It’s Tricia’s birthday today. I was going through these weeks thinking when would I write this, and now it’s her birthday. Only fitting, yes?
You know, 10 years ago, I was in the Philippines and I spent most of my time with my cousin, Tricia. We had grown up together. When I was there the time before this, we went to parties together, ran errands together, watched Ysa together, etc. When we were growing up, she was my sidekick. Partner in crime. I remember I was staying at Manila Marriott and she waltzed in with her girlfriends and we went downstairs to a party. Her boyish good looks, the way she was sarcastic, and you know that thing young girls do to prove they can drink? Well, she did that well too.
That time on the Islands we had attended a soft opening for a cousin’s restaurant that was set to open. I had been so good about only drinking bottled water. The bar was good, dimly lit, the music was mellow. It was loungey, not overcrowded at all. Nothing to call it a wild night. We were given bottle service, surrounded by Brazilian Models. Just a Coke and Jack Daniels for me. It had become our drink of choice that year. They had mixed the ice in with my liquor and we were having a grand time. I could feel the alcohol kicking in. But somehow, this feeling felt tiring, like my body was trying to force me down to the floor. I tried testing my composure. Remain calm and just have a good time. The voices became garbled and the pressure of my body trying to melt to the floor was alarming. I began to sweat. I stood up. and everything went black.
I remember invisibly trying to grab my cousin.
“We have to go home now,” I said sternly. I wanted to be exasperated and cling to her, but I did my best to not make a scene to Manila Society. She led me outside to our driver who was waiting. Everything was still black as she guided me to the car. I remember moving my head, seeing if that would help with my sight. Instead, I started to see stars, just like those cartoon characters in Tom and Jerry. Stars and blackness. It was probably one of the scariest moments in my life. I wanted to go to the hospital but Tricia directed the driver to drive us home.
It felt like eternity. I must have passed out in the car. She made sure I threw up all of it outside and rinsed me and I remember slowly getting my vision back. I saw her flip flops while I was bent down trying to catch my breathe. Saw the side of her straight frame beside me. I could feel her rubbing my back. Calming me down, Tucking me in bed. I can’t remember the words, just the motions of it all. I had been drugged. Maybe it was the ice. Maybe something else. I knew I couldn’t have gotten through what had just happened if it wasn’t for Tricia. And I was supposed to be the older one… even if just by a year or two.
Tricia should have had the driver take her home 2 years ago before she got into that car. Robin showed me the curve of the highway where it happened. They had taken that route many times, it was the best way to get from BGC to Quezon City. Darling, why were you driving? How on Earth could you have lost control so close to home? You were almost there…
Now I’m in this cemetery. Blocks of land of those passed away. I see families having lunch next to the graves. Old stones and new stones next to each other.
My flight is about to leave back to Hong Kong —> San Francisco. Robin takes me to visit my great grandma then to see Tricia. You see, I never made it to my beautiful cousin’s funeral. I was too… “caught up with work,” – “did not have the time because it was too far away,” – “I’ll visit her right after” – “how is everyone else” “I don’t want to think about it” too many excuses and too late. Because this is all I got to see. Her next to this lovely old tree. I turned my back to Robin and started to cry. She didn’t get to come with me this trip to Balesin, I didn’t have her with me in Batangas, she wasn’t there to stay up late with me at the Fort, to watch movies and to tease me about my decor, clothes, and life. She wasn’t there and I had missed her. It was sprinkling that Island rain this day, the wind was whistling, and I wanted to stay just 5 more minutes to spend time with Tricia. I was crying because I had regret.
There was regret for not coming every other year. When it was too late, I didn’t even come. What kind of family member had I become, wrapped in this American life where all we did was work to be at the top? Where on Earth did my family values go? Why was I too into my own life that I didn’t make enough time for more of my family? I didn’t even get to say goodbye.
I knew she was there. Probably next to that tree. Just watching me and smiling. She knew I had learned a lesson that day.
“Ate, it’s time to go,” Robin said.
I didn’t say anything.
The wind stopped blowing but the rain didn’t stop as he took me to the airport to my flight back to San Francisco.