Penman for Monday, January 13, 2014
THIS WEDNESDAY the 15th, Providence permitting, I’ll be marking two milestones I frankly never thought I’d reach: I turn 60, and Beng and I will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. (That’s right, we got married in Manila’s City Hall on my 20th birthday. It seemed a cool idea at the time, but I’ve regretted it ever since—the timing, not the marriage—because it deprived us of an excuse to party twice.)
I’ll admit this only now, but I’ve been looking forward to seniorhood with growing anticipation over this past year. At 57 or 58 you might still be in denial, walking with a pronounced spring in your step to convince yourself and everyone else that all you need is a new pair of Merrells to unleash the inner tiger in you, but the fact is, within six months of 60, you can’t wait to get there and have the inevitable done with.
The last time I knew I had to be a senior soon was just last month, when I stood in a long line in the unseasonably sweltering heat at the DFA to submit my expiring passport for renewal. Taking pity on me, a guard came up to me and asked, “Sir, how old are you?”, obviously thinking to bump me up to the express lane where a few imperturbable seniors sat smiling. “I’ll be 60 in three weeks!” I said. Not good enough. I waited three hours.
I know something about seniors—I live with four of them in the house; I know their moods, their ailments and medications, their favorite TV dramas, their exquisite skill at swallowing fish heads and spitting out the eyeballs.
And there’s no diplomatic way of putting this, but for the past three years, I’ve been married to one (Beng’s folks didn’t know she was marrying a young innocent until we were in the car on the way to City Hall; I had to get parental dispensation). But to her enduring credit, elfin Beng often has to be “carded” in the restaurants, as they’d put it in the States, while all the salespeople and cashiers have simply albeit solicitously assumed that I have a senior card to show for a discount.
So I’ve been mooching off Beng’s seniority, tagging along with her when she goes to the head of the line come boarding time at the airport, or when we queue up for movie tickets. That’s when you realize that the next best thing to being a senior is marrying a card-carrying one. But Beng doesn’t find it funny when I tell her what a shock I get to wake up in the morning beside a lola. Well, I guess we’re even now.
Of course, in a sense, you can never get old enough, maybe not until you hit 80. At 60, there will always be writers in their 80s or 70s who can’t wait to remind you what a bumbling tyro you are compared to their accomplished selves. That’s all right, because having older people on your shoulders could be the only thing that will keep you young, or at least younger, not counting strange potions meant to stiffen, uhm, one’s resolve.
It’s a pleasant surprise to get this far, because ours was a generation that was supposed to die before we even hit 25. After stepping out of martial law prison at age 19, I’ve taken every breathing moment since as a kind of grace note.
As it turned out, the grace note was my marriage, running four decades long, another unexpected, shamelessly undeserved blessing. When Beng and I stood before a CFI judge—my mom’s boss—that nippy January in 1974, it was after just three months of being together. We were in love, surely—truly, madly, deeply—but we were also gasping for breath, seizing happiness when and while we could, thinking that the State’s long and murderous hand could break the spell at an instant. As it turned out, too, the predictable State was hardly the enemy, but the inconstant self. Some of those forty years proved hard and lonesome, thankfully not too many nor too long.
As we start the count toward our golden 50th, Beng and I have come to realize that there are a few things we need and want to do in the years ahead.
With some regret, we will seek and keep fewer friends—the real, not the Facebook, kind. We’d like to focus on family, work, good health, our private charities, and, of course, more time together. This will mean socializing less and staying home more, which will be all right, because we both have so much work to do and always less time to do it.
On the other hand, lest our world become too small, and with whatever we can spare from our perennially meager savings, we will travel up a storm—march up headless hilltops, wind through strange alleyways, and wander down foreign boulevards while our knees can. This May, I hope to realize a longstanding dream, which is to bring Beng to Venice, where I had a magical moment three years ago but where she’s never been (of course, she’ll have to stay with me at that dinky hostel in Mestre, across the water and next to the Asian food store that was my culinary lifeline in heathen Italy).
We might not even need to go that far. One of the most enjoyable dates Beng and I had over the recent holidays was in front of the TV, watching a late-night screening of “Funny Face” with Astaire and Hepburn in Paris and singing along to the Gershwin score. And then another day we took our quarterly stroll around the Quiapo area, imbibing the Oliver-Twistian energy of the hardware and music stalls on Raon and Evangelista, cherrypicking the dustiest of Avenida’s ukay-ukays, and consoling ourselves with cheap mami and siopao at the Pinsec place on Recto, because Ramon Lee’s chicken house was still closed for the New Year break. We’ve been to dreamier places like the Grand Canyon and Bellagio (the Italian and Vegas versions) but it’s these slumdog sorties that we’ll remember for the fun.
With our only child Demi well set in her own career in Southern California and well loved and cared for by her own man, we can and will help others achieve fullness in life by putting them through school and giving them the same kind of guidance we gave our daughter (“Don’t worry too much about grades, enjoy your education! Make your own mistakes! Learn to think on your feet! And never forget where you came from.”)
Where she came from, I think, was us. As I turn 60 and Beng and I turn 40 (which Demi, too, will be, come October), I’d like to think that beyond all the books and paintings we ever created, Beng and I did nothing better than produce Demi, whom I named—while Beng was still in a post-partum haze—Dalisay Emilia Poticar Dalisay, “Emilia” being my mother’s name. Demi loves her lola, but wasn’t too thrilled to grow up having to explain her redundant name to her classmates, with the anciently Shakespearean “Emilia” wedged in between. “Don’t worry,” I told her, “don’t you know that Demi Moore is really Dalisay Emilia Moore?” It didn’t fly. But hey, her name seemed like another cool idea at the time.
A couple of years ago, I wrote her this poem titled “To Our Unica Hija Demi, Born Dalisay Emilia Poticar Dalisay”:
It matters not if our names end with you
If no more Dalisays walk the earth
You were all we wanted in this world
Our most joyful blessing was your birth.
When at times we seem too far apart
Remember that we are your blood and breath
And that your name to us is like a distant bell
That you bore twice, and bore it well.
Here’s to the three of us, anak. We’re all growing older, but we’re doing it together.