1. Loren G. Palma
I’ve known Loren G. Palma since I was a kid. He was seven years my senior. He was friends with my eldest brother back in their high school days hanging out in Rizal Triangle Park’s basketball court and doing God-knows what other things.
Later on he became friends with my older sister during her senior year in college and even after college. It was group of friends mainly composed of other SBMA employees.
A few years back, Loren joined Freemasonry. I was already a member of the Craft when he joined and that’s when we established or should I say; re-established a connection.
It was only six years ago when Loren and I started bonding. Not a long time I know, but enough to understand one another and see pass each other’s idiosyncrasies.
That Peculiar Mango Tree.
When I started my job in 2011 a handful of us Brother Masons including Loren, frequently hang out under a big mango tree in front of Building 225. Loren and a couple more guys (Rommel and Gerwin) work in Building 225 and the spot seemed convenient especially for these three.
We would go there spontaneously and without any notice to one another but somehow, we find ourselves congregating in that very spot like as if each meeting was planned and scheduled. We would all be talking about anything… any topic… from the most extraordinary subject to the most mundane.
After a few more months, we became more drawn to each other and the “Mango Tree Meetings” felt like a necessity in order to survive the usual stress that came with our daily lives and professions. Since we were all Masons in that circle of friends, other Masons in the area would jokingly call our group “Mangga Lodge” and somehow that name stuck with us for a good number of years until we prefer “Mangga Boys” out of respect to the official names of the actual Masonic Lodges. The lot of us would have lunch almost every day. Often times under the mango tree, sometimes in restaurants and even in some greasy spoon canteens in the area. For us, it was never about the food but rather the company which makes any vetsin-rich sarsyado taste like a gourmet dish.
Interestingly, we even have our yearly Christmas Party. During the last one, Loren was there… he was already sick but he had fun… he was laughing all the time and we goofed around with him.
Most of the time, we just fooled around or throw insults, profanities and curses at each other. I think the best cuss-words are those uttered to you by your closest friends and uttered to you with the purest of love and the utmost gross disregard for respect. I don’t mind being cursed at by these guys… heck it even felt good. I think that’s what real friends do to each other; they curse at each other, make fun of someone’s hair cut or skin color or someone’s nose or lip shape and give each other nasty nicknames.
We gave Loren so many nicknames and he enjoyed them. We called him “Ngetpa”, “Pangsky” “Chickito”, “Panchito”, “Palmers” and we even tell him that he buys his clothes and shoes at Osh-kosh because they didn’t; have his size at regular men’s stores… Loren being a short guy that he was. We made fun of his manner of walking, the way he stood when he was on the phone and his choice of clothes. But like I said, each nickname and insult was said with love that only each of us can see and Loren loved them all… and all we loved him back. (Bakit nga ba kapag minumura tayo ng BFF natin, kahit gaano pa ka-lutong; hindi tayo nasasaktan? Minsan nga palihim pa tayong natutuwa eh…)
We Love Pangsky.
We loved him dearly. There is something about Loren which makes him easy to love as a friend. I even made him Godfather to my youngest son.
Loren and I shared a lot of things in common. He was a sucker for intellectual and philosophical discussions just like me and like me, he loved movies. We both have the same habit of over-analyzing movies; their plots, the characters and the basic story line. But unlike me, Loren loves comic books.
He knew all the Marvel and DC Comic characters by heart, even the ones that are not commonly known by the non-fanatics.
Another interesting fact or experience I have with Loren is when he talks about nothing but pure bullshit. I knew he was bullshitting me but I don’t seem to mind. Maybe because I know that it’s Loren who’s giving me a load of crap and not some stranger who is trying sweet talk me into something.
To borrow the lines of the poet Jose Garcia Villa: “Loren has his way of being Loren, Lorenly.”
To borrow the lines of the poet Jose Garcia Villa: “Loren has his way of being Loren, Lorenly.”
Then He Got Sick.
The first time Loren told us about his colon cancer was more or less two years ago and we all acted like it was nothing.
We pretended that it was nothing.
It was only when Loren wasn’t around that we talked about how worried we are. We didn’t want Loren to know that we terrified of his cancer because we knew Loren wouldn’t want us to get worried as worrying would somehow take away the fun in our sacred little circle of friendship.
It is never a common practice of the Mangga Boys to talk about one of the guys behind his back but if we do talk about a member in secret; it is only because we have a legitimate concern that needs to be addressed and that we somehow need to figure out a way to resolve an issue minus all the possible confrontations and humiliation. Maybe it’s a “guy-thing” or maybe we’re all just sexist bigots… the truth is, we don’t care… we are happy at the expense of no one.
Before his surgery (to remove a portion of his colon), Loren expressed some worries concerning medical expenses and we did everything we could to pitch in. Even after his cancer came back, all of us gave help whenever he needed it. A few thousands here and there just to augment the burden pressing against Loren’s shoulder. Loren appreciated all the help from the Mangga Boys, his high school friends, office mates and other colleagues. Helping Loren was never daunting task for us. Those of us who have more, gave more and those who have less gave whatever their means allowed them to give. It was after all, for Loren.
Chiquito’s Birthday Bash.
Rommel, being one of the closest to Loren organized a surprise birthday party for Pangsky last March 2. His birthday is actually in February but it was in March 2 that we found a common time to throw Loren a party. It was set in one of the Korean Restaurants in Subic. We even ordered a birthday cake which read: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY PB LOREN “CHIQUITO” PALMA” from Mangga Lodge. He was teary eyed when he blew the candles on his cake and whatever wish he made before blowing them out, we knew that he wished it with all his heart… with all his faith.
Had we known it would be his last birthday, we would have made it bigger, crazier and the party, much much longer.
Taken during Loren's Birthday Party last March 2:
Video Clip of the surprise Birthday for Pangsky:
It Got Worse.
Then our fears took a new form about a month ago when they rushed Loren to the hospital.
That dreaded mother-f*%ker of an ailment that took the lives of almost all cancer patients.
When Rommel, Gerwin and I came over to the hospital to visit him, he was so weak and frail that I almost burst into tears just seeing Loren curled in bed, his skin clinging to his bones. We all had to muster out whatever humor we have remaining just to keep a lively atmosphere. When he heard our voices, he slowly opened his eyes and looked at our faces… one by one and said: “Tang-ina niyo, wag n’yo ako lilitratuhan… gago kayo…” and we all laughed in unison. I told him he looked ugly and horrible which is why it’s a bad idea if he dies because they would have to find a casket with a tinted glass window. He just gave me a faint smile.
Last Monday, news came that Loren who was then confined in a hospital in Pampanga is suffering from multiple organ failure. Last time Loren was awake was Thursday last week. He fell asleep that Thursday night and remained asleep until Monday. Monday night, I was online chatting with his wife Abigail and asked how he was holding up. She told me that every organ in his body was slowly ceasing to function except his heart and beat of which remained strong and consistent. I said to myself it was because Loren always had a strong heart… capable of giving so much love. I promised Abigail that the Mangga Boys will be there the next day. Perhaps if Loren could hear our curses and profanities, he would somehow regain strength. I know, it was a silly and childish idea but it was hopeful and there are moments in our lives that hope reigns supreme over logic.
Ngetpa is Gone.
I woke up Tuesday with the news of Loren’s passing. I went through my usual morning routine with great amount of sadness covering my entire body. It was a different kind of sadness… like the sadness you feel when your favorite basketball team loses a championship game by just one point but then, you multiply that feeling by ten thousand… and that's exactly how I feel.
The boys and I met as usual for coffee that morning but there was something amiss. We couldn’t talk about anything else except Loren. We tried to take the conversation to another subject but we all end up talking about Loren. Loren was gone. Gone forever.
We all knew that the cancer will take him sooner or later but the feeling we have in knowing he is just sick and at home or at the hospital is very different from the feeling we have in knowing that he can never be with us again. The hope we had for him, even if it was fleeting was enough for all of us but he died and that hope was snatched away from us.
I don’t exactly know why I am writing this piece or what purpose it may serve to those reading it or to those listening to this voice. For years now, I never wrote anything personal. Most of the time I only write office memos and business letters, speeches for other people and emails. If it’s true what they say that grieving is a process, then maybe this is my way grieving… the only way I know how to process grief or loss or pain. Because knowing that Loren will never ever show up again in any of our usual Mangga Boys’ events, lunch, drinking sessions and hangout… is painful. His passing left a gaping hole in our lives and millions of "what ifs", "should haves" and "could haves".
He was a short little man with a big heart and brave soul. He was kind and sweet. And he loved life.
The Mangga Boys are made up of boys with unique characters and each one of us perfectly fits the role we play under the mango tree. Loren surely played his role and he played it well.
We will painfully miss him and there will always be a spot under the shade of the tree that is solely meant for him.
Taken during my birthday last February 2016:
Mangga Boys' Christmas Party 2016:
Taken during Loren's officemate's Birthday lunch, November 2016: