My Second Christmas Away from Home
Photo: Around ten, Christmas Eve, I'm wearing my jester's bonnet and mask of joy and holding the gifts I just received from Mike and Marivic
We celebrated Christmas Eve here at my cousin Mike's house with a Greek-style dinner: lamb steak, Greek salad, mashed potato with gravy, and pita bread. Everyone's mood was in vibe with the occasion—jolly and conversive. I tried to be a part of the festivity, but I just couldn't; deep inside I was gloomy. So much was missing—my family, closest friends, and Charlotte.
After dinner, we proceeded to the living room, where the elegant Christmas tree was, and began opening our gifts. While Amber and Julie were busy marvelling at theirs, I just sat at a corner beside Papa and started instead to recall yesterday's get-together of my family at our home in San Pedro, Laguna...
My family traditionally holds a Christmas get-together lunch on the 24th at our home in San Pedro. Yesterday, even though I was obviously unable to attend the occasion, I was excited. Charlotte promised to call me as soon as they get there. She'd be joining my family's get-together. I also bought two phone cards to use for that event. I have to be there and be with them, even if only through the phone.
Around nine o'clock p.m. where I was, the phone rang. I knew it would be Charlotte, and right I was.
"Hon, may gustong kumausap sa 'yo———"
"Hello, aLfie. Kumusta ka na d'yan? Malapit ka na ba umuwi? Salamat nga pala dun sa postcard na pinadala mo para sa birthday ko———"
That was my dad. I cried. It was the first time we heard each other's voice since the last time we saw each other, a week before my departure in 2003. His lovingly uttered questions transcended me back to my childhood past, when he would tell me his fairy tales and ghost stories. How my father's loving voice could touch my fragile heart.
"Hello, Tito aLfie. Salamat sa action figures na padala mo. Sayang, hindi kami kumpleto rito. Wala ka kasi———"
That was my nephew Algae, the mild-mannered and expressive one. He always ends our conversations with 'I love you.'
"Nahihiya ako eh———"
That was Aki, who's only about two-and-a-half when I left; his ability now to speak clearly amazes and saddens me at the same time—amazing because it makes me realize that time flies after all, saddening because I would no longer hear him baby-talk.
"Ah-ah-ah... Di na kita kilala..."
Ha-ha-ha. After a series of ah's, Kevin handed the phone back to Charlotte.
"Hon, pasensya ka na. Busy sa kanya-kanyang laruan mga bata eh———"
Oh, well, that's how children usually are. I just hope that they can still recognize me when I eventually visit home.
And finally, my mom: "Oh, kumusta na ang Papa? Ano ginagawa n'yo ngayon d'yan? Hindi pa ba dumarating yung Christmas cards na pinadala namin——— "
Since that the reception was clear, unlike most of our previous phone conversations, I gave the phone to Papa, whose delight was apparent for having been able to talk with his daughter: "Mag-iingat kayong lahat palagi d'yan ha———"
And with my second phone card, I got to talk with the rest of my family—my second sister, Karen; my third sister, Kim, who told me how delighted Arianne and Kevin were with the toys I sent them; my youngest sister, Niña, who told me of the good news that in January she'd be going to Cebu, Baguio, and Davao as part of her job at MTV Philippines; my first sister Lovelle, whom I regularly call; her husband, my best friend Ramil; and finally, back to the person who serves as the most potent source of my courage, hope, and strength—Charlotte.
From my family I'm so many miles away, but with that phone call I was able to spend a special occasion with them. There's really no place like home, especially when it's Christmas time.
Tomorrow, Christmas day, a few relatives and some of Mike's friends would be coming over for dinner. I'd be wearing my mask of joy, so I may eat well, converse with the visitors, and celebrate the occasion with everyone without shedding a shade of gloom.