Forty-nine

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I am most introspective in November, my birth month. I just turned 49 yet I feel my heart is that of a 19-year-old.

I always go back to the story surrounding my birth. According to my mother, it was a Saturday when I was born at 12 noon. Without anesthesia, she delivered me at home with the help of Tandang Elena, a hilot (barrio midwife). Tandang Elena was paid P20, saved by my mother from the time of her paglilihi (expecting a baby). She never wanted to inconvenience other people with money problems when it came to her giving birth. (She delivered five children, all boys.)

The mood was festive at home when she started to go into labor. My parents were expecting a baby girl because their first two kids were boys. When it turned out to be a bouncing nine-pound baby boy, they still rejoiced. (There was momentary confusion, though, among our relatives because my two elder brothers went around the neighborhood telling people our mother gave birth to a baby girl.)

But the merrymaking was short because I was born with taol (neonatal seizure). My convulsion made my eyes roll up and down, left and right, until only the white part was seen. In between my fingers were little black blotches, including on my fingertips.

There was only one remedy then, given the financial situation of my parents: to have TandangElena apply embers in between my fingers and on my fingertips for 40 days. That was a common healing practice for taol babies then. I survived to hear and tell the tale.

My mother told me I never cried during each treatment. I was a strong baby. To this day I am not a crybaby. To this day, I remain strong.

I’m no crybaby. I lost a relationship in the time of the pandemic and I did not shed a single tear. But I was smashed inside, crushed to perfection. My sorrow was muted, silenced. Grief did not want to abandon me. I embraced it. I processed it. I never thought that in my late forties, I would still be encumbered by the hurts and pains of a heartbreak. Breakup is a form of death. I had a funeral in my heart — for two months.

My mother told me there would be better days. So I weathered the storm inside my heart and the hurricane in my mind. Thankfully, I functioned well at work. It is my talent to separate the professional from the personal.

My mother was correct, there would be better days. I now enjoy the crustiness of my own laughter again, the same laughter that I did not hear for quite a while. The world is in technicolor anew. I hear the wind; I even savor its freshness. I get to smell the flowers again and get lost in their perfume. I smile at the sight of leaves pirouetting to the ground and in the wake of my smile is a haiku I composed in my mind. The sounds of birds traipsing from one tree to another in our backyard are not muted anymore. I hear their chirping. I even caught a glimpse of our turkeys making love right before me and the scene made me laugh. I have moved on.

Moving on, like falling in love, is a decision. I put a cap to my despair. In the process, I have learned to forgive — that person and myself. With age, in my case, moving on and moving up are drills that can be mustered and mastered — in two months. It was the fastest healing I had for a love affair that I held very dear in my heart for quite a long time. When I was sure I was healed, I revisited Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines,” and smiled and smirked when I got to the part “Love is so short, forgetting is so long.”

When I was hurting, I counted my blessings with my bleeding heart. The exercise did not seem to make sense. Now that I am A-OK, I’ve begun to count my blessings again and in the sphere of my good fortune, I see all things like glow-in-the-dark objects. Mesmerizing. Enthralling. Exciting. Inspiring. Fulfilling. Even the breakup itself was a blessing masquerading as a heartache.

Along my road to healing, some well-meaning friends reached out to me and held my hand. My close friend and student in my Sunday Writing Class, PJ Morante, sent me this poem by Elena Mikhalkova:

The Room of Ancient Keys

Grandma once gave me a tip:

*During difficult times,
you move forward in small steps.
Do what you have to do, but little by little.
Don’t think about the future,
not even what might happen tomorrow.
Wash the dishes.
Take off the dust.
Write a letter.
Make some soup.
Do you see?
You are moving forward step by step.
Take a step and stop.
Get some rest.
Compliment yourself.
Take another step.
Then another one.
You won’t notice, but your steps will grow
bigger and bigger.
And time will come
when you can think about the future
without crying.
Good morning.*

I read that poem every day and followed the instruction until I left the printed copy somewhere and I couldn’t find it anymore. I was healed. Healing is magical. Time heals because time is God.

My experience will not deter me from falling in love again. That’s one realization of my character. At 49, I have two distinguishable characteristics.

One, I have a loving heart, so loving that I have too much love to give. It’s a trait that makes my soul and spirit take flight. It’s a trait that makes me promise to myself that I will endeavor to be the best I can be. I will love with all that I have, with all that I am. I will welcome whatever life offers me. I will dream anew.

Two, I handle rejections well. I had them coming when I was younger. Life trained me well when it denied me even the most basic thing any human being should have. I never complained. What I didn’t have made me stronger. What I didn’t have made me more resolute in my will to persevere in life. God heard my pleas. And what I have now is more than what I prayed for.

My mother told me again and again that when I was born I had taol. She held on to her faith that there would be better days for her newborn, that I would be fine. And it happened. It happened then. It also happened now.

There will be better days. At 49, my heart is full. Still, I am excited to dream again the dream of a 19-year-old.

(E-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com. I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed weekend.)