One of the things I loved best about my mom was that we shared a love for reading. When we'd go to Hong Kong for summer vacation, we always excitedly made the rounds of bookstores together. She would hoard Mandarin novels she couldn't find in Manila, while I would load up on whatever series I happened to be collecting at that time—Bobbsey Twins, Sweet Dreams, Sweet Valley High. My mom let me get any book I wanted, which meant we always came home with very heavy luggage. One summer, I remember reading Fine Things by Danielle Steel and falling in love with it. Being a bookworm, I had to read all her other novels right away. So off Mommy and I went to National Bookstore, and we got all the 10 or 12 titles that were available. She was that kind of a mom. She would throw herself into whatever hobby or craze my brother and I were into. With him, she would hit the toy stores in Greenhills every Sunday to buy a new Transformer or Voltron, or the latest Nintendo Family Computer game.
Shortly after I turned 14, my mom got very sick and very quickly passed away. She had acute leukemia. Suddenly she was gone. To this day, I still remember how that feels—to have a person be there one minute, and the next be gone forever. Poof, just like that. A gaping space where there used to be a warm, loving woman who sent you off to school in the morning and tucked you in at night. Even though I was so young, I felt so much older. And so much heavier—my grief was so huge that I sometimes saw it as a separate person, a lonely girl, piggybacking on me.
One of my biggest frustrations is that I have poor memory. Not just telephone numbers and what I ate for lunch the other day, but important things like how Mommy sounded when she laughed or if she and I ever talked about her dreams for me—or for herself. The things I do remember seem so tiny, so few: She wore eyeglasses, she snored in her sleep, she cooked us steaks for dinner from time to time, she liked to stay up late at night, she loved to put together puzzles, she ate atis, chico, or mangga't bagoong while watching videos.
After some more time passed, it dawned on me that I would also miss out on mom-daughter moments still to happen in the future: celebrating my graduations, choosing a dress for the prom, planning my wedding, traveling together, becoming friends when we're both older women.
I have fantasized about my mom suddenly coming back into our lives. I suppose it's not uncommon in children who've lost a parent. I'd picture her walking through the mint green swinging kitchen door in our old house and sitting down to dinner like she had never left. I've also asked myself that silly question: If I could go back in time and change things, would I make her not pass away? My answer: Not really. Though it left me feeling sad and lost for a very long time, losing someone so early put me on the path to finding myself and searching for the things that matter most.
My mom loved not just books, but wrapping them, too. So many nights I would wake up to see her in front of the TV, a pile of books beside her and a thick roll of plastic waiting to cover them. She would carefully measure plastic to book, scissor away the excess corners, seal the deal with tape. One day, she figured I could do it, too. So she taught me how and soon I was doing it on my own—just like she used to.
This appears in the May 2004 issue of Candy.