The round dining table at 4PM is still a busy port of the garlic-chicken-and-tomatoes I cooked for lunch, a tray of fruits and calamansi, some used water glasses, a plate with a fish, tomatoes and greens drawn on its face, spice shakers, a grocery list, and stuff that have yet to be delivered home to their racks and shelves. It’s a still life that’s not as instagrammy or pinterest-worthy in an age that screams for attention, but this round table proudly enshrines my achievement for the day. The centerpiece of its soy-sauce-stained crochet surface are two finger bowls, one with half a teaspoon of salt, and the other with a tiny-teaspoon hill of brown sugar.
In a low-sodium, diabetic household, the amount of salt and sugar that go into our meals have to be counted, and for my sanity, I have started counting these spoonfuls of restraint as an achievement in a current life stage that’s bereft of any accolade I can call my own. On some days, I can call these domestic milestones as personal achievements for my health, and mama’s health. On drier days, I embrace them as career achievements as caregiver and cook. By drier days, I mean those days when my real, paying project contracts are few and far between.
But on hindsight, God’s Providence has not failed us ever, not even once – it’s only my discontent that blinds me to this time-tested assurance – and it makes me realize that my driest days are not my lack of projects that can keep up with or exceed my corporate past. My driest days, the days when I would smash the garlic along with any breakable nearby, those days when I would continue to weep long after the onions have been minced with gigil, are those when I ruthlessly, mercilessly criticize myself.
When these dreaded days come, I would start to question my worth, refer back to my past, and replay the exciting lives of friends and past colleagues, all superimposed over my crouching self in thinning simagol. I would play a batuta-toting, police to my convicted self, interrogating and squeezing my handcuffed self dry, seeing myself through the lens of disappointment, under the warped illumination of a swinging bulb. And then I would shift into a chef and shred every part of my life’s craziest decisions and messiest conquests until all I am is a heap of frayed chicken breast. In my family, the silent wish of each one is a whole roast chicken with four legs and four thighs because the pecho is an unwanted chunk of white rubber. So to be a chicken breast, much worse, a chicken breast in shreds is the unkindest metaphor I can use for myself.
The problem with my self criticism does not end in chicken breasts. It ends in my going to Mama for affection, for her to gather my shreddedness and butter me up with praise and affirmation. In a word, angga. But Mama, never expressive nor demonstrative, would only amplify God’s silence, and I would break loose in my needy histrionics. I would forget that Mama should be the object of my care, and that she must be handled most delicately, like how she looked after me when I was a baby. I forget that at 30, I am no longer a baby.
This caregiving thing is something else. Once, I caught on TV a Holy Week teaser of the movie, Caregiver, where Sharon’s character, a jaded caregiver, said, “Bakit, may nag aalaga ba sa akin?”
Wham! Did she just repeat my monologue to Mama? Since that teaser, I pulled up a chair, put off the cooking, and sat through a frenzy of commercials and teleserye marathons just to catch the movie rerun.
After a very tiring and sick week, last night ended in a nightmare. It was a long dream with so many morbid elements in it, and in the dream, I was mostly in bed, lying, watching the erratic scenes unfold. There was a part in it where I was planning the funeral of my father. Apparently, in that dream, and at my present age, he had not yet been buried. The other parts were a blur, but in the last part I saw myself lying, resting in bed, a black shoe box by my feet. Then I heard someone say that some Tony needs to be buried already, and a barking dog was supposed to get this Tony. The barking dog charged towards me, and aimed at the black shoe box. Apparently, the innocent-looking box that I shared the bed with contained the dead Tony. But when the dog grabbed the casket box by its teeth, I get dragged along as if an unseen chain connects me with the box. Supine and helpless, I was like the Trojan, Hector, dragged through the dirt in defeat. I tried to mouth the words of the Lord’s Prayer, but there was a force that seemed to smother a pillow over my face and my soul – I wanted to cross over, to escape, to wake up, but what was most frightening was that when I knew it was a dream, I struggled even to wake up. But when I did, and thank Papa God, I did, I prayed the Rosary in shock, and wondered if what I just experienced had been a “bangungot.”
While recounting the dream, I felt quite uncomfortable, the horror still searing when I write, and the riddle in its scenes so unsettling. I still don’t know what it all meant, if it ever was a bangungot –I leave it to Him. Lately I have been coughing and getting easily tired and all achey everywhere, and so, for now, the supposed “bangungot” tells me to go easy on myself. Like, if I pressured and repeated to another person the unkind words I would say to myself, how would that other person feel? If, for example, I tell a Santiago, that he or she is a pair of chicken breasts, wouldn’t he erupt in rage?
So, today, I take time to pause and do some self-care. I luxuriate in a very, very long bath, layering scents on, trusting that God is taking care of everything around me while I am “away.” One by one, I lay a gem on each achievement God has allowed me to reap these past months: my versions of chicken adobo, chicken pochero – de Cebu, de Bacolod, de Himamaylan, de carinderia, guinataan nga langka with pinakas, savory oatmeal patties, crunchy bihon, pork humba, KBL, pork and beans, paella, pinakbet, my various vegetable stews, nutty stir-fries, chunky lumpia fillings, and countless kitchen improvisations. All within our low-sodium, low-sugar daily allowance.
It’s 9:10PM, and the moms and caregivers in other homes must be propping their legs up by now for Primetime Bida. Pinterest moms must be instagramming their children’s #ootd and their family’s #foodporn by now, and repinning another round of #pegs for tomorrow’s #diy and organizing #lifehacks. Back here, #ATM, my round table is still a crazed Cebu Pacific terminal of delayed dishwashing and derailed dreams, and I’m not so sure if still life remains still, especially with the unwelcome colony around the sugar hill. But everything is where it should be, and I’m so #Zen right now. And, despite my “spiritual training***,” I’m always so stubborn to recognize this: that I am truly, truly blessed –no hedge, no tag on that one – and that indeed, I am…alagang-alaga kag sobra ka palangga.
Thank you, Holy Spirit, for inspiring me to write today, April 6, 2016.
**Writing this, or anything that exposes my weakness and vulnerabilities, is always so daunting. I’m making myself a specimen pinned on its ends to be examined publicly. Many times, when I put posts up in my blog, I always feel the urge to take them down for fear of “merise!” and of being judged and jeered at in my nakedness. When does a tell-all become awkward for me and for the readers who personally know me? What are the boundaries of self protection? What happens if I keep these hidden to the grave to protect myself? What is there to protect? What is there to prove? (“I have nothing to prove, and everything to tell…,” says my silly, little cinema voice, who is different from the proverbial little voice in my head.)
Much, much stronger than self protection is the strong need to impart human experience – my experience, or whoever else’s – as honestly as I could. I believe that this is my way of… (here, cursor blinks for a full ten minutes of blankness)… I really don’t know. (three more minutes, in case something comes out of me… nothing.). Keber.
***My little spiritual training as a prayer guide, and as a servant in a Catholic community. My learning curve may not be impressive, I’ve had a “thousands starts and stops,” but I’m learning. 🙂