Parting is never sweet!
We have cheated death once. When my friend, Arlene Lawson, accepted my invitation to come over to the country in 2000, little did I know that she had a prostethic heart valve. I only knew when we went swimming and saw the scar on her chest Little did I know that she caught a virus enroute and would soon be attacked with a serious case of pneumonia. Hence, on our way to Villa Escudero, she experienced chest pains and hardness of breathing. Alarmed, my wife suggested that we turn back. Having felt sorry for the postponed trip as we were with the whole family, and Redjie, a close friend, she suggested that we ought to have lunch in her hotel instead. We obliged but insisted that we take her to the doctor thereafter. (she said what she was feeling would go away and all she needed was to rest). After lunch, she asked permission to go to the comfort room to freshen up while we waited. It took her awhile until I asked my wife to go check on her. Suddenly, I heard my wife frantically calling my name. And our nightmare began.
There she was, all black and blue, holding her chest, crying for help. Redjie immediately called for help at the hotel's clinic while I took her outside and laid her down on the carpeted floor. A doctor and a nurse came rushing with my friend. He held an oxygen tank, put the mask on her and opened it. Empty! We rushed her to the clinic where two tanks were. Both were not functioning. We were already cursing the hotel, the doctor, the nurses. He decided we had to bring her to the hospital.
At the emergency room, I could feel the fright on her voice as she called for help. Imagine being at the brink of death in a foreign land with a friend you just knew from the internet. I would have been scared, too. She was administered medications while she continuously called my name. I held her hand telling her I was with her, assuring her that the doctors were good, that everything would be alright. My head was spinning. A lot of things ran through my head. What would i do should the worst happen? Who do I contact? How? I asked her who in Canada can I call? She wouldn't understand. Then I remembered she showed me a list. There was a friend who had an email address.
When the sedative she was given took effect, I was called to sign something. But before I did that, I was asked if she had any relatives here. I said no. They informed me that she would be taken to the ICU and that their ICU would cost around Php30,000 a day. I said I understood. I blindly signed the contract. My mind was floating. Where would I get the money, if ever? Added to this would be the doctors, the hotel...
Thus went Arlene's supposedly ten-days of fun in the country turned into a month's stay at the hosptial. Knowing how lonely she would be, we made sure we visited her everyday. My wife, sometimes, sleeping over to keep her company. On Sundays and holidays, we took all the children to her room for some sort of a get-together. In spite of all these troubles, this story made us very close. Too close, as a matter of fact. We began emailing each other practically everyday. Feeling that she owed me her life, she showered me with kindness and love. I kept assuring her that any Filipino would have done what I did but she would have none of it. When she was going back to Canada, she whispered to my friend, "Rolly's going to Canada soon. I wish you can go with him!" I brushed it aside when my friend told me that.
A year later, she invited me to come over. Nitz and I went. She also invited our American friends and we all gave out a poetry reading at Steveston. Since it was May, she decided to give us an off season thanksgiving dinner. The Americans went along with it and everybody contributed to make it as close to the original. She took us to different places like Victoria, Banff and Calgary. It was an experience that never occured even in my and my wife's dreams. And this trip to Canada was repeated again. Twice, as a matter of fact. Everytime, I would hesitate knowing that it is very costly. She argued that it would be just like her going abroad to see her friends and since she couldn't do that anymore, she asked her friend to see her.
Yesterday morning, as was my practice, I turned on the computer to while away the time, waiting to wake up the kids. I know she would have an email for me as it is not very likely that she wouldn't. There was none. Instead, I got a strange email from our mutual friend Gwen. The title read "horrible news about Arlene". I opened it and was surprised to learn that my good friend, Arlene, has passed away. I couldn't believe it. I gasped and tried to read it again hoping I read the message wrongly. But much as I try, the words would not change or go away. She passed away! "But I was just on the phone with her the other day.
I reasoned. She called because she was worried about the typhoon. She wanted to make sure everybody was safe. Since I was not at home when she called, I returned her call the following day. We talked a long time and she was her usual bubbly self, laughing at my jokes, exchanging banters. As she always say that my call would have caused me a fortune, it was she who hinted at saying goodbye. She never did that, though. She would say it might be costing me a fortune but still would wait for me to say adieu. If I only knew, I would have protested and suggested we talked some more.
I knew she was going to try a new medication for Rheumatoid Arthritis as she had suffered from this ailment for a very long time. She had been under every new medication that is being tested and none of them seem to work. I knew that she told me there were risks involved, even deadly, but she decided she's going for it anyway. But I never expected news like this would come - and real quick. I immediately called her daughter, Trudy, to confim it. She was about to call me and was just waiting for the proper time as she knew I would have been still asleep.
Arlene is not just a wonderful person to me. She meant a lot to me and my family. The children love her very much. She was Lola Arlene to them. They would always be excited when we call her up to greet her a happy birthday every December 22nd. They would be excited writing down little notes on a huge Christmas card we are sending her way. My daughter Kim cried the hardest at the news of her death. She was very special to her lola Arlene. When she came over, I asked my children to perform for her. Kraiganne sang her a song, Mickey played the violin, and Kim recited a poem. Unbeknownst to Arlene, Kim would be reciting one of her poems. She was surprised when Kim uttered the title and the name of the poet. She listened intently on every word the very young Kim recited. By the end of the poem, Arlene was already in tears. "I've never heard my poetry being recited before," she quipped. She gave Kim a huge hug and Kim wiped out her tears.
My children adored her. I adored her. She meant a lot to me. She was my mentor, my muse in poetry, she was my confidante who always listened when I whined, laughed at my antics, my source of energy everytime I felt so-so, my fan who believed in everything I do, my patron who had taken me to places I would not have dared go. As she always say that because we think alike, we were probably bobsey twins. She was my angel. With her passing, I know I have lost all these but most of all, I have lost a cherished friend. She surely has left an empty void in our hearts, the same void she had left in every heart she had touched with her kind soul. Today, I opened my email and true enough, there was no message that came from her. I would miss that terribly. Her emails are my morning breakfast. Like we always say in its closing of each mail, I say to Arlene, "with a lot of love and kisses,", I end this post with "We all love you very much and you shall always be in our hearts."
December 22, 1935 - December 6, 2006
Buella's Rite of Passage
Here's a rite of passage when
I'm allowed the privilege of toddling
to the privvy
I traipse on wobbled, weathered
boards laid down by the last hobo who
pleaded for sandwiches in trade for work
growing up means sitting on a hole
wide and deep
full of tentacled arms raised to grab me
bared and vulnerable
a pitiful candle protects me
from a fall into the well
I grasp edges of the hole
created for an adult
in a hurry to scoot the thirty feet
from outhouse to back porch
tripped by loosed boards
the stick I carry in my hand
imbeds itself into my chin
a reminder in white of an
evening I'm big enough
"the thunder mug"
Privy enough to traipse the boards