Malilong: Growing old

·3 min read

You know you’re getting old, my favorite law professor Teddy Almase once told me, when you start missing some steps that you used to make even with your eyes closed around the house. It starts with your eyesight, former Talisay City mayor Delia Bacaltos Tiu said on another occasion, and it goes downhill from there.

I had sage advice about getting old. Nobody taught me what it was like when you got there.

I turned 70 this year. Along the way, I had angioplasty, dealt with a volatile blood pressure that hovers between 170/100 when I am upset and 140/90 on a good day, and struggled recognizing faces 20 meters away (Delia was right; my eyesight was the first sense that failed me).

I have had trouble remembering names (“chicharon” and “microwave” are a particular challenge; I wrote those in Notes on my phone). Once, I cursed loudly while talking to a friend, prompting her to ask what was wrong. When I told her that my phone was missing and I was in a rush for an appointment, she replied, “I didn’t know you had a second phone.” I laughed softly in embarrassment. I also decided to buy a second phone.

It’s a case of attention overload, my wife tries to reassure me. The phrase has since become my mantra and my refuge.

Wednesday night, at the 80th birthday party of a dear friend, I found myself seated among friends my age. Dodong Montecillo was a nurse at the former Southern Islands Hospital until his family migrated to the US. He came home to mark his milestone in the company of family and friends.

“Friends” included the people at my table, who played basketball with Dodong in the Cebu Professionals’ Basketball Association (Cepba) in the seventies and the eighties. A former varsity player, Dodong was a fierce competitor; he was the eldest of the Montecillo Sisters whose nicknames (Titing, Nonoy, Undo and Dodong) read like a glossary of Cebuano pet names. Montecillo Sisters was a joke; they were more like the Bruise Brothers of the Detroit Pistons in the mid- to late eighties. No quarter asked, no quarter given.

Except for former University of the Visayas Lancer Zotico Tan, Edmund Sanchez and the brothers Evan and Roy Ortiz, those at our table are long past our Cepba playing years. Former University of San Carlos Warrior Sessum Asignar and Ernie Gacayan and former University of San Jose-Recoletes Jaguar Roland Soque probably haven’t touched a ball since the turn of the century. Cebu Institute of Technology’s Boy Omega tried playing once but did not return because it was not the Cepba basketball he knew.

As usually happens among friends who have not seen each other for some time, our conversation started with “how are you?” Are you diabetic, taking maintenance meds, have had Covid and other health issues? Then it turned to “how are they?” Who were the friends who have died, who are bedridden or wheelchair-bound, who have Alzheimer’s, who have prospered and who are down on their luck, and who are not talking to each other?

Talks like those used to depress me but that night they did not. In fact, they don’t anymore. I’m comfortable where I am, with my age. Dodong is 80 and there he was dancing to his heart’s content with his grandchildren. Life is good.