Sunday Lifestyle

A young woman & me

SECOND WIND - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura - The Philippine Star

I was having lunch with a friend when a young woman caught my eye. She was sitting having lunch with her three children, a little boy and two older girls, the oldest I estimated to be 14. She had a look on her face I recognized as the way a mother feels when she’s newly alone in her late 30s and her oldest children are in puberty. It is a mixture of grief, frustration and trying to garner all the patience in your person to face your problems without letting on. I sensed she wasn’t single but her husband was playing golf with his friends or something like that.

So there she sat — a mixture of confused, irritated, overwhelmed, sad and alone. Suddenly I felt slapped. She looked like I did when I was around half my age now, when my relationship had just broken up and my life had changed radically. Not just my life, my children’s lives as well. 

We had to move from a beautiful home in Old Forbes Park to a humble bungalow in San Juan. In our old house I occupied the biggest bedroom. In our new house I took the smallest bedroom. My oldest girls took over the biggest bedroom and my little boy took the medium-sized room into which we could squeeze his bed that looked like a dune buggy. It was quite an adjustment.

I tried to make the bungalow a pretty place by painting everything — including the furniture — white to give us an illusion of bigger space. Our landlord came to visit and was shocked. “I didn’t know this was such a pretty place,” he said. Next thing, I received a notice from him saying he would need the house the following January for his children to live in when they went to college in Manila. We stayed there less than a year.

When we went through trauma like that I knew I had to put on a happy face for my children. I knew the trouble they were facing, the difficulty and the sorrow of adjustment so I had to supply the happiness on my face to ease their adjustment. My own pain I had to tuck into a dark closet, lock it and throw away the key. I did not look back or forward. I just had to look at today. Today, I had to get up and work to earn enough money to support my family. I had to have enough money to bridge the gaps between, say, payment of their tuition and the refund from their father after I presented receipts. I promise you those bridges were long. If I had to worry about anything, I had to worry always about today.

But we survived with the help of some very good friends. My office friends formed a wonderful, reliable group who would spend joyful times with my children and me. They became my new family. We took the children on picnics, tried to teach them to fly kites. We consistently failed but we had fun. We created a group that laughed a lot.

 It was laughter that made me live through the miserable days of adjustment, laughter that saved the humor of my children, laughter that would rescue us daily even after my son was taken away by his father when he turned eight. Yes, I missed him terribly and cried every time I was alone, I admit it now. But my daughters never saw me cry. Maybe I was wrong to conceal my tears. Maybe they would have thought me a nicer, softer woman if they had seen me cry when their brother didn’t come back home after a trip. But I chose to cry alone, in the shower, or when they were out.

 Forty years have passed. I am surprised that when I saw the face of this young woman, she reminded me of me when I was her age. I remembered my pain but did not feel it anymore. Instead I felt a profound gratitude. I thanked God for saving me and my family, for making us overcome the grief we felt then, for forcing us to sew the scattered pieces of ourselves into fresh new people living happy lives, always knowing that no matter how deep the sadness is, it will pass. We will all have other happier lives.

 Look at me now. I am trying to become a lounge singer. I even dyed my hair with streaks of teal or blue-green. I am no longer sad, the closet where I locked my memories has been emptied. I am a happy singer now but that stew of emotions cooked by my life’s accidents comes out in my songs. I always find myself singing with deep emotional feeling.

 I know now that life is never wasted. It is enriched by every setback. I should have told the young woman that.

 * * *

Please come and watch my show on Wednesday, Sept. 20, at the Happy Garden Café. Make table reservations with me.

Please text comments to 0998-991-2287.


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