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Losing Alexei

/ 05:18 AM December 02, 2017

Before journalist-poet-chess whiz Alex Dacanay left this world, I had listed him in my phonebook as “Alexei Pushkin,” after the Russian writer. His wife Barbara Mae is saved in my directory as “Barbra Mi Streisand.” This is my lighthearted way of remembering friends. After all, they call me “Babeth’s Feast.”

Recently I scoured my blog (www. brooksidebaby.blogspot.com) for old entries mentioning Alex. I found three. Goose bumps grew on my arms as I saw a group photo of Alex, the documentary producer Caloy Abrera, poet Jolico Cuadra and myself enjoying ourselves at a garden party of birthday boy Jerry Araos, the sculptor, in 2002. There I was at the edge of the picture with these bigger-than-life men by my side.

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Caloy went first in 2004, in what Jerry described as “a loud clanging of bells and steel” (a freak train accident). Jerry followed in 2012, then Jolico in 2013. I recall Alex issuing a call for blood and financial donations for his friend, the poet, who managed, as his partner of many years Auggusta de Almeidda recalled, to bear creeping Parkinson’s disease courageously without his creative mind sprawling.

After I uploaded that particular picture, Alex, who was caught holding a bowl of greens, posted a comment: “Flattered to be among the healthy vegetables in this friendship salad.”

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One Easter I texted him a corny joke comparing friends to eggs, and he promptly replied: “Scrambled is more like it, but not more than some of our dearest friends. Happy Easter, too, Babethsky.”

When word got around late last year that Alex was suffering from a mysterious disease that was causing a drastic drop in his weight and repeated hospital confinements and surgical procedures, a prayer brigade that doubled as watcher of the sick was put in place. I’d get updates and even an invitation to the renewal of marriage vows of the Dacanays at the hospital chapel.

I couldn’t make it to that poignant occasion or to Alex’s celebration of his 70th birthday. I was always stranded in Baguio for some reason or another, but I kept in touch through text (as if that would assuage my guilt as a friend).

I am thankful to Alex for being among my early editors, the encouraging type, at WHO magazine in the 1980s. He was also my literary editor and would publish my poems at certain intervals. That was all that someone who dabbled with words needed to go on.

We both loved music. With journalists Cristina del Carmen, Ester Dipasupil, Leonor Aureus-Briscoe, Amadis Ma. Guerrero, Fe Zamora, humanities Prof. Felipe “Jun” de Leon and some friends at the Population Center Foundation, we put up the Media Choir that sang at weddings, wakes, conferences, even anti-Marcos rallies. Alex’s rich baritone always stood out, and whenever “The Lord’s Prayer” had to be sung he was the guy for that.

I found out in the end that the underlying disease afflicting him was myelofibrosis, the same bone marrow disorder whose complications did my mother in. But before Mom died, she heard Alex’s voice singing “Our Father” by her sickbed. I remember her asking Alex and the prayer group that visited her what she did to deserve their thoughtfulness. How does one answer questions like that?

Alex raised a similar question while he was on his sickbed: Whatever did he do to deserve to suffer for so long? One answer he got was his illness was a form of grace. It brought dear ones (his children, his siblings and his friends) together. We had separate lives with our own worries and concerns, but because of Alex, we were united. Whether our prayers were for a miracle that would reverse the irreversible, or for him to move gently to The Light, the fact was we were united in our faith.

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When Barbara texted to agree that Alex would make a fine member of the angelic choir, I was somewhat soothed that she had accepted his passing. Then she followed this with “Half of me is gone.”

I was in the bus to Cubao when I received the message. I teared up, suddenly missing the man who drove her uncomplainingly to her official appointments. Alex’s driving was a source of amusement for us, his passengers. It reflected his measured and carefully selected words. Even his editing/work style was described by a former colleague as “speed bagal (super slow).”

Adieu, fellow journo. I will see you again along with the old gangmates who went ahead. Meanwhile, here are words too inadequate to fill up the loss.

Elizabeth Lolarga is a freelance writer and author of “Catholic and Emancipated,” a collection of essays (UST Publishing House).

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TAGS: Alex Dacanay, Alexei Pushkin, Babeth’s Feast
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