When I was a child I was always running and jumping. Inside the house, outside, on the streets… my little legs always seemed to be on the move. I would run and jump until I couldn’t anymore. At night, I would pass out in my bed in exhaustion and wake up in the morning ready to run and jump again. My teachers had a hard time keeping me in my seat during class. I was always getting up and jumping around, riling all the other children. I was a problem child, my mother was told. I was a hyperactive child, my mother was told. The doctors also told my mother there was medication for it, but she refused it. She told them I was just being a kid and should be allowed to do so. My grandfather said I had grasshoppers living in my kneecaps.
My grandmother said I had the devil in me. Once, while my mother was out, my grandma took me to church where her priest prayed over me in Latin and dunked my head in holy water. I did not like it and didn’t hesitate to let them know. My mother was livid. She yelled that she could take care of her own goddamn child and if her child wanted to jump and run, then by God, she could. I was allowed to run and jump again.
Until I was about seven, that was. My grandfather was renovating his house and there were loose floorboards and things like that laying about where they shouldn’t be. In the yard, particularly. Our grandmother told the maid to take us to the park, but she had an errand to finish and had promised to take us to the park as soon as she was done. I was playing tag with my cousins and chasing my cousin Ton—three months younger than me, our mothers were pregnant together— when I felt something yank at both of my feet. At first I thought it was my cousin Alan who had grabbed me my ankles and I was ready to kick at him when I realized I couldn’t move either of my feet. I looked down. The first thing I saw was the blood. There was a pool of it. It was all over the floorboards I was stepping on and I didn’t know where it was coming from. My cousin Ton started crying. My cousin Alan started screaming. The maid, who had apparently finished her errand, was looking at my feet and screaming. I didn’t understand what was going on.
“Ate Ellen! Ate Ellen! Si Bam! Si Bam!” she was shrieking. Ate is Tagalog for “elder sister”. It was what the maids called my mother.
My mother, who had been playing mahjong with her other sisters, came running out of the house to see what the fuss was about. She took one look at me and swayed against the little maid.
“Ay, Dios Mio,” she whispered, kneeling on the floorboards. She looked up at me and there was genuine fear in her eyes. “Anak ko, how did you do this?”
My grandparents were right behind my mother and my grandmother was shaking her head. “Ai-yah!” she said. “I told you this was going to happen. I told you this girl is demonyita, always getting into trouble. Now she’s going to die of tetanus and blood loss.”
“Tatay,” my mom said, looking at her dad. “How are we going to get the nails out without hurting her further?” She was holding my hand tightly, trying not to look at my feet. “They’ve gone straight through…”
“We’ll… just have to yank them off,” my grandfather said, touching my hair. “Look at my apo, Aida. So very brave. She’s not even crying.”
My cousin Alan had ducked behind my grandmother and was looking at me with both fear and awe. “Lolo,” he said. “Is Bam-Bam going to die?”
My mother began wailing just then, bringing about various uncles and aunts who surrounded us, each one with an idea of how to get me off the floorboards. There were a lot of accusations being thrown. My grandmother was yelling that the carpenters should be fired without pay for being so careless.
“Tatay,” said my mother’s eldest brother, Tony. “We’re going to have to do it quick. We’ll have to yank them off and take her to the hospital. I have the car ready. Ling-ling, take the children away. They should not be seeing this.”
“Such a brave child,” said my Aunt Suzie, my mother’s older sister. She was touching my hair and crying. “Anak ko, you’re going to be just fine.”
“Ellen, Suzie, grab the floorboards and keep them on the ground,” my grandfather commanded. “Tony, Elmer, grab Bam-Bam around her middle and when I count to three, you both pull, okay?” He looked at me and kissed my forehead. “Close your eyes, apo.”
When I woke up, I was in the hospital. Both of my feet were heavily bandaged and I was lying in a hospital bed. I looked around and found I was surrounded by various aunts and uncles, as well as cousins. They all had gifts and food for me. My grandma sat in the corner with her pink rosary beads in her hands.
“You’re so lucky, pamangkin,” my Aunt Suzy said. “You’ll have scars similar to the ones that the Savior has. They’ll be your Jesus feet.”
My mom stood next to me, holding my hand. I looked at her. She looked tired and there were heavy circles under her eyes. “Nanay, when my feet are healed, can I go outside and play with Alan and Ton-Ton?”
“No, anak,” she said. She dropped a package on my lap. “I got you some comics. You like Batman, don’t you? Now you can spend all your time reading Batman. Inside the house.” She smiled and rubbed my hair.
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