6/16/2005

Survivor's Ache

Ver mentioned this beautiful short story that made me ache inside for so many complex reasons.

I've just finished drafting a poem that was lovingly nurtured by my poet-mentor. It centers around a memory of mine from 1995 when I visited the Philippines. It was the first time I had visited the PI since I was six years old, and I travelled with my husband, brother, and parents. We were celebrating my father's birthday there that year, even though his birthday is in November and we were there in June during of all things, a heat wave. My parents are your typical post-WWII success story - immigration in the late 1950's, college educated professionals, living in a middle class neighborhood by the bay, two kids...that's about where the success story stops, since my brother and I have not taken the perfect road promised by all that success. We're a couple of sometimes lost artists, me the writer-mom, him the musician-computer tech. I've produced grandkids, thankfully, but we live too far north to make visits easy between my parents and I, and actually that's where I'm most comfortable.

In 1995, though, we didn't have the kids, I didn't have my degree, and I worked as a secretary. We couldn't afford the plane tickets ourselves, so my parents bought them, paid for everything actually, from tickets to food to cab fare. Hubby and I had debt and lived paycheck to paycheck, but still we took the opportunity to travel, even if it meant posing as the successful children my parents made us out to be during so many phone calls back home.

When we were there, our relatives hosted us like royalty, food everywhere, song and dance too, picnics at Puerta Gallera and on the beach. We could only afford to spend a few days there, our own vacations limited - it seemed like we had only just arrived when we had to leave again.

Two things stick in my mind still - the sight of a young mangyan child dressed in a man's shirt standing by the roadside holding a stick with a wheel on it, a makeshift wheelbarrow for his small satchel, and the Peace Corp volunteer from Montana who was being hosted by my father's best friend.

What in the /world/ were we doing there, with all our American richness, eating food and being hosted in a place the Peace Corp sends volunteers? What's the alternative - never see our relatives overseas? How could I explain to my cousins that we were not so different, each of us just trying to make a living the best we could, that being US-born didn't mean perfection or a silver spoon? How could I explain how more opportunities does not mean we also have the wisdom to make the right choices at the right time, that sometimes there are no 'right' choices, just the best we could do at the time?

Reading Nadine Sarreal's story, writing my poem, remembering how I grew up, how my US cousins grew up, imagining how my PI cousins grew up makes me just ache inside.

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