Papa and Monsters (Old and New)

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Brad Pitt’s Gerry wasn’t just a fantastic Z-killer – he was a scared, nervous father who was hell bent on protecting his two daughters. So you know what World War Z made me reflect so much on? My own father, who used to battle with evil creatures too.

When we were very very young, we had no idea what our father was doing in Saudi – but we believed that he was there staving off monsters for us. And he narrated his “adventures” to us in his voice tapes of stories about “Green Eyes,” or, the vicious green-eyed monsters (Ha! parental lessons on idioms! Jealousy as a monster!) which we four kids had escaped from.

Before e-mail and Skype, there were handwritten letters and casette tapes. I believe Mama still has most of them in a box in our room. Growing up, the story of the Green Eyes was the rationale of why Papa was abroad and why we were here with Mama. The Green Eyes were after kids living in Saudi. Hence, we had been squirreled into safety by our parents and Papa has to stay there to keep them from following us.

There were several episodes of these “green eyes” and I hope I can still find those tapes. My father was an amazing storyteller – and mind you, he had only his voice, recorded on casettes and couriered to MNL. With tremulous afflections and varying high-pitched versions of “tapos, tapos (insert what happened next)!” he narrated a series of adventures, his version of letters to home for us kids. They were our bedtime stories and what we listened to at night. Papa and Mama hiding baby Ahlee in a suitcase. Bolle being too big for the suitcase (haha) but being an agile baby being able to run with Mama and Papa nonetheless. I don’t remember what my angle was but I think I was always the one who was good at keeping quiet (!). Ahloy, being the smallest and being a newborn then, was always handy enough to hide under abayas and coats and pretty portable. In the tapes, Papa would excitedly narrate chase stories of Green Eyes turning corners and being big and all but he and Mama still always managing to elude and con them at airports, at our Saudi house, in cars. They never reached Manila.

Papa also vividly described them in his tapes, and here I am trying to cull that image from my memory: they were big, wet, burnt monsters, with green eyes, dripping yellow tongues, sharp claws. They’re like massive black turds. They’re the scariest thing we could think of as kids, and we had our parents to thank for them. We prayed to Jesus to keep Papa safe from them and to keep them from coming to the Philippines. Papa was our hero and everytime he’d be home he’d have a fresh story of how he escaped them and had to hide in our house for meantime.

I believe it was a very short saga – I don’t think, after those couple of summers, that we ever dwelled on the Green Eyes so much anymore. Eventually Papa stopped telling Green Eyes stories in his tapes and we started school and we learned to fear so many other things like my Mama’s belt or being found out for our mischievousness and many other blurry kid memories. God, but it’s so nice to remember it now.

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Yesterday over Skype, it was me and Bolle telling Papa stories about the house plans, and showing off the new puppies, and there was Papa, blurred and pixelated on the screen, his face covered with worry, squinting through his glasses at the print-outs of the floor plan, and just very anxious if his dream house would ever happen and if we (and the money) would all just fit. Papa is still fighting with monsters, but they’re of a different kind now. We don’t need stories about Green Eyes to understand why he’s really there and why he can only be home for two months every year. We’re old enough now to see his fear, and his loneliness. But that doesn’t make him less of a hero in my own heart.

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