Beyond Deadlines is proud to serialize Mr. Romy Morales’ first book “Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien).” It is a personal account of a Filipino immigrant in the United States. It is a must read for those who wish to migrate to the U.S. Come let us join Romy in his journey and see what is in store for us.
It is Father’s Day and I am away from my loved ones. I got a card from my eldest sister in the Philippines, encouraging me to always make myself busy so I would not worry about them. The card bore her signature as well as that of my mother, two other sisters and my younger brother.
While it is a joy receiving messages of thoughtfulness and expression of love from them on a special occasion like today, I also felt sad and at the same time was engulfed with guilt for I left them for the “greener pastures” of America, thousands of miles away.
Three days later, I got another mail. It was from my daughter. In the envelope were two letters, one from my loving seven-year-old Steff and the other one from my 80 year old mother. Steff’s letter was written on a grade school notepad.
Hellow! How are you today? Nagpadala ako ng card para sa’yo. Happy, happy Father’s day! Take care of yourself. I always love you! Love and care, Steff.”
At the bottom, she added:
“Sorry papa kung pangit at hindi mo maintindihan ang sulat ko kasi hindi ako marunong magsulat sa papel na walang linya. Is it okay? (I am sorry Papa if my handwriting is bad and you can’t understand it. I don’t know how to write on paper without lines. Is it okay?)”
I was all smiles. I read her letter over and over again even if I knew she was coached to write it. Seeing her hand writing and knowing how hard she tried scribbling every word made me happy. It was so sweet and I can’t help but become teary-eyed. I really miss my daughter so much that I pasted her letter on the wall of my room so I could see it every day.
Thinking of my daughter most of the times made me “crazy.” I felt a strong urge to see her and to be with her. Many times, I really felt like going home so I could talk with her.
“How are you now, Steff? Are you still that playful child, always with a smile on your face? I miss you so much, honey. Remember when you wanted me to play that song, ‘Gina’ by Johnny Mathis? You would stand on the center table. you will embrace and ask me for a dance? I will then hold you close to me and you wouldn’t complain. You enjoyed every moment of it. I also miss what you sometimes do early in the morning, when you sit down on my tummy to wake me up.”
“I remember all those things. I remember how you’d run to me when I come home early. I miss the soft voice of yours that I always hear every time I called you from work. I miss hearing you say ‘I love you, Papa.’ I also miss taking you to the mall and the bookstore where you always go to the children’s book section, prodding me to buy you one.”
“You loved those fairy tales and your favorite was Thumbelina. I enjoy my stay at home with you, especially when you ask me to help you read the books that we bought. I was so proud of you. I never felt this way about anyone else, I knew you would always be a bright girl.”
“I also remember that I seldom hear you cry perhaps that’s because I never made you cry! Aha, but I think it is more likely that you were just like your mother, who had a strong tolerance for pain.
“When you were three, I remember not hearing you cry when you accidentally sat on one of the hot pot in the canteen and burned your bottom. Later, in Cavite, you scraped yourself when you touched the running wheel of a sidecar. I knew that was painful but again I didn’t hear you cry. You just stared at me, standing by the door with blood dripping from your hand.”
“I miss the way you pretended playing the piano, as if you knew how. Every time I saw you doing it my heart would burst with joy.”
“I loved it whenever you came home from school and bragged that you got a perfect score, saying ’10 over 10 or 20 over 20′ when really it was more like 9 over 10 or 18 over 20. Of course, sometimes you did really get perfect scores as you were consistently in the top ten of your Montessori class.”
“I miss all of those. Steff, you’re a bright girl.”
“I’m sorry I left at a time when you needed me most. I enrolled you in a Montessori class so at least you could have the best education. I even got you a tutor for your studies but I knew that was not a substitute for my absence. I had to leave to find ways to take care of your and our needs.”
“Leaving you, I lost the golden opportunity to help develop that intellect of yours. I knew someday you will blame me for leaving you at your tender age, the same way your brother John blamed me for having left him early on.”
“I didn’t like any of it, but it was the only way we could survive. Many nights I suffered the pain of missing you and the rest of our family. I had to overcome the pain otherwise I wouldn’t be able to provide you with a decent life and a good future.”
“I hope when the time comes you will understand me. Perhaps with this book, you’ll someday find the answers to your questions. I always pray to God’s asking for his help so that you may be provided with the spiritual and moral guidance you need as you grow into this world. I love you so much, Stephanie. I wish I could see you soon.”
I saw Chito in tears. He was getting himself drunk with shots of Whiskey one after the other while bowling at the Jewel City in Glendale. He couldn’t believe he’d get dumped. He only shook his head when I asked who it was.
He stared at me like as if he didn’t know me. I noticed his face had turned red and his eyes swollen. Tears were rolling down his face.
“Something is wrong with my pancreas,” he finally talked. Knowing how often he lied in the short period I had known him, I did not take him seriously. He had that penchant for inventing stories. He was a natural story teller. Indeed, it is so easy to weave a story out of nothing.
“My doctor said its terminal and if I don’t cooperate, I might only live a year. If you had a year to live, what would you do?” he asked.
“I’d make the most out of it, make friends with everybody,” I said.
“Yeah right,” he murmured quietly.
I could have gone home at that point but I stayed with him following the motions of his bowling buddies to that effect. Nevertheless, we left after a short while.
While riding home with him, I saw the sadness in his face. He appeared dejected or maybe it is just the drinks that I have, I don’t know. But his face couldn’t hide whatever troubles he had.
At home, he was surprisingly sweet to his wife. I saw how nice he is to her. He even gave her a hundred dollars for their daughter’s tuition in the Philippines.
“Add this to the money you’ll send,” he told her.
She was unaware of Chito’s problem, although she knew he had been complaining of back pains.
“I’m in good health,” he said when she asked what was bothering him. He had his checkup he told her but didn’t give the name of the clinic or the doctor’s name. She pressed him for details and as usual he had a ready answer.
“It’s a certain Dr. Shokel, I don’t know.”
Even the name of the doctor, I felt was a concoction of his imagination.
Chito went to bed while I settled on the couch.
In the morning, we went to his office in Encino, a law firm. Abramowitz, his boss, was there and he threw a glance at me prompting me to say “I’m with Chito.” I waited in the reception room reading Essence magazines and it was about one in the afternoon when he came out.
On the way home, he again said his back pains might be coming from his pancreas.
“All the more you should see your doctor,” I said, although I was sure my advice went into deaf ears.
I spent another night with them. It was still foggy when we left in the morning. He drove straight to Echo Park, where we took two brisk laps around the park. It’s a good place to exercise or take a walk with the lake in the center and the high-rise buildings in downtown Los Angeles in full view in the background.
The lotus flowers were in full bloom on one side of the lake. A group of Chinese camera enthusiasts were taking photographs of the lotus from all imaginable angles.
I suddenly remember the days when I was still into photography. Just like them, I had a bag of lenses with at least two or three cameras hanging from my shoulder and a tripod in my hand, doing exactly what they are doing.
Upon reaching my home, Chito thanked me profusely for providing him company.
“It’s me who should thank you,” I said as I get off from his SUV.
“Thank you,” he insisted as he sped away from my view.
Desmond was with some people when I saw him in a restaurant.
As he saw me came in, he invited me to join them. I sat next to him. He bragged that he was buying a hotel in Arizona and would convert its ground floor into a retirement facility. It seems he was trying to impress the people with him and probably me because he suddenly gave me a wink.
“You’ll be my administrator,” he said.
The discussion went on between Desmond and the people he was with but what they were talking about didn’t interest me. I was a bit skeptical of his grand plan.
I relayed the matter to Chito and he too was skeptical.
“Any high school graduate can be an administrator. Why not a PR officer instead?”
Chito couldn’t recommend me to Abramowitz as his assistant, saying his employer might suspect he was leaving the firm, which, in fact, is the case.
“This isn’t the best time to do it,” he said, but I barely heard him.
Even when told the truth, my eyes glazed over him. That’s the problem with a friend who always cry wolf. Worse, he says one thing and does another. Mind you, he could be a good poker player for you’ll never read him.
Joe’s eyes were red and misty while we were having coffee at Burger King.
“Why don’t you take your coffee, it’ll get cold,” I suggested, pretending I didn’t notice anything. He grabbed a napkin, wiped his face and eyes. Now I sensed he wanted to cry but he was holding it back.
“We’re like fools! She’ll pay for this.” Joe’s voice was cracking. It was the first time I saw him on the verge of tears.
“If you’re thinking of getting even with her don’t forget her sidekick,” I joked, trying to humor him.
“I wouldn’t do that. I’ve got better things to do in the Philippines. I had served her. I don’t need the green card. I came here just to work. That’s all.”
“What if she renews your visa?”
“She told me to see the lawyer a month ago, I didn’t. She could have told me a long time ago, but she didn’t. Now, I’ve decided to leave, she tells me to work on my papers. Shit!”
It was over with Joe. He’d leave the company by the end of July but would stay with me a few more days. He hadn’t been to San Francisco in the three years he’d been in America. He wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge before leaving for the Philippines.
On July 4, Fernando and I attended a get-together party at our friend’s house. I handed Desmond a bottle of Jim Bean and a bag of ice cubes. He was readying the big television set for a video showing of the hotel he was buying in Arizona.
Fernando was surprised when he learned about the big project. The entire first floor would be converted into a retirement facility for the elderly, Desmond bragged, while at the same time announcing that he is making me the hotel’s administrator.
I heard it again. This time I wasn’t sure whether I like what I just heard and I guess Fernando didn’t like it too. The idea of making me the administrator of a big project was too much for him to ignore. I think it made him jealous.
Fernando felt he had been deliberately kept out of the picture. Suddenly, he cursed me for having left him in the dark about the hotel project. He vented his ire on me.
“You and your crab mentality! I’m better than you are…”
His sudden outburst stunned me. I tried to calm and pacify him. I even assured him that Desmond also had plans for him but he still went on with his verbal tirades.
I held my horses even after he challenged me to a fistfight. Still I tried hard to be civil, explaining that the big hotel project was Desmond, not mine. He continued abusing me verbally.
“You’re nothing! You don’t know anything about management, you little shit.”
That was it. The word ‘little shit’ struck a nerve. I finally reached my boiling point.
“Who do you think you are? You’re also nothing. You don’t even have a master’s degree, do you?” I blurted.
In my anger, I said whatever came to my mind even if I didn’t have a master’s degree either.
Desmond intervened. He talked to him and he simmered down. Fernando then hugged me, apologizing for his unreasonable outburst.
Almost everyone in the U.S. was now engrossed as to who gets Elian on the on-going custody struggle between Juan Miguel Gonzales and Lazaro Gonzales. The Federal Appeals Court in Atlanta decided to keep Elian, fueling more heat to the already edgy situation in Miami Little Havana. In a predawn raid on order of Attorney General Janet Reno, SWAT agents barged into the Gonzalez house, grabbed the terrified boy at gunpoint in a closet with Dalrymple. Elian was reunited with his father in Washington, D.C.
(To be continued…)