I can’t remember a moment in my life when you weren’t there. Every breath I take you were always there to guide and support me. If I were standing atop a cliff right now, I’d scream my lungs out and say “I love you!” And that you are an amazing woman.
I remember when I was a toddler. I had asthma. And you would bring me to the nearest hospital even in the middle of the night and even when you didn’t have a cent in your pocket. In the morning you would leave me in the care of my Ate (elder sister) while you knock on your friends’ doors to borrow money for my hospital bills.
When I was eight, our family experienced a major setback. Papa’s business died and our family was left with practically nothing. You had to make a major decision. You left our home and worked as a housekeeping staff at a hotel in Manila which is 183 miles away from our little hometown. I remember trying not to show any kind of emotion when you left that day. I just watched you leave, trying not to blink silently hoping that if I stood still, you’d change your mind and come running back to me. Of course you didn’t and deep inside my naive heart, I was crushed and feeling abandoned.
Our house used to sit atop a big hill in a small Mangyan Village called Casillon in Baco, a third class municipality in the province of Oriental Mindoro. The village was located in the foothills of Mount Halcon. There was no cellphone or internet; no television or electricity. It was next to primitive kind of living. I remember running down the hill, my bronze skin shining in the scorching sun. I was running barefoot to catch a last glimpse of the jeepney that will bring you to the port where you were to board a ship bound for Batangas. From there, you will board a bus bound for Alabang. Of course I had no idea how far it was back then.
I did not cry. I had wanted to but tears just wouldn’t come out. It was my first memory of being strong. Probably because in my young mind, I already understood what was going on. We did not have money left. You needed to do something for our family.
Being a mother was a tough job but you never complained.
What I did not understand at the time is that you were making a very hard decision. Your heart was breaking as you watch me run as I could trying to keep up with the jeepney. I did not see your tears. But somehow they were there. I can’t imagine how painful that must have felt for you. I was your youngest child. And you were leaving me hoping Papa would take care of me the way you did. You were making a sacrifice.
My other siblings were not with me. They were living in another town with our grandparents. I doubt that they ever feel the same intensity of lost that I did. I was left with only Papa as a companion in a small village in the middle of nowhere. That afternoon, I remember staying outside underneath my favorite tree long after you had left. I undertood the reason why you had to leave. What I didn’t understand was the level of trust you had in Papa.
I did not see your tears. But somehow they were there. You were making a sacrifice.
I remember having malunggay (moringa oleifera) leaves as a recurring dish. I used to cook the veggies myself. I’d put salt and add a half glass of water and simmer it for ten minutes. Sometimes I’d get lucky and find a few mushrooms in the countryside where I used to fly kites. Mushrooms were a rarity so it was a feast if we got some. Papa did not have any source of income and he kind of stopped trying.
After a few months, I received a package full of toys, new pair of clothes, shoes and a new school bag. I was happy with my new stuff but more than that, I was glad because I knew you were alive and safe. I was happy to hear from you again.
When you finally came back home, I thought the money you had saved would alleviate all the problems in our family but I was wrong. More than a year after you came back, you and Papa had an irreconcillable misunderstanding and things escalated quickly. The next thing I knew, we were leaving the countryside and moving to grandma’s.
It was very painful to me. Papa was dear to my heart. He was not my biological father yes but he was the father I knew since I set my eyes on this world. And let me get that straight, Papa wasn’t just a “father figure” to me. He practically adopted me. I carry his surname. If I perfectly understood the reason why you had to leave us for work, I never understood why we had to leave Papa alone.
Despite the pain of being a part of a broken family, I’ve seen your hard work in order to support the family. This time, as a single mother to five kids. It wasn’t easy being a single mom. You dabbled between being a good mother and working as a laundry woman.
I remember how you would come home every day looking exhausted. You did laundry and pressed clothes for our wealthy neighbors. Sometimes, you would do house cleaning and baby sitting as well. It was tough job but you never complained. You never choose the type of work you do. You were for the money. You worked without a qualm so that you could provide food on the table.
When Ate (eldest sister) came home with bruises and was crying because her douche of a husband beat and terrorized her in front of their kids, you punched her husband in the face. He totally deserved it.
When Ditse (second eldest sister) married a man you did not approve of, you supported their union and helped them start a new family. You even declared war with her biyenan (in-laws) when they refused to accept her in their family and spread fake rumors about her.
When Kuya (elder brother) got involved in trouble and was stabbed by one of his boys, you woke up in the middle of the night and took him to the hospital. I was left at home standing by the door and in shocked with how much blood was on the floor. He could have died but you were able to save him. A year later, Kuya got in trouble again. This time he was accused of throwing a stone at the Barangay Chairman’s mentally-troubled sister while under the influence. You again rose from sleep at midnight and board the next ship to Batangas so you could hide my brother from the chairman’s influential family.
When Sanse (third elder sister) was impregnated by a scumbag soldier who happened to be married with kids, you did not say a word. You did not even hurt her physically or verbally. She was graduating college at the time. She hid the secret and surprised you with the bump in her tummy. You never judge or forsake her. In fact, you took care of her when she was jobless and pregnant up until the baby was born.
When my own siblings were criticizing me because of my gender preference, you stood by me and defended me from their judgmental words. You were the only person in this whole world who understands me. You were the only person who always accepted me with an open arms even when I was at my lowest point. I consider you my one and only true and loyal best friend who never turned her back on me even when the rest of the world did.
I will always hope and pray that you live longer to enjoy life with us. I will always work hard so you can enjoy better healthcare as you grow old. I will not always be at your side and there will be days when you’ll feel alone but rest assured that I always miss you and I am doing everything for us to have a better life.
In the movie “Eat, Pray, Love,” the Italian woman who received Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) said to her, “Everything falls apart. The only thing that’s permanent is family.” This is true and you taught me this. You also taught me to be strong and stand tall with what I believe in. You taught me to not bend when some people belittle my feat and try to put me down. We were poor, but you taught me all the moral values. I am who I am because of you. You were the best disciplinarian, the best teacher.
Thank you for all your hard work and your sacrifices. Your love is truly selfless. You have an amazing heart that none of us will ever have, not even close. You are my past, my present and my future love. You are my greatest treasure, my pride, my joy and I may not always say this but I love you always and forever.
Inay, maraming salamat po.