Thursday, April 28, 2005


Gemma is the kind lady who comes over to our home once a week to prepare food and assist our helper in different ways. She is such a fine cook, able to whip up everything from Byefstroganov (sauted beef in sour cream sauce) to my beloved sinigang (pork in tamarind soup). A mother of four, she supports her entire nuclear family because her husband is a bum who refuses to work for a living.

Today is her birthday but the gift she received was most brutally unkind.

Today, her eldest son died, after struggling with an illness that sapped his strength.

She is beside herself with grief and needs to fly off to Iloilo (where her son lived with Gemma's parents).

I shook like a leaf when I heard the terrible news. I cannot imagine what she must be going through. To lose your child is one of the horrible things that can happen to you - it made me think of my own daughter, Sage, and how much I love her, how I would gladly take on any pain or suffering on her behalf, how I want to protect her and keep her safe from everything.

I was brought to tears in my office and I left to smoke a cigarette in the stairwell. There is a certain helplessness that accompanies the experience of those whose lives are touched by the death of someone known. A swirling anger at the inevitability of things. My mouth tastes sour - and my cigarette tastes foul.

What if it happened to me? What would I do? Would I say that everything happens for a reason? Would I believe that God has a perfect plan for everything that occurs? Will I find enough strength to carry on and not collapse into tears when I see another father embrace his child?

How do I comfort Gemma, whose pain is beyond my capacity to imagine? I prepared some money to give her, to help with the expenses related to her trip to the province and the cost of the funeral. But what else? How else?

Events like this make the entire act of writing fiction, plays or poetry seem so banal, so divorced from the horror of reality. Do I write a poem for her? Offer up a short story? Mine her grief and my own vicarious sadness and write a play? Because I could, and the emotion is genuine, which immediately answers the demands of verisimilitude. Why am I even thinking along these lines?

Is the writerly part of me so insensitive, so edacious, that I while I am struck with sorrow a part of me is looking for ways to express it in writing?


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