FEW things are as fraught as the close of one year and the start of another. That must be why people make new year’s resolutions, create a lot of noise and do their best not to spend money on the first day of the year.
Changes make us jittery. Repeating some practices reassures us we’re ready for the unknown.
Or maybe once we create a program, it takes too much effort to step away from it.
For our family, the program is to spend the end of the year and wake up to a new one in Dumaguete.
Since the boys were this high, we travel as a family. Now that they’re teenagers, it takes some rescheduling but we still take trips together. Having a family is more fun in the Philippines: you can be with your children a little longer than possible.
We’ve reached some parts of Visayas and Luzon; Mindanao is still the great dream.
But Dumaguete is special. It’s a city I fairly know from walking. I like to sit by the boulevard and watch the fast craft leave for or return from Siquijor, whose outline I can see on a fair or overcast day.
I often bring a book or a notebook I plan to open under the century-old trees; I never do because the early morning or afternoon promenade is much too interesting: the families, the dogs and their human halves, young lovers, old friends, students, public debaters, vendors, musicians, missionaries, Their Solitary Highnesses, the cats.
There was a time when the shops in Dumaguete closed on Sunday. Families were either at church or at home. Walking the near deserted streets, it felt like we had an entire city to ourselves. We learned to invent our meals for Sundays.
At the start of this year, I found a lump on my left breast while taking a shower in Dumaguete. While waiting for the boats to leave port, I sat on the boulevard and made two resolutions I thought were fairly easy to accomplish: see a doctor and the barber.
A doctor decodes the language of your body in layman’s terms. That’s important for making a plan beyond a day, if you’re lucky.
Conventional health care is a jargon-littered field, mined with unexpected consequences and expenses. It helps when a doctor does not speak in codes, as if wellness were encrypted in some secret language known only within a brotherhood, which excludes the patient.
The year 2013 is known as the year of the selfie. Instead of selfies, ultrasound images of the internal structures of my breasts are saved in my filebook. They’re not for posting on Facebook although the most recent ones, viewed in a clinic in Cebu City, took me back to the bench under the dripping trees of Dumaguete at the start of this year.
Doctor: (Pointing to the mammogram and sonomammogram images) Those whitish areas? They’re not as dense as they used to be.
Me: (Thinking of fog dissipating with the noontime sun in Lepanto, Alegria or streaks of creamer in black coffee being stirred) Is that good or bad?
Doctor: Let’s just say I’ll see you same time next year.
Like a doctor, a barber is a specialist. At least, ours is. He’s cut the boys’ hair since they were this high. Now that they’re teenagers and are ferocious about their hairstyle eccentricities as they are about their privacy, the barber still gives me the same dose when I sit on his chair: same trim, same stories, same political commentary.
Why did I think of that barber’s cut when I had the first inkling of mortality? It must be because he often makes this comment while cutting my hair:
Barber: (Sighing mournfully) Each time I see you, I see more white than black.
Me: At least, it’s only hair.
Barber: (Sighing louder) True. Imagine if I could see your soul.
Me: Then you wouldn’t be a barber. You’d be an embalmer.
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 29, 2013 issue of “Matamata,” the Sunday editorial-page column