My Dad was no worrier. Life was just another challenge, another game to win, despite its foreseeable and natural ending.
He had his first heart attack at 45, in the mid-’60s, on the floor of Congress (on the second of his five terms). He went on to survive other medical problems, including a ruptured appendix, with its consequent peritonitis, that struck him while in Madrid. It needed to be dealt with by a renowned surgeon of bullfighters, who happened to be a namesake of his—Joaquin—a circumstance that convinced him he could not have been in better hands.
In his late ’70s, he required a pacemaker. It had a 10-year warranty, but needed no changing or recharging for the remaining 20 years of his life; apparently, his heart hardly needed to rely on it. When he started having those mini-strokes (transient ischemic attacks), he took me aside and told me he just wanted to make it to the year 2000.
He recovered from each of those emergency room episodes and waited until I was away, in Madrid, to have one from which he would never recover. When I arrived he was in the ICU. He was sent home subsequently, and lived in comparative comfort for another six months, receiving a bonus lease of 10 years! He left us on April 10, 2010, at age 91.
The plug was pulled on him. Had my Mom been around, she would never have allowed it, and we’d have been in a mess. My Mom’s exit was the most gracious of all: She went in her sleep—after a dinner of lechon from Elar’s.
Dad outlived her by three years. He didn’t seem to mind getting older and weaker, and not ever feeling a hundred percent well again. He knew the only alternative to old age was dying.
His game plan was to figure out a way to take as much of his money with him as he could. To accomplish that he would have to live as long as he did. Since he had a complicated life, it seemed to him the most considerate and peaceful way—expiring co-terminus with his money. And it was almost uncanny that the cash he left in my charge paid for our share of hospital and medical bills.
We ourselves had no way of predicting Mom, five years younger than Dad, would go ahead of him. Anyway, before she did, she had allowed me to uncomplicate our lives from Dad’s.
Years before Dad’s memory began to fail, he granted me a strategic request. I was his daughter, after all, and had learned directly from the Master, who taught me that “what is fair is sometimes the most difficult, if not impossible, to determine” and that, therefore, “an easier and surer way to win is to go for something less than fair.”
So we—my brother Danny, Mom and I—settled for less, thus avoiding future complications. Mom, whose decision was critical in the clean break, in turn gave us her children her full trust, and I wonder if she had any intimations of her own passing. To this day I’m convinced she watches over us—my brother and I have never been closer.
Nothing like an earthquake to remind one of one’s own mortality and the urgency to set one’s life in order. “I’m going to pack my blue and whites and other breakable collections and put them in my bodega,” I thought aloud.
Did I catch Lanie smiling in relief? Well, I don’t blame her. Cleaning them is the most tedious thing.
Vergel, always the more decisive one, said, ”Give them to your children or sell them!” I hate it when he’s right.
When I sold the house, I got bodega space for things I wasn’t prepared to part with just yet. I had meant to keep them only for a while, but, now, I’ll need a bigger bodega space! It’s ridiculous! I’m not lightening my load, only transferring it—to an air-conditioned bodega, an object of great envy of our driver, who sleeps in a hot and only slightly bigger apartment unit he rents.
As soon as the tremor stopped, I got a call from my son who lives on the 28th floor, not far down the street from us.
“Where are you, Mom?”
“You didn’t evacuate? We were all told to get out of the building.”
Quickly enough, he was with us, in our sixth-floor home.
While Vergel was checking on his grandchildren, his Viber pals, I asked about the Go Bags—my daughter would correct her unteachable mother who almost always refers to them as Grab Bags—we had prepared precisely for floods, earthquakes, and other disasters. To my dismay, there was neither food nor water in them! Lanie said she had warned me they had expired, an occasion I, of course, don’t remember.
Escapes and exits can, indeed, be complicated, but one just has to prepare for them. And, as Vergel can’t preach enough: Unload and go light!