Iya Log #1: Sky Full of Holes October 1, 2011Posted by Richard Bolisay in RIP.
Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.
(C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed)
Tomorrow is Iya’s first death anniversary. She turned seven last July 23. She died of aneurysm, between two and three o’clock on a Saturday morning, when most people were either sound asleep or reading a book to help them fall asleep. Rain was pouring hard then, as it is now, and the sound of its marching fall was portentous. A few hours before she was pronounced dead I was in my room browsing through the last pages of E.M. Forster’s Maurice, which I started reading when my family went out to dinner, our last one together with Iya. The book made me cry, but I never realized I’d cry harder after putting it back on the shelf.
My sister called to ask for directions to a hospital in Pasig. I scurried to check the Internet, gave her instructions, and sent my hugs for Iya, unaware that my niece was already unconscious, that she would no longer be conscious and return to our house with stories of her friends at school. I was worried, but hopeful. I never thought my sister’s next call would be about Iya’s death, but there I was, wringing the water out of myself like newly washed laundry, the cobwebs in the corners of my room commiserating with me, swayed by the wind as I sobbed, cried, and whimpered. The news of her death hit me hard. I didn’t know what to do. My sister wasn’t speaking clearly but I already knew what she was saying, so I said, please tell the doctors to revive her, bring her back, kahit gulay na siya. I hung up and bawled my eyes out. I refrained from making noises because my mom might hear me. We couldn’t tell her yet. She had a stroke a few months back and was just beginning to recuperate, and several months later, in the most unfortunate of circumstances, she’d be diagnosed with breast cancer. I cried on my pillow for I didn’t know how long.
My brother and I took a cab to Pasig. From time to time he would explain to the driver why I was crying and why our niece was brought to a hospital in Pasig while we could have brought her somewhere near. All I remember from that long ride was the rain. Everywhere there was water: puddles on the side of the road, water dripping from the roofs, the splash of rain on the taxi windows, my tears falling recklessly from my eyes. At the hospital my two sisters were waiting for us. I hugged them and before I knew it I was on the floor, hitting my head on the wall, unable to control myself from crying. The tears just wouldn’t stop. I didn’t know how to make them stop, and in a way I didn’t want them to stop. Days and weeks and months after Iya died I would still cry that way, and those mornings were the hardest to bear. A picture of Iya in my notebook, a memory of her at a convenience store, a kiss from her on a random day, a drawing she made, a card she sent me, a test paper from her class: any of them would easily make me cry. I couldn’t look at kids anymore because they would always remind me of Iya. I couldn’t pass the aisles of sweets in the grocery store because I would always remember the promises I made of buying her presents on payday. I couldn’t go home from work without remembering the many times I ignored her because I was so tired.
Iya had a lot of pictures, and in most of them she was happy, posing and smiling like a movie star. She loved seeing herself in photos, and there were times when she would grab the camera and take a picture of us or anything that struck her fancy. In fact, our personal computer and mobile phones were filled of her pictures. She was always ready for fun. God knows how hard it was looking through them again, remembering where this and that were taken, in the living room, at the mall, at a fast food chain, at a swimming pool, trying to guess if she was pleased or sad or about to throw a tantrum. We had pictures of her ever since she was a baby, and I’d look at them now and miss those days, how I seemed to take them for granted, how I forgot to pay attention to her because I was too preoccupied with my thoughts. I regret missing the chances when I could have spent more time with her, taught her how to read, or just cuddle her before she went to sleep. One day she promised me that she would read all the books on my shelf when she grew up and learned how to read English. It was a sweet promise, and I held on to it because I knew she would, if she had lived longer.
There was never a day I hadn’t thought of her. On the train I would cry heedless of the people around me. At my workplace I’d stop writing and cover my face with a jacket so that my seatmate wouldn’t see me. There were nights when I dreaded going to sleep because I would just bawl my eyes out. Recently I was at a friend’s apartment and we were talking about random things. He stood up to get something and I was left alone so I dozed off for a minute. Before I knew it I was crying no end. Looking back, I think it was the memory of Iya watching videos on my iPod that made me sad then. She loved Blu’s animation (one of the two reviews I published on this blog that mentioned her; the other is her scathing assessment of Bong Revilla’s Panday) and the music videos of Kylie Minogue’s “Come Into My World” and Blur’s “Coffee and TV.” She liked the Blur video most especially. She saw it lots of times. She was clearly amused by the dancing milk carton, and sometimes she would beg to see it again every time I was using my iPod. I’ve always thought that last shot of the two cartons flying to heaven was too melodramatic, but whenever I came across that video now, it was Iya I saw in their smiling faces, flapping her wings and reaching the sky before finally disappearing. It has been a year and the pain has never gone away. I’m sure it never will.
I never had the chance to say goodbye to Iya before she died. I didn’t have the courage to hug her before she was put inside the hospital freezer because my sister said her face was bloated after the doctors tried to revive her. She was only six and it was too much for her. When she was brought home for the wake, my sisters had to shout at me because I didn’t want to look at Iya inside the coffin. They told me Iya might think I was ignoring her, like I did before when I was too exhausted from work. I looked at her and realized that she wasn’t asleep. She’s dead. She’s no longer here. She will no longer ask for Koko Krunch every morning. She will no longer ask me to stay in her room and sleep beside her. She will no longer walk with me on my way to the bank machine or 7-11. She will no longer visit my room and ask what this word means or where this place is. She will no longer sing her favorite songs. She will no longer dance to my favorite songs. She’s somewhere else now, and I wasn’t able to tell her for the last time that I love her more than myself, that I have millions of dreams for her, that I am saving up to send her to the best schools, that I am going to buy her beautiful clothes, that we’re going away somewhere and watch all the movies she wants and we’ll be the coolest uncle and niece this world will ever know.