[ My Father Tells Me ]
I never met my lolo Diego. He was a harsh man, my father always tells me, a man of few words and vast silences. He had a strong, thick brow, with deep creases that were shaped like the moon’s side. Once, when my father was little, my lolo stormed into the house, still wearing his face from the war. He shattered the family pictures. Walked in growling as if he came from the jungle. Looking for one of his sons to beat and tearing up the parlor. It was like a repetitive play they saw over and over. Whenever lola sneaked out to play mahjong, my father tells me, lolo became a distant, roaring animal. My father crawled under the kitchen table and hid with his brothers. They huddled together as if there were in a cave, hiding from the monkey that threw the ivory vases on the ground. When their father’s storm was over and they came out into the calm, they saw him smoking a large cigar on the big, leather couch in the living room, holding his olive beret with the tip of his fingers.
But that was the last time, my father tells me. It was my final memory of him.
After that cold day of the monsoon season, lolo didn’t come back. That night my father waited on the porch for hours, in a dirty, white shirt with holes in it. He wore black basketball shorts too. When his mother came back drunk, red in the face and mahjong pieces in her dress, she found him outside on the steps. My father was cold, wet from the rain and sick with a fever. She picked him up, slowly. Lolo left her a note on the banister, telling her in the words of his American hero, “I shall return.” Unlike MacArthur, lolo never did.
This is what my father tells me.
My lolo was a withered tiger, a lost cause after the war. The major who never surrendered. A man who could’ve been general. The hero of Northern Luzon, the green guerilla of Bessang Pass.
But I never knew him, my father tells me. I never wanted to. He never was my father.