As Long As Forever – CHAPTER 22

KANINA pa siya nakahiga sa kama, nakatitig sa kumikinang na singsing sa daliri niya. Hindi mawala-wala ang ngiti sa labi niya habang inaalala ang mukha ni Gino habang inaalok siya nitong magpakasal. She’s just so happy she can’t help but smile. She felt like she’s going crazy but she is just so happy. She felt so light she could fly. She’s engaged! She’s getting married soon! Napayakap siya ng mahigpit sa unan pigil ang sariling kiligin. She bet everyone else is asleep while she is feeling so high.

Tonight, her heart is opened to a deeper truth. Gino loves her so much… Maybe more than so much. And until this very moment, her eyes still get misty, lalo na kung naalala niya ang painting na ginawa nito para sa kanya. No other man has ever made her feel this special, only Gino. Hindi niya alam kung sa kung anong paraan niya masusuklian ang pagmamahal nito. She couldn’t paint. She couldn’t compose a song. She isn’t gifted with any talent at all. Mahusay siyang magpalago ng negosyo, iyon lang. She can’t think of ways how to show Gino that she loves him so. But she will make sure that the days they will have together will be memorable. She loves Gino so much. And she will love him more.

She found herself thanking God over and over again for the happiness she felt in her heart. The long wait is over. Her painful days have ended. God heard her prayers. She is finally together with the only person she loves and they are getting married! Nakangiting napatitig ulit siya sa daliri. The diamond ring sparkled and the silver ring shone as she took a closer look. She’s still wearing the silver ring Gino gave her ten years ago. Both rings are beautiful. Both are special. Both holds something in her heart. Because Gino gave it to her… Because along with the rings, are promises of love which will soon be fulfilled.

KINABUKASAN, nagtataka siya pagising nang hindi makita si Gino. Sabi ng Mommy niya, baka daw pagod kagabi. Naisip niyang sumabay na lang sa Daddy niya para mahaba-haba ang pamamahinga nito. Matapos mag-agahan, hindi pa rin ito nagigising kaya kumatok siya sa silid nito para magpaalam. She can’t seem to start her day without seeing him. Nang walang sumasagot binuksan niya iyon.

“Hindi mo ba ako ihahatid?” aniya rito. Nakatalukbong pa rin ito ng kumot, nakatalikod sa kanya. Lumapit siya rito’t naupo sa gilid ng kama nito. “Good morning, Mister Driver, male-late na po ako kung hindi kayo babangon ngayon.”

Bahagya itong nag-unat saka pumihit paharap sa kanya. Kinusot pa nito ang mga mata at bahagyang inayos ang magulong buhok. Mushroom smiled. Gino still has his boyish habits which makes him look cute.

“Good morning,” matamlay na bati nito sa kanya saka inilibot ang braso nito sa bewang niya. “Masama ‘ata pakiramdam ko.”

Sinalat niya ang noo nito. “Okay ka naman ah.”

Pero hindi ito kumibo. Muling napapapikit.

“Sasabay na lang ako kay Daddy. Maaga naman siya ngayon,” aniya. Pero hindi niya maiwasan ang panghihinayang sa tinig. “Pero ngayon lang ito ha, hindi porke’t sinagot kita eh hindi mo na ako ihahatid.”

Napadilat ito sa sinabi niya, saka napangiti. Dahan-dahan itong bumangon saka pinisil ang ilong niya. Saka tinitigan siya nito na para bang may gustong sabihin na hindi alam kung papaano sisimulan. “I’m sorry, Mush,” pagkuwa’y seryosong sabi nito.

Tumaas ang kilay niya. Para bang ang laki ng kasalanan nito. “Huwag ka ngang OA. Sinasabi ko lang para hindi ka mamihasa,” aniyang gumanti ng pisil sa ilong nito. “Sige na, balik ka ng tulog para masundo mo ako mamaya.”

Ipinaloob siya nito sa matipunong braso nito at inihimlay ang baba nito sa balikat niya. Niyakap siya nito. Matagal. Mahigpit. “Mag-iingat ka,” usal nito saka pinakawalan siya.

Nagtatakang tinitigan niya si Gino. “May problema ba?” aniya. Sa hindi maipaliwanag na dahilan, nakaramdam siya ng lungkot na hindi niya alam kung saan nagmumula.

Tumaas ang sulok ng labi nito. “Gusto sana kitang i-kiss kaso hindi pa ako nakakapagmumog,” malungkot na sabi nito.

Muntik na siyang mapabunghalit ng tawa. Akala pa naman niya kung ano na. Inilapit niya ang mukha sa bibig nito para amuyin pero kaagad itong lumayo. Bumalikwas ito ng bangon at bumaba ng kama. “Toothbrush muna ako,” anito sa kanya sabay kindat.

At nandoon na naman ang kaba. Gusto niyang batukan ang sarili. Hindi niya malaman kung bakit kinakabahan pa rin siya sa tuwing hahalikan siya ni Gino. First time mo? pang-aalaska ng isang bahagi ng utak. Napatayo siya at kunwa’y naglakad papalabas ng silid nito.

“Bye, Gino! I’ll see you later!” aniya. Pero nakakailang hakbang pa lang siya nang may sumaklit sa bewang niya.

“Not so fast, sweetheart,” anito.

“Yung lipstick ko,” aniya pero tila wala itong narinig at siniil ng halik ang labi niya. Awtomatikong napapikit siya at ninamnam ang halik nito. She could taste the mint from his mouth and the strawberry taste from her lips as they kissed. And just like the previous kisses, it made her knees weak. Nangunyapit siya sa batok nito para hindi matumba. Matagal bago naghiwalay ang mga labi nila dahil walang gustong bumitaw. Habol nila ang hininga. Nang mag-abot ang kanilang mga tingi’y muling nagtagpo ang mga labi nila. This time it went deeper and bolder that Mushroom forgot about time and space.

“I better,” aniyang hinahabol ang hininga. “retouch.” Pero tila nahihipnostimong nakatitig pa rin siya sa mga labi nito. At nang muling inangkin ni Gino ang labi niya, muli siyang nagpaubaya.

“I really should leave,” aniya nang pakawalan nito ang labi niya. She felt her lips throbbing from his kiss. And yet she wants more. Ipinilig niya ang ulo para iwaksi ang iniisip. Talagang hindi siya makakaalis ng bahay kung ganoon.

“Take care,” ani Gino at niyakap siya. She just loves being there in his arms. She felt wrapped with his love. “I love you, sweetheart. Remember that always,” anitong matamang nakatitig sa kanya.

“I love you, too…” Napalunok siya saka napangiti. “Sweetheart.” Hindi niya napigilan ang pamumula ng pisngi. It’s the first time she uttered an endearment and meant it.

Napangiti ito saka hinalikan siya sa tungki ng ilong. Kung hindi pa nila narinig ang boses ng Daddy niya, hindi sila mapaghihiwalay. Muli siyang niyakap ni Gino ng mahigpit bago siya unti-unting pinakawalan. Hinatid siya nito hanggang sa may pintuan saka kinawayan siya habang papalayo ang sasakyan nila.

 

NAPATIIM ang bagang ni Gino habang minamasdan ang papalayong sasakyan. He could feel his own heart breaking. And it is painfully beating right now. Na tila sa bawat pagtibok patindi ng patindi ang sakit na hindi niya alam kung papaano titiisin pero kailangan niyang kayanin.

Hindi siya nakatulog buong gabi. Pinilit niyang mag-isip ng maayos kahit pa hindi niya alam kung alin ang uunahin sa dami ng tumatakbo sa isipan niya. His tumor is back. And he knew what that means.

He can’t let Mushroom suffer. He can’t bear watch her seeing him in pain. That is why he made up his mind. He is leaving Mushroom again. Even when it takes forever to bear the pain, he just has to let her go. It’s the best thing he could do. If he wants her happiness, he has to break his promise again… He has to break her heart so she can live a normal and happy life.

MUSHROOM was excited to come home that afternoon. Nag-grocery muna siya dahil plano niyang ipagluto ang kasintahan. Nasa bungad pa lang ng pinto, may kakaiba na siyang nararamdaman. She felt the sadness in their house. It’s too silent it’s almost creepy. Sinalakay ng kaba ang dibdib niya at mabilis ang hakbang na pumasok ng bahay. Naabutan niya si Yaya Melba na umiiyak. Nabitawan niya kaagad ang hawak na grocery. Lalong tumindi ang kaba sa dibdib niya.

“Mushroom,” anang matanda at sinalubong siya ng yakap.

“Ano hong nangyari? Nasaan sila?”

“Nawawala si Gino. Kanina pa. Hindi namin mahanap,” anitong bumalong ang luha. “Pagdating kaagad ng Daddy mo, umalis agad sila.”

Ilang beses siyang napalunok. Pilit pinakalma ang sarili. There’s nothing to worry.

“Baka namasyal lang. Tatawagan ko ho,” aniyang kalamadong ngumiti kahit pa tila mabubuway na siya sa pagkakatayo. Dinayal niya ang numero ni Gino pero out of coverage area daw. Baka lowbat lang, aniya sa sarili.

“Pinuntahan na din doon ng Tita Donna mo. Pero wala. Kanina, nagpaalam lang na lalabas sandali. Pero hindi na bumalik. Nang tingnan namin sa silid niya, wala na lahat ng mga gamit niya.”

Sukat sa narinig ay tila nanlamig ang buong katawan niya. Kaagad siyang pumasok sa silid nito. Nakabukas ang mga tokador. Everything is empty. She is breathing heavily. Nasaan ba si Gino? Pakiramdam niya’s sasabog ang ulo niya sa kaiisip. Pinigilan niya ang sariling luha. No! She won’t cry! Gino is not away. Maybe this is one of his silly jokes. Maybe he’s going to surprise her or something. Kinagat niya ng mariin ang labi nang maramdamang nag-uunahang pumatak ang luha sa pisngi. Kinuha niya ang cellphone at dinayal ulit ang numero nito. Paulit-ulit. Paulit-ulit din ang sagot ng operator. Naitapon niya iyon sa kama. Mariin siyang napahawak sa ulo. Hindi na niya alam kung ano ang iisipin. Pilit binalikan kung ano ang nangyari kaninang umaga. There was nothing wrong!

Naisip niyang tawagan si Dinah. Baka alam nito kung nasaan si Gino. Hinablot niya ang comforter para mahanap ang cellphone. Nagulat siya nang may makitang sulat doon. To My Most and My Very...  ang nakalagay sa sobre. Nanginginig ang kamay niya habang binubuksan iyon.

My Mushroom,

By the time you’ve read this, I am already away. Please don’t be mad. I did this for us. I want you to have a happy life and it is something I cannot give you. I don’t want you to get hurt, Mush. And you know why… I can’t bear to see you cry. I can’t bear to see that pain in your eyes.

I am sorry… but this is how much I love you. Have a life. Live and love someone else. Please be happy for me…

You will always be my one and only love. And I will love you as I have always been.  You are my most and my very…

Forever yours,

Gino

Ilang ulit niyang binasa iyon. Panay ang iling niya. No, she won’t believe that Gino’s gone. He just proposed last night. No… Binasa niya ulit ang sulat umaasang maiintindihan niya kung ano ang nangyayari ngayon. Ngunit halos wala na siyang makita dahil nanubig na ang mga mata. Umiling siya ulit. It’s not possible. He loved her for ten years, he can’t possibly give her up like this! Not in ten days!

Pilit niyang kinontrol ang panginginig ng katawan at pinakalma ang sarili. No, she won’t cry. Gino isn’t gone. Leaving her is the last thing he would do. He will come back… In a few minutes he will be here. Ginu-goodtime lang sila ni Gino. And she will laugh really hard if she sees him again. And she will hug him tight. And probably cry because…

Napatingin siya sa silid. It’s empty… Pumatak ang luha niya. Muli niyang binasa ang sulat na hawak. This time, she tried to understand every word. Just then reality began to struck her. An air of grief suddenly filled her.  Tila hindi niya makakayanan ang sakit. Napasigaw siya at napahagulhol.

“MUSH,” anang boses. Paulit-ulit. Pero tila nasa kawalan siya. Ni hindi niya magawang lumingon. At wala siyang nakikita maski sa harapan.

Biglang may lumagapak na palad sa pisngi niya. Napahiyaw siya sa sakit.

“Mush, ano ba! Talk to us!”

Saka niya naaninaw ang nag-aalalang mukha ni Dinah. Nasapo niya ang pisngi. Did Dinah just slapped her face? Saka lang niya napansing maraming nakapalibot sa kanya. Her Dad, Mom, Tita Donna ang Yaya Melba na parehong nag-aalala.

“Hija,” anang Mommy niya na umiiyak. “It’s okay,” alo nito.

Nanubig ang mga mata niya. Muling bumalik ang sakit. Napayakap siya ng mahigpit sa Mommy niya at doon inilabas ang lahat ng sakit sa dibdib.

“Mommy,” parang batang sumbong niya. “Gino left me…” aniyang tila hindi matigil-tigil ang hagulhol.

Iniiyak niya ang lahat sa balikat ng ina. Then she felt all their hands tapping her back. Helping her calm down. But she can’t calm down.. She can’t stop crying.

“FEELING BETTER?”

Tumabi si Dinah sa kanya. She felt light and weak and sad but very calm.

“Sorry we had to sedate you, Mush.”

Hinawakan niya ang kamay ni Dinah. Hindi niya makontrol ang sarili niya kanina kaya nadesisyunan na bigyan siya ng sedative. It worked. She felt calm. But the pain inside her heart is still there. Na kahit saan niya ibaling ang tingin o kahit ano ang isipin niya, hindi mawala-wala ang sakit kahit isang segundo lang. For a while walang nagsalita sa kanila. Nang yakapin siya ni Dinah, bumalong ulit ang luha niya.

“You have to be strong. Alam mo ‘yan,” matigas na sabi nito.

“He just left,” aniya. “Hindi ko alam kung bakit. Is there something in me that is not worth spending his life with? May kulang ba sa akin, Dinah?”

Kita niya ang pagpipigil ng kaibigan na maiyak.

“You should not think that way, Mush.”

“Then what else should I think about? Gino just left me. He left after he proposed. Was he afraid I just said yes? Hindi ko alam… Hindi ko maintindihan kung bakit kinailangan niya akong iwan.”

Natahimik ito pagkuwa’y tiningnan siya. “I don’t know if I should tell you this, Mush,” ani Dinah na tila nahihirapan. Nagtatakang napatingin siya sa kaibigan. “But I guess you of all people deserve to know.”

“What do you know?” nagugulumihang tanong niya.

Napabuntong-hininga ito. “Jordan will surely kill me. But you need to know.” Hinawakan nito ang kamay niya. “Gino has a reason why he left you. Mush,” biglang nanubig ang mata ni Dinah. “Gino’s tumor is back. And I guess he just flew back to the States for the treatment.”

Nanlaki ang mga mata niya sa narinig. She wanted to scream but she isn’t able to. Something is dragging her emotions to be in full control. Pero hindi niya napigilan ang pagsungaw ng luha.

“And he wants me out of his life because of that? That’s very lame!” aniya.

“It is clear that he doesn’t want you to get hurt. But on the other side, maybe he’s protecting himself from getting hurt, too.”

Kumunot ang noo niya.

“He doesn’t want you to take full responsibility of him. You knew what could happen to him, right? Gino could lose his memory, his locomotion skills, his speech, his eyesight. With or without operation, it can happen to him. And he can even…”

“He can die.” aniya na halos hindi lumabas sa bibig. Tila kinuyumos ng bakal ang dibdib niya. Gusto niyang mapabunghalit ng iyak pero hindi niya magawa.

“You see, the decison is yours. Gino is giving you an option unawarely. The question is if you are willing to take his pain… if you are ready for something which will not be easy for both of you. Makakaya mo ba, Mush? Because if not, Gino made the decision easier for you.”

Pinakiramdaman niya ang sarili. What could be worse than being away from him while he is suffering? Did Gino really think she can be happy without him? And thinking that he could die, she can’t bear that. She just have to be with him, and she should not waste any second of the chance they can be together. “I love him, that’s all I know. If hell should be the consequence of loving him, I’ll go through it just to be with him,” mariing sabi niya habang patuloy ang pagpatak ng luha. “Pero paano Dinah? Paano ko siya mahahanap?”

“I’m quite sure he’s gonna call his mom.” anito.

Napatingin siya sa kaibigan. All of a sudden her emotions shifted. Nandoon pa rin ang sakit… But she felt hope. And that will make her get through all the pains. Bigla siyang napabalikwas ng bangon.

Nagtatakang tiningnan siya ni Dinah.

“I need to pack,” aniya. “Will you help me?”

Napangiti si Dinah saka naiiyak na tumango. “That’s the spirit.”

 

GINO started to breathe heavily as the airplane prepared to take off. Napahawak siya sa armrest at napapikit ng mariin. Kanina pa niya naiisip na tumayo at lumabas sa eroplanong sinasakyan. Pero pinigilan niya ang sarili. Thinking of Mushroom’s face is tearing him apart.

“I am telling you all these things, for you to know that my life without you was awful. It was miserable. Pero hindi ko ito sinasabi sa’yo para makonsensiya ka. Dahil naiintindihan ko kung bakit kinailangan mong lumayo. Sinasabi ko ito para alam mo na kung ano ang mangyayari sa akin kung mawawala ka. I’ll die, Gino. I am sure of it. I’m making it clear, para hindi mo na ako iwanan ulit.” Paulit-ulit iyong nagre-rewind sa utak niya.

Napatiim ang bagang niya. Humulagpos ang luhang kanina pa nagbabantang pumatak. Kaagad niyang pinahid iyon. Bawat salita ng babaing minamahal ay bumaon sa dibdib niya. Tila punyal iyon na paulit-ulit na tumatarak sa dibdib niya.

He did it again… He broke the heart of the only girl he loved. He broke his promise again. And now he’s profusely bleeding. But he’s making the right decision. Eversince, he knew he was making the right decision. Mahal niya si Mushroom at gagawin niya ang lahat para protektahan ito… para maging normal ang buhay nito …para hindi ito masaktan kahit pa ang ibig sabihin no’n ay ang pagkawala pagkakataong makasama niya ito.

Nobody has died of a broken heart. Iyon ang itinanim niya sa utak. Mushroom won’t die if  he broke her heart… And someday soon, she will forgive him for doing this… and hopefully she will live a happy life with someone else. Someone who could hold her hand until she gets old.

He wanted to be that someone… But he could not be. And he has to accept that no matter how painful it may be.

GINO spent the next days in his studio. For one whole day since he arrived in LA, he did nothing but paint. But he could not form a shape. He could not even mix colors. He haven’t slept in two days and he hasn’t eaten yet. Tinawagan niya ang ina para hindi ito mag-alala. He tried to hide the real reason why he left. But he just could not lie to his mom. As her cries filled his ears, he just wanted to die right away. Why does his life causes the people he loves suffer? He told her he is okay but did not tell her where he is. He felt tortured when she told him that Mushroom cried. And up to now, he felt worse he made Mushroom cry again. Itinapon niya ang pinsel na hawak.

He did not expect it can be this worse. Now he doubted if no one ever died of heartbreak. Because now, he felt like dying.

Nagulat siya nang biglang bumukas ang pinto. Nagulat siya nang makita ang ina. Tumalikod siya agad rito para itago ang mukha pero lumapit ito at tumayo sa harapan niya, malungkot ang mga mata. Pinilit niyang pasayahin ang mukha dahil alam niyang nag-aalala na naman ito. Nang yakapin siya nito ng mahigpit hiniling niya na sana’y siya na lang ang makaramdam ng lahat ng bumabagabag sa dibdib nito. His Mom has sacrificed a lot for him since he was young. Buong buhay nito, wala itong ginawa kundi alagaan siya. And until this moment, she is still there, and he knew, she wants him to fight for his life again. But he doubt if he wanted to do that. Dahil pagod na siya… Pagod na pagod na siya.

“I’m fine, Mom,” aniya rito.

“You don’t look fine,” anitong tila naiiyak na.

“Shh,” alo niya dito at hinagkan ito sa noo. “Everything will be alright.”

Umiling-iling ito. “I thought it’s gone. I thought…” napahikbi ito at niyakap siya ng mahigpit. “I can’t believe this is happening again.”

“I’m not worried about this, Mom. I don’t even think I’d die with it.” Ngumiti siya ng mapait. “I think I’d die with a broken heart.”

Hinawakan ng ina ang magkabilang pisngi niya. “You know you don’t have to face this alone.”

“I chose this, Mom. I’ll bear this. I don’t even want you in this. But you’re my mom. And you deserve to know.”

Hindi nakapagsalita ang Mommy niya. Bumalong ang luha nito.

“And I don’t?” anang mahina ngunit mariing tinig sa likuran. “Did you really think you can just walk out on me like that?”

Gino felt a lump rose on his throat. He need not look back to know who it is. His tears fell without warning. And right at that moment, he doesn’t know how to face the woman he loves without breaking down.

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