Ping Ping & Jing Jing

Mambusao, Capiz / Western Visayas / Philippines
The last time we read together (June 2009)

She was sheepish, “tahimik” when I first met her. She couldn’t have been more than a head and a half tall, only having just turned two or so.

Now, still just as tahimik, she stood up to my ears— an exact replica of her older brother, her eyes kind where his was stern, her smile playful where his was absent.

“You’re Manang Jeel-yahn,” she whispered.

“Do you remember me?” I asked. She paused for a moment, as if she already knew the answer but needed a second to figure out exactly how she should answer. A while passed before she decidedly shook her head.

I had picked up a Seventh Day Adventist Hymnal from the coffee table in the living room that had collected a generous coating of dust. As I started to play, I saw her inch closer and closer to me, little by little. Slowly, she joined me in song.

When we had finished, she pointed to a pile of albums, equally as dusty as the hymnal had been. She eagerly turned to the first few pages, like she was sharing her favorite bedtime story with me. The first few photos were unfamiliar to me— faded, orange— but the second page was bright with lots of blue. I recognized it at once as photos from my 18th  birthday party— or debut— in Texas, which we celebrated just a few weeks before my high school graduation.

“Manang Jeel-yahn,” she whispered again, this time with much more excitement.

I let her turn the pages of the album, and while it had been some time since I had seen these photos, they seemed to be ones she visited often. She pointed to the ones where I was playing my violin, others where my parents stood together, laughing, smiling. Seeing my dad’s face, his mustache, his grin made me long for home, for my safe place where his hugs were and where I could easily pick up the phone and hear “Hi Babe” on the other side. A lump slowly formed and grew in my throat. I missed him something awful.

Not deterred by the sudden wave of emotion (or missing it altogether), Ping Ping pointed to the silly little tiara I had worn that day, and my three-tiered birthday cake. She turned to a page that had a photo of me being escorted by Andy, my boyfriend at the time. Placing her finger on that page, she turned to others full of photos where Andy and I either ate together, danced together, sat together, or were amongst a group of friends together. I chuckled nervously and made a mental note to learn how to explain that one in Bisaya one day.

This is how she knows me.

I would need to learn how to explain how heartbreaking it is that life’s happy moments must ebb and flow— that we aren’t allowed to have the light if we aren’t willing to deal with the dark. How the princess has since had twelve birthdays, not all like the ones in her story book. And as she added candles to her birthday cake, the flames of others were coldly diminished.

Two of the best uncles the world ever knew,
and two of the most loyal friends I’ll ever have at my back.
Miss you, Uncle Glenn, Uncle Jun, Ron, and Ashley.

So much changes in 12 years, little one.

How does it feel, learning that the princesses in your bedtime stories don’t always get their happily ever afters?