For me, aging is terrific. You remember, analyze, deepen your insights into your life, how you grew up, learned, how you hope to keep learning until you die. I hope to keep learning even in the afterlife, but I don’t think I can email my new lessons to you. Maybe—if you want to know— you can whisper and I will answer in your dreams. This makes me want to laugh.
But I remember when I was a little girl preparing for my First Communion, I sat in the front row of my Grade One class in St. Theresa’s San Marcelino, my hands folded properly on my desk, listening to Mother Mathilda give her lesson. “You must never have impure thoughts,” she said. “It is a mortal sin to have one.”
What is an impure thought? I wondered. I was six or seven years old in Grade One, not fully aware of what a thought was, and certainly a stranger to impurity. But none of us had the courage to ask Mother Mathilda what an impure thought was. We were totally innocent.
When we went to our first confession with the old priest whose name I cannot remember, we were taught to say our sins. I panicked and said, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession. I told two lies (I remembered being taught that) and I killed three black ants and spanked a mosquito.” I was told to say three Hail Marys as my penance. Many years later when I was an adult, I realized the priest wasn’t really listening to our confessions. He was just going through the motions. He could have been deaf. He was that old. I’m sure by now he has been in heaven for decades.
I got married at 18. I thought then that I was so mature. My mother had sent me to school in Switzerland and Spain where I taught myself to smoke and drink wine. Of course, we weren’t allowed to do those in school but what do you do when you’re a teenager? You break the rules! I thought I was so in love with the man I was marrying. Now I think that all of us—without exception—marry because we are in lust. We don’t know what love is until we marry, have children, slowly face reality, grin and bear it many times, lose our tempers starting with once in a while and moving on to very often until we either cannot take it anymore or we are excellent at grinning and bearing.
I think you ought to marry her and not your girlfriend. You know why? Because I can see you are good friends. That’s what makes marriage work. I have learned that marriage is for companionship.
Don’t scold me for being broad-minded. These days I know two couples who want their marriages annulled. They are both in their 80s. Their children are all grown up. They live together and realize how unhappy they are. At this late date they want their freedom. I think they just want peace and quiet with their freedom. What is freedom for when you are in your 80s? Just being free to do what you want without having to attend to somebody else, especially if the other person is a nagger. Alone, you can sleep at 7 p.m. and wake up at 4 a.m. to brew your own coffee, pour in three spoonfuls of muscovado, pour coconut milk as much as you like. Nobody will say, “You’re doing that?!? You’re 85 years old! Are you trying to kill yourself?”
No rule that says you can’t say, “Yes, I am. I love my coffee this way because it could kill me and make you happy.” But that would be too mean so you decide for silence and bury your annoyance until one day it becomes a solid huge rock and you want to hit your partner a thousand times on the head with it. Sometimes when you watch American movies and see how they lash out at each other you wish you could do that with your anger. But since we’re Filipino, we weren’t taught to do that as children. Instead we build a rock inside ourselves.
What to do about it? Now I think the present generation is more familiar with lust than my generation ever was. What are you supposed to do? I remember two old friends of mine, now both dead. One friend, I’ll call him A, was much older than the other friend, B. Then I was there. B and I would drink together often, sometimes we would be actively chatting, other times we would sit quietly and drink. A told B, “I think you ought to marry her and not your girlfriend. You know why? Because I can see you are good friends. That’s what makes marriage work. I have learned that marriage is for companionship.”
In the end, I think A was right. B married his next girlfriend. I married much later. Now I have learned—marriage is for companionship and my husband Loy and I are best friends.