Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tara's Deep Deep Sleep

It was momentarily surreal for me. Like watching parts of my life in a movie.

As H and sat across Tara's parents - Larry and Anne - it was liikelooking at ourselves some ten years ago. Only this time, it wasn't Migi lying in a deep coma but 22 year old Tara Santelices.

When I first told H that I wanted to visit Tara's folks in the ICU waiting area of The Medical City, he wondered aloud if it was the same Santelices whohad gone to the same school he went to as a young boy in Naga. True enough, it was. No coincidences in God's plan.

When we arrived, the Santelices couple were not there yet but Joee Mejias, Tara's best friend who was with her on the night that we shot inside a passenger jeepney somewhere in Cainta, was there and willing to talk to me about the harrowing night of August 6 when Tara's was shot in head by what now appears to be a .38 cal revolver. The assailant, a burly looking man in his 40s continues to remain at large.

I remain in awe of how Joee managed to keep her wits about her that evening. The two friends had been waiting for a ride home to Cainta (for Tara) and Antipolo (for Joee) a little before midnight. They had left the Burger King on Marcos Highway and waited at the jeepney terminal by Santa Lucia Mall when a strange looking jeep with the sign "Angono" passed them. The two young women were the first to board the jeepney. It was a few minutes before midnight, the eve of Tara's 23rd birthday. A few minutes, and several passengers later, a rougish looking, 40 year old man, boarded the jeep and squeezed himself into the space betwee Joee and the leftend side of the jeepney. Tara had been seated beside Joee when around 1230 AM in a crowded, dark area, the man pulled out his gun and announced the hold-up. He told the two girls to give up their bags and belongings but Tara, being the feisty young woman that she had always been, put up a struggle and it was then that the gunman pulled the trigger, shooting Tara on the forehead.

The man jumped off the jeepney and escaped, leaving Tara slumped on her seat and Joee in shock. After a few seconds, Joee checks on Tara and asks if she is okay. "She had blood spurting like crazy from her forehead and we were both all bloodied but she managed to tell me that she was ok and so I knew she was still conscious," Joee recalls of that tragic evening. Barking orders, she asked the driver to take them to the nearest clinic which was some 20 minutes away. Joee says that they couldprobably have gotten there faster had the driver not made several stops to let three other passengers off!! I was appalled when Joee shared this with me -- at the seeming lack of urgency! Could it have been that the jeepney was in cahoots all along?

Unfortunately, the clinic where they were dropped off was ill-equipped to handle the emergency and so again Joee pleaded for help from her co-passengers but she says that among them, only one woman named Abigail helped them flag a cab that took them to Amang Rodriguez hospital. At the hospital, Joee was met by her mother whom she was able to call at some point during the evening, hysterical, saying that Tara had just been shot. "We arrived at Amang Rodriquez at around 1:30 AM and by then she was already unconscious and had lost so much blood. Tara was "stabilized" at 4AM on August 6, as dawn's first light broke on her 23rd birthday.

Larry and Anne Santelices decided to move their eldest daughter to The Medical City that same morning and she arrived at the hospital at around 9AM. While there, tests showed that the bullet was lodged in the left side of her head close to the left temporal lobe. It is what you call a "hollowpoint" bullet, one that fragments upon impact. The Santelices couple were advised of only a 10 percent chance of survival if Tara was to be operated on and that at this point in the game, if she were to survive, she would no longer be the Tara that everyone knew and loved.

What kind of person was Tara? Joee says that Tara was highly-artistic and very peace loving. An AB Political Science '07 graduate from the Ateneo de Manila, she had dreams of one day working for the United Nations. At the time of her accident, she was working for an NGO called Upland Marketing. Tara loved music and wasthe lead guitarist of an all-girl band called Saffron and was part of a duo called Storm.

A life cut so soon always makes one stop and ask many questions. There now exists so much violence in our communities that it has become a difficult time to be a parent. This is the third violent incident I had heard about this week and I must admit that it rattles my nerves. Nowadays, one must be extra prayerful and ask that the Lord continue to cover us and our loved ones with His protection and grace.

A criminal roams the streets of Cainta and I pray that Divine justice will be served. This is a wake-up call on many levels. Meanwhile, Tara remains in a deep, deep sleep and we all continue to pray for God's hand to manifest itself in the days ahead