A day in the life
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - April 21, 2019 - 12:00am

For Easter Sunday, I once again decided to share personal reflections from my son, Roel, a writer and educator who studied Literature in DLSU:

It’s beyond similes, the relief dispensed by the cool burst of air from our friendly neighborhood grocery that welcomes me after a three-day closure. The much-anticipated Game of Thrones final-season premiere doesn’t even come close. On an Easter Sunday, with one’s heart in the right place, this is as good a place as any to split wood or lift rocks, while gathering up needed supplies. 

I start strolling aimlessly, and as I persistently debate peanut butter over double stuff, and weigh the ramifications of a possible utopian takeover to rid the trigger-happy outrage-fetished serial-swiping demagogue bubble-cells that mark our age, I drift. Do I do it as a ventriloquist’s new-age dummy in the husky voice of an older generation whose hand is routinely shoved up a hollow panel in my back, reminding me I’ll never be good enough, weary enough? Monumental enough to stand on their shoulders and break the spell by yodelling history lessons verbatim?

I instinctively rub my twitching shoulders, housing aches from too much outrage, too much empathy. Would there be a penalty for slinking to the bread section and cuddling up to fluffiest loaf I can find? Dreaming of war-torn croutons in beige cloaks riding hybrid unicorn-gargoyles, defending ancient walls and the broken lines on our shaky palms, at the tail end of the Fourth Muffin Uprising? The perils of too much Netflix and escapism are eased by the hungry, fire-drenched young eyes I look forward to teaching again after a short break. It doesn’t get old, how passion resiliently cures apathy by contagion.

But should I report any sign of despair to the manager regarding the unsavory look I got from the lanky, googly-eyed bagger after asking where the dopamine section is? I suddenly miss long-lost comrades-in-arms consumed by the -pams, -prams and -dones that would, with one gulp, deceptively wrap one in cotton and sweep you off to sinister valleys of relief. My long, arduous years searching with the lost have paid off with treasured hours spent with the dedicated few guiding with compassion. Keeping what they have by giving it way, proving that second chances and rebirth are possible with the absence of stigma and bullets.

I blink my mind’s eye and find myself in the frozen meat section, my cart with one-too-many KyloRen plastic cups with swirly straws and squeaky Incredible Hulk bathtub floaters. I can usually tell it’s a good day if the bagged carcasses remind me of a former beau who wisely traded me in for a newer model – a fellow fool who played it cool by making our world a little colder – imparting lifelong lessons in trust and forgiveness. Today it reminds me of Sartre’s epic French showbiz squabble with Prince Albert over the existence of a third way, the Beaver salivating in the sidelines thinking it’s all about lipstick color. Or if Ringo deserves more credit. It’s going to be a long day.

I linger in the fresh produce section, feeling as if I’m on top of a hill condemned for eternity to run back down after a fleeing boulder, reassuring myself with this pivotal moment which discloses the only meaning I can truly discern and own. Intoxicating myself with the anonymous scent of shells, pondering egg shapes, and which came first: Despair or desolation? Cookies or cream? The sun or the scramble? My urge to wonder or my ability to lick bruises? I grab the nearest white and toss in a few reds because a wise old teacher told me that I have to learn the rules first before breaking them, right before pointing out that the ink on my skin hurt the feelings of her favorite book which I really need to read. I remember not being myself that day, and asking if she was talking about Macbeth Regenesis: The Fleance Diaries. 

An ardent wife swatting away her husband’s hand reaching for a bag of Reese’s, and a mother giddily handing a bag of gummy worms to her child straddling their cart, strangely remind me of a potential teaching position I’m slated to take in June. For this night high school for marginalized adults, I start crafting a syllabus in my head covering the indispensability of awe, wonder, and the power of stories in instructing how to read signs and define personal meaning even in the most frenzied of times. I also recall first hearing at a 12-Step meeting that “Religion is for people who’re afraid of going to hell, spirituality is for those who’ve already been there,” from an old comrade-in-arms who’s now sagely running his own school. You can’t lose in semantics if you measure your life through true service and via reaches exceeding grasps, after all. 

I manage to bring myself to the back of the nearest checkout line, and instinctively reach for a sword that is never there when you need it, never was, ready to fight off the terrible onslaught of numbers, perpetually faring poorly in Math, bracing myself for a bloodbath akin to the Great Integer Invasion of ’94. Or The Roach Pilgrimage of ’96. Or the Poptart War in ’03. Or The Megaman Bunk Crisis of October 2009. I start tallying how many watershed moments I’ve lucidly tallied through the handy metaphor or symbol.

I snap out of it as I remember you smiling this morning, telling me not to forget Bruce and Harley’s milk while I got dressed, watching you sink back under the sheets, savoring a few more hours of sleep. Dreading going back to work in a few days after mandatory two-month maternity leave, after we both lost what would have been our first child. I’ll always remember the anguish we boldly faced together, along with the regrets we chose not to have, together. 

Trusty clichés prove their worth in foxholes, as we continually live out our vows on the day we wed. We pull our family, our loved ones, closer, even in their absence. Searing faith, the consoling warmth of a timely embrace and a found prayer, are nearly all I need to believe in the many lives one can resurrect from potentially debilitating loss.

I smile. Then your favorite brand of chocolate comes to mind. Along with the photo of your left palm that you gamely Vibered me, acceding to my strange request no questions asked, right after our very first date. I ecstatically run back toward the labyrinthine aisles, outracing the stringless, scriptless, sober universe. A lucky man who resiliently makes the grade. Definitely amazed. Hoping this day would never end. 

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on April 27 (1:30 pm-3 pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration, email writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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