When my daughter Martina was 2 years old, she would meet Lola Lina, who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, at the 3rd Floor poolside and playground commons of our condominium building every morning and every afternoon. Both are brought by their yayas or nannies for their routine “pasyal” (tr. walks) and to hang out with the (other) kids who gather together to play there. Martina talked about Lola to me often enough. But I didn’t really realize how fond they were of each other until one night, Lola Lina’s daughter called me to invite Martina to Lola Lina’s 80th Birthday Party at the Hotel Intercontinental. And she had this special request: Would Martina sing the “Happy Birthday” song at the party? And so we went. It was a formal dinner party with over a hundred guests. Lola Lina’s children and grandchildren flew all the way from the States for the special occasion.
This article, written by my mom and Martina’s grandmother (ever proud of her one and only grandchild), was inspired by the events of that evening and the very special friendship that Lola Lina and Martina share.
I am posting it here in memory of Lola Lina.
My life is in a haze, suspended between the here and there, between what was and what is. I am in a daze. I forget things. I forget what I am doing. Most of the time, I do not know where I am. It is all so confusing. And people are so strange. This woman comes and kisses me and calls me mama. She says she is my daughter. Do I have a daughter? “Do you remember?” people ask. Remember what? It’s all because I have grown so old. Although they tell me it’s because I have this illness with a strange name. I forget the name.
There are many things I can no longer do. I cannot walk. I move around in a wheelchair. And I have a yaya who feeds me, bathes me, dresses me and cleans after me. She pushes me around in my wheelchair like a baby, like I did for my own babies. Yes, I had babies once. My babies also had yayas. Like Martina.
I had a big house then. I remember a big house with many rooms. It’s gone now. Today, I live in a unit, number 505, it says on the door. Units are small. Even my room is small with just one window through which sunlight comes in. Pero no importa.
Martina also lives in a unit, just below mine. After my afternoon nap, my yaya brings me down to the 3rd floor, where there are plants in pots, a playground and a swimming pool. Martina goes there too, after her own nap.
The first time I saw her, she came and stood in front of me. “Hello,” she said. Then she came closer. Putting her hand to her chest, she said, “Martina”. I tried to tell her my name but the sound wouldn’t come out.
“Si Lola ‘yan, [That’s Lola]” her yaya said. “Lo-la”, she mouthed and smiled.
She is a tiny two year old. A pretty little mestiza, fragile-looking but very active. She runs around a lot with one or two other children following her lead. A happy, friendly child who laughs often.
One day she came to me to show me two stuffed toys. They were both red and looked alike, except that one was bigger. “This is Elmo, Lola,” she said of the bigger one. “And this is Baby Elmo.”
I remember because she was so cute that I couldn’t help reaching out and pinching her cheeks. “No, Lola,” she protested, “that hu’ts.” But she didn’t cry. I have never seen her cry. She does not have crying fits like the other children.
I am now 80 years old, you know. I had a birthday party in a large hall filled with many people. There was a program, with songs and dances and speeches just for me.
“Mama has a little friend who came to sing to her,” my daughter was saying. And there she was … Martina! She walked confidently, straight to where I was, took the microphone and sang the birthday song. The words rang out very clearly, and for a 2 year old, in perfect tune. Everybody applauded when she bowed. I clapped too. She turned around, looked at me, and said, ”I love you, Lola!”
There was a light around her, a halo, and her pretty green dress glittered. She was smiling … sweetly. I knew at that moment that Martina is an angel, una pequeña querubin, with soft straight hair. I know she is an angel heaven sent to me, my own special angel!
When I get to heaven’s gate, I will tell them that I have an angel friend. Her name is Martina, I will say. Then, surely they will let me in. I must not forget her name. I must always remember. Martina.