Grief is like spaghetti. A sweet and tangy sauce of sorrow. A long and tangled pasta of memory. I twirl the grief with my fork to find comfort, taste it to fill the hunger, the emptiness. It is true, food takes you to certain memories.
My niece, Api, calls my Mamang “Mommy.” Mamang makes the best spaghetti, which my niece and I craved for and devoured with delight and satisfaction. While growing up, I did not attempt to make spaghetti because I was content with just eating Mamang’s spaghetti. I looked forward to a meal of it. I ordered spaghetti everywhere I could but still, nothing beat Mamang’s spaghetti. My niece feels the same.
When Api got older, she started making her spaghetti, and yet she still came to our house when Mamang cooked spaghetti, even when they had spaghetti at their house. She’d get excited when she knew Mamang was cooking. She’d come over and we’d eat. She’d tell Mamang, “my, wala jud makalupig sa imong spaghetti. Dili jud nako makuha ang timpla. Imong spaghetti jud ang pinakalami. (‘my, nothing compares to your spaghetti. I can’t recreate its taste. Your spaghetti is the best.)” Mamang would say “Salamat, Pi” and later would tell me, “Malingaw jud ko aning Api. Ganahan kaayo sa akong spaghetti murag ikaw. (I’m fond of Api. She enjoys my spaghetti just like you.)” And I would echo, “Because it’s true. Your spaghetti is the best in the whole wide world.” She’d laugh, with that subtle pride and joy, then kiss and hug me, saying, “Thank you, anak. I’m happy when you are happy.”
When I learned to cook spaghetti, Mamang encouraged me. It didn’t taste bad, but it was not that good. It was not like Mamang’s spaghetti. I asked Mamang what her secret ingredient was and she said, “love.” It was the cheesiest and corniest answer, but I know it’s true.
I remember New Year. I cooked spaghetti. Mamang was bedridden and no longer ate meat. She asked for a plate of my spaghetti, saying how Papang was bragging to her how my spaghetti tasted so good and how she wanted to taste it, too. I made her a plate. I fed her, watching her reaction. At the first taste, her eyes lit up, and I saw that smile, full of pride and contentment. She exclaimed, “Lami kaayo, ‘day. Maayo na jud ka mangluto. Happy ko nakatilaw. (It tastes so good, ‘day. You are now good at cooking. I’m happy I got to taste.)” I cried and hugged her, conflicted at how I felt with those words. I wanted to hear them for my self but did not want to hear them for what they might have represented. It was the last spaghetti she ate, the last spaghetti I cooked for her, and she said it was good.
I remember last year’s New Year, my niece came to our house with a bowl of spaghetti. She cooked it for me and Papang. We ate a plate of it together. I told her how it was good. She said, “Paborito gihapon nako ang spaghetti ni Mommy, ‘te. (My favorite is still Mommy’s spaghetti, ‘te.)” I replied, “Me, too.” It was the last spaghetti my niece cooked for me, the last spaghetti I shared with her, and I told her it was good.
I sit here alone, watching people eat with families and friends, twirling my spaghetti in tears and with this piercing heaviness in my chest. I wanted to go, but I am afraid to sit alone with my grief. I just wanted to taste it here. This spaghetti tastes like the lasts and the good that was in them. I drink my cup of hope that somewhere Mamang is cooking her spaghetti and my niece is sitting with her, enjoying her favorite, her Mommy’s spaghetti. That is good. Someday, we will all share Mamang’s spaghetti again.