We all become stories when we die.
That’s what Lola Mimay would say each time I chance upon her by the sea. Her house used to stand there, but it was washed out when a big storm surge hit our city almost six years ago. She practically lived her whole life in this place, long before our house was built and the nearby docks reclaimed and transformed into a fish port. She also knew everybody in the neighborhood, including their children and their children’s children. I believe she’s already in her eighties, and it’s not surprising that she sometimes fails to remember names and faces and things and places.
But she knows their stories.
“Why Renan is gay?” she asked while sitting on a bench outside our house, staring in front of the sea. “There was a big town fiesta back then. We had this parade and floats and lots of flowers and the kids from Holy Infant dressed as princesses with crowns waving at us. And lots of food, of course. Renan was ten I think. Such a precocious child.”
“And then he realized he wanted to become one of them?” I asked, giggling.
“He was running around with some boys his age when he hit a pole with a livewire,” she continued, her voice changing into a somber tone. “He was electrocuted. And for a few minutes, he died. But Tata Selmo, that old albularyo, revived him by massaging all his muscles. Renan woke up, but he was never the same again.”
We all knew about Uncle Renan being gay. His wife, Auntie Norma, does too. But it has been an open secret no one would talk about. Even when there were times we saw him hanging out with younger boys in the nearby beerhouse or him going to the cinema with some new guy that he would later introduce to us as a friend. It has become a fact that we in the family had to accept, so long as he didn’t do us harm.
I haven’t seen Uncle Renan in ages. They say he hasn’t come back since the night before the big storm. They know if he’s dead or he just left for good, but either way, she said it was for the best.
“Ipang should have told her the truth,” Lola Mimay recalled another story, this time about my own grandmother. “That silly woman, she always thought she had control over everything.”
“Why do you think so?” I asked. “And by her you mean Mia or Josie?”
“When Andres got her pregnant, he promised he would marry her,” she continued without even looking at me. “She loved Andres and she believed everything he said. But he didn’t. She later found out he was already married to some high society colegiala in Manila. She cried for days. She wouldn’t go out of the house until the time came for her to give birth. She was at Bethany for three days, screaming in pain all day and all night. Andres showed up, and I thought everything’s gonna be alright. But he just pointed a gun at her and told her to shut up or else he’ll kill her and the baby. And then he left. I was there. I witnessed everything.”
She took a deep breath and sighed. “When she gave birth she wouldn’t touch the baby. It was a girl. Mia. I held her in my arms like as if she were mine and she was beautiful. But she grew up to be a sickly, grumpy child. But she was smart, always curious and looking for answers.I just hope Ipang gave her the answers to her questions. My, my, speaking of Ipang, has she come home yet?”
It’s been years since Grandma died, I wanted to tell her, but I could not get those words out of my mouth. I knew they were childhood best friends, and I just couldn’t bring her to the truth.
“She never did,” I replied softly. “That’s to answer both your questions.”
Lola Mimay seemed to not have heard me, but I’ve already gotten used to it. It has become her habit to talk and talk about everyone she knew around our neighborhood, without thinking whether somebody is listening to her or not. She wouldn’t even bother acknowledging my presence whenever I sat beside her to hear more about the snippets of the lives of the people she remembers, most of whom are either missing or dead.
“There was this young couple who lived across the street,” she started her recollection one gloomy afternoon, still sitting by our porch while watching the clouds become darker and heavier and the winds getting stronger. The fishermen not far away were already tying their boats to the poles to prevent them from being washed away, while the waves were becoming more turbulent as each moment passed by.
It wasn’t raining yet, though.
“They were always fighting,” she continued. “The guy, Louie, was a deadbeat. I never liked him. He always went home drunk and he would hit her on the face as he pleased. She’d scream at him and fight back, but he always won. But she loved him and I always saw it in her eyes so I knew even if I tried to help she wouldn’t budge.”
I looked at her closely and saw a glint of remorse in her eyes. “That girl was special,” she sobbed lightly. “Ipang raised her well-the same way she did with the girl’s mother, Josie. But Josie was the wild child—maybe because she knew about the truth, that she was adopted. Crazy but sweet Josie was, yet one day she came home a pregnant teen.”
“Ipang took care of Josie’s daughter. Sent her to good schools and built her dreams. But I guess the curse of falling for useless men ran in their veins. And she ended up with this good-for-nothing jerk who kept on spending her money for booze and drugs. He thought she would never wake up to her senses and leave him for good…”
I started to feel cold, maybe due to the gusty wind, but I remained on my seat and continued to listen. I crossed my arms and clung to my shirt, but the chilly feeling only got stronger.
“He once came home drunk and high,” she said. “It was the night before the big storm. I remember waking up to her screams because he started beating her again. From their window I saw her throw things at him and some of them broke, and then he hit her once more. And then he stormed out of their house, leaving the door open. She walked outside, and I did too. She ran towards me and then she cried. Poor girl, she cried exactly like Ipang did. We sat on this porch and I hugged her tight and I saw the bruises and marks that he left on her skin. She said she wanted to be gone for good, and who thought her wish would be granted right on that same day.”
I looked at my arms and I saw patches of red and purple on my skin, and scars made using broken glass shards and cigarette butts, marks that I only realized now.
“The storm tore the house down and took Shirley away,” to my horror, Lola Mimay mentioned a name that was just all too familiar to me. I started seeing flashbacks of memories in my head, from Grandmato Mia and Uncle Renan and Louie and that night before the storm, all of them running so fast I could not think straight-or even feel straight, maybe because I could not remember anything after he left. “When he came back everything was gone. She was never found.”
“Now tell me, dear,” she then turned to me and smiled. “What’s your story?”
FC Marie Esperas, 32, lives in Cubao with her cat Ramon.