Of late, family reunions have managed to make me feel like a “thank you girl” in a beauty pageant, with my life and the choices I have made placed on top of a petri-dish, shriveling under the unflinching scrutiny of suburban Alabang.
When I was little, my cousin and I loved to talk about our perfect wedding. It would be a grand fairy tale: poufy gowns, elegant guests sipping champagne in a yacht, fireworks, and the perfect man who would make our heart go giddy-yap. Then after the wedding, we would settle down in an exclusive village with picket fences and kiddy pools and meet up every weekend to exchange cookie recipes. We would have smart and beautiful kids who would be as close as we were.
She grew up to be every inch the princess she aspired to be (no, we both aspired to be). She wears designer clothes and eats in expensive restaurants, her english is genteel and pedigreed. She is a smart woman, and so her career is flourishing. She treats people with kindness, and so she is loved.
A few weeks ago, she told me giddily that her boyfriend had proposed to her. At Manila Pen. With a choir in the background. And with a huge rock beautiful enough to make even the most unmaterialistic tibak gasp.
I — the woman, the lawyer — smiled and gave her a big hug and asked excitedly about her plans, reflecting in my eyes the twinkle in hers. I — the little girl who played with barbie dolls and dreamed of poufy dresses in her future — bit my lip and drew blood that tasted like envy.
It’s not the wedding, strictly speaking. Or the ring. It’s not one particular thing. It’s maybe, maybe the “tidyness” of her life compared to mine. Her life is like a finished Sudoku puzzle with neat numbers and no erasures. Mine feels like a forest of crossed-outs and try-agains, with tiny numbers lining the sides, maybe-this-if-not-that. Trial-and-error. Trials and Errors.
Normally, I do feel pretty darn good about my life and where it has taken me so far. Cool friends, a job I love, a soul-issue I’ve found before turning thirty, a future that looks clearer and clearer by the day — these are the things that get me up in the morning. But being in Alabang, sitting with my bright and happy clan, always reminds me of the things I don’t have or the things I’m not. No fancy car, no Makati job with a fat paycheck, no insurance plan, no boyfriend named Brian who is a junior executive at a multinational company and calls his friends “dude” or “pare” with the soft “r”, no wedding proposals in Manila Pen with a violin playing playing in the background. Hell, no ANYTHING in Manila Pen.
Saturday night last weekend was another family reunion. It was another cousin’s passing-the-bar party — one of several parties thrown by her father, an RTC judge. Fortuitous, I thought. It so happened that I had to spend the whole day in the Paranaque /Alabang/Muntinlupa area that very day for an AKBAYAN campaign sortie. From 6am to 8pm, I was moving from one urban poor community to another, talking with our AKBAYAN members and preparing them for election day. I’ve lost count of the many sinampay lines I’ve had to dodge, the leers I’ve had to put up with from half-naked men drinking beer at 2pm, the crooked alleys I got lost in, and the times my heart got broken by little children with dirty hair and shy smiles. Exhaustion was something I would not allow myself: my male companions after all, were union workers who had no sleep as they worked the night shift only several hours before, my one female companion was seven months pregnant and relentlessly cheerful even after ten hours of leaflet distribution. They amaze me with their stamina; inspire me with their convictions.
I went to the party, bedraggled and hungry. I look around the room at my beautiful cousins, glowing with the glow of success and love and a comfortable life. Less than fifteen minutes away from the depressed areas I’ve been to, but a whole world apart. Then I knew that very moment that though I might have failed the little girl who dreamed of poufy dresses and and picket fences, I am living my life exactly as I want it. Messy and crazy and psychedelic, yes, but also, rich and purposeful and driven and inspired. I may not have dates in Manila Pen, but I have a good man who I can talk to about anything and everything (over beer in Matalino St. or lugaw at midnight in Timog), who kisses my worries away, and massages on demand the Cubao-corner-EDSA knots in my joints. And I probably won’t ever have that dream house in the suburbs with the pool for the kids, but last Saturday I realized I don’t want it anymore. I am where I want to be and there’s no turning back.