They say that lightning never strikes twice but on April Fool’s Day, it did. It was real and crippling.
Another brother, Jack (or Jun), succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver, barely six months after our family lost brother Naning to the same disease.
“Your brothers must have been heavy drinkers,” lamented a concerned friend. “On the contrary,” I explained, “Jack only drank occasionally, just like Naning. He’d raise the glass high and give a hearty toast, but never so stiffly as to damage his organs.”
“So, where did Jack catch it?”
Both, however, were addicted to cigarettes until the very last, heaping puff. No amount of full-throated castigation could make them stop and in the end, even the doctors shook their heads in ill humor and tolerated it.
They reckoned that another burning stick wouldn‘t reverse the bruising, the impaired liver function, the weakness, the drastic weight loss, the discomfort in the abdomen, the swelling in the lower legs, and the development of spider-like blood vessels in the skin.
If a cigarette can calm his nerves, why stop him?
Dollie, Jack’s eldest daughter, moved him to a condo for better access. He had to unload all his collectibles, which was difficult. He finally agreed when he saw that the condo was spic and span and should not be stuffed with non-essentials.
To keep his mind from brooding about his condition, I gave him an assignment that he gladly accepted. “Tito Duck (that’s how I called him), here’s a yellow pad and jot down everything you remember about our family, starting with our family tree, before you forget.”
He laughed, “Will I add the rattling skeletons? I’ve got a whole chest full of that, and they’re far more jaw-dropping and earth-shaking. I think our relatives would find that juicier than connecting every twig and sprig in our family tree.”
“Just focus on finishing the tree,” I insisted.
“Weren’t we called los tres bandidos?” he recalled. “We’d sit under a thick canopy of sweet jasmine while I kept you and Naning in rapture over the tales of intrigue, deception, romance and chivalry ala comics? I purposely ended every episode on a cliffhanger so you’d ask for more.”
“Yes!” I agreed. “And I eagerly gave you my 20 centavos bill because I wanted the adventure to continue; couldn’t believe you imagined all of that.”
In high school, Jack was a smart student but was equally pesky and disruptive.
In his senior year, he almost failed to graduate.
He flew a paper plane that hit the ceiling fan and it emitted thick smoke that burst to an open flame. The whole class was panic-stricken and the poor teacher was rushed to the hospital because she went into premature labor.
Jack was called to the principal’s office with a grave warning, “Get your parents here so I can tell them of your unsavory behavior!”
There was no way that Jack would do that. Quickly, he convinced the ambulant vendors to come with him to the barber and the beauty salon.
The next day, the vendors tried to remain composed, choosing to keep quiet with their heads bowed. Who were they fooling? Just before brickbats erupted, in walked my real mom. The principal changed his tone and became reconciliatory. Tito Duck was punished and given extra work to atone for his misdemeanor. He graduated sporting the biggest grin (of relief) among his high school accomplices.
His favorite quote was by William Wordsworth: “Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower, we will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind.”
Jack often recited that poem, fanning the flame of romance in him. Later, when he took up pottery as a hobby, he often inscribed it on his mugs, plates, and ceramic ware.
He had a soothing and warm voice and friends often asked him to set the mood. His repertoire was wide and varied, with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. topping the list. If he sang The Things We Did Last Summer, it was a tribute to a cute puppy love. There were numerous love songs in praise of his steady date who eventually became his young, gracious wife, and to a long-time caring companion.
On that fateful night, I called him on his mobile and asked, “Tito Duck, what is this I’m hearing that you’re seeing dead people around you? Come, let us pray to the Divine Mercy.”
He feebly replied, “Opo.”
Holding my rosary tight, I began, “Eternal Father…have mercy on Jack, and on the whole world.” I could hear his labored breathing but he kept on praying. I looked outside my window and pleaded to the Divine Mercy: “Are you wanting to take him now?”
By early dawn, they found Tito Duck sleeping soundly with his brown scapular on his chest and his rosary by his pillow. He had gone. Gone on a picnic.
I could hear Tito Duck singing, “You and I in the sunshine,
We strolled the fields and farms,
At the last light of evening, I held you in my arms.
So when days grow stormy,
And lonely for me,
I just recall picnic time and you.”
A picnic with the Divine Mercy. What a most extraordinary grace, Tito Duck.