The car in the photo is my father’s nine-year-old Ford Mustang. It was what I drove whenever I spent Christmas with my parents in New Jersey. In the US, the Mustang is nothing special—it’s just like a Honda Civic in Manila. To me, however, this pony car is the most precious motor vehicle in all of
Garden State the world, just because I used it to drive for my mother when she went to work or bought stuff from the stores. That was when she was still alive. She passed away the other day.
I sucked at being a son. I should have applied myself to the pursuit of things that would have made her happy, but I didn’t. She worked hard so I could have a college degree; I dropped out because I wanted to do something else. She filed a petition for me so I could live with her in America; I ignored it because I was too “idealistic” to leave the Philippines. She deserved to retire early, but it was just her luck she had borne a son who was more interested in having a cool job than in giving her a comfortable life.
But she let me be. Because she was the kindest, most generous human being I had known in my self-centered existence. She loved introducing me to people—workmates, neighbors, complete strangers—and she did so with beaming pride, every single time. Like I was the best damn thing that had ever happened to her. She never introduced me as a journalist or an editor or a motoring writer. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure she fully understood what it was exactly that I did for a living. She didn’t care. She just told everyone I was HER SON, period. And this knowledge—that I was her offspring, that I existed—made life worth living for her.
One of my activities when I stayed with my parents in Hackensack was driving for my mother. Through the years, she had become slower in putting on her front-passenger seatbelt, but she always got it right. Because that seat was hers, and she knew every inch of it. My father had bought the Mustang for her—their first and only car—and she adored it in spite of it being the most difficult vehicle to get into, especially for her age. I could tell it gave her great joy to be in that cramped cabin with me—just the two of us, she and the boy whose mere presence sent her world spinning—even if it was only a 15-minute drive.
I used to take those drives for granted, and now I’d give anything to chauffeur my mother around one last time
I played the Carpenters for my mother. Heck, I put Nora Aunor’s songs on my iPod so she could listen to them on the road. Anything to let her know I was somehow making an effort to put a smile on that beautiful face. Just in case she wasn’t aware that I loved her to death, that the reason I insisted on using my middle initial was to honor her.
The last time I drove for my mother, she asked to go to the post office so she could buy postage stamps. She never learned to use electronic mail, and so she sent cards to friends and relatives back home on special occasions. She was already very frail, and all she was worried about was how to make sure her greeting cards reached their intended recipients.
I used to take those drives for granted, and now I’d give anything to chauffeur my mother around one last time. Even just around the block. I used to think I was tough. I used to believe nothing could make me cower. I was wrong. Losing my mother has impaled my soul with fear and darkness. I don’t know if I’m just imagining it, but things look different to me now. It’s like my vision has developed some kind of tint. It’s bleak. This would be the equivalent of Rogue getting a white streak in her hair. It may be a permanent reminder I’m never going back to an old, happy place.
I’m just now realizing that I was only tough and strong because I had a mother. Because I knew that there was one person who loved me no matter what, who believed in me even when I screwed up, who assured me I was the best son any mother could hope for. I wish I had called her more, hugged her more, driven for her more. This is going to be a regret I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I hope you dodge it.