October 12, – The plane touched down at San Francisco airport past 2 p.m., Tuesday from Detroit airport and for the first time, I didn’t have the jitters the whole 5-hour flight, unlike the previous ones where my mind was always filled with dread of a possible plane blip that can get you careening down the solid earth or unto the wide ocean below. Though I still hate flying and still afraid of heights, I battled this one trip up like a virtuoso jet-setter, killing time onboard by reading F. Sionil Jose’s “Olvidon”, a novel whose fiction is a bizarre twist of reality. It was about Mr. Marcos’s martial law and something else – arts and literature, our God-forsaken country, the poor, the filthy rich, the dirty streets of Manila, sex, violence and deceit.
But this article is not about his novel, though.
I rushed to South San Francisco, Tuesday morning after the family had a rosary the previous night to implore divine aid for an operation that my son had to undergo that night. He complained of a searing pain in the lower right quadrant of his abdomen in the morning, diagnosed to be an appendix inflammation in the afternoon and was put to knife in the evening, and went home the next morning – just like that. But his anxious mom and mother-in-law insisted that we had to pray just the same while he was being wheeled into the operating room and that they be posted real-time development over the phone and that I enplane to the fabled bay city the following day to see how he was doing and to baby-sit my 14 months old grand-daughter because her mom had work two days on a weekend and her dad still weakened by the incision.
I don’t have to be cajoled to take this trip. Annika was with us for three weeks before her mom and dad picked her up after a 3-week vacation from Spain and they all went back to San Francisco the third week of September. For the period that she was in Michigan, she was just like a visiting dignitary with a fix itinerary; one day in our house and another day in her maternal grandma whose house is across the street from us. You can trigger a world war three if you try to tamper with this pre-agreed protocol. We almost break the peace and hostilities nearly erupted when on the other grandma’s turn my wife barged into her dwelling and warned that the precious toddler not be brought to the farm for apple-picking for fear that a wayward bee could sting her. The other grandma had been looking forward to that day at the apple farm as a treat for her, but my wife’s outspoken disagreement to the idea blanketed her. I think that was the main reason why we had avoided a shooting war between the two grandmas because the other had blinked.
The idea that I’ll be in San Francisco with my grand-daughter was good because I won’t have to flex my muscle in a sort of a tug-of-war with anyone so I can bond with her. It was also good to see how my son was doing after a 15 minute procedure which was even a shorter period than a an ordinary circumcision performed in the Philippines. I was glad to find him up and about that afternoon and he opened the steel gate that secures a cluster of condos and the parking lot by simply answering his phone when you dialed it from the security console at the front gate. Though ‘secure’ is entirely a misnomer because despite this un-scalable steel gate, he had lost his bike last summer while chained inside the parking lot’s wall and another condo owner had the four wheels of his red Ferrari gone two days before I came and the car was now perched on bricks, a familiar scene in Metro Manila where car theft rings strike with impunity. One wonders if those local thieves found their way all the way to San Francisco, after all we have lots of ‘kababayans’ in the area. But of course thievery is not only local to us, it is permeates every race – though our unique claim to it is that ours most of the time, are clean-shaven, sporting signature linen suits and we address them as madam or sir, or sometimes we call them Mr. Senator or Mr. Congressman, but I am digressing.
Up the stairs and through the door, after I shuffled one block from the train station, I saw my grand-daughter with a probing mien and nothing on except her diaper trying to make out of a man in-front of their door; few second thereafter, she parted her lips with a smile. She could have told herself: “This is the old-man who showed me a dozen of ducks in the pond and bathe me every morning in his place somewhere.” We were connected and I picked her up and hugged her. My son, though not nimble, can stand and walk. I opened my big black bag and took out the collapsed high chair for her, her diapers left behind our house, her music box and a red flower designed dress; her grandma’s “pasalubong”.
The 2-way plane ticket to San Francisco was about 100 dollars short for a two-way ticket to the Philippines because it was an emergency flight. Airlines have a sure way of how to rip people off of their money on account of their misfortune. Because you were unfortunate enough in having a member of the family having a medical emergency in some far-away place, these airlines have no moral compunction in bleeding you dry knowing that you will bite the bullet just the same. I have to use my earned mileage and my wife’s to buy the ticket and we ended up still paying $85.00 for the deficit. We could have used that mileage in our planned trip to the Philippines next year, but spending it to see my son and my “apo” now was all worth it. Mileage earned is like the coupons given by big stores every time you shop at them to encourage you to go back for more groceries. If you accumulate coupons over time, your next purchase from these stores could be free using those coupons. The airline milage works along the same principle.
The idea that I take this trip instead of my wife was not for reason that I love Annika and my son more than my wife does. She is ready to swear before 10 saints and scores of angels to affirm her motherly devotion to his son and his own toddler, but her circumstance prevents her from competing with my availability for the occasion. I am my own boss and I can get out of work anytime, close the business for a week and lose some money in the process. That is all there is to it; but my wife has to put out a reason like the world is about to end in order to have an unplanned leave from work. I grinned from ear to ear and through the corner of my eye I noticed my wife’s envy for a break that could have been hers if only she had not tied her fortune to a company that pays for our mortgage and puts more food on our table. My contribution on one hand is to occasionally put gas on the cars, picked-up food from restaurants whenever she did not feel like cooking and pay Loren’s parking fee in her school and throw her some cash only when she asks. But generally, my wife looks at my small business more as an excuse to get out from the house and meet people, and therefore I can take the plane next morning without any serious financial disaster to the family. If one wonders why our marriage lasts despite this sort of arrangement, it was because she said that I have already worked hard in the Philippines and took care of the kids when she had an adventure in the U.S. and later she said that I have learned two admirable qualities which every woman likes in a man: “when I am wrong I admit it, when I am right I keep my mouth shut!
Yes, it was about my expertise on kids that I got myself on the plane, but inwardly, I have my own shortcoming as a father and I want to make it up to my son and his daughter now. It is like as if God had given you a second life so you can rectify your mistakes in the past. The common notion is that a father’s duty is simply to provide for the family. It is not. It is spending more quality time with them rather than giving them something to spend. Time flies and the next time you look at your kids they are fully grown and by that time they have created their own world with lots of life support – ‘friends’ and you were not their life support anymore and it is sad. How’d you wished that you had been a father once before you have these children so you become more sensitive to their other needs – precious time. Once a client paid me a handsome fee after a case has been resolved in his favor and had planned of bringing my three kids to Boracay but a touchy social conscience perished the thought because others do not even have money for fare to their work. I regretted it later on.
Anyway, the minor operation my son had undergone proves to be one of the situations where I can retrace my steps back and my few days with them were actually a make-up for a lost time.
I looked at my son’s belly and I was amazed to find three innocuous incisions; one on the navel; another horizontal to it on corner of the right lower quadrant; and the other hole vertical to the second directly to where the appendix was. Air was pumped into one of these holes to push the peritoneum away from the large intestine and isolate the inflamed appendix. A robotic camera was inserted through the umbilical incision, a robotic scissor to cut the inflamed organ on the other hole and a tiny latex bag to the other hole to scoop the severed appendix and the procedure was over in about 15 minutes. If you think of similar operation in the country in provincial hospitals where modern medical equipment is sorely lacking, opening up a patient and sewing him up later, is a tedious process and painful after the anesthesia had waned. Technology is God’s ironic gift to mankind because it has a price tag that is not affordable to most people.
Five days with my grand-daughter were spent bathing her every morning and in the afternoon too, change her gelled diapers and putting her to sleep with bottled milk in between those thin soft lips or sometimes a plastic pacifier so I can finish reading Olvidon. But I have to put aside my adventure with F. Sionil Jose, everytime she wakes up with a smile and rearing to play. We went to the park, the beach and the mountain with trees about a thousand years old and she threw up on our way down the slithering mountain road and I have my shirt and shorts covered with her half-digested rice and curdling dairy. I savored the smell like a fresh brewed coffee breathing it in a manner that a person deep in yoga would do. Suddenly it brings to sight my son who was about a year old flat on his back when his piss squirted towards my father-in-law’s face. He lost no time wiping it off from his face and and dried his hands in his hair as if he was just putting a vaseline on it. Now I have the same exact weird feeling and it was addictive. I put my soiled shorts and shirt in the bag when we reached home and brought them back to my wife unwashed. Now it was her turn to smell the distinctive dairy that had aged and she was ecstatic about it. Golden years has its own bliss, it is being able to play with your grandkid and write about it later!