fell in love with my mother. I haven’t seen them kiss, except in those pictures of them smacking each other’s lips on their wedding day. They’re not like Meg Ryan next to Tom Hanks in any chick flick where they portray their less challenging role as lovers.
You can’t compare them to my father’s older sister, Aunt Gem, who, hearing her husband’s off-tune rendition of “Love Will Keep Us Alive,” runs toward her firstborn and says, “Eng, that’s our theme song!” I remember her dragging her daughter in front of the videoke machine beside Uncle Raul, snatching away half of the song from her better half. As early as midday, the three of them regale our tipsy relatives with “I would die for you/ Climb the highest mountain/ Baby, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do.” It’s much clearer to me why her black shirt is printed with large “V” and “E” and Uncle Ric gets the “L” and “O” on his. She might have asked me to put them on Instagram, but I couldn’t because my attention is on my father, who must have taken gallons of tuba because he cries hysterically for no reason.
Mang and Pang never have those moments. They don’t celebrate their wedding anniversary because they got married during the Santo Niño Bula Patronal Fiesta, arguably the grandest barangay fest in General Santos City. Every Jan. 15, you’d see my father in my grandma’s kitchen, chopping garlic and slicing carrots in a crisscross pattern. He’d set up a banquet on her veranda and lift monobloc chairs upstairs, but his favorite task is sharing beer and a small bowl of afritada as pulutan with his cousins and childhood friends.
Meanwhile, my mother stays in our store in Marbel, eats alone, and feeds Melai, Marky and some of her pet dogs. I wonder: If my father revels in the streets of Zone 7, does he think about the time when they tied the knot? Also, in my mother’s solo date with the same (but colder) dish for lunch, does she put one chair next to hers and imagine he is there?
I don’t know their soundtrack, if there’s any. I don’t recall my mother singing, though she always rented a videoke machine on special occasions. I stress that because I get my interest in music through my father, who played guitar during the Sunday Mass when he was my age. A paternal bond is apparent when you see us sing a Cat Stevens during a birthday I share with my twin—only that I take my father’s line, and give the mic to him as the key changes.
Then again, my parents have to own at least one song. They don’t tell me, yet by deduction, theirs could be any of his favorite acts. Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” is less probable, but I have to laugh while thinking about it because somehow, that’s how they are to each other. I’m pretty sure it’s any of the Beatles hits, as there was a time my father boasted possession of a vinyl record of, perhaps, “Rubber Soul,” but it got burned along with his house before he met my mother. It may be “Words of Love,” “Tell Me What You See,” or “Here Comes the Sun.”
If I dare ask them, would they care to tell? I haven’t brought love into the dinner conversation. It’s a phantom I’ve locked up in my poems. Perhaps they’d struggle not to feel seeing me sweat up while explaining my ways on relationships, or confessing how my heart has been shattered over and over again. It’d take a lot of courage to be all giddy before them as I ponder on the wonders of love and, as a result, not get to listen to their story.
But I remember that when our class clown visits our home, he asks my father how he met my mother. My father says they met in a shop where she worked as a cashier. Eyes gleaming, we ask for an elaboration, but she cuts the story forever through her tinolang manok and buko juice that she puts on the dining table.
Don’t get me wrong. I can’t say they love each other less. Maybe the marital bond includes developing a distinct language only they can comprehend. It might be that they articulate their gestures through their silences and stares meaningless to us. It might be that we succumb to orchestrated circumstances that we glean from romantic stories, leading us to believe that love is kissing in public places, giving her a bouquet of flowers of different scents, and chasing each other by the sea, barefoot. They didn’t need to.
When the Prophet spoke to Almitra about marriage, he reminds that there be “spaces in togetherness.” What restrains the intimacy, and why, in marriage, does the bond have to be loose? I look at my parents’ ways and see that they have grown silent not because they’re done with each other. They have accepted that when they decided to get married, things would change. Sons would stand between them. And it’s as though their love for each other transfigured into responsibility in painstakingly raising two knuckle-headed sons like us.
I can’t begin to romanticize my parents’ story. I’d rather pick out fragments of memories that, when put side by side, would make an imperfectly fascinating montage of them.
- There’s a blurred family portrait taken when I was in Grade 1: One night, our mother forced my twin and I to wake up and wear identical barong with our shorts. Our father held a camera, stretched his arms, and took a photo of us four, from the chest up.
- I’d consider boasting that she would always turn the TV off when he starts to snore, and tell him to get to bed and share her blanket. When he gets drunk again, she’d badger him for hours but would still cook soup for him.
- When she lost part of her intestine, he never left her side. In fact, when she was frail after two months in hospital, she asked me if I had run out of clean clothes. I nodded, and she offered to wash them for me when she got home. He nixed that idea, but she insisted on washing the white ones.
- I’m convinced it’s love when my twin left for work overseas. Mang wept on the back seat, and Pang stared at her. The same vibe recurred one night when I was lulled to sleep while hearing low noises from my books and shirts she’s stuffing in the storage box, and woke up to Pang’s footsteps as he lifted my boxes from my room to the car. Then they drove me to Kabacan, wanting to see my new workplace. As I took them around the university, she said her Central Mindanao University is way better in its landscape and building. I knew right after that she meant: Don’t leave us here in GenSan.
- It’s enough that I knew through my aunt that Pang regularly sent Mang flowers before they got married.
And maybe their song is “How Deep is Your Love.”
Kloyde A. Caday, 23, is a faculty member of the Department of English Language and Literature in the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, Cotabato, and a core member of Pangandungan, a writers association in General Santos City.
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