Off the Island

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

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| This is the 371st story of Our Life Logs |

They say that life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you. In my life—in chasing my dreams, in fighting to provide for my family, and in searching for love—I’ve made a lot of choices. When I look back, I see some of them are good, some are bad, and some are worse than bad. But each brings me a lesson. I’m learning from those lessons now.

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I was born in 1986 on a beautiful island in Samar, the Philippines, as the third child of a female-dominated family. There were five of us sisters. Yeah, that’s right. My father had a lot to handle.

With a fisherman father and a stay-at-home mother, we were the poorest of the poor. I grew up doing all kinds of chores including those often reserved for men. We couldn’t really complain, since my father was the only man in the family. I fished and hand-picked shell food with my father and collected firewood with my mother. All of us kids helped harvesting copra. Sometimes, it was fun working together, but it was also very hard—because even after doing all these things, we still couldn’t eat three times a day. There were times there was no food at all.

My childhood revolved around the island and trying to survive on it. I’d stare at the ocean line, hoping that someday, I’d be able to leave the island and get rich. This was a dream that had settled in my mind ever since I was capable of understanding life.

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My ambitions were bigger than my small body. I aspired to go to college and become a lawyer. I couldn’t understand people who lived without ambitions. I remember scolding my older sister when I heard she was impregnated by her fisherman boyfriend. I was so disappointed because now she’d be stuck on the island and possibly locked in poverty forever. I mean, how could anyone be content with the simple island life when there was so much more to see in the outside world?

With my four sisters (me in the middle).
With my four sisters (me in the middle).

I worked hard on my studies and got accepted into college with a scholarship. In college, I stayed focused with a purpose. Nothing could distract me. No boyfriend, no parties, just school. Unfortunately, it was all ripped away in my third year when my scholarship had run its course. Suddenly, I was faced with a hefty tuition bill that I couldn’t dream of paying. It felt like my world was tumbling down. As the only daughter to have made it into college, my parents had high hopes for me, and I was devastated that I would now have to disappoint them.

I tried to continue without a scholarship, but eventually had to drop out. Without the promise of education and a way out, I felt lost. What was I to do?

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Then, call it fate or not, I met a man—an old, married man, to be exact. Let’s call him Andy. Andy was an engineer and a father of three. We started getting to know each other, and he learned about my situation. Soon, he was offering to send me back to school. I’d never had a boyfriend or much experience with dating, so I was ignorant, not realizing what he wanted in return for this generous offer. When I did figure it out, I was shocked. But at the same time, I realized I’d been handed a golden opportunity—one I’d desperately needed that would change the trajectory of my life.

I knew it would be wrong. Adultery was illegal in my country. Getting involved with a married man could get me into trouble and potentially destroy his family, hurting other innocent people. But then, I thought about my poor family struggling on the island; I thought about my dream of getting out and making a better life for all of us. I saw no other way to thrive in Samar. I refused to accept a stagnant life on the island, and here in front of me was a man with money; my ticket out. I couldn’t pass up a chance like that. I’ll admit it; I used him.

Instead of going back to school, I cut out the middleman and asked Andy for a job. He was high up in his company and with his help, I landed a job in 2007 as his secretary. There, I started to live like a shadow—Andy’s shadow. I lost my identity. I was often referred to as “Andy’s girlfriend” or simply “sugar baby.” It was hard to accept that at first—the judgmental eyes and harsh comments, but I could endure the hurt at work knowing I had appreciation at home. I became the main breadwinner for my family, providing everything at home, from food on our table to my parents’ medication.

Me, 2008.
Me, 2008.

After two years, my job transferred me to Cotabato, allowing me to fulfill my dream of leaving the island. On the other side, my secret relationship with Andy continued. While it was all for the sake of survival at first, as time passed, I started to fall in love with Andy and he fell for me. I knew even true love couldn’t justify our relationship, but sometimes feelings can’t be controlled, no matter how hard you try. I entered the relationship for the wrong reasons and in midst of it all, I fell for Andy aside from the money and his promises. I fell in love with his soul. 

Andy and I were inseparable except for special occasions like Christmas and New Year, when he had to go home where he truly belonged. He understood that we could not be together legally, so he allowed me to go on dates with other men—with his watchful eyes, of course, to make sure they were good for me. Yet no matter how good or qualified those suitors were, they never passed.  They never compared to Andy.

Meanwhile, over the years, I made my own name at work. I proved my worth and got promoted. Management took note of my strengths and made me a project coordinator in 2012. I got to travel to different cities in the Philippines including Manila, Bataan, and Bacolod. I was finally living my dream life. Everything was perfect; until it all came to a grinding halt.

Me at work, c. 2013.
Me at work, c. 2013.

Andy passed away from a heart attack in March 2014  and left me broken. Not only was I alone without the support I’d grown accustomed to, but I’d also lost the man I’d loved in secret. When he died, my entire world crashed. Life without Andy felt so empty. I cried for many days and nights, but in time I knew life had to go on. I’d worked too hard to let it all crash.