‘Women on Fire’ sets me ablaze
Cymbeline Refalda-Villamin WOMEN ON FIRE Edited - By Cymbeline Refalda-Villamin WOMEN ON FIRE
Edited by LORNA KALAW-TIROL
() - June 13, 2004 - 12:00am
I recently wrote "I am a love junkie" and published it on my web site with the background music of Autumn Leaves now that summer has ended in the Philippines but is just setting at the other side of the world:

Oh my god I am a love junkie
Always seeking a dopamine high
To feel intoxicated with life
I love hate love my cyber honey
I squeeze him dry until I cry
He loves me loves me not
Goes online when I’m not
Sorry I can’t take care of him
And it’s unfair of me
To keep saying I love him forever when
He knew and I do too that
Such was true but has now become a lie
He can’t love me for he hardly knew me
It takes a lifetime to love and
So I give up my sweet, sweet honey
And I’ll cease to be a love junkie
Though it’s suicide giving up my cyber honey
And the heavenly taste of his plum sake


I was depressed by the breakup of my two-year cyber relationship, plus my recent readings about the illusions of ICT that my instructor in the US has sent me, in connection with my taking her online course two years ago.

I realized I am 49 years old but acting like I was 29. I thought it is time to grow up, I mean grow old gracefully, and reinvent myself.

I was browsing through my small collection and mindlessly pulled out Women on Fire by Lorna Kalaw-Tirol (Ed). It was a gift to my sister Helen by a friend that found its way among the other books given to my daughter when Helen migrated to New Zealand with her husband two years ago. I thought my daughter could appreciate it yet, because she was only 18, and the book is an anthology of 11 women essayists and a poetess writing about midlife.

The blurb reads:

Maybe this time we could be intimate, as in secrets – not necessarily of the boudoir, but as if in dreams and fantasies, fears and angsts, above all, passions. What are the passions – the forces, the causes, the "special enthusiasms" (to borrow a phrase from life’s passages guru Gail Sheehy) – that are driving women in their midlife? And if one of those passions happens to be sexual, how lucky can one get?
(from the Introduction)

It was only this time when I read the first essay, as if I was instructed to do so. It was an adventure reading "My Father’s Daughter" by Marilen Abesamis. She was passionate, driven, obsessed and yet restrained, ascetic, and to use her term – autistic. I have an autistic son and the import of her term hits me in all its beauty and pain.

Reading her was like departing, getting trapped at the crossroad and then surviving and coming full circle, arriving; like I found my map for my next journey and this time, I was sure of my destination.

I envied Marilen as she left New York in the 1970s when martial law was declared by Marcos, but not after joining a protest march, the premier demo in the East Coast, that landed her on the national newspaper, which convinced her mother that she was an atis – activist, atheist, and communist. At that time, I was walking the pavement outside FEU with my boyfriend who was to become my husband, contemplating a cooling off that was never made official because the next morning I woke up, universities, media, and international phones were shut down. Marilen’s Chinese friend couldn’t see the point of her homecoming at a time like that, because there was no money in it (the revolution).

How I understood to the bone her jewel of an insight about the decision to marry as if it was my own but on a slightly different plane:

As most everybody knows, people marry for the strangest reasons. Aside from that pure chemical imbalance that sends one’s head on a spin, mine included my father’s consciousness of the poor, a passion for poetry, and an urgency dictated by uncertain times.


I love her effort at finding the reasons to go on living, which in a way, are also mine, but again , on a slightly different hue.

…. After a decade of minor and major surprises, of "fight and flight" marital storms, of peace and belligerence, I became autistic. I built a world of my own and traveled in an inner landscape that would not unlock. It was only after a full decade that I decided to let go. The one reassuring space I found throughout the frustrating attempts to rework a disastrous relationship, the one that saved me from myself as I contemplated meeting a truck head-on, or provoking a soldier at a darkened checkpoint, or blowing up a grenade, was service, to people more miserable than myself.


I remember, in 1984, on my way to work, I was crossing the railroad in Bicutan even when a train was passing by and I was pulled away by a colleague who saw me. She was hysterical when she asked me, "Didn’t you hear the whistle signal?!"

I love the aroma and images in Marilen’s writing – the smell of coffee made from burnt rice curling, rising, filling people with hope; the petromax beaming from the soldiers’ towers and the candles on the altar, throwing light on the faces of refugees that made them look solemn in their grieving and eternal in their faith; the rays of the winter sun stealing into the glass doors of the hospital.

I shed a tear at how she described a marriage that wouldn’t work:

There would be more war scenes, then he would write poetry, his way of saying "Sorry." There would be a tentative silence, then another cycle of confrontation and peace. When the cycles came in quick succession, I was ready to call it quits. Four months pregnant, I left Mindanao for the US, with no one knowing about the movements inside my body except my mother. I knew that from afar there would still be occasion to press for political freedom, but I was going to fight desperately for my personal one.


At some point, Marilen wrote, I felt like a candle being eaten up.

At that point in her life when she gave birth, I plunged into a cyber love affair. I think having a child was her passport to her new-found destination. Having a new man in my life, although only virtually, in the cyber world, also served me the same purpose. I discovered a new land, enlarged my territory, got out of my borders, and came back to life. I met an extraordinary man for an extraordinary purpose, but it would not last.

Marilen nearly lost her baby but the child came back to life. Marilen had been given a second chance:

I’d been given a second chance! I promised I’d carry on, better, higher – I still didn’t know and where exactly, but I promised.


I lost… or rather gave up on my cyber lover, but I found me. My marital problems were slowly dying natural deaths. Some people may have loved me sincerely and were praying for me. I was saved from disgrace. My husband and I rediscovered each other, forgiven each other, and our love for our autistic son keeps us together.

Just this morning, I mapped out a new cartography for the rest of my life’s journey. But not after creating a mini collection of favorite (my children’s) recipes so I can give my husband, who is a reluctant but nevertheless committed stay-at-home dad, a schedule when to serve them, for variety, so we will stop hearing complaints from the spoiled brats

Oh, I will be very busy for the next 25 years I guess, I will surely not have time for cyber affairs of any kind for any reason. Marilen lived in Mindanao for seven years. I should be grateful to her for living that life I would be too scared and shy to live, and for writing about it in such gripping and touching way, as if I too have lived it.

In gratitude to Marilen and to God and to all people who care for me, I promise to live the rest of my life with more courage and more concern for everyone… I still do not know the details of how I would do this, but I promise.

AUTUMN LEAVES CYBER EAST COAST GAIL SHEEHY HOW I LIFE LORNA KALAW-TIROL LOVE MARILEN MARILEN ABESAMIS
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