(This is a brief excerpt from Brain in a Jar…)
I find a guesthouse in Angeles City, a mile from the entrance to Clark Air Force Base. I put my backpack down in my tiny, un-air-conditioned room and get my birth certificate out of my wallet. Place of birth: Angeles City, Pampanga, Philippines.
This is my home: this place where so many Americans and Filipinos died in World War II; this place where my ol’ dad tried to save American and Vietnamese servicemen during the Vietnam War. This near where my Grandfather served General MacArthur.
I walk back into the wide streets of Angeles City. Shops line each side, selling T-shirts, Bud Light and sex. I step into one to buy a postcard. I choose a wide-angle vintage picture of the entrance to Clark. I borrow a pen to write.
I’m in Angeles City after a day and night ghost-hunting in Baguio. I’ve been learning about the Death March. I imagine you here, 30 years ago, trying to stop death in its tracks. I’m not sure we can’t stop death when it’s full-steam ahead like a freight train. It chooses us and we can’t outrun it. Maybe war is trying to tell us to stop fighting. Just live in peace until the end comes. By the way, I LOVE YOU OL’ DAD. I’ll be home soon. I’ll go to India first, then I’ll be back.
I buy a stamp from the proprietress and she offers to mail the postcard for me. I give her the card.
“How do you say ‘thank you’ in Tagalog?” I ask.
“How do you say, ‘I love you?’”
She laughs. “We have a lot of ways to say that, but the most common is ‘mahal kita.’”
“Can I have the card back?”
She hands it to me.
I write “P.S. MAHAL KITA.”
“You’d make a good Filipino!” the shopkeeper giggles. I laugh too, not telling her that I am one.
But then I wonder if I’m a bad Bercaw for saying how I feel. I should just soldier on in silence on our family’s very own Death March. Although this one isn’t between the Japanese and the Americans and Filipinos.
This is Alzheimer’s versus Bercaws.