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To our Lord, the Giver of Life,

From whom all good things


spring forth.
“The men where you live,” said the little prince, “raise five
thousand roses in the same garden- and they do not find
in it what they are looking for.”

-The Little Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Also by Thad Hinunangan

City Girl Gets Trapped in the Boondocks and


Other Stories (2007)

The Private Exhibitionist: Blogging


as Literary Expression (2008)

Blog Halo-halo
Printed May 2010
Copyright 2010 by Thaddeus C. Hinunangan

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced


in any manner without written permission from the author.


FOREWORD

I always say that when Anne Frank wrote her diary,


never in her wildest dreams did she imagine it would be a
worldwide bestseller. That’s the difference between a diary
and a blog; one is meant for a pair of eyes only, while the
other is released for public consumption.

Yet some blogs read like they were wonderfully


written and edited diaries; imagine Anne Frank getting
herself an agent and a book deal—after she wrote her
diary. The technical side of writing considers the fact that
the blog will be read by others, but the content itself is
honest, self-revealing and real.

Thad’s blog allows us a peek into his life. And what


a life he’s had! From growing up in Tacloban to a 9-year
stint in Manila then back to his hometown, Thad offers up
stories and anecdotes that draws one in and keeps one
glued with his effortless and accessible prose.

Do you have some free time? Then feel free to spend


it with Thad. And see how the ordinary, emancipated is
actually extraordinary.

Joel McVie, blogger and author of


The Wet Book: Stories from the
Bath House


BLOG HALO-HALO*

I. “MILK” Nourishing School Stuff


Episode 1: Room with a View or Fastfood with Greasy Fries
Episode 2: Blood, Needles, and Vajayjays
Episode 3: Rush, rush
Episode 4: Gatekeeper
Episode 5: Curacha

II. “ICE”
Chilling with Stories from Beyond the
School Gates
Episode 1: Appearances
Episode 2: The Tale of the Muscle Shirt, Polyester Shorts, and
Yellow Speedos
Episode 3: The Naked Chef Meets Fear Factor
Episode 4: An Extraordinarily Ordinary Story
Episode 5: Fetish
Episode 6: Crush-ed
Episode 7: Compromising Postitions

*kakaibang trip!


III. “FRUITS” Living and Learning


Episode 1: Seasons
Episode 2: Of Carabaos and Girlfriends
Episode 3: My City, Myself
Episode 4: Mile High Mishap
Episode 5: Chicken Adobo, Humba, and Homemade Love
Episode 6: A Second Look at an Imperfect Marriage
Episode 7: Life Lessons in Jogging

IV. “SUGAR”
Sweet Stories from the Best Blogs
Postscript: The Big Three-Oh
BONUS STORIES:
The Long Weekend
(From City Girl gets Trapped in the Boondocks and Other Stories)
Made in Saudi, Made in America
(From The Private Exhibitionist)

About the Author




Chapter I. Nourishing School Stuff

My grandmother once told me she took a few clumps


of fine hair during my first haircut and inserted them within
the pages of a thick book. It was supposedly done to
guarantee my aptitude in school- either that or it merely
brought about my undying flair for dramatics.

I’ve had a wealth of experiences in my studies


through the years, but none as stressful and noteworthy
than those in Nursing school. For someone who faints at
the sight of blood, retches at the smell of human excrement,
and hates memorizing with a passion, entering this field of
study was my Everest.

Writing had ever been my refuge from the madness


of cramming and late night study sessions, of the palpable
tension during one’s first duty in Obstetrics & Gynecology,
or perhaps the rush you get from scrubbing for a major
operation. It certainly was a small miracle I have survived
those years, and it gives me great joy to tell the tales of
Nursing life.

Prop your feet up the couch as we slip into reverie


in the crazy world that is college...

Episode 1:
Room with a View or Fastfood with Greasy Fries
For the record, I’m allowing myself the luxury of 20
minutes of guilt-free blogging as a way to blow off steam. I
have two more Final exams tomorrow, and I haven’t slept
in two days- I know I shouldn’t waste my time but screw
it…

Woolf said a woman needs a room of her own if she


is to write fiction, Thadie says he needs fastfood junk to
study Curative and Rehabilitative Nursing! Oh but I don’t
limit myself, no Sir. Sometimes you’d find me taking a bite
of Chickenjoy at the Jollibee on Zamora overlooking the
pier, with notes in hand, sometimes sipping hot coffee and
scanning a four inch thick book, or dipping greasy salted
fries on a tub of ketchup at Mcdo at 11pm. My veins need
caffeine to function, and a whole lot of grease to oil up
what’s left of my working neurons.

It is a desperate attempt to cram everything inside


my head. Otherwise, we don’t want to resort to the same
monkeyshines other students are into. I remember once
during a 70 item long quiz, some instructors made a simple
mistake of having a section take the examination earlier
than everybody else- by noon not only did everyone know of
the exact coverage, students actually had all the answers!
Students who were brave enough resorted to the classic
codigo, but chicken shits like me got torn between going
through readings and looking at the answers. In the end, I
decided to memorize 50 items by clustering them by fives,
(and adding a tune) and answer the rest. So when the exam
started, I was humming to myself bdcca-bbcaa-addcb…
in three minutes I had but twenty more items to answer.
In the end, we all got busted not because someone got
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caught but because the scores were simply unbelievably
high. Imagine, the delinquent suddenly having a near-
perfect score, when in comparison, his short quizzes (if at
all he attended class) were below passing. Ok, so lesson
learned, shenanigans are out of question, and that’s why
I’m still at this spot, in this table, at midnight.

Looking around me is like gazing into a mirror:


all tables are filled with students and their respective
mountains of photocopies and risographed readings, faces
distracted, munching on a donut, with earphones firmly in
place and wires dangling from their faces. This place is a
virtual school canteen in the wee hours of the morning.

Drat, my 20 minutes is over. Adieu!


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Episode 2:
Blood, Needles, and Vajayjays
I acted like a complete dunce during my first time to assist
a delivery.

There I was, looking so immaculate in my freshly


pressed green scrubs, gazing intermittently at the glass
partition between the delivery room and NICU (Neonatal
Intensive Care Unit), making sure my hair was in place.
The Clinical Preceptor was giving an orientation and final
instructions, and I just nodded my head and joined murmurs
of “Yes, Ma’am!” We were finally out of the classroom and
laboratory, away from plastic mannequins and simulated
environment. We were finally let loose into the clinical
area.

“Gravida 2, 5 cm, her bag of water ruptured already!!” An


orderly was wheeling in a pregnant woman in labor, her
face contorted in pain.

“Vital signs and FHR (fetal heart rate) now!” Barked our
preceptor.

I felt like I was in the middle of Grey’s Anatomy


episode (or Scrubs, more like it) as we scrambled to assist
the woman to her bed in the labor room. One student took
her blood pressure while we get a blanket to cover her
lower extremities so we could expose her swollen belly
to do Leopold’s maneuver. I could finally hear the baby’s
heartbeat through the stethoscope; I counted, then marked
the spot for future monitoring.

“BP 130/80 mmHg, the FHR is 130 bpm, contractions


regular.” I said, wiping my brow.
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“Another patient for C Section! I need two of you to scrub
now!” Another patient came in a stretcher, and two students
from our group scrambled for their OR gowns and start
preparing.

Just as we thought it couldn’t get any worse, our preceptor


screamed again. “Multipara, 10 cm already, I need you
(pointing at me) and you (pointing at a friend) with me
at the delivery room NOW!” The rest, stay with the other
patient and monitor the progress of her labor!

“B..bb...but, Ma’am she’s not my patient, my patient is the


one at the labor room.” I stammered nervously.

She just glared at me and walked hurriedly to the delivery


room. I followed.

“Where’s the whiteboard marker for recording the time of


delivery at the whiteboard?” She asked loudly while the
patient was being assisted into the Lithotomy position.

My classmate and I looked at each other. “You didn’t tell


me about any marker!” I hissed.

“Where is the Methergine ampule? Where are the sutures


for the Episioraphy? Where’s your BP apparatus?”

“Uhmm.. ah.” I looked around in panic.

“Prepare those things NOW!”

And off we went. “Where were you during orientation?”


My classmate demanded. “Oh shut up let’s just find those
things.”

“Crowning!”
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The midwife and our clinical preceptor were
instructing the mother how to push. Then the midwife did
something that would take weeks to disappear from my
mind: she took a sharp Mayo scissor and cut the woman’s
perineum to widen the birth canal. The woman screamed
in pain. Blood oozed.

I felt faint, I thought I’d collapse into the big bucket


where they dumped the placentas. I wanted to slide
the woman to the side so I could lie down for a while.
Kidding.

The baby came out faster than I expected. No


observable “internal rotation”, “extension” and all that
cardinal movements we memorized in the classroom. The
birth itself took no more than a few seconds. Just like that
a person was born into this world.

“BP?”

“130/80mmHg.”

“Inject Methergine 1amp.”

I prepared the medication and administered it via


intramuscular route. The woman was almost delirious; she
did not even notice I stuck a big needle on her arm. The
neonate was brought to the NICU for cord care.

We assisted the woman into her clothes and did the


after care. As we watched her being wheeled away in a
stretcher, my clinical preceptor asked me:

“Ok, so did you learn anything new in this exposure?”

“Yes Ma’am,” I said as I fanned myself.


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“…Listen to instructions.”

Episode 3:
Rush, rush
12:01 PM. I wrapped up an hour of polishing my
article for Jurisprudence, took a quick shower, and laid out
my immaculate white uniform on the bed. I should arrive in
school by 12:30, perfectly composed, with still half an hour
to review for the quiz. Perfect.

I frowned as I put my foot outside the door- a speck


of water suddenly appeared on my shoe. Then another,
and another. It was starting to drizzle.

Fine, I took out my umbrella and headed out the


gate, hugging my backpack close so it doesn’t get soaked
in the rain. In the distance, there were no pedicabs in sight,
which meant I had to walk to the highway to catch a ride.

It was then fate decided to play a joke on me. It


seemed, as I put one foot in front of the other, the rain
poured harder. My shoes were completely soaked now.
Even as I held the umbrella closer, the wind was blowing
the rain sideways. Barely a hundred meters from our front
door, I was already dripping wet from knees down, and the
rain also soaked the back of my uniform, my arms, and my
bag.
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Halfway to the main street, I had to finally stop at


a neighbor’s hut- I was completely soaked from head to
foot, and could not possibly go to school looking like I just
stepped out of the shower fully clothed.

Finally a pedicab passed by, so I requested him first


to drop by our house so I can change my uniform. As I
finally made it to the highway minutes later, changed, and
a little less irritable, the sun shone its brightest, mocking
me.

I lost precious minutes for review so I decided to


start reviewing while riding the jeep. After what seemed
like an eternity, I arrived at our building and flew four flights
of stairs to our classroom.

What greeted me was an empty room with the lights off,


and a solitary person inside.

“Where is everybody?” I panted, struggling to catch my


breath.

She looked me in the eye and said:

“Haven’t you heard? We have no classes today.”


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Episode 4:
Gatekeeper
There are certain things one has to remember when
being in the Psych ward, such as: number one, sharpen
your peripheral vision- you never know whether your once-
calm patient would suddenly have the irresistible urge to
pull your hair or perhaps throw feces at you (excuse me
for those eating at the moment). Number two, treat your
patients with respect you would give to a fellow human
being- so when someone bites you don’t bite back (kidding),
just maintain control and try to pacify your patient. You are
the sane one, remember? Number three, stay calm. When
chaos erupts don’t run for the nearest exit, it’s your job to
make sure patients don’t hurt others- or themselves.

With these in mind, around fifty of us tiptoed through


the double-locked (from the inside and from the outside)
iron gate to finally meet with our patients for the first time.
Being fidgety amateurs must give off some kind of potent
pheromones because even catatonic patients rolled their
eyes, as if they could sense the fear permeating from our
pristine white uniforms.

Though I cannot divulge certain information or


descriptions, I can say as much that I’m thankful my patient
was neither too unruly nor violent. But of course, either
due to fear, inexperience, or the language barrier (my
first language is Waray, while patients are Cebuano- and
though we tried to improve our bisaya the past months,
it was simply impossible to be fluent in a short period of
time), blunders are unavoidable. For example:

Female Psych Patient: “Gwapo, hampa hampa ta!”


(“Handsome, let’s f*ck”)
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Granting that I knew only a few Cebuano words, I uttered
the first Cebuano word that flew to my mind: “Unya, unya!”
(Later, later!)

I was supposed to say “Dili pwede” (No, that’s forbidden!)

I kept scribbling on my little notebook (praying I’d be


able to decipher my notes later) during the history-taking
and kept jumbling names calling one patient “Sheena”
when her name was Shiela, or “Myra” when her name
was Myrna. No wonder they all had puzzled looks on their
faces. I must have confused them further.

Towards the end of the shift, I somehow found


myself with my back against the steel gate. My only task
was to open and close the gate for the food and medication
deliveries. Temporarily, I suppose, with the few minutes of
little to no interaction with the patients, I found myself more
useful than a nuissance.

Another day approaches, with the hope that I get to be


more efficient than a human padlock.
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Episode 5:
Curacha
It really is hard to believe that almost four years ago
I segued from working man to school boy. I became part
of the largest ever batch of Nursing students in St. Scho
Tacloban- a strong 500+, as it were the peak of the exodus
of health workers abroad and the demand for Nurses was
high at that time.

Our batch had certain peculiarities- for one, there


were a lot of second coursers (“elders”, they would call
us). We had batchmates from all over Region 8, and some
came as far as Manila and Mindanao just to study here.
Others were transferees from big name universities like
UST and La Salle, and of course there were a number
of us who were certified Iskolar ng Bayans running amok
(lol).

I think we were also the last batch to follow the


stringent screening process (aka elimination) and many
of our comrades didn’t make it. By mid-semester of the
1st year 1st sem, we already had classmates who would
mysteriously stop attending classes. We had 31 units
straightaway, and I’m proud to note we were trained by the
best General Education team. I remember our Monday
schedule which began at 6:30AM for the morning praise
and ended 8:30PM. The rest of the week was a blur of
lectures, quizzes, practical exams, and more written
exams. There were 9 sections left when the enrollment for
the second semester of 1st year came.

By the time we finished the 2nd year second sem,


we all lined up to see the Dean, who was going to inform
us of our fate. Half of the entire batch didn’t make it. Some
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shifted to another course, some transferred to other Nursing
schools in Ormoc, Cebu, and Manila, others simply dropped
out for one reason or another. Two hundred fifty or so went
on to attend the much anticipated Capping and Badge
Pinning Ceremonies- signaling the start of our transition
from mere classroom instruction to actual hospital duty.

There was a twist in the new sectioning which


began the summer before 3rd year- the administration
pooled together all the Dean’s Listers in one section,
which at some point raised controversy. I was in favor of
the usual heterogenous sectioning, which was done for the
majority of the batch, but the decision to have Section A
homogenous according to GWA was upheld. In hindsight,
I would have really preferred to be just placed in different
sections because you get to meet a lot of different people
and the solidarity of the batch was improved. Being in
Section A bunched up with the same faces over and over
again gets a little boring, not to mention these people are
naturally competitive (myself included) which could get
annoying and frightening sometimes. I’ve had friends who
actually preferred to be transferred to other sections rather
than be in A.

But that drama aside, we surmounted a few more


hurdles like Promotive and Preventive, Curative and
Rehabilitative Nursing, and research. At the same time we
were trained by our Clinical Preceptors in the different areas
like DR/ NICU, operating room, emergency, outpatient,
community and the unforgettable Psychiatric nursing.
Our batch was successful with the Case Presentation at
VSMMC, and completed the affiliation without incident.
And of course our batch also happened to be perennial
champions in the Sportsfest and College Days, earning
the moniker “Grandslam Batch.”

I will never forget what one of our Preceptors told us


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during the course of our Clinical duties: “Here in the hospital
you are dealing with lives. There is no room for error when
you are caring for your patients.” I finally understood why
firmness and strictness was always maintained during
our training, and I think in that moment, by the examples
shown to us in Clinical practice, I was also able to grasp
what kind of health professionals we should be.

Saying that my Nursing life in St. Scho is colorful


would be an understatement. So many people- fellow
students, faculty and staff had touched my life in one way
or another. Here I delved into another one of my passions
which is writing, and I’ve gone far from my original blog
entries which I initially posted to come out of the closet!
They also had me dance the Curacha (a traditional
courtship dance in Leyte/ Samar) in front of an audience,
participate in a Cheerdance (with my “two left feet”), and
play Basketball. Oh dear.

I can’t believe that in a few days or so, we would


be concluding our Nursing life and move on to the next
chapter. It is with both elation and a hint of sadness that
accompanies this realization. But if I were to encapsulate
the feeling it would be gratitude- to everyone I’ve met here,
to the patients I’ve cared for, to our Preceptors, and to the
school and the profession I’ve come to love.
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Chapter II. Chilling with Stories from Beyond


the School Gates

I’ve always wondered why they used the words


“Commencement Exercises”, when in fact it is done to
officially cap those years of study. Well, according to the
Dean, who almost blew his top during graduation practice
out of frustration, the term connotes “a beginning”, because
having graduated only means that one had finished training-
but is in fact still a novice in the working world.

Now that classes have ended, the real lessons


begin- in dealing with unemployment, the tedious climb in
the organization or company that one chose to be with,
and the most challenging of all: being with all sorts of
interesting, temperamental people.

The fact that I am in my late twenties suggest that


I am no newbie to the working world. I have to agree, the
most important education I got was not from within the four
walls of the classroom, but elsewhere my once-jobless ass
would take me.

One’s early twenties consist of a series of firsts- first


apartment, first job, first paycheck, first colleague crush,
and a whole lot of experiences deemed strange at first.
Like a baby learning its first steps, you begin to take risks
and take on life’s new challenges as a young adult.
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Episode 1:
Appearances
I loosened my grip on the razor as blood appeared
around my ankles where I had nicked it. Shaving’s a bitch.
“Why am I doing this again?” I wondered.

“You’re crossing a line.” Said my brother Tye. I told


him about this costume party we were having for our batch,
and my plan to come in drag. But the more friends reacted
negatively, the more curious I became. What’s the big deal
exactly? I was bent on finding that out as I got ready for the
Senior’s Ball.

A make-up artist friend volunteered to do my hair,


and promised to lend me a gown. She was a regular fixture
in gay pageants and she knew her thing. Initially I thought
of the idea of coming in drag as a joke, but after I told her,
she jumped up and down excitedly at her new project. She
was going to turn me from a “duckling” to a swan.

We live in a society that marginalizes gay people-


the more effeminate you are, the more people will think of
you as “weak” or “superficial”. My intention was to prove
that no matter what one wears, or how one walks, or how
one talks,it has little to do with what’s inside- a person’s
character and substance. In my case I wanted to show that
nothing has changed- I am still the same person, no less.
Not even 1/4 inch thick make-up or four-inch heels will
make me drop my IQ points or berate my personhood.

As usual, I thought, if I am to do this, I better do it


right. If I looked like a walrus in a dress, then by no means
am I going to parade like that in public. Yeah, that’s the vain
me speaking. So anyway I began with the basics: remove
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all body hair from legs to armpits so that I don’t look like
some deranged cavewoman.

As I stood in front of the mirror, I was amazed how


long and slim my legs looked. Regularly they were covered
under tufts of hair and all, so I didn’t quite expect that. I
slipped into silver 4 inch sandals and tried walking. Nice.
But once in a while I’d trip, causing my ankle to sprain a
little bit.

I put on sweatpants and quickly cleaned my room,


then left for a friend’s place, where the transformation
would continue.

I was given three gowns to choose from: a white


halter, a lime green serpentine gown, and a purple gown
with a thigh-high slit. My female friends helped me dress
up as they took turns in having their faces done. My oh my,
they fit alright, but my shoulders were too big I looked like
a Linebacker. My friend Aya lent me her dress which was
a relatively modest empire cut dress with sleeves.

My friend kept making jokes as she did my face-


there was a brownout and she was forced to apply make-
up in candlelight. She said they needed to prepare formalin
because of the way I looked- reclined on a chair while a
friend held a candle before me. Finally, the accessories
were worn, and as a finishing touch- two rolled up socks
placed on either side of my chest for breasts.

While we were in the car on the way to the hotel, I


could hear my heart beating. Oh my, I was actually going
to be seen in public looking like this, I almost panicked!
Finally, I took a deep breath and just stepped out of the
car into the street and then the hotel lobby. As we entered
the ballroom, jaws dropped. I couldn’t quite hear a thing
because people were shrieking and taking pictures. Well,
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for one night only, why not revel in my outfit? As I thought, it
wasn’t really that big a deal. I made jokes and laughed with
friends. Dressing up in drag wasn’t the end of the world,
that’s for sure.

As I paused for a bit in my seat I had another


thought- the essence or substance of everything really
goes beyond what our two eyes can see. The essence
of a woman isn’t in the long legs or beautiful breasts. It
is the role that she plays as a daughter or wife or mother
that makes her who she is. She nurtures, she cares, and
she loves- that’s what makes her a woman. Similarly some
people blindly measure their happiness through tax returns
and bank accounts, big houses or nice clothes, as opposed
to having great relationships and a growing maturity. And
in the same way, a student nurse isn’t measured for the
number of medals he or she earned, but in the dedication
and the quality of care that is rendered to their patients.

Suddenly, in that room filled with loud and giddy BS


Nursing graduates, I learned an unexpected lesson. Days
later, I laughed like crazy as they uploaded the photos of
the Senior’s Ball. We really did have fun that night. I was a
little embarrassed at those who took pictures of my boxers
peeking from my skirt- another lesson, when one wears a
skirt the legs must always be pressed together. Hahaha!
Oh well, who cares? I got nice legs.
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Episode 2:
The Tale of the Muscle Shirt, Polyester Shorts,
and Yellow Speedos
One of the saddest things ever is having a closet full
of clothes you would never wear again (at least in your right
mind) - like that acid wash jeans you once thought was so
cool, or the sputum-colored Palaro t-shirt you wore one
drunken night, or even that Lacoste knockoff you bought
that’s already faded from far too many washes. I decided
to clean up and make some closet space by checking each
item one by one, and sorting out the “wearables” from the
ones I’d give away.

It’s amazing how much I’ve spent on cheap ass


shirts, judging from the pile. If only I could go back in time
and buy a quality shirt instead, in exchange for everything
I’ve spent on these dingy Php120 a piece T-shirts. I stopped
dead in my tracks- at the bottom of the cabinet were three
items of glaring green, red, and yellow, all made of 90%
polyester.

The first item was a satin-looking (I emphasize the


resemblance only, because the fabric was more itchy than
luxurious to touch) green muscle shirt, with blue accents
around the neckline and sleeves. I remember these- I
bought it from the very first Penshoppe boutique at Dynasty
Square back in ‘97. I was 16, and the shirt was a graduation
present for myself.

The unfortunate thing was, I weighted about 98lbs


at that time- no fat, and no muscles either. Damn, it looked
so great on that mannequin at the store window- and since
it was a bit pricey (Ok it was 300 bucks, but in 1997, for a
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high school student in Leyte- that was already more than
what one would normally spend on a shirt) I was the only
one who had it. I wore it once when my friends and I went
out- my collarbone stood out like a couple of trusses, the
skin on my arms pale and thin- emphasized by the muscle
shirt’s color. “You need to gain weight!” Exclaimed one of
female friends. From that moment on, I swore to eat two
cups of rice every meal and never wear the shirt again.

The red shorts I picked up next looked like the


lower half of a basketball jersey (although I never played
basketball)- and If I remember correctly, this one was
purchased in 2003 when I started going to the gym. I
gained weight alright, even a bit of muscle that time. There
was a stain in the fabric, which I gather was the reason
why I never wore it again.

The last item was a pair of yellow swim trunks. The


design was quite simple: plain solid color with 3 red and
white diagonal stripes near the crotch area. It was neat-
not too plain, not too out there. Even the cut was perfect.
So I decided to try it on again to see why it remained for
years at the bottom of my closet.

As I slid the stretchy fabric up my legs, I had to


wriggle a little bit. It was tight around thigh area- a little bit
more and it would have cut off my circulation. As I checked
myself in the full length mirror I suddenly knew why: at the
front, it looked like one of those low-cut things men with
washboard abs wore (so in short, it was unforgiving with
my tiny paunch- unless I held my breath the entire time I
wore it, it would never work), the back part was obscene. It
could only contain half my butt, and it was a major cleavage
situation down there. I felt bad discarding it though, since
that thing was kind of sexy.

I put my clothes back on and wrapped up the sorting.


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I smiled to myself- funny how a bunch of old clothes could
take me on a trip down memory lane and those errors in
fashion judgment. I stood up and went to the storage area
where we keep most of the things we don’t use. The day
ended with 25% more closet space for me after discarding
all my old clothes- well, all of them, except the speedo.

Episode 3:
The Naked Chef Meets Fear Factor
Who said you need to spend thousands to
experience a sumptuous meal fit for your epicurean taste?
What I’m about to tell you is top secret- as in Maxim’s in
Paris have been begging me for this but I told them no, this
is exclusively for my friends. If you are planning a lovely
supper for a special someone, a friend, a nosy neighbor,
or perhaps your most hated enemy, you’re in luck.

Whip out the lampara and set the table for a simply
divine dining experience. First, of course you have to
prepare the following things:

1. Tokeneneng and kwek kwek


2. Lucky Me Noodles and Payless Pancit Canton
3. 4 sticks Isaw and Helmet
4. 2 sticks Atay, 2 sticks Adidas (don’t forget to ask for
sauce- usually pronounced “sows” in the streets)
5. Achara
28
6. 1 indian mango na may bagoong
7. Monay and dirty ice cream
8. Sarsi
9. 2 extra rice

To begin with (assuming you are already wearing


your gown, or perhaps your shower curtain cleverly draped
on your body like a Vera Wang cocktail dress), serve the
Hors d’oeuvres- I mean the tokeneneng. Share the sauce
or “sows”.

Compliment each others appearance, blah blah blah.


Now it’s time to bring out the soup- the delicately flavored
Lucky Me Noodles. Try not to eat too much because the
pasta is coming next- and you now that instant pancit
canton is the new ravioli!

The main course is Foie gras and some fancy meat,


with very fancy red wine. Ok its really Atay, Isaw, Adidas,
and kwek kwek with rice- but who cares about petty details,
right? Enjoy, try to look poised as you bite off the helmet.
Try not to look at the poor chicken’s half-opened left eye.
Don’t forget the sows.

Continue your magical conversation over achara.


Then for fresh fruit, have a slice or two of Indian mango.
Share the bagoong. Then top off the exquisite meal with
dessert- but nothing too common such as tiramisu or creme
brulee. Yuck! Peons are feasting on those plain things in
5 star hotels- you are simply too jaded to be satisfied. So
you settle with Monay ala mode. Yummy!

After supper, if you still haven’t thrown up, or


experience the symptoms of Shigellosis, or even had
severe diarrhea and consequently had hyponatremia, you
can savor the feeling of being a true food connoisseur.
Bravo!
29
Episode 4:
An Extraordinarily Ordinary Story
Her story is the stuff of telenovelas. At a young age,
her father died, and since her mother was also jobless,
she was sent to live with an aunt who promised to send her
to school. She packed what little belongings she had, and
left her mother and siblings. Unfortunately the aunt lied,
and she was instead sent to work in the fields.

After several years of enduring this, another of her


mother’s siblings promised the same thing, and thinking
she would finally be given the chance to continue Grade
three, she went willingly to Alang-alang, Leyte. Alas, she
was instead turned into a maid and yaya- and without pay!
This aunt was even worse, maltreating her and leaving her
to eat only rice and dried fish all the time- and sometimes
their leftovers. There was even an instance where she was
sent to sleep outside the house, upon one of her aunt’s
whims.

Seeking to escape, she did the neighbor’s laundry


and earned twenty pesos every time. When able to finally
raise money for her fare to go back home, she ran away
but her pertinent belongings which included her report
card, were left in Alang-alang.

Back home, it was the same story- extreme poverty


which rendered her and her family hungry. Sometimes,
they would make a few pesos by going into the fields to
collect fallen coconuts and sell them at the market. Her
mother remarried- but to a part-time laborer who beat her
mother when he was drunk.

A distant relative of Nanay, an old maid who lived in


her town took pity on the girl. They both decided to work as
30
maids in a middle class household in Pastrana, but after
three months and never receiving a single cent of their
wages, they once again decided to leave.

Nanay pleaded our distant relative’s case- this old


lady was hardworking (she once worked in Manila as a
seamstress, according to Nanay) and could help around
the house. The only thing was that she had the young girl
in tow.

At first I protested at having to hire two people


when we already had one maid at present. But Nanay said
that we only had to pay minimal amount for the girl since,
officially it was the distant relative we were hiring and that
she just took pity on the girl’s situation.

I finally consented. They started working at our house


in Tacloban- this girl looked shockingly young (because of
the previous malnutrition, she has not developed normally,
much like a nine year old kid who still looks like a pre-
schooler because of poor nutrition) and dressed shabbily.
My late mother took pity on the girl and bought her new
clothes- she had in her possession only three underpants,
two tattered shorts, and a few threadbare t-shirts.

And so she stayed with us- withdrawn and very shy


at first, but eventually warmed up to our family, especially
after taking active care of my year-old nephew. Of all our
previous helpers (they’ve come and gone), she was the
one who stayed. Honest, hardworking, and respectful of
Nanay.

We’ve increased her wages several times- and just


today, upon handing over her wages, she asked permission
if she could go visit her family. She does this on a regular
basis- buying rice, food, and toiletries for her family, and
give 2/3 of her wages to her mother, keeping a mere 1/3
31
for herself. Now, she even is already sending two of her
siblings to school, and told them to do well, as she never
had the chance to finish even her Elementary education.
She’s now 16 years old.

I persuaded her to continue her studies at the public


school a stone’s throw away from our residence, but for a
number of reasons she refused- partly, according to her,
she’s too old, and is embarrassed to continue at this age.

Nonetheless she continues to live in hope, that


somehow one day her family’s life would be better after
her siblings graduate. Her name is Angeline, but as she
would gleefully insist, she still wants to be called by the
nickname people at home call her- Umbang.
32
Episode 5:
Fetish
“Tale of the Undercover Thief who Steals
Old Underwear for no Reason.”

-oOo-

T’was a hot April afternoon when I decided to drop


by the plush RCBC Plaza gym, to work up a sweat before
my shift at the office. As I changed in the lockers, I noticed
that although I brought my workout clothes- spare t-shirt,
shorts, and rubber shoes; I forgot an extra pair of under-
wear.

What I was wearing was a pair of ancient “granny


pants” (sorry, it was laundry day) I had since I was a fresh-
man in college, with the garter stretched and curled like a
piece of pasta. Hiding behind the locker door, and afraid
someone would see me, I decided to keep my granny pants
and my office clothes in the locker while I go commando in
my gym clothes.

So I locked the cabinet and “bounced” all the way


to the workout area. I started with the weights and the ma-
chines, carefully keeping my legs together so the one-eyed
monster won’t take a peek to the outside world.

It was a rather uneventful afternoon as I listened to


music while “bouncing” on the treadmill that was facing GT
Tower. When I finally finished with the weights, I went to
the steam room and then the showers.

With my towel wrapped around my waist, I walked


to the locker area where a gym bunny was rolling deodor-
ant under his arm while completely naked. Omg! I averted
33
my eyes (charot!) and opened my cabinet. I took out my
stuff.

Undershirt, check! Long sleeves, check! Necktie,


pants, check! Wait. I froze. Then I checked everything
again- inside the locker, my bag. My granny pants were
missing!!!

As I checked the pocket of my bag where I kept my valu-


ables- cell phone and wallet- the money was complete.

“Was I sure I really wore underwear kanina?” I asked my-


self.

Yes!!! How could I forget wearing granny pants? Af-


ter checking every inch of my bag and locker, an attendant
noticed my distress and approached me.

“Sir, is there a problem?”

I hesitated. What am I supposed to do, tell him I


was missing my granny pants? Even if they found those
it would be too embarrassing to claim ownership of that
thing.

I smiled. “None, everything’s fine.”

Damn. I had to go to work commando, I’d be late for


office if I go home for a pair. As I exited the locker area, I
looked around the guys inside the locker room in various
stages of undress.

One of these people took my underwear. I found it


hard to believe because it was an upscale place, and there
was certainly no shortage of underwear in the Philippines.
Oh well, those granny pants had to go anyway.
34
I headed out with both an amused and annoyed look on
my face.

Episode 6:
Crush-ed
I.

Youth. This was embodied in the demigod standing


on a pedestal, talking with his followers. Even from afar, I
could relish the sight of his soft, almost feminine features-
if not for that strong jaw and that masculine aplomb.

I was seated at my station, taking calls. While the


eight hours of non-stop chatter was immensely dragging,
I would console myself by stealing a glance at the Queue
Desk to see Larry and his pale face beaming.

I’ve been at my job for about a year now, and his,


even less. I belonged to an earlier training batch, but even
so, he got promoted to Workforce Analyst in a short period
of time.

I felt the need to go to the restroom, so I had the


chance to call Queue to inform them (I hoped he would be
the one to pick up instead of the girls).

Ring…Ring…
35

“Queue desk, Larry here.”

“Ah, ahm this is Thad. Break...”

“Ok.”

“Ay, washroom break pala.”

He laughed.

Great. Nice, going Thad.

I got up from my seat and hauled my ass to the restroom.

Looking at the huge mirror, I adjusted the black sweater I


bought a few days back from ukay-ukay.

Heaven and earth.

No, heaven and purgatory, I though wryly.

Larry the 5’8 demigod, with his perfect teeth, ruler-


straight nose, and sharp fashion sense. Me, (all 5’6 of
me) with my tragic outfit that once belonged to someone
else, my less-than-sophisticated sensibilities, and timid
demeanor.

Ok, so I wasn’t exactly bad looking. I tried smiling


at the mirror- open and friendly. Ugh. I looked like a high
school kid on meth. I ruffled my hair and tried to look sexy.
Fat chance.

I finally exhaled in frustration and went back to my


station.
36
II.

Is it just me?

I could’ve sworn he was looking my way. I turned


slyly to my side and pretended to write something on my
notebook. Don’t look!

I looked. Yup, he’s definitely looking.

“You’re imagining things, weirdo.” I chided myself.

When it came to my one hour break, I opted not to


go to the drop-off like the rest of my mates who went for a
smoke. The 12th floor was recently opened, and the new
facilities included a billiard table, a foozeball table, and a
very cozy couch. I wanted to nap for a bit at the new Rec
Room before returning to my toxic calls.

I sat down at the edge of the couch, alone. The


recreation room was dark (it was 2:00am) and chilly, so I
wrapped my sweater around me and drifted off to sleep.

I had this feeling of something warm next to my thighs. I


realized, there was someone who sat beside me. My heart
pounded.

The person shifted, causing his thighs to rub against


mine. Curious, I stole a glance to his side. The room was
only illuminated by the faint glow of street lights below- and
his silhouette was unmistakable: short spiky hair, sharp
nose, and tiny bow lips.

It was Larry.

His eyes were open, but I couldn’t really tell if he


was looking at something. He just sat there beside me in
37
that couch, as silent as he was still.

Eventually I had to get up and get back to work.


When I sat down, I still could not shake the feeling that
someone from Queue desk was watching me.

III.

“There’s this guy.”

“Uhuh.” My seatmate nodded.

“He… well he doesn’t really do anything like talk with me,


but he keeps doing things.” I confided.

She raised an eyebrow.

“He passes by my station on purpose on his way to the


restroom, even though it would take him longer versus
going straight from the Queue desk aisle to CR.”

“And then I catch him looking at me during the shift.”

“So?”

“Alright, let me ask you this, do Workforce Analysts have


fixed breaks?”

“I don’t think so.”

“That’s the other thing! Whenever I take my break- even


when it was moved repeatedly during schedule change, he
is always at the Rec Room the same time I’m there!”

“Maybe it’s just a coincidence.”


38
“He sits beside me even when the couch is empty and he
could’ve sat on the opposite side.”

Now my friend leaned over in interest.

“Who?”

Our conversation was interrupted by our supervisor who


signaled we should leave the locker area and prepare for
calls.

We hurried to our stations. I took a seat in a station


hidden from view from the Queue desk. Just as I guessed,
Larry passed by and spoke to the manager whose station
was closest to mine. I tried not to look at his face as he
stood there with his hands on his waist.

It was the third night of us playing the you-look-at-me-and-


I-look-at-you game.

IV.

I made up my mind. I was going to gather up my


courage and speak with him. Make friends, or beg him
to stop sitting beside me at the rec room (like a piece of
delicious pie I can never have a piece of), anything but this
torturous silence of not knowing.

I took calls for an hour, and kept glancing at Queue


desk. Larry wasn’t there. Perhaps, he swapped with
another Analyst, I thought. Maybe he is to come in an hour
later.

At 2:00am I went to take my one hour break. I slept alone


in the rec room. When I got back, I tried to casually ask my
Team Manager:
39

“Karen, isn’t Larry supposed to be in tonight (I knew he


wasn’t off till the next evening)?”

“I’m not sure Thad.” She said.

But Larry did not show up during that shift. Or the next.

The pantry was abuzz with the latest news. HSBC


was hiring, and Larry was among those who were pirated.
It was rumored that they offered almost double of what
they were earning.

I slumped back in my chair, feeling like I’ve lost


something precious. I know it was silly because we never
even really talked- I never really knew if my crush also took
a liking in me.

When my shift ended I lethargically stuffed all my


things into my locker, and walked to the elevator. The door
slid open and the handsome chinito inside smiled at me.

“Down?”

“Yes.” I said, revived and smiling like an idiot.


40
Episode 7:
Compromising Postitions
Last night as we walked home from a very late
meeting for the publication, two friends who were both
NBSB (no boyfriend since birth) asked me: is it great being
in a relationship? I stopped walking for a bit, and thought
carefully of my answer. The glow of the streetlights and the
noise of the vehicles on the street seemed to soften a little
bit.

“To start with, I think majority of us have a misconception


of what love really is between two people.”

This put their mouths agape, forming a big “O”.

It was true- or at least for me. My model of “true


love” was the bond between my parents. As the eldest
son, I can say I’ve really seen them at their best and worst,
since the time I was little, until my siblings and I grew up.
When I was about four or five, they were the picture of two
people completely in love- yes, the kind you see in movies:
affectionate, giddy, and completely head-over-heels.

Happily-ever-afters however, almost never happens


in real life. Instead, people deal with the realities of raising
their children, paying the mortgage, sending kids to school,
working on their retirements... Love’s mettle is tested with
hardships and adversities and sometimes, it does not
endure.

During the time my parent’s marriage troubles


started- jealousy, money problems, parenting issues- I
was worried if their bond would survive considering that
they would be migrating to the States, on their own and
away from the rest of our relatives. The harsh environment
41
and their distance from us took its toll, and the differences
in their personalities caused a rift that was becoming more
apparent.

My father is the pragmatic type of person who


values practicality more than anything else, my mother,
the romanticist, constantly opposed his decisions with
reasons that he found unacceptable. The power struggle
finally ended with their separation.

I cried a river over this, because for me it was proof


that sometimes mere affections or romantic feelings may
not be enough to sustain a relationship. That even after 27
years of marriage and three kids, a couple could still give
up on their love.

So I brought them back to my point: “A relationship


requires more than that weak-in-the-knees feeling for that
other person, because after sometime that frizzles away.”

I’m an amateur when it comes to love, and for the


first time, I am in a relationship that lasted more than a
year and requires a whole lot of work to constantly adjust
and compromise with what he wants out of the relationship
and what I want out of it. To quote a line from the TV show
Ally McBeal, “...perhaps because love is about learning to
compromise, that’s why we find ourselves in compromising
positions.” But as long as we keep striving, even if it proves
difficult to make changes for one another, the relationship
will endure.

Learning to give and yield, finding someone who


can stand you and your quirks, but also having someone
to hold your hand at the funeral of a loved one or someone
you can tell your troubles to, even when he says “I told you
so”- I say yes, it’s hard work and it’s no fairy tale, but it is
great to be in a relationship.
42

Chapter III. Living and Learning


This chapter takes a sentimental turn. This is
probably a clear sign that I’m getting older, because way
back in my rough-and-tumble days I never really bother to
see things in hindsight. It was always moment to moment
of fun and eagerness.

They say one of the great things about being older


is being able to pick your battles. You develop an instinct
of weighing your options before taking a leap- which takes
the excitement down a notch just a bit. Sigh. I wish there
was a way to balance that youthful exhuberance and the
calm serenity one gets through maturity.

This is me sober, so wipe that smirk off your face.


Here we go- life lessons from the school of hard knocks...
43
Episode 1:
Seasons
The tamarind bonsai on our terrace had been alive
for more than a decade. Once, I was alarmed because
I noticed one morning the leaves were shed completely,
and it sure looked dead to me. Fearing I had killed my
late mother’s favorite plant out of neglect, I watered it and
prayed feverishly that it would somehow return to life. True
enough, weeks passed and small green buds sprouted,
and in no time green leaves covered the branches of the
gnarled yet diminutive tree.

While I was beside the obstetrician a few days ago


during our duty in the Delivery Room, I froze when the
membranes burst. The baby was stillborn. The feet of the
baby came first; the head was stuck in the vaginal canal
and took almost an excruciating ten minutes to deliver.
The doctor was apologetic, really there was nothing that
could be done- the fetus was not viable and weighed only
250 grams. Lying on the delivery table, the mother stared
at the ceiling, unmoving. We were asking her if she had a
name for the baby, so that we could baptize him before we
give him to the waiting relatives.

Our eyes met as she fingered the plastic rosary on


her neck. She came out of her reverie and from her moving
lips sprung a name. I nodded. I could never forget the look in
her eyes- regret maybe, or emptiness. I carefully wrapped
the fetus and took Holy Water to baptize him. I had no time
to linger on those feelings because there was another lady
giving birth. I was asked to change gloves and assisted,
and this time the mother gave birth to a health baby girl.

Funny how the ebb and flow of life in the hospital


almost goes unnoticed. How new life is born in an instant,
44
and how deaths become merely statistics. I suppose when
one deal with these things on a daily basis it becomes
routine, and health care professionals have learned long
ago to tuck their emotions safely out of reach while at
work.

As I lay the crying neonate on her bassinet, it


suddenly occurred to me that I was in the same Neonatal
Intensive Care Unit my Mom worked in many years ago. I
looked around the room and saw her for a moment in the
nurse on duty changing a neonate’s diaper.

Through the passage of time things change. Some


shed leaves like that bonsai plant, some remain abstruse
like the young mother’s loss, while some are renewed in
the hearts of their progeny like my mother’s legacy.
45
Episode 2:
Of Carabaos and Girlfriends
When asked, I only have but a few recollections of
instances when I spent some alone time with my father
when I was young. Being an OFW, he was always away
and the man I call my father was a vague figure who was
frequently overshadowed by my mom’s presence.

He is a man of a few words. Simple, practical, and


never really had those father and son talks with me- except
I think, when it came to discussions about tuition fees and
bills. In terms of life direction or career paths, my parents
never really intervened, which suited me just fine since I
was quite an independent kid. Among the few instances he
vaguely expressed what he wanted of me- he told me one
morning, he knew of a kid in his hometown about the same
age as me who was good at saving money and already
owned a carabao. He wanted to show me his idea of a
good, stable life but probably because of my immaturity, all
I could think of was this: what am I supposed to do? Get a
carabao?

I realize now of course, he never intended the


discussion to be about purchasing large mammals. It
was about being thrifty and frugal, and that those were
qualities he wanted me to possess. But I had other ideas
which I carried over until I started working: work hard,
party hard. Skyscrapers sounded more appealing than
beasts of burden, but as my lifestyle came to a halt when I
resigned- I realized he was right. That was the first instance
I disappointed my father.

A memory had been nagging on my mind- a few


days before my sixteenth birthday, he told me that if I bring
a girlfriend home and introduce her, he would give me five
46
hundred pesos. I laugh every time I remember this. I even
recall an occasion where he brought three daughters of
his kumpares from Abuyog to meet with me (I think he
bragged to them I was quite the ladies man who went to
UP). Naturally, all of his match-making efforts flopped, and
after my coming out to my parents of my sexual orientation-
came the second greatest disappointment I brought him.

Perhaps we will always have different ideas of who


he wants me to be and who I want to be, but I do hope it
would not ruin our relationship. No amount of differences
can change the fact that we are father and son, and as
much as I envy my straight brothers possibly fulfilling my
father’s dream of what kind of men his sons would be- I
can only be myself, and that’s all I can offer. I love my
dad.

Come to think of it, I do remember an instance when


we spent time together: it was 1994, and our house was
still being constructed. My father was home for a month.
I made an improvised baseball using crumpled paper and
masking tape, and played catch with my brother Tye. Papa
approached with a wooden stick from the construction so
we could use it to play baseball. And until the sky dimmed
that day, we enjoyed playing with our makeshift ball and
relished the time we spent with our father, just like a regular
family.
47
Episode 3:
My City, Myself
It was a bright, dewy morning at DZR Airport the day
I arrived in the city where I grew up in, after a nine-year
stay in Manila. Tacloban wasn’t exactly a cosmopolitan
city by any stretch of imagination, which was why I was
perturbed, returning to a place that seemed entombed in a
time capsule where nothing ever changes.

The Tacloban I remember was a noisy, hot city center


with shops that sold plastic wares. It had rusty jeepneys and
tricycles traversing its veins. It was the city of my younger
days, simple times, and blissful pre-adolescent life free of
worries and filled with the thrill of fresh experience and
endless possibilities.

I remember I was about eight when we rented our


first run-down apartment near Real street. I liked living
here better than my father’s hometown, which had even
less to be desired. My mom usually tagged me along when
she ran errands: a visit to the post office, to PNB just in
front of the lovely CAP building with Mc Arthur’s statue up
on a podium (back then I thought it was really Mc Arthur’s
dead body which they’ve coated with bronze so I usually
avert my eyes so I don’t accidentally look at the statue’s
impassive face), and later get refreshments from one of
those restaurants with formica tables.

I actually loved growing up here. The first time I


ever ate Kiamoy (and hated it!) was from Mama’s favorite
deli- Lee’s, owned by a myopic old Chinese man. My
first hospital duty was with my Mom. Or more accurately,
she was on duty while I tagged along. My Mama was a
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse at Eastern
Visayas Regional Medical Center- the biggest hospital in
48
Tacloban at that time. Here, I also met my first best friend,
had my first communion at Sto. Nino Church, danced at
my first prom at People’s Center, and had my first brush
with opulence at Leyte Park during its heyday.

What I remember the fondest were the weekend


trips to the beach. The seafood was abundant and cheap.
Grilled squid, fish, mussels- they were easy to purchase
from the pier which doubled as a market. At sundown
outrigger boats, filled to the brim with loud men, would
dock and display their catch on huge platters.

As the van I rode from the airport neared home, the


first thing I noticed was the skeleton of the new Robinson’s
Mall just across our subdivision. The massive structure stood
out amongst its neighbors. As I made my way downtown
later that afternoon, I passed by several structures that
had seemingly sprung out of nowhere: the “Astrodome”, a
few glass and steel buildings mimicking those in Cebu and
Makati, and a sprinkling of new establishments…

I could not see the pier for outrigger boats, for in its
place was a huge Mc Donalds, and right across it, a two-
storey Jollibee. Gaisano had a new mall at the heart of the
downtown area, and there seemed to be twice the number
of people roaming the streets.

I was wrong when I thought the city would never


change. In a way, the new, bustling Tacloban is comforting-
I rarely get to think about my old life in Manila anymore.

I nearly bumped into a group of young students as


I stared at a shop window of one of the new malls. The
last time I was on this street, I was a senior high school
student. The reflection showed a much older guy dressed
differently. My wanderings may have etched a few lines on
my face, and I may have lived in different places for some
49
time, but at that moment I knew, I was home.

Episode 4:
Mile High Mishap
Ever had that feeling when you have a stack of
bills on the table marked “PAST DUE” and you still are at
a loss where to get the money to pay them? How about
an impending exam with too little time to study, and three
large four-inch thick books as reference but you’ve barely
started?

I was sitting in the pre-departure area of Centennial


airport waiting for my flight back to Tacloban. Exam week
was about to start and my short respite from school due to
a three day weekend was coming to an end. With a rather
constipated look on my face- a combination of a frown and
an anxious look, I sat alone on a bench, sipping on a can
of cold soda.

“Philippines Airlines Flight 393 to Tacloban is now


boarding at gate S5.” I tossed the can to the trash and
headed toward the gate. I could still feel the cold soda
settling in my tummy- it was rather disconcerting but I
thought it was just due to my apprehension. Earlier I
had Muesli, a piece of fruit, coffee and half a suman for
breakfast, and since then they all seemed to settle down
50
nicely.

A gorgeous flight steward greeted me as I entered the


plane. “May I ask your seat number, please?” He asked.

“28F.”

He pointed to the far end of the plane, smiling. Great,


I thought. I’ll be seated at the farthest corner. After muttering
a lot of “Excuse me” to about a hundred passengers trying
to stuff the overhead bins while blocking the way, I finally
made it to 28F. Already seated were a 40-ish grumpy man,
and a large woman beside my empty seat. I smiled and
squeezed my way to my seat.

Maybe it was the sudden acceleration during takeoff,


but I began to feel my stomach twist in knots. This is just
like the time when one has a practical exam or moving
exam, you get butterflies because of nervousness. I tried
to reassure myself I’ll deal with those problems one at a
time.

But it turns out, it was more than butterflies.

“Krrrrrrrrtt.” I actually heard it. My stomach was


crying in agony (and by the look on my seatmate’s face,
she heard it too). I felt the hairs at the back of my neck rise,
and suddenly had goosebumps on my arms.

“Oh sh*t, not here!” I thought. This time the twisting seemed
to move a little lower, down to my backside. I was clutching
my stomach.

“Would you care for some water?” That guy again, the flight
attendants were done giving snacks in Mabuhay class, but
for us in Econofare, a tepid glass of water was the only
option.
51

“No thanks,” I said weakly, with my face contorting like I


had Bell’s palsy.

“KKrrrrrrrrrrrt.” This time it was loud enough for the


man on the aisle seat to give me a side-eye. I excused
myself hurriedly (good thing the washroom was near since
we were near the tail of the plane), and locked the door the
moment I got in the washroom.

With trembling hands, I lifted the toilet bowl cover,


unzipped my pants and sat down. Of course I couldn’t just
“download” right away. I was worried- OMG I would be the
laughingstock of the whole plane. What about the sound?
Would the odor permeate through the thin wall--

I wasn’t even done thinking when whatever was


causing my stomach to turn came shooting out my backside
like a rocket. I closed my eyes praying no one heard it (or
that the plane would be miraculously empty when I came
out of the toilet.
Or was there a parachute so I could just jump out? I pressed
the high-tech flush button and wiped myself clean with as
much toilet paper I needed to erase the memory of what
just happened.

Washing my hands, and clutching tightly to


the handle on a side of the washroom (I was afraid of
turbulence, besides I wanted to be quick when I exited-
imagine how unglamorous it would be if the plane crashed
and people would find my charred remains inside a plane
toilet!). I counted to ten and composed myself.

As I opened the door, there was a short line already


to the washroom, and there was this kid who was grinning
at me maniacally as if she knew of my little crime inside the
toilet. I kept my head down and then bam!
52

I bumped straight into the flight steward. “Crap.” I


muttered some apology as I made my way back to my seat
with my face flaming. As I sat down, I wiped the beads of
sweat on my forehead. Suddenly I began to giggle at the
hilarity of it all.

I suppose there would never be an instance when


I’ll be completely in control and no apprehensions to come
and bother me. Sometimes we simply shouldn’t take
everything too seriously. It was a lesson I wouldn’t forget-
that even a double dose of Loperamide couldn’t erase.

As we deplaned, the cute flight attendant politely asked


me, “How was your flight?”

With a grin, I said, “It was great, thanks.” And I meant it.

I took a last look at the plane before making my


way to the Arrival area of DZR Airport, to my bills, to my
exams. I’ve finally learned to laugh at myself and match
life’s wicked sense of humor.
53
Episode 5:
Chicken Adobo, Humba, and Homemade Love
While I was heedlessly living the “bachelor’s life” in
the big city, my meals more or less consisted of takeouts,
canned goods and noodles, or leftover bread with instant
coffee. I’ve never learned to cook, and was even lazier with
the dishes. Besides, food wasn’t that much of a big deal
to me- except when I go home to the province. Being in
Tacloban after months of living on overly-processed food
proved to be extra special occasions when I get to eat real
food which didn’t come from a foil pack (or something I ate
right out of a can).

My late mother loved to bake, but my favorite


food was chicken, which she prepared in almost every
imaginable way: fried, grilled, curried, and of course adobo.
I do not think great chefs would find anything spectacular
about that dish, I mean she had no secret ingredient or
elixir to make it extra savory, but as the vinegar, soy sauce,
and garlic cooked the chicken to perfection- there was a
certain magic and fragrance. Maybe I’m biased, because
even if my mom just prepared instant pancit canton I’d say
it was the best I ever tasted.

My grandmother whom we all call Nanay was Mama’s


mentor when it came to cooking. Her specialty was the
Visayan dish Humba (Braised Pork Belly with Sugar and
Peanuts). She prepared it meticulously, with the accuracy
of a chemist, and at the same time the versatility of an artist.
She can make it sweeter or a little tangy. She can serve
it in large chunks or smaller, softer pieces. The dish came
out always, with no exception, just right. And seeing her
brows knit in concentration as she mixes the ingredients,
or having that smug smile as she receives praises for her
dish must have been the special ingredient that made it
54
better than what a chef in an expensive restaurant can
cook.

Nanay is now in her eighties, and after my mom’s


passing, the responsibility for her care has recently been
claimed by her children. While Mama was still with us
Nanay had also lived with us since we were kids. Now I
stay in our ancestral home, but without Nanay’s presence it
seems empty. I have begun eating in fast food joints again.
I’ve stocked up on canned goods. Making this adjustment
is more than just my palate missing her cooking- my heart
is missing my mother’s love.
55
Episode 6:
A Second Look at an Imperfect Marriage
Months back I had written a feature article about
relationships in the school magazine, and I mentioned how
the words “true love” and “happily ever after” belong in
fairy tales and not real life. My point was that the stark
reality was the opposite of these tales of perfect romance
and that even time itself gave no guarantee- calling to
mind my parent’s 27 years of togetherness, which one day
crumbled and ended up in separation.

Their old wedding album had been in storage for


decades, and the dampness had caused the edges of
some photos to fade and blot, others were completely
ruined. I bought a large new album where I can transfer
these rare mementos which included a virtual diorama of
our childhood and the evolution of our family.

I tried to imagine what their life must have been like


as a young couple. Their wedding was simple- a small
ceremony at the local church in Abuyog, with just family
and friends. My mom wore her hair upswept in braids,
with flowers that decorated her veil. She looked radiant
in her 70’s style wedding dress,and layers upon layers of
chiffon concealed her pregnancy (I was a six month old
fetus she carried in her belly when she walked down the
aisle). My father wore long sleeved Barong Tagalog with
what suspiciously looks like bell-bottom pants to me, this
was September 1980 so I guess that explains it. If I were
to describe how they looked together in scenes during
the ceremony,in the bridal car side by side, and at the
reception- they were happy. Wait, I don’t think that would
give justice to the look I saw on their faces. Giddy, ecstatic,
madly in love- yes, that’s much closer.
56
Through the years they went swiftly from merely
husband and wife to Papa and Mama, with me and my
chubby baby brothers ever beside them in photos. Like
typical Pinoy families, my father one day left to work abroad
to support us. And now there were two sets of photos- the
ones at our humble rented house with a very thin-looking
Mama, and Papa’s photos against the backdrop of the
Arabian deserts.

I was of course aware of those relationship ups and


downs they had, after all that’s typical of every married
couple. It’s just that as me and my brothers grew up to
become young adults and gain independence, their
parenting roles which help bound them together seemed
slowly dissipating along with their affection for each other.
Looking back, even though our parents began to have
problems and live in separate houses in the States, I am
glad they never actually made the move to get an annulment
or a divorce. They made a promise before God, after all,
for better or for worse. And even though it still saddens me
how the ending of my favorite love story turned out, my
father was there during my mom’s last hours.

As I put the last photograph in place, I had this lump


on my throat that I could not swallow. I guess I take it back
then, looking at my parent’s wedding photo, it was a shining
example of nothing less than TRUE LOVE.
57
Episode 7:
Life Lessons in Jogging
With so much time on my hands this summer I
decided to take up running- nothing competitive really, it’s
more of a mix of jogging, brisk walking, and perhaps a
sprint now and then when a dog is chasing me. So every
5:30 am at dawn, without as much as a splash of water on
the face, I’d pick up my running shoes and head outside
while the house is still in utter silence.

Sometimes I go with a pop song blaring on my


headset, but it is equally alright when I enjoy the gentle
sounds as the city stirs to life. I have grown fond of the
routine: decide my running course, do stretching as I warm
up, then off I go! I liken that feel of freedom, as I stomp
my way through the concrete streets, to life’s journey.
When we are young we begin to decide our paths- from
high school to college to finding our way through the maze
of work opportunities- or the lack of it. We are prepared
for the long road by years of training in school, and still
oftentimes we run into unexpected places and detours.

We run with other people. Some, like those retirees


huffing and puffing as they go, tend to adapt a slower pace
and I zoom past them. Sometimes though, a troupe of
cadets rush by, and I am left trailing behind. Thanks okay,
I know my limits- I just learn to focus on my goal and move
at my own pace.

Yesterday I planned to run from our home in


Marasbaras to Burayan in San Jose, then to Cogon, then
turn left to Manlurip. This was farther than I’ve ever gone
before and the road is different because it was secluded,
with fewer houses along the road- and fewer joggers. I
somewhat regretted not following the usual trail- Old
58
Sagkahan road to Magsaysay Boulevard and to Leyte
Park, where I can pass through the usual landmarks.

At some point in Manlurip I stopped. Past a certain


zone, there were no longer jeepneys I can catch to get a
ride back home in case I get tired, and I only had a small
bottle of water with me. I had no idea where this trail
led, or how far till the next town, but I thought I’ll follow it
anyway. After running nearly six and a half kilometers, I
finally reached a lovely seaside avenue which led to Mc
Arthur Park in Baras Palo, Leyte. I collapsed on the grass
exhausted, but very happy.

Later than day I had the fortuitous chance of seeing


online my old UP comrades in the College of Architecture-
those days felt like another lifetime to me. There was a
distinct feel of familiarity or even nostalgia as I saw my
old professors, I mean these people I met way before my
working days at Infonxx or my Nursing studies in Tacloban.
I didn’t know why it left such a strong impression on me,
perhaps because that was the environment that nurtured
me during my adolescence and therefore the milieu and
culture formed part of my personality. I also got to see my
former classmates turn into husbands and wives, and doting
parents- a little different from the path I’m following.

But like that crossroad I had encountered yesterday,


I knew I had to leave the past to memory, and keep moving
forward even though what’s ahead is unknown. Life’s like
that- sometimes you never know what you’re going to get-
but whatever it is, is definitely better than resisting growth
or change and remaining within one’s comfort zone.

It doesn’t mean I’ve turned my back to what once


was- after all, I’ve always kept my lessons in tow as I
explore new horizons.
59
Chapter IV. Sweet Stories from the Best Blogs

Postscript: The Big Three-Oh

As the waiters cleared the last of the dishes from


our table, we became quiet. The laughter had faded away
as the night deepened, and slowly, patrons left until there
were only four of us- my high school close friends whom
I’ve known for fifteen years: Remejoy, a licensed Med
Tech who now worked as an editor; Frances, a Bachelor of
Laws graduate who is presently teaching in UP Tacloban;
and Royce, an Accountancy graduate who just earned his
Doctor of Medicine degree, and is presently a busy post-
graduate intern.

This year, we all turn thirty.

“When I failed the Bar exam, I stopped and asked myself-


have I just wasted my twenties?” Frances said. It was an
honest and very candid thing to say for our usually reserved
friend.

“I know the feeling.” I blurted out.

They all looked at me.

“I think all of us, at some point, felt disillusioned when


60
things didn’t turn out exactly the way we planned.”

It was true, so few of us actually followed a straight path


when it came to careers. Majority accepted whatever dead-
end, entry-level positions were available, and that is a tiny
detail which was never mentioned to us in our four years in
college. They failed to inform us that actual career growth
happens somewhere in your thirties.

“I think we’re all afraid that we haven’t made any difference


at all. That you fell short of your own expectations, that
even graduating from a prestigious school is no guarantee
of success or happiness.”

We looked at each other and smiled, with that same look


of recognition on our faces.

“France, you and I are on completely different sides of the


spectrum, and yet we share the same sentiments.”

My friend Frances was someone you’d call an


ideal student- she majored in Psychology in UP Tacloban,
then worked in an NGO as she got her Master’s Degree
in Diliman. By the time she was in her mid-twenties, she
began her studies in Bachelor of Laws.

I on the other hand, cruised through my youth


with neither urgency nor a sense of purpose. I wanted to
“maximize my twenties” and by that, I meant have the most
fun as I could.

With this philosophy, I shot out like a loose


cannonball. It was not that I was lazy or stupid; I was
actually quite good with anything that I put my mind into. I
helped design a museum when I was 20, which won Best
Thesis in the UP College of Architecture. But by the time
I saw how much my colleagues were earning in entry-
61
level positions I was disheartened. I chose to work in a
Call Center instead- which at some point made me choose
between finishing my last units in Hardscape Construction
and accepting a promotion. I chose the latter.

Before I resigned my job during my mid-twenties,


I was earning more than most of my contemporaries but
sadly was now back to square one, as I enrolled in the
College of Nursing. As I celebrated my 28th birthday, a
student once more, I also asked myself- have I wasted my
twenties?

“We’ve all been there.” Remejoy said.

“Quarter life crisis.” Royce said.

“Well, none of us plays life with marked cards. At least we


all got a chance to correct our mistakes along the way, and
keep going towards the elusive success and happiness.” I
philosophized.

“Maybe we’re just getting old.” Frances quipped.

We all laughed. It was one of those cherished


moments with friends when you just let your hair down and
be honest. If anything, I was relieved that I wasn’t the only
one having problems.

A few months later, as I walked up the stage in front


of hundreds of people, I bowed my head as Nanay put
a medal on me. Officially a BSN graduate, I was just so
thankful to have been given a chance to redeem myself.

Come to think of it, I wouldn’t have done anything


differently- not just because I’ve learned so much from
three different industries, but also because I got to discover
what I really wanted in life. I had my fun, didn’t I? Now it’s
62
time to move on and get serious. We live and we learn,
and without regrets.

Most of us friends are now past the crisis, and ready


to undertake new challenges and new adventures our
thirties will bring. Some of us are moving up the ladder,
some are building families, some are learning the difference
between a calling and a career, and for sure- all of us are
more optimistic than ever before.

12 April 2010
Tacloban City
63

A Short Story from

City Girl Gets Trapped in the Boondocks


and Other Stories

The Long Weekend


64
I.

The styrofoam cup felt warm on my hand, but the


coffee was still scalding hot. I stirred it some more, careful
not to spill its contents on my lap.

“What time is the bus leaving?” My bestfriend was smoking


her third cigarette for the day.

“Probably at 7am. Ugh! Why did we arrive so early?” She


scoffed.

I was with three friends- Tatat, my bestfriend, Eric,


a fellow Team Manager and my long time crush, and Jen,
who I just met weeks ago. We all worked in the same office,
except for Jen. We were heading to Sagada, Mountain
Province for a three-day stay. Presently, we were huddled
together in a corner in Dangwa Bus Station in Baguio, as
we waited for the first bus to Sagada.

“Gab, do you already have your QA scores for the week?”


Eric asked. I took a sip of my coffee. “I don’t have them yet.
I’ll phone Malou of Queue desk tomorrow and ask.”

“Wasn’t your team the highest last week? Your team has
been consistent with high marks. The Quarterly Evals are
coming up, and it looks like a big bonus is coming your
way.” Eric smiled as he sat on the bench opposite mine.

“I hope you’re right on that one.” I replied.

Eric and I were batchmates- we were among the


pioneer reps in the company, who at that time merely had
forty employees. In a span of four years the number of
employees had grown exponentially, with its present count
65
almost reaching a thousand. Both of us now held higher
positions, and are both up for evaluation.

Eric was tall, mestizo, and well educated- a


combination rare among guys. He graduated Cum Laude
from Ateneo, and if that wasn’t enough he also happens to
be well off and incredibly nice. He became known as the
office heart throb, who elicited stares from girls and gay
guys alike at work. I call him “the impossible dreamboat”,
for I was among those who secretly had a crush on him.
It was such an irrational infatuation, that I always get mad
at myself whenever I think of him. Every time I have lunch
with him at the pantry, I would silently curse myself for
enjoying his company.

Let me explain: First of all, Eric is a straight guy,


and that alone should be enough to deter me. A straight-
gay relationship is a paradox; it will always be one way
since he can’t return the feeling. Second, let us say, if in a
parallel universe I was a girl, he would still be way out of
my league. He is well bred, well off, and sophisticated. And
me, well, all my schooling at the state university had never
changed my provincial ways. Third, he is my friend, and in
that respect should be off limits. It would be such a waste
to throw that friendship out the window.

“Here comes the bus.” Jen said.

Tatat turned to me and whispered. “I didn’t know she


could speak.” I made a face. “Hey, be nice to her. She’s
Eric’s friend.”

With our luggage in hand, we boarded the bus. I


took a seat next to the window, and my friend Tatat sat on
the adjacent seat. Jen and Eric took the seats on the next
row. There were hardly any passengers except for an old
woman who brought with her baskets of vegetables, a boy
66
with a stack of newspapers, and an old man in the back.

The rickety bus finally moved as its engine


sputtered to life. I readied my camera as I leaned out the
window, enjoying the cool morning breeze. Tatat lit another
cigarette.

“How many hours was it again to Sagada?” I nudged her.

“Seven years.” She replied, waving her hand for


emphasis.

“Aww C’mon Gab, just enjoy the sights. The views are
spectacular, and the last time I was here, I took a lot of great
photos.” Eric chimed in.“The ones posted on Facebook?”
Tatat asked.“Yeah, I think I saw those. Where are we
staying again?” I asked Eric, who had been to the place
before. Gosh, he looked so cute in his navy sweater.

“St. Joseph Resthouse. It’s a really cool place, and their


common area has a fireplace. Plus, it’s really cheap. The
amount you spend for a three day stay in Bora can last a
month here.” Eric said.

“Sounds good!” I looked out the window again. There were


mountains as far as my eyes could see. I remembered a
scene that happened a week ago in the office…

II.

“Guys, I have some very exciting news!” Karen, our


diminutive Assistant Call Center Manager, was practically
jumping up in her seat. She always gets like that when
she’s about to make some grand announcement, I thought.
67
I had an idea on what it was about.

“The higher management has opened two new posts for


the ACCM position.”

Excited murmurs filled the room. I turned to my seatmate


Iona, who also handled a team, “Let’s apply!”

“Hmm I’ll decline for now. My team has been stuck in the
early morning shift for a long time now; I still have a lot of
improvements to make... You, on the other hand, are a
contender. Go!”

“Are you kidding me? Maybe Eric. He seems like the ACCM
type.” I whispered.

Eric was seated at the far end of the table, looking


sharp in his crisp white long-sleeved shirt and grey dress
pants. His satin tie was the same shade as his pants. He
was chatting with Jet, one of his buddies in the evening
shift.

“So Gabby, any plans?” Karen turned to me.

“Uhm, I’ll have to think about it Karen.” I said. “I’m really


happy with my team’s performance. At this point it’s almost
effortless for us to get good stats.”

“Which makes it the perfect time for you to move up. Don’t
you want to challenge yourself and apply your brand of
leadership on a larger scale?”

“Give me a day or two to decide.” I smiled.

The meeting ended at around 7am. My shift was


already done. I gathered my things and made my way to
the elevator.
68

“Gab! Let’s have breakfast at Delifrance.” Eric caught up


to me.

“Who’s going?” I asked. Eric placed his hand on my


shoulder. I felt a tingle in my spine. Damn, that happens
every time! Why am I so affected? I wondered.

“Jen, Jet, Mavic.. I don’t know the rest. So are you coming?”
He smiled.

Aww I wish I could just freeze this moment. If I tell you how
I feel Eric, would you still treat me the same way? I smiled
sadly.

“I’ll just drop by the 14th, it might be Tatat’s break already.


I’ll see you on the 12th floor.”

“Okidoki.” He hopped off the elevator, upbeat and without


a care in the world. The elevator closed as it ascended to
the 14th floor.

“Tatat!!” I exclaimed as I approached Tatat on a transfer


station.

She waved her arm, signaling that she was still on the
phone.

“You will never guess what happened. What time is your


break?” I asked.

She pressed the mute button. “I’m already on break,


actually, but this caller won’t end the call. Grrr!”

“Relax, you’ll have a coronary. Just have your break


adjusted.” I patted her arm.
69
“Thank you, and have a great day!” She said sarcastically
on the phone, with her eyes rolling. Like any call center
veteran, she knew how to be sarcastic while sounding
pleasant over the phone.

“You really are a good actress.” I laughed. “The others are


going to have breakfast at Delifrance, wanna go?”

“Nah, I’ll just go down and have a smoke. So, what’s the
big news? Is this about Jon, your cute CSR?” She waved
a finger at me.

“No! Eric asked me earlier if I wanted to have breakfast.


He touched me on the shoulder it was so kilig.”

“Hmp, if I’m not mistaken, he already has a girlfriend. Why


don’t you go out with Alexis’ CSR?”

“Are you kidding me? He is a lot more effeminate than me.


Tat, I’m not a lesbian, ok? Come on, let’s go to my station.
I need to get my things.”

We made our way to the 12th floor. The CSRs


have already transferred to the 11th floor, and there were
only a handful of busybodies left- a few TMs and some
maintenance people.

“Gab!” It was Eric, walking from his station.

“Let’s go. Hello Miss Tatat!” He said to my bestfriend.

“I like your tie.” Tatat said.

“That’s Hermes.” I whispered.“Gab, are you applying for


the ACCM post?” He asks as he sat on my chair.

I open my pedestal and took out my phone and my mug.


70
“I’m not sure... It seems like a stressful job to me.” I replied,
hardly looking at him.

“I know just what you need- a fun weekend. A couple of


friends of mine are going to Sagada.” Eric said.

“In Mountain Province?” Tatat asked.

“It’s a great place. Gab can make up his mind up there.”

“Are you applying for the post?” I asked him.

“I already submitted my application form and resume.” He


winked mischievously.

III.

The bus made its way through unpaved winding


roads, but the bumpy road was no trouble at all. Eric was
right- the views were spectacular. We stopped at a roadside
store, and we all hopped off to stretch.

“How was your interview yesterday?” Tatat asked.

“With Ravi? It was ok, I think. I held my composure all


throughout. I felt like a beauty contestant!” I joked.

“When is your interview with the Call Center Director? I


had mine with her and she’ll really grill you over hot coals.”
Eric added.

“As soon as we get back. Hey Jen, how are you doing?”
71
Jen smiled at me. “A little exhausted, but enjoying the trip
so far. Let’s buy some food!”

We boarded the bus for the final leg of the trip. At


2:00pm, we finally arrived at the quaint village perched on
top of a mountain. It was beautiful.

“Whew! Finally!” Tatat exclaimed.

“Let’s get our things to the resthouse and start exploring.”


Eric said.

“Yes, captain.” I called after him.

Eric and I ended up sharing a room, while the girls


stayed at the adjacent room amidst my protestations to
Tatat.

“Do you want them to share a room?” She hissed.

“You have a point there.” I said. And so I finally agreed.

I set my bag on the small bed. “The rooms are small... But
I guess its cozy, and the receiving area looked really nice.”
I said.

“Did you see the fireplace? Hurry, let’s go to Echo Valley,


then to the hanging coffins and then Sumaguing Caves.”
He could hardly contain his enthusiasm.

We trekked the entire time because there were


no means of transport- no tricycles or pedicabs in sight.
It looked like people walked here all the time. The girls
and I trudged along as Eric, the most athletic, was in the
lead. He wore shorts and rubber shoes, with his camera
strapped on his shoulder.
72
“Eric, where to next?” I called out from way behind him. I
was panting and so were the girls.

“Sumaguing Caves. We’ll get a guide.” He said.

It was almost sundown when we arrived at the mouth


of the cave. It was huge, the mouth seemingly eating up all
the light that passed through it.

“Oh dear, it’s getting dark. I think I’ll just stay outside.” Jen
said.

“Yeah, it looks creepy as it is.” Tatat nudged me.

“Eric, can we just go in tomorrow? I’m not familiar with the


place.”

“Relax Gab, I’ve done this before. The girls can go ahead,
come on, let’s go! I’ll take care of you.” There he was again,
being charming to get his way.

“Fine, but let’s make it quick.” I said as I hand my backpack


to Tatat.

The guide led us further down to the mouth of the


cave. I heard flapping of wings, and I realized there were
bats on the cave. Eric was animated, humming to himself,
walking with ease.

The ground turned to jagged white stones. Water


flowed in the crevices and I struggled to keep my balance.
I turned my back and saw nothing but blackness; the only
light now came from the kerosene lamp the guide had
brought.

“Eric, wait.” I said nervously.


73
He laughed. “Are you afraid Gab?” I grabbed his
arm and pretended to box him. I was starting to enjoy it
actually. The guide’s face was just impassive as we went
further down. He had done this a thousand times, I thought,
and he couldn’t care less.

“What happened to your friends who were supposed to


come with us?” I asked.

“Something came up at the office and they couldn’t make


it, except for Jen.” I realized I’ve been holding on to his
shoulders for a few minutes now, as the ground began
to slope downwards. And then there was just shadow in
front of us. As the guide drew closer, I saw that the ground
dropped several feet and there was a thick piece of rope
hanging.

I walked too far down, and there was no turning


back now. I swallowed as Eric made his way down.

“This is called rappelling.” He said.

“It doesn’t look like fun. How deep is the drop?”

“Around 12 feet sir.” The guide said. Great, and below it is


solid rock. I just hope I don’t go “splat!”

Shakily, I made my way down. I had taken off my


sandals for more traction on the rock, which was wet. It
was getting cold, and I imagined we were about three
stories below ground level, deep in the earth’s bowels.

“Pretty cool, huh?” He grinned.

“I’m wet!” I said, examining the camera. Luckily the case was
waterproof. We took a few pictures of the rock formations.
The guide pointed to a pond-like structure. We waded to
74
the point where the icy waters reached our knees.

“It’s cold out here. Let’s go back up.” Steam came out of
my mouth as I exhaled. Gosh, the temperature must have
been really low. And I realized it was already nighttime.

“One last thing.” Eric said, he took off his shirt and handed
it to me. He walked over to the deep part and immersed
himself in the water.

“Are you crazy?” I was starting to panic. I imagined some


sort of crazy cave monster lurking somewhere.

His laughter echoed through the cave as he grabbed


his shirt and put it on. He was shivering.

“You’re really losing it.” I said. He wrapped his arms around


me. “Whooo! The water is ice! Good thing you’re warm.”

IV.

I was starting to get confused with the way Eric was


acting. It was about 8:30 in the evening and I was washing
the dirt and dust off me from the day’s trip. I was thinking
aloud.

Eric and I are pretty close. He shares his personal


matters with me, and we share a common passion for
travel- and we certainly spend a lot of time together at
the office. Earlier, I could have sworn he was giving me
signals. Is there a possibility there could be more than just
friendship here?
75
I rinsed off quickly as the warm water began to cool.
I entered our room and saw Eric lying on the bed wearing
only his boxers. Uh-oh. I picked up my clothes from my
bag and put shorts on. Then a t-shirt.

His wet clothes from the trek earlier hung at the


back of a chair.

“Gab?” He asked.

“Yup?” My eyes squinted as I tried to see him through the


dim light of the lampshade.

“Let’s have a drink tomorrow.” He grinned sheepishly.

“Sure.” I said. I haven’t had the chance to fill Tatat in of the


recent incidents. Earlier at the Yoghurt House restaurant,
we only talked about the caving trip that they missed. I
turned off the light.

The moonlight filtered through the curtains. I could


still see the silhouette of his lean body. I turned in my bed,
and closed my eyes.

We spent the following day trekking to the waterfalls.


I was feeling good, and Eric was in high spirits. The girls
on the other hand, didn’t share the same sentiments. The
treks were exhausting, often off the road. We made it
home just in time for dinner. The girls retreated to their
room while Eric and I had supper together, and had drinks
after.

“So, do you think you nailed the interview with MAD?” I


asked.

“Pretty much. My stats speak for itself.” He said, taking a


swig of beer.
76

“Ang yabang nito!” I laughed. I was feeling a little tipsy


already. We were in the middle of our fifth bottles of San
Mig Light.

“Can I ask a personal question?”

“Shoot.”

“Would you consider dating a guy?”

Eric laughed. “What a question. Why do you ask?”

“Because I’m in love with you, Eric.”

He just looks at me intently, silently.

“Just kidding. Forget what I said.”

I was trying to make the light of it, to sound nonchalant,


but my eyes said it all. I knew my little confession had
shifted the conversation to high emotional gear.

Making him understand my feelings would be a futile


effort. Oh Eric.

I took another swig of my beer. We became


silent. Eric turned his eyes toward the window, his face
unmoving.

By the time we made our way back to our room, Eric


was so hammered he just fell on his bed. I watched him for
a while as he slept, and then I lay beside him, lost in my
thoughts, until I drifted off to sleep.
77
V.

We were silent inside the crowded bus that took us


back to Manila. Eric and I hardly spoke to each other since
we left St. Joseph hours ago. I glace to my side, Tatat was
asleep, with earphones stuck to her ear. I decided I’ll just
tell her about it when we get to Manila.

We finally arrived at about 4:00 am. We got off the


bus, exhausted from the trip. Tatat hailed a cab, and we
say our goodbyes to Jen and Eric. I met Eric’s eyes as the
taxi moved away, I had the feeling it was the last time I’d
ever see him.

The night I returned to work, I went to see my boss.

“What?” Karen exclaimed.“Are you sure about this Gabby?


You have a good chance of getting the promotion, you
know.” She looked at me disbelievingly. “It’s personal
Karen.” I said.

“I’m saddened, but it’s your decision.”

I took a deep breath as I signed the document. I


walked slowly towards my station and picked up my things.
I had one more thing to do- I got a pen and a piece of paper
and wrote:

Hi Eric,

I guess I should probably start with an apology or an
explanation, but something tells me you already know so I won’t.
Like what Tatat said, all anyone had to do was see the way I look
at you to know that I have feelings for you. Hey, you didn’t tell
me at the start of the Sagada trip that Jen was your high school
girlfriend, so that makes us even.
78
I regret doing this, but I feel like this is the only way.
Unlike some people who can just move on from such an episode
and dismiss it as some interesting anecdote later on, I obviously
cannot. I’m still in love with you, actually. Haha! That’s so
hilarious to hear, even to me. But I guess I couldn’t help it.

I’ve decided it was really time for me to go. If I remain


here I’d probably get sent to the clinic every night for recurring
heartaches. I’ll never forget that you’ve always been nice to me
from the start and sorry if I caused you any trouble.

“The only true paradises are the ones we’ve lost.” Now I know
what that line means. Thanks for the four years of great friendship
and company, I’ll always remember that. Those memories are
like secret beach coves I alone know about- and they’d always
be beautiful.

Congratulations on your promotion. Malou told me about


it. I’ll bet you’d make a great ACCM.

Gabby

I folded the paper and tucked it under the keyboard


on his station. I walked towards the elevators and take
a last look. Beep! The glass door opened, and I slowly
walked out.

“Are you ok?” Tatat asked gently as she stepped out of the
elevator.

I shook my head and I felt my eyes blur.

She squeezed my hand and took my paperbag.


“Ikaw talagang bakla ka.” She made a face. We both burst
out laughing as the elevator closed.

---oooOooo---
79

An Essay from

the private exhibitionist: blogging as


literary expression

Made in Saudi,
Made in America
80
About 200 million migrants from different countries are
scattered across the globe, supporting a population back home that is
as big if not bigger. Were these half-billion or so people to constitute
a state -- migration nation -- it would rank as the world’s third-largest.
While some migrants go abroad with Ph.D.’s, most travel… with
modest skills but fearsome motivation. The risks migrants face are
widely known, including the risk of death, but the amounts they secure
for their families have just recently come into view.

-From “A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves”, a New York Times


article on OFWs by Jason Deparle, published April 22, 2007

I.

One of my earliest memories as a child was


snuggling close to my mother in a narrow, windowless
corridor. The massive engine of the ship that would take
us to Manila hummed incessantly. The steel walls and
the small improvised cot that consisted of a thick sheet of
plastic mounted on a wooden frame seemed to vibrate.

My father sat nearby, trying to sleep amidst the


noise. Both my father and mother resigned from their jobs
at Abuyog General Hospital (as Medical Technologist and
Staff Nurse, respectively) for job opportunities in Saudi. I
was six years old, and my brother Tyrone was two. Nanay,
our grandmother, was scheduled to follow us to Manila as
we would be in her care while my parents worked abroad.

It was a year after the People Power Revolution,


and the country was still in turmoil. Coups were staged left
and right, and helicopters were constantly heard whizzing
past our two-room house in crowded Culiat.

I was enrolled in a public school near our home.


81
While most children were fetched by their parents after
school, I walked home by myself. I never quite understood
then, why my parents were always away. They would just
show up one day, like an apparition at the door, bringing
presents: toys and clothes for my brother and me, jewelry
for Nanay, and lots of chocolates. Shortly, it would be time
for them to leave again. I never dared ask why they would
have to leave, I was afraid I would not understand the
answer.

II.

During my preteen years, I finally mustered the


courage to ask my father why we were so unlike regular
families. Throughout our elementary years, only my mother,
who stopped working in Saudi when she bore my youngest
brother, took time to attend to our needs.

I had stacks of papers requesting the presence of


my parents in school, but they all went unanswered. My
father was always away, and my mother was usually too
busy attending to my baby brother. Once, I had to forge
their signature just so I could attend an event to be held
outside school, which required parent’s consent.

My father’s answer was this:

“I am working abroad so you and your brothers can study


in a good school.”

“Why can’t you work in hospitals here in Tacloban?” I


asked.

“There is little pay here.” He said simply.


82
The discussion was over. The three of us grew up
with my father working in Saudi for fifteen years. By now,
I had completely understood the sacrifice he was making,
only I had the feeling that somehow the solidarity of our
family was being compromised.

III.

It had become a familiar sight for me: large suitcases


and melancholy faces of people as they said their goodbyes
to their loved ones. I was at the Ninoy Aquino International
Airport, and my mother was among those who were
leaving.

She had been completing all international exams


required, whilst working at Eastern Visayas Regional
Medical Center, and now Global Nurses found her a job in
Monroe, LA. A few days prior to her departure, I had to ask
again.

“Ma, how come you want to live in America? We are doing


fine here. I’m already working, and Tyrone is already in
college.”

“There are better opportunities for us in the states.” She


replied.

What could I do? The plan was already set, my father


and brothers were to follow her in a few months time. So
I watched my mother walk through the glass doors, to the
Check-in area. I waited outside, and watched quietly as
planes flew into the horizon till they were merely dots in the
sky.
83
IV.

To a casual observer, we seemed to have it all,


and the pictures proved it: two cars, lovely furniture in a
beautiful house, my brothers grinning ear to ear in front of
a theme park sign, and my mother and father, all smiles at
Ted’s graduation at Neville High School.

“The truth is”, my mother confided over our phone


conversation while I was at the office, “life is difficult
here.”

“People need cars because in small US cities, there is


no public transportation. You need a credit history to be
approved of a loan, a loan which you will be slaving for
years on end to pay.”

When my mother lost her job at St. Francis Medical


Center, my father had to work as a dishwasher. US Law
required a license to practice in the medical profession,
and my father had only license to work as a Med Tech
in the Philippines. My brother worked as a janitor to help
make ends meet. Unlike here in the Philippines, where you
can run to your nearest relative in times of dire need, they
faced their problems on their own in the US.

My mother soon found a job at a smaller hospital


in Columbia, which also had a hospice for the elderly.
They packed their bags once again, and moved from their
apartment in Monroe. Because college was expensive,
my youngest brother opted to join the US Navy, wherein
after certain number of years of service, the government
will take care of his tertiary education.
84
V.

I resigned from my job of four years in Makati to


study Nursing. My mother assured me it would be the best
way to secure the future. So I went back to Tacloban, and
my parents supported my education.

There were issues in financial matters and their


jobs, and eventually a rift grew between my mother and my
father. Then one wintry day, my brother said, Papa moved
to another apartment.

But the biggest tragedy had yet to come: I received


a call that my mother was rushed to the hospital for chest
pains. Perhaps because she was an immigrant with no
insurance, the question that remained was how the hospital
bill was going to be paid- for tests to be done, medications,
and doctor’s professional fees- given the fact that my
mother was not working because of the hospitalization.
They diagnosed pulmonary embolism, and transferred my
mother to the ICU.

I could do nothing more but pray. My mother is our


breadwinner, and the money she sends pays the bills here
in the Philippines, along with our food and daily needs, and
my 82 year-old grandmother’s medications. I felt helpless
that I could not be at her bedside to care for her, and at the
same time afraid of what will become of us here without
her support.

On a Tuesday morning, before dawn, my brother


called to give me the sad news: my mother passed away.
85
VI.

I wish I could say that my parent’s strivings for a


better life sustained by years and years of work abroad
was worth it, but I believe we paid too steep a price: we
were robbed of our time together as a family.

The state of our country- joblessness, low wages,


and increasing cost of goods leave no choice for ordinary
Filipinos but to seek opportunities abroad, despite the
loneliness and the danger.

The remains of my mother arrived weeks after her


death. My father, my brothers, and I were together again
after several years of separation. We stood before her
grave, with flowers in our hands. Our relatives wept.

I touched the urn that held her ashes, and suddenly,


I remembered that day when my mother held me in her
arms when I was six, while we were on a boat to Manila.

---oooOooo---
86
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thad owes his gleefully unhinged mind to years of


studying, alternately, in institutions on the opposite sides of the
continuum: the sheltered Catholic formation of Divine Word
University during the early years of high school, while the other
half in the “survival-of-the-fittest” milieu of Leyte National High
School.

This continued on to the halls of academic freedom at the


University of the Philippines, Diliman- followed by another four
years of ora et labora at St. Scholastica’s College in Tacloban.

He was Feature Editor of Binhi Magazine from 2008-


2010.

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