Goodbye Max (And Reflections On Death)

Max the old dog just died three days ago, and I’m trying not to mourn because I am the one who has to do the dirty work of preparing him for burial and burying him in a place where he can rest and go back to nature with dignity.

I have had the secret job of being pet undertaker since I was in elementary school and that has taught me to remain detached for certain period of time, and to only mourn when no one else is looking, because vulnerability is a precious thing and I don‘t want anyone intending me harm to see. 

When my wife’s father died some ten years ago, I helped carry his casket to the airport early in the morning and helped ship it to his hometown in South Cotabato. I was the one tasked to break the news on the phone to his mother and brother even if they have not met me personally.

If this was the Harry Potter universe, I’d be seeing thestrals now and get to be friends with Luna Lovegood. So yeah, I am a really slow mourner and it takes a while for someone’s death to sink in my consciousness because death, whether human or non-human, is a constant in my life.

Fight or Flight – or Why I Hate Being Too Nice To A Fault

[Please understand the context: I live in the Philippines where the gap between the rich and poor is very wide. There are families who live in isolated, guarded subdivisions all over Manila who are as rich as Donald Trump (or even richer), and the poorest live in shanties in polluted rivers, or squatted land in the outskirts of the metropolis. My family are somewhere between white collar and blue collar — we can afford a few luxuries like eating out in nice restaurants once a month, and we can travel abroad if we save up a month’s worth of pay, but we have yet to afford a house or a car. We’re renting at the moment until we can find better sources of income. Labor policies are not enforced well in this country, and the government and big business in Manila is run by several families who were mostly descendants of the Spanish and American colonists’ collaborators who want to keep the power and money to themselves– very much Latin America but with an Asian social sensibility, and a decrepitude that rivals the poorest parts of India. To be fair, I live in a beautiful country. You will find good people and amazing nature the moment you leave Manila’s borders, but Manila and its prevailing dog-eat-dog city culture will make a New York mugger blush.]

There are times when I hate being polite to a fault. Some people take it as an invitation to be rude, pushy, and abusive. It’s not that I envy assertive people, but I wish I was less nice, because my being too nice is becoming an inconvenience and I can’t seem to do anything about it. Evolution seems to have favored rudeness over decency, because being an asshole gets you to have your way with the world.

Society rewards imperiousness, while nice people who can’t help being decent and diplomatic are being treated like doormats. When I encounter an extremely rude person, I get into this fight-or-flight mode that takes weeks to shake off. It’s a coping mechanism that was instilled into me in childhood, after spending the first sixteen years of my life dealing with homophobic bullies in school and in the neighbourhood.

It doesn’t help that I also grew up with an abusive stepfather who made it a habit to beat me up since I was seven, and a then-abusive young mother who can’t control her temper. In fact, I spent most of my childhood being beaten up, and it has turned me paranoid and suspicious of people.

While I’ve made a conscious decision to be a more enlightened parent, I still have to deal with a lot of pent-up frustrations when other people invade your personal space and disrupt an otherwise quiet daily life with their petty scruples.

But we could also just be in the wrong neighbourhood. It’s one of those days when you wish you were Donald Trump (without the tackyness and bad hair) and can afford to buy any house you like, like buying candy from a store. Seriously, you don’t want to be me, the way I am at this moment.