Saturday, August 14, 2004

In Memory of Aaron--Youngblood Edition

What can I say about a twenty-three-year-old boy who died? That his death isn’t romantic. That it is mostly tragic.

Thursday afternoon, after returning from my break I received a text message which read, “…patay na c aron…” I am not sure if it was really obscenely cold in the office or what, but at that instant, I felt like the temperature at the exact spot where I was seated drop close to zero. My entire body began to shiver. A slight pang of grief struck me.

Someone I know just died.

***

Barely a month ago, my mom and I visited Aaron in the hospital. I learned, two days before, that he had problems with his heart—literally, that is.

Now, I often have these pseudo-chitchats in my mind. It’s my way of testing the words I’m about to say—sort of prototype conversations. Anyway, if someone heard me then, he’d probably smack my head for thinking like a complete idiot. Why? Because I thought, “Boy, you look sick.”

An annoyed little voice inside my head replied, “He should. He is sick.”

And indeed he was.

***

Aaron and I have known each other for 11 years, but we were never friends. We never became friends. We hadn’t even had a decent five-minute conversation with each other—ever. Not one.

Our connection is bound by the same element that holds together the members of a normal family: oblique, filial love. (Note that in my vocabulary “normal,” when pertaining to “family,” is synonymous to “dysfunctional,” thus explaining the “bond” despite the lack of “talk.”)

You may look at it this way, Aaron is like family to me. Now that he’s gone, I feel like I’ve lost a brother.

Don’t be fooled. We never had those warm brotherly-sisterly times together. We just know that in some unexplainable way, we were related. Our interaction was limited to “Kakain (na),” “Ang mommy ko (mo)?” “Oo nga no?” “Hindi ko alam,” “Sige”—you get the picture.

We once spent a youthful summer together, though. Along with my siblings and his sibling, we joined a volleyball league held in the street where my family and his family used to live. He hated me for missing points by not running after the ball. I hated him back for being harsh.

Sometimes, I thought that he was crazy. That same summer, he hit his chin on the edge of a table. It bled so much that his mom rushed him to the hospital. The moment he stepped out of the emergency room with a stitched chin, he burst with a matching gesture, “Superman!”

Despite that, I’d still say he wasn’t the worst kid his age, but I know he wasn’t the best student his age either. He went to school for the fun of it, not for the need of it. There was even a time when I doubted if he can actually read a minimum of 1,000 different words or, at least, write his own name. It’s mean of me, I know. It’s just that I wondered why even if we started high school together (we attended different schools, though), he seemed to have been trapped there.

We parted ways when his family moved to the province. Little did I know that I would have the opportunity to be with them frequently come my college years. I ended up attending a university in the same province where they transferred.

He would drive his mom to my dormitory for “calamity” or leisurely visits. Sometimes, I was the one who graced their home. The whole time, he never resented me for sharing his mom.

I did not see him or the rest of his family for a while when I decided to be like him temporarily. (Translation: I took the time off from school too.) Later, I just learned that he got his girlfriend pregnant after he told my Ate, over the phone, that he was in the house of his “biyenan.” He said it like it was a joke.

At 18, he became a dad to a boy who looks exactly like him.

***

We grew up.

He grew up. He used to be shorter than I was, but I soon noticed that he was already inches taller than I.

I grew up. I managed to convince myself that school is important. I graduated college. He didn’t.

We both grew up in two different ways.

***

Aaron was the picture of a carefree “kabataan.” He goes through his day without any vivid, realistic plans for his future. He lived like Peter Pan. At least, as far as I know. It made it hard for me to see him, for the first time, sort-of deflated in a hospital bed.

I guess he found himself a comfortable position on the hospital bed he hardly slept on when, during my first visit, he decided to give us a basic lesson in anatomy.

He said, “Nandito pala ang puso,” then he pointed at the left side of his stomach. He was serious all throughout.

His Kuya and I laughed.

He defended his point by saying, “Nung inexamine ako sa E.R., dito [still pertaining to the alleged location of his heart] nila pinakinggan ang tibok ng puso ko.”

In the mildest way I could muster, I quipped, “Nalipat na pala ang puso? Ay kaya yan masakit.”

I really thought it was funny.

***

The doctors were supposed to repair two valves in Aaron’s heart, but due to complications, they fixed three.

Aaron’s spirit fought but his body lost. Two days after his operation, his freshly mended heart ceased beating.

***

Upon learning that he’s gone, the first thing that popped inside my head was the idea that he may have died without knowing where his heart is. It made me sad.

I wonder if I’ll die that way too. Expiring without knowing where my heart really is.

I don’t know which one is worse, dying without knowing where your heart is or living without knowing where your heart is.

***

The last time I saw him alive, he asked me to accompany him to the hospital recovery room where a nurse was taking him. He was scheduled to watch a video explaining what happens to a patient after undergoing an open-heart surgery. I doubt if he watched it at all. He kept on vomiting air the whole time. He barely ate anything so he barely threw up anything.

I knew that no matter how unserious a person he used to be, he was definitely seriously ill.

***

I never comforted Aaron nor gave him any concrete form of moral support during my last visit. I didn’t know how. I’m just not good at easing people’s pain—at least, people who are suffering from first-degree pain.

I left without bidding him good-bye. I left without letting him know where his heart was. But maybe I wasn’t meant to.

When I think about it now, I don’t think I am entirely sure where people’s hearts are.

I do not even know where mine is.

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