"I am the Moon and the Lord is my Sun"
“Are you sure about this?” my roommate asked, her wrinkled eyebrows painting genuine concern on her face.
“Uh-huh.” I turned away, slightly smiling. I was ashamed. And when that feeling creeps into my system, my best defense is feigning a smile.
“Are you really, really, reeeeeeaaally sure?” She was obviously worried.
“Yes, I am.” This time, I looked her straight in the eye. I wanted to sound firm and look dead serious. And maybe I was able to. For right after my reply, she turned to her study table again and didn’t say a word…until about three minutes later, when she suddenly asked, “But…does your mom know about this?”
Aw, f**k. I never thought of that. At that moment, it was my turn to be quiet. And I couldn’t smile it away.
It has been the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do: get a tattoo…a real one. Henna’s just a waste of bread as it wouldn’t even stay on my skin for more than a week, considering that the artist assured me that it’d last for two. Before, I was all about henna. But Cat, one of my closest buds, discouraged me. “Aw inda, gagadanon ka ni Mama mo. Kung mapa-tattoo ka man lang, dapat su totoo na, ibahan taka pa o,” she snapped. Well, I got the henna anyway, but I had to bring Kayen (another sister God forgot to gave me) along. And I was happy…for a while…a really LITTLE while. As soon as two days passed, the image was already fading. What a waste of P180…Cat was right. I have then since sworn that the next time ink had to decorate my body, it’d be for real…forever. But Mama sternly warned me to “not even dare think about it…unless you really are planning to betray me. Please lang, don’t disappoint me anymore.” *SIGH*
I'm pretty open with my Mom, see…she’s a total gal pal…definitely my better self…except, of course, when she nags me (and I’d rather put on earphones and deafen myself with Whitney Houston’s “indaaaaaaaaa---yaaay” on a loop), then she becomes my mother. We do get along…I mean, I can talk to her about really personal stuff that would’ve made any mom flip out. But we don’t agree on a lot of things. I’m in love with freedom, she values prudence. She’d chide me for opening up to some trusted friends about what goes on at home. She said I was being too outspoken. “Always show the world only your best side. Then, when you can already get away with it, that’s WHEN you can b**ch around,” she’d tell me. For Mama, to be able to survive the judgment of this cruel world, you can’t totally be yourself, you can’t choose friends, you have to be pleasant, if not always, at least most of the time. But that’s just not my philosophy, man. Subconsciously, though, I think I’ve somehow implanted her line of thinking into mine. College came and I wasn’t so antithetical anymore. I felt this constant need to not offend anyone. And of course, I had to get the kiliti of my many instructors just so I could make sure that I’d pass my courses. I also realized that college without any friends (whether they’re true or not) would really be a drag. Besides, it wasn’t so bad. I mean, by opening my world to more people and not just to those who share the same interests as mine, I was actually able to find some of the most important friends in my life…those who I never thought could get along with me…apparently, people are right when they say that the truest of friends can be found in the most unlikely of places during the most unlikely of times (I met one of mine in the bathroom right after I took a dump, haha). And I guess, having gotten into UP, I was sort of “humbled.” Tama nga sila, once you walk on Oble’s grounds, mapa-valedictorian ka man, achiever o drop-out, rich o poor, anak ka man ng Dekano o ni Mang Danilo na janitor ng CAL building, YOU ARE ALL EQUAL. In a way, when you’re in there, you sort of feel like nothing, y’know. And the only means you could get to be a hero is to make it ALL THE WAY from zero. By then, you’ll actually BE something. I guess this is what Mama’s always told me about.
Kase “Mother knows best,” they say. But aside from her counsel on social relations, I never seem to take her seriously whenever I have to decide on other things…academics and romance, for instance. I always march to the beat of my own drum in those matters, only to find out in the end that Mama’s been right all along. I expect to hear her “I told you so” but she graciously reserves that for lighter moments (“Told you he’s an a**hole! Bansot naman nga siya!”…a mean way of comforting but I swear it’s never failed to make me smile). When I’m really burned out, she’s my therapist and best friend and mother all rolled into one. “It’s just that I don’t like it that you still have to get hurt to finally learn your lesson,” she once told me, defending her endless lists of do’s and don’ts. So who’s the better teacher: your mom or experience? I’d say, “mom”…but experience is a lot harsher, and you learn better that way. It’s the whole “moth and candlelight” scenario. Rizal’s still right. Seeing from the perspective of a parent, I guess the most painful thing, even WORSE than divorce, is when you already have to let your kids go…for them to grow up. And I’m not just talking about letting them get their own pad and all that indie stuff. Nah…I’d still rather go home for sem breaks and Christmas and summer, thank you. I still love eating Mama’s spicy tofu with scallops and coleslaw being served on our table…and bicol express…and grilled porkchop…and dinuguan…and laing…and---
Okay, I’m salivating. Point is, you can’t keep it from happening, man. There will come a time that you have to bear that certain “emotional distance,” just so they can learn on their own. It’s like teaching the kid to ride the bike and finally giving the wheels, the pedals and the brakes enough trust to whisk your child away, setting out against the wind. Sad part is, you know that the tyke will have to fall somewhere along the way and get bruised and cry. That’s how it is. Just when dejected lovers thought that theirs were the most miserable of lives on earth would they have to realize that parents have to deal with a far worse kind of “letting go.” After bringing them into this world, making sure that NOTHING would harm them, some people turn up in their lives to do JUST THAT…and it’s inevitable. After giving them the best kind of comfort that you literally shed blood and sweat and empty your checks for, they go off doing the whole Hugo Boss drama, “setting their own rules” and screaming at you, “I’m a big girl/boy/fag/dyke now!” Men can promise you forever and still break your heart and women can dump you for somebody who looks like Matteo Guidicelli but it’s just all there is to it: they all come and go. Whereas with children, they’re your own blood, man. After working you’re a** off to make them feel loved and cared for, after getting too attached to them for your own good that you can even die for them if the time ever calls for it, after EVERYTHING, you have to let ‘em kids go? F**k life, right?
Don’t get me wrong, though. I still got the tattoo. Well, at first, I ran away but a month later, I decided that it was time (plus I had to sort of redeem myself after a most embarrassing act of cowardice). Busy weeks piled on top of one another and I wanted a release from all that academic zombie machine. I just turned 18 and it wasn’t really the happiest occasion, and I was totally down, flunking exam after exam and I knew I just had to do something…other than skin him alive, of course, since I’m all for love and peace. I was a mess and I’m not ashamed to admit it…fine, fine, I suffered, but only because I chose to. Some people just keep it all in, see. Mga taong me natatagong kulo, ika nga: Wives who play martyrs to mama’s boys but who secretly wish to scratch their moms-in-law’s eyes out; goodi-goodies who keep their eyes on the ground all day, only to contemplate world domination; nuns and priests who try to turn up the volume of God’s voice (the “science” of “con”) if only to drown out the call of temptation. Those people. They must be the saddest on earth…like Eleanor Rigby…and Fr. MacKenzie in that beautiful ballad John and Paul used to sing together. They think that the best solution’s to move on in a huff and continue doing their daily routines, believing that their hearts are whole when the shattered pieces actually trail along the way…like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs…only that it’s not a gingerbread house at the end…no, life is NOT a gingerbread house. And I was getting sick of it. I wished I could quit school for a while and just…think the time away (maging tambay). What went wrong? WHAT DID I DO WRONG? I did everything right, at least in my own judgment, of course. If only my parents weren’t working eight hours straight every week for my education, I would’ve left school and applied to be one of Bamboo’s groupies, just like what Cameron Crowe did in his younger years (which inspired his semi-autobiographical film, “Almost Famous”). But since that is not totally the case, then I guess I’d just have to bare sh**ty happening after sh**ty happening…and decently deal with it, just so I could say that I was in control. So maybe I was crushed but I’ve always known myself to be strong. I’d choose to suffer and drink and sleep my schoolwork away. Whatever that was happening to me depended on MY SAY, nobody else’s. “You chart your own destiny, remember?” I’d remind myself of my motto when I was still 13…and didn’t know a thing on earth. Yeah, it was back to my naïve days again. I thought it was the only way I could compensate for all my foolishness and lack of foresight.
But then one day, one REALLY early day (ugh, a 7a.m.-class, man), one really early bad hair day, I was running late for the first exam in my most favorite subject called Environmental Science (that was sarcastic, by the way). And lo and behold, there was this HUGE sentence painted on this cement tube thing…y’know, some of those used in construction sites…uhm, I’m not sure…it’s just this really long, gigantic cement cylinder lying on its side…usually. The vandal read: “YOU THINK YOU’RE IN CONTROL? HAHAHA…BLESS YOUR SOUL.” Tangina. Whoever wrote that knew how to ruin an already-messed-up day…no, an already-messed-up-really-early-environmental-science-exam-bad-hair-day. I almost freaked out, man. It’s like the whole, wide world suddenly turned on me. Before I knew it, I was back to teenage angst days again, just like in good ol’ high school…terrible. Gawd, I was desperate…physical pain just didn’t scare me anymore. In fact, I was sort of longing for it. I had to get back in control again…a better kind of control. I HAD TO GET SOME INK. That would have to end my senseless self-imposed calvary.
So there…after doing research on Filipino tribal designs, Baybayin, tattoo aftercare and the whole shebang, I marched to my closest chance of acquiring HIV. I mean, I even found the artist on the net, since it’s been greatly recommended that one looks for a well-known, professional inkman. I still ended up going for my own design, though. “Para wala kang kapareho,” Edwin Miraflores, my inkman (a really good one at that...DOH Certified, licensed and everything...you can reach him at 09204129799), suggested. And after he drew the draft on my lower back area, where I’ve always wanted it to be, he got out his killing arsenal, err, tattoo equipment. There were these really long, thick needles, thicker than the ones you usually see in hospitals…and this weird-looking apparatus the size of a miniature percussion revolver…and it did seem like it, too. Naturally, I freaked out. “Kuya, what’s THAT?” I asked. I tried to sound casual, of course, to seem more interested in “the thing” than scared s**tless (which I was). “Oh, we just call it…” he seemed to ponder what it was called. “…a machine…yeah, just the tattoo machine.” I dunno if he was trying to make me feel more at ease but there was nothing comfortable about a “machine” being used on me. Nevertheless, we got down to work and I just had to sit there for an hour. If my tattoo was bigger, I could’ve sat there the entire afternoon but as it was only small (a painful P700-2’2’’ masterpiece), it only took sixty minutes, tops. But as I was getting worked on, I couldn’t help but think about Mama (well, I DID have to meditate on something else other than the machine literally scraping the skin off my back). “Don’t even dare think about it…unless you really are planning to betray me. Please lang…” her voice resounded in my head. It was conscience talking. But I wasn’t guilty. No…I was sad. If she saw this thing on my back, would she really think that I betrayed her? I realized just then that these days must’ve been the hardest for her. It’s when she has to let go. I mean, my brother and I, her only children, are now studying away from home, which is probably what's behind all her fussing whenever she sees us (and she visits us often, too). She’s become so paranoid that she’s even stopped watching the evening news because “there were too many crimes being reported from Quezon City,” which is, obviously, where UP Diliman is. Poor woman. I feel her pain, I do. But that vandal had some truth in it, y’know…there really are some things that are beyond your control…even the very children that you bore. And every second that the “tattoo machine” buzzed its way on my skin was a second that marked my individuality and the freedom that comes with it.
"Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you…."
Kahlil Gibran wrote it so perfectly. Somehow, I want Mama to understand…all this “moth and candle” thing.
It’s been almost a month now since I finally got my ink. And Mama saw it already the last time she dropped by. I actually had no plans of telling her about it YET, much less showing it. I intended to reveal it when the right time came. It was just total accident…I bended over…right in front of her. I know, I know…sheer stupidity. And she was somewhat dazed when she asked me where I got it…and I couldn’t say anything except a sincere “Sorry, Ma.” She chided me a little but for the rest of the time, she was as quiet as I. In the taxi, not one of us broke the silence. And it was getting even more fragile by the minute. But I couldn’t dare look at the woman beside me as much as she probably couldn’t dare look at the person she thought was her daughter. I was ashamed, again, not exactly what could be remedied by a fake smile. She was frustrated, not exactly something that she can easily get over, unlike broken curfew rules and stuff. No, I had a feeling that what I broke was something more terribly serious than a curfew rule. I tried to distract myself by looking out the window, staring at Manila passing by. Silence. And then, I heard her sniffing and I could feel the movement of her hand as she wiped a tear.
"… You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable."