Life is a mixture of opposites

Part 2

College Years and Beyond Before I graduated in high school, I won a nationwide search for a lone scholar who’d enjoy a 4-year full scholarship at the University of the Philippines’ College of Forestry. Naturally, my mother was so happy and proud of me, but at the same time worried that I’d be out of her sight for years to come. It was because my mother was granted a professional working visa to the United States of America a year before, and she was leaving the Philippines after my high school graduation. Her plan was to get all her children as soon as she’s settled in the US.

“This college scholarship is perfect for you for two years,” mother said, “so just take all preliminary courses, because when you reach America, you’ll study medicine.”

There was no stopping for my mother to dream … for her eldest daughter to be a doctor of medicine. At that time, I never had plans for myself except accepting what would make mom happy. She made sure I was settled in a private home owned by a professor who was on study leave abroad and whose home was cared for by his sister, an elementary school teacher. Mother left my younger siblings with my aunts, my father’s siblings, promising to provide for them and get them back soonest. That was 1968.

For the first time, I was alone.

UP College of Forestry was home to many intelligent students, mostly honor graduates of high schools all over the country. And because the courses available focused on natural resources, particularly trees and their environs, majority of students were males.

I didn’t realize at first that I was very attractive to many students thereat, until it gradually occurred to me when I started getting roses from admirers, invitations to private dinners, exclusive fraternity gatherings, letters of “interest,” and being serenaded every Friday or Saturday nights with love songs. A few of my admirers then were even young instructors from the same college. I was truly almost drowning amid such an unexpected outpouring of admiration especially from the opposite sex. One of my classmates and friends told me that it wasn’t only about my looks but my being the college’s first national scholar with lots of perks. She even blurted out, “Besides there are very few girls -- particularly pretty ones around, hehe!” Well, I guess she was right.

I must admit I had to prove I wasn’t all looks. I excelled in most of my preliminary courses. I was on the Dean’s List for two consecutive semesters, and named “University Scholar” for topping our GPA chart as well. I also proved I was excellent in singing, declamation, and oratory -- add-ons that drove more admirers coming my way. I was enjoying all the attention I was getting. And who won’t be, if you’re treated like a star?

In less than a year, I fell for a young instructor -- a magna cum laude graduate of the college -- which forced me to break off with my high school sweetheart. I made the latter cry, so uncontrollably that I knew the pain and heartbreak I gave him were heavy burdens I was going to reckon with in the future. The first “karma” was when my new boyfriend (the college instructor) had to leave for Canada on scholarship for his master’s and PhD. We were only on for a week!!

And, I never saw him ever again.

Alone and sad, naturally I tried to heal by entertaining new friends, attending parties, and being more active in school. It was 1969 and student unrest was probably one of the government’s major problems then. I became part of that period’s activism, though not as deep an involvement as those who joined the armed movement and left for the mountains. Many of those students who did perished, first of all because they really didn’t have proper training in military combat and were not used to spartan living in the mountains.

Meanwhile, I ended up eloping with a new graduate of the same College of Forestry, the Supreme Fellow of the college’s fraternity, and scholar of the then Bureau of Forestry. Perhaps his intelligence, cute dimples, and exceptional excellence in speech attracted me to him. That time, I had forgotten all about my mother’s plans for me and my siblings. All I thought was that I was in love.

I was only 17!! And I broke my mother’s heart. I already made two people cry … and I hated to think what the heavens response would be.

Motherhood and Going back to School

After a miscarriage while in hiding, my partner and I decided I’d go back to school somewhere, start over, and see what happens. We chose Baguio City, the summer capital of the Philippines, and I enrolled at the University of the Philippines branch there, as a political science major. After all, I wanted to be a lawyer, not a doctor of medicine, so I told myself. This was put on hold though. My second pregnancy made us decide to get married and later settle down in Metro Manila. Teenage motherhood without any familial support was perhaps the most difficult stage of my life.

My husband was just beginning his career, I was a stay-at-home mom with a little girl and an extended family (my husband’s mother, a nephew, and his sister working in government). I became the household’s all-around homemaker. We had no appliances that would have made daily chores easier. I must say, it was a work experience that made me good at house cleaning, clothes and dishes’ hand washing, floor and furniture polishing, daily marketing, and simple cooking using traditional kerosene stove. My hands became callous, and I thought never would I be able to play the piano again!

We were poor but my spirit never gave up. I told myself I’d be better than “this,” and I wrote my mother, asking for forgiveness and for her prayers. By this time, mom had already gotten my two younger brothers who later would graduate from Loyola University in Chicago.

My husband and I later decided to buy a small slightly dilapidated house in the squatters’ area of Caloocan City, to save a bit from paying apartment rent. The squatters’ area of Bagong Barrio was unlike any other squatters’ areas in Metro Manila, though. The roads, while neither asphalted or concrete, were wide enough. There were water stations, electric service, a chapel, and police stations. Well, we thought that eventually this place would be much better than this!

After two kids, I decided to go back to college. Life was getting harder, so I thought a college degree and getting a job thereafter would be good for the family. It was 1975. Two years after, I graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication. I was exempted from taking the national civil service professional examination and was hired right away as a supervising information officer in a constitutional agency.

Next issue: Career Life and Beyond