The number 80
Inadvertently, 80 has become a significant number in my life: It is above the required score for a passing grade; it has the configuration of the sign of infinity; and, when halved, it gives two equal parts. It was also the number I decided to be the final point of my being.
When I was in grade school, studying was farthest from my mind. My interests were romantic novels by my favorite author, Emily Loring. To indulge myself, I often spent time locked in my room because my father considered what I was reading trash. Why something that sends tingles up and down my spine should be condemned as trash by an erudite to whom reading should be a good way to pass the time was, for me, an enigma. I could not yet tell the difference between substantial and empty literature.
As a result of my disinterest, my school rating suffered because I was clueless as to what they were talking about in the classroom. An average of 75 percent on my report card earned a sigh of relief from my parents. An 80 would have caused a grand family celebration. Miraculously, I never got a failing grade that would have required another year of what I saw as inanities. However, as a saving grace my readings, by natural selection, upgraded to authors like Emily and Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, etc. when, by dint of my mother’s prayers and appeal for heavenly intercession, I made it to secondary school.
I was an introvert with very few friends. I can’t say if my introversion was the cause or the effect of this lack. My older sisters were vivacious and popular campus figures with lots of friends; they were the role models I was supposed to emulate but didn’t, so that I felt I was looked on as the family
moron. My interests were somehow different, more of a going inward into myself, a world empty of the frivolities of human interaction. My mother was constantly on her knees, imploring heaven’s intercession, for her greatest fear was to have a daughter end up an old maid.
In college, although 80 was never a goal or passion, I often passed the mark and occasionally got exempted from taking the finals. When a teacher would read out the names of those exempted, I had to check twice to make sure I had heard right, for it was never my intention to be one in a privileged group.
My mother’s pleadings to heaven allowed me to finish my tertiary education, and to marry and have children. As a wife, mother and housekeeper, I can honestly rate myself as exemplary, perhaps even way above my number.
Now, at 86, I have exceeded my point of no return—quite an achievement, if I may say so. However, I am to find out that 80 has its dark side. It is presumed that when a person turns 80, senility sets in, interfering with everyday functions and interactions. I am judged forgetful, absentminded, incoherent, and out of sync by family members. I have lost my personhood and have become a mere point of reference and a convenient “blame object” for those who need to extricate themselves from embarrassing situations. I am without doubt the culprit because mere circumstantial evidence gets one a guilty verdict nowadays.
I belong to a group of octogenarians who have stayed connected for more than a decade, meeting at least once a month. I am tasked to call each one to set the meeting date, time and place of our sessions. On several instances, one or two of us would appear at the wrong place on the right date, or get to the right place on the wrong date. It seems that the general assumption about 80 has some basis, after all.
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Carmelita Roxas Natividad describes herself as a retired mother and active grandmother who likes to write, garden and bake, in that order.
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