Admin Note: *Contributed Story* Please give credit and thanks to princemackaroo. This is a continuation of The Art of Letting Go – part 1.
A lot had changed since Alex died. Liza noticed it all. Gone are the days where they can easily approach their boss anytime, play some music inside the office to relieve stress, loud chats and laughter. Everyone’s always looking at their back. Carefully calculating every move. Afraid that with just a simple misstep, they’ll earn a scold, a reprimand, a deafening shout from their boss. He has not gone as far as fire anyone on the spot but his employees had already prepared for the worse. If the employees used to enjoy working at LAS despite the pressure and work load they face every day, nowadays narrates a totally different story.
Liza was one of the few who witnessed what Richard had to go through after Alex’s death. She cannot fathom how he survived it all. She saw how Richard broke down and how he almost dragged the company down with him. The memories of yesteryears still linger around her head like it just happened yesterday, from that fateful day and all its aftermath. Everything’s so clear, so vivid. She can still recall the news she saw on TV with absolute surreal. A male news reporter announcing that flight TA961 bound from Manila to Cagayan de Oro had exploded while in mid-air. No survivors, not even bodies were reported to be found. Investigators only found a couple of airplane debris and scraps, and still try to investigate the root cause of the explosion. Then she saw the passengers’ master list who boarded the plane. Saw the name of the person whom she knew would change their lives forever. From that moment on, she no longer saw the Richard that she knew, the kind of boss that he was.
It took Richard 2 months before he reported back to work. He went back to work looking disoriented, groggy, completely messed up, and most of all, drunk. No one dared greet him nor ask him how he was. His time in the office were mostly spent drinking and sleeping. Work is the least of his concern right now. If not because of his dad, he never would have gone back to work. He completely neglected everything. He no longer do site visits, no longer attend business conferences, no longer meet-up with prospect clients, nor brief his employees. Shippers are no longer paid on time, thus, no longer wanting to do business with them. As a result, the company’s going haywire. Investors are pulling out one by one. Clients are transferring to other companies. The employees are starting to question the integrity and credibility of their boss and the stability of the company. Rumours spreading like wildfire that LAS is already set for bankruptcy. If his dad had not intervened, and with the help of the loyal LAS engineers and staff, LAS would’ve been long gone.
A lot of the employees & staff still cared for Richard & the company, despite the drastic changes that they saw. They know how Richard worked hard for this company and how he used to care for its employees. They’re fully aware what caused this all, and their hearts can only go for Richard. Knowing all the trouble, complications, and challenges that they may face ahead of them, they still chose to help him. United as one, Don Roberto & LAS’ team of employees worked hand in hand to bring back the integrity and credibility of the company that they’ve come to love. Gradually, they were able to regain the trust of all employees & staff. Business partners, investors, and clients are now coming back to them. The luminous glory it once held had eventually returned.
As his mother, no one hurts her more than see her son so helpless.. in pain.. broken.. Donya Esmeralda never intended her Ricky to undergo such things. No parent ever wished for their child to be at harm’s length nor have their hearts badly broken. She doesn’t know what his son did to deserve all this, what she could’ve done to deserve seeing her son waste his life away. “Why does it have to be Ricky? Why not me instead?” are her constant thoughts. She helplessly watched as her dear Ricky waste his life away. He was still young. So full of life. Blinded by emotions, he no longer see those. He no longer see the sense in continuing to live. He no longer have the strength, the will, and inspiration to move on. It pains Donya Esmeralda to see & hear these things from her son.
She saw, first hand, the effect of the news on him. She already expected the worse but nothing can ever prepare a mother seeing their son lost, on the verge of insanity, and in torment. She could only weep for him and console him the best way she knows how. She wanted to blame Alex for putting Richard in so much pain. She wanted to blame God for allowing such things to happen. But she has to be strong. She has to get a grip of herself, for her Ricky. Ricky needs her now. She needs to be there for him at this point in his life.
Richard was not a drunk, but after Alex’s funeral, bars are already his second home. He drinks everyday. Not stopping until he’s completely drunk. This is the only way he can think of to numb the pain that’s constantly gnawing his heart every beating second of his life. Even after he started reporting back to work, this new habit of his didn’t stop. His parents thought that he’ll regain his sense of focus once he’s back at work, but he proved them wrong. He continued to be a drunk and worse, an irresponsible employer and businessman.
“Give him some time, he’ll eventually come back to his senses”, his father would say. They waited patiently. Given him a couple of months to completely sober up, but to no avail. There seemed to be no end on what he’s doing. She can’t simply watch at the corner and see her Ricky this way. She simply cannot let him throw it all away. His company and his life. She needs to do something and she needs to act fast.
“Ricky, we’ll be leaving for the US. Our flight is scheduled next week,” informed Donya Esmeralda. Head throbbing due to hang over, Richard answered, “Am not going anywhere Ma. I have a company to take care of.” “Your dad will supervise the company while we’re gone,” said his mom. “But I don’t want to go anywhere. Am not leaving,” said Richard irritably with brows furrowed. “I will not let you argue with me nor let you win me over! Do you think I’m not seeing what’s happening? What you’re doing with your life? Don’t you think I don’t know where all these is leading to? I understand –“ “No you don’t!” snapped Richard. “Don’t dare say you understand Ma ‘cause you don’t! No one understands! No one ever will!” Richard’s face turning red, furious with the flow of conversation. Breathing heavily, Richard continued. “Hindi niyo ako maiintindihan Ma! Kayo ni Papa! Hindi niyo alam ang sakit! Ang hirap! Hindi niyo alam kung paano ang mawalan! Hindi niyo alam kung paano mamatayan! Ang sakit sakit ma! Ang sakit sakit dito! Dito!!” shouted Richard while pounding his chest. Donya Esmeralda, crying for his son, “I may not have lost a loved one but seeing you like this Ricky, daig ko pa ang namatayan! If you are hurting well I am hurting too! I am hurting and I am dying over and over again seeing you like this! I am tormented as well because I am your mother!” Donya Esmeralda, trying to maintain composure, but out of her own burden & anger, still continued to cry and went on, emphasizing her point to Richard, “You only think that we don’t understand. That no one understands! But please Ricky. Listen to me. Let us help you recover. You don’t have to go thru this alone. If only I can take away the pain. I always pray na sana ako nalang ang nasasaktan, ang nahihirapan! I wish ako nalang ang nasa plane na iyon at hindi si Alex! Sana ako nalang ang namatay at hindi siya! Sana ako nalang para hindi kita nakikitang ganyan! Sana ako nalang! You just don’t know –,“ Richard half ran to his mother’s side, cutting her off in mid-sentence. He’s now weeping loudly. He may be hurt and in pain but he cannot stand seeing her mother like this and hear those words from her.
As his mother planned, they left for the States and stayed there for more than a year. They used the time of their stay there to help Richard cope up with his loss. Don Roberto would regularly visit the two but flies back to the Philippines to supervise LAS. Donya Esmeralda, on the other hand, brought Richard to help groups and a psychologist. After a couple of months, Richard had resolved his drinking issues. Gradually, thru the help of his psychologist, he finally decided to try moving on.
After a year & a half, Donya Esmeralda & Richard went back to the Philippines. Shortly after, Richard once again resumed work and position in LAS. Every once in a while, his father would check up on him, making sure that everything’s in order. But he showed improvement. He’s better now. Better than what he had become over a year ago but still not his old self. He took care of the company, rather too obsessively. Liza could only heave a sigh out of sadness with everything that’s taking place in Richard’s life but the improvement she’s seeing in him right now is more than a welcome for her. She’d rather see a workaholic, stern, grumpy, short-tempered Richard than an alcoholic, douche bag he almost turned into. She can’t do anything but simply settle for these changes.
And now, 2 years later after that fateful incident, she already got accustomed to the new Richard Lim, and the stressful atmosphere that LAS possess.
Two years had passed. Two agonizing years that Richard had to face. Everyone close to him feared that he’ll go insane, worse, give up on living. They’re simply glad that neither happened. He didn’t lose his sanity. He did survive and continued to live. If living is defined by waking up every day, being able to breathe, eat, work, and sleep, then yes, he did live. But beyond this routine of his, nothing more is to be found. He is alive, but only in the naked eye’s standards.
For Richard, every waking moment felt like an eternity, an eternity of agony. An eternity that he’s not willing to pursue, but was forced to. If he can only have it his way, by his own terms, the agony could have ended ages ago. Now it seemed like he had to endure them – misery, hurt, the unbearable pain, for God knows how long.
There’s something about the rain that makes Richard feel melancholic. But this time, it’s different. Unusual as it is, his heart is full of gladness despite the outpour outside. He doesn’t normally dance and bathe in the rain. Surprisingly, he’s outside, enjoying the outpour. Relishing the feel of rainwater, rippling down his skin. Something, no, someone made him do it without hesitation. He’s never done it before. His mom never had allowed him. But, for the time being, he doesn’t care. Trepidation about the consequences of his actions are now long gone and forgotten. All he knows is that he’s enjoying himself.
“Hon! Come on!” Alex called out to him while reaching out her hand to him. He more than willingly took her hand, held it tight, and they both started to run together. Where to? No one really knows. Not even them. They ran wherever their feet led them to, ran aimlessly under the rain. Sensing the need to catch some air, they finally halted to a stop. Both panting hard, trying to catch their breath. Realizing how silly they were, they started to laugh out loud. He held her arms while gazing lovingly at her. “You look so beautiful even under the rain,” he said. She just smiled sweetly back at him. Slowly, he moved closer to her, closed the remaining gap between them. As he tilted her chin up, he said “I love you,” “I love you,” she answered back. Slowly he moved his head towards her and lowered his lips to meet hers.
My Dear Alex,
I’m sorry I haven’t talked to you in so long. I feel I’ve been lost… no bearings, no compass. I kept crashing into things, a little crazy, I guess. I’ve never been lost before. You were my true North. I could always steer for home when you were my home. Forgive me for being so angry when you left. I still think some mistakes’ been made… and I’m waiting for God to take it back. But I’m doing better now. The work helps. Most of all, you help me. You came into my dream last night with that smile… That always held me like a lover… rocked me like a child. All I remember from the dream…is a feeling of peace. I woke up with that feeling… and tried to keep it alive as long as I could.
I’m writing to tell you that I’m on a journey toward that peace. And to tell you I’m sorry about so many things. I’m sorry I didn’t take better care of you… so you never spent a minute being cold or scared or sick. I’m sorry I didn’t try harder to find the words… to tell you what I was feeling.
I’m sorry I ever fought with you. I’m sorry I didn’t apologize more. I was too proud. I’m sorry I didn’t bring you more compliments… on everything you wore and every way you fixed your hair. I’m sorry I didn’t hold on to you with so much strength that even God couldn’t pull you away.
All my love,
Carefully, he folded the letter. Placed it inside a customized plane-shaped blue balloon, went outside his house and let it go. He watched as the balloon reached the sky, until it is out of sight.
Some people may think it’s crazy. Some may think he’s being indifferent. “But what do they know,” he’d say. “They don’t know anything. No one understands. No one ever will.” One way or another, he needs to find a way to talk to his wife, to reconnect with her. Going to her mausoleum doesn’t do him justice. It doesn’t feel right for him. He knows fairly well that there is nothing underneath that tombstone. Not a bone that belonged to Alex.
For all he knows, heaven is her new home right now. He cannot be resolved by uttering prayers to God and ask Him to relay his messages to her. He simply can’t. He doesn’t trust Him anymore. He believes God will just ignore his messages for Alex. Convinced that God wouldn’t agree to play as messenger for him and Alex, “How could He? I’ve asked Him no pleaded with Him before! Just one simple request! Just one! Yet He never did it! He took her away from me! I can never trust Him with anything again!” were Richard’s angry thoughts. He lost the ability to trust. Won over by emotions, he took things in his own hands. He may only be a mere mortal, but he’s determined to find ways to reach out to her, to have her listen to everything he has to say, talk to her just like the old days. Until he remembered how much Alex loved receiving letters from him. He recalled how he used to write letters to her, letters of admiration, love, acceptance, of what not. How her face would light up in happiness whenever she reads them.
Richard went to the dining table to eat breakfast. She was greeted by an elderly woman who used to be her nanny and whom he considered as her second mom. “Good morning hijo. Kumusta naman ang tulog mo?” asked Manang Fe. “Good morning Manang. Maayos naman po,” he said, smiling warmly at her. Upon seeing the warm smile on Richard’s face, she immediately knew that Richard had dreamt of Alex last night.
After Alex’s death, she no longer saw his former ward smile like he used to, that it came to her as a surprise one time when she saw him smile. When she inquired of him, his only answer is that Alex visited him in his dream. From that day onward, she noticed that Richard would only have that smile on his face whenever he dreams of Alex. Apart from it, only sadness, stern look, and seriousness can be traced on that beautiful face of his. She’s fully aware of what Richard had to go through after his loss. She saw it all. She’s just gratified that his mom was able to convince him to undergo therapy. If not for the therapy sessions that his mom insisted him to attend, she doesn’t think Richard will manage to gradually get back his life. It was in these therapy sessions where Richard got the idea of sending letters to his wife again. His therapist believed that it will help him cope with his loss.
“Samahan niyo na po akong kumain Manang,” Richard said invitingly. Manang Fe sat down and joined him for breakfast. “Alam mo ba Manang, naligo daw kami sa ulan.” Richard started off. “Naalala ko nga daw na magagalit si Mama pero since si Alex ang pumilit sa akin, pumayag daw ako agad-agad. I can’t recall ever enjoying the rain but last night, because of Alex, kahit sa panaginip lang, I learned to be glad about the rain. We danced, we laughed, & even ran in the rain,” narrated Richard with gladness, giggling at the thought of how silly they were in his dreams. But after pausing for a couple of seconds, Richard tried to concentrate on his food, smile slowly escaping his lips, then continued, “Nakakatawa lang cause we were never really able to do any of those things.” Bitterness filled his last statement. Sadness now filling his eyes as recollection of everything he dreamt of last night and the things he could’ve done with Alex while she’s still with him, invaded his mind. Manang Fe just listened to every word he said. Quietly watching him. She saw the pain and sadness that filled Richard’s eyes. She cannot fully understand why her former ward had to undergo all of these. If only she could take all these pain & sadness from him, she’ll be more than willing to do so.
NOTE: The letter of Richard to Alex posted on this chapter is an excerpt from Nicholas Sparks’ novel Message In A Bottle, Garrett’s first letter to Catherine.