For her last birthday, my mother brought in caterers.
This was in 1997, and my youngest brother Wylo was barely four months young. It was a year of big parties for the family - Wylo's christening was to coincide with my father’s birthday in February. If there had indeed been a better way to start the year than with caterers, my mother heard none of it.
She was 38, the food was good, and the table's centerpiece then – a gigantic flower arrangement in a wooden vase – is currently gathering dust on top of our old refrigerator. Or at least, that was where I last remember having placed it. I do not live in that house anymore. Maybe I will check when I go home this weekend.
The catering service was run by a friend, Tito Gil, who graduated on top of their Chemical Engineering class in Cebu. He probably was to my mother what my blockmates are to me today. Tall and handsome, he was an excellent cook, and he knew a thing or two about arranging flowers. Yes, as of last note (I think I last saw him in 2004), he was still single, for reasons that remain a mystery to me.
The tables were draped red because red symbolized good luck and my mother was a staunch believer in feng shui. I think that last birthday party was on a full moon, too. My mother had the stars lined up for her just right that night.
As a 12-year-old kid, it dawns on me just now, how little I knew about omens.
That March, I graduated from grade school. That graduation photo included in our yearbook was one of the last few photographs we will ever have together. In the picture my mother wore a white dress and a big proud smile.
I was only third, but I was good enough. It was a good feeling, being good enough.
I remember writing something about the things that happened before my mother died, and that morning I knew that she was, in fact, gravely ill. I had written it down in one of my high school journals. I think I only read it once or twice, and then I remember folding all the pages in and stapling them closed.
I still wonder why I did. I've always wanted to go back to that raw piece; it’s just that I never had the time to. Well, I guess when I check for the vase, I might as well...
One night I was at home and for the lack of anything to wear (remember how I don't live there anymore?) I put on a duster (yes, the image ain’t pretty) that wasn't really my mother's but looked somewhat similar. I remember passing by the full length mirror in our living room and doing a double take as I passed, as if seeing something I missed. Was that my mother who just walked by?
That's what they all say: relatives I hadn't seen for a while, my mother's old friends. I looked exactly like her, from the forehead to my smallest toe, and even in the way I stood.
Sometimes, when I catch myself flaring up upon finding unwashed dishes in the kitchen, or an overflowing garbage bin in the bathroom, it makes me think: maybe there were other things, other than this temper, that I had inherited? Maybe.
January has never been a time for remembering. These past few years, I had spent most of my Januaries getting from one deadline to the next. It's different now that I'm out of school and it's 2:30 in the afternoon and I am waiting for the stories to come in. It's different now.
I'm not sure if she'd be happy that they are; a part of me's scared she'd hate me for some of the things I've done to myself -- the vices I've acquired, the beliefs I have decided to stand by, some choices I have made.
But really, even if she does, I'd still wish she were here.