I knew from the start that he would be the death of me. But even knowing it then, I did nothing.
I stood back and let things happen as they did. Did nothing, said nothing, played dumb, up to the very end.
I could have stopped it, could have used my brains, my gut feeling, my instinct for survival and ran away from it all.
I could have done something to stop this deadly chain of events, but I did nothing. Like a bewitched animal, I stood by and watched.
And so, now, as I crouch behind the bedroom door, frightened and shivering, from fear, from despair, intently listening to his footsteps, each sound becoming more and more like a death knell, I try to review the events that led to this fateful night and silently curse my stupidity.
How could I have ended up like this? How could a fairy tale turn into a nightmare? Why did I not listen to the warnings of that small voice within me?
“Jennina…Jennninaaa!” I heard his singsong voice calling to me, his footsteps intentionally loud and heavy on the stairs. He was letting me know that he knew where I was hiding. It was part of his MO, playing with my fear, building it up until I crumbled beneath its weight. I heard his soft laughter. The most sinister sound I’ve ever heard. It sent chills down my spine and turned my legs into jelly.
“Jennina…come out, come out, wherever you are..Jenniiinaaa!” he chuckled.
I clutched the oversized umbrella closer to me. It’s a pathetic weapon, I know, but it was the only one I could find that could pass off as a means of defense. But at least it had a heavy, iron handle that could cause a concussion and a pointed tip that could poke an eye out.
I would’ve chosen one of my sharpened steel knives in the kitchen but I was trapped on the second floor. I was hurriedly packing the last of my meager possessions when I heard him bursting through the front door below just a few minutes ago.
I knew I should’ve prepared for the worst, should’ve hidden knives and scissors, tranquilizer darts, Mace, baseball bats or anything that could help debilitate him, in every corner of the house, in places that I could easily access without his knowing.
But the optimist in me never prepared for disaster. The optimist in me always thought that everything would be resolved, that things would eventually turn out for the better. Hah! If this is better, I dread thinking of the worst.
Then, all of a sudden everything went silent. I could no longer hear him.
And with Jasper, silence was always a danger sign.
I crouched down to peek through the small space between the door and the floor. I almost shrieked when I was greeted by the diabolical grin pasted on his handsome face, which as it turned out, was also pressed down on the carpeted floor of the hallway.
“Gotcha!” he said, quickly jumping back to his feet. And with the force of a speeding train he crashed through the door just as I was hurriedly scampering towards the other side of the bed, the oversized umbrella hoisted over my head like a javelin.
Even from where I stood I could feel the heat of his anger. That crazed wrath brought about by his tortured mind. He stood there, still as a panther eyeing his prey. I could see his jaw tightening and the muscles on his biceps throbbing with pent-up rage, his fingers clenching and unclenching at his sides, as if relishing the soon to be gained pleasure of squeezing the life out of my scrawny, little neck.
“Hello, Sweetheart. Missed me?” he drawled, his soft voice belying the violence that I knew was simmering just beneath his smooth, placid surface.
I looked up to his eyes and knew that this man was no longer the husband that I once loved. He had already crossed over the edge of sanity, over the edge of human reasoning. Gone was the gentle husband, the passionate lover that I had worshipped for almost two years. In his place stood the creature that had been tormenting me these past few months.
Finally, I understood. There is no going back. He is beyond salvation and we cannot get out of this together.
Not alive, anyway. One of us has to die.
And I’m afraid that the odds are so much against me.
My life was never perfect, but it was always interesting.
My parents separated when I was only eight years old and being an only child, I was passed back and forth between my parents.
Weekends were often spent with my dad if he did not have a gig that would spill over to a weekday; mom never lets me miss school. Otherwise, I would be tagging along to his shindigs and spend the night, either in his cramped station wagon or on some makeshift bed in a corner of the pub or resto where he would be performing.
My dad was a drummer and a darn good one at that, which makes one wonder why I have no musical inclinations whatsoever. Music, to me, is like Latin, nice on the ears, but too much trouble to learn. But don’t get me wrong, I love music! I just don’t have the aptitude for it. Guess I’m more of a spectator than a performer.
Dad might not have been a good husband to my mom, but he was a good father to me, whenever he’s around anyway. He actually would’ve spoiled me rotten if not for my disciplinarian mother. Dad always lets me go to sleep late, watch TV all day long, eat junk food, run around in the rain and even roll in the mud once in a while. He never raised his voice to me and would rather give in to my whims than argue with me.
Looking back, I guess it was probably because he did not want what little time we had together to be marred by bad memories. He was a happy-go-lucky guy who hated party-poopers, which was probably why he and mom never got along. My mom was the biggest party-pooper I ever had the pleasure of knowing!
All in all, I loved my dad to bits. I love my mom, too. It’s just that my time with dad was filled with rainbows and sunshine, while time with mom was punctuated by time-outs, lots of scolding, and later on, by screaming sessions and long stretches of being grounded at home for the slightest misdemeanor.
As I’ve said, mom was a disciplinarian par excellence (at least that’s what I thought while growing up and living under her roof). She was a stickler for rules while I was a breaker of rules, so our conflict wasn’t any cause for surprise. I took after my dad, I suppose.
Which was also why my mom tried so hard to suppress my independent spirit; she did not want me to end up like my dad.
Now, mom did not hate dad right at the off. There was a time when she nearly worshiped him. She was his most devoted fan, the one who followed him everywhere, took pictures of him and pasted them on her bedroom walls. She practically dogged his every step and it was a dream-come-true for mom when dad finally noticed her and eventually fell in love with her.
So when they became a couple, Dad was the king and he always had the last say, in everything.
It’s funny how they seemed made for each other. At the start, at least. Dad was the dreamer and mom was the practical one. And no matter how tight money was, they always managed to stay afloat; thanks to mom’s brilliant mind and exceptional business acumen. But in hindsight, that’s probably also what destroyed their marriage.
Soon enough, dad’s band fell on hard times and mom had to pick up the slack. In a few years’ time, mom was earning more than dad was and somehow, her rose-colored glasses started to crack, making her see dad in a different, more demeaning light – as a failure.
The occasional fights became a daily occurrence and not a day went by that either one of them stormed out of the house. Dad started staying out late. Then he would be gone for days, weeks, months.
Until finally, after the most vicious fight they’d had, dad packed up all his stuff and left for good. They separated right after mom had her first major fashion show.
By the time I turned 14, my mom was already the sole owner of the biggest clothing line in the country. Quite cool, really, especially for a growing teenager like me. I always had the latest in fashion and my schoolmates literally monitored and mimicked my constantly evolving wardrobe.
I was a fashion icon! Up until college, that is.
By then, my clashes with mom extended to my fashion sense. I dressed horribly, just to spite her. When tight miniskirts were in fashion, I wore calf-length flowing skirts. When loose pants were in, I wore skin-tight jeans. And when long, straight, re-bonded hair was the rage, I had mine spiked and colored purple.
Anything, just as long as it’s outrageous and sure to drive my mom crazy.
I guess it was my way of rebelling against her since I could not really butt heads with her; my future rested entirely on her benevolence. Dad, by that time, no longer had a band and had resorted to playing as back-up for different artists, which meant that he did not have any regular income, not nearly enough to support himself, much less me.
But mom was not really such a hard-case. I had a feeling that she still cared deeply for him in spite of their separation. And their never-ending battles. She never hesitated to help dad out whenever he needed it. Dad was just too proud to ask for it too often, and usually only as a last resort.
Which somehow annoyed mom to no end, making her prattle about how dad was too proud for his own good and that his pride would be his ultimate ruination, etc., etc. (Mom could go on forever at times, especially when dad was the subject).
I took up Fine Arts (Major in Painting) in college (again, to spite my mother). She preferred business administration or accounting, but I had learned early on that numbers always caused my brain to hibernate so I made it a point to avoid them, if not completely, then as much as I could.
Plus, I’d always had an artistic streak in me. I’ve been drawing everything in my path for as long as I could remember. Mom even admitted to me once that I’d already been drawing flowers, animals and people long before I wrote the letter A. Or the number 1, for that matter.
So, after a two-year battle (she still tried to make me shift to business admin, at least), she finally accepted the fact that she would have to hold the reins of the company far longer than planned.
Through my college years, I continued going to my dad’s shows. I loved the out-of-town ones most, mainly because they also satisfied the wanderlust in my blood. It was one of those things that mom and dad never really agreed on.
Mom was content in staying put in the city, mainly because of her business empire, but dad and I craved new surroundings every now and then. Even when dad did not have any out-of-town shows we would still go to nearby provinces just to break the monotony of our everyday routines.
One thing I hated about my time with dad was the endless parade of nameless, mindless girls that fell all over themselves wherever we went. Women seemed to keel over when exposed to my dad’s presence.
To say that my dad was handsome would be an understatement. He was drop-dead gorgeous, period. Tall, lithely built, with expressive eyes and a soft, crooning voice that could melt even the most hardened amazon. He was a real heartbreaker.
Too bad I did not take after him. In looks, at least. I’d never been described as ugly, but I’d never been praised for my physical traits either; especially when seen beside my dad. People actually often asked if we were related. The only physical attribute that my dad passed on to me were my dimples.
When I was with my mom, though, no one ever questioned my parentage. I’m not really my mom’s spitting image; I’m more of a watered-down version of her. A bit sad, actually, since my mom was, though not what one would call ‘commercially-beautiful’, quite striking herself. Her dark-brown, naturally straight hair, always worn just above her jawline, dramatically framed an arresting face; one that was not too feminine but not a bit masculine either. Her beauty was classic and enviably ageless.
My mom’s entire being emanated strength and intelligence. Mine often emanated vulnerability and uncertainty. I really was quite a klutz during my teen years. Gawky, clumsy, graceless Jennina. I got away with all that only because I was identified as the famous Marita Imperial’s daughter. Everyone thought my outlandish outfits and actions were brought about my artistic eccentricity. No one even suspected that I was simply clueless (lol).
Life threw me another curveball a few weeks before my college graduation. My dad went to Baguio for the coming-out concert of the band he’d been managing then and I was unable to go with him because I was preparing for my finals scheduled for the next week. It was just about midnight, while I was putting some finishing touches on one of the paintings that needed to be submitted on Monday when my mom burst into my bedroom.
I hardly ever saw my mom cry, but she was practically howling when she unceremoniously threw herself at me. It did not take long for me to crumple down on the floor and cry my heart out, too. I knew without being told. Dad was gone.
And just like that, I knew that we would never be the same again.
I would never be the same.
Sunday mornings in the Evans household were always noisy and hectic. One would often be awakened by the thudding of several sets of feet stampeding along the hallway or the clanging of pots and pans in the kitchen; depending on who woke up first – the kids or the always busy and harassed mother of four.
Then, just as the delicious aroma of fried bacon and buttered pancakes wafted throughout the house, one’s ears would be assaulted by the loud whirring of an ancient lawnmower as the father of the house whistled tunelessly while doing his rounds in the garden. All in all, the atmosphere exuded familial chaos in a strangely soothing way.
Today, however, these noises were absent for the whole family was busy with their last-minute packing.
The Evans lived simply, but comfortably. Their house was a 5-bedroom affair in one of the newest subdivisions in the suburbs; exclusive enough, but not really classified as ‘affluent’. They owned two cars, a dog named Smooch, and a turtle named Speed. All four kids went to the nearest co-ed private school in the vicinity.
Judging by their rather ordinary lifestyle, no one would suspect that Martin Evans, a British expat who married a simple, local girl named Claire, owned the biggest electronics company in the country. Martin did not believe in flaunting one’s wealth nor in wasting any of their hard-earned peso on luxuries that they could easily live without.
Yet as the kids were now turning into teens, he was fast realizing that he could not go on depriving them of the things most kids their age enjoy. And so on this rare Sundaymorning he would be treating them to a three-day vacation in Boracay, for no other reason than that it was the current rage (according to his eldest daughter, Elaine, anyway). “You haven’t lived until you’ve danced the night away on the white sands of Bora”, was actually what she said.
Since one of Martin’s idiosyncrasies was sticking to a strict schedule, at precisely 7:10 in the morning, the whole family was found assembling in the foyer, complete with their backpacks, carry-ons and whatever else they were allowed to bring with them. 15-year-old Elaine, being the eldest, was entrusted with the checking of all their luggage and so was the one who received the most glares that morning as she removed ‘forbidden’ objects such as a hunting knife (from 13-year old Jasper’s backpack), sparklers (from 10-year old Wesley’s slingbag) and Speed (from 8-year old Samantha’s tote). After a bit of tug-of-war with her siblings Elaine was finally able to declare them all-packed-and-ready. So, at precisely 7:30 am the Evans family was on their way to the airport.
Traffic on the SLEX was light so they made good time in arriving at their destination. At the airport, they checked-in their luggage, waited for their flight to be called, boarded and after one-and-a-half hours in the air, landed on Caticlan airport without incident. From there, they got on a banca which took them on the last leg of their journey to the exotic island of Boracay. Martin wanted more privacy for his family so instead of checking into one of the lodging houses and hotels scattered along the island he opted to rent a private home conveniently situated just a few strides away from the famous white sandy beaches of Boracay.
As soon as the front door was opened, Jasper and Wesley dumped their bags on the spacious living room and immediately proceeded to explore the surrounding areas. Elaine helped her mother in getting settled while Martin unpacked his various gadgets and connected his laptop to the house’s phone jack and power outlet. He may be on vacation but his staff wasn’t so he needed to make sure that they never lost contact with him. After making sure that everything was in order, Martin, Claire, Elaine and Samantha all trooped out of the house to join Jasper and Wesley in exploring the delights of the island.
The next two days were filled with laughter and good, wholesome family fun. They rode the banana boat, went snorkeling and gathered beautifully-colored shells on one of the outlying islands. They ate oversized burgers, grilled prawns, roasted lamb, chicken-inasal, lechon and lots and lots of fruit. The kids could never get enough of the delicious buco-shakes mixed with either chocolate or strawberry syrup. Souvenirs were hoarded and Samantha even packed a large glass bottle with white sand.
And of course, just so they can claim that they’d finally lived, they all danced on the white sands of Bora.
Martin recorded everything on his handycam while Claire packed all of her digicam’s five memory cards with tons of pictures. All-in-all, it was a vacation none of them would ever forget. But none of them knew either that it would be the last one that they would take as a family. For on Wednesday morning, at exactly 11:12 am, tragedy struck the Evans family.
They were on their way home, after being picked-up from the airport by their uncle Nick, Claire’s younger brother, when fate decided to play a deadly joke on them. Martin and Claire sat together on the first row of the van, right behind the driver’s seat. Jasper sat beside Wes on the next while Samantha and Elaine were sprawled on the most spacious seat at the back. Every one of them, with the exception of Jasper who was busy playing Tekken on his gameboy, was asleep, dog-tired from their three-day holiday.
And so, as it turned out, only Jasper and Nick saw the on-coming trailer-truck barreling at high speed behind them. Nick had already heard the insistent, loud honking of the truck as its driver tried to warn the other motorists of its present predicament. Looking at his rear-view mirror Nick knew that their only chance of survival was to quickly swerve to the side of the highway. The vehicles on his right and front, however, were blocking them, apparently still unaware of the situation. By the time the other drivers were alerted to their impending doom, it was already too late. The truck had already hit the back of their van. It had slammed at them with such force that it kept on pushing the van against all the other vehicles in front by about a hundred meters before it finally lost momentum and came to a dead-stop.
Five cars, two vans, three jeepneys and a trailer-truck were involved in one of the most tragic pile-ups on the SLEX that morning. The one that was most damaged was the van that carried the Evans family. Its rear was crushed during the impact, compressing the seats forward, sandwiching it between the trailer-truck behind and another van in front.
Jasper looked in horror as his sisters were pushed forward, their fragile bodies mercilessly being crushed between the seats. He turned to the front and witnessed how his parents were also thrown forward, their necks snapping audibly from the violence of the force that propelled them from their seats. He tried to scream but his air was cut-off by the terror that was starting to paralyze him. When he saw Wesley’s sleeping form beside him, however, he was overwhelmed by a tremendous urge to protect him. Mustering whatever strength he had left, Jasper hauled Wesley’s body from the seat, pushed him down on the floor and covered his younger brother with his own. Thereafter, he lost consciousness.
The next time he opened his eyes, he was lying on a hospital bed, wired to a monitor, his bandaged head throbbing, his numb left arm in a sling, and his stomach heaving every time he moved. When he turned to his right, he saw Wesley lying on another bed, his eyes open and staring at the ceiling, tears running heedlessly down his bruised cheeks. Jasper pushed himself from the bed, pulled out his IV and wires, and walked on wobbly legs towards his brother. Wesley looked at him with wide, terrified eyes. It took about a minute before he finally recognized his older brother. He practically leapt into Jasper’s arms when he did, his trembling arms going around Jasper’s neck, latching onto him in relief and desperation. It took two male nurses to pry Wesley away from him.
Later that afternoon, two doctors visited them, their faces solemn yet sympathetic, smiling reassuringly as they assessed the two brothers’ various injuries. When Jasper asked about their parents, sisters and uncle, the doctors nervously glanced at each other, their faces turning grim and serious. Jasper knew without being told; they were all gone.
And just like that, 13-year old Jasper became the de facto head of the Evans family, 10-year old Wesley his only surviving kin.
With a calmness that belied his years, Jasper understood an important fact that only survivors of such tragedies knew without being told – they would never be the same again.
He would never be the same again.