June 15th, 1991
Tom leaned on the bar, nursing a San Miguel while Aida told Marie and Frank of Tom’s proposal. They were amused as she described the moment in the shower. Tom was embarrassed; did she have to be so graphic? He shook his head at her description of his proposal.
“Ohh, Tommy washing my hair ‘cause still is glass in it from the bus crash that I couldn’t brush out with my brush, and I hoping he don’t get a cut on his finger ‘cause already the dried blood falling out of my hair in the shower and now it’s on the floor and I not wearing shoes. Then Tommy, he afraid to wash my hair too hard so he washing so soft so I tell him, ‘Tommy, it’s okay to you to wash harder or not all the blood coming out and the glass too. Oh. He so exasperating me, but I smile ‘cause he always like that anyway.”
The unexpected pause presented an opportunity for escape. No one stirred. Aida caught her breath and sipped some water before continuing.
“And then Tommy – he so sweet – he say, Oh, Aida, I think I lose you in the earthquake when I can’t find you, and then he say he think he will die, himself, if he don’t have a luck to find me when the bus crash, but then he find me and Bernard is with him –Tommy meet Bernard on the bus and his two children – we are all friends now, so nice, and Cora too – oh, I forget, she there with me, on the bus – then Tommy – do I tell you this already? No? Okay. Tommy say he think about when we making love before, and he holding me, and when he knowing he finally love me for true, and he don’t care what other people thinking about us, he just wants to marry me. And I say yes.”
Marie paused a moment before clasping Aida’s hands. “Oh, Aida. We are so happy for you. Frank and I wish you the best.”
“Yes. Thank you,” Aida said, and slipped an arm around Tom’s waist. “Now we going to get married in Hawaii.”
“We will be so sad when you leave and do not come to Maricel’s anymore. But you will visit when Tom comes back next year. Will you?”
“Yes. Tommy say I will come here next year when he come back.”
Frank walked around the bar and joined Tom. He draped an arm over his shoulder and raised a beer. “Well, Tom. Aida. Here’s to your happiness and a long marriage. And many children.”
“Thanks, Frank. You and Marie have been so kind to Aida and me. I wish you could be at our wedding.”
Marie jumped, startled by the rumble and shaking of the walls. “Oh, dear. Another eruption. This one is larger. They are almost continuous now. The ash cloud has not gone away for several days. I fear the volcano will soon explode. I feel so sorry for all those poor people in the small villages. First the earthquakes and volcano, and now they are in danger from the typhoon, as well.”
Frank pursed his lips and shook his head. “The government has evacuated those willing to leave. I’m afraid their return home after it’s all over won’t be a happy one. Most will find their homes and farms destroyed and buried under ash. Their livestock will be scattered or dead. The ash gets deeper with every eruption.”
Tom looked thoughtful. “What do you think will happen here? Will Maricel’s withstand the ash cover?”
“I hope so. We’ve made a lot of improvements since buying the bar from Helen. If not, we’ll either rebuild or relocate. We’d rather stay, though. We love the Subic Bay area.”
“What made you stay here after you retired, Frank? You could have lived in Hawaii, or back on the Mainland.”
“Marie and I discussed it when I retired in 1988. We didn’t want to leave the orphanage or Sister Arnalita. We knew she wouldn’t leave the Philippines. There’s nothing tying me to home anymore, so that made living here an easy decision.
“Yes,” Marie said. “Sister Arnalita retired and took care of our children when we were stationed here. We were so fortunate to return. Of course, Frank also deployed here several times. Also, my parents are two hours away in Baguio, but may move down later this year. So you see that everything worked out well.”
The door opened, and Steve and Little Lucy walked in. Little no more, Lucy had grown into a beautiful, young woman.
“Hi, everyone.” She hugged Frank, then leaned over the bar to kiss Marie’s cheek. When she did, a necklace slipped from her blouse.
The flash of a silver medallion caught Tom’s eye. “Lucy. May I see your medallion?”
“Sure.” She unclasped the necklace and handed it to Tom. “It was a gift from the man who was going to adopt me when I was a little girl.”
A chill ran down Tom’s back. “I have one just like it.” He slipped off his necklace and compared the two medallions. Both contained rubies. Tom held the medallions to the light; dual flaws in the rubies of both flashed red. Aida leaned over, her chin on Tom’s shoulder. “Ohh, they are exactly the same,” she said.
Tom’s heart pounded. “I was adopted as a baby. My adoptive parents said my father left it to me. I never knew my birth parents. My mother died giving birth to me, and my father was killed in Vietnam.
“So was Sam. He died saving my dad’s life.”
“My father’s name was Sam. My mother was Susanna.”
“Yes. Sam and Susanna McBride.”
“Oh, my God. Sam and Susanna wanted to adopt me.”
“Are there initials on the back of yours?
“Yes. SAM/SAM, and a date, 3/7/66. Samuel Alexander McBride and Susanna Avila McBride, and the date of their marriage.”
“The same as mine,” said Tom.
“Mom! Dad!” Lucy looked at her parents. “What does this mean?”
Frank stood with his arm around Marie. “It means, Little Lucy, that Sam and Susanna have come back to us.”
Marie, her head resting on Frank’s shoulder, looked up at the big, man. His sandy hair had a touch of gray at the temples, and crow’s feet stepped from his moistening eyes. He had never lost his tenderness. She reached up and patted his cheek.
“Yes, Frank. Sam is here now, my darling.” She stopped and straightened, her eyebrows scrunched together.
“Oh. Oh. One moment.” Marie stepped quickly behind the bar and removed Sam’s photo from the wall. She returned and showed Frank the photo.
“Do you know, I always felt Sam reminded me of someone. Look.” She held up the photo. “Look behind the sunglasses and beard. Does he not resemble Tom?”
Aida darted around Tom and gazed at the photo.
“Let me see. Let me see.” She looked from the photo to Tom. “Ohhhh, I think maybe he look a lot like him. I think maybe this is Tommy’s father. Oh, Tommy. I am so happy for you.”
The news stunned Tom. “Wow. I always wondered who he was, but never had a close enough look. But what does it mean? How does his photo come to be here? How do you all know him?”
“Sam and I were stationed together in the same squadron you’re in now. That isn’t uncommon; there have been many fathers and sons who served at different times in the same squadrons. We met in the early sixties and became best friends. Like you, we were both structural mechanics. When the squadron deployed here in 1967, Sam and I served on the Vietnam detachment, and again in 1968. We came here on R&R and that’s when I met Marie. For a few months, we – the three of us – were inseparable. Well, almost inseparable.” He grinned at Marie who smiled back.
“Yes. Frank was a good boy back then, and smart too.”
He winked at Marie. “More careful than smart on occasion.”
Marie kissed his cheek. “Yes, but our ninety-degree turns are infrequent now.”
Little Lucy looked at Marie. “Mom. Dad. What are you talking about?”
“Oh, just some old memories Sam is bringing back to us. Dear Sam.”
Tom didn’t hear the voices around him. Emotion overwhelmed him. He sat at a table and stared without seeing. Everything he knew of his world had turned upside down in the last few minutes. He needed to touch something his father touched.
“Sam was here? In this bar? Where?”
Frank put a hand on his shoulder. “Tonight I will help you know your father, Tom. Would you like that?”
“Yes. Very much.”
“I have photos of Sam and your mother. I’ll bring them to you. Wedding photos, photos of them with Little Lucy. I’ll tell you about your mother. She was a fine woman, Tom, beautiful, tender, loving. I see her, both of them, in you.”
“Yes. Yes. Yes, I do. I want you to tell me about them, and please, I’d love to see the photos. I know so little about them.”
“I met Marie the first time I came to Maricel’s. That was in 1968. Sam and I had a beer here when he met me later that night. He sat right there.”
Tom stared at Sam’s barstool. The others stood silent as Tom placed Sam’s photo on the bar and sat on the stool. Tears dropped from his eyelashes as he tried to stand the frame, but it kept sliding down. Marie leaned behind the bar and brought out several books.
She spoke softly to the young man who stared at Sam’s photo from beneath furrowed brows. “Here, Tom. Let me help.” Tom stood still, unblinking, as Marie arranged the books. She leaned the frame against them. “There. Is that better?”
Tom stared at Sam’s photo through a mix of emotions he had never felt, through the delicate veil of an obscure life he had never lived, a life that could have been, should have been. He didn’t brush away the tears that dripped from his eyelashes like so many grains of an hourglass. He didn’t blink away the misty film that blurred his sight. The blood rushed in his ears and shut off sound. The world around him disappeared and he gazed at Sam. His world consisted solely of himself and his father, his birth father, the man whose image he now looked at, a one-dimensional image behind a bushy, red beard and blue-lensed sunglasses, and a cheerful smile that seemed to say, “I will live forever.”
Tom’s chest was full, full of another Tom he didn’t know. The Tom that lived on another plane of existence with his father and mother. He wasn’t aware that he wasn’t thinking at all. In the time it takes to voice a hope, to make a wish, to shed a tear, Tom lived another life with Sam and Susanna. He breathed in a new childhood and adolescence, new joys and sorrows, motherly love and fatherly advice, and exhaled them into his dreams. Into a world that began and died in the same moment. A life that lasted one short breath, one fleeting spark. The time it takes for a mother to open her eyes, to see her newborn son, to smile, to blink, to die. The time it takes for a heart to break.
Tom looked up. “Yes. Thank you, Marie.” He looked around, met the eyes of each of them and said, “I don’t know what to think. This is so sudden and overwhelming. How did Sam…how did my father die, Frank?”
“He died saving my life, Tom. Your father gave his life for me. A sniper shot me in the chest as I boarded a chopper. Sam ran across the tarmac, under fire, picked me up, and carried me to safety. But not before the sniper shot him twice in the back. Sam tried to cover me with his body even as his own life slipped away. Otis, another friend, said Sam thought I had died, and wondered what he would tell Marie, how he would tell her I had died. Those were his last words. But before Sam died, he gave Little Lucy’s medallion to Otis and told him to give it to her. Sam had already told me he wanted Marie to have your mother’s wedding band. Sam wanted he and Susanna to remain a part of our lives.”
The sudden jolt of another earthquake startled the little group of friends and broke the spell of reminiscence. There was a loud, thundering blast as Mount Pinatubo erupted again. They looked at one another expectantly. Was this the one? The final blow? Yes. The floor rumbled beneath their feet and the building shook. Liquor bottles fell and smashed to pieces. The few barmaids on duty ran screaming to the street. Frank took Marie and Little Lucy by the arms and ran them outside while Steve, Tom, and Aida followed. Torrential rain from Typhoon Diding poured from the sky, drenching them through and through. A thick morass of mud-like ash filled the street. The rain fell so fast and hard it splashed mud-ash waist high. Frank ran into Maricel’s and returned with umbrellas. The five of them huddled together as Mount Pinatubo blew her top in a rage of red-hot magma and an ash column that stretched miles into the atmosphere. Streets filled with people too terrified to remain indoors for fear the buildings might collapse, and too afraid to remain outdoors as hell broke loose around them. Ash bombs fell from the sky. The stench of sulphur mixed with the smell of gas leaking from cracked pipes. Terrified children clutched at terrified parents as they huddled together against the hellish nightmare. Fragile, puny humans stood in waterlogged groups and helplessly faced nature’s greatest wrath, a trifecta of natural fury as Mount Pinatubo erupted continuously, earthquakes tore the city apart, and Typhoon Diding shut out the sun and turned day into blackest night.
Nine hours later, it was over. The howling wind died to a steady roar, the torrential rain slowed to a drizzle, and the ground stopped shaking and rolling. Pinatubo belched the last of her ash into the sky and slowly returned to the dormant state from which she had awakened just a few months before. The dread and strained nerves of the population around her flanks disappeared as the natural tendency of the Filipino for hard work took over. They spit in their hands, straightened their backs, wiped their eyes, and rebuilt their villages, towns, and lives, one shovelful of ash at a time.