It was now November of 1994 when one day Rommel showed up with my mom. She was furious. She had no doubt whatsoever about what she was going to do—she was going to take me away from Marlon. I knew instantly that I wasn’t going to fight it. Marlon was married; we don’t have divorce in the Philippines; and even if he was separated, he was still married. It was wrong.
My mom took me away that day and it was a horrible scene.
Marlon begged her to let me stay, literally getting down on his knees and crying. My mom was completely unmoved.
Then at one point my mom was pulling me out the door on one arm, and Marlon was pulling me back in on the other. I kept saying “I have to go” and finally he let go.
Then I was gone.
Marlon was wailing, sobbing like a kid. My mother was just determined to get me out of there. And although I had feelings for Marlon, I was ready to go.
I thought she was going to take me back to Samar, but after we were out, she asked me where I wanted to go.
I told her I didn’t want to go back.
We stayed at Mary’s for a few days then my mother announced that she was taking me to Zambales, where I could stay with my sister Lina who was living there.I had no idea where Zambales was—or Olongapo, the town where she lived, but my mother got us tickets on a bus and four hours later we were there. We went straight to Lina’s house.
She had a little apartment in a beachside barangay called Barrio Barreto. As we were riding on a tricycle from the bus station in Olongapo to Barretto it took us past a big fenced in area with blue and white buildings that looked unlike anything I had seen in my lifetime.
This, I was told, was “SBMA”, which someone else explained was the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. It had been a US Navy Base until just two years earlier, and now it was operated by the Philippine government as a free port. I didn’t know what that meant but there was something very different about what I saw through the fence—wide, uncluttered streets, sparkling blue and white buildings, and a huge Filipino flag flying there on the waterfront, the biggest I had ever seen, that made me feel a stirring of pride I had never felt before.
I had not seen Lina in several years, ever since she had left for Manila. She had a little apartment—a kitchen, a sala, and a bedroom—but it was nicer than any house I had ever been in. It had electricity and running water and was under some trees, so it was cool and comfortable.
Lina wasn’t working. I learned that she had a fiancé, an American Navy man, who was sending her money and it was enough for her to live on while she waited for him to take her to America.
My mom stayed with us for a week, then left.
I spent the first month just staying with Lina. It was Christmas time, and we celebrated in small ways.
Barretto was nice; a more developed version of Guinob-an. It had a beach called Baloy Beach, where there were a cluster of small beach resorts, a main street, and, off the main street, small houses, many of which were occupied by retired US Navy men who had married Filipinas.
On either side of the main street there were restaurants and bars, many of which were closed now because, I was told, the Navy had left and with it the flow of money and customers. But some were open, and although the Navy was gone, the free port that had replaced it was populated by some foreigners—not like in the Navy days but enough to keep the economy alive.
In the neighborhood, I became friends with Inday, a girl whose family had a store near Lina’s apartment.
One day in February she took me inside SBMA. We went there in a jeepney, and got a pass, then looked around. It was different; really different than Manila or anywhere I had ever been. It was more organized, less crowded, the roads were cleaner and wider. She took me inside a department store that was also unlike any I had seen: air conditioned, beautifully displayed items, un-crowded and uncluttered. By this time I had seen some movies from the US and I wondered if this was what it was like there.
Inside SBMA I put in some applications for work. There were not many jobs available then but there was a lot of talk about big companies coming to SBMA to set up factories there. Acer computers was one.
There was also FedEx, which I had never heard of before but I saw their planes on the runway at the airport. They had made Subic their Asian hub, which I vaguely understood meant that they had many planes coming in and out each night taking cargo to different parts of Asia. There were also some stores— duty free shopping—one called PX Club, another called Royal Subic. I put in applications at a few places, and then we went back to Barreto.
Back in Barretto, which was only about ten minutes from SBMA, Inday took me around, introduced me to some of the neighbors. There were some Americans living there, retired Navy, with Filipino wives. I still didn’t have a job but the little money I needed came from Lina, who was generous.
Still, I started becoming restless and wanted a job.
In June, one of Lina’s friends, a girl named Christy, came around and told me that she was the manager of a new bar and restaurant that was going to open. She asked me if I wanted to be a bartender there. I told her I didn’t know anything about bar-tending but if they would train me, I would try.
The owner was an American ex-Navy man named Bill Hicks. He also owned boats and had a business with the boats, but he and his wife opened the restaurant, which consisted of a bar, a dozen small tables, and two pool tables. The name of the place was Hooters, which meant absolutely nothing to me. I was a little shy about the uniform, which was a tank top and orange shorts, socks, and sneakers.
But I was grateful for the job.
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