my autobiography 3 – I got to be Miss Universe at least

School was an odyssey of mixed feelings and happenings from my end –it had done me good as well as ruptured my interiors throughout its lengthy span. For months that I was attending kindergarten in our town’s modest exclusive all-girl school, my hands would get cold as ice — out of heebie-jeebies — each morning before class would commence. A classmate sitting behind could’ve caught aware and took advantage of my wussiness. She would pull my hand, position it beneath her desk and dig her nails onto its flesh for an entire breaktime. I was afraid of her, too wimpy to pull back my hand, so I let her do it to me again and again. My mother saw the fresh wounds all over my hands one day and off she went to complain to the teacher. A transfer of seats took place and that seemed to be the end of it.

It was the same teacher, however, from my kindergarten days who’d cause me humiliation when I was too shy to shake my hips during a whole-group dance competition. My self-consciousness engendered a silly supposition the audience–many of them my neighbors–eyes were mainly on me while the music was blaring over the expanse of the school playground. When our class failed to bag the top prize, no need to guess who she blamed it on. She even bitterly recounted and reenacted my lethargic dance moves in front of the class for more than a week.

Then I turned Grade One and grew brilliant at spelling English words and was awarded 2nd best at an annual Spelling Bee contest. Unfortunately our family had to move from Caloocan to Quezon City. A major academic change — this time to a smaller substandard coed elementary school. From Our Lady of Grace Academy to Our Lady of Salvation School. 😛

Mestiza types especially the fair-skinned ones with noses on the prominent side could catch attention around average-class localities. Even though my looks were hardly impressive in the traditional sense I was deemed lovely, somehow, by regular citizens due to my Spanish roots. So throughout gradeschool, as part of our recreation during recess or break periods, all the passably nice-looking girls including me would line up to take the role of Miss Universe contestants. (Filipinos by the way are forever enamored of beauty pageants). Winners would be announced one by one from fifth to second runner up. I’d always finish as one of the two remaining candidates. “And the Miss Universe goes to …!!!” Surprise, it would be me. Often. Unanimously. Persistently. 97% of the time. Still perplexing to this day…. Had they been pulling a prank at my expense 🙂 ? Probably not. It doesn’t matter; it’s become one of the fine memories I’d want to keep.

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my autobiography 2 – “Where Exactly Is Papa’s Home?”

The age gap between my parents was 20 years. My father had already had eight children before with his lawful wife — yep, my brother, sister and I were in point of fact illegitimate. But that didn’t weigh down on my core even if illegitimacy was then frowned over. My kind couldn’t care less regarding neighborhood whispers and other people’s judgment.

I remember the era of Martial Law and strict curfew hours from 12 to 5 a.m. The country had started to grow restless under the Marcoses and freedom of speech was kept highly suppressed. Malls and gadgets were nonexistent; the computer age was yet to burst forth. Filipinos could find leisure simply through Luneta park strolls, single department store shopping, or from listening to their hi-fi stereos. The late 70’s kindled my love for contemporary music. I’d lug my tiny cassette radio around the house, settle in a vacant room and wait endless hours for radio stations to play my favorite songs. I was Kacey Kasem’s American Top 40 baby and heavily patronized scores of Billboard hits.

A couple of times my sister and I were sent away for a two-week stay to a rich paternal relative’s abode in the exclusive village of Magallanes. Except for the comfort of airconditioned bedrooms we shared with our cousins, nothing within that span of 14 days emerged interesting. Affluent surroundings slightly pleased me. The city might’ve raised me into the quintessential urbanite, but my very marrow kept yearning for country life and authentic rural backdrops. Nonetheless, acquainting myself with my aunt’s several pet dogs helped establish my soft spot for four-legged animals.

My father would come home intermittently at 9-10 p.m., retire by midnight, only to wake up promptly at 4:30 in advance of sunrise. Many a time I’d be lying in bed awake and could hear my parents’ conversations — which normally preceded Papa’s setting out to the dark dawn of the day.

Early childhood fun with my father consisted of him picking up each child to sit on his shoulders as he proceeded to walk around our small house especially along dark sides to give us a merry scare. And I’d squeal in victory as well every time my hand could reach the top of every door frame. He would narrate tales of goblins and giants — the usual stuff small kids wanted to hear — while we were all lying down under a big mosquito net during bedtime. He must’ve been exhausted from working the whole day (I’d seen his tired eyes water which slowly trickled down like tears while telling the stories)…yet he managed performing said fatherly tasks for the amusement of his three kids. Papa would also drive us his children to the movie theatre; we’d watch mostly action and thriller films. It was Roger Moore’s stint as agent double OSeven — nevertheless we’d join altogether in concurring Sean Connery played James Bond best. Eating out was one more casual tradition in strengthening the family bond; with Papa, we could eat anything and as much as we want because he unfailingly had money to pay the bill.

Oh have I mentioned a big bottle of Coke on the dining table would be enough delight for us all at family mealtime? 🙂

Because I saw him irregularly, my longing for my father’s love and physical presence was a mainstay throughout my long youthful episode. His constant absence at home probably intensified my devotion to him. Papa’s actual residence became an enduring mystery to me…as much as his whereabouts which I felt sure nobody really knew, not even his first family. “Where does his heart sincerely find shelter?” Perhaps I had been partially carrying the notion there was a third woman in the picture — another woman whom my father trusted could provide the right cushion for a full rest down of his body and spirit after the night had fallen. A notion of mine which the years to come would prove to be true.

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my autobiography 1: Remembering Isn’t That Easy

Although still tentative, I may have to embark somewhere far again this year. It’ll be my last — and once more, I’m feeling the need to finalize my autobiography — plus add in an outline of who I am, what I am, you know, just in case… Several of my posts have already covered some of my stories — still, I hope to expand on my chronicles and personal constitution. Failing to keep a journal in my earlier years, only memories that have survived in my consciousness are making it here. Hence, the random mode series and disordered form— as everything depends on my recollections and what I can manage to put into words.

Take heed: If I sound so much like a loser, well, because I actually am. Endure with me. Anyway, if there’s anyone who should complain about it, it could only be me. And yes I’ve long been deserving of a WordPress Shameless Award.

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Born in Manila, middle of three children. My family wasn’t exactly poor but we hardly belonged to the well-to-do bracket either.

My father had always been a businessman and identified for his industrious manners: he’d been a car dealer, a club owner, and managed a funeral parlor once. I guess he also liked dipping into the construction business because the houses we dwelled in were always undergoing renovation, some repairs or full structuring.

My mother worked as a barmaid in his club — that’s how they met. Both came from big families. Papa had an authoritarian demeanour; mommy was melodramatic. A particular blend of those traits were undoubtedly passed on to me. Because neither of them were introverts, they must’ve been puzzled that one offspring grew up to become socially passive, a dreamer, a bashful misfit. Having a beautiful outgoing elder sister and a similarly gregarious younger brother didn’t help. Lacking in good looks and ideal height in addition to being painfully shy and quiet solidified my status as the perpetual outcast.

When my father built a basketball court in our garage for my brother, I played the sport during my teens. I like the sense of motion so physical games and activities were among my childhood pleasures. I could fair adequately at running, skipping, roller skating, bicycle riding etc.; jumping (chinese) garter has held a spot as a memorable girlhood recreation.

I’m no mental heavyweight yet I’ve spent most of my time as a ponderer, mostly fantasizing of another realm where I’m regarded by others for my perfection. In another sphere, I am taller and a gorgeous svelte actress who can do drama or comedy or musical and who’s been going steady with this clean-cut very handsome action star from the 70’s. I’m not kidding.

These days my regret not having labored harder toward academic achievement is palpable. Why? The Internet has exposed me to diverse minds who’ve got bright, intelligent things to say about a whole world of topics. And my role has remained as a bystander…or a mere reader who pathetically has nothing to contribute to such elite conversations. My family used to marvel at my good reliable memory, though specifically after they’d sought me to name out actors and movie titles they couldn’t recall.

I can never consider myself a good person; not being a people person has got something to do with it. My acute sympathy and affection for animals in general, however, make me feel not normal at times. That explains my fondness for white Americans– their compassion for these less fortunate creatures (excluding peeps who have concern only for their pets) is touching. I’d loved and taken care of a number of pet dogs. Losing each one was crushing to me beyond words. Poor street cats and dogs and animal sufferings equally break my heart. I’ve been a cat lady for the last 14 years, btw.

At this stage, I’ve been doing my best to be ruthless in discarding stuff; not easy for someone like me who’s got attachment issues. As I make my transition to an old woman, certain measures have become valuable: being organized, simplifying my life, letting go.

(To be continued….)

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You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing’s sake, back home to aestheticism, to one’s youthful idea of “the artist” and the all-sufficiency of “art” and “beauty” and “love”, back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermuda, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.
Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

Why I Seldom Talk About My Mother

Maybe I love her (a little) and maybe I don’t (at all).

Why do I feel this way towards her? Take note: I’m going to be unsparingly upfront regarding our kinship yet don’t fail to account it as substantially my side of the story.

My mother and I have nothing in common. She has no sympathy for animals. No appreciation for literature or anything in depth. She’s never held a real job and spent most of her existence anticipating to be taken care of financially. She’s in every sense a baby during periods that she’s sick or afraid. Nothing glitters above her portion of the sky except money, fame, or anything emitting superficial glow. Her orbit centers on fussing over what other people would say. And I won’t elaborate on how she battered me way back my cherubim days because I’d cry at kindergaten school (she said she felt humiliated by my crying) whenever she’d be late in fetching me (I was scared of never being able to get home).

Pricking graphic, I know. Documenting what’s in my memory and mind, however, demands such single-mindedness.

There’s one more thing.

Not a chance in my whole life did I see my father and mother behave like husband and wife.

My father’s feelings of rancour toward my mother was an incomprehensible matter to me. It was something I wish he’d been open to — giving his relationship with the woman who provided him three kids a shot. Circumstances could have been less shitty. He never entertained the possibility. My supposition for his unforgiving stance pointed to his secret regret on his previous decision to give up his first family in which he had sired eight descendants – a long story that deserves a separate blog post (my head could ache right this minute).

My parents expected their children to take sides. I tried to stay neutral by rationalizing both of them didn’t pay proper attention to me since, in contrast to my elder sis, I hardly possessed promising qualities for stardom. Even so, my connection to my father had always been solid; his presence never ceased functioning as a deep force in my life.

My mother found ways to make me pay the price for not siding with her. Plus she must not have known what to do with her middle child who is the exact opposite of her, has a mind of her own, talks back, and has no potential whatsoever for showbiz prominence by reason of that particular child’s plain looks and inessential bashfulness.

Consequently, her relatives (with her prodding) who were equally displeased ‘coz I wasn’t “hung up on mom”, the same relatives my father regarded with distaste, kept broaching on how I look very much like him and display many of his characteristics.

Within our family the arrows of strain and divide drove deeper through the years. Both my siblings have continually resented my not sharing the same devotion they’ve afforded our mother. They don’t get it. I’d rather not veil my cold heart and would prefer being subjected to judgment or criticisms than put on an act; I couldn’t bring myself demonstrating affections that don’t exist.

And perhaps they don’t get it, too, I still feel darned sore my father perished out of their admitted deliberate neglect (they lived under one roof). My mother didn’t even attend my father’s burial — which fell along my sister’s dominion — owing to hypocritical justifications too deplorable to discuss at length.

That’s the kind of dysfunctional family I came from; the kind of damage it has inflicted upon its members. Make no mistake, she and I had had good times (though few). We do talk when the occasion permits. There are moments as well when guilt would creep in and I’d call to check up on her (even though she lives like a queen under my sister’s care).

But it’s impossible to scoop up now the love in me she might need as one of her children or whatever compassion for her I might have long ago buried within.

It is what it is, a friend had once told me. These personal narratives of mine, no matter how raw and searing, I can’t just lock inside of me. And I want to acknowledge that whatever strength I still own stems from the comforting fact I am my father’s daughter.

Mildly Unconventional Highschooler

Never an early morning person, I’d force myself to wake up at 4:30 in order to prepare and be on my way to hear mass by 5:30 – the liturgical ritual, nevertheless, gradually ended up as ancillary to the celestial pleasure of listening to the angelic voices of the nuns singing beautiful hymns inside the small elevated church of our school convent.

At 6:00 I’d go down, drop my bag inside the classroom, and proceed to get some fresh morning air around the quiet grounds of Sienna College, before my schoolmates start packing the area for the flag ceremony at 7:00 a.m.

Spending four years of highschool in an all-girl school wasn’t absolutely fun because in elementary, I had a blast running or biking with the boys; catching dragonflies, climbing trees, and just plain hanging out with them. Although grouping and bonding with some funny queer girls in my secondary years were interesting, too.

Because of the torturous three-hour Chem or Physics laboratory periods not to mention our countless bible studies with the nuns, I decided on learning the “fine art” of cutting classes sporadically.

The air-conditioned library was one location I sometimes escaped to. Colorful, hard bound books on geography with breathtaking photos of the sky and natural scenery engrossed me. Women’s magazines that had been bookbinded also consumed my reading time. Unfortunately, there was lack of pocketbooks – as one day it dawned on me I’d already read the entire collection on the shelf so I ‘d no other alternative but to read them again. And there were instances when the librarian would tap me on the shoulder to remind me I had to go and not stay during class hours.

I began considering another escape destination —> Oh yes, the huge Glori Supermart which was a mere three-minute walk from the school.

But I would first have to trick my way past the security guard of our main gate. I thought of a simple one which often turned out successful: I’d tell him I was hungry and would request to be allowed a few minutes to buy banana-cue from a nearby sidewalk vendor. As soon as he let me out, I’d wait for him to get distracted by other matters and ensuingly sprint away from his sight.

My more effective tactic, however, was this: “My Dad is in there waiting for me,” while pointing to one of the many distant cars within our view. “He has to give me my pocket allowance for today.” Without miss, my (budding) talent for acting would triumph.

How would I be able to get inside the school again later? By entering the other gate which was situated in the front. Easy.

Miraculously, I somehow avoided getting reprimanded by the nuns. Or maybe they simply let my tiny misdemeanors slip by as they kept eye more on the noisy notorious girls who were suspected of secretly instigating forbidden meet-ups with the boys from our brother school. After all, I was basically low-key, looked wholesome, and passed all my academic subjects.

One day I bumped into a classmate along the corridors while on my way back to our classroom. “Where have you been?” she asked. I saw no need not to be honest so I replied, “Just outside.”

You’re such a ‘now you see her, now you don’t’ kind of rebel” was her concluding remark which made me wonder if it was a casual one or not.

 

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She Should Have Slept Around

My elder sister and I with the whole family are having lunch in a restaurant. She’s narrating her recent trip to Germany where she underwent stem cell treatment — something she goes through every year (partly as an aftermath of her choco addiction) with my brother-in-law, her husband. While the conversation progresses, he stands up and goes out to take a phone call. My sister turns to me.

She (with eagerness): My German doctor. He’s cute and I think he likes me.

Me: He is? He does?

She: He’s been sweet and extremely attentive to me. And I believe I’m the only female patient he kissed on both cheeks when we said our goodbyes.

Me: Ooh… (nodding). Inner Me: Of course he’s that nice. You’re a customer! No, I can’t say that to her; I won’t dare refute the giddiest hunch of someone who allows me to live in one of their apartments nearly rent-free.

Me: Aren’t you happily married? I teasingly remind her. Because she unmistakably is.

She: Yes, very much, but I watched the movie “Same Time Next Year.” Interesting to be in that two-timing couple’s situation, I imagine. My sister’s smiling.

My eyes secretly widen in bewilderment; I need a drink quick as I search for any server passing by. “Uh, Waiter, a can of Coke Zero please!”

Is he single?” I proceed to ask her.

She: Well, no. But blah blah blah…

Inner Me: Excuse me, sis. If he’s married, there’s no but. There can never be a but. (Sorry, though, to confess I previously broke that rule twice in my life. Don’t worry, Karma already made sure I paid the heaviest price.) I go on listening to my sis and keep nodding dumbly while she rattles on how maybe her doctor is gonna welcome some sort of fling with her regardless of both their connubial status.

She: The part where he injected (the goat, I mean sheep cells) bulged a bit so that became an excuse for me to email him. I had to ask about the swell…

Me: What did he say?

She: Well, he didn’t reply at first. So I had to email him again. He responded then. I think he’s just being cool and cautious because Joey (my sister’s husband) is his patient, too. But I can sense my doctor does like me as much as I like him.

Now I’m resisting the urge to dip my fingers in my glass of cold H20 and sprinkle some on her face.

Dear dear sister of mine, you’re telling me he has seen your 50-year-old butt (the needle went there, btw) and now he helplessly finds himself having a crush on you. Listen, a good-looking well-moneyed medical practitioner like that will get carnal only with the best-looking female  WHO’S HALF HIS AGE. Get real!” Again, no, I couldn’t tell her that. She’s paying for the whole meal.

My sister, in sudden mild reflection, continues: In our earlier years, Joey fooled around. Those were very stressful periods for me. Maybe he doesn’t anymore but I’m not quite certain. Now I realize I should have “hanged around” with other guys in the past.

I understand. I look at my sister keenly and start pondering as well. This is what happens when a woman has bedded only one man her entire life. I’ve gathered she’s just had the same discussion with our mother; how she feels sorry for herself for lacking “substantial experience” with men. I remember when she and I were in our earliest teens, our parents would lecture us till midnight not only about prioritizing our studies but more on the value of preserving our “innocence.” Our mother went so far as to insist our first boyfriend should end up as our husband, too, and should be the only male we’ll ever sleep with. Sister took it to heart (She and our mom have always been soulmates). Me? Inside I was like “Yuck!” The rebel in me at the time had already been emerging so my stance was “One dude in a whole lifespan? Not on your life.”

Anyway, my zany brother who’s been partially listening to our sisterly chat strongly butts in: Ho ho, jumping to conclusions! Too much chocolate again in your system, sister. The three of us laugh. My brother-in-law walks back to our table.

What is the moral of this blog piece? Sister should have slept around and all women should do so during their unwedded era. Unequivocally. And it matters little whether the men were fucking dickheads or not.

Wait, did I just say that? Give me two weeks of good night sleep to take it back.

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++my brother, bro-in-law, sister and me in that most recent outing++

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Yep, another old favorite love song (ad nauseum, I know) from way way back. This Dionne W’s deeper gentle version I surprisingly unearthed on YT as it was rarely played on the radio.

 

An Unforgettable Kind

His aura spelled of a bracing formidable substance and he was possessed of strong muscles. But he had always sat on his wheelchair. He was a paraplegic.

He in his white cotton shirt running on his wheelchair amidst the various vehicles on the busy Kalayaan Avenue of the city had become a regular fixture of my rhythmic existence for a number of years. During walks from my son’s school to my house as part of my workout, I would catch sight of him and witness with awe and some concern the routine plus the perils he’d undergo while completing his daily mission.

No idea of his history. His aloof stance denoted zero probability you’d ever catch him smiling or look at faces or acknowledge anyone around him. With his head partially inclined downward – perhaps to avoid any interaction — his gaze seemed focused only on the floors of the lanes ahead.

Several summers rolled by, I spotted him one day sweeping past our school building while on my way to work. He looked very much the same. Just like before, his eyes were solely fixed on the ground. I decided to cross the street to meet his direction.

Good morning!” I greeted with zest.

He didn’t respond; neither did his head move. He could have been surprised by my deed although he showed no signs of it and simply kept spinning the wheels of his chair. I watched him continue his way down the road.

Surely many others who encountered the man had felt the same way I did. Pity, yes, I couldn’t deny. But it was my admiration for his spirit that won out; I had resolved to let him know one more soul had been recognizing his being.

Weeks had passed when I saw him again from a distance at the same spot. Once more, I aimed to navigate along his path and proceeded to repeat the gesture of greeting him. To my delight, that time around he made a quick glance with an amenable face to say “good morning” to me too. The day indeed turned brighter; a pleasant instance which duplicated two or three more times subsequently.

Through periods when my infrastructure gets questioned by no other than me, or through spans when I get besieged by the thorny events of life, he enters my mind. It’s then that I have to second guess myself for feeling defeated when in battle against the stuffs of survival. With his kind that gets out in the world to show us (luckier ones) that you needn’t lose a sense of purpose despite the odds, how many are there who’ll be able to match such amazing display of strength and perseverance?

Thus it’s become a blessing what he (like my dearest one) has embodied in my life. No chance will I run into him again as I won’t be going to those areas of the city anymore; yet recollections of his image and determination linger every so often.

I don’t think I’ll be forgetting him anytime soon.

 

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