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Fabulous Fifty

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Sitting here, counting the seconds and the minutes to my half-century mark.

FIFTY! Where did the time go?

Taking stock of the gray on my head, the flesh succumbing to gravity, the deepening creases from laughter and tears, the intermittent hormonal rages … hmmm …

Life has been very good.

What was I thinking?

Forty-five years ago, I could not answer the question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” The question was too profound, too complicated and interfered with my cartoon-watching.

Forty years ago, it was how to grow up to be a beautiful, sexy lady.

Quite a challenge considering that I was a dark, geeky student with unruly hair.

Forty years later I am now a dark, geeky, lady with unruly hair, but who was able to pull off back-to-back wins at the office Bikini Open.

Not bad.

Thirty-five years ago, I wanted to change the world. I wanted to join the bomb-throwing radicals and become an activist. I did not want to be rich; I vehemently fought all efforts to make me a doctor because I wanted to serve the people. Serve the farmers, although my meager experience was gardening in school yielding sickly vegetables. I wanted to overthrow the government.

And guess what? Thirty years ago I got my wish. I was enrolled as an agricultural engineering student at our country’s premiere Agricultural University, and became an active member of the Student Council. I was President of the Ladies’ Dormitory; I led protests rallies. Then I was in too deep—deep, as in total immersion in the countryside. I left school to the grief of my mother and embraced the farmers in the rice fields and coconut plantations of Laguna. I lived as a fugitive, and had a love affair that I had to hide. I preached change, the need to go against government, the need to unite. I learned poverty, hunger and back-breaking labor, and the wonderful soul of the village. I lost God in the process …

And I was captured, subjected to torture, was almost raped … but not enough to earn bragging rights.
Now I still have my scars—the ones on my wrist when I tried in vain to escape pain by taking my life by trying to cut myself with shards of glass. It didn’t work, but the scars are now my battle scars, reminders of my radical past.

My love was dead, killed in an encounter with the military.

By then, I was an angry woman, stymied by the fact that I cannot go back to the mountains to fight for freedom.

Thirty years, my resurrection to the world, back to school, with my back to the underground, I had to forge on. Now what?

I went to school and had work on the side, trying to hide my wrists because I do not wish to start a long story … I was too mature for my classmates, I was too adept in field work, I was too disinterested in the growing student movement (been there, done that). I got good grades since I had been doing the field work as a rebel and put my passion in discourses and organizing work.

The Marcos Regime was in its last legs and blatantly had Ninoy Aquino assassinated leading more people to protests, and the political opposition to rally behind Ninoy’s widow, Cory (with whom I share the same birthday).

At the quarter century mark, “What do I want to be?”

At this point, I just wanted to get married quick. I was pregnant with my new fiance, Alex, my officemate. I wanted to continue with Graduate School, the recourse during recession. I wanted to have a family; after all I have already a lot of silverware in my hope chest.

Thus I jumped into the whirlpool of matrimony and maternity. I had to do it alone, with my husband working abroad in Africa. I learned the nuances of childcare and domesticity. One son, one daughter, and then another. A Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning? I should have taken Family Planning.

Eventually after the toil and the lessons of failure and redemption, I finally earned a Ph.D. (Professional Housewife and Domestic) and three MAs (May Asawa (married), May Anak (with children), MA in Urban and Regional Planning). I had three kids, a husband working abroad, I became a stay-at-home mom who breastfed her kids while her Grad School classmates were copying her copious notes and researches.

Twenty years ago: “What do I want to be?”

Have a good job. With kids weaned and the reality of sustaining a home and providing education for my kids looming, I headed out to look for a job.

I found a career. A career in development work. A career in government. The Rebel was now in the bureaucracy she vowed to overthrow. Now I had to put substance to the chants and into the ideology that shaped my youth. Community development, housing development, urban development, capacity building, networks, technology, jargon, promotion—I was blooming!

But there was a price to pay, the death of a marriage. While I was enjoying the challenges of development work, my husband became jealous and depressed. Home from years working abroad, he found a harried wife, so he found solace in crack.

Fifteen years ago, all I wanted was for the hurt to go away. I wanted my husband to wake up and find work, or just get out of my way. He eventually did and cleaned up. And at the eleventh hour, just as he was leaving to work in the U.S., we finally reconciled.

Ten years ago, I wanted to balance career and rearing three kids as a single mom. I wanted that they stay in school and stay out of trouble. I wanted to continue with my work with the changes in management.

I got it—a year off work to supervise my kids. A year off because I was fired from the job that gave me so much satisfaction. I had a year to languish in self-pity, and wallow in depression. But God gave me comfort and opened my eyes to what I missed—to love myself and be my own advocate. I learned to pray, to serve, and to laugh again.

Before the year was over, my tormentors were gone, and I was reinstated to my work with full back wages. Not only that—my daughter finished at the top of her class!

Five years ago, I wanted to continue with my career, my profession, and to see my kids in University. I also wanted to find another love.

My husband died suddenly eight years ago. He died in the United States, on the day they were going to bury his ninety-three-year-old grandmother. His death tore my heart—all the regrets, the what-could-have-beens, and all the vague dreams.

New Love? Oh my! Not for want of admirers, I found out it was a whole new ballgame. Him? This one? That one? I asked my friends to find me a date. I learned to drink, carouse, and karaoke just to be one of the boys. Only to find out I would rather have them as friends.

Honestly, at my age, the single ones in the pool are either gay, womanizers, too sick, old, or with emotional baggage. Well … I just might eat my words, but that’s what it is.
And gratefully, all my kids were able to get into the State University, saving their mom a ton in tuition fees. They are great kids, to be precise, a great young man and fascinating ladies, who now beat their mom in things technology and even debates.

My son finished school in record time and is now working with my colleagues. Oh my! And I learned too late that he joined an activist fraternity, led marches, and became an officer in several campus organizations.

My older daughter again surprised me by graduating cum laude and is now working in some esoteric consultancy firm that churns out analysis of the impact of media messages.

And my youngest daughter is now climbing mountains, more mountains than her own mother, but with a mountaineering group and, as she assured me, intent in finishing school. She is also an avid environmentalist.

There you have it, a long story.



Next summer, I must win the Bikini Open at all cost!


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