***

Everything faded away. I couldn't hear any sound. It was as if I'm in the middle of nowhere.

"I'm sorry, Chloe. I . . . I really can't remember you."

Her words echoed inside my head and brought me back to what was happening. She was still sitting on the couch, clutching her head. Lumayo ako sa kanya habang nanginginig ang buong katawan ko.

"Chloe?"

Paglingon ko ay kabababa lang ni Jazer at dahan-dahan siyang lumapit sa akin habang pabalik-balik ang tingin sa amin ni Mom.

"Anong nangyari?" he whispered and I answered him with a sob.

It was hard to believe. I know that this time would come but I didn't expect it to be this sudden. My mind wasn't ready for this. I wasn't ready for this.

"S-she c-can't . . ." I tried to choke back my tears but it was getting harder to breathe. "She can't remember us anymore."

He pulled me into a hug and I cried my heart out but Mom immediately got our attention. She was having a panic attack because everything around her turned unfamiliar.

"Mom!"

I rushed to her side but she couldn't hear me. Agad kong inutusan si Jazer para tawagan si Dr. Reyes habang ako ay dali-daling nilabas ang phone ko. My hands were trembling but I tried calling Dad.

"Where am I? Who are you?!" Mom yelled as she pushed me but I didn't let go of her arm.

"Please, Dad. Please answer," I muttered as waves of emotions started to suffocate me.

"Hello? Chloe? Wh-"

"D-Dad, p-please help me," I whimpered. "M-Mom has already forgotten us. W-what should I do? I don't know what to do anymore."

"Okay, Chloe, calm down," he said and I could hear his footsteps along with other voices. It sounded like he was in the middle of a meeting. "Keep an eye on her, okay? Did you already call her doctor?"

"Y-yes. He's on his way."

Pinunasan ko naman agad ang luha sa pisngi ko at tiningnan ko si Mom na wala pa rin sa sarili niya ngayon. Her mind must be a chaos right now.

"What should I do, Dad?" I sobbed again when I thought about Czanelle and Clark. "Please, help me. Please. Come home, please."

I didn't care anymore. I promised myself not to cry in his presence but here I am, helpless. I couldn't do this on my own. I need him.

"Don't worry, anak, I'm on my way, too. Take care of her for now, okay?"

Hindi na ako nakasagot dahil sa narinig ko. I thought I was just hearing things I wanted to hear but . . . he really said that, right? He said he's on his way home.

"Let me go!"

Nagpumiglas na naman si Mom at this time, natumba ako sa sahig. She looked lost and my heart sank when I saw how she glanced at me without any recognition.

"I'm . . . no . . ."

"Mom, tell me you're just kidding," I pleaded. "Please? You told me you're still going to get close to me. You told me you're going to do everything to make up for the years when I was alone."

Tears streamed down her face and for a moment, a trace of hope started growing on my chest. I was praying that she'd call my name again and hug me.

"Stop . . . please stop calling me Mom. I . . . I am not your mother. I am not a mother!"

That was the last straw. My last ounce of hope shattered right in front of me. I lost my mother . . . again.

"Chloe! Doc, please."

Narinig ko ang boses ni Jazer sa likuran at tumakbo naman si Dr. Reyes sa direksyon ni Mom. She was sedated and brought to the hospital.

"I'll do everything that I can," sabi ni Dr. Reyes pero kita sa mga mata niya ang awa para sa akin. Wala na akong nagawa kundi ang tumango.

Pinunasan ko kaagad ang luha ko at huminga nang malalim nang kaming dalawa na lang ni Jazer ang nasa sala. I know he wanted to comfort me but I also know that nothing could make me feel better.

"She'll get better," I muttered. "She has to."

I let out a shaky breath and I was in the verge of crying again so I started walking away from him. Isang hakbang pa lang ay tumulo na agad ang luha ko kaya dali-dali akong yumuko. Binilisan ko ang lakad ko pero nagulat na lang ako nang nauntog ako sa likod niya.

I wanted to yell at him for following me. I wanted to vent my despair and frustration but what he said next had weakened these intense feelings churning inside me.

"Sa'yo muna 'to," he said and I finally gave in.

I rested my head against his back and wailed in anguish. What happened was starting to sink in. Sa isang iglap, nawala ako sa alaala ng isa sa mga taong pinakamahalaga sa buhay ko. Wala na ako sa buhay niya. Wala na ang buong pamilya namin sa buhay niya.

"Mom . . ." I wept weakly.

My hands reached for his shirt for support but his hands covered mine and he slowly turned around. The next thing I knew, he was already hugging me. I buried my face between his neck and shoulder to hide my vulnerability.

"A-anong gagawin ko?" I asked between my sobs and he responded by gently stroking my hair and back.

"Hindi ko rin alam," sagot niya, "pero sa ngayon, wala kang kailangang gawin. Dito ka lang. Gawin mo akong sandalan."

His words stirred a lot of confusing yet tender emotions and I did what he said. Hindi ko na namalayan kung ilang minuto o oras kaming ganoon pero ang alam ko lang, sa dami ng luhang naiyak ko ay unti-unti akong nanghina at katagalan ay nakatulog ako sa kanya.


***

I woke up with a start but I couldn't open my eyes properly. I was hoping everything was just a dream yet these swollen eyes were part of the reality that slapped me hard.

It was real. Mom had really forgotten us.

Ang bigat pa rin ng pakiramdam ko pero pinilit kong tumayo para maghilamos. My eyes hurt but the water helped ease the pain.

Lumabas ako sa kwarto ko at dumiretso sa kwarto ng mga bubwit. Pagbukas ko pa lang ay nakita ko na agad sila sa kama na mukhang kagigising lang. I approached them and sat on the side of the bed. Agad ko silang niyakap at nag-replay sa utak ko ang nangyari kahapon.

Hindi pa man din bumabalik sa dati ang mga mata ko ay naiiyak na naman ako. They were too young to know anything about this. How could they understand this kind of situation? How would they accept the fact that their mother had already forgotten their existence? Her memories with them?

It was too cruel.

Nagulat naman ako nang hinawakan ni Czanelle ang mga mata ko, habang si Clark ay biglang yumakap sa akin.

"Ate, are you hurt?" she innocently asked and I immediately felt a lump in my throat.

"No," I replied, blinking back the tears that were threatening to come out. "I'm not," I smiled. "But I need a hug."

Agad namang niyakap ni Czanelle ang mukha ko at naramdaman ko ang paghigpit ng kapit sa akin ni Clark. Ilang minuto akong nag-stay sa kwarto nila para palakasin ang loob ko. Their bright smiles and warmth were enough to calm myself for a while.

Sabay-sabay kaming lumabas sa kwarto at bumaba sa sala nang bigla akong may narinig na ingay mula ro'n . . . hanggang sa nakita ko ang taong hindi ko akalaing tutuparin ang sinabi niya.

"Daddy! Daddy!"

Czanelle ran excitedly toward him and Clark toddled behind her. Naiwan naman akong nakatayo sa dulo ng hagdanan, hindi makapaniwalang nandito talaga siya. I remembered him telling me last night that he'd go home but I wasn't sure if he'd really do that.

Pero nandito siya ngayon at agad niyang kinarga sina Czanelle at Clark sa magkabilang braso niya. Pinanood ko sila at kahit hindi dapat ay nakaramdam ako ng kaunting inggit. When I was a kid, I wanted to be carried by him, too. I could only remember vague images of me on his back, acting like he was some kind of a vehicle or animal.

I shook my head to push that memory away. Hindi na ako bata at hindi na rin naman maibabalik ang mga panahon na 'yon. I should focus on the present.

"Czanelle, Clark," he called as he put them down on the couch. "Play with your Kuya Jazer for a while, is that okay?" sabay tingin niya kay Jazer na nasa gilid pala.

The kids eagerly agreed and Jazer took them outside. Dad's gaze landed straight at me. I was still several meters away from him but when his expression softened, the strength I had gathered a while ago dissipated right away.

"Dad . . ." I sobbed and I ran toward his direction.

"Chloe," he called back as he enveloped me in his arms.

And suddenly, I was a little kid who needed his father for protection . . . for security. It felt like home.

"I'm sorry for leaving this matter to you without any assistance," he said. "Thank you for holding on to your mother."

Lalo lang akong naiyak sa mga sinabi niya pero pinilit ko ang sarili kong kumalma. Tama na ang naiyak ko kagabi. I need to move forward.

After a while, Dad told me his plan. Nalungkot ako nang sabihin niyang dadalhin niya si Mom sa US para doon magpagamot dahil mas advanced ang medical technology doon. He also said that he already filed a leave of absence and left the company in Shang's hands until he comes back.

"Are you going to be okay?" tanong niya at sinuklian ko naman siya ng ngiti.

"I have to," I replied as I glanced outside where the three of them were playing.

Pagkatapos no'n ay nagpaalam na si Dad para puntahan si Mom sa ospital. Czanelle and Clark pleaded him to stay so Jazer and I had to stop them from following him.

I didn't know how I managed to function normally for the next few days. Tuwing nasa campus ako, wala akong ibang ginawa kundi magbasa ng journals at books na related sa topics namin dahil ayaw kong maisip ang mga problema ko sa bahay. Pag-uwi ko naman, dire-diretso lang ako lagi sa kwarto at ilang oras na hihiga habang nakatingin sa kisame.

Mom and Dad left two days after that incident. She was sedated to prevent her from doing any harm to herself and from panic attacks. Nagse-send naman sa akin si Dad ng news regarding sa sitwasyon ni Mom at kahit alam kong medyo malabo na ay umaasa pa rin akong maaalala niya kami.

"Sorry, we won't be able to spend the Christmas with you."

That was Dad's latest message. Doon ko lang na-realize na sa loob ng ilang araw ay Christmas break na.

Christmas, huh?

I don't really celebrate Christmas. Simula noong eleven ako, lagi na akong mag-isa tuwing Christmas at New Year. Of course, Nanay Fe, Nanay Meling and Kuya Larry have their own families. Ayaw ko namang pati 'yon ay kunin ko sa kanila.

However, every Christmas, I'd stay around the Christmas tree that Kuya Larry had assembled before going back to his family, and wish for the same thing—a family to spend the vacation with. Maybe asking for my parents was too much but at least, I'd be with my siblings. Maybe this time, Christmas would feel less lonely.



***