Brave the Wave of Life

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.

My Dad pinning my ribbon for my Kinder Graduation in 1993.
My Dad pinning my ribbon for my Kinder Graduation in 1993.

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.

That’s me, my mom, and my little sister just three months before my dad was murdered.
That’s me, my mom, and my little sister just three months before my dad was murdered.
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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.

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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.

Me and my co-scholars at our university, 2003.
Me and my co-scholars at our university, 2003.

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.

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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.