Missing my mother terribly today

Photo by Kevin Jackson on Unsplash

I miss my mother every day.

She died on February 25, 2017. And ever since, I have been navigating life with the weight of her loss. Some days are easier than most. But recently, I discovered the weight getting heavier around her death anniversary and mother’s day.

On sobering breakdowns and ironic epiphanies

Just recently, days before mother’s day, I had a proper emotional breakdown. Time and again, I have braced for these waves. And as with time, it became bearable. But not this one, I’m afraid. Trying my hardest to ride the waves of grief, I got sucked in the quicksand of my heart. After drying my tears and grounding my thoughts, an ironic epiphany befallen upon me.

The epiphany explained

When I was in elementary, I had always prided myself with my academic achievements. I can count with my fingers the number of times I failed to be in the honor roll. I was never pressured by my mother to be the best, I just knew back then how excelling in school would make her happy. Not to mention how competitive I got around my well-of classmates, with their shiny lunchboxes and flashy trolley school bags. At 10 years old, I knew I had something to prove. Because of this desire, I learned how to self-manage. My study habits were a testament to my drive to make my mother proud. It was also fueled by my misguided ways of earning validation.

Unfortunately, there were other more privileged, rich kids who were better than me. They had the money, the resources, and the connections to move academic mountains. I just happened to be studying at the same school with them. I guess, I realized early on that life is unfair, and I can only do much. Despite my perceived mediocrity, I found content in creating an idealized version of me — a studious, well-mannered, capable 4th grader. Every achievement I attained painted a picture of my burgeoning persona. Every day, I seized every opportunity to add a few strokes to my obra maestra, not until the incident happened.

The incident

A few weeks before our examinations, my grandfather on my father’s side passed. Everyone from our family went to Sariaya, Quezon for the interment. I had to be absent from school for weeks which meant missing my exams. After my grandfather had been laid to rest, we went back home.

Because I missed the examinations week, I had to take a special exam for all of my subjects in one day. When I returned, I only had a few days to review. I was already cramming at this point — catching up felt impossible. Flashforward to a week later, our grades were computed and finalized. When our class adviser handed our school cards, I went through all of my grades. Expecting to get lower grades because of our family trip, I prepared myself. I started going through my subjects one by one.

Not bad…

Okay, I did not expect that.

Ow.

Ohhhh…

And when I got to Math, my heart stopped.

77?

I looked around and saw most of my classmates feeling satisfied with their grades. I felt lost in a sea of grins and pleasant gasps. I clapped my card shut and sank in my chair — melting in humiliation. I couldn’t will myself to double-check. One look and the sight of the two scribbled axes had already burned my mind.

How will I tell my mother this devastating news?

Self-preservation kicked in, I’ll just hide this from her.

But she needs to affix her signature on my school card.

We can do something about that.

She will kill me if she knew.

At that moment, my thoughts had been muffled by the hammering of my heart. The ground crumbled beneath my feet as the image I’ve built was blown into smithereens.

When I went home that day, I did not say a thing to my mother. This was the first time I received a poor grade. Prior to this, I had an impressive scholastic record. My studious image was squeaky clean. The idea of breaking the news to my mother nauseated me. Still reeling from my failure, I acted fine for the rest of the day, hoping that when I slept that night, I’d wake up from the nightmare. The next day when I checked my school card, the two axes were still there, mocking me and my facade.

I was so desperate that I started forging my mother’s signature. That day in class, I filled two pages of my notebook with my early attempts at forgery. I had no choice. In my developing brain, committing a petty crime was much better than hurting my mother and my ego. A lot of back and forth happened. Days had passed and my school card was kept hidden from my mother. The day of reckoning was upon me, I had to act quickly.

One day after our morning subject, I came home and had a quick lunch. On my way to the my aunt’s store where my mother worked, I practiced my apology speech under my breath. When I got to the store, my mother was entertaining customers. I waited patiently, biding my time. When the customers left, I went on with my plan.

“Human na ka ug kaon, ma?” (Are you done with your lunch, ma?)

“Oo, toy. Ngano man?” (I just had lunch. Why?)

“Asa imo tupperware, ma?” (Where is your tupperware, ma?)

“Ngano man?” she asked quizzically. (Why?)

“Ako hugasan.” (I’ll wash it for you.)

“Naa sa luyo.” (It’s in the back.)

I entered the storage room and grabbed the container and utensils. Returning with the clean dishes minutes later, I had mustered enough courage to expose myself.

“Na unsa ka, toy?” (What’s up, toy?)

My mother now looking more confused.

“Nanibag-o ko nimo kay pwerti nimung kakugihan.” (Something must be up. You don’t like washing dishes.)

Taking my cue from her reaction, I slowly inched toward my bag and took out my card.

“Ma…,” I croaked.

“Unsa man? Pagsulti lang. Naa kay problema?” (What is it? Tell me. Is there any problem?)

She was now looking at my hands, her brows furrowed and then relaxed. And then I saw a hint of recognition flashed in her eyes.

Clutching my class card in my heart, I gingerly and shakily handed it to her.

“Ma, sorry…”

She opened and examined my card.

Time froze.

“77?”

“Pasado man ni, toy.” (This is still a passing grade.)

“Pero layo ra sya sa grade nako sa 2nd grading,” my voice was already shaking, (But that is lower than my grade in 2nd grading.)

“Aw, mao, pero pasado man na. Okay ra na, toy,” she responded in a reassuring voice. (That is fine. It is still a passing grade.)

Tears were already spilling from my eyes, I started heaving.

“Ayaw na ug hilak, toy.” (Don’t you cry now, toy.)

Hearing those words soothed my heart.

“Abi ba nimo nga masuko ko?” (Did you think I’d get mad?)

I nodded.

“Okay ra na. Expected na na nako kay wala man kay enough time nga makatuon.” (It’s okay. You did not have enough time to study.)

“Mao diay imo gihugasan ang mga tupperware,” she quipped. (That explains why you’ve been acting weird lately. Washing the dishes? I should have known.)

Wiping my tears and snot, I embraced her. The ruins of my shattered persona, which were strewn around me, vanished into thin air.

That was the first time in my life that I felt accepted, loved, and appreciated, despite my wild revelation. All my irrational fears of invalidation, all gone with her loving and comforting embrace. It hurts to realize, after powering-through some personal storms in the past few years, that those arms won’t be there to soothe my inundated heart. Oh, how quickly she could chase the dark clouds away, or hold an umbrella over my head to keep me dry while the rain ravages on.

Now with her gone, I feel lost, stumbling, looking for her welcoming arms, missing her painfully. Whatever skeletons I am hiding in my closet, I know she’ll be accepting. No matter how irrational my fears may be, I know in my heart of hearts she is for me. If she were alive, she would have laughed at me for being so dramatic. “Don’t you cry now,” she would say.

And so, unlike many other days, I miss her more than ever today.

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