Tagaytay, Phillipines, 2000
I watched Gladiator at a movie theatre on the mountains of Tagaytay where nobody else was watching. I sat in the front row and before me played the most beautiful soundtrack and film I have ever seen. The screen was so big before me, just like Russell Crowe at the height of his career. Just like you Papa. You were always bigger than life, as though things which were too much for this world gravitated towards you.
Only I didn’t gravitate towards you as much as you might have liked. I understand you now Papa. Your sense of right versus wrong was something we always contended with. I was always wrong, wasn’t I, Papa. Or perhaps you did finally understand me more than all my other sisters because I tended to be the rebel in the family.
I thought you could never understand why I would want to check out the leftists in the mountains, to go to a writing workshop in the southern part of the Philippines away from everyone and to come home pining for a lover I had met there and could hardly move on from.
I understood how you stood against the world when it came to the principles you protected. I understood your sense of space in that old pawnshop where you read books by Alexandre Dumas and Arthur Conan Doyle with such focus. The world moved on and disappeared beyond you.
The days before your death, the retirement years you spent at home, alone watching reruns of Gladiator on HBO must have been the best times of your life, despite what anyone would say.
Yes, you were alone. And I thought no one as good-looking as you could ever be or deserved to be alone.
I watch Gladiator now in the summer of the anniversary of your death. Finally, the heat did kill you. You always did smoke too much. The heavy Marlboro stuff.
I watch Gladiator and see how he found his family hanging on the eaves of his home. I wept then and felt closer to his death more than ever as though he must die in the end because he must go to his family in the fields of heaven.
I always wanted to sing Lisa Gerrard’s theme song of the movie. There is also a beautiful version by Czarina Russell.
Papa, I know you shyly borrowed my music tapes back then because it was a sharing of souls, an ever wondering of how the other must have felt listening to the music.
We were always together since you brought me to school and fetched me, while my other sisters were transferred to a school nearer to our home. Mama must have thought we could share each others’ sense of solitude. How I felt so uncomfortable listening to emotional soundtracks with you in the space of a car.
And you wept, one time, all alone among us in the house, because you said you were tired. Tired of what, Papa? I was afraid of answers even then because I vowed never to look back at that afternoon when you wept, humbled by something we cannot comprehend.
Until now, when you are gone from our midst. After you are gone from our midst. After you have set me free, finally, to be myself because I have always been the different one.