Dear Jack,

It’s July 21st. I’ve lost track of how many weeks, months it’s now been since this shelter in place.

But I haven’t lost track of the number of weekends we’ve had your Lola stay with us: Four. Only four.. but it sure feels like forever.

I’m going to be honest. Being around your Lola, my mama, is frightening.

By now, Lola no longer knows me—my name, or that I’m her daughter—or any of us and how we are related to her. The consolation is that she at least feels safe with us, safe enough to enter our home and allow us to care for her even though we are practically strangers to her. I guess even when her memories have faded, her body still remembers to trust us.

Ginikanan_MamaLola

And then there’s Lola’s anger. Anger which needs no rational reason to be provoked. It just is.

Unfortunately for you, Jack, for some reason, something about you provokes Lola’s anger. When you’re around her, she scolds you. She takes away your toys which she insists are hers—lego pieces, the switch, your cards, the dice—and stuffs them inside her bra or her pants. Once, we retrieved your nerf gun foam bullets inside her panties. Often, when she’s upset at you, she shakes her fist at you so hard that her chest starts to hurt and she has to call on God for strength while at the same time calling you a little demon child, a salbahe.  Your only defense is to barricade the the entrance to your room with our orange loveseat. I don’t know why she is so angry. I hug you and tell you it’s not your fault.

All her anger she expresses in a language that makes no sense to any of us. Most of what comes out of her is garble with a sprinkling of actual words, sometimes in English, sometimes in Tagalog, sometimes in Bisaya. But if you don’t pay any attention to her words (are they words if they don’t have meaning?) and just look at her, the way she intonates and gestures, you’d be inclined to think that she is making sense, even if only to herself.

Does she even have a sense of self? This, too, is a mystery to us. When she passes by a mirror, she talks to her reflection as if it’s somebody else. One time, she motioned to me, held my hand, and led me to the full length mirror. I gathered she wanted me to meet “si mama”. Other times, she whispers to her reflection as if they’re best friends giggling over a secret. But most times, she’s upset at her reflection. With hands on her hips, face in a concentrated furrow, she lashes out at the person in the mirror in her incomprehensible tongue.

At one point, Jack, you asked me, “Is Lola crazy?”

I feel bad that your memory of your Lola is of someone “crazy”. The woman that your Lola was—sharp, poetic, articulate, entrepreneurial minded, sensitive, creative—was so different from the woman that she is now, trapped in her mind, bereft of her memory and sense of self.

I know that you don’t have lots of memories of Lola as she was because you were born around the time when she was already starting to lose her memory (in 2011). Unlike Charlie or Ella or all your older cousins, you did not have the luxury (and yes, it was a luxury) to be cared for by her. I don’t know what to do about this…

But it did occur to me, when I first started writing about Lola in a letter to you, that I, in my role as the memory keeper, could tweak these memories, revise them for you. Make them so that the Lola you will remember, aided by my letters, smiled at you instead, hugged you tight every time you visited, cooked you your favorite Sinigang, and pampered you with lots of candies.

Once I started thinking about the possibilities, I got caught up and went down many rabbit holes researching all sorts of things related to personal memory, collective memory, the role of our bodies in keeping memories alive, cultural amnesia, what we remember and what we forget and how trauma plays into it, inter-generational trauma, anger, healing… So many fascinating subjects I could read about and study and make me feel a bit in control!

But when I’m done studying and taking this very cerebral approach in the matter of your Lola’s loss of memory and sense of self, what I’m left with is this fear, this dread. That I, too, will go “crazy” and be consumed by anger. I console myself with the idea that hopefully I will still know to trust you and that your love and care for me will prevail.

Dear Jack, I have no control over my future so I will just continue to take care of Lola and tell you stories of how she once was. That’s the best I can do.

Ginikanan_MamaJack