At 25, against great expectations and wishes, I decided to get married. The impact of losing the sole person who would’ve been the family’s breadwinner was immense, yes, but most immense for my stepdad who was already well into his senior years.
He did not speak to me for three years. Until one day, a few days after Lia turned one, my mother phoned me to say he wanted us to spend a couple of days in a beach in Bataan with them – just like we used to. No ill words were spat, not one mention of the past. We happily shared meals, jests, sunsets. And Lia. This small bubble of light, like a trawl thrown into his sea, scooping away all litter and old life, leaving his seabed without a speck.
It was the last time we saw him alive.
After he passed away, I asked his driver, whom he worked closely with for more than a decade, if what I did depressed him. I don’t know why I made such a futile inquiry. Perhaps, we all want a home for questions we couldn’t bare to ask when the time called for them to be asked.
“Deeply. He was not the same after that,” he replied.
I imagine him sitting motionless and somber by the window, sweeping the curtain with his fingers for light. There are times that image tempts me into feeling guilty. But each time I do, I try to remember the day he accompanied us home from the beach. I was afraid our disheveled 45-square meter pocket of low-cost housing – a far cry from his spacious, upmarket home in San Juan – would disappoint him.
He examined it from roof to ground, smiled, and said, “Your house is beautiful. It is.” Then, he took one long, final look at Lia and gave her a gentle pat. “She is beautiful. You did a good job.”