Guardians of the Galaxy: A Reminiscence

This is not a film review.

I know anybody can be a critic. Everybody has an opinion and everybody is entitled to one. You don’t have to be an expert to critique a movie. There are movies that we watched and discerned that they are good movies. Then there are those that we watched, and we felt duped and wanted our money back.

But there are films that we remember or even cherished, not because of the film itself, but because of the memories tied into them.

Maybe it was that animated movie that your whole family saw when you were young. Or maybe that romantic comedy that you saw with your crush on a date. Or perhaps that stupid action movie that you and your classmates cut class just to see it. Or maybe it was that boring drama that you watched after your girlfriend/boyfriend dumped you.

The film that I fondly remember as of recent is the “Guardians of the Galaxy.” (Spoiler alert, if you have not seen it yet.) I know a sequel is in the works and will be out by the middle of next year.

The reason I like the “Guardians of the Galaxy” was the personal events surrounding it.

guardians-of-the-galaxy

It was August 2014. I went home to the Philippines emergently to see my mother who got sick and was hospitalized. My sister sent me a message and told me that mom was gravely ill, and to come immediately if I want to see her alive.

Three days after I got the message, and after more than 24 hours of traveling, and about 8000 miles of airflight, and a ton of apprehension and jet lag, I got home.

When I came to the hospital, UERM university hospital in Quezon City, my mom came out of coma and actually was doing better. Maybe because she learned that I was coming home to see her. At least, that’s what I wanted to believe.

However, after few more days and more tests were done, it was found that her cancer from the colon, which was removed through surgery five years earlier, had come back. Now it had spread to her lungs and perhaps to other organs as well.

After evaluating all our options, we discussed with my mother asking her what she wanted to do. She firmly stated that she does not want to do any more therapy – no more surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. She decided to just wait for the inevitable to come, and she wanted to go home. “Home,” has different meanings in so many levels.

So that day we decided that as soon as she is stronger, hopefully in a couple of days, we will take her home and set up a kind of hospice-like arrangement until her days here on earth is through. It was a sad day of reckoning.

I was the bantay (watcher or guardian) that day of my mother. I know in the Philippines, it is a common practice that patients in the hospital have a bantay, to assist in every need, may it be a glass of water or help with the bedpan. Unlike in the US, a patient is mostly left alone in his/her room with just a call light to summon for help.

When my older sister came that evening to relieve me as the bantay, I really don’t want to go home, but I don’t want to stay in the hospital either, for I need to clear my head.

So I went to SM Sta. Mesa (Centerpoint) which was just a block away from UERM, to pass the time. I just want to escape from the sad reality that was happening right before my eyes.

After wandering for a while, I decided to watch a movie. The movie I watched was the “Guardians of the Galaxy.” If there would be a movie about the hospital bantays would they entitle it “Guardians of the Bedpan?”

I like sci-fi movies. So its not a surpirse that I chose to see the “Guardians.” Besides I don’t remember the other movies that were showing that time. Definitely I would not watch a drama or a depressing movie given the circumstances I was in.

I thought the concept and setting of the “Guardians” was so out of this world, that it was hardly believable. But then again, at that time and what I was going through, the farther from the reality, the better for me.

I like the featured songs of the 1970’s in that movie, music that I grew up with. I also like some of the characters of the movie. Especially Groot, the man-tree who has very unique powers, even though he can only say one line: “I am Groot!” And of course the star of the movie, Peter Quill, an unorthodox hero, who calls himself Star Lord.

But maybe it was background of the story that has a soft spot in my heart. Peter Quill lost his mother, and what remained was only her loving memory and the old songs her mother left him.

On the last scene, Peter reads an old letter from his mother, and then unwraps a gift from his mom, a cassette tape of oldies songs. As he listens to the nostalgic music, it puts him on a kind of trance. It placed me on a kind of trance as well, realizing the similarity to my own state of affairs.

I thought I was escaping, but somehow the painful reality sneaked in.

Last week was my mother’s death 2nd anniversary. It so happen that the movie the “Guardians of the Galaxy” was being shown on TV that night. I couldn’t help it. I had to watch it again.

Sure enough, it brought back memories.

(*photo taken from the web)

Scented Memories

I was jogging in our neighborhood one day when I passed by a house under construction. I caught a waft of  trimmed wood, and the scent suddenly transported me back in time, somewhere in my childhood, when my father gave me a gift of wooden chess set. Isn’t it  interesting that inhaling a certain odor can evoke very specific memories, even though how remote those memories are?

For me smelling a citrusy fragrance will remind me of this girl that I had a crush on in college, as she wore a perfume or cologne that smells like lemon. Or maybe it was just their laundry detergent. Or maybe it was her lemon-scented Eskinol. Whatever it was, it is forever locked in my mind.

Then when I smell formalin, this brings me back to my medical school days with those “aromatic” cadavers at the UST Anatomy hall. The grueling long study periods up to the wee hours of the morning. The difficult exams that made me sweat like rain drops. By the way, the smell of “xerox” paper reminds me also of those days where my classmates and I will hang out in Dapitan photocopying handouts, notes, and leaked out old test questions (patok daw!).

When I sniff pine scent, this brings back happy childhood memories when my family went to Baguio. Where we stayed near the Teacher’s Camp. Strolled down Session Road. Visited Burnham Park. And enjoyed the spectacular view at Mines View Park, while also watching some natives perform the Igorot dance.

Mines View Park, Baguio

The link between smell and memory is not just a whiff of your imagination. There is really a scientific and medical reason for it. The center in our brain for the sense of smell is in the olfactory bulb which is near to a part of our central nervous system called the hippocampus. Hippocampus means the “seahorse” due to its the curled up shape, located deep in our brain. Neuroscientists have learned that the hippocampus is important when it comes to processing new memories. In fact, in people who have damage to this area of the brain can have trouble remembering what happened to them.

Some politicians we know, have problems remembering where they came from and what they promised before they got elected, so it must be a “hippocampus” thing. But then again it may be that something else is wrong with their brain. Sorry, I got sidetracked.

Few days ago, when I called my wife that I was about to come home, she did not answer the phone right away. On my third call, she finally answered and I learned that she was outside the house, near the back door of the garage, cooking “tuyo” (dried fish). You see we try hard not to cook dried fish inside the house as it will surely stink our place. Or if we do cook it inside, we make sure all the windows are open and we have scented candles lighted up to neutralize the smell, or else our non-Filipino visitors will think that we have a dead rat trapped in the ceiling.

Anyway, as soon as I heard my wife said that she was cooking tuyo, I swear I began to smell the peculiar scent of dried fish. And I was in my office still! Did the scent travelled through the phone lines? Could it be that the sound signals were transformed into olfactory signals through the phone towers? Or maybe it was all olfactory hallucination or what is medically termed as phantosmia.

Whatever the reason was, I really thought I was smelling dried fish, even though it was plainly not there. Maybe it was my memories of home, the one in Manila where I grew up, where I spent many fond years with my family, with home-cooking like “ginisang munggo” and the proverbial tuyo, awakened the sensation that I felt I detected that notable “fragrant” scent. Even if it was all in my mind. And for one nostalgic moment, I was home.

Time to go home now. To my present home with my wife and kids here in Iowa, where new sweet-smelling memories are being formed. And I know I will relive these moments again…..someday. I hope my hippocampus stay intact.

It is also time now to really sniff and taste that dried fish that my wife lovingly cooked, even if she has to do it outside our house.

(*image from here)

From Much to Mulch

Here lies our once proud and perfect tree,

Once adorned with lights and decoration,

Nestled underneath were our precious gifts,

Once the center of attention and conversation.

But now, it is left on the side of the road,

Abandoned. Waiting to be recycled,

Waiting to be mulched, what will be left

Is just a memory.

Our gifts and adornments too will pass,

Life is so fleeting, just like a Christmas tree,

Even perfect ones will fade

Into distant history.