When I was younger, I never really liked my mother. I was closer to my father who would sometimes let me ride the bus he drives for work. I was often scared of my mother because she often scolded and spanked me for every little thing that I did. Sure, she taught me a lot of things such as reading and math (both of which became my favorite subjects), but it was the times when she yelled at me that I remembered more. She used to yell “punyemes!” and would spank me when I imitated her. She would also burn my Ultraman card collection whenever I quarreled with my younger brother. She rarely expressed appreciation for my achievements, even after I got the top honors at school during my early years. I saw her smoke a cigarette once, and I saw it negatively as a kid. Bad people smoke, I was often told. Or maybe she said that so we wouldn’t follow our father’s example. She was a tyrant, plain and simple.
I grew up to be afraid of her. Even in high school, I would make sure that I arrived home before she did or I will get a very long lecture about me acting like a vagrant. She stopped spanking me by then, maybe because I was already old enough for it to not affect me much. She did punch my jaw a couple of times when I snapped back at her. She was strong, I’ll give her that. I felt dizzy on both occasions and had to ask for a timeout to steady myself.
Once, during my second year of high school, we had a shouting match and she told me to pack my things and leave. An acquaintance of mine was sent to the hospital on that day for a sickness I could no longer remember. I contacted my neighbor back then so he can inform my mother that I will be coming home late. He forgot. It rained really hard too and EDSA was flooded so we arrived home at around 2 AM in the morning. When I came in through the gate, she was there – crying. She thought I really did run away from home and welcomed me back with a tight hug. The 2 weeks following that was blissful and she attended to me with so much care. It felt weird, really. We were back to normal after that.
I’m not sure exactly when or how it happened but during my College years she seemed to be a different person. She would do the laundry for us, brought me food whenever I played on the computer for long hours without standing up, comforted me whenever I felt depressed, and restrained me when I had fits of rage (I had anger management problems in College). She also lent me her support when I was trying to join a fraternity, of which she was also a member back in her College years. She still nagged me, but I guess it already grew on me and our debates didn’t last very long.
The most memorable time I had with her was when my first girlfriend broke up with me. We were together for more than 4 years but the girl left me after she got into med school and we were in a long distance relationship for 7 months. We broke up over the phone. I was devastated. I was on my way home when she told me and I felt so weak that my legs gave in, causing me to kneel in the middle of the street. I was crying. Fortunately, my mother happened to see me during that moment so she ran to me and helped get me back up on my feet. She assisted me all the way back home. She then tried to comfort me with her words. She was like the only ally I had back then when my entire world collapsed. I was really thankful. I told her, “Ma, I don’t know what I’ll do if you leave me too so please take care of yourself.” She laughed and patted my back.
It was then that I saw her kindness, not only to me, but to other people. We were not well-off but she would often find a way to help her siblings even if it means that very little will be left for us. She had trouble handling money, a quality that my father didn’t like. I will sometimes blame her why we were poor, but in hindsight I never had a shortage of the things I needed and even had extra for my expensive hobbies.
She always watched out for me. Too much, in fact, that it often irritated me. I guess that part didn’t change. She would always leave my brother alone but nothing I did ever slipped past her notice. She reasoned that I was different from my brother who was very independent. That was part of the reason why I accepted a job in Saudi Arabia – so I can prove to her that I can also stand up on my own two feet. In my point of view, she favored my brother because she leaves him alone to his own devices. On the other hand, my brother thought I was her favorite because she paid most of her attention to me.
Two years later, we discovered she had cancer. The initial results found that she had a myoma in her uterus. We were hopeful that it was benign because the doctor told us that most cases were like that. She had it surgically removed. We heard the news afterwards. She had uterine clear cell carcinoma – a rare and very aggressive type of cancer. We tried what we could to have her treated but the treatments only prolonged her suffering. I remember a conversation I had with her:
“Ma, hindi pa yata ako ready mawala ka. ‘Wag kang susuko ha?” (“Ma, I don’t think I’m ready to see you go yet. Don’t give up, okay?”)
“Okay lang yan, ‘nak. Basta ibulong mo lang balang araw na, ‘Ma, okay na ako,’ masaya na ko, ‘nak.” (“It’s okay, my child. Just whisper, ‘Ma, I’m okay now,’ someday and I’ll be happy.”)
She died only a few months later on June 7, 2013. She didn’t even reach her 60th birthday. She often joked years ago that she will never reach 60, but none of us expected it will come true. I can’t imagine how much pain she endured before she died. She was the strongest person I’ve ever known. She never showed us how much she suffered whenever she was having a terrible asthma attack or even when my father left her.
She was buried in Kidapawan near the grave of her parents.
I miss you, Ma. And I loved you so much. You shaped me into who I am now and I’m thankful for it. I hope I can make you proud one day…enough for me to utter the words you wanted to hear.