Updated: Jul 1, 2020
| This is the 295th story of Our Life Logs |
I was born in 1985 in a small town in Davao Occidental, the Philippines. I was one of four children and my dad was a struggling truck and cab driver while my mom stayed at home with us. My mom and dad were very young with little education, and yet, they were the best parents I could ever hope for. My dad made sure we spent family time in the park or at the beach almost every Sunday. I remember those days fondly. I remember my dad’s smiling face and my mom’s calming aura. Those are the images I cherish—the time before I lost my innocence to the harsh realities of life.
September 24, 1996. I had recently turned 11 and the scorching heat of the September sun was shining. I woke up and fell into my daily routine. My siblings and I went to school and came home for lunch prepared by my mom. I remember lunch was special because our dad joined us before going back to work as a cab driver that afternoon. We kissed him goodbye and headed off to finish our lessons at school with light hearts.
We had no idea that this goodbye was forever. As it reached dinner time, my dad had never returned home.
He became a victim of a robbery on that September day. A man in his prime, only 36 years old, received 44 stab wounds. The police found him drugged with both feet and hands tied. We didn’t know much else. All we knew was that this would change our lives forever.
My mom’s birthday was spent attending my dad’s funeral. I still remember the look of total emptiness on her face, her cries suppressed as she gazed down at the casket. She feared that her children might hear the agony in her voice if she tried to speak. But I saw her tears, heard her pain, and felt her utter loneliness. It pains me to think of it to this day. The wounds will never heal, no matter how many years have passed.
As the eldest, I was in charge of taking care of my younger siblings as my mom went out to earn for our family. I had to stop playing. I had to stop whining. I had to stop thinking like a kid and be the kind of person my mom needed me to be. And so, I steadied my trembling lip and stood tall.
Unfortunately, my strength didn’t stop life from throwing hardships at our family. As our funds dwindled, I began begging for scraps from relatives and selling candies, refreshments, and even my drawings to help us get by. On top of that, I was doing my classmates’ projects and homework for a few extra coins. Sure, it was tough, but I did what I had to do to help my family.
And yet…fear crept into everything I did. My dad’s death showed me that there were a lot of bad people out there. I never stopped looking over my shoulder. I’d make sure I was home at the stroke of 5 pm, safe from the dangers of the outside world.
Come high school, I never thought I could go to college even if I wanted to. I still had three younger siblings who were in school, and I expected to have to continue earning income. But I really wanted that degree. I never wanted to stop learning. So, I had to chase a lot of scholarships. Luckily, in 2002, I secured one of the most prestigious scholarships offered by the government.
And so, I went to the city, all on my own, with very little cash on hand, enrolled myself and went about studying college independently. There was a buzz of hope after stepping on campus for the first time. I could finally make something better of life, for me and for my family.
I tried to make a change in my life, but it seemed that ghosts from my family’s past had a tight grip on me.
College was not as I had hoped. The city stirred my inherent fear of being hurt and this new crowded environment begged me to prepare for the unthinkable. If I was not in the library (where I spent hours and hours), I remained in my dorm room, but that left little space for socializing. I got so lonely. I missed my family so much and would cry myself to sleep.
What’s more, I’d skip meals so I had enough left of my stipend to make it through the month. I began applying for jobs at fast-food chains to alleviate some of my financial stress, but every time I’d go in for an application, a senseless fear would overcome me at the thought of going home late at night alone. Still, a part of me always wondered if I was just being overly cautious.
Despite the hardships, I made it through and graduated from college in 2007. I found a job as a customer service representative handling a financial account in Manila, accepting the offer without thinking it through. It was a three-hour plane ride from home, quite a jump from college and not in my field of study, but it was something. I was just proud to have reached a point in my life where I could apply for jobs to help my mom and siblings with a consistent salary.
Turns out, Manila was a whole new concrete jungle to conquer.
I thought things would be better for me in Manila because I was prepared. I never wore sandals into work or when I left the house because I wanted to be wearing good shoes in case I needed to run as fast as I could in the face of danger. I never left my house with a phone because I was afraid it would be snatched—as there were a lot of pick-pocketers in Manila.
Even in a city like Manila that’s blinded with lights, there are still corners in the dark. And I knew that those places were laden with people who lived and breathed without an ounce of remorse for the terror they had unleashed.
In time, I learned to fear the daylight along with the night. One morning as I was on my way to work, I crossed paths with a man who’d come from a gang fight. He must have still been amped with adrenaline because he chased me like a raging dog down the street, a knife raised above his head. I ran for my life, and luckily, he couldn’t keep up with me because he was so drunk that he eventually tipped over.
That was the final straw.
I came into the city as a person who was outgoing and happy-go-lucky, but after the attack, I questioned everyone’s intentions, fearing that something would cause them to attack me. I was always on defense. I trusted no one and depended only on myself. I began to shy away from any new relationships and shut myself out of old ones. It was safer that way.
For the next three years of my contract, I disappeared into this lifestyle. Eventually, I grew tired of planning my travel around the sunlight, eerie buildings, and certain parts of town. I resented the constant tightness I felt as I stepped out of my apartment, as well as the small creaks in the night that pulled me in and out of sleep. Slowly, fear drained my spirit.
In 2010, I returned home but the damage from the city was still prominent. My family could see a change in me. While I continued to cry on the inside, I began asking the big guy above for some guidance.
Life settled back into a long string of morning commutes until one fateful event. In mid-2010 as I was crossing the street to get to work, the whoosh of a speeding SUV surged behind me. As I turned to identify this noise, I saw her. The woman who had been walking my same commute, trailing only a few steps of mine, had been whisked away by the vehicle. Her body was broken. She was killed on impact.
As I stared at the scene behind me, I realized that I had been seconds away from her fate—literally! I ran away and called my mom sobbing and shaking, and what she told me forever changed my perspective on life.
“You should always pray before you go to work and after. You never know what could happen.”
Her words sunk deep into my heart and a sudden realization hit me. I could have been that girl in the accident. I could have died. And when the people who knew and loved me looked back on their moments with me, what would they remember? The mundanity of my existence? My lack of interest in things going around me? That’s when I knew things had to change. If I’m always watching my back, I’ll miss the chance to look forward to the good things that await me.
My life has taken a turn after overcoming those anxieties. I see now that all those bad experiences—while traumatic—have taught me about life. No matter how cruel fate has been to me, life is still beautiful, and I have never been more appreciative of each day. As of now, I enjoy being with my family and friends. I have reached out to friends from long ago. I have made a lot of friends as well.
Because of all the time I spent in the fear of death, I missed out on life. Now, I live each day to its fullest, for as my mother said, you never know what could happen.
This is the story of Jonna Villanueva
After her father was murdered as an innocent victim of a robbery, Jonna lived her life in constant fear. Though she took every precaution to remain safe, Jonna ultimately realized that death can happen to anyone, anytime. Since giving up the never-ending worry, Jonna has lived her life fearlessly.
She currently works as a Virtual Assistant for a client from Australia and has been working remotely for different clients since 2013. She loves working from home as she gets to spend a lot of time with her four wonderful nephews. Her life and heart have settled now more than ever. She has found a man who calms her fears and has been with her for almost eight years now. Jonna loves to spend her weekends with family and friends. While she still enjoys being alone and reading her books, she is happy to have somebody who encourages her to go out and connect with the world again.
This story first touched our hearts on March 1, 2019.
| Writer: Jonna Villanueva | Editor: Colleen Walker |