Alopecia

Nonfiction by | September 22, 2019

I have always been blessed with good hair – thick, straight, silky. I’ve never dyed it my whole life for I love its natural color – like pitch-black night, like charcoal.

“Ipa-opaw nimo ini lang? Nanga baya? Kinahanglan gayud? Ay ay kasayang isab,” Kuya Rho asked, quite distressed when I told him to have it skinhead.

 

“It’s okay Kuya, just like last time- it’s alopecia or hair loss. I am undergoing chemotherapy again. It’s really necessary to shave it all off as it is getting messy – my hair falling out everywhere – in my bed, pillow, t-shirt,” I replied.

Kuya Rho seemed to forget that this is the second time he shaved my head off. The first time was nine months ago, during my initial diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a common cancer in my age bracket starting in infection fighting cells called lymphocytes that grew out of control. Alopecia is no longer a stranger to me for I have witnessed it happen to my aunt who succumbed to breast cancer about seven months ago. She was 66 years old. The day she shaved her head off, her hair was still intact, alopecia has not started yet. The doctor advised her to shave it as early as possible so she will get used to not seeing it for a while. Before we went to the salon, she combed her hair while looking at herself in the mirror and said in a small voice, “I guess I will stop using you for a while”, referring to her comb. I pretended I didn’t hear her but hearing what she said broke my heart.

Cancer as portrayed mostly in television and movies show someone lying in a hospital bed, tubes in hands, legs or nose, bald, skinny and with a pale complexion and dark circles under the eyes. My Aunt Nelda’s battle against cancer is almost like that taking away tubes in the picture. Her body deteriorated each day. Her muscles shrunk, lumps were found all over, her bones became weak and the length of her left leg is longer than her right leg. Worst of all, her eyesight weakened to the point that the only thing she can see is a speck of light. She could no longer recognize anyone’s face and in order to know who she is talking to, she would need to listen carefully to the sound of the person’s voice and when she fails to recognize it, she would ask the name. When in deep pain, my Aunt Nelda prayed even more.

Cancer indeed is vicious but through the scientific advancements that are enjoyed today, treatments are available and the earlier the diagnosis, the higher the chances for it to be treated. Unfortunately for my aunt, she underwent chemotherapy already at stage IV. She completed the first line treatment but needed further chemotherapy after her cancer didn’t go away completely. When I was put into a similar situation, after finishing the first line chemotherapy for six months and three months after, my symptoms came back- my temperature went up to 39 degrees Celsius every day, I have night sweats and my hemoglobin dropped that I needed to have Epoietin injection once a week, I almost gave up but it was the memory of my aunt’s faith and courage that helped me continue. That is why when my doctor told me that I needed further chemotherapy; I took a deep breath and welcome alopecia again.

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At the Transom Window

Nonfiction by | September 15, 2019

A transom window is a framework made of wood or metal that is built into a wall just below the roof. In post-colonial Philippine Architecture, a transom has ornamental moldings with holes carved through to allow light passage and proper ventilation. It is usually installed in the living room on the top of a 10-feet tall wall. One needs to use a ladder or can levitate to reach the transom.

I used to rent a space with such post-colonial Philippine Architecture. I shared the space with two other women renters, but I stayed in a separate room. One of the renters was a former secretary who had to stop her work because she was under chemotherapy for kidney cancer. The two women belong to the same Seventh day Adventist Church.

Two weeks into my stay there, a new lady joined us. The owner of the house, herself a breast cancer survivor, needed a new cleaning lady. This cleaning lady looked very interesting. She had thin lips that allowed her big teeth to cover most of her face whenever she managed a smile. Her long black hair matched the deep dark color of her eyes. She was a 5-foot-tall woman in her fifties. Her name was Ate Liling.

Every day, Ate Liling would bring me biko. She said that I needed to eat because I was very thin. But I wasn’t a fan of the food she offered, so I left it to rot. Ate Liling didn’t like this lack of attention so she would visit me every so often just to chat.

Sometimes, Ate Liling would tell me tales about her family. She missed them so much.

Once, I asked where they were. She said they were gone. They died a tragic death. She said that food served from a wak-wak transformed them into such local beasts so the people in her community hunted and burned them to ashes. Ate Liling was a very good storyteller. Often, as she laid down the details of her past, I would find myself wandering into the darkness of her eyes convinced of the madness. As soon as she noticed that I was drawn into her tale, Ate Liling would laugh so hard, her face smothered by her big set of teeth. If I didn’t understand her humor, I would have thought that Ate Liling was deranged. “You know what wak-wak wants?” she would ask,”they want to feed on fresh babies. But sick people are tasty to them, too.” Her stories were wild, so I gathered that she probably had a traumatic childhood.

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Not Another Drunken Memory

Nonfiction by | August 25, 2019

I was walking down the unfamiliar streets of Ecoland at 10 PM, when I finally answered my mother’s phone call. I had missed nine calls from her.

Asa na ka? Pagdali na kay nag-inom imong Papa,” my mother told me with conviction in her voice.

I shivered at the tone of her voice and the thought that my father was drunk once again. When Papa was drunk, we should all be at home, either asleep or doing our usual evening routine. He would start acting like a teacher—checking the attendance of his students. After all, he was my first teacher who taught me how to be a good daughter by always choosing to be with my family no matter what.

I walked towards the bus station, unable to find a jeep. As I waited for our bus to depart, I thought about my groupmates whom I left with tons of work to do. We were all cramming to pass our Movie Trailer for our Literature subject that was due before midnight. I did not want to leave them but I had no choice. I had a greater deadline from a more terrifying teacher.
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Leaving Mrs. Joy

Nonfiction by | August 18, 2019

Thirteen years ago, my brother Nicko and I were given away to another family. Mama never told us to prepare anything that could have enlightened us why we had to come with the two women waiting outside our doorway. She told us to be good and the rest would be provided. I had no instinct as to where those women would take us.It was as if I was deceived by the absence of any instinct as a child. But now that I have already arrived in this age with a little courage to confront my own ghost, I think of the woman named Joy who treated me as her son when none of her children would love to.

Out of Mrs. Joy’s meekness, I oftentimes found it difficult to utter any word when I was with her. It made me hesitant to tell her that I was hungry, that I wanted to take a piece of pan de sal she had placed on the plate. She was a woman in mid fifties who wore a loose duster all the time. Her crimson hair clipped back. The thread at the end of her faded blue scarf began to lose. I always found her sitting alone on her chair. A mug of coffee slowly grew cold by her hand. She would look at the vacant chairs as if waiting for the arrival of a long gone beloved or friend. I knew nothing about the silence of her mornings. What I remember was that no one had arrived to join her.

I was living in a house that was different from ours, in the village called Novatierra, Lanang. There I couldn’t see large trucks passing. The only sound I could hear was the growling of her dogs caged in a dark cell.

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Moda

Nonfiction by | July 28, 2019

Ilang buwan ring busy-busyhan ang Fiona. Matapos kasi ang ilang linggong pagka-ospital ng nanay niya, inuwi nila ito sa bahay. Comatose pa rin. At ang Fiona ang nasa frontline ng pag-aalaga.

“Takot kasi sila magpakain,” sabi nya.

Sa ospital pa lang kasi, nasanay na si Fiona sa pag-aalaga sa kanyang ina.

“Kapag may parang kumukulo sa tiyan nya, ibig sabihin non nakarating ang food na dinaan sa tubo,” sabi nya.

Sya rin ang taga-linis ng lahat ng dumi, taga-tanggal ng laway, taga-punas, taga-bihis, taga-paypay.

At dahil di na nga kami gaanong nagkikita dahil minsan na lang itong umuwi ng bahay, hanggang text na lang kami.

“Kabado na ako, parang this is the moment na talaga,” text nya sa akin kagabi.

Di ko alam kung paano magreply.

“Pero ready na ako. Nakakaawa na talaga sya. Anlalaki na ng mga sugat sa likod. Kita na ang spine,” dagdag na text nya.

“Antay na lang tayo sa tamang oras,” tanging nasagot ko sa kanya.

Kaninang alas nueve ng umaga, nagtext ang Fiona ng: “Wala na si Moda.”

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Limelight

Nonfiction by | June 23, 2019

“The top ten candidates are…”one of the hosts announced. The audience shouted in chorus with the drum roll. The hosts repeated the catchphrases for a second, a third, a fourth time—I could hardly remember. The blinding light blinked at me. In my mind, I wanted the hosts to hasten the announcement so I could remove my golden shoes at once, fly off the stage, and head home right away.

The hosts called Candidate number 5. Candidate number 5 had an indescribably strong presence. She was probably between 15-16 years old, one of the youngest candidates, whose personality belonged to the spectrum of Latin-American faces. All through-out the pageant night, it seemed like the chances and time had aligned for her—she received the following awards: Ms. Facebook, Ms. People’s Choice Awards, Ms. Audience Choice Awards, and all the awards from the sponsors of the pageant, a one year supply worth of beauty products, and the judge’s choice for the neo-ethnic and creative attires. Whenever she would walk the stage, all of the people in the gymnasium would have seemed to fold in a lingering applause.

The Candidates for the Mutya ng Calinan 2017 had an age range of about 16-24 years old. But with pageant make-up and pageant gowns, no one could accurately tell who belonged to a specific age bracket. All of the candidates looked relatively similar that night. We had similar facial features. We had similar make-up. Our hairstyles would seem to complement each other’s hairstyles. Some of us took the high bun, the classic beauty pageant hair style; some had their long, flowing big curls on. All of our costumes begged for a lift, the crowd’s approval, and the judges’ praise with their elaborate hues and intricate embroidery.
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Talking With My Sister

Nonfiction by | May 26, 2019

My mom once told me that children are not passive observers but rather, active ones. What they are exposed to and what they observe, especially when they are in the stage of growing up, become the foundations of their well-being. What a child hears is what a child speaks. What a child hears every day is what he will eventually adapt and master as his first language, his mother tongue.

Growing up with parents who taught in the University of the Philippines meant growing up with not only a sense of patriotism but also with appreciation of language, culture, and art. My mother, Prof. Joycie Alegre teaches theater and film at UP Tacloban and my father, Dr. Edilberto Alegre used to teach literature in UP Diliman. They believed that one way of becoming was through embodying one’s culture. And language, as what they taught me, was part of my evolving culture. As a result, we used Tagalog every day.
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The Prisoner

Nonfiction by | May 12, 2019

“Bomba… bomba! Halin dira. Bomba! Ahhhhh… Ahhhhh… bomba!” He would mumble words, words that were hard to understand, plain nonsense for those who pass by the store near his isolated room. People in our neighborhood were used to hearing him shout. Sometimes it was very loud that even the ones living in the next block could hear. Whenever he tried to break free, we could hear the sound of clanking steel.

When I was a child, my mother often asked me to buy ingredients and other things in the sari-sari store. Our neighbor, Auntie Alma, had a store in front of her house so I didn’t need to go far every time my mother asked me to buy something for her. But it was a Sunday and Auntie Alma was out to go to church. I had to walk around the street to find another store so I can buy a sachet of Sunsilk and Safeguard. My mother instructed me to return immediately because my father needed it. I walked to the end of the street and found a small sari-sari store. I was very happy that I didn’t need to walk far to buy the shampoo and soap. “Ayo, ayo!” I called. There was no response except the barking of dogs and a voice of a man screaming. I was surprised and scared for a moment. I stepped back a little and hesitated to buy but I remembered my mother’s instruction. I looked at the dog and noticed that it had a leash so I was confident that it would not hurt me. I looked at the small room connected to the house of the store owner where the voice of the man came from. It was locked. I took a step forward and peeped inside the store but there was no one. “Ayo, ayo!” I called louder so that the tindera would hear me. I thought that she was watching TV because I could hear the sound in full volume. When she didn’t come, I called louder, competing with the barking of the dogs and the screaming on the other side of the store. She went out of their house and walked toward the store. I noticed that she was a bit mad because I called her. I asked for the things I needed in exchange for P14.00. When I got the sachet of Sunsilk and Safeguard with me, I turned toward the room, curious about the man inside. “Ante, sin-o nang sa sulod sang kwarto? Sagad tana ka syagit ah. Kag ngaa sa guwas sang balay niyo ang kwarto niya?” I had a lot of questions in my mind but she just dismissed me and told me to go home straight.
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