I’ve read through all the thank you cards attached to the boxes on the center table that morning and they all said the same thing. I finally found the courage to go through them, after a week or so of procrastination. Until now, they’ve been sitting on the tabletop, waiting to be unwrapped.
One box contained a brand new stand mixer, albeit not KitchenAid, but it would be of good use since I cook occasionally. Another was a small electric oven, which I can bring to places especially when I need to bake on location. There were dinnerware sets, a punchbowl set, glass tumblers in different designs—I think there were four boxes, each design represented by six clones. A few friends opted to give me self-help books and inspirational tips, but as much as I’d like to think that they were feeling my pain, I know that they just meant well. And there’s no blaming them.
A college professor sent her well wishes via an all-expense paid trip to Hong Kong, sealed in an ecru colored envelope. A former boss likewise handed a check tantamount to a good sum of cash that I am thinking of saving for the rainy days.
I also started checking out the prints. They were all smiles. The college buddies, work colleagues, childhood chums, my best friend Arya, her husband Arlan and their daughter Allie. Did they really have to pass on the coincidental first-letter-of-their-names-twinning to their pretty kid? It still bothers me from time to time, in a funny sort of way. One photo caught my mother crying, and in another were my female cousins sobbing. Each of them had a distinct facial expression, one of delight, one of excitement, of disbelief, of anxiety, of depression, and who knows what else. I remember one of my aunts complaining about her makeup that day, even when I already told her that she may glam up in any way she liked. But she said it’s her part of the sacrifice. After all, I’m the first in our name.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Joslyn asked me that question a little over two weeks ago, I think two days before I received all the stuff that I’ve been sorting out since this morning.
“Why not?” I retorted casually, followed by a puff of a lit up cigarette. “Aren’t you excited for me?”
“I’m just worried that you’re doing this because you’re feeling the pressure,” she said with a deadpan tone.
“Everything’s all set,” I smiled. “Including your dress and my pearls. And the pigeons too.”
“We’ve known each other since we were kids,” she sighed. “You’re always the freedom fighter. Just like your mother. It’s just hard to believe that-“
“I’m doing everybody a favor, Joslyn,” I said calmly, but with a firm tone. “And it’s a decision I’m happy about. Can you just let go of the unnecessary doubts and look forward to the big day?”
“I guess,” she shrugged. “I wish you all the best, Ria. I really do.”
I continued looking at the prints over lunch, when I stumbled a picture of myself that day. I looked different. Despite the heavy makeup, I looked fresh and relaxed. My smile was borderline timid, and the mauve lip stain complimented the carefully drawn doe eyes and the light peach blush. My hair was styled in a low, half-messy and half-tidy bun, and yes, the earrings kept me restless all throughout. I was never a fan of accessories; in fact, it wasn’t until three months ago when I discovered that the piercing in my left ear had already closed. If I had things my way, I would have ditched the earrings as the glittery tiara on my head completed the look I wanted. But they are an heirloom accessory that Lola Coring, the eldest of the family’s remaining grannies, requested me to wear.
The announcement reached them in a very ordinary manner, like an invitation to a typical weekend get together at the beach—a common practice among families in Tacloban, my hometown. I just wanted to let them know out of respect, but while I was partly expecting them to make a big deal of it, I didn’t anticipate the hoopla that was likewise pressed upon me by my extended family members, including distant aunts and uncles and cousins whom I barely even know. Lola Corina called for an emergency meeting at the family’s torn down ancestral home in the heart of mercado. Each aunt and uncle was required to pitch in, either in cash or in kind, even if they were going through a financial crisis. It became an imperative. Lola Coring made it clear: they have to do everything it takes to add to the pot, by hook or by crook.
On that same day my mother asked me for two hundred pesos. I already knew what she was going to do with it, but I still decided to give in to her request. She then went to Mrs. Yao’s, an old neighbor who runs a homebased, clandestine gambling house. It’s an open secret in Tacloban downtown that Mrs. Yao has this business, but with a charismatic son in the city council and the operations going strong for nearly fifty years, who would dare ask her to close shop?
Mother grew up under Mrs. Yao’s tutelage, and she later became known as a goddess of gamblers due to her undefeated record in mahjong. Despite the title, she retained that sense of humility, and played with almost every player in town—be they small time bets or the big pot tourneys. And while her prowess in correctly naming those porcelain tiles just by touch or the sound they make when hitting other tiles has taken her places, she always found herself returning to Mrs. Yao’s. Most of the time though, she went there broke, as she has this habit of squandering her winnings on senseless things.
That day though was different. I later received a text from her, saying that I collect her winnings from a two-day mahjong marathon. Sixty thousand bucks total, half consisted of her winnings and the other in the form of ang paos given by Mrs. Yao and the players she defeated, as an advance present.
My mother is the stingy kind, or maybe I just didn’t grow up under her care so I have no idea on how generous she can be towards her only child. The same child she shunned some 30 or so years ago, the same child she repeatedly said to be her biggest regret whenever she got drunk.
Sure, the grudge on my part was there (and still is here), but I set that aside. She chose to give me her winnings, in the first place. For all we know she already took her cut.
An aunt took care of the venue arrangements, and another sought for caterers. A cousin recommended a master seamstress who is known for the most beautiful gowns in town, and another sponsored the trinkets and souvenirs. I told them that I’d take care of the invites myself, just so to put my calligraphy skills to use. A gay relative brought along his posse and positioned themselves as makeup artists, coordinators, and hosts. One of them even choreographed the terpsichorean necessities, but that was because the male dancers were cute.
They all felt the stress of the preparations as the big day came nearer. I could sense that, but nobody ever came to me to talk about it. As much as possible, they opted not to discuss anything with me; I, too, was on the verge of a breakdown, but with a different set of issues at hand.
He laughed so hard when I first told him about it. We were in an island facing the sunset when he popped the magic words and asked me to marry him. It was only the two of us in the shore then, enjoying our escape from the hullaballoo of the urban jungle. I thought it was just another awfully planned travel to Sambawan, but he happened to have something else in mind.
I cried like a baby the moment he went on his knees and took out a ring. It was the same kind of crying I made when I learned I passed the UPCAT, the same kind of crying that February morning of 2008 when my grandmother died, the same kind of crying when I broke up with a longtime boyfriend whom I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with. He then got up and hugged me tight, and he felt me shivering, and it took me until dusk to calm down and speak.
“My family is cursed,” I began. My great-grandmother had an affair with a married man, and when he chose her over his wife, the wife put a curse on her, declaring that the women in the next seven generations after them, the female direct descendants of their illicit affair, will never be married. That they will be disgraced and produce bastard children, that they will be outcasts due to their chosen romances.
My great-grandmother and that married man, who happens to be my great-grandfather, had nine children, seven of which were female. None of them got married, two chose to be spinsters, one became a lesbian, and four bore children out of wedlock. The same ordeal was carried over to my mother’s batch, she herself included. She had me a few days before she turned 18, with a married man as old as her own father.
We have only started producing the fourth generation of our bloodline. And now that he proposed, my family’s reaction was no longer a surprise.
He kissed me on the forehead and said that everything’s going to be alright. And that he was game.
“Let’s break the curse then,” he chuckled.
The big day arrived. I woke up from an anxious nap, and before I washed my face with iced water, I looked at myself in the mirror. Today is the big day, I told myself. There’s the gown, the white shoes, the veil and the tiara. My nails were all set. The rings were ready to be worn and the doves were caged until the time we will let them go and fly. There’s that guy who claimed that he has found forever in me, even if we never took each other seriously until he showed me the ring. For a moment I felt utterly scared, for what if I’ve only been obsessed with the idea of getting married, and nothing more? I felt that kind of void, that empty space in which I will be leaving everything behind. And by everything I only mean one thing: my freedom.
Or perhaps I was just being a bride.
I remember vividly how kilig everyone got as the church doors opened for me to walk in. I saw him near the altar as I slowly walked down the aisle, and with every step I took I bid farewell to the old me—farewell to the dreams of escaping to Madagascar, to becoming an undercover agent, to binge drinking as a weekend affair while hitting on those minty dried leaves consumed by Rastafarians, to locking myself in the room to write for a week or more, and to all other things I wasted my life on while wallowing in the sea of what my Christian Living teacher calls “single-blessedness.”
I took his hand and together we entered an agreement with the law of God and the law of the land.
To have and to hold. For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health. ‘Til death do we part.
My heart also said I do to waving goodbye at the bitter taste of solitude.
We kissed and I heard the cheers and applause. Lola Coring was crying. My mother and my aunts were sobbing too. My cousins were nearly in tears. Joslyn shook her head in disbelief. I know, they were in a serotonin high not with me getting married, but for me getting married.
I’m now entitled to have a change of last name. To half the properties of my husband, and to all other things the family holds of high value. Who gives a damn if I wake up one morning and say that it’s just a sham? Who cares, anyway, if at the end of the day, my heart screams for a love that I’m not sure is there.
But I made history.
I have set the family free.
That so-called curse is now a myth we can all put behind.
My phone suddenly rang while I was looking at my wedding photo. It’s Joslyn.
“Hey,” she answered.
“Hey,” I sighed.
“Congratulations, again,” she chuckled in the other end of the line. “I still can’t believe you’re already married.”
“You witnessed the whole thing,” I said. “So we both know I am.”
“So how’s married life going?” she asked. “Now that you’re hitched, do you think the curse really existed?”
“The curse,” my voice faded as I took a closer look on my photo, a photo of me in a white wedding dress holding a bouquet of roses, whose eyes stared blankly into the space. A stare so cold I felt somehow, dead.
“We’ve only just begun…”
I then realized Karen Carpenter was singing on the radio. G