My mom has always had asthma, but it was when I was in high school that I became aware of how bad it was. At that time, the only ones living in the house were my mom and dad and Rommel and I, plus two grandchildren, my nieces Yolanda and Aileen. Rommel was a hardheaded teenager, running with the other boys of the town, and not much help at the time.
That left me and dad.
A lot of times she would have a really bad asthma attack and couldn’t move, and that’s when we would take her to the hospital in Balangiga. I learned to take care of the paperwork when she had to check in and check out—something my Dad couldn’t do, because he doesn’t read. I became good at it, and I could check her in and out by myself. By that time there were motorized tricycles to take her there, and also one Jeepney called Madonna that we would sometimes use to get her there—or sometimes we’d put her in the boat.
Somehow we always managed to get her there. It was during high school from first through fourth year that I got very familiar with her asthma. At one point I thought that she was going to die when she wasn’t getting much medication, and looked really bad. She would suffer terribly until she took the medication at the hospital and some oxygen. She would come back, get better, and then it would hit again. This pattern continued. I wondered if there was better medication out there somewhere.
But we didn’t have anything.
During high school my athleticism started to be a little bit important. I was a tomboy; there was no doubt about it. Each year we would have “intrams”—sports competitions that lasted a couple of weeks. They mixed everybody in, put numbers or colors on you, and then from that group of all students together, you create teams for this and that.
I particularly remember that in my third year I started winning a lot of competitions and I was supposed to run in the finals of one of the races—several times around the track, I’m not sure how far, maybe a couple hundred meters. I was the number one pick, and I was all dressed and ready to go but that day my mom had an asthma attack and I had to take her to the hospital. I was also the pitcher on the softball team.
When I got back home that night some of the students from Guinob-an said my team was looking for me. The next day I had to go back to the hospital again, and by the time my mom was back home the intramurals were over. I wish I hadn’t missed those things. I felt like I let people down. It was the only time I felt like I had made a real contribution to the school—oh well. The next year I didn’t get so involved with athletics. I was a graduating student that year, and I guess other things seemed more important—or maybe I was a little embarrassed for letting people down the previous year. Either way, it was easier to not get so involved.
Every year my grades were getting better and better, and I was more focused on school. I had actually beaten my cousins in terms of grades, which was a huge surprise. I was not expecting it. I was never known to be the brightest in school. I really surprised myself and my grades got better and better.
One of my big memories about my high school years was
Sangguniang Kabataan. “SK” as we call it is the official youth council for each barangay in the Philippines. It represents teens from 15 to 17 years old who are elected to what is the local youth legislature in the village. Elections to SK are synchronized with the main barangay elections for Barangay Captain and other officers. I was in my third year when I got officially elected to SK. It was really an indication that I had changed a lot in the years since I dropped out of school.
My parents were very proud, and I guess I was too.
That summer our SK group was responsible for organizing and funding the basketball league in Guinob-an for the fiesta. I became the treasurer because the girl who was the treasurer left and got married. Suddenly my whole world revolved around fundraisers as we tried to get everything ready for the basketball tournament during fiesta.
Our main fundraiser was to put on dances, kind of like a disco, in the plaza of each barangay. We would sell tickets, and then supposedly you’re not supposed to dance unless you have a ticket which cost 20 pesos each. We had to take care of expenses—the music, instruments, lighting. We would also do a traditional dance called amenudo—a single pair, a man and a woman dancing, and people throw money into the middle of their dancing. In rich towns, this was an opportunity for the well off to show how much money they could afford to throw away. It wasn’t like that in my village.
Because I was skinny and athletic I was not approached that often by boys at the dances. There were some, enough that I suppose I wasn’t a wallflower, but there were others who were much, much more popular with the boys; but that was okay. I wasn’t thinking too much about them.
Once, when we were at a dance in Bolusao, an older boy began to pay attention to me, dancing with me and asking if he could walk with me back to Guinob-an when the dance was over. I told him we walked as a group, and he was welcome to join. Then when he joined and tried to hold my hand, I panicked and ran up to my cousin and walked beside him. I was probably sixteen, maybe even seventeen at the time—and I for sure was not ready for romance.
When I think about that, I wonder why.
In our town, and in my family, sixteen or seventeen is often the age when girls get pregnant. I knew I didn’t want to get pregnant because I saw where that led. I hadn’t yet figured out what I was going to do after finishing high school but one thought that I know was beginning to take root was that I wanted to see something more than just Guinob-an and Lawaan.
I would hear about Manila from different people. In my own family, some of the siblings went there, or to Bulacan which is adjacent to Manila. They told stories about how big it was, and how there was opportunity that didn’t exist where we were. The idea of going there began to have some appeal but it was barely the beginnings of an idea, definitely not a plan.
Without fully realizing it, I was beginning to get a sense that there was a larger world out there; that it wasn’t just a myth or fairy tale but was real and I was soon going to be old enough to see it—if I could just figure out how to get there.
Continue to Chapter 19
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