To Bear the Past

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

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| This is the 161st story of Our Life Logs |

“The memory of the heart eliminates the bad and magnifies the good; thanks to this artifice, we are able to bear the past.”

— Gabriel García Márquez

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I was born in the province of Bulacan in the Philippines in 1980 and grew up at a time when children mostly played outside until we were ordered to come home by our parents; when we still had lots of motivation to explore and be adventurous. Most of my fond memories were spending time with my parents and two younger siblings: putting up the Christmas tree together; enjoying an early jog along Manila Bay; shopping for school stuff; going to the carnival; having cheap pizza with my siblings and Papa at the tricycle terminal while waiting for mama to get home from work. Sometimes, it was happy.

Our traditional Christmas Eve dinner (I’m on the right), 1985.
Our traditional Christmas Eve dinner (I’m on the right), 1985.

These carefree moments of my childhood have helped shape me into the person I am now. Unfortunately, the bad experiences did, too.

Fights were a constant in my life. Even at a young age, I knew that Mama’s verbal attacks on Papa often went too far. She insulted him, wounded his ego, and made him feel small.  It often crossed my mind that Mama deserved the fists to the face and arms that Papa retaliated with. I also wondered if, perhaps, Papa only got what he asked for. When he came home drunk, Mama had to bear the weight of his fists and wore the bruises for days after.  It was the proverbial question of which came first, the chicken or the egg?

The whole family after my first communion (I’m in the middle), 1988.
The whole family after my first communion (I’m in the middle), 1988.
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I was about 11 when Mama walked out on me, my younger brother and sister, and our papa. She had finally had enough and decided to leave; she left me a letter explaining why, asking me to understand and telling me to look after my younger siblings. I understood my mama’s motivation; I always knew that she never fit in with my papa’s family. And then there were the constant beatings. I couldn’t blame her for that.

But I also couldn’t find it in my heart and mind to understand how a mother could leave behind her three children. She always said that we were the reason that she took the beatings for so long, to keep us all together. So how could she just leave? That was a huge burden for anybody, especially for a young girl, to carry.

My siblings experienced things differently simply because they were too young. I have always been grateful for that small blessing, even if that meant I had to carry each layer of our family’s truth by myself. That, I will say, was exhausting. For this reason, I cherished the quiet hours when I could sit by the window and read the books I borrowed from the school library. Maybe that’s why I found so much joy in books and in being alone. They were my escape.

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Despite Papa’s tendency for physical violence towards our mama whenever he got drunk, we still loved him dearly as our father, especially because he was the one who stayed.

For the next year, Papa did his best to raise us. He had to travel nearly three hours every day, each way, to and from work.  He would get up at 5 am to prepare our breakfast and leave before we went for school. When he got home at 8 pm, he would prepare dinner and help us with our unfinished homework.

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It was nearly a year later, in 1993, when Mama decided to come home for good. I was finishing sixth grade, and Papa was leaving to work in the Middle East. I understood, without either one of them saying anything, that part of the reason Mama came back was because Papa wouldn’t be around much.

I was conflicted about the whole situation. I understood that my parents believed staying together was what was best for us, but I couldn’t understand how they could believe that exposing us to all that violence could be good in any way.

Understandably, my relationship with Mama deteriorated after she came back. Throughout high school, we often fought, and I would spend months not speaking to her. Whenever Papa came home for a vacation, things at home would be happy the first few days. Then the fights would start again and would continue until the day he had to go back to the Middle East.

After high school, I chose to attend college far away from home. Papa still worked abroad; Mama continued to be a working mom. I knew my brother and sister would be fine; after all, they developed self-reliance at a very early age. Leaving them behind was hard; but I also felt free.

And there was also one secret I was running away from.

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Before the start of the second semester of my first year in college in 1997, Papa went with me on the eight-hour-long bus ride back to school. As I was falling asleep in the bus, he put his arm around me. Suddenly, I was startled awake by the familiar embrace. I felt uncomfortable and leaned away. I stayed awake the rest of the trip.

We arrived safely; he dropped me off at my dormitory, staying for an hour to rest a bit before making the long trip back home. When he left, I had the room all to myself with nothing but my thoughts to keep me company.

And the repressed memories