18 Years Later---
I was more in disbelief than anything, and scared shitless. I didn't know what to expect--I anticipated what my family would say about me, what I've become, my weight, my career choices, my life, my love life. At the moment I was at a very low point, and I didn't want to face anyone who'd make me feel worse about myself. I kept wanting to cancel my flight, waste the opportunity that had been so generously given to me. But I wanted to go for my Grandma, who, more than anyone else in this world, deserved to go back to the Philippines. It was a family reunion that I could not miss.
My Mom, Grandma and I await in the immigration line, getting first class treatment cause Grandma uses a wheelchair. I'm anxious to see the first of my cousins, aunt and uncle who were waiting for us outside. I had no wifi, so I didn't know how to reach out to them. Finally after several tries, and hauling our bags through the airport, we stepped outside, and the humidity slapped me like a bitch. We go by the waiting area, looking for our family who had initially been waiting at the wrong location. To say the least, what started out as excitement, turned into even more anxiety. Finally we see them and quickly greet them. We loaded our bags then headed out. Our first stop, my Grandpa Doming and Great-Grandpa Pedro’s gravesite. I don’t know why, but everyone assumed I had forgotten how to speak/understand Tagalog. While I do get tongue tied, I’m still quite fluent. I took in everything around me, and started recording immediately. Everything was so...different than what I remembered. It was more shocking because it was hard for me to think that this was once all normal to me. Technology now mixed with poverty. The closest thing I’ve come to see is skid row in downtown LA, but this was a different kind of world; not necessarily better or worse.
After reaching my Grandpa’s gravesite, we headed to my great aunt’s house in Las Pinas. There awaited my Lola Senia, my Grandma’s sister, who helped raise me. As a selfish millennial, who is only human and have feelings, I couldn’t help but feel fatter than usual. I kept looking at myself in the mirror and reassuring myself that I at least looked good. But when we got there and I was greeted, a rush of love came over me and I was filled with so much joy. I was so excited to see Lola Senia, Mama Dory, who also took care of me, and Ate Nilda, my cousin. My Grandma had been asking about Lola Senia non-stop for the last several years that I was so happy to see their little reunion. It was a little reminder of what the trip was about.
As we settled inside the heat does its magic and I start to feel lightheaded. I tell my mom, and everyone immediately attended to my needs and my cousin leads me to the room with the AC. I had to take off my spanks. Usually I’d be worried, but it was so hot I didn’t care. We started to eat and there was lot to take in. My mom also changed to comfortable clothes, and so did my Grandma. They called in a lady to do our nails, which was great cause my toes were disgusting. I was afraid to speak Tagalog because I thought I’d mess up. I needed to be comfortable with everyone first, you know get acquainted.
As I lived in the moment I still couldn’t believe it was a true. I wanted to go on social media, but the house didn’t have wifi (weird to us I know) so I couldn’t. Ate Kate let me use her personal hotspot which let me post a bit. We started bonding, catching up and I was playing with my pamangkin (nephew) Marquis. He’s super cute, but also a good work out cause he looooves running around. I kept checking the clock to see if anyone was on the way yet. The time moved particularly slow, and I stayed on the veranda waiting for the rest of the family.
The street looked a lot smaller than I remember. Almost like the houses were smushed together. Ate Kate and I continued to talk until the lady came in and did my nails. I was particularly excited about my Kuya Jobert. Kuya Jobert is the oldest of the De La Rosa grandchildren so he was the big brother of the group. We were very close when I was little and I was looking forward to his big old hug! When he finally came, I was so overcome with joy! I met his wife, Ate Amy and his kids Omar and Heba. They also called me Tita Mara and did the whole mano po thing with my hand.
Then came Ate Marijo and Tita Jojo with more food, and the party started getting more exciting. There was adobo, pancit, lumpia, crabs, muscles, and so much more! An hour later we see Tita Ning Ning, Kuya Mike, Myka, Mira and Maria--Tito Fernan’s family. I had never met them before, but when we did I felt this immediate bond and connection with them. They were all so nice and I really enjoyed my time, though it was brief. The last to arrive was Kuya Miquo and his wife Ate Kathlea.
I bounced around from one cousin to another, while enjoying some food. We made some trips to grab ice, water, and some street food. Ate Marijo bought be fish balls and it was DAMN good. I was also reminded that the McDonalds, Jollibees and 7 Elevens are fancy in the Philippines. I was taking everything in and loving every moment of it. Taking it all in, staring at my cousins, at the extended family and hoping that somehow this could happen every day.
By the time it was 6pm, my exhaustion caught up and I went into our room and started breaking down. I think it was from the lack sleep, PMS and again the OVERWHELMING amount of love I didn’t expect to feel. I fucking love my family, and I was so thankful that I made it there. But anyway, I cried myself to sleep, and was unable to say some goodbyes because...I passed out.
The first day was a good day.
I write, you read, we friends.