There was one thing I had always longed to hear from my mother. It was a simple question answerable with “yes” or “no,” yet it encompassed the amount of longing I had for her meager, hard-to-win praises and endearments.
I don’t know exactly when my relationship with my mother became so complicated and distant, but it has always been that way as far as I can remember. Our tumultuous relationship worsened through the years until it started to wreak havoc on other parts of our lives, causing irreparable damage. The eye of this storm was her bad temper. Her hands—along with whatever she could grab nearby—were the winds that whipped my body. Her words were the rain that poured hard whenever I was most vulnerable. I got drenched every time, wondering if all mothers and sons were like this or if it was just me and my mother.
She raised me and my brother by means of deprivation so that we would supposedly become independent individuals capable of conquering anything even when she wasn’t around. It was like she threw us into the ocean along with other flotation devices, hoping we’d learn how to use them or figure out how to swim entirely on our own. It wasn’t easy, but I have learned how to swim even without such devices. But in the process, I completely eliminated the need for her mothering, which lacked tenderness and tact.
In the last week of August, however, I would learn of the limits of my words. My neat-freak mother was horrified to learn that we both tested positive for COVID-19. In an extraordinary turn of events, she and I were on the same page. The only difference was that her symptoms quickly went away. I had it worse. I first had fever and cough, but I thought it was just due to stress caused by my job. But then, it progressed to loss of smell and taste, body pain, and difficulty in breathing. I knew then that my poor health was not because of work.
My fever persisted for almost a week, and we were most concerned about my difficulty in breathing because I was immunocompromised due to asthma. My mother cried uncontrollably. She must have stormed the heavens and called on the names of every saint she knew, begging for my recovery. This was the first time in such a long time that she would have to care for her son again. We were quarantined together in our house as we were living alone, and because no hospital would take us due to a lack of COVID-19 dedicated beds.
The first meal she cooked for me was the champorado I had always loved as a kid, the one with lots of powdered milk on top. This immediately transported me to rainy days during my childhood when classes were suspended and I would snuggle in bed with her and my father while watching “Looney Tunes.” The whole thing might have already become foreign to her, but I suppose motherhood doesn’t let someone forget such a thing. I was the one who had become unfamiliar with her capabilities as my mother.
The whole process of recovery felt like a ritual to reacquaint myself with her. Her hands, which I feared as a child, suddenly felt like a feather with its gentle strokes every time she had to clean me. Her eyes, which most of the time only looked at me with fierce disapproval and bitterness, suddenly gazed at me with immense tenderness. Her mouth, once reeking with vile curses always hurled at me, suddenly spoke endearments I never knew she was capable of.
And there it was, the question I had longed to hear from her.
“Kamusta ka, anak? Ayos ka lang ba?”, she asked with such affection while gently touching my forehead.
I nodded and closed my eyes to signal to her that I wanted to sleep. I silently cried after she left. The walls I built, cemented with her vicious words, felt like an overflowing dam during a raging storm. My mind and heart were a tornado of emotions that yanked about every pain and anger I had buried deep. I have endured quite a lot of adversities in my life that I wish I could tell my mother, but I didn’t know how to approach her. I had to hear her say that question to realize that I was holding everything in for far too long. Truly, there are things only a mother can do, and one of those is to ease a son’s accumulated pain with a single question.
My mother and I survived COVID-19 after three weeks of quarantine. But that’s not the only thing I want to take from this experience. I want to remember that despite her stern attitude and ruthless words, she now knows at least one way to his son’s heart, even though she doesn’t always go by it. I want to remind myself that it’s unfair of me to judge her solely on the frequency of our disagreements, when I know that her sacrifices outweigh these things by a multitude. She has difficulty expressing her love for us, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love us.
It took a pandemic before I had the courage to bring to the forefront these things that I had known for some time already, but I was too blinded by hatred to recognize any of it.
At 50, my mother is as strong and opinionated as she was when I was a child. I know there would be countless other fights that would scar me further after this, but I don’t want to think of that now.
The storm has finally calmed down. The sun is peeking through the dark clouds. My mother is waiting by the shore holding a warm bowl of my favorite champorado. I want to be able to go to her before another storm wrenches me away from her again.