written in 2011
I was seven years old when my mother left for the United States of America. I remember being devastated that I couldn’t go with her. I was mad not because she was leaving us for a long time, but because she wouldn’t take me.
The night before her flight, I was sobbing my heart out, practically begging for her to take me.
“If you came with me, you’d have to stay in my suitcase” she said smiling at me while running her fingers through my hair. At the time, I really thought she was serious.
“Yes, that’s fine with me.” I replied, sniffling.
“Okay then, you have to wake up early in the morning because I am leaving early, understand? So go to sleep now, darling,
because tomorrow, we are leaving.” She said, giving me a kiss and tucking me in. She always calls me “Darling” when she’s trying to make me feel better. (She still does at times and it still works.)
The next morning, when I woke up, my mother had already left.
That was my first good-bye to a person who was close to my heart.
Years passed by. I started puberty and started to hang out with friends. I started to get attracted to the opposite sex. I experienced my first alcoholic drink. I was getting used to everything around me and I started to get comfortable with the thought that my friends would always be my friends.
It turned out, I was wrong. Five years later, my brothers and I were petitioned to follow my mother. Fortunately, or unfortunately (you decide), my mom had gotten married and I had a stepfather. This enabled the petition papers to be accepted faster than usual. In less than a year, my brothers and I had our tickets.
It was time to say good-bye again.
We had a “despedida” party prior to leaving. My father took the family to dinner and to a comedy bar. That was the first time I shared a bottle of beer with my brothers and my father (No underage drinking from where I’m from).
It was exciting at first, a chance to live a new life and start something new in a different environment—an adventure as I saw it. The day of our flight drew near. My farewells to my friends and classmates were made. The town I grew up in, “my childhood”, was left behind.
I tried my hardest to face this new beginning with my chin up and I forced myself to be excited. After all, I hadn’t seen my mother for five years. I kept my mind occupied. I thought about what I was going to say to her, what I was going to say to my stepfather, and what possibilities or opportunities would come when I arrive in the United States.
I fell asleep during the trip to the airport. We all settled down and got ready. The time to wait for our flight arrived; this was the time we had to separate from my dad. He got a special pass to be inside with us for a bit and to have a few more minutes with us.
“Don’t fight over there okay? Don’t fight with your brothers. You are all that you have and it is different, I tell you” He said.
“Yes dad, I understand that.”
“Try to get along with each other and with your stepfather. Help each other at all times and be safe always.” He added.
He took off his wristwatch and handed it over to me.
“Here’s my watch. Don’t get lost during your trip and always be aware of the time.” He said. “You have to go now. Call as soon as you arrive, alright?”
“Alright, Dad” I answered.
I gave him a kiss and turned to walk away from him. “Good-bye na po” I said, and walked briskly to the terminal. Then he called my name. I turned around to look at him, as if he had to say something, but he just shrugged and waved at me. I waved back of course, wondering what he had to say but I kept moving forward. I guess I was just excited to get on the airplane which was why I thought nothing further about what it was that he had to say.
We got on the plane and settled in our seats. As the plane rolled away and took off, I started to think of everything. The past, the present, the future—then it hit me. I left my dad without saying three words to him.
Those words were “I Love You.”
I hit adolescence in the states. I worked a number of jobs, was in and out of relationships, got my driver’s license, finished high school, and even had my first court hearing where I pleaded guilty for an accident that was my fault. I was going through a lot and I was under great stress when I made a decision.
That decision was to go back home to live with my father and to finish college. Many told me that I was making a wrong decision and that I was stupid. People would kill to be where I was, but I ignored them. I knew that even though they were right, it was my decision to make and they would support me no matter what.
“If I stay, I don’t think anything will happen with my life. I feel like I’m a wreck you know. It’s expensive to go to college here and no one will pay for it but me. If I go back, not only will I get a chance to finish college, I would also have the chance to keep my dad company. I’ll be doing something worthwhile and for once, I can make my parents happy and proud. I know I can do this. It will be hard, but I believe I will accomplish my goal.”
With that said, I had everyone’s blessing and support, and a “going-away” party was held.
It was time for another good-bye.
I was nineteen years old when I had to leave. The party proved that in our “barkada”, I was the “Crybaby”. My brother and a few friends made a video for me. The video had almost everyone dearest to me in it, wishing me good luck. My best friend for four years was not there. Though that fact hurt me, I still sobbed like a child when I watched the video. It was time to leave.
I started college in 2008. It was new. I was the oldest in the class—no job, no car, and no friends. I was in and out of depression for two years.
It took me two and a half years to finally readjust to the way of living in the Philippines. I even tried to fail my first college year, thinking that if I failed, I can just go back in the United States and start over–again.
Luckily, I didn’t. This pushed me to eventually finish my degree. I made new friends and I hardly think about my life in the states anymore. I can’t think of my life in the States because I am not there anymore. To do so would only be hard for me so I focused on other things.
In late 2010, my father and I talked. He said that his savings were not enough to get me through senior year. He said that he would have to ask my brother to petition him so that he could go to the States and work for my tuition. In mid-2011, he was gone. We went together to the states for a quick vacation. It was fun at first, and then I had to leave again, but this time, my father stayed behind. My brothers, mother, and father took me to the airport.
“Behave yourself there alright?” My father told me.
“Yes dad.” I answered.
“Don’t drink too much and focus on your priorities. Don’t go out all the time and be safe always”
“I know dad, you’ve told me a hundred times. Trust that I will finish college” I said, a little agitated because of all the “sermon” I got just minutes before I was leaving.
My flight was up. I had to go. It was my first time riding on a plane by myself. It was exciting but at the time, I could not get
myself excited. I told myself that I was not going to cry, that I was strong enough to live by myself and study by myself, so that I could stick to my promise and graduate. These were all I thought about.
I went to my mother and gave her a kiss and a hug, shook hands with my brothers, then hugged my father quickly and
turned around. I could not look back. The waterworks were already starting and I had to take several deep breaths before I
had to calm myself. I kept walking forward and never looked back. I sat down and buried my face in the palms of my hand. It was harder than I thought. I stood up and washed my face and waited for my flight.
That was the last good-bye that I had to make recently, not with just one person close to me, but my whole family. My sister who was living with me in the Philippines also left for the Middle East to be with her family there. I was literally by myself at home.
After all the tears that I cried, I came to realize something. I turned out okay, and I will be better once I finish what I came to do and all of us are together.
You see, something else happens behind the good-byes that a person makes, something so familiar to us that we don’t recognize it right away.
It was growing up. We grow up when we say our farewells to someone, when we step out of the world we know, and step into a different world.
Think about a plant that is being taken care of inside a house. Eventually, that plant will grow out of its pot and should be taken outside for a bigger space, where it will grow even more and have a chance to be more beautiful and be appreciated by people in a place where it can be seen. We all grow up eventually, and we all have to step out of our comfort zone — to grow bigger, stronger, and wiser.
It is a big country, but it is an even bigger world.
**I am now happily married to my college Sweetheart.
**The second to the last paragraph was inspired by George Feeny from Boy Meets World (1993-2000). It was the episode when Cory asked Mr. Feeny why he was bringing the potted plant from inside the house to the outside.