Release of “The Former Things Have Passed Away” one excerpt at a time

Several people asked if my essay at XoJane ( was part of a larger work, and indeed it comes about halfway through my creative nonfiction novel, The Former Things Have Passed Away. Some commented that they wanted to read more, so in response, I’m releasing a chapter biweek, starting today. Here is the beginning of Chapter 1. I hope you find yourself connecting to my words and feel the urge to keep on reading.

Chapter 1


The big green sign says, A Special Place to Remember. I remember. I remember many things. With the windows down, the breeze, say goodbye, say goodbye. I can’t forget. Because of that sign. Or the hum of the radio – say goodbye. Or maybe it’s this breeze, cooling my hot flushed face with ease. The mind likes to remember things – like – a Tuesday morning. A quarter to nine. A phone call. Ring, ring. “She’s gone.” The round white clock hanging on the wall with its clear black numbers and arrows.

This song is fading. I step out onto the blacktop and get mud all over my shoes. I wipe them off on the wet grass.

There’s a new bench marker here on the hill: Lee & Chang Family Bench. This other one just says, Young, squared off with yellow caution tape, like a fresh crime scene. Still I can read the inscription: 1930-1995. Hers reads: Josephine Cabrera, Beloved Wife and Mother, 1940-1998. ‘Young’ was 65. She was only 58. Maybe it’s okay to die at 65, but not at 58. Now that’s a crime.

There aren’t any trees up here on the incline. No shade. There are fresh bouquets, mini-candles, lanterns, orange and yellow bloated smiley faces, butterflies. There are red, white and blue flags, pinwheels swirling yellow and blue and red. Fake plastic flowers, like the ones Papa leaves between fresh flower changes. I’ve been here dozens of times, and yet I can never remember exactly where her marker is, hidden somewhere under this spectacle of vibrant, rich color. Somewhere halfway-down the hill, neither highly sloped, nor completely level. If I squint and peer deeper, maybe I can distinguish Papa’s fake flowers from the real, or freshly laid, or dying.

A Tuesday morning, a quarter to nine. I had just gotten out of the shower after two unwashed days in the hospital. The phone rang. It rang and rang, and no one ran to answer it. And then I finally picked up the receiver. Tina, she’s gone.

Plastic flowers. And I’m here to replace them with real flowers, for the first time alone. Papa and his fake plastic flowers. Must be a Filipino thing. Maybe all the fake plastic flowers here are Filipino. 1940-1998. Papa says Mama never knew for sure the exact year of her birth – 1939 or 1940? She went with 1940 of course, to make her feel younger. Not only did she not know exactly when she was born, she never knew how her father really died. In fact, Papa says he doesn’t know how his father died either. “Boy, I think our father died of diabetes,” his brother, Junior, told him. I think?

Esteban Cabrera, 58, of Cebu, Philippines, died unexpectedly sometime in 1960. Born – possibly – in Luzon. Died in Cebu. A retired school registrar. Cause of death – possibly a heart attack or cancer, though Esteban Jr. (a.k.a. Junior) tells his two brothers diabetes was most likely the cause of death. Survived by wife (now deceased), Carmen Cabrera; Three sons: Esteban Jr. (Junior), Gerasimo (Gerry), and Manuel (Manny/Boy); 2 daughters: Amparo and Bienvenida (also now both deceased). Junior and Gerry still reside in the Philippines, and Manuel (Manny) has been residing in the U.S. for the past 40 odd years with no return to his homeland thus far.

Miguel Cecilio, anywhere from 30-50 years of age, of Manila, Philippines, died somewhere on the island. Exact cause of death unidentifiable. Exact year of death unknown. Born in Spain, his occupation is unknown. Survived by wife, Lourdes Venus Mercado Cecilio, who died at age 55 in 1977 of a heart attack (most likely set on by overeating, due to depression provoked by marriage to an abusive second husband); 2 daughters Josephine and Patricia (Auntie Pat), and one son, “Uncle Mike,” half brother to Josephine and Patricia; possibly other, illegitimate children. Cause of death has been attributed to this very intriguing story told by Josephine years later to her daughter Tina: “When I was three years old, your grandfather was hunting a wild boar in the jungles of the Philippines and was chased and run down by said wild boar. He bled to death.” Tina found this story amusing, retold it to her fellow classmates in elementary school who giggled every time they heard it, and thought it a romantic way to die. When Tina, as an adult, asked her mother if this story was really true, Josephine answered that there was no way of verifying the story since her mother, who originally told the tale, was now long dead. Alternative cause of death: some mysterious disease that Lourdes Venus Mercado Cecilio may have wanted to keep from her delicate children. Tina, though somewhat dissatisfied with this shadowy answer, acquiesced to the elusive roots of her familial history.

* * *

But it doesn’t really matter. They’re dead. Papa says he should be dead. Before Mama. “I should have died first. I wanted to die first.”

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