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I Hate Filipino Culture -Society/Politics

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

When the Lion shed its mane

As if pressing the fast forward button on the remote, one moment you’re in a doctor’s clinic for a check up, looking at other patients in the queue in more advanced stages of the disease and getting a glimpse the immediate future through them. The next moment, you’re there, in your own future, seeing what you saw then but this time from a more intimate perspective. The transition from the then to the now is so abrupt that the mind seems to have omitted the in-between stages. It almost feels like I had time traveled.

It's december 27th, just two days after christmas. I’ve been staring at this bed for a while now. It’s a standard hospital bed with a cream colored frame draped in white sheets. It’s an otherwise ordinary bed but it is of particular interest to me because there’s this question that’s been lingering in my head. Is this going to be the bed, the one that he will last lay down on? The “death bed as they call it.”

It was almost 4 years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer. He was only given 6 months by his doctors. If you saw him a month ago, you’d think that he was openly mocking his death sentence. Apart from a fist–sized lump that was growing on his abdomen, he looked healthy. He was mobile, He went to the nearby mall regularly to buy his supplements. It almost seemed as if time was of abundance.

The decline of his health in the last few days was so sudden that I didn’t realize what was happening until it hit me in the face -It felt like being slapped out of a dream where cancer was nothing but an overgrown pimple that won't go away and waking up to reality, staring down cancer's unmasked face. Its grotesque features in plain view. His long period of good health has lulled us into a false state of security. It is like how you see it in the movies after all. I first realized that something was wrong when Christmas eve came and he wasn’t at the dinner table with us.  We always spent Christmas together having noche buena at the same table. We don't have a lot of traditions. This is one of the few and we never missed a single one. I didn't realize how bad it was until the day after Christmas. He was very weak. He wasn't eating, His face was gaunt, his muscles have wasted away. I'm not sure if he really lost that much weight in 2 days or i just didn't pay that much attention bef
ore to notice it.

And that's how he ended up in this hospital room lying on this cream colored hospital bed with a permanent look of discomfort on his face. It’s strange to see him like this. Whenever I would access an image of him in my memory when he was still healthy, I’d see him standing straight and proud with a somewhat arrogant look on his face. He was 5’9, almost the same height as me and just slightly taller than the average well-fed Filipino but people often described him as a “big man”. His aura greatly exceeded his bodily dimensions. He was like a protagonist from an Ayn Rand novel. idealistic to a fault, he will see the world burn before he backs down on his views.  You could never reason with him. If you disagreed with this viewpoint, you’re wrong… because he was always right.  He had the voice to go with his personality. He had a deep booming voice that he would use with reckless abandon whenever he would lose his temper. He never hurt anyone physically. I don't even remember him cussing at us but he was very imposing in every way. A "no" coming from him is like a no coming from an average person -but raised to the 10th power. As an adult, he’s the only person in the world that I still fear. For most of my life, it was also his opinion of me that mattered the most. It can leave indelible stains on your psyche if the person you want approval from the most is as critical and volatile as he was. Overtime you instinctively and subconsciously clam up. You tend to overthink before saying things for fear that you may say something wrong.

The people that he looked up to were the great military leaders of history. Napoleon, Genghis khan. He relished challenges and whenever he encountered one that was worthy of his time, he not only tried to overcome it, he waged war on it. "War" is not a word that i choose for artistic reasons, it's a word that he uses a lot himself. "Business is like war" he used to say. He came from humble roots. He built up his fish business from scratch. By the time I was born or shortly after, he had a fleet of trucks and a flourishing business. I was also very young when that business went bankrupt. I don't know if it was poverty that we went through after the bankruptcy but there was a very significant change in our lifestyle. I remember crying when he sold his Mitsubishi lambda coupe, which he often describes as "the 2nd most expensive Mitsubishi that you could buy at the time". We had to move out of metro manila. I spent at least one christmas looking at my cousins with an envious eye because they got toys for christmas and i didnt. He had to go away for a while to restart the business. It was the first time that i was separated from him and I remember how traumatic that was for me. I thought that he had left us for good. That didn't last very long. He was able to restart the business from scratch and it prospered again. He'd often talk about the past. He'd tell the same stories over and over, the way older people usually do, A lot of his stories would begin with: "back in nineteen ninety five...., "back in two zero zero six...". He would tell us about how prosperous the business was, how many trucks he had. . He has every right to be proud. Most people can’t even get out of poverty once. He started from scratch and did it twice. In my young eyes, he was an unstoppable warrior general. whatever he declared war on, he conquered. He almost seemed invincible.

He was a product of a different era and he never went out enough or interacted with enough people to realize that the world has changed around him. He's a man who expects perfection in an imperfect world. He has unusually high expectations of people. He expects his ”batos” (manual laborers) to score well on his IQ tests and speak acceptable english. The average minimum wage laborer during his time was smarter and could speak better english, I guess. Nowadays, you can't even expect college graduates in the country to have decent grammar. Most employers would probably require health tests or tests of physical strength from their manual laborers but intelligence is very important to him. He seeks for it in every person he interacts with and if that person doesn't possess it, he better be prepared to be ridiculed. He expects other people's actions to be well thought out and doesn't seem to get the fact that sometimes people sometimes do things because they feel like it or because they just randomly thought about it. He doesn’t have friends. Not only does this not bother him, I’m not sure if he even realizes it. The people he interacts with are his employees, us, people whom he probably sees as his subordinates. He doesn’t have an “equal” that he talks to on a regular basis, no one to criticize him, no one to tell him that he's wrong. Maybe he prefers it that way. It's a social landscape that he intentionally or unintentionally created himself by making himself absolute authority on everything.

He has explosive outbursts of anger but most of the time he was a very kind and selfless man. He would put the welfare of others, especially his family, over his own. He bought me all the books and toys that I wanted growing up. He was very supportive of my interests. When I displayed interest in art, he hired an art tutor for me and bought me painting materials. When I expressed interest in playing the piano, he  bought a piano and hired a piano tutor. he bought me monthly issues of scientific american and discover magazine because i loved science so much. He didn't drink, never smoked, never gambled. His only vice was his books. he has more than 16 bookshelves at home, each of which is taller than me. some racks have two rows of books. and he still has stacks of books in his room that his bookshelves can no longer accommodate. We have more books and magazines than your  average books for less branch. 

He has fought a lot of wars but his greatest battle is with cancer, a war that he has been waging for 4 years now. It started on his liver. It grew very slowly initially. He didn't just see one doctor. He saw multiple doctors --and this is probably one case where one or a few heads is better than a dozen. Some doctors were for surgery, some thought that it would only shorten his life.We weren't sure which one to follow. Eventually as the tumors grew in size and number all the doctors agreed that nothing could be done. But he was unfazed. He declared war on cancer and he chose the path of alternative medicine. He did exhaustive research on alternative protocols. In the end he probably knew as much if not more about alternative medicine than some of the alternative healers that we went to. We'd go to an alternative medicine healer for a consultation but he would end up debating with or lecturing the healer about a new alternative protocol that he read about. I've lost count of how many different supplements he takes every day. He knows the ingredients of each by heart and he knows what each ingredient is supposed to do. Because of how slowly his cancer was progressing, it seemed to a lot of people, including some of his doctors that what he's doing was working. He was only supposed to last 6 months, He had almost 4 years of good health.

Being a science enthusiast my entire life, I never thought that I’d take alternative healers seriously but I learned to have an open mind when he got sick. I don’t care how much of an atheist or science proponent you claim to be, if you’ve ever been in the same situation, you’d know that hope is the last thing that you would want to take away from a person who’s been completely stripped of it, even if that hope comes from non-scientifically approved sources. When doctors say there is no hope, you’d want someone to tell him that that is not true and you’d want him to believe it, even if you don’t. There was one thing though that an alternative healer said to him that was particularly poignant to me. That healer said “Cancer gives you the gift of time.” There are many ways to pass on: a car accident, a heart attack, a stroke, a gunshot wound to the head -all of which would probably kill you before you could decide what color you want your casket to be. Cancer gives you time to prepare for what’s coming, to decide on your legacy. The downside is that you get to see yourself waste away. Those closest to you won’t get pain and heartache in one lump sum, they will pay it on an installment basis which means less pain per annum on average …but maybe if you add it all up, there’s some interest to pay.


He already wants to go home. We’ve only been in this hospital room for 2 days. We're waiting for the doctor's clearance which they were hesitant to give right away. The doctor wanted to perform a battery of tests on him which he will have none of. Perhaps it’s his way of spitting on conventional medicine that has given up on him, I thought. And then he makes his position clear.

“What for?” he says.
“I’ll take the tests and then what?”
“I’ve fought a long and hard battle but the time for battle is long over. I want to go home.”

He has finally given up.

As the once invincible and infallible warrior general lays down his arms, tears well up my eyes. Tears well up my eyes as i see the fire get extinguished in his. Hope is not an inexhaustible resource even a man like him.

This cream colored hospital bed that I had been looking at, it's not going to be the bed. He won't give it that privilege. If he cant choose the when, he will at least choose the where. He will leave it with blood still flowing through his veins and air being pumped in and out of his lungs ...but I witnessed part of him die on that bed today -The warrior that i feared and loved as a child.

I mourn for each faculty that he loses, he loses one after the other almost on a daily basis. -His capability to eat solid food, His ability to clean himself, his capability to move under his own power... I mourn because i know that whatever faculty he loses, he loses permanently. As the days go by, part of him fades away. He's not going to get better. It's a downward spiral from here until there's nothing left of the man that i knew. except for the memories of who he was.

He wrote a book titled "Against the Gods". He wrote the outline of the story when he was young and idealistic, He finished writing it just recently at the twilight of his life, at the mercy of his disease. I understand that he changed the story as his philosophies in life changed. If i'm not mistaken, it was initially about conquering fate. then it became about fighting the hand of fate but in the end falling helpless against it. Maybe he saw himself in the main character but it wasn't supposed to be an autobiography. The irony was that, metaphorically, it sort of became one

I've never had a proper conversation with him. I couldn't talk to him properly. My tongue and my brain froze up whenever i tried to. When this is over, I know there will be a lot of regrets. Things that i will wish I had said, things that I will wish I had done, things that i will wish he could've seen me do. I wish i could've told him how much he mattered to me. I know that i mattered to him a lot once...  after all I am his only son.

I had this dream. In the dream he’s a lion perched on a huge rock, Majestic, with his brown mane flowing with the breeze, looking down on the flora and fauna around him, thinking to himself “these are all inferior to me and not worthy of my time.” He lets out one huge roar and everyone runs in fear. Except for a handful who stand by him with their knees shaking but refusing to run away. He looks out into the horizon and says "Somewhere out there is a world just right for me" ...and then he walks away.

1 comment:

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