ANOTHER LETTER TO LEAH FRANCINE
By Aurelio S. Agcaoili
Dearest Leah Francine,
It is a new year, darling daughter, youngest of our dreams. You are only three years old and you will miss so many things yet from this letter. This is why on the night that you will get this letter—perhaps a week after I have it sent from Los Angeles or from Artesia where I sometimes I report for duty—please ask your mother to read my letter to you slowly. Ah, don’t bother. Your mother knows how to excite you as she reads my letter. She did it with flair and flourish with your brother and sister.
I will email your mother and ask her to read it first in English, the language in which it is written as you can see. I will ask her to read it sentence by sentence and then translate each sentence at once. I guess that this is a good deal, indeed. Of course, I will ask your mother, as I always do, to keep this letter in your wooden treasure box together with the other letters that I sent you. It is the oak box with the California mother bear and California baby bear I sent you last year when you had yet to graduate from your milk in a bottle. Your mother understands that we will have a number of years of catching up—the years between my leaving the native land and you joining me in California. The letters, including this one and all the letters that I will keep on writing, will be a covenant between us—you and I, you a young daughter deprived of my lullabies and I, a middle-aged father deprived of your life-affirming embrace. And innocent laughter, sweet and mellow, always refreshing.
I see that you are now beginning to pick up the rudiments and nuances of the English language from your daily dose of animation and cartoons from your favorite cable stations. I got a letter from your mother telling me that she is oftentimes surprised by your child’s way of saying, “Mama, please.” And “Wait for me, mama.” In English—and you have yet to set foot on a school! Well, if the gracious Almighty will soon grant our wishes, you will join me here and practice your English the way the native speakers do in California. But with me, as a teacher of English as a Second Language, I will have to stick by the standards from the newscasts that I watch with a regularity to keep me abreast with the world around me and with this new world that California and the United States have opened for me.
This reminds me of a newscast I watched recently. It had this phantom of a tragedy in this tsunami in twelve countries in Southeast Asia. A photo of a young girl, a child, famished and febrile, loomed large on the screen with the devastation providing a backdrop. The young girl-child was eating from the outstretched hand of her emaciated and hungry mother. My good God! I had to swallow so much of my sorrow that got stuck in my throat. And then I felt that pang—the pang of guilt for leaving you without the benefit of a father around the house each day. I do not know how you are able to take your hundred times of watching the “Sound of Music” with its cadence of a caring yet carefree life in the midst of a national crisis, with its beat of a familial joy that pulses with hope and trust and understanding and kindness. Oh, dear, oh, dear, I cannot help but allow this tear now to well down my cheeks even as I remember your letter in four words you sent last week: “I love you, papa.” Scrawled, hardly legible, and with the traces of your mother’s hand holding perhaps a big pencil she bought for you so you would begin to learn to scribble, I took that letter to heart. I am becoming both sentimental and sentimentalist, you know. And in my life of exile—one I have voluntarily chosen to find our corner in California and work hard to keep it—the sorrow salves me, soothes me, coos me as I snatch some restful sleep with the dreams of having you here soon.
The days will be long still, darling daughter. In the meantime, we will have to make do with letters such as this one—all kept in that oak treasure box. With these letters, we will be able to summon back the time that we have lost. This will heal us from the wounds of our separation.
With all the love now—and warm hugs,