Often, it is called unrequited love. To me it was Beatrice, my right love at a wrong time.
After 14 years, I'm coming back to the village where I was born, a place of daffodils and forget-me-nots; the place I was offered love that I had denied; the place I left Beatrice the promise that one day, when everything was all right, I would come back for her. After all these years I can still recount vividly, the fragrance of the night I left; her shiny hair, her eyes that swelled with tears; and the endless goodbyes as the train made its way to a labyrinth of railroads to my town. It seemed like only yesterday… only that it's been 14 years. Fourteen long years of building the life I have fervently hoped for; for Beatrice, it was 14 long years of waiting for my return and for the promise of our future together. Fourteen long years; would she wait? Did she wait?
It was still the same humble fishing village. Life was simple and its people lived in harmony. Fourteen years ago, I thought this village was too small for me. I had nothing but my dreams, dreams bigger than any of the villagers hoped for, dreams most of them give up for so many different reasons that can be summarized in three – love, false contentment, and despair. Back then, I seemed to be the only one aware of the tragedy of this place, of these lives. None of them were. None of them could envision a life beyond this small town, beyond the routine, beyond the madness. Not even Beatrice, who thought life was about marriage, children, settling down, and watching her children relive her years as a simple villager with simple aspirations. And so, while she chose to stay, I decided to move forward and took the train to my dreams.
It's been 14 years since I last set foot on this place. I have come back. Beatrice, I'm back.
"It's a beautiful morning, Apollo." I pulled the curtains to give way to the sunlight filtering beautifully through the window. Apollo replied with a weak nod. We've been in this hospital for almost a month now. It was five months ago when Apollo started having frequent, splitting headaches but it was not until months later that we sought a doctor and eventually found out he had glioblastoma multiforme, a severe type of brain cancer. It was a terrible time.
I sat on a chair to the right of the bed where the early morning sun was gleaming its way to the rest of the room and grasped his hand, "Did you sleep well?"
Letting out a faint smile he answered, "Just two hours… but don't worry about me. I'm fine." His voice was weak and trembling.
Of course he wasn't fine. Chemo made him weaker every day. I should know; I stayed with him since treatment started. The first time, the excruciating pain kept him up all night. It was difficult seeing him go through it. It was difficult seeing someone once so strong and full of life suddenly rendered helpless. It killed me seeing him suffer that I had to look away every time he squirmed in pain. Every time he squirmed in pain, I would leaf through this notebook I kept in handy and write anything, everything. I wrote my heart out. I thought maybe it would somehow take away the pain, divert it to a piece of paper and on to oblivion when thrown it away. While he writhed, I wrote. If that was everything it took to save him from the pain, I would write untiringly every day.
I caressed his head, which now showed nothing of the healthy man he was not long ago, and gave him a light kiss on the forehead. I whispered well-wishes as tears streamed quietly from our eyes. If things were different, it would have been such a beautiful moment. When two people cry together, they understand how much they love each other.
Wiping his eyes dry, Apollo asked, "How is Hadraniel?"
Nothing has changed. The streets remained unpaved and the church hardly maintained. The marketplace was still as filthy and unreliable and the houses still mostly makeshift. The village was still abundant with children, with hopelessness. Dreams still seemed scarce and unchanged. Besides some new faces, everything was the same.
I decided to head for the market for some cooking ingredient to bring to Beatrice. As I made my way to the stalls, an old woman called out my name. It was surprisingly easy to know whose the voice was. And right there, from the far end of the market, was Tanya, a former neighbor.
"Dante! Dante, is that really you?" She squealed in excitement.
"Tanya, yes! It's me, Dante. It's been a long time!"
"A very long time! When did you come back? We all thought you were dead! How's life in the city? Oh my, look at you! I bet you're all successful now!"
"I just came back. I'm a writer and a movie director now, Tanya."
"I bet your parents in heaven are very proud of you."
"I would be happy to know they are. How are you? Your family?"
"Everything's fine, Dante. Life's what it has always been in here. You see, nothing much has changed."
"I can see that," I answered as I paid for the vegetables. "Well, I have to go, Tanya. I have an old friend to visit. I'll catch you later. I'll be staying here for a few days so we have enough time to chat."
"Sure, Dante. I'll see you later."
Moments later I was back on the streets walking my way to Beatrice's, my emotions all stirred up. I didn't know what to feel. I didn't know what to expect. I was walking very fast, perhaps out of excitement, and next thing I knew, I was there right at the door. Breathing heavily, I knocked and called out, "Beatrice."
"Hady's doing perfectly fine. In fact, his grades are as good as ever. Matilda's doing a good job looking after him," Matilda was the maid we hired to look after Hady and to man the house because I almost never left the hospital and was barely home since Apollo's confinement. "Don't worry about Hady too much," I continued, "Worrying isn't good for you. All you can do now is be strong for Hady and me. I'm sure he misses you, too."
"I miss my son, Dante. Do they allow kids to visit?"
"Yes. I'm going to bring him here to see you."
"Dante, I don't know how else to thank you. You've been very kind. We're not –"
He was cut off by my finger against his lips. "Ssshhh. No, Apollo. I thank you for letting me do this for you." All of a sudden, memories of the past years began pouring back.
"I… Apollo, I," I stammered. I tried to hide my tears but I knew I couldn't so I ran to the bathroom and there wept my heart out. "It's the least I could do, Apollo. It's the least I could do," I whispered to myself as warm tears streamed down my cheeks.
When, finally, I mustered enough strength to walk out of the comfort room, I walked to Apollo and kissed him on the forehead. "I'm going to work now. If you need something, just ask for the nurse, all right? And you can always text or call me if you want to something I could buy for you. Okay? Take care now."
"Dante," he whispered. I didn't know if my eyes were fooling me, but looking through his tired, weak eyes, I saw extreme longing. Tantalizing, even.
Unable to stand his eyes and the feelings they're inducing me, I took my eyes off him, "Bye, Apollo. See you later." I left.
I wasn't going to go to work. I was meeting Daphne, an actress I've worked with in my latest movie, at a coffee shop a block from the hospital. I didn't know why I lied to Apollo, but I was sure I needed to.
I parked the car near the coffee shop. There was Daphne, lost in thought, sitting alone in a discreet corner of the café, sipping coffee. I walked to her and leaned over to kiss her.
"So what is it you're telling me?" I immediately asked the moment I sat on the chair.
"Are you in a hurry?" She asked.
"No… not really."
"Why don't you order us food first? I'm starving," she said, trying to sway me into a little conversation.
"I'm not hungry, Daphne. Just tell me what I came here for."
"I was lonely. I needed company," she answered without looking at me.
I looked at her in disbelief.
"Dante, am I wasting your time?" Now, her eyes were teary.
I stood up. "You certainly are. I'm leaving."
"Are you disappointed that I didn't come here to fuck?" Her voice got louder. People stared. Without saying a word I pulled her hand tightly and dragged her out the coffee shop to the car.
"Are you out of your mind?" I shouted at her. She cried like she would in the movies.
"What now," she retorted, this time her voice filled with contempt, "are you worried I might ruin your goddamn reputation?"
I was silenced and couldn't do anything but to stare straight to the windshield.
"Dante, what are we doing here?" She was crying. "I'm not up for your games. I'm not like them, Dante. I want something else. I'm in love –"
"I don't love you, Daphne," I interrupted. This silenced her for a long while.
I could see how she tried to keep her tears, how she would look up to keep them from coming. But she couldn't. She frantically wiped them off and sighed. It was that sigh you let out when you felt hopeless. When finally calmed down, she looked at me and smiled while tears continuously welled up quietly from her now sore eyes.
"Love is hard to forget, isn't it, Dante? Are you still in love with her? Or are you in love with another? Why can't it be me, Dante? Someday I'm going to forget. I wish you come to terms with your feelings, too."
I couldn't look at her. She got out of the car and ran away. I wanted to say sorry but I was afraid it would just hurt her more. I thought maybe we could use a little more silence. And maybe, she was right. It's about time I recognize the feelings I've been trying to suppress.
My cell phone beeped. It was Apollo.
"Please go home and fetch Hady. I miss him. And please bring with you my yellow daffodil box. It's in my drawer in our room. Thank you."
"Come in. The door's open."
No matter how carefully I opened the door, it still creaked. I surveyed the house. It was old and dark and something about the whole place was very sad. In the kitchen was a man, the man who let me in, turned against me. He was washing his hands or plates or something in the sink.
"Hi. I'm looking for Beatrice? I'm thinking she might still live here. I'm Dante, an old friend."
The man finally faced me. He was a handsome man in his early thirties whose body resembles the typical man in this village – muscular and tanned skin. There were vegetables and fish on the table. He was cooking. It wasn't until then that I realized it's almost lunch and I haven't got anything besides that which I bought from the market. He sat on the dining chair and started peeling garlic.
"Is Beatrice here?" I asked again.
"You're two years late."
I was baffled. "What do you mean? I'm sorry, but who are you? Do you know Beatrice? Where is she?"
Without looking up, he answered, "Beatrice died two years ago."
Beatrice died two years ago.
The plastic bags slid off my hands. Everything I bought earlier was now on the floor. I was far from everything I had expected. Heaven fell down on me. Suddenly it was difficult to breathe, let alone move.
Beatrice. I kept my promise because you told me you'd wait. I've waited so long for this day to come.
"Are you out of your mind?" I shouted at the man. My head was spinning. "Who the hell are you? Where is Beatrice? Did she leave the village? Where does she live now?" I ran to the man and shook him hard, "Where's Beatrice?"
I couldn't fight my tears, Beatrice. I've waited so long for this day. And now that it has…
"My name is Apollo. I am Beatrice's husband."
I told Hady to wait for me in the car while I got Apollo's box. It was half the size of a shoebox wrapped in yellow paper with daffodil accents. Along with it I lay on the bed, my eyes fixed on it. I was exhausted. I tried to clear my mind, as I've been doing the past five years and decided it never really worked for me. Maybe Daphne was right. As long as the feelings lived, the thoughts would, too. But was it ever possible to forget? I didn't know, though I was sure if I wanted to have a peace of mind, peace of heart had to come with it. But how would you confront your feelings when you're not even sure what they were anymore? Suddenly I wake up one day and realize I'm confused about my feelings toward the people around me. It didn't feel like I'm still "me" anymore. And it all started five years ago, when I had gone to the village for Beatrice, only to know I couldn't take her back with me anymore.
Five minutes later, Hady and I were heading to the hospital. Looking at Hady while driving, I say he's really grown from being that skinny, little kid from the village five years ago. The first time I saw him, he looked really thin and sickly. Now, he's poised to becoming a fine gentleman just like his father. We did a great job raising him, didn't we, Beatrice? It's the least thing I could do.
We could already hear the screaming four rooms away from Apollo's. The noise was so familiar I knew already something had terribly gone wrong. I rushed to the room competing with my own steps.
And there he was rolling on his bed with both his hands on his head as he shouted in extreme pain. He was banging his head on the side rails but I got to him early enough to stop him.
"D-daddy," Hady stammered as he looks at his writhing father.
"Get him out of the room!" Apollo shouted, pushing me away from him. "Get him out!"
But I couldn't leave Apollo alone, so I told Hady to leave the room. It was easy to tell how afraid he was, even at that age. I could only imagine how painful it must be seeing your father in agony and unable to do anything. I pushed the nurse call button repeatedly to ask for help. Few seconds later, Apollo was sedated.
"Beatrice died of cancer. It started on her breast then metastasized to different parts of her body," Apollo recounted while I cried uncontrollably. "I hate retelling this story to anyone," he continued. "Every time, I can't help but remember Beatrice on her bed, twisting in pain. It killed me. It still does." Apollo's sunburned cheeks glistened in tears. "I loved Beatrice more than anyone else in the world and I would have done everything I could to save her. But what was I? All I could do was watch. We had nothing, Dante. I had nothing. I couldn't save her." For the first time, we embraced – the two men in Beatrice's life. And for the first time in my entire life, I cried with another man for a woman. I have never cried harder in my entire life. The sorrow was so painful I thought the tears were not going to stop.
Right then and there, my life has found a new purpose. It suddenly became clear to me that Beatrice brought me back to this place to seek redemption.
I was able to convince Apollo to leave the village for the city and live with me, of course with the five-year old Hadraniel. Before leaving the village for another time, I left Beatrice a promise once again. I told her I'd provide everything her family needs and give them the best kind of life they could possibly have. This was my ultimate sorry to Beatrice, for leaving her in that village and not being able to fulfill my first promise to her. This time, I'm not failing her. I'll try my best not to.
Adjusting to city life was surprisingly easy for both Apollo and Hady. Apollo enrolled in a two-year Information Technology course while I sent Hady to a private school. During his free time, Apollo would cook for us and took care of the laundry. He manned the house. I told him it wasn't necessary but he said he thought it was the only way he could repay my kindness. We lived like a family. We did a lot of things together. Apollo and I sleep together on one bed while Hady was given his own room. During our free days, we'd go out of town to bond. It's either the beach or spend the rest of the day in the amusement park. At times, we would drive Hady to the river and Apollo would teach him how to fish. No matter how extravagant their lives have become, Apollo and his son remained humble and grateful of all the "blessing" that I have shared with them. Day after day, my feelings for them grew deeper and deeper till I start to feel they're already a part of me, like I'm a real part of the family. I have never been so happy in my entire life.
Since the first time I left our little village, I've been very stringent with realizing my goals in life. Yes, I had become very successful. But then at night before I sleep, I still felt like there's something lacking, like I was missing something that would complete me. It was not until Apollo and Hady moved in with me that I knew what was missing. It was the sense of love and belongingness. I've never felt so loved after my parents died. Apollo and Hady completed Dante. They gave me new life. I didn't want to waste this second chance.
There was this one time after a long day, Apollo and I were lying on our bed beside each other. We were both looking straight to the light hanging from the ceiling. There was utter stillness until, still staring up straight, Apollo took my hand. I turned my head to him. Without looking at me, he broke in.
"I sometimes think Beatrice wanted us to meet. Like, everything is a part of her plan. We changed the life of each other for the better, didn't we?" Apollo said in a gloomy tone. I just nodded.
"Maybe, she wanted me to find you. My life was forlorn and lonely before we met. Maybe… you are Beatrice's last gift to me. Dante, do you understand?"
I couldn't. Or maybe I didn't want to understand. I don't want to think Beatrice gave me away to someone. For 14 years, my thoughts and word revolved around Beatrice, like my universe existed only because of her. And when I found out that she died, everything collapsed. I was shattered. I was irreparable. Have I been repaired? Could I finally last a day without a thought of Beatrice? No. Beatrice was my only love and harboring those thoughts in my mind was like insulting her and my love for her. No. I lived only for Beatrice. Apollo wasn't Beatrice. Nobody else could be.
"Dante, I don't know how it started but… I feel something weird… different. Dante –"
I pulled my hand from his. With a cold voice I said, "Give it a rest, Apollo. You're just tired. Good night."
I didn't sleep. I cried all night in silence. I didn't deserve the happiness I was experiencing after abandoning Beatrice. It all became vague all of a sudden, and unsure. Was this what Beatrice wanted me to do? With Apollo and Hady, I was so happy that it started to feel like a sin, an abomination. I didn't deserve to be happy.
After that night, I succumbed to work. I poured out all my feelings of frustration and guilt through writing. I was earning more and achieving more recognitions. Apollo and Hady took the backseat all along, without meddling or complaining. I became involved with different actresses; one of them was Daphne who took my actions seriously. When I went home early in the morning, I always found Apollo sleeping in the living room. He waited for me to come home. But I ignored him. I would leave again when I awoke. This routine went on for three years. I started to feel lonely again. It was then that I thought maybe this was what Beatrice wanted.
Then, Apollo started complaining of severe headaches. At first, I gave him the brush-off. But then it became very frequent to the point that he couldn't perform his daily tasks anymore. We finally consulted a doctor and found out he had brain cancer. Apollo said he didn't want to be a burden and would just like to go back to the village and die there alone. However, he asked me to take care of Hady because he was his life. At that moment, I was reminded of Beatrice and how I could have helped her if only I went back to the town earlier. And there it was, my chance to prove to Beatrice how sorry I was for letting her go. And so I told Apollo to stay and that I would pay for his treatment. I told Apollo not to give up and to keep fighting. I knew the chemoradiotherapy was going to be hard and painful but I persuaded Apollo into undergoing treatment. It was difficult seeing him in pain, but every time he squirmed in pain, I would tell myself it was my atonement's justification. This way, I was able to reduce the guilt I was feeling.
"It's a beautiful morning, Apollo."
It was already seven in the evening. I caressed his forehead and asked how he was feeling.
"I'm okay now," his voice was so weak he was whispering. "Where is Hady?"
"I already sent him home. He has classes tomorrow. Don't worry; I'll fetch him again tomorrow so you could see him."
"Thank you, Dante. Thank you for your kindness. I wish I could repay you but I'm just one sick person in a hospital. At this point, I can't do anything to repay you."
"Hush now, Apollo. I told you to stop this needless thanking. You have to get well for Hady and me, Apollo. That's all you owe me."
Apollo's weak hand caressed my face. I couldn't help but to let it all out – the tears that I've been keeping in for so long. I cried so hard I almost wailed. I couldn't bear seeing him like this. He looked so sick and thin. He's looked very much differently from the first time I saw him. I couldn't take the pain.
I was about to leave when he took my hand and stopped me.
"No," he whispered, "please don't go, Dante. Please stay with me. Look at me in the eye, Dante. Why can't you look at me? Are you still thinking of me as your punishment for leaving Beatrice? Atonement for all the sins you think you've committed against her? Look at me, Dante. My name is Apollo. And all this time you've been denying that to yourself, that I am simply Apollo."
Like a flowing river, our tears were.
"Open your eyes, Dante. Beatrice doesn't want you to suffer. I'm sure she loved you so much and she did wait for you. But she had moved on when she married me. Even if for a short time, I was able to make her happy. She passed away from this world happy and contented, Dante. But she never forgot about you. She loved you so much she was willing to sacrifice for you. She wants you to be happy, Dante. You can be happy. You deserve to be happy. We deserve to be happy, Dante."
Apollo slid his hand under his pillow and took something out. He handed it to me and said, "Today, I poured all my suffering here. Please take away all of it, Dante. You don't need this anymore."
It was my notebook. I grabbed it and ran outside the room and drove as fast as I could. There was no stopping the tears. I wanted Apollo to live not because of Beatrice; not because I saw him as my salvation, reparation for all my sins. I wanted Apollo to keep on fighting because after 14 years, I've finally found a new reason to live and endure the harsh world. When I left Beatrice, I died. But Apollo brought me back to life. With him, I felt complete again. He repaired the irreparable me and showed me the beauty of life again.
Oh, why can't we accept happiness? Why can't we let ourselves be happy? Why do we wallow in the distant past and keep ourselves from accepting that we all deserve to be happy? Why do we constantly blame ourselves for all our sins, for our sins that could no longer be undone? Human beings aren't perfect but that doesn't mean they don't deserve happiness.
For 30 minutes, I drove fast around the city and then stopped on a bridge over the calm river. I went out of the car to the side of the bridge and watched the reflection of the full moon on the moving river water. I courageously opened and leafed through my notebook and read what Apollo has written.
"Today, I'm cooking oysters for Dante and Hady. They say oysters repeatedly change their sex from male to female and back, giving rise to claims that the oyster lets one experience the masculine and feminine sides of love. I'll wait for Dante to come home. I'll see you later, Dante. Apollo."
I embraced the notebook as tears fell uncontrollably. "What have I done?" I shouted repeatedly. "I wish I could still make up for the wasted years, Apollo. How I wish I could still hold your hand as we lie on our bed staring at the ceiling. I still want to go fishing with you and Hady, Apollo. How I wish I could turn back time."
After a short while, I gathered myself and whispered to the breeze, "This has to end." With all my strength, I hurled the notebook to the river as tears revolted and rushed down my eyes. I finally see everything with clarity. We see clearer through our tears than through a telescope.
My phone rang. And then it rained.
Six days later, I was on my way to fetch Hady from school when I opened the glove compartment to look for candies and found Apollo's yellow daffodil box. I pulled over to see what's inside the box. It was filled with pictures of mine, Beatrice, Apollo and Hady… and a letter. From Beatrice. It was dated 13 years ago.
I broke to tears while reading the letter and held it close to my heart. At last, we're all free.
Daffodils symbolize unrequited love while forget-me-nots represent memory. But spring's almost over. Summer's on its way. Good-bye, daffodils and forget-me-nots.