That question annoys me, especially when my mother asks it of me when she catches wind of some trip that I am to make. I think that it should no longer be anybody’s business—not that of my mother’s—where I should go and where I should be. I chafe at what I consider to be an intrusion into the sacred precincts of my privacy. But in one of my fits of annoyance lately, I gave this question repeatedly asked me by my mother plenty of thought. It is of the same tenor as that she asks of her favorite grandson, my eldest nephew: “When are you coming home?”
After the evil spell of irritation passed, sobriety came on me and I realized that the question was that of an 85-year-old who hardly has any of us in her company. Although the three of us, siblings, are no spring chickens ourselves, there is still a lot to be excited about, so much to occupy our days, so many events to look forward to. We can be alone because we know that it will not be long before we rejoin the company of others: At work, at school, at choir practices, at parties, at outings. Not so with my mother. The possibilities are severely restricted now, and her world has considerably shrunk to her room, sometimes, the rest of the house, and then the joy rides she takes in the afternoons by her lonesome self in her car, driven around by her faithful driver.
Really, while it often annoys me because I take it to be a demand that I be by her side all the time, it is in fact not so, because I am hardly ever by her side, even when she and I are both in Tuguegarao. She lives in her own house and I, in mine. But as long as Jet, my brother, and I are around, her world is secure. The thought that we are not too far away is comforting enough for her. That might not make sense to us, but it is her world—and soon, it will be mine too, try as I may to deny it or put it off!
When the glow of youth has faded, when many of your relatives and friends have left for the hereafter, when close friends are burdened by sickness and old age and cannot keep you the same merry company they used to, then it really becomes a lonely world, and it gets lonelier still when the only ones you have left—who may not even live with you—announce that they are leaving you to yourself even for just some time. When there are not too many years left, every day is precious. Especially so because we are a family that more than half-way through our lives lived very closely together, if not under one roof. Time was when the upper floor of the house was my parents’ domain that the three of us, siblings, also shared, and the lower floor was where grandpa and grandma pottered around—and lazy afternoons were spent watching grandma at her old, reliable sewing machine, or doing some fancy crocheting.
Then the nest started to empty. We went off to school, I to the seminary. It was only years later that I learned how mommy would cry after the first few days I left for the seminary and she would enter my room and see my empty cabinet. Jet too went off to law school, and soon, even Michee left for Maryknoll. At least, she still had daddy—until he was appointed a justice of the Court of Appeals and had to leave for Manila too. She did not complain but it must have hurt tremendously. But she was courageous and she kept it all within. It is so easy now to protest that she is being selfish when she wants us close by, but really, I have absolutely no idea of the anguish with which she found herself alone in an empty nest and the courage with which she bore it.
Daddy has ways of coping—because, although afflicted by weakened limbs, he gets invited to lectures and to participate in committee meetings of varied concerns. And he has always refrained from being a complainer, sometimes, even perilously keeping his medical issues to himself. Mommy remains intellectually alert, and can still lecture on the Family Code, Obligations and Contracts and Wills, hardly ever glancing at the books she has herself authored. But she does not get the breaks daddy has, and less still, those that we have. So, why should I complain when she bothers me with the lonely and pained question: “Where are you going?”
I too miss the excitement of younger days, and I too have found slammed in my face the doors of opportunity that once were wide open. If acceptance and resignation are difficult for me, how much more might they be for an 85-year-old mother and father? Not too long ago, in one of her afternoon visits to my house—that, for her, is an ice-cream parlor of sorts—she was giving me instructions about something I had to do five years from now. I reckoned that that was not too long from now, and that there was no reason for her not to be around. But she said, without any sentimentality or emotion: “I shall not be around then.” I showed no emotion either, but when she left, I sat long and stared emptily—at nothing—for a long, long time in the realization that “Where are you going?” was a question I will be asking her perhaps in the not too distant future, to which I will no longer expect any answer!
I will try very hard to ward off the “reflex” of annoyance next time she asks me this question. I will try very hard to assure her that I will not be gone too long. Because when the day comes that no one shall ask me any longer: “Where are you going?”, then I shall truly be alone!
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