Tuesday, October 09, 2007

My Sweet 16th

“Marami-rami rin akong nakain dahil pinilit ko talaga…”

This sentence appears in a journal entry dated May 18, 1994. I wrote it a day after my 16th birthday, perhaps my most memorable birthday to date. (And when I say ‘perhaps,’ I really mean ‘certainly’). It’s a difficult sentence to translate in English. How do you translate marami-rami, for instance? The root word, madami, means ample, plentiful, copious. The word form marami-rami denotes a quantity less than ample but still more than enough and certainly not lacking or scarce. The phrase “marami-rami rin akong nakain,” roughly translated, means “I ate quite a bit too,” while the phrase “dahil pinilit ko talaga” literally means “because I forced it.”

The whole sentence, in English, reads thus: I ate quite a bit too because I forced it. It doesn’t make sense in the way the Tagalog one does. Perhaps a better translation, at least one that approximates the flavor of the original sentence, would be: I was able to eat quite a bit but only because I forced myself.

This, as well as the original, sentence begs the question: Under what circumstances did I have to force myself to eat a lot? Don’t I do it, ie eat a lot, often enough, willingly enough, under no duress, and gladly even? Why did I have to force myself to do it?

The answer is in the story behind the sentence. It is the same story that made my 16th birthday a truly sweet one.

Thirteen years ago, in 1994, I had sore throat on my 16th birthday. It started, like all sore throats do, as just a tickle at the back of my throat. I paid the tickling sensation no mind because it was my birthday and I was spending it with my sisters. Our parents were both in the States at that time, leaving us three kids gloriously alone, joyfully parentless, and ecstatically independent. Our independence showed up in the brilliant gastronomic scheme we had devised for ourselves: breakfast at McDonald’s, lunch at Tokyo-Tokyo, and dinner at Barrio Fiesta. We shunned cooking and any form of food preparation. At least, at the start. Pretty soon, we realized the folly of blowing the budget on burgers, fries, potato balls, ika fry, tempura, all-you-can-eat dinners, and cakes at Sugar House. The weekly remittance was usually gone in a few days and we would have to starve for the rest of the week until the next trip to the ATM.

But back to my birthday. My sisters and I spent it at SM City, the mall we grew up prowling. My first birthday meal consisted of Chicken McNuggets, French Fries, and a Chocolate Shake, which we bought to go from McDonalds. I munched on the nuggets while I laughed at Jim Carrey as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. It was starting to get difficult to swallow, but I ignored the twinge of pain and polished off my McDonald’s birthday meal.

I don’t remember what we did after the movie. But I remember dinner at Barrio Fiesta. We ordered Bouillabaise, Kare-kare, and Crispy Pata. By this time, my throat was already sore and hurting. Every swallow was hellish labor. Still, I persevered through the meal. I sampled everything. The thick, creamy soup. The oily, nutty ox tripe. The crunchy fried pig thigh that scratched my throat with every swallow. I forced them all down my poor, violated throat. Nothing was going to keep me from enjoying my birthday, not even streptococcus.

I went home with a pleased stomach and an angry throat. By all accounts, I enjoyed myself. I laughed at the movie and concluded, rightly, that Jim Carrey was comic genius. I enjoyed my sisters’ company (as I usually do). And most importantly, I ate well. Really well, in fact, considering I had strep throat.

It was a simple birthday for a simple girl, and I went to bed glad. Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke up to the most excruciating pain in the history of sore throats. My throat was raw and I was burning from my jaw up to my ears. My sisters had to rub me down with a face towel soaked in cold water because I was already running a fever.

It was not a good end to my birthday, and the next day I would question the wisdom of shoving, forcing all that good food down my abused throat.

In my journal, I would write:

“Marami-rami rin akong nakain dahil pinilit ko talaga…Kaya lang lumala sore throat ko… Ngayon, hilo ako sa antibiotics at kamumumog…” (“I was able to eat quite a bit but only because I forced myself… Except my sore throat has gotten worse… I am now lightheaded from the antibiotics and having to gargle all the time…”)

Pain renders people short sighted, unable to take the long view. In my pain, I would call the whole day a “bad trip.” Thirteen years later, I can actually say it was a good day. The sore throat was just the price I had to pay, the ticket I had to buy for a good trip.