Bayzee is one of the first friends I made in Subic. The first time I met her, I thought to myself “this girl is just a little ball of sunshine. She probably lives a cushy life…” Little did I know that underneath all that pep was a woman of true grit. She is one of those glass-half-full types: Her life story reads like a script from some soap opera, and yet despite it all, she carries herself like a Disney princess.
Arguably one of the most difficult things she had to go through was coming to terms with her grandmother’s murder. A death of someone you hold very dear is devastating enough -but having to live with the fact that she was taken so brutally and so suddenly is something that I can’t even begin to imagine. The fascinating thing about Bayzee though, is that amidst all that tragedy and chaos, she finds reasons to celebrate life and to see the good in people.
Very proud to share with you her story:
MY GRANDMA, MY SUNSHINE
One of my earliest memories that I could recall is laying down on my grandmother’s comfortable queen sized bed, staring into the grooves of the white ceiling. She always had crisp, clean sheets that perpetually felt like a warm hug on my skin. One corner had a glass cupboard that held several of her crystal figurine collections. Her room was eclectic and charming. It was where I also found solace and comfort growing up.
I would never forget the whiff of her old air conditioner – it emitted a distinct scent right after she turned that switch clockwise, and the soft breeze would swiftly fill the warm air. We would then close the silk curtains to contain the temperature, since one side was practically made up of vintage jalousie panes that overlooked Dr. Lazcano Street.
These were the same windows where I would stand and wait for her every time she would go out for the night. And whenever she arrived, I always yelled out, “Mommy!” Yep, you got that right. I thought she was my mother until I met my real mom when I was 7, back in 1992! (That’s a different story altogether).
She used to sing this song to me:
She made me happy when skies were gray and I would always tell her, “I wish you could live forever.”
PLEASE DON’T TAKE MY SUNSHINE AWAY
Typhoon Mario paid a visit last September 19, 2014. It was the day that continuously brought rain and thunderstorms in Metro Manila and other regions of the country. To our family, it brought a different storm.
Earlier that day, my aunt asked me to ring my grandma and check if she would pick-up my call since she couldn’t get a hold of her. I tried several times to no avail. So when my aunt and I spoke again, we thought it was one of those days where she was just too busy and didn’t pick up. (She was a feisty, strong and independent 75 year old woman who valued her space.) Then at 5pm, I was able to speak to my aunt again- I was a little bit more alarmed this time, because the whole day had passed without a word from my grandma and her cellphone could no longer be reached!
An hour later, I got a call that nobody would ever want to receive. All I heard was my aunt sobbing and she whimpered one simple sentence, “There’s blood…Come home.” I sank into my chair and bawled like a little child. I knew it was bad.
I rushed immediately to Manila with my husband and daughter. By the time we reached there, grandma’s body had been transported to the morgue for investigation and S.O.C.O. was all over the crime scene. I was distraught. I was devastated. I was furious. All the adjectives you could possibly find in the dictionary couldn’t even begin to express what I was feeling.
My heart has never been broken so ruthlessly until that evening. I could never look at her room the same way again.
CONFRONTING THE STORM
The autopsy report is not even something you’d wish on your worst enemy. She was robbed and brutally murdered by someone she knew. What they’ve done to her was comparable to slaughtering an animal.
Our family exhausted all possible resources to track down the assailant. Within weeks of thorough investigation and fervent prayers, a woman in Laguna called the police to turn in Michael Flores.
As soon as he was arrested, we went to the department of justice immediately. There he was, without a trace of remorse on his face or demeanor. This disposition continued on for a year during the trial. He would come in with eyeliner, black nail polish and a new haircut the few times that I saw him.
The last instance however, we asked the police to let us have a few minutes to speak with him outside the courtroom. I laid my hand gently on Michael’s back and prayed for him. I cannot remember the exact words I uttered, but the next time I saw him in court, his face and body looked slumped as if he was losing sleep or the energy to fix himself up like he used to.
In December 2015, with only a year into the trial, Michael Flores was convicted and sentenced to Reclusión perpetua (no pardon or parole until after the first 30 years). What a miracle for a criminal case to be as swift and just as it was. Our prayers are being answered.
ON STARTING THE JOURNEY TO FORGIVENESS
I assume that anyone in my shoes would have the initial mixed reactions of bitterness, hatred and a vengeful attitude that my family and I shared. That big question, “WHY?” lingered like a dark cloud and a rainfall of tears followed whenever she entered in my mind.
I must say that I’ve inherited my perseverance and endurance from my grandma. Growing up, I honed a natural skill in being able to shift my mindset to always look for a silver lining in order to cope with hardships. The muscle memory kicked in and sustains itself to this day.
Only a few get to witness my moments of sadness or distress. I’ve trained myself to focus on avoiding strong emotions and contain them in the deepest recesses of my being. This behavior sometimes can be perceived as distant or stoic, and often masked with humor to cover up the mess I’m feeling.
In between lines of recollection and revelations, the day to day battle with thoughts and action fight for priority. I tried to be busy with projects, civic causes – anything that would distract me. I could not make sense of the situation and all I could pray for was justice.
The following weeks after his arrest, I finally attended Victory Weekend that I’ve been avoiding for months.
I figuratively and literally took the plunge in faith, as Pastor Dennis Isleta did my water baptism. I needed to surrender my hurts and pains. I needed a savior to heal me. That choice was final. No turning back. No regrets.
My Victory Christian Fellowship “small group” and I met every Thursday and they’ve been an a part of my healing process. One of my prayer requests were (and until now) for the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts of her killers – that they may repent and be reconciled with God.
You may wonder why such prayer intentions. Many elements contribute to this:
My aunt has been active in prison ministry for over a decade. She would visit prisoners who are in need of counseling. This is in line with the Restorative Justice Program The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). What happened to us has become the ultimate test for her because the same people she used to reach out to are the Michael Flores’s that violated her own family. She has now become a victim of criminals which she regularly guides to the path of self recovery.
But, with her faith intact, she decided to keep on with the advocacy and even invited me to Prison Awareness Week in Muntinlupa Maximum Prison back in October 2015.
It is where that famous aphorism came to mind; “unforgiveness is like a poison that you drink while waiting for the other person to die.” Michael will eventually have his own death. Until then, I am accountable of my actions to God.
KEEPING MY SUNSHINE ALIVE
Although my grandma is no longer physically around but her memory and spirit within me lives on. I still can feel her presence through the people around me, the blessings I receive, and the encouragement I encounter from total strangers. I believe that all these encounters are little messages from her . It sounds strange especially with skeptics around us who are too jaded to believe in the supernatural. And that’s the thing – we usually won’t know until it happens to us.
That’s why I’m so motivated to honor God and make disciples each time I remember her assailants. Every step I make towards building the kingdom of God is accomplished in the hopes that others could avoid Grandma’s fate. I always say this and I will continue to do so: Nobody wakes up and decides to be a killer. Every killer starts out as a lost soul whose mindset is slowly being transformed by a series of bad decisions. It adds up. The small crime made today can lead to bigger, more regrettable actions tomorrow. Had Michael Flores known God, then perhaps that tragedy wouldn’t have befallen my grandma.
It has been said by Leo Tolstoy, “Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.”
I know that God is purposeful and maybe I’ll make sense of this all in another life. For now, I do the best I can do. It’s a long road ahead but with one graceful step at a time, heaven is closer than we may think and forgiveness is possible.