There are a few things I used to know for sure; for instance, I once knew what to expect whenever I went back home. That mom would wake me up in the morning to ask what I wanted for breakfast -- even if ready at the table was a plate of toast, a fried egg, and ketchup because she knew that's what I'd ask for. At 8:30 am I'd call Tess at Hair Gloss, the neighborhood hair salon that was mom's second home, and she would already know that I was booking a same-day blowdry and manipedi, because it was always my way of starting off my vacation. My first lunch would be a Jollibee Yum with Cheese and a chocolate shake -- which I wouldn't eat again until my next trip back. I knew that within 12 hours of my arrival, my bestfriend Rosanna would come over and we'd spend just about every day together, even if only for a few minutes, until it was time for me to leave again.
One of the other things I could always rely on was that my cousin Lupe and I would arrange to meet for dinner. She would pick me up, we would go to Polo and catch up at Nanten until closing time. I've always thought it fitting that this was the site of our annual get-together since it was here where she and I became friends. Although we were second cousins we didn't meet until I was a freshman in high school, shortly after she transferred in. She was in 10th grade, older than me, and I felt an instant kinship with her.
We became friends when she had a crush on this boy whom we frequently saw at the club. Although we'd giggle every time she saw him and swooned, Lupe could never be described as a silly girl. She was sensible and down-to-earth, somewhat of an old soul. So I often wondered what she saw in him: I thought the guy was too vain, too into himself, and he never seemed to talk or say anything interesting when he did. Certainly he was cute, but hardly charming. Still, seeing Lupe's face light up in his presence was enough reason for me not to ask why. She seemed happy, and it was all that mattered. That was the thing about her: she was such a good person that if you knew her you only wanted good things for her. She was always generous with what she had, and certainly with her time, not because she wanted people to like her, but because giving simply came naturally to her.
After high school we drifted apart, as people often do. She graduated a year before I did and went off to college; a new world, a new life was out there for her. And then I left for Los Angeles. This was before the internet made it easy for people to keep in touch or reconnect, and so we didn't until I started up this ol' blog of mine, which she sometimes read. Out of the blue she'd send me an instant message or an email, and it felt like we were those two teens again, even if by now we'd both battled life's struggles and sometimes felt a bit world-weary. Once in a while we'd chat on the phone and I'd feel the warmth of her smile radiate through the line. When she returned to Manila for good we'd have only a couple of precious hours to catch up every year. But she was there for me when my mother passed away, then again shortly after when I lost my father. Although we didn't see each other much, she was there when it mattered most. Simply put, she showed up. That was one of the most remarkable things about her.
A few months ago I received a message from our mutual cousin that Lupe suffered a heart attack. The good news, he said, was that she had reached the hospital just in time and the doctors were able to operate successfully. As soon as I heard that she was asking about how soon she could go back to work I sent her a message to let her know I was thinking of her and that she should stop worrying about her job, that she should be selfish and just rest. She replied that she was doing well, but admitted she felt tired. We ended our brief conversation with hug emojis, and I resolved that next time I saw her we'd finally go bra shopping like she'd been wanting to for a while (I was to be her personal fitter). For days I thought a lot about that heart of hers -- that huge, beautiful heart that must have given so much that now it needed a bit of rest.
Two weeks later I received a message from my sister that Lupe suffered a brain aneurysm. This time there were no good news to mitigate the bad. I read the words "pray" and "miracle" often the next couple of days from friends and relatives, and slowly I began to steel myself to prepare for a world without her. I even tried to pretend that she wouldn't really be gone, she'd only be far away. And then I thought of how it would be the next time I went home.
The concept of "home" carries with it the comfort of certainty and of the familiar. We know what to expect when we think of home; we look forward to what has always made us happy, even when we know that the world changes too fast, that nothing ever remains the same. I cried for days after I heard that Lupe had passed away, even though a part of me couldn't quite believe she was gone. My cousin was a survivor in every sense of the word; she was supposed to survive this, too.
There are things in life I'm not quite sure about. I don't know if there's a heaven, a place where we finally meet up with all our loved ones again. I don't know if Manila will one day cease to feel like home, especially when I'm slowly losing all that kept my heart feel moored to this place. I don't know how it will feel the next time I'm at my usual dinner spot with Lupe and she's not there, or when I bump into the boy who first jumpstarted our friendship.
What I do know is that if memories can keep a loved one truly alive inside you, and if that love connects to all the deep, deep love countless others feel for this same person it will radiate and flow down like a constant bright shower of her warm smile, and she will never truly be gone. But I will miss her forever and am so very grateful she once became part of my life. Some people make the world better simply because they were once in it. She was one of them -- and this I do know for sure.