To Bear the Past

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| This is the 161st story of Our Life Logs |


“The memory of the heart eliminates the bad and magnifies the good; thanks to this artifice, we are able to bear the past.”

— Gabriel García Márquez

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I was born in the province of Bulacan in the Philippines in 1980 and grew up at a time when children mostly played outside until we were ordered to come home by our parents; when we still had lots of motivation to explore and be adventurous. Most of my fond memories were spending time with my parents and two younger siblings: putting up the Christmas tree together; enjoying an early jog along Manila Bay; shopping for school stuff; going to the carnival; having cheap pizza with my siblings and Papa at the tricycle terminal while waiting for mama to get home from work. Sometimes, it was happy.

 

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These carefree moments of my childhood have helped shape me into the person I am now. Unfortunately, the bad experiences did, too.

Fights were a constant in my life. Even at a young age, I knew that Mama’s verbal attacks on Papa often went too far. She insulted him, wounded his ego, and made him feel small.  It often crossed my mind that Mama deserved the fists to the face and arms that Papa retaliated with. I also wondered if, perhaps, Papa only got what he asked for. When he came home drunk, Mama had to bear the weight of his fists and wore the bruises for days after.  It was the proverbial question of which came first, the chicken or the egg?

The whole family after my first communion (I_m in the middle), 1988.
The whole family after my first communion (I’m in the middle), 1988.

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I was about 11 when Mama walked out on me, my younger brother and sister, and our papa. She had finally had enough and decided to leave; she left me a letter explaining why, asking me to understand and telling me to look after my younger siblings. I understood my mama’s motivation; I always knew that she never fit in with my papa’s family. And then there were the constant beatings. I couldn’t blame her for that.

But I also couldn’t find it in my heart and mind to understand how a mother could leave behind her three children. She always said that we were the reason that she took the beatings for so long, to keep us all together. So how could she just leave? That was a huge burden for anybody, especially for a young girl, to carry.

My siblings experienced things differently simply because they were too young. I have always been grateful for that small blessing, even if that meant I had to carry each layer of our family’s truth by myself. That, I will say, was exhausting. For this reason, I cherished the quiet hours when I could sit by the window and read the books I borrowed from the school library. Maybe that’s why I found so much joy in books and in being alone. They were my escape.

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Despite Papa’s tendency for physical violence towards our mama whenever he got drunk, we still loved him dearly as our father, especially because he was the one who stayed.

For the next year, Papa did his best to raise us. He had to travel nearly three hours every day, each way, to and from work.  He would get up at 5 am to prepare our breakfast and leave before we went for school. When he got home at 8 pm, he would prepare dinner and help us with our unfinished homework.

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It was nearly a year later, in 1993, when Mama decided to come home for good. I was finishing sixth grade, and Papa was leaving to work in the Middle East. I understood, without either one of them saying anything, that part of the reason Mama came back was because Papa wouldn’t be around much.

I was conflicted about the whole situation. I understood that my parents believed staying together was what was best for us, but I couldn’t understand how they could believe that exposing us to all that violence could be good in any way.

Understandably, my relationship with Mama deteriorated after she came back. Throughout high school, we often fought, and I would spend months not speaking to her. Whenever Papa came home for a vacation, things at home would be happy the first few days. Then the fights would start again and would continue until the day he had to go back to the Middle East.

After high school, I chose to attend college far away from home. Papa still worked abroad; Mama continued to be a working mom. I knew my brother and sister would be fine; after all, they developed self-reliance at a very early age. Leaving them behind was hard; but I also felt free.

And there was also one secret I was running away from.

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Before the start of the second semester of my first year in college in 1997, Papa went with me on the eight-hour-long bus ride back to school. As I was falling asleep in the bus, he put his arm around me. Suddenly, I was startled awake by the familiar embrace. I felt uncomfortable and leaned away. I stayed awake the rest of the trip.

We arrived safely; he dropped me off at my dormitory, staying for an hour to rest a bit before making the long trip back home. When he left, I had the room all to myself with nothing but my thoughts to keep me company.

And the repressed memories came flooding back.

All of us used to sleep on the same bed at home. I remembered how, for a number of nights, Papa took advantage of me after Mama left. I remembered smelling the alcohol in his breath. I remembered how I put a stop to it before it went too far… but I remembered that it went far enough. Alone in my dorm room, I laughed out loud at those words—far enough. Any degree of child molestation is too far.

I cried myself to sleep, wishing I never remembered.

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Afterward, my relationship with Papa was never the same. When he finally lost his job abroad and whenever I had to come home for the holidays and summer, I distanced myself from him—and from everybody.

I knew, of course, that the violent fights between my parents quickly resumed. And I worried about my brother and sister, who had to witness these again on a regular basis. One summer, when I was back home, my parents had another one of their crazy fights. I didn’t want to just sit idly anymore. My brother had been physically putting himself between them when things started to get really bad.

So, I stepped out of my bedroom and confronted Papa. He was drunk, as usual. I stood in front of him and dared him to hit me instead. At first, he was shocked; he just gave me a crazy, drunken stare, with his fist raised. Then, he snapped out of it, and loosened his clenched fingers, though he still managed to drive the side of my head into the corner of the wall. Mama rushed to me and brought me back to my bedroom. When she held an ice pack against my temple, I turned away and tried to sleep.

The next day, I packed my bags. My brother watched, and then offered to drive me wherever I wanted to go. I told him to drop me off at our grandmother’s. My grandmother took one look at the big, black bruise on my face, smiled at me sadly, and hugged me. I stayed with her and my aunt for the rest of the summer until I could leave for the university again.

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Life continued. Papa was working abroad again. Mama decided to retire. I had my first child in 2000 while I was in college. Mama helped take care of my baby daughter, while I was away at college, but it didn’t bring us any closer to each other.

I graduated in 2002 with a degree in Biology and went to work right away so I could provide for my daughter. Being a new mom made me happier than I’ve ever been, and I slowly began to tear down the layers of my hurt. But it was a long process.

Fast forward to 2016. Mama was now the one who was working abroad, and Papa had gotten really sick. After Papa had been hospitalized a few times, my sister begged me to take turns caring for him, having two kids of her own, and by this time, our brother was also working overseas. But I refused; I didn’t even visit Papa. I always made excuses, and my sister resented me for it. Mama also didn’t understand, although she didn’t say a word to me about it. As much as I wanted to be honest, I couldn’t tell any of them my real reason. I’d rather be judged as an uncaring daughter than hurt them with the truth. I didn’t want to take care of the man who molested me.

But the last time he was in the hospital, I finally went. He had another stroke. The day before he went into a coma (from which he never recovered) I even spoon-fed him. Weeks later, when he took his final breath, I was the one with him.

Papa passed away in December 2016. He was only 57. We were never able to fix our relationship. Though, as time went by, and as I matured as a parent, I learned to forgive him. I whispered this to myself as I stood beside his lifeless body. It was too late, of course.

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I ask myself, quite often, how I could still love Papa even after what he did to me, how I can still honestly say that he did his best to be a good father, and why I often feel bad knowing that his last years were unhappy years. I don’t know. I do know that even though forgiveness can be strange and messy, it is always better than holding onto bitterness and anger. Sometimes, we do not have any other choice than to bear the past.

 

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This is the story of Achelle Santos

Born in the Philippines, Achelle grew up watching her parents’ abusive relationship. After her mother left, Achelle experienced sexual abuse from her father whom she was only able to forgive on his death bed. Achelle resides in the province of Bulacan now with her teenage daughter, baby son, and partner. Books have always been her constant companion—from early childhood and up until the present. And she has proudly passed on the bookworm gene to her daughter. She hopes to do the same for her son. A few years back, she has started writing a collection of children’s stories, called Tots Tales. You can learn more about Tots Tales on her Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/aztotstales/.

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Achelle, 2018.

 

 

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This story first touched our hearts on August 31, 2018.

| Writer: Achelle Santos | Editor: Colleen Walker |

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