I grew up being fed – and getting almost fed up -- with stories about Lorna, my gifted second cousin. My dad raved about her. He made sure -- did I just imagine it? -- I was within hearing distance whenever he recounted her latest to my mom, his eyes twinkling, his chest puffed up inches higher.
It seemed to me then it was always “Lorna this and Lorna that.”
Lorna graduated valedictorian from grade school. Lorna pulled the same feat in high school. Lorna finished her BFS from UP, cum laude. Lorna topped the exams for Foreign Service Officers at DFA. Lorna was sent to Hawaii on a study grant at East West Center. Lorna would be shoo-in as youngest consul, then ambassadress ever. Oh, I forgot, Lorna was also accelerated one or two levels in grade school.
Among us youngsters, Lorna was the benchmark to aspire for. The star to hitch all our rickety wagons to. We cousins, we rolled our eyes at each other during the “compare my children with yours” segment so inevitable during family gatherings. And I got the shortest end of the comparison -- I was, after all, only one year her junior and was supposed to be her look-alike. Oh well, I guess we have the same moon face and waif-like features. But where Lorna was shapely and tall and fair-skinned and had an easy, dimpled smile, I … never mind … let me just say I totally missed out on the rest of her physical charms.
I wasn’t too surprised when I went down from my class one night in fourth year college to see Lorna waiting for me at the lobby. She hugged me tightly, as her mom and mine hovered about. But when she continued to fuss over me at dinner at Little Quiapo -- pinching my cheeks,and fiddling with my fingers as though making sure I had ten -- I beseeched my mom with my eyes – “What’s this all about?”
The answer I got on our way home was quite unsatisfactory. It seemed all of a sudden, Lorna decided I was really her long-lost sister and wanted a reunion.
I heard the rest of her story when she came to visit at our house that week-end and the next and the next.
At best as I could make it, she fancied we were born, a year of each other and illegitimately, to a Japanese father and a Filipina mother during the time of the Japanese Occupation. Our real mom was her dad’s unmarried sister, Tiya Mercedes, a school teacher in Pangasinan. When our dad went home to Japan never to come back, we were separated and dispersed to different families in order to seal the family secret. “We should make up for lost time, don’t you see?” she laughed, dimpling, as she wound up the story that must have played and replayed in her mind.
As I was instructed not to contradict her, I coasted along. Sunday after Sunday, she would come from her house in Project 4, Quezon City to mine in Gagalangin, Manila. We would watch a movie or eat out or spend a lazy afternoon watching television or taking an afternoon nap together.
When the Sunday visits ended abruptly, I might have felt relieved. (Why does my emotive memory elude me?) It didn’t occur to me to ask “Why, what happened? Where is she? Is she alright?” Not that I could I ask from anyone. Suddenly, the subject of Lorna was taboo.
The next time I saw Lorna was about 10 years after -- at my office. I was already married and a mother of young kids. I was hard put to remember who she was at first. She had become big, very big, and her hair – unclipped and untrammeled -- had turned prematurely gray. In the somewhat unkind words of an office colleague who knew her from their time at UP: “She has seen better days.” I had to agree; she was a caricature of the "Lorna this and Lorna that" of my girlhood.
We talked over lunch or tried to. I could not make out much from the bits and pieces she was saying, except that she was no longer working and that her family was “okay naman.” She seemed to have forgotten we were once “sisters,” and I didn’t try to remind her.
It was raining hard when she left. When I tried to delay her, she showed me an umbrella. Stepping into the shaded catwalk, she stooped to pick up a stone. She turned and held it up for me to see, laughing, dimpling. I thought I glimpsed the long-ago Lorna.
She might have dropped by two more times at the office.
The last time I heard about Lorna was when I stumbled into her sister, Jenny, at a shopping mall. When I asked after her, Jenny said –“Ayun, nasa bahay. We don’t allow her to go out anymore.”
Before we parted, I asked Jenny to give Lorna my regards.
“Sigurado mo?” Jenny shot back with a sardonic smile. Implicit was a challenge: “Are you sure you want to have anything to do with her?”
I played it dumb and just smiled back.
It was lately I discovered Lorna’s condition had a name.
It was the same condition that afflicted Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, and John Nash. Both Van Gogh and Woolf took their own lives. Nash went on to become a Nobel laureate for his work in mathematics and his story was told in a haunting movie starring Russell Crowe called ”A Beautiful Mind.”
It is the same condition that has lately afflicted someone I love.
“Nothing happens without a reason.”
Tell me about it.
(Note: Schizoprenia is now treatable although not yet curable. Modern medicine can control its most appalling symptoms like delusions, hallucinations, “voices within,” suspicions, and inability to communicate, interact socially, and cope with stress. Doctors no longer automatically associate the condition with environmental trauma connected with parental and childhood issues but rather factor in the very physiological problem of chemical imbalance. It affects one of every 100 persons worldwide.)