Since I cheered for both teams during the basketball game between Heritage and Liberty high schools, my voice was hoarse and my hands were raw from screaming and clapping. There were many fouls and illegal moves; including team Heritage scoring a shot on team Liberty’s goal. But we were all having fun; so it did not matter.
It was many years ago that as the youngest of three children, I wished for a younger sister as a playmate. My dream came true before my 9th birthday when Maripia was born – a special child who enriched my life with innocence and whimsy. She was small and delicate and slept on a really soft bed in our parents’ room. Maripia was very easy to get along with – incapable of anger or hate and holding no grudges.
We played silly games for hours with toy plates, cups and saucers, chopping hibiscus buds and stirring baby powder in water under a blanket-covered kid-size table that was our pretend house. I relished being Big Sister, pontificating that eating in bed was taboo and other lessons on safety and cleanliness passed on from older siblings.
In 1974, Maripia was scheduled for surgery to close a hole in her heart, a health risk for children with Down’s Syndrome. It was a first in the Philippines although the procedure had many successes elsewhere due to the burst of knowledge and technology from the first heart transplant in 1967 performed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard.
Soon thereafter, Maripia surprised everybody when, for the very first time, she dressed up all by herself. She chose an all-white nightgown and pranced around barefoot. responding to concerns of hygiene with “angels don’t wear shoes.” Nobody realized then that this was the subtle adieu of a beautiful 9-year-old.
On surgery day, my lazy afternoon nap on Maripia’s bed was interrupted by a phone call. I rushed through the conversation with my best friend, eager to resume my sleep. To my astonishment, I was engulfed in cookie crumbs upon slumping back on the poufy cushion covers. Heedless of the esoteric mischief, I blamed the mess on the nearest person around; my sister’s young babysitter, who gave me a puzzled look.
I later learned that my playmate passed away on the operating table. The pain from the loss is the defining sadness of my life; and I suddenly felt too big to fit under our pretend playhouse. The magic made real by a truly special child was gone.