Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Non Sequitur

(Non Sequitur NYC, 01/29/82)

(XV) [1]

Shall I compare you to a summer storm

Which steals the sunshine from my frolic days

And aberration make of suchlike norm

As nurtures dreams of love and lovers' bliss?

Yet even so, a tempest brings some rain

Which may the withered gardens send to bloom

Or grace the meadows with a lush of green

That merrymaking maidens may yet groom

Sweet dreams of unadulterated love

With rainbows of forgotten innocence.

Should othersidedness of things need probe

Beyond the boundaries of common sense

To prove that ambivalence but augment

The lethargy our own predicament?


(XVI) [2]

That from my touch you cannot but recoil

Into within, withdraw stiff with shudder,

As sure portends the havoc of turmoil

Like lightning flash descends before thunder

Brings the cloudy rage of a summer storm

To fill the hungry innocence which streams,

In languid expectation's yawning norm

Prepare, like many selffulfilling dreams,

To catch surfeit precipitation's yield

Lest in the cruel depths of winter's frost

Lack ample substance for a surface shield;

And hope, in tranquil hibernation lost

To vagaries and whims of early spring

Anon but love's perdition lingering!


(XVII) [3]

I must confess that I am at a lose

To even vaguely guess your heart's desire.

No pondering could hasten pin the cause

Or reason for the toosoon quenched fire.

Quiet introspection beget quite a few

Sound explanations; yet falls short to chart

Out abreactions which might pull me through

Prevarications which you rank in art.

True, I can't lose the which I have not won,

Nor count the merits should such lose incur;

Ill happenstance, no kin to oblivion,

No lighter make the injury endure.

This I do know just good intentions make

No substitute for actions we should take!


(XVIII) [4]

To put the fault on my illattitude

Socalled, yourself you find acquit from blame

Yet blameless be, what worth a fortitude?

Mischief breeds malice, should itself disclaim!

Were conscience from all blemish fully free

Its force of judgment should all times prevail,

And so prevailing, would perforce decree

Exclude such things bedeemed as boding ill

From all affairs you deign to undertake;

So undertaken, merits are your own

To cherish; else, for ills amends to make.

Laurels anon, save such as Laurels won:

Selfabsolution but redeem in vain

The sinner not the sinning nor the sin!

[* * *]

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Reflections on How the Cookie Crumbles

The following ruminations were inspired by a video link posted on Facebook which obviously proved to be effectively provocative else I would not be writing about it. My due diligence English rendition of the title would be "The Letter from Mother and Father." The verbiage caption displayed to the accompaniment of a musical score was in Tagalog. As such, I wished I could have written this piece in Tagalog. Considering that I have never conducted my thinking process in that dialect, I'll have to say this is just how the cookie crumbles. Whatever little Tagalog fluency I can muster, I learned it the old fashioned way: I worked rather hard for it.

These toilsome but essential preliminaries aside, let me start by noting that the video was very provocative on several emotional levels and dimensions of perception that I may need to keep some personal baggage in order, before I could accord adequate justice to the substance of the video that it so richly deserved. The baggage should emerge as a laundry list. There is no implication of order in significance that can be properly imputed to the items contained therein. They are just enumerated and delved into in the order that they call my attention as I write.

First there is the subject of parents/children relationship which obviously touches upon both childhood and parenthood, each of which are most often taken for granted as a result of the fact that most everybody goes through it. Then there is the subject of parentage itself that not everybody is lucky enough to experience. Unfortunately, not every parent looks at it as both a privilege and an opportunity although every parent should feel the burden of responsibility that it entails.

Next there is the content of the video itself which depicts a reality so poignant because it happens too often that parents feel neglected by their grownup children who are themselves overwhelmed by the demands of making an adequate livelihood worthy of their being parents themselves. The emotional turmoil the video so uniquely engenders in me mainly stems from the unique relationship I had with my parents and the guilt I used to feel that I may not have given back to them adequately when I finally, if ever, became an adult.

I said "if ever," because sometimes I have serious doubts whether or not I had outgrown my childhood. It is a rather popular cliché that you can take the boy out of the farm but you cannot take the farm out of the boy. Incidentally, Joan Swrisky, a well established award-winning author I used to correspond with, did explicitly advise me not to attempt to take the farm out of the boy with the not so subtle suggestion that it would be a futile exercise, and more importantly, the day I would succeed in doing so would be a day I cease to be a decent human being.

It is a suggestion I cannot but give credence to. The late Richard Feynman, one of the few physicists I deeply admire opined, and I paraphrase, that most everybody outgrows childhood except two kinds of people, namely, those who are fascinated with physics and those who tinker with poetry. I plead guilty to having attempted to venture into both physics and poetry as erstwhile forms of indulgence, although I don't have much to show for on either count.

In case I missed relating it earlier elsewhere when I first wrote about my parents, I was born the fifth of eight siblings of two sisters and six brothers. There was a ninth issue but it came pre-mature and pre-natal. It did not even look like a human fetus. Since the event was traumatic, having almost claimed mother's life from hemorrhage, father baptized it "Fructoso," collected it in an airtight glass jar and buried it in the side yard beside a dormant mango sapling which a year or so later died for unexplained causes.

I happened to have been an eyewitness to the ritual. I even helped dig the grave hole. It would not surprise me if the rest of my siblings could not testify to confirm the event. Most of the time, only the youngest three of the brood stayed at home. I might have been the oldest one at home at the time. The older ones usually were sent to faraway places pursuing higher education. This was inherent to our farming upbringing and attendant to my parents' rather uniquely singular determination that their children were formally educated far beyond they themselves had achieved in their schooling. They both barely finished grammar school when they decided they had far more important mission in their lives, like raising a family, than indulge the whimsy of overpaid and patronizing school teachers.

Father's choice of name for the ninth arrival bewildered me deeply at the time. To begin with, the order of arrival amongst my siblings was a well established pattern of two brothers followed by a sister. My little child's mind's I expected a feminine name for the ninth member of the brood. Besides, the only person I knew in the community by that name who would occasionally help out during coconut harvest as a hired hand, was a character I did not like. He seemed to enjoy teasing me about some inconsequential thing or another which I found to be extremely annoying but could not complain about because I was only a child.

Unfortunately, I was not in a position to argue with my father, and I never questioned any decision he made until I was age 14, which is a separate story all by itself, perhaps for a later occasion and/or a different venue. The important point was, had the ninth arrival been a legitimately identifiable human being, I could have rightly claimed the authentic middle of the brood dispensation of rights and privileges which would lend gravitas to my interpretation of the subsequent unfolding of events.

However, I nonetheless claimed the mantle of being the eldest of the second half of the brood and managed to introduce a departure from traditional orthodoxy as it governs protocols of engagement amongst my younger siblings. For instance, on my behest, we had successfully done away with the use of honorifics when referring to or addressing the older siblings. We used this negation as our superficial badge of progress, or a symbolic liberation from the shackles of tradition. The symbolism, notwithstanding, we knew we were steadfast in our respect for the age-old tradition of respect for our venerable ancestors, beginning with our older siblings.

The poignancy of the referenced video link stems from my own guilt of having failed in my filial obligations during the twilight of my parents' years, when they must have needed their children most. I simply was not available to them as a result of a career trajectory altering decision I made earlier in life. It was far too easy to rationalize that I was not available to them because of circumstances "beyond my control." The truth was every career decision I made was a matter of choice, factoring in the intervening circumstances. When I decided to leave the country for good, unbeknownst to them, I in effect consciously recruited my siblings to cover for my filial shortcomings.

It was over late lunch/early dinner at a restaurant in the Mactan Airport compound in Cebu that I paid my last respects to my parents, the first week of April 1974. Before the meal, I was the only one in God's creation who knew I was leaving the country for good. After the meal, there were exactly three people who were aware, with absolute certitude of my intentions. Not even I myself knew exactly what my plans were, because I really did not have any.

In my memory banks, it was not a pretty sight. To my knowledge, it was the only time I had wittingly brought my mother to tears. Ever the stoic, father attempted to console her the best way he could, but I could read and feel the pain of disappointment in mother's eyes and in her voice, and her rebuke will forever reverberate in the inner chambers of my reverie. That my decision was not arrived at lightly was no consolation to my mother. Neither was my protestation that I was not abandoning them but pursuing my life's calling.

That I loved my parents dearly was beyond dispute, not even to them who may have construed my perennial meandering ways as bordering on being irresponsible. That I habitually failed to demonstrate my devotion to them was also a common knowledge, at least within my father's family. In my defense, it behooves to emphasize that I considered my parents to be both over-achievers in their ambitions to provide for their children and set the standards of behavior by their own example.

My difficulty was compounded by the fact that having surpassed their educational attainment, my parents were ill-equipped to stipulate specific goals for us as a metric of their expectations. Being fifth in the picking order of over-achieving older siblings did not make the task of earning bragging rights on anything any easier. I would not even dare to imagine how my younger siblings must have felt if they had the same passion to excel as I harbored. I had ample reasons to suspect they did because that was what my parents emphasized, as the only metric of their expectations.

(To be continued . . . Next:
Going Rogue on the Lighter Side)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fallout from the Blind Encounter with a Jellyfish

Author's Note:
A journey back to your heritage always invokes a modicum of soul searching because the question of what brought you here, at this stage in life at this particular point in time, demands unadulterated honesty associated with the benefits of hindsight. When you look at childhood from your prism as an adult it lends a measure of satisfaction that youth, George Bernard Shaw notwithstanding, after all was not exactly and entirely wasted on the young.

This is the second in a series of chatty narratives on my childhood, related in the first person. The first, Misadventures with a Jellyfish, may give you the necessary perspective to put this one in its proper context. In the interest of full disclosure, for those who may be squeamish in intestinal fortitude let me warn that the picture emerging from the narrative may not be altogether wholesome. I enjoin you therefore to look it over with guarded leisure. May you have half as much fun reading it as I had both living and writing about it.


As "I slapped and scratched my way through the underbrush" the jellyfish welts of course broke at some selective most vulnerable acute spots. That was how I was reduced to a "nearly skinless carcass." The bitter-sour yellow-green kind of pain which accompanied the induced bursting out of welts of any kind gave me the sensation of screws being tightened at my temples. Despite my father's penchant to mete out commensurate punishments for capital offenses, I was once again spared the ordeal by my miserable physical condition.

{Lest somebody got the impression that father had the habit of killing off family members, let me clarify what was construed as 'capital offenses.' There were codes of conduct and rules of behavior, mostly unspoken, definitely unwritten. We just learned to tell right from wrong by observing how our parents and older siblings conducted themselves. My parents were both stringent disciplinarians. Mother mainly dispensed verbal admonitions. Father sometimes meted out physical punishments. One of the most common forms was lashing with the leather belt or a rattan switch or a flexible twig freshly picked specifically for the occasion. Another was being put inside a stinky copra sack such that you were barely able to stand on tip toe at the sack bottom because of stitching constraints at the top of the sack and the sack suspended to the rafters until the subject mostly fell asleep from exhaustion. Any infraction which resulted in a physical punishment was what I dubbed a 'capital offense.' The physical punishment was preceded by a thorough conceptual discussion of the infraction to make sure that the subject understood and admitted the punishment was well deserved and commensurate with the crime. As a child I sometimes preferred capital punishment to the verbal kind. The former had a rather prompt closure to the incident. The latter could continue for ages without any prospect of closure, until it was eventually forgotten or superseded by something else considered to be more serious.}

This was, however, not exactly a ticket for weeks of rest and relaxation at home. I had become a fulltime patient being medicated with the traditional herbs and roots soaked for ages in coconut oil. Most of the welts had then become a reddish mosaic of exposed skinless flesh painful even to the caress of the evening breeze of a typically humid tropical day. The few exceptions, the ones which were not so acutely bloated, managed to shrink to normal size within a couple of weeks under the medication, and the skin was somehow saved. At the same time, or perhaps a little shortly thereafter, scabs began to develop over the open lesions, heralding the unmistakable signs of healing.

Healing had its definite downside, however. Heightened itching sensation as normally associated with the process only served to exacerbate by several degrees the original itchy characteristics of the injury. While I was able to restrain myself, albeit with extreme difficulty, from scratching away at the scabs when I was awake and conscious, I miserably failed at avoiding the deed in my sleep. I would emerge from sleep all bloodied up from my inadvertent scratching reflexes.

To my family's credit for being compassionate, nobody ever suggested to have me tied up in my sleep to save me from myself. So true to my hubristic instincts as a little boy perpetually pregnant with brilliant ideas, one Sunday morning when nobody else was around, I decided to wash off my scabs to get rid of the itch, once and for all. Armed with a bar of laundry soap, I proceeded to scrub myself at the spot in the creek where the family habitually washed the household laundry. My total accomplishment with this maneuver was the premature removal of the scabs with attendant profuse bleeding.

To appreciate the full medicinal implication of this brilliantly bold initiative it behooves to note that except for drinking, for which we used surface spring wells, the creek was the all purpose water resource in the locality. This meant that upstream of where I bathe myself, were regular watering holes and wallowing dens for the ubiquitous carabaos which farm owners traditionally kept as versatile draft animals. It would have taken a miraculous combination of luck and fortuitously favorable disposition of the immune system to have come out of the proceedings free of infection. As it turned out, I was not all that lucky.

Overnight my left leg had bloated from severe inflammation to such an extent that it was impossible to move it, let alone stand on it. By the third day the largest and most acute lesion located on the fleshy backside of the leg started to ooze with pus with the putrid stench of a rotting carcass. I was reduced to dragging the leg as I navigated around the house on my hands, right leg, and buttocks. It seemed to my little boy's mind that all the wrath and venom of the malicious jellyfish were poured into my leg while the rest of my body was gratuitously spared, as I continued to use the herbal/root coconut oil ointment to dress the less serious lesions which seemed to be progressively healing.

The ointment was however utterly useless to abate, let alone reverse the rapid deterioration of my left leg. For this I started using the flame-softened leaves of the cactus-like common milk hedge or soro-soro (Euphorbia neriifolia) to dress the miserable limb. The live or raw soro-soro leaf was brittle with milky sap. Heated or cooked to pliability, the sap was transformed into a sour juice and the leaf itself into a succulent patch which when applied on a lesion oozing with pus, engendered a suction effect on the pus as the patch dried up, hence a cleansing effect on the lesion. The only other use of the soro-soro leaf that I was aware of was for stuffing when you roasted notoriously very gamey victuals such as foxes, iguanas, land turtles, etc., for the express purpose of mitigating the gamey flavor of the meat.

The healing mechanism was not very effective where and when there was a super abundance of pus, as was the case with my rotting leg. I increasingly found myself unequal to the task of cleaning off the pus in order to deploy the cactus patch effectively. Living in the farm, there were always three to five dogs at any one time which constituted the household's army of domestic guards. As luck would have it, one of our dogs gave birth to a liter of three cute chubby puppies, one of which grew very affectionate with me as the only person in the house most times because everybody else had work to do in the farm. Unbeknownst to anybody else for a week, I promptly employed the puppy as my nursemaid.

His main job was to lick off the pus from my leg, a chore he seemed to have taken to with utmost enthusiasm. The only drawback was his licking tickled a lot. It was definitely more bearable though compared to the pain and anguish I experienced when I had to meticulously pick off the pus by whatever handy instruments I could come up with. When my parents got wind of my priceless contribution to medieval medicine, they were first appalled. But on observing that a dog dressed his own wounds by licking them at regular intervals, father decided he could very well have had a medical genius for a son.

Many a few medical professionals, on learning of these escapades, had assured me much later that I was exceptionally lucky to have not caught an infection of rabies from my cute chubby canine medical assistant. Nevertheless, almost three weeks into this rather unorthodox medical regimen, my leg exhibited unmistakable signs of progressive healing. The swelling however persisted and the attendant palpitating pain was akin to an acute case of gout, a malady which incidentally persisted in the genetic DNA of the family for generations. Even after the lesions had completely healed with distinctive scars, the leg still proved useless for standing, let alone walking on it.

Then came the news that a renowned practitioner of the ancient traditional occult healing technique of lahid, was visiting for a week the nearby island, about an hour's boat paddle away from my village. The traditional modus operandi for the technique has been documented in the literature as follows:

Using a white linen pouch containing ground herbs is massaged on the affected area of the patient's body for several minutes, ranging from 20 to 40 minutes. Items extracted from the body are usually solid objects such as bones of fish, broken glass, stones or insects.

The debris extracted from the patient's malady is retrieved from the pouch intermixed with the original herbal contents.

The practitioner who treated me departed from this orthodoxy in that instead of a pouch he used a transparent flat bottle the size of an audio cassette tape containing a mixture of herbs and roots soaked in oil. The bottle was tightly sealed. He was wearing short sleeved shirts during all three procedures of my treatment. I had in my suspicious mind absolutely ruled out the possibility of any sleight of hand subterfuge.

He spread an old newspaper page on the floor and made me position my leg above the paper, foot down while I was seated on a chair. He proceeded to rub his bottle on my bloated leg, downwards, i.e. from the knee towards the ankle. I witnessed, mesmerized as he extracted a mixture of debris consisting of pieces of dried fish bones, splinter of chicken bones, stone-like debris, some hair clippings such as you would find on barber shop floors, some broken sea shells, etc., some of them freely dropping onto the paper. This lasted for about 30 to 40 minutes at the end of which he told me to sit still while he loaded his pipe tobacco and leisurely but very somberly smoked a pipeful.

On finishing his pipe, he asked me to slowly stand up. I did and to my immense delight, did not feel any pain. He informed my father that I needed two more treatments at two days interval. He advised me to treat the leg very tenderly and refrain from walking unless I really felt the irresistible urge to walk just to get the leg moving, considering that I had not done it for quite a while. Two days later I went back for my second treatment. At the end of the visit, I walked from the house to the boat.

The debris he extracted from my leg appeared to have progressively gone finer in consistency from the first to the third treatments. I walked to and from the boat at both ends of the trip on my third visit for treatment. One week after the third visit, I went back to school fully recovered. I was absent from classes for more than three months. I had to take both a written and an oral test to prove that I did not significantly lag behind the pace of the entire class before I was allowed to get back to second grade in the same school year. I ended up finishing second grade ranked 2nd in the class.

Today, more than 59 years later, the scar I got from the jellyfish is the most distinctive identifying mark but it did not even get noticed by the passport issuing authorities so it is not mentioned anywhere other than where I have written about it. It mimics the shape of the map of the Philippine archipelago and I am sporting it as a badge of adventure, seeking every chance I get to show it off. I have been most definitely convinced that the entire jellyfish saga had made me better able to handle with grace, morally and emotionally, the vagaries of all sorts and flavors of adversity.

If nothing else, respecting this episode in particular, I can assert with certainty that youth was definitely not wasted on the young.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Misadventures with a Jellyfish

Misadventures with a Jellyfish

Finding oneself perennially the sharpest tool in the shed is definitely a blessing, a curse, or both depending on how you handle the fallout. Obviously, being aware that you are better than your peers, at least at certain chores, affords a modicum of a boost to the ego and delicious nourishment to the soul. On the other hand, it can easily lead to complacency, or worse, to hubristic exuberance which portends mischief and incidental misfortunes if not utter perdition of the soul with attendant physical demise.

So it was the case one Monday morning in 1951 towards the end of the dry harvest season when the quava or bayabas grooves were laden with delectable fruit ripe for the picking, nay, imploring to be harvested when their mouth watering fragrance being wafted by the morning breeze, enveloped the hills and dales that we had to traverse on the way to school. The way to school was through a network of well worn mountain paths intricately connectable by any combination of the ubiquitous carabao trails to define any number of route options which would allow the desired amount of shortcuts or detours depending on how much diversion we were willing and/or eager to make.

For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Philippine country side landscape, the difference between a mountain path and a carabao trail lies mainly in the amount of vegetative adornment, bordering on obstructions, which characterized the latter. Typically, a carabao trail evolved into a mountain path when all such obstructions were removed and the clearance was maintained by popular use of the passage way. Navigating through a carabao trail in the early hours of the day, before the morning dew had completely dried off, one was likely to emerge from the journey as I did, soaking wet from inadvertently mopping off the dew from the overhanging leaves and branches with the shirt on my back.

Having spent an inordinate period harvesting a generous haul of guava fruit on the way, we were late for school. Which, in and of itself, was not a big deal. Both my fourth grader brother, Mano Fito and I, a second grader, were consistently at the top of our respective classes. Being late for an hour or so should not have been a capital offense. Except that there was a school policy to assign extra cleaning duties at the end of the day as punishment for pupils who showed up tardily to any class session. To avoid such an ignominy we decided to skip the entire morning session. No punishment was meted out for being absent from any session since you did not disrupt any proceedings.

These events having taken place in the eastern coast of Mindanao, it was the time of the year when the prevalence of the seaward west wind was slowly but surely fading to be gradually but unmistakably replaced by the dominance of the landward east wind which a few weeks later would usher in the rather dreaded monsoon season. More importantly, this time of the year, due to the decreasing humidity in the air, the sea was seductively inviting even when the sun was barely 30 degrees above the horizon. Although we were not swimmers then, frolicking in chest deep surf water at ebb tide was one of the more riveting assignations we always treasured to indulge ourselves in.

Also notable during this changing of the prevailing winds, accompanying the uncharacteristically calm water conditions was an infestation in the coastal waters of the purple-striped jellyfish with shortish tentacles and head sizes ranging from half a golf ball to half a baseball. Most of them were the non-stinging kind and temptingly inviting to pluck off the water and throw at your peers, as most of the more rambunctious children used to indulge in for fun. (This was our tropical equivalent to the snowball fights ever so popular in colder climes.)

So instead of our morning classes, we adjourned to the sandbar barely a couple of kilometers away from the school house. There we could feast on our morning loot of guavas lavishly supplementing our provisions for lunch which consisted of camote
tubers, the Philippine version of sweet potatoes, steam-cooked the previous night. The sandbar was just the perfect place for the occasion. It was close enough to the school house for the bell announcing the end of morning classes to be clearly audible. It was conveniently hidden from the school house by the relatively sparse cluster of mangroves that protected the shoreline from the wrath of the sea during the monsoon season.

At its maximum exposure, that is, at the lowest point of ebb tide, the width of the sandbar was about the size of a three-lane highway, affording ample room for children's games. Its length was a remarkable replica of the beach front of my parents' property: around two hundred meters. It was separated from our property by a chest-deep lagoon with sandy bottom bordered by rocky promontories of extinct and eroded coral reefs bookending the sandbar itself. In my childish mind's I, it was an indisputable low-tide extension of my parents' property. Indeed, I claimed it to be so. Playing there felt exactly the same as playing in my own backyard.

The property itself was tended by a newly married older cousin who was raised by my parents as if he were our older brother. Inside it was a cottage for their living quarters with an attached fishing net barn which functioned as a partial shade for the trellis structure consisting of three parallel horizontal bamboo poles joined end to end which ran along the shoreline. This was the main facility to sun-dry the fishing net by spreading it out on the bamboo trellis while it was inspected for holes and other damages that needed mending. Dried and fixed, the net was neatly folded along its width and left hanging to the trellis under the shade, ready to be deployed on the next trip out to sea. My cousin, to us known as Ingko Mening, managed and operated the net-fishing enterprise, which entailed recruiting helping hands from the village for a share of the catch.

It was in this barn where we left our clothes and school paraphernalia hidden in a fishing basket on our way to the sandbar. True to the cliché, "time flies when you are having fun," I could not exactly remember what we did for fun at the sandbar before we heard the school bell announcing the end of morning classes. I could absolutely be certain that we did not have a jellyfish fight for the simple reason that we were raised to listen to the older siblings. I did not dare compete with my older siblings until I was in high school, when different rules of engagement governing extracurricular activities compelled me to compete with them, each of us as representatives of our respective class years.

Resigned to have to repair our frolicking ways for another day, we prepared to head back to shore when I noticed my upper torso all smudged up with a gooey paste of seaweed and sand. I could have washed off the dirt at the lagoon through which we had to wade on the way to shore. But it offered me with an excuse to take one last fling at the then returning tide with its more invigorating water compared to the lukewarm lagoon. I implored Mano Fito to wait for me as I waded into neck-deep water on the seaward side of the sandbar to wash off the offending substance.

All of a sudden I felt all of the following sensations overcame my entire being at exactly the same time: something dangerous and wicked grabbed my entire body; I walked into an excruciating pain the likes of which I had not known or experienced before; I was thrown into a boiling concoction of vinegar and chili sauce; I was paralyzed and could not even shout for help. To Mano Fito's credit, he managed to fish me out of the water and dragged me onto the gradually diminishing sandbar surface. Only then did we recognize what I managed to fling myself into.

My entire body from the neck down was covered with the tentacles of the poisonous 'transparent' jellyfish. Father was one of the more skillful harvesters of such jellyfish in the village. On various occasions we had enjoyed the edible body part of this kind of jellyfish as an exotic delectable victual. Even the tentacles which stuck to my skin were stingingly itchy to the touch. My brother had to scrub them off me with seaweeds and sand to avoid having to touch them himself and get hurt in the process. The cleanup finishing touches was accomplished in the lagoon that we had to wade through to get back to shore, a trek of about half a kilometer.

By the time we got back to the cottage, I was all of being tired, dizzy, remorseful, angry, and afraid. The overriding emotion was that of fear. In my father's house, skipping classes was a capital offense, unless it was for helping out in the farm, which as a rule was discouraged because school age children were supposed to be in school. By sheer coincidence, Ingko Mening and his family, who kept custody of the cottage, were engaged in another part of town for a rice threshing operation in the property of his in-laws. This reason for their absence was learned later. With the exuberance of youth on our side, we were very sure that after resting a while I would be just fine.

We decided to keep the jellyfish incident a secret. Just in case the cottage custodians came back unexpectedly, we decided that I should rest in the barn, at the spot where we had earlier hidden our clothes and school stuff. I could not even recall what Mano Fito was supposed to do meanwhile. I must have passed out because the next thing I became aware of, it was the middle of the night I was sitting on my father's shoulders with a rather high fever and he was bearing a kerosene torch to illuminate our way home.

The following morning huge purple welts appeared at whichever body parts that came in contact with the jellyfish tentacles. Since we were frolicking in our birthday attires, everybody knew that I was extremely lucky that my genitals were spared. Because of the fat welts, I did not get the traditional lashing with a leather belt or a rattan switch, my father's standard punishment regimen for any serious infraction against the familial code of conduct and rules of behavior.

I continued to be feverish for three or four days but got well enough to be deployable to help gather up the harvested coconuts before the unmedicated welts disappeared or had any realistic prospects of disappearing. For a seven-year old boy I was on the smaller side of normal, bordering on being tiny. My head was barely above the top of the fern underbrush in the coconut grove that we harvested. Moreover, being molested by a swarm of mosquitoes was par for the course in the coconut grove. They seemed to have a particular avarice for the jellyfish welts all over my body.

Then there were the occasional tiny terrestrial leeches which never failed to give you a memorable greeting in the dumper spots of the coconut grove. As a small boy hardly able to emerge above the underbrush, I was exceptionally vulnerable to these conniving creatures. So I slapped and scratched my way through the underbrush. At the end of the day, I was reduced to a miserable bundle of pain and suffering suffocating in my nearly skinless carcass, ready to explode in guilt, remorse, anger, and frustration.

Anger because in my little boy's mind, all this agony was far too excessive a rebuke for taking that one last fling into the oncoming tide in search of a brief moment of invigorating succor from the late morning sun. Little did I know that my misfortune of defeat at the "feet" of the jellyfish with whom I did not even have the satisfaction of a visual confrontation had hardly just begun. I would eventually end up unable to walk for the better portion of two months and almost lost the entire school year by default resulting from the episode.

(Next: Fallout from the Blind Encounter with a Jellyfish)