“Redemption” tackles the life of five daughters and a mother. Two of the daughters are in the United States; the three are left in the home country trying as much as they could to live life in earnest and in the raw. All the five daughters carry with them the wounds that precede redemption: the wounds of life, the wounds of memory, the wounds of family, the wounds of relationships, the wound of discovering the rugged path to self-discovery and healing.
“Redemption” is an allegory of the Filipino condition, with the mother going nuts and out of her senses, losing sight of the time, losing sight of the healing power of forgiveness, and leaving the daughters to trek through life’s rough roads without her, without her blessing, without her word that ought to have soothed and salved them. The daughters, after forgiving each other, discover their common pains. They learn to forgive themselves and all the people who wronged them. In the end, they conquer their own private purgatories.
August 8, 2004
It is now August as I finish this letter. I started this many years ago but I never had the chance to complete it.
It is the season of the storms and wild days as I sit down to collect my thoughts and gather my hopes.
I hear the howling of the winds and the roaring of the waves as if we are here for that end-of-days thing that I had always heard from you when you would curse Father for hitting you hard in the face, the arms, the legs, the chest.
I watched them, the blows.
And I could never forget the suffering you went through and I never understood you.
One day, you just simply went away, you and Lorena.
Anywhere, so father said.
I could have told Father: Mother needed to go anywhere to get away from your inhumanity.
I was bitter but I did not know I was bitter.
I hated Father but I did not know I hated him.
I see now the connections, Mother, the interconnectedness of things.
Each time I felt hatred raging inside me when I was still in Honolulu with that useless husband, I would imagine the scene, get that energy of Father.
I would hit my husband hard, hit him with all my might, hit with anything I could lay my hands on, hit him in places where I felt the raging urge to do so.
And I would curse him the way Father would curse you.
And I would threaten him the way Father threatened you.
Father said to you oftentimes, You cannot run away from me now.
I told my husband, You cannot run away from me now.
Father told you, You run away and I will look for you anywhere and then when I find you, I will bring you back here, your hair tied on the rear of the cart drawn by a carabao. I would let people know that you ran away, ran away to where your freedom led, run away to your man, to your useless husband whose only right to you was that he owned your young heart in the beginning. But now you are mine and no one can ever lay his hand on you anymore.
I told my husband, You run away and I will call the police and tell them you deserted us, you useless bastard and son of a bitch. I will ask for that child support so that you will never be able to get back on your feet as a family man again. You will be financially distressed and I want that to happen to you so no woman can ever be tempted to get near you because you will have no way to support another son.
I had all the scenes when I was young.
Perhaps I was five when I realized Father hit you hard and I knew that Father loved you so.
I could not make two and two together but the days were heady and hard and our life was miserable.
I remember the many typhoons and storms and floods that would visit us in that barrio of Father, the barrio down the foothills, its small brook from the eastern mountains winding down towards the sea in the west.
The brook would temp the hills announcing the seminary of celibates or those who were trying to find God in the strange faith of clerics and missionaries, those habited who had to intone the sacred word every four hours in order to calm their nerves.
On many days, we did not have rice in the bin. But I would dream of angels in the seminary church that you would go to when Josefa died.
Or so I heard from some people’s stories.
As soon as Josefa died, you would wake up early in the morning, put on your best dress, put on the black veil of mourning, and then, with the light of stars giving you direction, go to the dawn mass officiated by the celibates in the hills.
You had your rosary, a black one, and a heirloom from Lola Madre.
I remembered that detail most.
I would look for that rosary with the angel in flight as if you were that angel, Mother.
As if I was that angel as well.
For many Easter Sundays, I wanted to be an angel.
We do not have money for the white gown, Rosario, you would say.
We do not have money for the white crepe paper for your wings.
We do not have money for the white shoes that would match your wings.
I would sulk in the corner.
I would cry in the dark.
I would talk to the angels of the night.
In my dreams, too, I would ask the guardian angel for the angel’s white gown, the angel’s white veil, the angel’s white socks, and the angel’s white shoes.
My guardian angel failed me.
If we had some scoops of rice, you would make a miracle.
You would put all the pearly grains in the bin onto boiling earthen pot and make gruel out of our hope for a good gracious meal.
That was neat, Mother.
If we were lucky, there would be the ginger to taste, some salt to taste, some vetsin to taste.
Ay, I would imagine the breast of a chicken on my bowl.
Or a solitary egg.
Or that fleshy leg of a wild chicken Father would bring home sometimes from the hills where he would gather dried twigs for the earthen stove.
There were days when the stove would be silent and I knew what that meant.
If we had something to partake of, I would see the stove coming alive.
I would watch the fire getting bigger and bigger from a small ember.
I would watch the firewood crackle, as if telling me, Rosario, Rosario, gather your wits.
Those were the days, Mother.
Some days I want to talk to you.
Some days I do not want to talk to you.
But most of the time, I do not want to be bothered by anyone.
That was why I ran away, away from you all, away from the sad memories, away from all that which reminded me of our days of misery and want.
I cannot bear the thought, Mother.
I die soon if I entertained that thought.
I do not want to have anything to do with the past that is why I am here in Orlando.
I am thousand of miles away from Manang Lagrimas and I want that.
I want that distance.
She cannot touch me.
She cannot remind me of anything.
She cannot be another mother to me.
Here I am with my only son trying to live life the best way I can by not having anything to do with anyone of you.
Holler, this is America.
Here, you be your own man.
Here, you cannot be somebody else’s keeper.
I like that idea because it gives me the freedom to run my life the way I want.
No sisters and brothers from own view of things.
I do not even know if it is my responsibility to send you some money for your medicine.
Lagrimas has been calling me about my share of the expenses for your medical treatment for your depression.
What a sickness. It is all a symbol, this sickness of the soul.
You could have been a rich woman who had to have her own psychiatrist or psychotherapist to cure her.
It has been years and years that I did not see you, Mother.
It was in 1985 when I last saw you.
That is more than 20 years ago.
We left when the going was getting rough, when the turmoil that was to shake the whole of the land was beginning to take form and substance.
The regime and its unruly ways assassinated the senator in the tarmac, his pool of blood bathing him, his all-white suit turning crimson as the cameras flashed.
I did not know what was all that.
I knew that you had gone to the other world, the world of spirits and dreams and wild hopes, the dreams of running away some more, of going to America, of going to the land of snow and chocolates and butterball.
The butterball was your favorite.
The caramel candy, you told me once, reminded you so much of your Auntie Madre who would come to your house when you were younger in Dagupan.
She would bring you all the goodies from her convent, the surplus from the benefactors’ gifts, those rich men and women from the gated communities in Manila who would feel guilty during Christmas and thus would bring all their goodies to your Auntie Madre’s convent. The rich, of course, were hoping for some kind of an indulgence for doing that corporal work of mercy.
It was the season of rains and storms and flood but on that August that they killed him, there was the sun shining so bright.
There was some kind of an anachronism here, this death in the bright light of the Manila sun.
A few months after, Lagrimas and I would leave you.
And I would not see you since then, not anyone of you.
Because I could not bear to see you.
I could put together the distance of years separating us.
Twenty years, Mother.
Twenty years of not knowing you, not even hearing your voice.
Because I was afraid, I would get your habit of running away.
Because I was afraid of my fears.
And it is true now, Mother.
I have run away many times.
Even here in Orlando, in this land of my exile, I am running away still.
I am running away from all the memories.
I am running away from all the sorrows.
I am running away from all that which reminds me of my own pains and failures.
I am afraid—and I am afraid of seeing you once again.
Because we are ghosts unto each other, haunting each other, measuring each other in accord with our wild, wild ways.
I cannot bear this, Mother, so I am signing off.
I cannot write “With all my love,”
Pub, INQ, V1N22, Nov 2005