Sunday, September 24, 2006

Shadow dancing

FOURTEEN years ago, I learned that one should always be brutally honest with the person making your bridal gown.

The designer had quirked one eyebrow when I described a dress Asian peasants wore in National Geographic: a close-necked, long-sleeved plain tunic and narrow long skirt.

After babbling about the similarities of garb among women in Sultan Kudarat and Sumatra, I mentioned I was walking barefoot to meet my intended.

Up went the other disbelieving eyebrow.

The fellow followed to the letter my soliloquy on Asian civilization. But perhaps to be authentic to his artistic sensibility, he gave vent through a few details like the heavily beaded tunic that weighed down like chain mail from the Middle Ages, worsening my slouch.

He slit the back of the skirt so high, it threatened to reveal all the sins of my past. My barefoot desire to meet my partner on “equal footing” he interpreted by lengthening the skirt so that only a pair of pumps with killer heels could save me from arriving at the altar, trussed up and bundled in what was supposed to be the shining finery of the crowning moment of my maidenhood.

But if my artist had his acts of mutiny, I also had my sins of omission.

I didn't tell him that I planned on linking arms with my father and mother for the traditional march.

Activist friends perhaps thought this was a sentimental kapit-bisig (solidarity). My relatives on both sides were forgiven for thinking that, as a precaution, I was inserting myself between two persons who had sidestepped full-blown hostilities by staying clear of each other for 22 years.

Though long comfortable with their separate lives, my devoted parents conceded to my wedding request. But as the video recording attests, the moment the hymn soared for our entrance, my ill-at-ease father took off like a shot, dragging me and my bemused but not really surprised mother.

Slit or no slit, it was none of my gown's doing that I ended up having the shortest, fastest route to shared blessedness.

This rumination of the past came after I read news accounts of the Austrian 18-year-old kidnapped at age 10 and held prisoner in a windowless basement until her escape, eight years later.

Nearly everyone from the media to science is trying to get inside the head of Natascha Kampusch after the teenager mourned her captor, who committed suicide after she escaped.

While she has arranged brief visits with her mother, Kampusch has seen her father only once.

Her strange behavior has scientists citing the “parental alienation syndrome.” According to a Sept. 18, 2006 Time article, it is a theory explaining how one can brainwash a child against a parent.

In extreme cases, like kidnapping, false memories of neglect or abuse can be implanted to “stir a child into a permanent and completely irrational rage against the targeted parent.”

But the Time article also noted that parental alienation happens more commonly when parents squabble for the loyalty or custody of their children.

Recently, when I joined a Sun.Star Cebu news team preparing a special report series on marital fallout, I talked with career women who had their marriages annulled.

One stood out because she did not give in to temptation and poison her children against their father.

Though it galled that her ex-spouse could resume his relationship with their daughter after more than a decade of silence, she viewed it as grace that their daughter was not scarred by his desertion and could move on, unimpeded.

Neither science nor tabloid analysis is needed to drive home the point that parent-child ties ground us. I could have made a more dignified bride had I warned the fellow to design a gown meant to hold three pairs of legs.

But thanks to years of dancing to the quirky tempo set by my parents' marriage, I am graced with 14 years of waltzing in my own.

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