My Annus Horribilis

[WARNING. LONG AND EMOTIONALLY HEAVY POST.]

As a photographer, I take pride in keeping backups of practically almost every single photo I’ve shot. Great moments. Good times. Unfortunately, tragedies and maladies, as well.

I occasionally scan my archives for excellent shots to remaster, to beautify. Likewise, unfortunately, I stumble upon moments and memories of my life I would most prefer be in remiss.

For the past 5 years, the -BER months have always been significantly low parts of the year. Melancholy and lethargy were pretty much the general mood I have from October to December.

It all started in 2011, possibly my entire family’s annus horribilis. I still could not properly describe in writing how I felt during that year.

The 4rd of January was a day of rejoice. I just got accepted into a new job. It was also a day of tragedy. Less than a day after showing her my new job contract/s, my great-grandmother, my lola Merced, passed away at the age of 96.

It’s been almost 6 years now, yet I still find it difficult to write about her. I am eternally grateful for all the help, all the stories, and all the life lessons she gave and taught me.

The 21st of March 2011. My day started quite wonderfully, as I remembered. My brother, Matthew, was finally going to get his metal braces out of his leg, and go forth on the road to full recovery. I got home from work that day, and I went to sleep, preparing myself for another night at the call center.

However, three hours into my slumber, I was awakened by my sister, alerting me that Matt has just had a post-op complication, a heart attack, and was in a coma, by the time she told me.

Thirty-six hours later, he was pronounced deceased, not once emerging from his coma.

I was dumbstruck. I spent most of that day experiencing multiple Kübler-Ross cycles. A million questions coursed through my head, from “How the fuck did this happen?” to “Whose fault was it?” to “Can I shoot the anesthesiologist for not testing for allergies pre-op?” to “Does that mean I don’t get to eat tocino anymore?” and many, many more.

His wake was the liveliest I’ve ever been in. Our friends from the youth ministry telling heartfelt stories about him, about how he was our self-proclaimed Easter Bunny, and more. I could barely even listen to them anymore. My heart went haywire, and my brain as wet as a halo-halo-and-mountain-dew-driven stool sample.

A family friend who was both clairvoyant and clairsentient visited us that night after the burial. She says she sensed Matt dancing, jumping, or otherwise doing things nigh-impossible if he was still leg-braced.

No. I couldn’t imagine. I still can’t imagine. And I cannot imagine being able to imagine any of this shit in the future, let alone getting used to and getting over with the fact that he’s gone.

Roughly a week after Matt’s death, another family member passed away: Tito Meles, my lola Merced’s youngest brother. A couple months after that, tiya Moonyeen, the wife of another one of my lola Merced’s brothers.

Yes. It all happened within the same clan. A patriarch, two matriarchs, and my brother, thereby making 2011 the worst year ever.

Fast forward to September. The 23rd of September, to be exact. Lola Merced’s birthday. We spent roughly an hour in the cemetery, right next to Pops (her husband), and Matt.

Then at the end of October. I almost couldn’t make myself set foot into Loyola Memorial Park, as I had very much exceeded my annual cemetery visitation quota. Then again, so have the quotas of the rest of the family, I figured.

I tried my darndest best to keep the floodgates from opening. I had to be strong. For my parents. For my siblings. I tried justifying it as the Law of Conservation of Energy: that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, that somehow, somewhere, Matt is still with us. I tried justifying it as that he just went on a trip somewhere and won’t be back for a long while. It’s Kübler-Ross all over again.

No. I still couldn’t comprehend what happened that year.

The 11th of November 2011. It was Matt’s birthday. We celebrated it the way he originally planned it to be celebrated: Paying it forward. Celebrating in an orphanage. With the kids. I could barely remember that day anymore.

The 19th of November. My birthday. I remember that we ate at Teriyaki Boy, and that my mom gave me a 9-inch reflecting telescope. I remember that I quickly assembled it that night and started gazing upon the heavens, looking for a sign. Any sign. I found the Big Dipper, but nothing else.

Lastly, Christmas. Believe me when I tell you, it was the worst Christmas my family and clan have ever experienced. It was the most quiet. There wasn’t any dancing nor singing, or at least, as far as I remember.

I remember we left the family reunions early. It was the logical choice to make. We had more gatherings to attend, sure, but at the same time, we just simply didn’t want to celebrate. Not without lola Merced. Especially not without my brother.

I have always been told that I’m somewhat emotionally aloof. That either I’m too guarded, or that I’m too unstable for public consumption. 2011 most probably exacerbated all that, exponentially.

No. I still couldn’t. Why do we not keep enough tissue for whenever stuff like this happens?

At the very least, lola Merced was at a ripe age. But for Matt? Hell no. Far from ripe. Nineteen is never the age one should pass away.

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to all this. I’ll never stop missing him. I’ll never stop occasionally denying that he’s gone, feeling anger, sadness, and regret that I probably wasn’t a good-enough kuya to him.

However, I would like to think that I’m an optimist. At least, I try to. If this didn’t happen, I probably would not be as much in touch of my emotional side as I am today.

… but I still feel that I can’t ever get used to this. Not fully, at least.

To end this long-ass post, let me tell you about New Year’s Day of 2012. We blew a shit ton of fireworks up.

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