The training went well until The Day came. We shall be going to the Rolling Hills Funeral Parlor somewhere in Mandaue City. There was this European tourist who allegedly fell off the rooftop of his hotel. The doctor would be happy to have with him some 20 observers while he did the autopsy. This is it! I have to face The Dead once and for all. Tatty's "go go go go hon!" was more than enough to make me ride the van along with the rest. I didn't know whether I was all alone in my agony. All I know was that they all appeared relaxed and composed.
Well, we lost our way for half an hour. When we finally found the funeral parlor, we were almost an hour late. The doctor was waiting in the embalming room. To reach it, we have to pass through a row of white coffins. I slowed down and asked the old man who was sharpening a knife, "Manong, may laman ba ang mga yan?" Can you imagine the reaction of the old Cebuano? He paused and stared at me, his knife in his right hand. Maybe he did not know what I was talking about but he just said "Diretso lang!".
I took small, slow steps towards where the action was. My eyes were fixed to the Man on the Table. My heart took an unusual calmed beating. My diaphragm was rhythmically ascending and descending. From my vantage position, I could see that The Dead was naked with only a frayed hand towel covering his genitalia. I could see the scalp of The Dead. I could see his pale skin. I could very well see every nail in his toes. His graying, flattened abdomen. The bruises with dried blood on his forehead. The deep cut in his left heel. But not his face. I didn't want to see his face. I want to have a good sleep every night.
When the doctor ordered his assistant to turn The Dead on his right side, I was caught off-guard. I nearly panicked when I saw his eyes. I was jolted back to my necrophobic senses. It was a human! I took one then two then three paces backwards away from where the action was. I was ready to flee! The small voice inside my head was shouting: "Don't you turn around and run! You'll be back to zero! You're here! Just Face The Dead!!!" I faced The Dead. I stayed.
The doctor ordered the finale, the Autopsy. Dissection time. What a sharp knife! One slice and everything came into full view. I saw Everything that I didn't want to see. I was hypnotized... The bone saw was equally sharp. The inside of the human body was revealed to everyone in the room. I promised the pigs and the cows that I won't eat members of their tribes anymore out of respect. And because I don't easily forget.
The doctor chattered away. Cameras clicked and captured every angle, every slice, every part of the human anatomy. Then it's over.
The Dead who haunted me for 35 years was left open in the table. He did not look exactly like the man whose picture graced the front page of a Cebu tabloid the following day. He was not a person, he was a cadaver. A helpless cadaver.
I was afraid of the dead for a long time! Necrophobia controlled my life. It even shrunk Papa's dream of having a daughter in his family. If I had only conquered my fear at once, I could have been somebody else.
One thing that was imprinted in my photographic memory was this: Death is so mean. An autopsy kills a person for the second time around for the sake of knowing why and how the first death happened.
I texted Tatty: "Hon, pag namatay ako, wag mo ako ipapaautopsy ha..." He replied, "of course not, maliban na lang kung pinatay ka." Ewww....