WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Eighteen years, and never sorry

DAVAO CITY — Sometimes, I spend too much time thinking that I forget what it’s like to let my body think for itself. After a long week checking prelim essays and exams, I needed a long walk where it’s quiet and where there’s a lot of elbow room to let the right part of my brain take over.

Weight, force, distance, speed, angular motion, friction, momentum, gravity… My left brain could work out the physics given some time. Yet, I still have to lose my sense of wonder at the fact that my body can calibrate all of that in a split second. Walking is an exercise at solving problems seemingly without thought.

I find I am happiest when I can test my balance on uneven ground. Nature never makes the ground even, I notice. Going from place to place is always a matter of negotiating to stay upright. (Gee- that sounds like there’s a metaphor there that escapes me at the moment.)

Slopes are deceptive. Dry creek beds overflow at the blink of an eye. Patches of seemingly packed dirt break off at the slightest touch. Pebbles roll underfoot and mist can sweep in at the speed of a steam train bulleting off to El Paso.

Mountains are for climbing and feet are for walking. When I am up a mountain, as I was last Saturday, the proverbial itch on my feet becomes a physical thing.

Walking away, I could almost feel my husband’s gaze on my back. Just one stumble on that slippery track and he’d be up and at me to check me for broken bones – and never mind if some mountainfolk I’ve walked with have been known not to feel the need to slow down so I could keep up. Hubby is always overprotective even when he’s not trying to be.

I doubt he rested much in that one hour that I was gone from his sight. I knew he would only breathe easy again when he would see me coming back in one piece. I tried not to dawdle, but not to hurry either. Up there where man has yet to touch what the Good Lord willed to be, I find that place inside of me that says this is the way it should be. I need to stay there and soak it up a while.

I find that there when I’m perched all alone on the side of a mountain looking out to distant peaks. Or when walking by my lonesome on a mountain trail and it starts to drizzle, like it did two Thursdays back up there at the Benedictine monastery in Digos.

I like water from heaven, too. Rain never bothers me. Maybe the clouds are giving me a drenching – maybe it is a form of a cosmic benediction. Perhaps it’s my birthday on the calendar the universe uses. Rain coming down unexpectedly feels like a celebration anyhow. I wonder why people want me to get out of the rain when they see me walking in it. Can’t they see we’re not supposed to argue with what the world grants us in her generosity?

In Digos, the nun was quite astonished at my inordinate need for solitary walks under the trees, which I would indulge even at twilight.

May banakon diha, ma’m,” she politely reminded me once as I came off the trail.

“Wow, that’s great,” I replied. “I hope to meet one.”

At that, the gentle nun put her hands together as if in prayer. She seemed to have something else to say, but she just nodded and hurried away, leaving me again to my solitary reflection.

I thought banakon meant a haunting specter, a white lady, or a headless priest dragging chains – someone I could do talk therapy on and free the tortured soul enough to move on.

The kindly gardener disabused me of my hopeful misconception the next morning. A banakon, he said, is a king cobra.

Whoa. On second thought, I don’t think I’d like to meet one. King cobras don’t take to talk therapy, do they? I am no modern day Eve in the modern day Garden of Benedict. Like Eve, I’d be sure to give the banakon what he’s asking for. No arguments.

Back home days later, hubby fixed me with an askance look as Sage gave him the news about my expanded vocabulary. Still, it was a lot easier to confess to my brood about the banakon that never was when my husband could see that I had come back whole. He worries so.

He worries more about keeping me happy though.

So we drove up the mountain this weekend even though places that inspire acrophobia are low on my husband’s choices for day tour destinations. He likes places where there’s water and all manner of swimming creatures. At breakfast, however, Liane gave him very clear instructions: “Dad, you and Ma are going up the mountains and when you come down you’re taking her to a romantic dinner because it’s your anniversary tomorrow.”

Okay, I cheated.

Three days earlier, I had texted my girls. I said, “Hallo. It was twenty years ago today that your dad got down on his knees and requested to be granted the right to love me forever. Thought you would be happy to know. We love you and we’re very happy to have you.”

I’d told them that so they’ll have a standard to follow.

Twelve-year-old Sage replied with a well thought out: “I love you, Daddy. I love you, Mommy. Thank you for getting married before you had me!” Sixteen-year-old Li, on the other hand, texted me back an “Uh, that’s nice.”

I seldom worry about Li’s noncommittal responses to late breaking news. When Li receives the message, she – like her dad – soon gets around to doing that which would make this mama very happy. Three days later, she came through.

Our man can follow directions to the letter. So he put me in his car and we drove up that road that had defeated us three months before. I guess what was important was that there were no banakons there. And we still had to conquer this mountain.

The car almost scraped through, but it was still no go. At least, hubby didn’t have to push this time, or come down looking like the newest fashion statement was a coat of muddy topsoil from head to foot.

He would, too, if that was what it would have taken to get me up there. So, let’s just not make him push the car slipping and sliding through mud this time and he’d still be a happy man. And no, he would never hear of me pushing the car. That’s because it would be torture for him to listen to my physics computations while we’re at it.

Eighteen years married, and we’re still doing things to make each other happy. I’m not easy to live with, I know. And before anyone starts throwing bricks at my head, I’ll have you know that my husband is not easy to live with either. Nobody is, I guess.

And maybe that’s the secret. It’s about negotiating uneven ground and staying upright. Or – from my husband’s view perhaps – testing the current and staying afloat. Whatever it is, it means coming home to each other at the end of the day.

I never could figure out why our contemporaries are throwing away their wedding rings. My husband and I get shaken every time a couple we know calls it quits. We often get asked how we manage to stay together, like we’re an oddity or something.

I really don’t know how to answer that agonized question. When people ask me for the magic key to marital bliss, I do know that our marriage key could only fit our marriage.

Eighteen years ago we vowed to be there for each other for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. True, the going got tough in places and there were times when we both found we had things we had to do on our own that the other won’t be comfortable to follow. But always, we could count on each other to be there waiting at the end of the road at the end of the day.

Then, too, quitting is not a habit either one of us had ever gotten used to. We’d probably be scared stiff if one of us lost that need to hang on and go for what we feel to be right in our soul.

That mountain, for example, would still be up there to call out to me. I can’t quit while it’s still up there. And as sure as it’s got a piece of my soul, I know my husband would still do what he could to bring me nearest the summit so I can commune with the source and he can take me to dinner when I’m done.

Twenty years ago, he said, “My word is my bond.” It took him a while to make me believe that, but having done so I find that I don’t need to make him live up to his word every day of his life. He is quite capable of making himself live up to it.

And so, if he has a mountain he needs to go to, I’d drop everything to bring him there, too.

What do you mean why?

I love him so. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail@mindanews.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says).