I was 37 and was getting into a kind of hopelessness in still getting a partner at that late age, but she was 17 and I saw her standing there and everything went boom again.
“Hey,” I wanted to shout it out. “I can still take a wife.”
Beth was a looker. I wouldn’t even, unlike Shakspeare, compare her to a summer day; she was more temperate. Though I’d hasten to proclaim that with her I’m prone to repeating some other poet’s passion, my heart beating to tunes of April singing with the wind.
Of all the girls from among whom I could choose a mate, Beth stood out in a most special kind of way. She was poor, and up until that time when I was beginning to carve a career in screenwriting, I had not quite gotten rid of the revolutionary notion that even such things as love are not to be taken as universal but as class-based. In strict Marxist language, politics in command. In matters of choosing a mate, your choice must not be to sate some personal emotional need but, too, in the overall task of advancing the ultimate doctrine of serving the people.
That’s how Beth got one over the quite few other contenders for my heart. She was socially a proletarian. The sight of her munching at a freshly-cut sugarcane stalk that morning I first visited her place broke my heart. It was obvious the cane juice was meant to substitute for breakfast that wasn’t there.
Then and there I decided Beth was my destined proletarian mate.
Deep into our married life, I’d often tease Beth that she was lucky for having had me. She would snap at the joke, contending that on the contrary, she was my lucky charm.
“Look,” she’d say. “You were already writing scripts when we met but where you getting anywhere? No. But the moment we began sleeping together, you won your first best screenplay award.”
Indeed, when I won that award for “Burlesk Queen” in the 1977 Metro Manila Film Festival, my first impulse was – ignoring the celebration Dolphy threw for the grand sweep by the movie of all the awards but one in that festival which included the Best Actor award for Dolphy’s son, Rolly Quizon – to rush to our hotel room and offer to Beth my trophy. It was my first award in filmmaking and it was nice to have someone to bring it home to.
The birth of our first child, Mauro II (Maoie), in July 1979 saw the start of the blooming of a happy family. The coming of the child was my silent, self-imposed condition for marrying Beth finally, and I married her in simple civil rites before Makati Mayor Nemesio Yabut. We built a small house in an acquired property in Antipolo, which saw the birth of three more offsprings, Paulo, then Maripaz and finally Augusto.
Along with each birth, an improvement in the structure of the house came about so that from a simple bamboo-and-nipa affair, it grew into a concrete edifice housed on a 265-square meter floor area.
A flourishing film career made these improvements possible. Beginning with my first directorial assignment, “Isla Sto. Nino” by Seiko Films, film offers tended to abound. Into the 90s I was being reckoned as a box office director, meaning a film director whose movies score big in terms of income. In 1991 alone, I made the most number of films by a local director, 6 in all. And in all of these films, Beth was working with me side by side, either as assistant director, production coordinator or production assistant. In certain cases, where there was no other in the production staff available, she would take on the task of a legman just to be on my side when I worked.
At certain intervals, when owing to the unstable nature of jobs in the film industry I would experience hard times, I would be very thankful that I got Beth for my wife. If I had gotten another, like any of the fashion models I had been close friends with before her, I doubt if she could have fared as well as Beth; in all likelihood, she would have junked me in favor of a more materially-gifted paramour. Which fashion model or an aspiring starlet or a third-rate beauty queen would go vending wares in the market if only to help her husband tide domestic crises over? The proletarian criterion for choosing a mate is practical after all. Beth’s poor beginnings were the one single factor that enabled her to stick by me in times of difficulty.
The greatest trial came in 2005 when bastardization of the judicial and land registration systems led to a court writ of demolition of part of our house. Since then Beth began having hypertension attacks that worsened through the years. Meantime, I finally realized the pathos from what was actually happening to her. She felt she was being dragged back to that life I found her in the first time around, and she would have none of it ever again.
And so she must do something, anything at all, just so she would find means of retrieving those grand moments in the nineties when she had all of three cars to drive around, all the time to spend socializing with Antipolo VIPs, all the time enjoying the good life. Probably she thought she could get back to all those times by caregiving for foreign elderlies or learning beauty treatment and hair culture from Tesda.
How it rent my heart to realize she was struggling to get back the nice things I, for one long happy interlude, was able to give her and the kids but which in my incapacity now I wouldn’t be able to do so anymore – nor ever again.
Thus must it be that late afternoon last Tuesday. It’d been sometime since she came home from her last journey abroad for caregiving services. She had confided to a close family friend that she had no more intentions of going abroad to work any further; she felt it was telling on her health. She had just been busy arranging garden plants around her quarters, or otherwise sprucing things up around what had remained of the family property. I was busy drafting what I intended to be my article for Saturday’s column when my grandchild Gia came rushing to my working quarters, threw herself into the sofa, and broke into soft sobs.
“Why, darling?” I asked.
“Kasi si Mommy,” said the ten-year-old.
“Mommy” is how Gia, daughter of Maripaz, had grown used to calling Beth.
“What about Mommy?” I asked.
“Nanay Paz brought her to the hospital,” said the child, crying hard now.
I tried to make light out of the situation. I didn’t want Gia to feel so alarmed. But deep inside me, I was. Beth had a stroke once but managed to survive. And in many cases, the second time around proves fatal.
“Oh, why cry, people do get hospitalized once in a while. I was also taken to the hospital last week, wasn’t I? But you didn’t cry. Why cry now?”
“Because Mommy is not moving her arms anymore. Her eyes are closed. She can’t speak. Why are you not taking care of her? Asawa mo naman siya.”
That’s what pains the most. Gia spoke the truth. I had ceased to mind Beth’s innermost
concerns, not realizing at all that these troubles had been like termites eating into the very core of her emotional and physiological being.
Would a resumption of the sweet intimacy we had at the start have lightened things up between us thereby giving both of us a collective resolve and strength to surmount our current difficulties which after all are temporal?
The past days before last Tuesday, I was strongly sensing a desire by Beth to be 17 once again with me, but I was rather slow in responding – until it was too late. It was an instant affliction of massive, irremediable brain hemorrhage that seized her.
I am rushing to beat the deadline for this column while trying to make out in my mind how to pour out my grief in tonight’s necrological services at the Haven of Angels Funeral Home.
My grief is really not that I am losing Beth now. How can you lose somebody who’s always been forever in your heart? My grief is in having thought she had lost me once and I had the stupidity to mistake that once for forever.
By the time you are reading this, Beth is being cremated.