The last time that I saw Tito Jack was summer several years ago in a loud and crowded resort with pools bathed in chlorine, filthy as hell and no one can see the bottom. The air, sticky with smoke coming from different grills, one can smell a mixed aroma of pork, fish, chicken and human sweat. The place was loud as each cottage has its own karaoke set, each one playing its own classic karaoke hit, from Material Girl to It Must Have Been Love and Green, Green Grass of Home.
I caught Tito Jack and Tita Emily discreetly munching Moby, that chocolate flavoured snack in orange packaging. They also poured softdrinks on their plastic cups with ice and drank with gusto. I pretended not to see them. As like kids, I felt that they might feel bad if they get caught from their mischief. I whispered to my mom, “Look at those two kids, still indulging in sweets.” She quietly laughed and said “they are very stubborn.”
Tito Jack is my mom’s younger brother, the 4th out of 5 kids. He never finished school because he didn’t want to study. He said he was too dumb because of all the meds given to him when he was a kid. That’s what he believed in. That’s what everyone made him believe in. All his life, he worked as a messenger and driver to their elder half brother, the son of their father from his father’s first wife. Their elder half brother and family would send us gifts on our birthdays and Christmases (since they live a much more comfortable life than all of us), and that’s the time I will meet Tito Jack.
There are two types of Tito Jack that I knew, the sober one that hands us the gifts in fancy wrappers and the drunken one that scares the hell out of me when I was a kid.
He was an easy going guy, quite happy and contented with his lifestyle. They had difficulties but they always made it through. They raised my beautiful cousin into a wonderful woman that she is today.
He smokes and drinks a lot, and that’s mostly what I remember about him in every family gathering. I was always shit scared whenever our eyes crossed paths as I know he will call me. His face will be very close to mine, his breathe smells of beer and will ask groggily if I am studying well or if I already had a crush or a boyfriend. At that time, all I know is I always ran away from him. My father never drank alcohol, at home nor outside so I never knew how to handle situations with drunken elderly men, regardless if they are my relatives or not.
I was still in Dubai when he survived his first mild stroke. Knowing his (drinking) lifestyle, we were not surprised when we heard about this. And that summer when I last saw him, I saw how his age and health caught up with him. His youth was taken away from him. His hair, grey. His jaw, uneven due to the mild strokes. His stance, very weak. And still, he and Tita Emily was discreetly eating and drinking what’s worse for both of them.
Tita Emily, my mom’s best friend since they were kids, was almost blind and already at the verge of getting her feet cut due to diabetes at the time I caught her and Tito Jack eating Moby and drinking soft drinks.
I didn’t know if they were just too stubborn or, maybe, since they know they are already sick, they were like ‘ YOLO’ or ‘what the hell, I will die anyway.’
Tita Emily passed away July last year. She had been there for us since we were kids, she helped us through our tough times and she always lauded us for finishing college and getting good jobs but I wasn’t there for her on her last days. I wasn’t there for her family. The only thing I was able to do was to send a message of condolences to her husband and two kids, whom I never really gotten in touch with until the time I had to send my condolences. At that time, I was away, like always and it really didn’t hit me hard. I didn’t even pay her family a visit when I went home in November and February and this makes me really sad now. I’m grieving for her now. Just now. A year later.
At around 11am today, just when I was about to go for my daily swim, I opened facebook and saw the change in my cousin’s profile pic. A photo of Tito Jack with caption: We Love You Papa and two heart icons. The over hundred comments on the photo confirmed my hunch. Tito Jack passed away due to kidney failure and other complications. I clicked the sad emoticon and headed to the sea to swim. What a sad way to send condolences in times of social media.
Halfway through my swim, tears welled up and my mask fogged. I stopped and checked where I was; quite far from the starting point and still far from the finish line. I continued my swim. The water temperature dropped at a certain point. The rough waves and strong current was pushing me back. A school of tiny bait fish was swimming with me.
As I reached my finish line, I still stayed in the water for some time and watched as the school of these tiny bait fish swim around me. I had a funny thought that maybe they are giving me comfort in this tough time. If on land, butterflies visit people when someone passes away, maybe in my case it’s the school of bait fish.
Grieving is very new to me. Death is a fact but a seemingly distant fact. Like something I know but never saw coming. I never saw ’till now.
I don’t know how to handle this feeling. All I know is that tears fall from my eyes randomly and that Tito and Tita won’t be there anymore when I come back. I grieve not only for the loss of the people but the loss of time that I could have spent with them when I already had the means but chose not to. I grieve that this has to happen to Tito Jack when times are too tough, when my mom won’t be able to see him even for the last time. When my cousin, still in the hospital now, won’t have any shoulder to cry on and her mom can’t even go with her to the hospital to see Tito Jack for the last time because of the current quarantine situations.
I feel sad that I couldn’t be there for my mom, for my cousin and aunt. I couldn’t be there for anyone. As always.
Grieving is very new to me and I don’t know what to do. Maybe for now, I’ll just let all these tears drop fall and live with the memories that Tito Jack, and Tita Emily have left behind.
*image not mine