I WAS WATCHING MY NIECE YANA CLOSELY AS SHE waved goodbye to her dad. With much love she yelled, “Dad, God bless you!” My only brother Orvhil was flying to Belgium that morning.
While her dad was checking in his luggage, Yana asked me to text him to look where we were standing. When her dad turned and looked at us through the glass walls at the airport, Yana said with a bittersweet smile, “That was Dad’s last look at me!” And she blew him a kiss.
I knew exactly how my five-year old niece felt. I went through a similar experience 20 years ago, when like her I said goodbye to my mom and dad at the airport. Then I was filled with a deep melancholy, knowing that I wouldn’t be seeing my parents for a long time. And yet I also felt a great sense of pride since I knew that they would be gaining knowledge in the place where they were going. “Not everyone is given an opportunity to study abroad for free,” I heard my brother often say as he tried to ease my gloom then.
I remembered his words and told Yana the same thing. The most difficult part of my grade-school life was not being with my parents. Mom went to Australia to take a diploma course and later earn a master’s degree in economics. Dad went to India and to the Netherlands for training. My brother Orvhil and I were left under the care of our grandmother and an aunt. During the days I really missed my Mom and Dad, I always had my brother beside me. This is probably the reason I grew up very close to him.
I cannot forget the nights I would wake up weeping, looking for Mom and Dad. Orvhil was always ready with soothing words to make me stop crying. He would say, “Mama said she wants us to see the Big Banana in Australia and the beautiful Ocean World. She is working on our papers so we can see those places soon!” Or, “Why are you sad? Aren’t you glad that Papa can now see the mountains where Maria and the kids stayed in ‘The Sound of Music’? Papa said the Netherlands is just a train ride away from Austria!” His words certainly comforted me.
Yana made me see my brother in her. She reminded me of how strong my brother was. Before we went to the airport, I heard her say to her baby sister, “Aaliya, Daddy is almost going to Belgium. We will also study there when we grow old so that we will get smarter.”
What an amazing disposition she has. Instead of crying and stopping her dad from leaving, she tries to see the brighter side of things. My brother tried to be strong for me when our parents were abroad, and now Yana is proving to be strong for her younger sister in her own little way.
All throughout my life, my brother has always been quietly behind me, watching over me, making sure everything is okay. This is probably the reason he knows me in ways no other person does—not our parents, not my closest friends, not even my spouse.
Only my brother Orvhil knows that I screamed when he scared me with his ghost stories in school. Only my brother knows why I didn’t like to expose my knees. And only my brother knows how I really felt when I reached my lowest point and how I was able to pull myself up after he wiped my tears and fears away.
My brother knows me—the essential me, the me that I am when nobody else is looking.
I can see that his going abroad is a good opportunity for her daughters to develop the same closeness we have. I am sure Yana and Aaliya will also develop that special bond which comes from always being together. Their Dad’s absence will give them the opportunity to grow and to know each other more.
Winters have a special place in my heart. They were the most awaited season of my childhood. The word alone was enough to melt my heart. For me, winters in Australia and in the Netherlands meant seeing Mom and Dad again since they spent their break in the Philippines. No one could imagine how excited I was every time I received a letter from them saying it was starting to snow in New South Whales or in Amsterdam. I was eager to show them how I had become a year wiser and stronger.
Now, I am again waiting for next year’s winter break in Belgium. The feeling is the same. The word “winter” again creates a special feeling and warms my heart. I can’t wait to see my Kuya Orvhil again. I can’t wait to see my nieces, Yana and Aaliya , waving to their dad once more. It will be a special kind of wave—of welcome and of pride in showing him the lessons they have learned while he was away and the magical bond that binds their souls. I know it will be the greatest and grandest feeling they have ever experienced.
Khaye-Mydette Sy Cardenas-Macalinao, 26,
is an ESL teacher at Reedley International School.
This story was published in Philippine Daily Inquirer on November 5, 2009. Reposting it today, on my brother’s birthday. Happy Birthday, kuya! I think you haven’t read this yet because you were in Belgium when it was published… so here it is! You’re miles and miles away again (and I’ll never get used to this. Hahaha)! I love you and see you soon? =)