What I Know of Love
When my father is angry, my mother endures. She weathers through the words with grace. She stays and treads carefully with all the finesse born of a loving wife. A loving being, in her entirety.
Papa is always so quick to anger.
Maybe it comes with age. As my mother starts losing her things one by one, her memory weakening, my father loses his patience even faster. It’s like a race, not against time but against each other. With every morning they suffer together, with every turn back of the car to retrieve whatever it was they forgot. Whatever it was that was missing. Whatever it was they left at home. All with acid and snappish tones and the uncomfortable lull that follows after— you'd think they've never lived in peaceful company together. But only in years of togetherness can you bring yourself to suffer through mornings with them, these days as they grow older.
I cried once, because of my father, and then never again. He's changed since; always soft and pouring. Even last night when I left the windows open and let the rain in and got their bed wet, and he arrived tired from work, and I swore to him I closed the windows. Even then, papa never raised his voice. He makes me gelatin and acts so gently, and I felt so strongly that time when he held me against his chest as he asked me what sinking felt like. I wonder, with all the ways he pushes and throws so carelessly about her, if my mother ever cried. Maybe if she did, my father would be gentle.
For a short sequence of years, I rued the coming of Christmas. They would always fight around the holidays. The last time they fought was around four years ago. Maybe it was closer to March than it was to December, but the wind was cool and biting at my skin. The leaves fell around in a lazy torrent, as I so often connect to the ending of the school year. Perhaps it was February. My father had a business trip to the mountains or some other unreachable retreat. We didn't hear from him for a week. My mother was taut with worry, then chilled at his return.
Frigid and stone. She was an unmovable statue in the car the first day he returned. Or maybe it was the second, the third, the fourth day. Maybe it was Friday, and the car was silent. Not even the radio dared; not even the world dared. Early as it was, the sun limned the horizon with something so tender, antagonizing the tension inside that was threatening to break with its knocking colours. It is still the most beautiful sky I have ever seen, and I remember lamenting my capabilities of painting such scene. It was quiet that morning, and it took my breath away.
I remember a different ride after that, in a taxi, as we passed by my father's car while he watched us be driven away with a strange look on his face. Left behind, alone. In a quiet car, I'd imagine. Even quieter than the previous one. I was looking at him, but he wasn't looking at me. My mother didn't chance a glance.
There was that time my mother took me and my brother to Starbucks. Mama called it 'bonding time'. It was the first and only time I've ever had mille crepe. I've always found that food is more enjoyable when it isn't yours, not entirely. We shared what became my favourite cake after a single bite, and papa wasn't there. In the noise of the mall, we were quiet. It was still delicious.
I remember all those aggravating moments, of terse silence, long past that fight. The ones where nothing was said. I remember the other month, and all the other months, whenever my mama would tell me, with a strange smile on her face, "Pick your spouse wisely."
Being a romantic, and having never been in a serious relationship, I wonder how rough it is. How hard it is to not tire, to not leave. I wonder how close to reality my imagination is, and if my parents are as sweet as they once were. What is the difference between staying and not leaving? What are fights in happily ever after? I wonder how my senses deceive me.
Earlier this morning, when my mother called me and told me she thought papa was mad at her because he sent her a message with exclamation points, she thought she was at fault for letting the rain in. I wanted to hold her close to my chest. She was smiling a strange, timorous smile. I wanted to ask her how much they knew about each other. How much they still knew about each other. How far do they still reach in each other in familiarity, and how much has changed? What tempered over time? I wonder how much I— they— we missed.
I wonder what has gone: my childhood, or their proximity? And I wonder what is left— of me, of them– when it's quiet.
And the two times mama told me their song, and all the times I plucked her white hair while she slept after. I felt like crying every time. She never did.
All those times, and she never did. Sometimes, I still wonder why she never cried.
I don't ask. There are no actual questions, only things left unsaid. Somehow, growing up, I understand it a bit. Maybe when you observe something over time, you only ever notice when it dips and thins, not all the other times it steadies. I must've missed a lot.
So I thank my mother, quietly, for maintaining, for keeping my romance alive.
As my father remains mild and patient with me, even in the silence. As he worries, too, when mama is away. As he does his gentle acts of service. Always in the unsaid.
Hushed, I wonder: what do I know of love?
Ang nakalipas ay ibabalik natin
Ipapaalala ko sa’yo ang aking pangako
Na ang pag-ibig ko’y laging sa’yo
Kahit maputi na ang buhok ko
It is enduring.
Filipino writer Ann De Leon is constantly rediscovering just how intimate and formative their essay "What I know of love" actually is. See more of their writings and daily realizations on twitter @nagakda.
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