What it’s like

Today, someone asked me what it feels like.

“I mean, you lost your husband and then now you’ve lost your sister.”

How do you put into words what it feels like to lose the other half of your heart?  She was always there–my sister. In the darkest periods of my life, I hang onto the thought that my sister was always there. She was witness to my wildest dreams and imaginings and she was the person I confided in the most in times of deep despair. She loved me steadfastly even when she didn’t agree with the choices I made and even when it grieved her to see me walk away from the path that was familiar to us both.

I have a memory of my elder sister from when we were in grade school. Back then, going to school meant climbing down the mountain path to the gravelled road and then a 10-15 minute hike to the central school. I was always slow back then and a little bit of a spoiled child.

(My sister, being much quicker on her feet always was at least a few feet in front of me. )
In this memory, my sister has reached the bend in the mountain path–a couple of meters down from home. I am still at the top of the path. It had rained in the night and the path was a bit slippery and being the scaredy-cat that I was, I wanted my sister to come back and help me down the slippery slope. She, on the other hand, was already impatient to go to school because the first bell had already rung.

I remember my sister telling me to hurry up and I remember crouching there and crying for her to come get me.

Finally, she came marching back up the mountain slope. I still remember the look on her face.

Regardless of how aggravated she was, she helped me down from the top of the slope. She held my hand until we got to a place where the earth was less slippery.

My heart aches.

I have so many memories. Of stories shared in the dark of night after the lights went out–of listening for the crunch of gravel outside our bedroom window–of running up and down the mountainside.

There are not enough words to say what it’s like.



In-between post

Today, I decided to share an excerpt from the memoir I worked on when I started writing again. Rereading it, I realize just how clearly it describes what happened to me–the slow erosion of self, the gradual erasure and subsuming of who I was to the personhood of the man I married–because, as my mother told me: it is our duty as wives to submit to our husbands.

In time, that erosion of self led to a complete forgetting of who I was and what mattered to me.

During one of my first sessions with my therapist, she asked me if I could name anything that I liked doing before I married and moved to the Netherlands.

Tell me, she said. What are the things that you enjoy.

The only thing that I could name and that I could cling to was writing. It was as if I had forgotten the self who lived before I came to this country.

Before I came here, my world was filled with life and art and sound, music and dance and song and laughter; discussions and debates over the dining table; books and words and loud speculations about the future.

I learned to hide those things because Dutch folks don’t like loud voices, because the way we laughed at home is considered unseemly here, because grown up people do not dance, do not indulge in fancy–not in this small town where I live in.

Today, I am engaged in reclamation. I have colored my hair–not an atrocious color, but still scandalous enough and I am wearing my colorful clothes.

I call my eldest son, Kuya (Filipino for older brother). I laugh and dance with my youngest child. We chatter, we make noise and we don’t care if the world shakes with the sound of our cheerfulness.