By Precious Alison De Pablo
Buang is a Bisaya word meaning crazy, lunatic, crazy, insane, or rabid. It describes a person who acts in a way that people perceive as not normally done by a person. A buang can and may sometimes pose a threat to society.
My mom was in college when she started showing symptoms of bipolar. She said it was probably triggered when she saw her oldest sister hang her body when she was in the fifth grade. At that time, everyone was grieving the death of the oldest child, and no one bothered to ask how the youngest was. She was close to Tita Susina; she even resembled my mother. However, my grandma and aunties always emphasized that my mother was ugly when compared to Tita Susina. She had white skin and a tall nose, something that my mother doesn’t have. Although they still resemble each other so much that every time I’m with my eldest cousin, Ate Lot, we are always mistaken as mother-daughters. Ate Lot was Tita Susina’s second child from her second baby daddy and the only girl among her three children. And out of all three of them, she was the only one who resembled Tita Susina.
My mother was the first to see the dead body in the tree house; it was an old and creepy-looking tree. My grandfather would always say that there was a tumawo there that enticed my auntie to commit suicide. Even after years have passed, that scene still haunts my mother every time, and her anger towards my aunt’s husband intensifies. She said it wasn’t the tumawo but her husband’s infidelity that drove her to commit suicide. She didn’t mention it, as she knew my grandparents firmly believed it was the tumawo who wanted to take my auntie.
Tapaz was a small town with no concept of mental health and deeply embedded beliefs in myths. Furthermore, my grandparents don’t have the time to care for a ten-year-old kid, as they need to go back to the land and farm. The family has to eat according to my Lolo. Our relatives quickly got over it as soon as they buried her body. This was evident in the less frequent visits to the cemetery to light a candle for my auntie. Every time we would visit the cemetery, my mother would light up a candle, wishing for my aunt’s peace while mentioning how Auntie Susina’s husband killed her. Of course, not literally, but my mom believed that if he didn’t leave, my auntie wouldn’t commit suicide, leaving her three children to my grandparents.
“Nabuang na sya,” people uttered when my mom started showing signs of mental illness. It only worsens in her second year of college. My grandparents didn’t have that much money to send her to a psychologist, so my mother was kind of locked up inside the house. My mother stopped for a few months in her second year but still managed to finish her undergraduate at Panay State Polytechnic State, now known as Capiz State University-Tapaz Satellite. My mother has a bright future, considering she was always in honors from elementary to college and even passed the Licensure for Professional Teachers exam in one take. At that time, it was such a big honor for the whole Tapaz, as there were only two who managed to pass. One of them is my mother.
My mom had a total of three episodes that I was aware of. The first one happened when I was in the first grade. I wasn’t mature enough to comprehend what was happening to my mother; all I knew was that my mom was going somewhere without me. That’s why I had to stay at my aunt’s house—the second time it happened was when I was in third grade. That’s when I started to become aware of what was happening, as I always heard my uncles and aunts complaining about my mom’s hospitalization bills. The last time was when I was in the sixth grade. I can still remember how I gave my mom a glass of milk with sleeping pills. I was there when they took her out of the house and guided her to an ambulance heading to Pototan Mental Hospital. It was a long drive as I looked out the window of the car behind the ambulance, where my mom was.
In our town, I was the bata ka buang. I can confidently say that people know who I am, not because of my academic awards but because of my mom’s illness. Knowingly and unknowingly, I can hear whispers and voices from adults and peers, all gloating about my situation.
I was ten years old when I had my first encounter. It was in elementary school, and we were preparing for our Girl Scout trip to Roxas. As we were all minors, we had a teacher from a different school to guide and take care of us during this 3-day and 2-night trip. It was both scary and exciting, as it was the first time I went on a trip without my mother or any family relatives.
If I’m correct, there were four girls beside me from different schools who were also going. I don’t know what I did to catch one of the parents’ attention. But it was catching enough as she asked one of the teachers there whose child I was. There’s nothing wrong with that; maybe she finds me adorable or annoying enough to ask. I admit I was quite bida-bida. I wasn’t prepared to hear what the teacher said. No, maybe no one would ever think that someone would say that to a ten-year-old kid.
“A, dang bata daa ka buang.” I froze, maybe for minutes, as I couldn’t hear any sounds from my surroundings. I don’t know if she was just ignorant and thought it wasn’t a big deal to mention my mom’s illness in such a condescending tone. Or she didn’t care if a ten-year-old child heard her. I was never the type to remember stuff, as I have a short memory. But I think what she said bothered me so much that, up until now, I can still remember her face and her exact words.
Tapaz is a small town despite having many barangays, and for the past eight years or so, I have seen her multiple times after that incident. She was a teacher at an elementary school, Daan Banwa Elementary School. Although I live in Barangay Daan Banwa, I attended Tapaz Central Elementary School in Poblacion. I finished my pre-school to sixth grade there. So I don’t know any teachers from there. This is expected, as I don’t even know what my neighbor’s name is, even if I saw them and lived next to them for years. So, I only noticed that she was a teacher in our barangay school when I saw her in one of the math competitions I joined, where I won against her student. Serves her right!
It was eight years ago, but up until now, it still haunts me. Maybe it’s because I didn’t protect my mama from her insidious mouth. I only stood there like a statue, still processing what in the world I just heard. I don’t blame my young self; I blame the teacher, who can’t stop running her mouth and doesn’t have enough decency to say it when I’m not there. What can I do? Adults are just malicious creatures. Or so I believe. Do you know what’s more evil than an adult? A best friend, especially if they have known you for seven years.
It was a sunny afternoon in 8th grade. We were waiting for our Filipino teacher to arrive when my seatmate—February—leaned towards me and whispered, “Hambal bala ni Michele, mabuang ka man kuno pareho ni Mama mo.” I was shocked, and disbelief filled my eyes as I recalled how she looked at me the day before.
We were at the plaza. She was on her phone, and I was on the swing, trying to sing the song I was listening to. I wanted to sing loudly, but my out-of-tone voice discouraged me, so I whispered the lyrics, trying to catch up to the beat. When I turned my head toward her, I was stunned to see her staring at me. She had this somewhat disgusted look on her face. I was baffled at her expression. Did I do something wrong?
My eyes flashed with certainty that it must be the previous day’s event that made her assumption. I didn’t confront her or anything. Once again, I stayed quiet. I tried pinching my thighs, wondering if this was all just a dream. She was my best friend for almost seven years, and I never expected that from her.
Her mother and my mother are sort of friends, so she knows of my mother’s illness. Not that it bothered me that she knew about it. She was my friend, and I sometimes told her about my grievances and hardships. But never in my wildest dreams have I imagined that she was going to stab me in the back. I felt confused and betrayed. At that time, I was struggling to decide if I was going to confront her or make a scene. Despite anger filling my chest, I was still sober enough to make a decision. I didn’t confront her or anything. I just cut her off quietly. I started to distance myself from her, whether it was outside or inside the school. I just felt that she didn’t deserve any reaction from me. Starting that day, she was not a friend but a classmate I barely knew.
I’m 17 now, turning 18 on the 22nd of December. Writing and talking about my mom’s illness has always been taboo for me. I hate the fact that I felt like I was walking on eggshells. I always have to remind myself to be careful with what I say, do, and think. As a wrong word or phrase can and may set off my mother, I felt robbed of my childhood and my life. My whole career and life plan revolve around my mother. I didn’t have the time or choice to decide what I wanted with my life. “Be a psychologist to earn a good amount of money, and by then you will be able to take care of your mother.” In all my major decisions in life, I have to first think of how this will affect my mother in any way.
I felt trapped in a box that was slowly inching closer to me. Big blocks of responsibility were placed on my shoulders. I was my mom’s last hope and losing is the same as trashing my mother’s sacrifices in raising me.
It took me years to accept that it will never go away, and I have to live with the mockery and insults that come with it. On numerous occasions, I talked and wrote about it with no ounce of shame. My mother raised me alone. She was strong and brave raising a child despite facing walls of uncertainty and coins in her hand. Oo, ginpahanggod ako sang buang. Dukaron ang bata ka buang nga naga-eskwela sa U.P.
Precious Alison De Pablo is a student at U.P. High School in Iloilo. She is currently enrolled in the Creative Writing subject under the supervision of Prof. Noel Galon de Leon. This creative nonfiction is one of their projects in class.