Every time a star dies, it spews its contents into the vast and expanding universe, paving the way for the future generation. In the aftermath of Odette, the galaxy lost a star, creating an explosion that will forever change my life.
The night Odette ravaged Cebu
At 9 o’clock on an ordinary night, the city of Cebu would be in its final act of the day.
The bustling streets, “Instagrammable” restaurants and places of entertainment would be crowded with people who are living their own stories.
And, even with the on-going pandemic, the city is coming to life again.
But, tonight, the massive storm, Odette, is a counterweight to the charm and allure of everything enticing, theatrical, musical and culinary.
As the winds grow stronger, I can feel my world falling like dominoes.
She’s here, screaming, roaring and ready to throw a flurry of heavy blows.
My mind is creating a multitude of realities and scenarios in the Odette aftermath.
And, each scenario doesn’t look like nirvana.
Odette is about to unleash the floodgates of hell, and we’re all stuck and helpless.
72 days after Odette
Life isn’t always full of dazzling exploits and sparkling encounters.
From catastrophic accidents to devastating natural tragedies like Odette, life sometimes feels like a never-ending series of adversities.
That’s how I sum up my 2021.
And, that’s what my universe turned into in the aftermath of Odette.
But, tonight, I’m not going to fuel my sadness with depressing thoughts and memories.
I don’t want my heart and mind to be filled to the brim with the past.
I want to create room for new memories, new friendships and new beginnings.
And, thankfully, I just found the perfect solution to soothe my troubled soul.
Great, supportive and lively friends are the main ingredient of a soul-healing experience.
Add in an awe-inspiring view and a serene atmosphere, and you’ve got the recipe for a memorable escape.
Peace and bliss are swirling deep in my body, as I listen fondly to the stories of my friends.
We recall the happier experiences of our youth, and soak up the enthralling scenery.
I’m going to cherish these moments.
While not exactly a soul-warming, life-changing or spectacular experience, it did give me some hope in a time where everything seems to go south.
100 days after Odette
I’m a master of the art of moving on.
Somehow, though, the traumatic events that occurred in the past few weeks still circulate inside my mind.
Over 40 days have passed since that gloomy and rainy Tuesday morning.
I have climbed mountains, picked up new hobbies, and traveled without telling others. Yet, the pain still lingers inside.
My brother’s here.
He flew from the Netherlands a week ago. We’re in Moalboal to celebrate life and take a breather from the seemingly endless parade of misfortunes.
Perhaps, all we need is a little dose of vitamin sea.
Maybe, this is what we need to turn to the next page of the book that I call “My life”.
Life is a bit like a book or a dramatic novel. Some chapters are filled with excitement and bliss, while others are sad.
Right now, I’m in the final stages of a sad chapter of my life.
It’s time to turn the page, and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter has in store for me.
The arrival of Odette
Odette is a symphony of destruction.
Every time the wind bursts, I feel like our house is ransacked by a wrecking crew of psychopaths with eager hands wielding pry bars and sledgehammers.
As she tosses roofs in a frenzy of destruction, I can hear her roar and feel her fury.
Patiently, I wait for the barrage to stop, hoping everyone will come out unscathed.
Suddenly, I hear the sound of shattering glass in our bedroom where my wife and daughter are sleeping.
I rush to our bed, and I discover shards of glass scattered around the bed.
I breathe a sigh of relief, when I realize everyone is safe and sound.
So, we quickly evacuate our room, and head downstairs where the rest of the family waits for the finale of this destructive symphony.
An hour has passed, and Odette is showing no signs of slowing down.
She is indeed the epitome of nature’s wrath.
We write books and create movies about alien invasions and earth-shattering asteroids.
We craft stories that evoke a horror frisson in readers and audiences.
But, to me, no outer space or cosmic being is necessary to put an end to human civilization.
Nature herself is powerful enough to make the human species go extinct.
It all takes one volcanic eruption of biblical proportions to wipe out towns and cities.
And, it all takes one malignant storm like Odette to put Cebu on its knees.
After 4 hours of gusts, Odette’s savagery came to an end.
We survived Odette. And I think the worst is over.
But, is it really over? Are we safe from all the dangers and clutches of Odette? Or, is it just the start of a string of agonizing and heart-wrenching events?
What’s life going to be in the aftermath of Odette? What will happen to us when water and electricity become scarce?
Although I’m a bit optimistic, my realist side is telling me we’re headed for a disaster.
January 16, 2022
I should be celebrating. My heart should be filled with joy and beauty. After all, we’ve completed a successful outreach program, despite everything Cebu has been through following Odette.
Yet, I’m not in the mood for anything festive.
I try to hide it, and I guess I’m doing a terrific job at it.
Somehow, my friends are slowly noticing it.
My eyes – the portal to my soul – don’t lie. They are both bloodshot red and fatigue, after consecutive nights of inadequate sleep and silent tears.
I keep saying better days are coming, but I know deep inside I’m fooling myself. In fact, I think the 2 weeks I’ve had without electricity and water, in the aftermath of Odette, are better than my first days in 2022. .
January 9, 2022
My wife has left me.
Despite my shortcomings, I always strive to be a better version of myself.
I’ve neer been a womanizer, a gambler, a liar, an abuser or a junkie. Still, bad things happened.
Things haven’t been fine with us for the last couple of years. And, today is the culmination of all that chaos.
Why did this happen? Is generosity a sin in today’s cut-throat society?
The worst part about this fiasco is that she’s bringing with her my life’s greatest joy: my unica hija.
January 25, 2022 (10 PM)
The day you lose everything is the day you know who your true friends are.
And, tonight, I know who my real friends are.
Even with the heavy downpours and omicron threats, my friends came to my house to comfort me in a time when everything is overwhelming.
They are cheering me up.
And, for a while, I feel at ease, and away from my crashing and depressing reality.
January 27, 2022
Her words are poison.
Depleted, I definitely am not in the mood for an argument. Still, she’s throwing barbs at me, cursing through Facebook messenger.
This is not the time for an argument. This is not the time to engage in a war of words. Slowly, my respect for her is fading.
Days after Odette put Cebu on its knees, I thought better days were coming.
I was wrong.
The better days are over.
December 30, 2021
Two weeks have passed since Odette ravaged Cebu, and I’m noticing some positive changes.
While some rant and complain endlessly about the slow restoration process, I’m not complaining at all.
To me, life isn’t perfect, and complaining will just add to my stress levels.
Sometimes, life throws a flurry of punches in your face. You lose relationships, lose jobs and lose your loved ones to a disease. And, sometimes, you experience all these crazy things all at once.
In 2021, I dealt with a plethora of problems. And, I’ve learned that the best way to deal with unfortunate events is to go with the flow, grow and adapt.
There’s no electricity or internet connection in the Odette aftermath, but I have to adapt and work. Although I still have some savings in my account, I always prepare for the rainy days.
A lot of people depend on me.
My daughter needs me.
My mama, who has been blind and disabled in the past two years, needs me.
Mama’s health is deteriorating, and the blackouts are making things worse.
She was a healthy and active woman a few years ago.
But, the on-going pandemic and her life-long battle with diabetes have made things difficult.
Luckily, I discovered this spot, the Workplace Cafe, where I can work on my projects.
The rates are steep, and it’s a long walk from home. But, it’s the best option I have, given the circumstances.
And, surprisingly, I’m enjoying the Odette aftermath. I have an optimistic side that lets me appreciate the small things and see things on the bright side.
Every day, I walk for more than 5 kilometers on the hilly road of Banawa and the bustling streets of Tisa, to work on my projects at the Workplace Cafe.
At least, it’s burning some calories, and making my legs grow stronger. And, at least, I can soak up some beautiful sights along the way.
To save money on food, I fast. And, when my stomach grumbles, I eat crackers and drink a liter of water, which is ridiculously expensive in the Odette aftermath.
That’s enough to fuel my energy every day.
And, when I arrive home after a long walk, I enjoy a hearty and intimate candlelit feast with my family.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing to complain about at all.
No Wi-Fi? No problem. I love a good conversation, after all. Once we’re done washing the dishes, I head to our living room, which became our temporary sleeping quarters. There, I listen to mama’s stories, from her early days on Doong Island to her experiences living in Kanlaon.
Though I’ve heard it a thousand times, mama’s stories always fascinate me. Hard-working and kind-hearted, she is the embodiment of a true mother. And, her words always inspire me to be generous.
On some nights, we listen to true Tagalog horror stories that I’ve downloaded on Youtube. For hours, we listen to the soothing voices of Sir Xeth and Pamela Clamille as they narrate stories from their subscribers.
And, the most surprising thing is I don’t feel stressed at all. The scents of burning candles,lack of modern-day technology, and beautiful stories have created a restful environment.
Honestly, I’ve never been this relaxed in the past couple of years. Maybe, this is a sign to move to the mountains, and live a new life.
January 26, 2022
I woke up from a strange yet wonderful dream.
I can’t remember what happened in that dream. It was a black-and-white scene with geometric features and bizarre angles.
But, I’d rather be in that dream than to live in this reality.
I wish I have the power or technology to transfer to parallel universes and alternate realities.
I wish there’s a portal to a magical kingdom where Maria Cacao and other diwatas reside.
The truth is, I’d rather be anywhere else than this reality.
Because I can’t imagine a universe or a reality without my mama in it.
January 25: the day our sun died
It’s 1 in the morning, and I’m an emotional mess.
There are a lot of things going through my head right now, but I can’t afford a meltdown.
Not only am I dealing with a nasty break-up, but I’m also concerned about my daughter whose right arm was bitten by a dog weeks ago.
Furthermore, my father is once again disowning me. We were doing just fine, and we even fixed our issues years ago. But, now, there’s friction between us.
I really don’t expect much from him, but the least he could do is to listen to my side of the story before jumping into conclusions.
But, I try not to think about my wife and father.
Right now, my focus is to restore mama’s health.
A couple of days ago, she stopped talking. She couldn’t even open her mouth. We tried our best to feed her, and give her medications.
I crushed a pill, and put it in a glass full of water, to make it easier for her to take her medication.
I sat by her side, hugged her and touched her head.
I told her there was no way I was leaving her. I promised her that I will do whatever it takes for her to survive this ordeal.
She didn’t leave us when we were young. She displayed kindness that can only be rivaled by a saint. And, unlike politicians, she showed kindness without expecting anything in return.
I saw her lips move. She is a fighter. With all the power left inside her body, she opened her mouth, to drink the water I was giving her.
I didn’t want to see her this way. She was, is and will always be the strongest woman I’ve ever seen.
My nights have been sleepless lately. But, that’s okay – I’ll do anything for my mama.
I’ll do anything for the woman who stood up for us for over 38 years.
I’ll do anything for the woman who believed in us, when nobody did.
And, I’ll do anything for the woman who showed us true love, even though we’re not her children.
Yes, she’s not our biological mother, but we always treat one another as family.
She has always been our mama, our second mother. My mommy hired her when I was a baby, and since then, she has been an important figure in our life.
Whenever we were in trouble, she was always there to rescue us. She was there to give us advice and teach us priceless life lessons.
She and my biological mother, mommy, have always been there and have been our beacon of hope.
At 8 AM, a star, our sun, died peacefully in her bed.
Tears begin to flow. And even with my strong pair of legs, I don’t have enough strength to stand up.
I’m a lost star trying to find its way in the infinite and dark universe.
But, I have to stand up for my mama. She needs my help for her next journey.
January 29, 2022
There’s an end to every journey.
And, on a gloomy, rainy Tuesday morning in January, your journey came to an end.
While you’re no longer with us, we will always carry a piece of you wherever we go.
You were one of the strongest and most talented women I’ve ever seen.
You could have been a successful entrepreneur, chef, teacher, mechanic or even a carpenter.
Yet, you chose to be with us.
You chose to be our guardian, mentor, adviser, and more importantly our second mother.
You were there in every step and in every key moment in our life.
From my christening to my daughter’s birth, you never missed a beat.
And, through your selflessness, you’ve taught us to be generous in a world riddled with greed.
Through your kindness, you’ve taught us to nurture relationships and to love without boundaries.
And, you’ve taught us that blood isn’t always thicker than water.
I still can’t imagine a world without our Mama Neneng.
But, I know you’ll live forever in the hearts of the people whom you’ve touched.
My heart bleeds, but I’m happy that you’re moving on to your next journey, ma.
May 1, 2022
It took me months to complete this post. Every time I type on my keyboard, tears fall like waterfalls from my eyes.
One day, I’ll be dancing in tears, enjoying the charms of our universe. That day might not be today or tomorrow, but I know for a fact that it will come.
At least, I have found peace amid the chaos.
When mama left us that day, I thought a piece of me was lost forever. But, I was wrong.
Mama will always be a part of me. I will always be the kind and generous person that they have envisioned me to be.
And, I don’t care if I don’t get rich. I just want to live a satisfying, peaceful, meaningful and fulfilling life just like mama did.
When a star dies, it spews its contents into the vast and expanding universe, paving the way for the future generation.
Through mama’s acts of kindness, she has created a new generation of stars that will serve as beacons of hope in a dark and greedy universe.
Cold nights like tonight are bittersweet.
Sweet because they provide a refreshing respite from the tropical heat in the Philippines.
Bitter because they remind me of mama’s last night on earth.
But, it’s becoming sweeter every day.
The pain still lingers, and on some days, I feel empty, depressed, and useless.
It will take years for me to become emotionally stable again.
Somehow, I know I’m on the right path, and the journey to a new world has just started.
August 29: The rainbow after the storm
You always say storms don’t last forever.
You kept telling us to hang on, stay strong, and wait for the storm to end.
And, I had been dealing with another in recent weeks.
I couldn’t sleep, think clearly, and felt like life was nothing but an endless parade of bills and temporary friends.
I was fighting a silent war in my head.
And, a lot of my friends thought I was losing my marbles.
Today, the storm is coming to an end.
I got promoted, Ma.
All those years of hard work, loyalty, and diligence have paid off.
I finally have the time for my daughter, and pursue my passions.
My sister is doing quite well with her work too.
Your grandkids are excelling at school.
I just wish you were here to see all of this.
I would have enjoyed watching at your face smiling, as I shared these triumphs to you.
Along the way, I have also learned a few lessons from these storms.
While dealing with these battles and storms, I kept asking myself just one question.
“Why do bad things happen to good people?”
And, I finally have the answer to these questions.
I wanted to be strong, and the Universe gave me difficulties and hardships to be strong.
I asked for love, and God gave me troubled people to help.
I wanted wisdom, and the Universe gave me problems to solve.
I asked for courage, and Allah gave me dangers and obstacles to overcome.
I’m about to embark on a new journey, Ma, and I’m now equipped with the knowledge and skills for this trip.
Thank you, Ma.