Sunday, August 1, 2010

Roots



"Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss." -The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

"These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections- sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent- that happened when I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it..." -Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones


I've had the hardest time placing where it all went wrong. It wasn't until last year, months after my mother passed away, did I learn from my grandmother that when I left for Diliman more than twelve years ago, my parent's marriage troubles started. I thought then, that since my father had finally decided to stay for good after fifteen years of work in Saudi, that our family was finally complete and we'd be happy.

I was a typical young adult who discovered more freedom he could handle, being away from home for the first time. I went home only during the holidays, so I was unaware of the drama unfolding at home. And so the years passed, and I always had the assumption that they would always be there, and I would always have a place at home in Tacloban. When I began working, I still had that attitude, until one day I found myself at the airport seeing my mom off before she left for her job in Louisiana as a nurse. Months later, my father and my two brothers followed.

It was only after I returned to my messy apartment, which I had proudly showed to my father as evidence of my first big paycheck, that I realized I was left alone- literally, and I burst into tears. I still slept on the floor that night, and in the coming nights, and never dared fix the bed where my brothers slept or the sofa littered with Papa's newspapers. The last remaining person dearest to me, my grandmother Nanay, stayed in our house in Tacloban.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, I had begun to sink into depression. I wasn't pill-popping or anything, but each time I heard the phone ring, or see the photos of my family looking very happy in their new house in Monroe, I felt melancholic. Intellectually, I knew it was no one's fault that I was over eighteen when my mother's application for immigration was filed, and only my brothers who were minors went with my parents, but I couldn't help but feel left out. Sometime during the holidays in 2005, I got sick and went to the hospital by myself. It was then I realized, that being independent wasn't so great after all. Whether it was the stress or the disappointment at having been turned down at another promotion, or my loneliness, I decided it was time to go. I was a rootless wandering Jew, and even in our home back in Tacloban someone else was already staying in my room.

Indeed it was the right decision, I got home and got my place back. I used all my effort in restoring and renovating the place because the house was in shambles from the previous floods, and tainted with the patina of years and years of neglect. Nonetheless I was happy to spend time with my grandmother again. I enrolled to get a BSN degree upon the suggestion of Mama who wished for me one day to join them in the US.

But even the perceived better life abroad did little to lessen the fights between my parents, and worse- our relatives were taking sides already. With my parents thousands of miles away, I could only write or call to mediate, but eventually they separated. The most infuriating thing of all was some people in my father's hometown were gossiping about our family, and of course it made everything worse. Add a few meddling relatives, and irreparable damage had been done.

I was third year in Nursing school when my Mama died. We were heartbroken with grief, and with my mother gone it seemed both our relatives from my father's side and mother's side escalated their fighting. This ended with my grandmother, who spent the best years of her life taking care of me and my brothers from birth to our childhood, being taken to my mother's elder sister's home. After all, Nanay is 84 years old already and should not be subjected to stresses.

Meanwhile my father and middle brother decided to live separately because of differences, and our youngest sibling moved on with his life in the US Navy. I guess one could say we are less than ideal as a family, but in spite of this I've never really given up the hope that one day we'd be okay again. As the years rolled by my brother, who is estranged from my father, eventually took the burden of supporting our household in Tacloban, I managed the household, while our youngest met a Filipina who also enlisted in the Navy and had gotten engaged.

As I presently review for the Nursing Board Exams, I faced a crossroad which challenged my intellect, will, and my personal beliefs and values. I am to choose between two alternatives- medical school and work. But of course the choices are not that simple, because this time the stakes are high, convoluted with clauses and conditions, and far-reaching consequences.

When my partner had discussed the idea, I never really thought about it too deeply until I graduated from Nursing school. What only came to mind was the lovely white coat I imagined I'd be wearing on rounds, but of course, foolish me never realized the full impact until recently. My friends who went to med school, who were given adequate financial and moral support by their families, all agree that it consumed their lives. Meaning there is no room for indecision, because being a doctor is a life-long quest and commitment. And when it finally hit me- someone who was raised in an environment where graduate education wasn't given much regard, who would undertake this journey with no financial support from family, who would be too old to be making any more mistakes at this point- I was disconcerted.

Don't get me wrong, I never had any regrets with my previous life choices, mistakes included. But truth of the matter is, med school never entered my mind until maybe about two or three years ago. The friends I've mentioned had either a mother or father who were doctors or lawyers, and it was but a natural step for them to follow suit. And of course back then pursuing an MD was not really in the plans of my parents because we simply could not afford it.

Here's the catch: in about eight years time my brother's petition might be granted and I'll finally get a US Visa. If I go to med school, I can't just throw in the towel and say I'd take any job in the US- all those years of study and work, and all the money invested in my education would be put to waste. Besides, med school would mean another four years of me being dependent and thus will not be generating income. As it is my brother is struggling sending himself through school, paying his bills, and supporting our household.

This leaves me to consider option two- work here in Tacloban and get a Master's degree. I would be able to help ease the burden on my brother, be independent and not be a burden to anyone and pay for my Master's degree myself. In eight year's time I can take the US opportunity with no guilt.

My friends were surprised when I contacted several of them to discuss my dilemma. "I thought you already decided?" They asked.

It turns out the decision is harder than I thought it would ever be. There is no right or wrong because both have its own pros and cons. One is about moving on and making something out of my life as a doctor, the other is fulfilling the dream my parents had for our family that one day I'd join them in the US like I was supposed to. If I were to leave home for four years of study in Iloilo or some other place where I'd be on this journey in med school, one of my greatest fears is that I may be "phased out" from our home like what happened to Nanay. I know it's a ridiculous notion, but believe me you have to know our family to change the definition of what ridiculous means. When my mom died, one of the things I quietly promised her was that as the eldest, I'd do everything in my power to keep our family together. With my father and brothers in the US, Nanay in Palo, and me- the last remaining family member living in the house we grew up in.

I suppose it is a gamble either way. When I opened the discussion with my partner, it went from a heated debate, to angry tears, and finally, silence. I'm terrified of making another mistake, and what if I make a decision and later become unhappy? Are those doors once closed, forever locked? My partner was right, I have not moved on- and it's only because I'm still hoping one day our family relationship would somehow return to the way it was before it crumbled. It isn't just a question of money, it isn't just a question of my future alone- what I decide will also affect the fate of our family relationship.

At the end of our discussion, my partner and I could only agree on one thing: more time to think.

Image source

3 comments:

rudeboy said...

This was so poignant, Thad. Thank you for sharing.

So many things in your story ring true. That our parents tend to shield us from any brewing storms in their marriage until everything just explodes. That we assume that we will always have a literal place in the family. And that the cost of being on our own is just that: being on our own.

I found myself nodding in agreement when you said that work - especially in your field - consumes your life. I have enough doctor friends to understand that indeed, at a certain point in your careers, there is a point of no return. The investments of time and money are just too great to even consider backpedaling once you've committed.

I don't know what to say about your current dilemma except that while no one likes crossroads, we simply cannot keep standing at the fork in the road. I know I have refrained from making a critical choice in my personal affairs: one that has cost me a full decade of my life.

Best of luck, and may wisdom guide you on the next step of your journey.

Lasherations said...

I feel for you, Thad. I really do. I hope, in time, everything will be better again, despite the absence of your Mom. Yan din ang prayer ko ngayon. THanks for sharing.

Thad said...

@ rudeboy: Thanks for your comment... yeah I'm taking my time, application for med school starts January so for now I'll concentrate on the board exam for Nursing.

Once again I appreciate your insights :-)

@ lasher: Thanks for visiting and the kind words. Have a great week ahead, buddy

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