Sometimes I’m tempted to change my picture for this column. No way does it resemble me anymore; for one thing, I’ve stopped coloring my hair. Anyway, I have most definitely changed since that picture was taken.
It is in fact the second one to appear here. The first, which had accompanied this column when I began it in 2012, bothered some readers who somehow knew me, indeed bothered them enough to protest openly and violently: “Pangit! Awful! Ano ba ’yan! Puwede ba, change it!”
OK, OK, I will! And I would, but not until what seemed to me an opportune time.
A year or so into this column I put together my first collection of published essays for my 72nd birthday. By then I also had become, legally, Mrs. Santos. When my publisher, Anvil, asked for a picture of me for the book, I rummaged through my files. What I found I also sent to the Inquirer, and it’s what I’ve kept for this column all these years.
Another change seems due, it seems to me. But, then, it might incite another protest from my familiar readers, who have been quieted by the status quo. I’m afraid it’s very rare now that I look good in pictures.
Last Sunday I had a chance to test the effects of my new reality on one reader who had never met me. It was my first face-to-face encounter with her at a Father’s Day lunch at a cousin’s home. She never knew me, yet she felt like an old friend. She probably had been reading me for so long it felt like she knew me. Well, I do tend to be rather personal, autobiographical here, if you noticed.
Anyway, my new friend looked at me unflinchingly, neither surprised nor disappointed, indeed very welcoming. I learned she liked sharing my column with friends. She looked liberated herself, and lovely, in her lush and curly salt and pepper.
Myths die hard
Sometimes people, it seems to me, have such a persistent perception of others that they are not willing to change even if the reality belies it. Myths die hard, I suppose. Of course, I could just be lucky or, better yet, blessed, to have deserved such familiar fondness. Where some can do no wrong, and some, like me, are not even permitted to grow old and ugly, it is unfortunate that others are unfairly judged by misconceptions or hearsay.
The truth, in any case, is not always easy to bare, as it is not always welcome. There are, for instance, wives who prefer to be lied to rather than told the painful truth. Self-baring always requires some boldness, for it has its consequences.
When, for instance, I stopped dyeing my hair, I knew full well it would make me look my age—whatever that would mean. But, at 80, how young can anyone look?
Truth is some good came of it for me, at least. I now have thicker and healthier hair. But more than my coming out has set me free. It’s no different, I guess, from the case of a baldish man who, instead of hanging on to the sparse, awkwardly positioned patches left, shaves his head perfectly clean once and for all.
It took all of half a year to get myself cleaned to my natural, undyed look; I never expected compliments but I got them from two persons who mattered. My husband, thank God, finds me attractive no matter what—well, he has been blinded by bias from a first impression and so nice to sustain it.
And there, too, is cousin Chito Antonio, the architect and designer, who was at the same Father’s Day lunch as my reader and newfound friend. I’ve always valued his fashion sense and overall aesthetic sense.
Chito had high admiration for my own mom. He’d look at me from head to toe and, with sad eyes, mutter, “I miss Tita Lita. She was always posturiosa.”
It’s a pronouncement that spelled the difference between me and my mom, who left this world with very long black hair. And, with my hair cut short and left uncolored, you’d understand why I had dreaded his judgment.
I have a deep affection for Chito and his brothers because they are very caring and generous, yet always candid with me. He stepped back for a good look and said, much to my relief, “Keep your hair that way. It becomes you, because you’re fair. In fact, your hair frames your face very nicely.”