So that was it; her sister was dying. Riza received the call this morning from her niece in D.C. She was expected to go to Manila. Her daughter Melanie was already there, sleeping on a cot in the hospital room. Riza shut her eyes tight and rubbed her forehead with her fingers. She searched her mind for a reason to stay. What could she tell them? Her office was not busy. They knew she could afford it. But she was reluctant. She hadn’t even gone home for her mother’s funeral. All the more reason to go, they will say.
While in the kitchen making coffee, Riza thought of the last time she went to the Philippines; what year was it, 1982 maybe? Even then, she did not stay long, ten days at the most. At that time her sister, Analyn, was in the Province taking care of their grandfather, Lolo Freddie. Riza never made it out of Manila. She didn’t think it was worth the six-hour bus ride to Laoag. Instead she sent a few gifts and a letter to her lolo, promising to return another time.
“This is what happens,” she said to no one. “It never ends with them. But what can you do.” The words echoed in the large, white kitchen. Her kids were grown and lived all over the country. The eldest, Rachel, in Minnesota, her son Ramon in California, and the youngest, Melanie, at twenty-five, in Manila now, but will return to her home in Seattle. They all left her in the suburbs of New York. How did this happen, Riza asked for the hundredth time. Too much freedom, too much money, she thought. If their father was alive, he would never have allowed them to live that far away.
“She’s asking for Rachel,” Melanie said. It was six a.m. the following day, dinner time in Manila. The line crackled and Melanie spoke in a low tone.
“Ano? What?” Riza raised her voice. “I cannot understand you.” She pretended like she couldn’t hear the request.
“Tita Ana,” Melanie said louder. “She’d like to see Rachel.”
“She cannot come,” Riza announced. “Did you give her the dress?”
“The dress? Yes, I gave it to her,” Melanie said. Then said, in almost a whisper, “But Mom, I don’t think she’s going to make it.”
“She is busy at the hospital,” Riza stood firm. “Just say she has too many patients. Can’t you tell her that?”
“I guess,” Melanie said. “I mean, jeez—”
“And tell her I’ll send five hundred dollars,” Riza said, as if buying approval. Melanie was silent.
“Did you hear me?” Riza grew anxious.
“Yes, I heard you.”
“Ano ba? That should be enough, is it not?” Riza asked.
“Sure, Mom.” Melanie responded dryly, “Whatever you say. I have to go.”
Riza hung up the phone and felt a sting in the palm of her hands.
All these years, it is what Riza hoped, yet was not how she envisioned it. When she found out her sister was terminal, she felt a relief in a way. She could see herself finally free of the pressure to return to the Philippines and to support the family there. Since coming to the States, she was always sending money to her parents, her husband’s parents, his brother, her sister. Once her parents and in-laws passed away, and even her own husband, the burden lightened. They asked for less, and she focused on being successful in America.
Riza thought about her sister Analyn, lying in her hospital bed, feeling weak and scared. It was 1963 when Riza left the Philippines. Unable to come to the airport, Analyn did not even get to say goodbye. They just spoke on the phone that morning. Rachel was a baby, and Riza told her sister she would return when the child was a little older.
But returning to the Philippines was harder than she thought. Enrique a doctor and she an accountant, they each worked in private practices. Once they bought a house and had more children, their lives revolved around work and school. Each year proved more difficult to get away, or at least that’s what they told themselves.
Her husband made all of the decisions; where they lived, what school the children attended, the kinds of friends the kids made. And he was strict when it came to discipline. What he said went, regardless of anyone else’s opinion. Riza was fine with Enrique guiding the children, no matter how heavy-handed. She had no interest in the sports they played or the books they read.
She kept the house in order, was faithful to her husband, and, God-fearing, she never missed Mass. Her sanctuary was her office. She liked being away from the chores at home and took pride in earning money independent of her husband’s income. As long as she could work, she thought, they would be all right. But emotionally she was unavailable to them, a flaw that cost her their trust in some ways. The kids learned everything from their teachers or coaches. From how to ride a bicycle to how to drive a car, the school and the church took care of what they needed to know. This was how she thought it was done. She worked to give her kids food, clothes, good schools, and everything they needed was in America. So, it never occurred to her that someday they would want to leave the country.
“What if you get sick there? Who is going to take care of you?” Riza warned Melanie over the phone, weeks before her trip to the Philippines.
“It’s Manila not the jungles of Africa. I’m sure they have doctors and medicine there too.”
“Yes, but you don’t know the doctors there,” Riza said. “They could just be after your money or give you something you are allergic to.”
“Why can’t you be supportive?” Melanie said, “Besides, I will be at Tita Ana’s the whole time, and I’m sure she has it covered.”
Riza pictured Analyn fluttering from house to house, gossiping with the neighbors in the morning, then napping in the afternoon. She always managed to have someone taking care of her, not the other way around.
“Are you saying I can’t trust my own family?” It was as though she read Riza’s mind. “They’re family, right?”
Riza hesitated. She cleared her throat, and sighed.
“Yes of course they are your family,” she spit out. “But it’s different there.”
“Well it can’t be any worse than it is here,” said Melanie.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Riza thought of the time she hired a babysitter to stay with Melanie when she had the flu at age five. Riza worked as a bookkeeper and was afraid to tell her boss she had to stay home to take care of a sick child. She decided she would just work half the day but ended up staying until the office closed. At least she was working, Riza thought, unlike Analyn who never had a job.
“I’m just kidding,” Melanie said. “I’ll call you when I land.”
That was almost five months ago. Riza thought she would be home within a month, but every time Melanie called there was no mention of plans to return. She even got her visa extended another thirty days. And now, she wanted Riza to come to Analyn’s bedside, and bring Rachel with her.
Riza turned the situation over in her mind several times. She always felt anxious about any change in her routine, and going home was more than a simple change. How could she persuade Rachel to go, when she herself didn’t want to return to the Philippines. And then there’s all the questions: why hadn’t she returned sooner? Why don’t the kids speak Tagalog? Why are they living so far from their mother? How does she manage being alone? Riza couldn’t do it; she did not want to justify her choices to those people. She would wire the money in the morning, and the matter would be settled. But when her phone rang and the caller ID read “Rachel,” she had a feeling it would never be settled.
“So, are you going?” Rachel asked. Riza’s heart started to beat a little faster.
“Well, what can I do now,” Riza said. “It’s too far gone, and she’s in the hospital already.”
“Melanie made it sound like it’s just a matter of a few days, maybe a week.”
“It’s not a good time,” Riza said.
“Really, Mom? I mean, it’s not like you’d have to stay the month,” Rachel said. “And she’s your sister, wouldn’t you want me to go if it was Melanie?“
“That’s different,” Riza said. “You both live here.”
“Doesn’t matter; I’d fly to Manila tonight if that was the case.”
“You know, it’s not so easy as you think,” Riza said. “You have to bring so many things and sit there all night, talking.”
“I know, I know. You’ve got your own thing going on now: no one to wait on, or answer to,” Rachel said. “But it might be good for you to get out into the world a little.”
“I don’t need to go all the way there,” Riza said.
Rachel continued. “I just think you’ll regret it if you don’t.”
“What do you know of regret,” Riza scoffed.
“I wasn’t there when Dad died,” Rachel said. Riza never faulted her daughter for not coming home when Enrique was hospitalized. They were not close like that. He would have wanted her to stay through her exams.
“I’ll even go with you if you want,” Rachel said. Riza grew suspicious.
“Melanie told you, didn’t she?” Riza snapped, defensive.
“Told me what?” asked Rachel.
“That your Tita is asking for you,” Riza said.
“No. She just said you might need someone to travel with,” Rachel said. “Why would Tita Ana ask for me?”
Riza tried to redirect the conversation. She realized that Melanie wouldn’t make Rachel feel obligated to go.
“She has not seen you since you were a baby,” Riza said abruptly. “She just wants us to go so we can pay for the hospital.”
“Well then all the more reason,” Rachel said.
“No. You are not going.” Riza shook her head as if Rachel could see her.
“I’m not asking your permission, Mom,” Rachel said. “I’m just saying that if it’s her dying wish we might as well. We have the time and mon—”
“Why do you want to go, hah? It’s not like she has taken care of you before,” Riza ranted. “And now that she wants to see you, we’re supposed to drop everything and go to her? When did she ever ask us to come when she was healthy? It’s only because she is sick.”
“Well, I’m going,” Rachel said, dismissing Riza’s concerns. “I don’t know what your problem is, but when someone is about to die they shouldn’t feel like their family doesn’t care.”
Riza heard her daughter hang up, and the stinging in her palms returned. She should not have said all those things, she thought; flown off the handle as her kids would say. Rachel is the type that would go to Manila to spite Riza for losing her temper, and now there is nothing Riza could do to keep her home.
The next morning she began to put together a balikbayan box. No one ever returned from the States without a carefully weighed box of gifts for friends and relatives. She thought of everyone who would expect even the smallest token, from the old woman living next door to her sister, down to the daughter of one of the maids living at the house. Riza rummaged through each room looking for unopened perfumes and cosmetics. Clothes that she planned to return, exchange, or re-gift, she put in the box. She threw in candies and chocolates for any kids to share.
As she was going through a desk drawer, Riza came across a photo of her children sitting on a floral sofa with her mother. It was taken in 1975; the first time Riza’s mother visited the States. The two younger ones had dark skin, and chubby cheeks, but Rachel was fair and slender, and had a sharp chin and high cheekbones, just like her lola.
“Ay Rachel, maganda!” Riza’s mother had fawned. “Manatili sa araw, you will get too dark. You understand? No sun.” She then pulled Rachel close and sniffed her cheek. Rachel nodded and then raised the top of her lola’s fingers to her forehead.
“Mano po,” Rachel said. Riza’s mother blessed her, then gave her a handful polvoron from her bag to share with the others.
Rachel was always the pride of the family, but she was also the least interested in the Philippines. Riza knew why but never spoke of it. It was her failure in a way; she wanted her to be like all the other American children. So, she never talked about her country, or taught Rachel Tagalog or even how to cook Filipino food. She was the same with her other two children, but she felt a bit torn with Rachel because she was actually born in the Philippines.
In the photo Riza’s mother looked as regal as any Filipino matriarch, proud and surrounded by grandchildren. Riza wondered when she would be allowed to feel that way. When her children were small, there was no time to attend their soccer games, school plays, or piano recitals. She was too busy earning the money to pay for those things. She couldn’t remember which colleges accepted her kids, but she did remember them leaving, their cars packed and pulling away from the driveway. Each time Riza stood still on her doorstep, tearless and stoic, convinced they would return when they were through with their studies. But not one of them returned to live at home. These days her children hardly came for Christmas, but they were willing to fly all the way around the world to see an aunt who has not made any contribution to their upbringing. Nothing had gone as planned. Riza threw the letters and pictures into a desk drawer and taped the balikbayan box shut.
When Riza landed in Manila, the crowd overwhelmed her. Two women behind her kept bumping into her rolling carry-on bag without so much as an “excuse me.” A young man wearing headphones knocked her shoulder as he slung on his backpack and rushed down the hall. The corridor buzzed with people walking and calling out to each other.
“Tayo na,” said a man at her right to his friend as they hurried past her.
“Halika,” an older woman ahead of Riza turned and said to the two women behind her.
“Dali!” Riza heard a lady scold her children.
Riza felt like she was in the way and invisible at the same time. She waded through the mass of luggage and boxes until she spotted her belongings. No one moved to make space for her to claim her bag or offered to help her lift the box from the carousel. She glanced at Rachel seeking a look of common understanding, perhaps a roll of the eyes confirming her feelings. But Rachel did not seem annoyed at all. In fact, she just surrendered to the organized chaos and simply nudged her way toward the front to help her mother.
“Is that everything mom?” Rachel asked. Riza nodded, unable to speak. She felt her stomach tighten, and her breath quicken. When they were finally in the taxi, she let out a frustrated sigh and closed her eyes, silently hoping that when she opened them she would be back in New York.
At the hospital, Analyn looked past Riza and held her hands out to Rachel.
“Rachel,” Analyn’s voice was soft, with a high smooth pitch. “I have always wanted to see you.” Looking past Riza, Analyn reached for Rachel and took her hand. She held Rachel’s fingers with one hand, and caressed Rachel’s arm with the other, as if making sure she was real. “You are as beautiful as I imagined. Tell me, what are you doing now?”
Riza stepped aside and watched as Rachel obediently sat on the side of the bed. At 62, and ill, Analyn still showed glimpses of youth. Her skin was a latte brown, without a single blemish or age spot. Her thin, paintbrush-like, eyebrows curved naturally around her almond shaped eyes. Her lips were full, and pouty, perfect little cushions to soften her strong chiseled jaw. Riza thought she was probably the most beautiful dying woman Rachel had ever seen. She could tell Rachel was mesmerized, like so many others, as if Analyn perceived her like no one had ever done before. Riza stared at them in resentment.
“Mom, do you want anything?” Melanie said. “We’re going for coffee. Want to come?”
“No, I’m fine right here,” Riza said, and took a seat by the window. She was afraid to leave the room, even though she felt excluded. It was as if she never left home; the same feelings of uneasiness, isolation, and insecurity filled her heart. Growing up around all of her relatives and neighbors was stifling to Riza. She was either criticized and teased or ignored entirely. Not the pretty one of the family, and not a boy, the elders would say she would be lucky to marry or be accepted to school. Her Lola Cory said she was too quiet, not shy, but suplado, arrogant, always reading comic books, not helping with the cooking or cleaning. The neighbors squawked that she was not smart enough, would only be good for selling tomatoes, carrying them in a basket on her head. The older kids would say she was not friendly enough to sell tomatoes, that she was too lazy. Even after she met and married Enrique, the tsimis continued:
“He was jilted by his childhood sweetheart—“
“He felt sorry for her but could not break it off. She might do something—“
“Why Riza? Is she pregnant?”
“She cannot even cook adobo—“
“No children yet? God knows who will be a good mother—”
Riza looked out the window and remembered how anxious she had been to leave Manila almost thirty years ago. At the time, she hadn’t really thought about coming back. She cried on the plane, afraid of the unknown in America, but at the same time, she was ready to leave the constraints of the Philippines. She had been tired of living with her parents, not knowing if they could have a place of their own. It was much more appealing to be working and sending money home than enduring the constant henpecking at her parents’ house, even if it meant going to the other side of the world.
It was what she worked so hard for; why she went to school and took any bookkeeping job she could find. It was just lucky for them that she and Enrique had already been married when he was accepted to do residency in New York. Riza always felt that God had a plan for them, and for Rachel. But now, what was God thinking by bringing her back to where she was so out of place?
When it was time to leave the hospital, Analyn requested a moment alone with Rachel. Melanie and Riza stepped into the hall, but Riza hung close to the door, anxious. When Rachel came out, she was quiet and pensive. Although she was suspicious, Riza knew better than to pry.
“Are you hungry?” Riza asked. Rachel shook her head. “Maybe we should go to the grocery and bring some food to the house.” Rachel watched the numbers above the elevator doors.
“Or do you want to go out?” Riza continued, “We can go to Makati mall. We can eat first, then shop for what we need.” Rachel didn’t respond.
“Let’s just go to the house,” Melanie said. “I’m sure Lorna made something for Tito Vinny and the boys.”
When they arrived in Tondo, Riza focused on the dimly lit houses that lined the dusty street where they parked the car. She could smell a mix of fried fish and smoke from a barbeque. The three women walked through a maze of houses built so close together you could hardly see between them. There were televisions blaring, roosters crowing, and dogs barking but it was impossible to decipher from where each sound was coming. Small children ran through the alleys, darting in and out of doorways.
“Anong ang pangalan mo?” they called out to Rachel, some following not too far behind her. All she could do was smile.
“They’re just asking your name,” Melanie said to her. Then she addressed the children, “She doesn’t understand. Siya ay hindi maunawaan ang Tagalog.”
“I’m Rachel,” she called, and the kids laughed loudly at her accent and scampered away singing “Rachel ba?” They mimicked, “I’m Rachel.”
Riza kept her eyes forward, watching where she stepped and searching for the light of the only two-story house in that section of the district. She had forgotten what a beacon it was among the smaller, shanty-like homes that marked the densely populated part of the city. She was glad Melanie was in a large enough place, but the fact that the house was built with money Riza earned overseas loomed in the forefront of her mind.
At the house, they were greeted by what seemed like half the neighborhood. Everyone wanted to see that Riza had really come home, and with the baby she left with now a grown woman. Riza’s two brothers and other sister came with all of their children, their ages ranging from ten to eighteen years old. Riza remained reserved and aloof, but Rachel welcomed the little ones, and tried to joke with the older kids while Melanie translated. Riza watched her nieces and nephews, for they were as enamored by Rachel as she with them. To them, Rachel was like a celebrity. She was dressed in tailored clothes, with heeled shoes and a matching belt and purse. Although she was as slender and fit as her younger sister, Rachel was a lighter-skinned, more put together version of her. She liked to dress appropriately, and her hair and nails were always clean and done. In that way, Riza thought, Rachel was more Filipina.
“Oh, you see, blood is thicker than water, Manang,” said one of the neighbors to Riza. She just nodded and smiled.
The kids also played and joked with Melanie, but in a different way, as if she were one of them. She was dark and striking, with the same high cheekbones and full lips as her Tita Ana, but she dressed like a tomboy; always in tank tops, shorts, and sneakers or hiking boots, which annoyed Riza.
“Your daughter is not afraid to walk around Tondo by herself,” one neighbor commented. “I’ve seen her playing basketball in the street with her cousins.”
“Oo, every morning she does twenty-five sit-ups before she comes down to eat,” Kuya Vinny said.
Riza was embarrassed to hear that her daughter was running around like a twelve-year-old boy. It reflected on her as a mother.
“Well, at least she was staying at the hospital,” she said, knowing that none of the other kids were at Analyn’s bedside.
After Rachel and Melanie went through the balikbayan box, Riza was ready to go to their hotel.
“It’s late now,” she said. “We will come again for lunch tomorrow, after going to Analyn in the morning.”
“I think I’ll stay here tonight,” Rachel announced. No one responded. A few of the relatives excused themselves to the kitchen and began wrangling their kids.
“Your bag is in the car already,” Riza said. “You have no clothes.”
“I can use Melanie’s,” Rachel said. “I’ll meet you at the hospital. Or pick you up with Tito Vinny.” She looked over at Vinny who was finishing off his after-dinner coffee. “Is that ok?”
“O sige,” he said. “You stay here. Dong will take them.”
“Are you sure?” asked Riza, annoyed at the sudden change. “We will be waiting.”
“It’s fine,” Rachel said. “Are you ok with being alone at the hotel?”
“Oo, gabi lamang,” she said, slipping into Tagalog. The kids giggled, knowing Rachel did not speak Tagalog. “I mean, yes, it’s ok.” Riza smiled at her own mistake. It was the first time she smiled at her daughters since she landed in Manila. The girls hugged and kissed their mother, and Riza felt a moment of ease. When she looked back at the house, she could see Rachel sidle up in a chair next to Vinny through the window. This time she did not feel anxious. Seeing Rachel so relaxed next to her uncle softened Riza’ heart. She felt a small pang of regret, knowing she had kept that bond from her kids all these years.
Early the next day Riza took a taxi to Malate church, where Rachel had been baptized. On that morning, Analyn handed the baby over to Riza, knowing that in a few days they would leave as family, for the United States. The documents were drawn up, passports were issued, and Analyn returned to school in Diliman. Riza showed little emotion. In fact, she avoided her sister’s eyes; those eyes where everyone loved to get lost. Analyn was the favorite, the beauty, and the joy. She made people feel special, and noticed, happy. Smart and articulate she was, but it was her ability to learn, to adapt, and relate to anyone, that set her apart from other pretty faces. She was also self-satisfied, which Riza sometimes envied. Analyn was content with whatever came her way, with no goals or plans for the future. Their parents sent her to school to become a nurse, and she did well, but did not have to work very hard. In the end, she never pursued her career, and Riza felt like she and her siblings could have benefitted from that money instead. The thought of Analyn living with her parents all these years, with her husband and boys, and never earning a peso from her degree, made Riza bitter. She prayed to the Blessed Mother, pressing her eyes shut, and biting on her bottom lip. Had she not helped Analyn? In this church, it was perfectly planned. Analyn made the one mistake everyone thought was either impossible or inevitable; no one knew which. She was the type that was easy to love and hate at the same time.
When Analyn told her parents she was with child, they could not bear the thought of her not finishing school, much less telling people that she was pregnant out of wedlock. They knew Enrique and Riza would be going to the States, and Riza was expected to do her duty toward the family.
“Para sa iyong pamilya.” Her mother announced, “For once, you will help your sister and not just yourself.”
They arranged for Analyn to stay in the Province once she began to show. She was brought back to Manila after the birth of the child, and then Riza would take it for good. The documents were falsified, the baby was baptized, and Riza and Enrique left a week later. Rachel was just over a month old. Riza never saw Analyn again after that.
At the time, she felt like she was sacrificing her life and marriage for Analyn to have a chance to be a professional. And as Rachel grew into a smart, stunning child, Riza thought her parents would be proud of her, for having done such a selfless act for her sister. But as it stands, Analyn never did become the nurse that her parents were so determined to make her. And not once did any of them thank Riza for taking on motherhood before she was ready.
But now, while gazing at the Pieta to the right of her pew, Riza saw the events transform in her mind. All the while she thought she was helping her sister to achieve a better life, when really she had taken away her only motivation. Analyn gave up her daughter as to not shame their parents. And she could never ask for Rachel back, knowing what a better life she had with Riza and Enrique in the States. Instead of becoming a nurse, she lived with her parents, even after she married Vinny, and took care of them through their old age. Analyn had all the maternal instinct Riza lacked but was forced to restrain it until their parents thought it the proper time.
“So, what is to happen now?” Riza asked the stone sculpture that symbolized the greatest sacrifice anyone could ever make. What could she tell her family now? How could she explain thirty years of silence?
When they all arrived at the hospital, the doctor said that Analyn had a fever, and her organs were beginning to shut down. She had refused further treatment. Vinny and her boys were at her side, but when she saw Riza in the doorway Analyn waved her to come closer. Riza discreetly signaled her daughters to follow her, but they only moved toward the window.
Analyn’s eyes and voice were steady as she spoke.
“Alam ko kung ano ang nagawa mo na, at ay bigo sa mo akin,” she said. Riza did not look at her sister’s face. She smoothed the bed sheets as if tucking in a child.
“Oh, sige,” Riza said. “You should not speak. Try to rest.”
Analyn shook her head, and said again, this time in English.
“I know all you have done for me, and I’m sorry to disappoint you. Ngunit salamat sa iyo para sa paglalaan tulad mahusay na pag-aalaga ng isang regalo na hindi ko matanggap”
“It was a gift to me too,” Riza said. “I just did not realize it.”
“Ikaw ang ina, kailangan mong gawin kung ano ang sa tingin mo ay tama. It is your call, as the young ones say.”
Riza was surprised Analyn did not insist she tell their secret. She looked over at her daughters, half guilty for keeping the truth from them, and half glad they didn’t understand Tagalog.
The doctor entered with a few nurses. Analyn’s fever spiked; her heart was racing and she was having trouble breathing. Rachel approached the bed and squeezed the hand closest to her. Analyn refused the breathing tube, shooing it away with her free hand. Vinny grabbed hold of her waving hand and pressed it to his chest. His tears dropped onto her forearm. She looked over at Rachel and smiled with her eyes, then back at her husband lovingly, before she closed her lids once and for all. Everyone in the room made the sign of the cross and began to say the rosary. After a few hours, Analyn passed away.
Riza and Rachel decided not to stay through the traditional nine-day prayer and left for the States two days after the funeral. Their flight had a brief layover in Seoul, and as they drank coffee and waited for the flight, Riza suddenly recalled the private moment between Rachel and Analyn the day before she passed.
“What did Tita Ana say to you before she died?” she asked.
“Why do you ask?”
“I’m just wondering,” Riza said, suspicious. “You were so quiet after that.”
“What was the gift,” Rachel flexed her fingers as in quotation marks, “that Tita Ana couldn’t accept?” Riza straightened up in her chair and pushed the lid down on her coffee cup.
“What are you talking about? She said nothing about a gift,” Riza said, and then took a drink.
“Melanie understood most of what she said in Tagalog,” Rachel said. “And you said it was a gift to you too. I heard you.”
“You know,” Riza said. “It is impolite to listen to other people’s conversations when you don’t know what they are talking about.” Her palms began to sting.
“Fine. Keep your little secret,” Rachel said. “If you can live with it, you’re the only who has to.” She grabbed her bag and coffee cup and stood up to find a different seat. “But you will live with it alone. Just you and your secret.” She started to walk away in disgust.
“It was you. You were the gift,” Riza surrendered. Hearing the words out loud made her face crumble in regret and relief. “She was your mother,” she said, pleading with her own torturous emotions. Riza thought her heart was going to burst from of such a sudden exposure that she began to sob as if she had not cried in a year. Even at the funeral she hadn’t cried this hard.
For so many years she planned never to tell anyone. The fact was going to die with her parents and her sister. And once they were gone there would be no reason to speak of it at all. It would become a dream. But the reality took flight as if it had been waiting just beneath the surface of her skin to escape into the world. Riza felt like her body was made of rice paper, thin and fragile, tearing to pieces every which way. In her head she wanted to pull the secret back in, take it all back and return to even just last year, when she was at her home waiting for her children to arrive at Christmas.
At the same time, she felt relief that she could let the words fly; let someone else think of their meaning, their implication. As she cried, her legs shook and her arms ached with the years of resentment. She was angry with her parents, at Analyn, even at her husband for dying before her. Once again, she was left alone with the responsibility of explaining everyone’s choices, without their support, their comfort, their accountability. She was the one to blame, to have to answer to the children, to face the family. Rachel sat down again, still and not too close.
Riza felt her daughter watching her; judging her, resenting her. She tried to compose herself and dabbed her eyes and her nose with a napkin. Once she took a deep breath, she slipped back into a guarded state. In her mind, she already refused to apologize for not telling the truth.
“Whatever Tita Ana told you, she should not have said anything,” Riza continued, exhausted.
“Well, she said it was your call,” Rachel said, and looked down at her hands clasped tight.
“So, what did she say when you were alone?” Riza asked.
“To take care of you. Because no one ever has.”