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Of a love that keeps on believing

I was helping out my grandma sort through my tita's boxes of shoes last night, and I couldn't help thinking, "Man, I'd love to tell her about this later," only to be reminded that the very reason we're sifting through them was because she's no longer around, and as heir apparent (Size 7 is the magic number), I'm the one who has the say on what stays and what should go.

The last time I was here in Batangas, she was still alive. I was reviewing for my Corpo midterms, and she was lying on the bed in the room beside the dining table, where I was making my notes. She was no longer talking that much at that point, which was unusual given her talkative nature (it's in our genes), but her quiet presence comforted me. She didn't need to say anything for me to know she was there, silently cheering me on, even though it should be the other way around. She was in pain, and yet she was the one giving me moral support.

It has always been that way between Tita Gina and I. There's this line in the Beatitudes, "Blessed are those who comfort, for they shall be comforted." She's the first person that comes to mind when I remember this passage. When I went through a break-up in 2012, she would call me every single night on Skype, and we would leave our screens on even as we go to sleep, just so she can make sure that I sleep soundly, notwithstanding the buckets of tears I cried on my pillow. We would spend hours dissecting what went wrong in the relationship; we would go round in circles looking into my ex's faults and my faults, and come to the same conclusion every night, but still, she insisted that we look at each other on the screen every night, tell each other "I love you," and sleep with the presence of the other one comforting us, even though miles actually separated us.

Not once during those times did I ask her about her own pains, her own struggles in her own personal life. But this isn't to say that I didn't know of these heartaches. I knew, I knew, I always knew, and yet it was like a silent pact between us that as far as pains are concerned, mine came first. And whatever comforting words she would end up saying to me, are words she knew she needed to hear for herself as well. "He made a mistake," she would say. "You deserve better. You are worth more than all these tears you are crying." In hindsight, I knew she was telling these to herself too. And maybe hearing them out loud, from her, comforted her in ways I never could have imagined giving myself.

This is the beauty of our relationship. My tita and I, we never needed pretensions, and we never needed prologues. We knew the weave of the stories even before we told them. And this is what I miss the most about her, more than anything. More than the shopping trips, more than the make-up talk, more than the many inside jokes — it was the stories we shared, of love and of UP (sometimes they were the same thing), and the many parts of us they've left behind, and they've left healing.

She didn't succeed in love, that's the white elephant in the room every time people talk of her success. She had a great career, no doubt, when she became project manager of Universal Studios Singapore. Her final project was the Facebook headquarters in Singapore. She had nothing else to prove. But her family at 5 remained to be her family at 55: her mom, dad, sisters. (And me, eventually.) She didn't have kids of her own, she wasn't lucky to end up with a happy ending after marriage left her in shambles. And perhaps, this is the great cautionary tale she has always wanted me to learn from. In the many times we've lay down beside each other in bed and talked about the mysteries of life (and love), she would always tell me to be careful with matters that pertained to my heart. She would tell me of boys she loved, of boys who loved her, of boys who didn't know better, of boys who didn't deserve in the first place. But I could tell, despite her attempt to tinge each of these tales with regret, I knew she loved them the only way she knew how - honestly and fully and with no regrets.

When an ex and I attempted a reconciliation, she was the third person (next to my parents) who vehemently opposed it. I remember this car ride - I was in the passenger seat but it felt more like being in the hot seat. I wasn't talking much because I knew the mistake I was making. She wasn't talking much as well, but I could sense the disappointment even in her breath. Perhaps it was because she thought she failed, even after all her attempts of leading me to a better path in love. But I knew it was because she saw herself in me. That at the end of the day, we are the kind of people who are more willing to be kind than right. That at the end of the day, we would rather forgive and offer our other cheek, than to walk away and turn around to throw rocks again, just for good measure.

"I don't think I'm cut out to be a lawyer," I remember crying to her, in one of the many nights I despaired over my choice of career. "I'm too forgiving." And it's true. I don't, for the life of me, enjoy conflict. I'd much rather give way, than to assert. This is my default setting. This was my downfall as a law student. And as a person, I guess, in general. I'd so easily give in to the path of least resistance. I hated conflict; I hated it. I'm passive aggressive. I'll let Karma do the talking than Karla herself.

But it was my tita who told me that not all lawyers are meant for conflict. The good lawyers arbitrate; the good lawyers actually avoid conflict. A sensible lawyer will aim for conciliation and settlement, rather than resorting to court. And it's true. Harvey Specter said so. Atty. Katrina Legarda said so. It wasn't until my tita told me that that I actually considered it.

Up until she died, I couldn't imagine how she could've forgiven her former loves for their transgressions. She lost money, time, and a valuable part of her dignity, I suppose. Here she was, a woman who knew only how to give and to love, and didn't receive anything tantamount to what she deserved. But she kept loving in the end. Even when she told me, she couldn't care less about the other woman, the illegitimate child, that to hell with them - that she has learned to stop loving — I never believed it. She knew love, and love knew her. I don't think she stopped loving just because she started hurting.

When a former boyfriend of mine sent me his condolences, it was then that I realized for myself what my tita meant when she said we don't forgive because we still love them; we forgive because we start loving something else. And in her case, maybe it was herself. When she started giving herself the love no other man had given her, life opened up for her and gave her these opportunities. It was when she left her home for Singapore that she was given the opportunities to cap her career. And it was when I acknowledged the love that the universe was giving me, by way of my boyfriend, did I realize how much I was missing out on, by closing myself off on love just because of past scars. I replied to my ex and gave him my thanks. I appreciated the gesture. Our lives have been heading in different trajectories, but it took me a while to realize why it was so. It was only when I realized there was no more use hating him, when I could use that energy to love myself instead, that I understood what it meant to actually forgive. That doesn't equate to forgetting, but it's a start.

I remember when I first called up my aunt about my current boyfriend. I started telling her about this cute guy I just started seeing, and almost instantly, she recalled he was the guy I had a crush on in my first semester in UP. It's funny, how this aunt of mine, actually encouraged the flirtation, instead of dissuading me from it, after she picked up the pieces of my broken heart after my breakup. It's funny, how she was the first person to actually approve of this relationship, only because she knew that only love can heal a broken heart. She relished in my stories; she enjoyed reliving the kilig with me. It's funny, because usually adults will tell you, "Mag-aral ka na lang." But she told me, "Ang sarap mag-aral ng may minamahal."

What am I driving at? It's been an hour of typing this mindlessly, with no structure in mind, hoping to get to a solid, concrete point somehow. And I guess, after all this random recollections, what I really take away from my tita is this - love heals. Love gives. Love believes. It's so cliched, so hackneyed. But it's wisdom that only the broken can impart, and it's wisdom that only the broken will understand too. I was once disillusioned too; perhaps not as badly as she was (breaking up with your college boyfriend isn't quite the same as being left behind by a husband) but jaded just the same. And yet, it was her love for love that kept her going. She loved our family more than anything; she relished in our love and embraced all kinds of love we received from the people that made us happy. She enjoyed stories about my boyfriend, about her sister's boyfriend, about my mom and dad. She watched romantic comedies, she read love stories. She believed — in love and its power to save. Until the end. Even when out love couldn't save her. Her love, and our love for her overflowed, and she took it with her until the light at the end of the tunnel finally reached her fingers and took her to a better place.

I'd like to believe she now knows of a love everlasting. I don't know what that is. Maybe it's God, maybe it's the quiet in the afterlife, maybe both. And she deserved this love more than anyone. But this is where she left me — broken, but believing. Love heals when we let it heal us. And while it cannot take the physical pain away, it will make it worth bearing. I hope my love story turns out better than hers ever did. If there's anything I don't want to emulate about her (and I'm sure she wants this for me too), it's that I hope my taste in men is better than hers. I'd like to think I've chosen a partner worthy of withstanding the travails of time. But if I'm proven wrong, I can only hope and pray that any kind of devastation will never lead me too far from the light. I've seen how love saves. I'd like to think love not too selfish to save me one more time. Or many more times if it needs to.

(But dear God, please let this be the last.)