I’m bravest at the dermatologist’s than in any other clinic, which doesn’t say much, really, for a coward like me—it’s not there, after all, that one gets real bad news or suffers real pain. In fact, a refill of an old prescription is usually all I need.
While there I do also ask about the so-called optionals, but only for psychological reassurance. These are non-life-threatening things I can live with for the rest of my days and need not do anything about.
Take my tummy flap. It doesn’t seem so bad—unsightly, yes, but benign—and if it got worse only a lipo could do us part, which I’m not too keen to undergo. I ask my doctor about them, only to be able to call them by their right names when I curse them.
Anyway, there’s a pleasant side to my visit this time around. My dermatologist, Vi, Dr. Sylvia Jacinto, is an old friend, and she just marked her birthday. Vi is her own advertisement for great skin.
I’ve not been to her in at least two years, and since we met, I’ve gone by three names, my maiden name, my past-married name, and my present one. This presents a problem for the new receptionist, but she finds me under Santos, the newest name and, as such, and last one we’ve thought of looking for, since my file goes back lifetimes.
Almost immediately, we’re in the inner waiting room, where—wow!— a CD of Joni James at Carnegie Hall, c. 1958, is playing. I feel 18 again and I’m moved to shamelessly sing along, showing off, if only to myself, how I still remember the lyrics. To my dismay, the familiar thrill is obviously lost on the younger residents in training, around the age of my own children, who themselves could only imagine that if Catwoman could sing she’d probably sound like Joni James.
Too soon, it’s my turn and, true enough, all I need is some facial cleaning and a prescription refill. But when I show her the strange maps on my corpus, highlighted by an exotic scab of island on my lower abdomen, all of which are no surprises to husband, who sits through it all, she turns to the resident, whose skin is as flawless as her own, and instructs, “Diagnose, please. Tell the patient what it is and what causes it.”
The trainee half-whispers a strange diagnosis, but I hear its cause loud and clear, and it’s the same general cause for whatever shows or grows on me at this stage of my existence, and my husband is not surprised—it’s aging.
“Anything else?” she asks me. But my show’s over.
I’m directed to a room and told to wash my face with a solution in preparation for the pain. I lie down there to await my punishment and, to summon some bravado, begin dueting again with Joni—“Your Cheating Heart.” Dr. Vi comes and joins me in a few bars before she begins to work her light and fast fingers on my face.
Soon I’m done, a little teary-eyed. But it wasn’t so bad, really, thanks to the soothing technique of an assistant who, brush-stroking my cheek, somehow deadened the pain of each quick prick; it worked almost like Emla, the closest thing to anesthesia, without the hour’s wait.
Our next and last stop is Minyong’s wake in Funeraria Paz in Sucat, where we meet a few old friends and finally, for the first time, his pretty and charming wife, Encar, a text-mate until now.
Minyong has been a fellow columnist here, and it remains a shock that this time he didn’t recover, because he always did and resumed writing. Among the many splendid white-flower arrangements lining the walls of the funeral hall, I note two brightly colored wreaths from Publicis JimenezBasic, the same advertising agency that will book a three-quarter page in this newspaper the next day to pay tribute to him. Reading the ad, I realize that Minyong must have been some giant in his profession.
On the drive back, Vergel and I talk about the ironies of life, and, as called for by culture, we are dropped at a restaurant for a meal for a sort of memorial toast to Minyong. Walking home, we pick up our chat where we left off, now focusing on our own fates.
A granddaughter has just been returned to us after a month’s shutout—from us, from school, from friends—and the ordeal has exacted its toll. Eating too much and too richly, perhaps in over-compensation and over-celebration, Vergel suffers a momentary dizzy spell; I myself have been feeling achy and listless.
Vergel gets a renewed clean bill of health, but not without a warning that he’s no longer young enough for certain risks and that he—as I myself— should get his long-overdue blood work.
Indeed, we prodigal patients are reminded of our own mortality, but, also precisely for that, there’s a deeper healing to be done—to make peace, unilaterally if necessary, with everyone and everything. It’s a process that can only lead to a renewed appreciation of life, family, friends, and people in general; and at this point I can’t think of anything that matters more.