Sunday, September 04, 2005


In the aftermath of the most explosive confrontation between my mother and myself in my early twenties, I packed my bags and left the house forever. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. I didn’t have a job and had no savings but I couldn’t stay another night with my sanity and integrity intact. I ran to Dadan, my closest friend then, and asked to stay over for a few days while I got my act together. I would end up staying for a couple of years, in essence adopted by his family.

Tito Johnny and Tita Baby, his parents, opened the doors of their house along West Avenue to me and treated me like one of their own. They fed me, gave me a room, and gave me the time and space to determine the future trajectories of my life. During the time I lived there, I wrote up a small tempest of plays and fiction, and, in a particularly surreal twist, left to marry Dadan’s ex-girlfriend with Dadan standing as one of my best men (see, life is strange and wonderful). Before the marriage, Nikki would visit the house and cause the neighbors to wag their tongues; it felt rather cosmopolitan and libertine – especially when we made noise during lazy afternoons.

I remember Tito Johnny best because of the beautiful madness of his ideas and his warm sense of humor. In my life that was populated by surrogate father figures that I unconsciously sought out to fill the void of my own father’s leave-taking when I very young, he was one of the earthiest, always accessible, perpetually ready to sit and have a conversation, preferably a long one. We talked about floating steel cities anchored to the ground, of the lost Yamashita gold, and of the sinister conspiracies of silence that bound disparate government heads and the church together.

After I got married and had my own place, I rarely saw Tito Johnny. I tell myself that I was busy, that I was in and out of the country, that there was no common time, but the truth is that I acted just like any son who suddenly had freedom to be somewhere else, doing something else, determinedly possessed by the imperative of youth to go away. In the ten years that passed, I got to see him no more than four times.

Last week, I was standing along the road waiting for a cab. I had just finished a meeting and was on my way to another when a car passed by, stopped and slowly backed up to where I stood. I watched the window roll down and heard my name called.

DADAN: Dean!

ME: Dadan? Hey, Dadan!

DADAN: Bro! Where are you going? Get in!

(Dean gets inside the car)

ME: My God! How have you been? Where are you off to? How are things?

DADAN: Shit, bro. This is the strangest thing.

ME: What?

DADAN: The strangest thing.

ME: Why? What do you mean?

DADAN: See those clothes at the back?

(Dean looks at the suit supported by a hanger, the small pile of shirts and the shoe boxes)

ME: Yes?

DADAN: They’re for Papa. He just died this morning, bro. I’m on my way to the funeral home. Can you, can you come?

At that moment, I experienced a sudden and profound dislocation, as if my sense of self was shunted outside the terrible little scene. I could not deal with the information. I could not accept that Tito Johnny was dead. It was absurd. It was wrong. It could not be true.

Last night, Nikki and I attended Tito Johnny’s wake. As I stood in front of the open coffin with tears in my eyes, I apologized softly for acting the prodigal, for my unreasonable absence during his last painful months and for my erratic presence during all the times before. My shame and guilt mingled with a powerful sense of love and gratefulness as I looked at the montage of pictures of Tito Johnny’s life. "Goodbye and thank you" and "I'm sorry" - is that it? Is that all?

Wakes are supposed to be for the benefit of those left behind, but I feared I was going to be of little comfort to Dadan. I felt like I was going in a sad spiral, my capacity for words of comfort rendered almost mute, reduced to the expected script, unable to improvise within the confines of the church anything that could possibly let my friend know much the kindness of his father meant to me. It was not a dialogue beat I could write, a vignette I could construct.

I realized there really are no words that can express what goes on behind loss and longing. Not in that moment.

But I tried as I cried.


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