Often, people asked me, “Why love? Why your poems were mostly about love? Although I found the questions rough, very confronting, and perhaps intruding, my answer all the time was just a sigh and a smile.
I never bothered explaining for my choice of genre, neither for the subjects of my writing, because I know don’t have to answer and be defensive about it. However, for my peace of mind, please let me try shed some light.
Born youngest in the family of five (two boys, and three girls), to Atty. Sabiniano Hernandez Balagtas, and Cristita Padilla Balagtas, on August 31, 1972, I was a blue baby.
Born with a weak heart and lungs (due to my parents’ thirty-seven-years of age gap), I grew up being in the hospital for countless of health issues, but with a priceless consolation that my mom and dad always watching (while praying ) at both ends, of the electric bed of the Mary Johnston Hospital (a private health facility in Manila, Philippines).
They met nine years before I was born. He represented her in a case against her common-law husband, whom she caught “in the act” in their house, in their bed, and cheating on her in the presence of their sons, (still toddlers at that time). Insulted, humiliated, cheated, she pushed them both, grabbed her hair, and slapped her face until she bled.
She packed her things left their house that day bringing my brothers with her. And they lived with her best friend while she was gearing up for two separate physical injury cases they filed against her (and her counter filing of course). At that time, he just resigned from being a prosecutor. He opted to practice in private, to accommodate pro bono cases in the Public Defender’s Office where they first met.
In many light moments with my father, I kept asking him, what was it that he fell for my mom. And always he joked around (but I knew there were hinds of truth on all of them) about how he fell for her, which according to him. it was her strength as a woman, and dignity as a person. He further said, he never saw her cry in the courtroom (not a drop). He never saw her in desperation for money, company nor, sympathy. And that she strove so hard in raising her kids on her own and through buy-and-sell. Cautious with her emotional situation and the thought that it might question his sincerity, he waited until they finished and won their cases before he even courted her.
They exchanged vows in Saint Joseph church in Manila. He adopted my brothers; He gave his name, and raised them as his own. Shortly thereafter, they bought their house before I was born. Amid opposing personalities (with him being the soft-spoken ascetic, and her being the assertive flamboyant), their marriage flourished for twenty-three glorious years.
They shared same passion in religion and devotion (both Roman Catholic since birth), cooking and foods, and the love for relatives, the community, and of course, us, their children.
Every day, he would wake up four-o-clock in the morning. He would say the Angelus; and, he would do the rosary. Right after his prayers and a cup of coffee, he would go to his morning walk in a fresh market down the blocks for our breakfast. He would cook and prepare our first meal of the day. And when everything is all set, he would knock on her bedroom and say, “First lady, breakfast is ready.” However, instead of mom, I would open the door for him instead, and he would give her a peck. And I would get mines too. He then would grab my hand, and lead me to the dining table while we wait for everybody.
One thing I was guilty of, was the fact that since I was born, they could not sleep in the same bed, because she had to take care of the sickly me.
On our dining table, in every breakfast, my mom’s fruits would always be there, and a special breakfast for me of course (Quaker oats with honey and almond milk). Along with those, are variety of concoctions for a household of about fifteen people. On cooking, my mom actually cooked better than my dad did. It was just that she only cooked for family occasions and gatherings.
But after a long day in court (or in his office), he would come home always carrying something for mom—never there was a time, that he came home empty handed.
He would ask our helpers prepare our dinner, while we do our school assignments with him. He would also ask us read aloud, to check our English and vocabulary skills every night.
He died when I was twelve. But in all those years, I never heard my parents fight and argue over anything, but just as they never exchanged “I love you” as well.
What was brutal for us, their growing children, were the mongers who tried to corrupt our minds; brainwashing us that our mom never loved our dad. Although, we ignored them, at the back of our heads was the question: “Did she loved him?” I never confronted my mom about that, but I was quite unsure if my sisters did.
My dad was bedridden for almost two months. But he practiced law until age 82 (at the time of his death). He never had an Alzheimer, nor anything that burdened us. Sadly though, he was battling with lung cancer without our knowledge, “For quite sometimes,” as his doctor said.
She never left his side ever. He could not talk because of all the tubes, oxygen, and all other medical apparatus socketed to different parts of his body, so they had to exchanged sticky notes to converse with each other. They were holding hands most of the time. And in between their hands, was a rosary that she never did let go too.
When my father died December 10, 1984, at the Veterans Memorial Hospital, that was the only time I heard my mom cry. Like a gong to my ears, and an icepick to my heart, my mom cried and cried and cried, and cried and cried, until there was none. For more than his death, she regrets not being able to say I love you to the man who gave her dignity, love, trust and respect.
No matter, I really wish I could say she did love him, which unfortunately, I can’t–because she never did say the words.
And I do wish too, that he felt it somehow. Because there are things; feelings; strong feelings that need no words, and could be read between the lines.
Regardless, here is what I could say though: She never did let go of his hand; she never did left his side until the very last minute of his life; neither, she never did reopen her heart to any man.
She was forty-five, when he died. She could remarry. But she did not.
To end, according to an old quote, “when you love the person, you have to say it out loud. Otherwise… the moment just passes you by.” But isn’t it, just like any other intangible things in life, what is important is what we feel? Maybe there would be moments when we’d be lost for words, but I am sure, if we would just close our eyes in such moments of uncertainty, the soft, yet formidable voices inside of us will always speak to us of the truth, and will always speak for us of the truth–all the time.
There goes the story of my parents. It may not be perfect., but its nobility lies in embracing life and love amid all constraints and against all odds. And although their story is flawed, but it is the very reason for my existence; and, the very spirits behind my musing and poetry.
Thank you, everyone. And God bless everybody!