I was thinking about what story I could share about my dad, coming into the first anniversary of his passing. It came as I was sorting through old junk. But I need to preface that with another story. I don’t remember the exact date, but it was likely around 2001-2002. I post this awkward picture of us at the house of his former advisee Toom and her husband Sigfried near Rayong, Thailand because this is the only pic I have of us during that time. This story is about something completely different, though.
There was an outbreak of rabies in our neighborhood and perhaps the entire town of Los Baños. While I didn’t think much of it back then, it’s quite scary remembering it now. We still had two askals. One night, I was playing with them, hugging them. But they were acting strange. Their heads also kept throbbing. That’s when I suspected they were sick, which I confirmed when they convulsed the following day when I tried to bathe them. I can only thank God and the dogs themselves that I didn’t get bitten by either of them throughout that time. I hurriedly went inside the house and told everyone else to stay there, then warned my dad immediately when he got home.
It’s funny and scary at the same time. We were trapped in the house by two rabid dogs foaming at the mouth on the prowl in our yard. The only thing we had going for us was that neither dogs seemed hostile. That’s when my dad took his opportunity. He took the handle of his pickaxe and landed one strong but accurate blow for each dog’s nape. One of the things I was always in awe of both my dad and uncle was how strong their hands and arms were. Unfortunately for me, I inherited my mother’s arms. And to this day, I don’t know if I have it in me to do the same if the situation called for it. Anyway, after the gruesome deed was done he told me to bury them. Yep, my hated duty. But I wasn’t going to argue. It was the safer task.
Later that day, I was checking around the spot I buried our dogs, when suddenly, my feet and legs got inundated by red ants and I got stung several times. I got scared. Could I get rabies if I got stung by ants who just fed off infected carcasses? And I did the worst thing I could possibly do — I kept it to myself. I only told my mom after like 3 days when I was pretty sure I didn’t have rabies. My mom, who was already really weak at the time… laughed at me.
“Hay naku, mag-ama nga kayo (Sheesh, you really are your dad’s son). “
Apparently, a bit of blood got on my dad’s hands as he did the business with the dogs and was worried that he might have rabies. That explained why we were both quiet at the dining table during those first few days since the incidents and my mom was probably rolling her eyes at the sight of us both. Me and dad never talked about it. Of course, we were safe, but at the time, both of us silently terrified of the thought of dying from a gruesome disease but not doing anything about it during those days when it could still be treated — at best it was silly, at worst, it was downright irresponsible. This is all because we shared these three traits. One, we don’t like going to doctors and hospitals (scared of it, even). Two, we would rather quietly suffer rather than be an inconvenience to others. And three, we don’t openly communicate our feelings to anyone, let alone each other. It would be years before that would change.
It’s strange — we probably talked more openly when I visited him in his office more than we ever did at home in the first 30 years of my life. And that’s what I miss the most, especially right now. I know that he knew how it is to be in my professional and personal predicament. Maybe when I go to sleep, I’ll dream about him and get his advice. Here’s to hoping.