Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mirror, mirror

AT a certain point, do all daughters come to resemble their mothers?

Across the dining table, my 75-year-old mother watched me fold a plastic bag left by the boys. I did not know she was watching me until she said: I am like you, unable to resist keeping a plastic bag others would have discarded.

How many times have I watched my mother, across the same table, put her maintenance medicine inside reused plastic bags from the pharmacy?

During the day, the dining table witnesses our different routines: I, to write; she, to prepare her medication. When I look up from what I’m reading or writing, my mother is still at it, folding, unfolding and folding the tiny bags holding multicolored pills.

Is it the bags that make me dizzy? My mother doesn’t label the bags, which come from the same pharmacy but contain different sets of pills for different intervals. After watching too often a shower of pills spill from the pocket of her trousers, I gave her a pillbox.

I’ve never seen again the pillbox. But the mini plastic bags never stop rustling when my mother and I sit across each other during the day.

Now something more than the pill bags holds my attention: quote I am like you unquote. Shouldn’t my mother say: you are so like me? Daughters take after their mothers, don’t they?

When my teachers and classmates met my mother for the first time, they looked at me as if to reproach me for defying type. Was I proof that aliens could have abducted my mother’s real daughter and put me in her place? I think even the aliens would agree without batting a lidless cyclopean eye.

Throughout the turbulent years—while I navigated adolescence and my mother, middle age—we found a common point by disagreeing about most things. My mother, a KBL loyalist, considered my revulsion for Marcos and embrace for causes as some kind of bug I picked up from the state university. She taught me birth control; I suspected she was prepping me for vassalage and the petty bourgeois institutions of monogamy and perpetuation of the race. She discovered religion when I thought disbelief had the answers for everything, including alien abduction.

Age catches up with all of us. I became a wife and then a mother. I converted to conservatism. My mother stopped perming and dyeing her hair; she became a grandmother and revels in the pure high only grandchildren can give.

We still disagree on a few things: Aquino and “Daang Matuwid,” her diet, and plastic bags. Or we did.

When she moved in with us some weeks ago, I found myself watching her across the glass-topped table where we have our meals. Am I becoming my mother’s daughter? It turned out she was watching me, too. Quote I am like you unquote.

All my life, I’ve had more men friends than women. Men come with a list of simple instructions once you get sex out of the way. Women are much harder to crack. And they keep their claws sharpened.

So I don’t know when I started to like hanging out with my mother. Was it when I heard her ask my sons if I knew how to switch on the stove (shared anxiety: my mother cannot boil an egg)? Or as we negotiated if she could add one more scoop of ice cream?

Or while holding on to the back of her neck as one of her doctors recently drove in a harsh truth, I remembered how my mother held me on her lap so the dentist could pull out a milk tooth and then announce, “You can now open your eyes… yes, both of you.”

Quote I am like you unquote.

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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s September 14, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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