At 21, I have big plans. Who doesn’t? You’re in that cusp to adulthood where you can still enjoy every inch of your youth. You had the money, the freedom, the energy to breathe in life and not give a damn about tomorrow. You’re still entitled and expected to mess up, but you can turn people down by being the luckiest, most successful bastard before you reach your prime.
I planned on having more travels with friends, more hang-outs and fooling around, late-night pizza deliveries and pulling pranks on sleep-over parties. I planned on buying more books, or more gadgets and tweet my adventures across the country. I planned on saving up enough money so I can set off by myself, or save up for my future international travels as I get lost in every continent. I planned on leaving the nest early and take on the sky, be a student of the world and people, set fire to the cannon and start a revolution that could overrule the ongoing status quo in this country of mine that’s in a deep squalor.
That is, well, until we discovered a huge tumor in my mother’s breast.
How can I describe my mom? She’s good, but life’s unfair. I guess there are more stories like hers in this world. She never had something bad to say to anyone. She has a way with people and I guess they are fond of her because she can still take the time to listen to every joy and sorrow, even if she barely knows that person. In her homeland town of Romblon, her friends and families would always prepare a big feast for her every homecoming, like she’s a queen or a saint. She used to say that we, her children, are her greatest treasures but I felt like she’d always been too good for us and we quite never deserve her.
I’ve always taken her for granted, thinking that she’d always be there during the milestones of my life like the time I had my (forced) concert at Makati when I was twelve, or during my college graduation when I bestowed to her my medal and black toga. Thinking that I would always see her weary smile when I take off to work, when she pecks my cheek goodbye and I let out a small grunt. It wasn’t cancer yet, the doctors assured us, but the tumor spelled trouble and its huge size haunted me every day of my waking life. In that instant, the shadow of time fell over me, the realization hitting me like a runaway train: What if one day we wake up and she’s gone? How would I be able to repay all the sacrifices she made for me?
At 21, my mom had big plans. She’s a graduate of a popular university in Manila, dream-eyed and ready to take on the world. Her sister, who’s in another country, has just found a big-shot job for her in that same country and they can live there together. She’s planning to save up for her own life savings. She’s planning to build a beautiful house for my grandparents in Romblon. Once she saved up, she’s planning of returning to the Philippines and take up masteral units so she can be a guidance counselor/teacher on a public school in Romblon that’s severely under-staffed. All these plans fell like a house of cards when she found out she had me.
They suggested of aborting me. “Motherhood will tie you down”. “You’re too promising. All your life, you will dedicate it to your child”. “The baby’s barely two months old, God will surely make an exception”. But my mom, painful as her decision may be, chose me. And before she knew it, she and my dad were married and the plane that’s supposedly meant for her took off without her. She still keeps her ticket in one of our worn-out photo albums, and when I was asked her what it was, she told me that she had forgotten what it’s for.
My dad, barely out of college that time, has to drop out from the university and began take all sorts of jobs; A Chocolate Factory worker, a pseudo construction drafter and a computer technician. All those jobs can never fully sustain a growing family like ours, and so, my mom decided to work as an assistant to her brother’s ceramic tiles business. She also managed small side-lines every now and then, with her newfound interest to business. A rich aunt opted to give money to my dad so he can continue his formative college education, as diplomas that time were tickets to greener pastures. So while my father studied, my mother toiled.
Growing up, my mom seemed to enjoy raising us as kids, but once in a while, I’ve glimpsed some shadow of regret casting over her face. My grandparents passed away without the dream house built, and I sensed she never quite get over it. Grandma and Grandpa were toiling hard all their lives for that small piece of land in Romblon just to send their children to schools. The Philippines is an agricultural country, but the policies and levies are ironically hard on farmers. Even after my grandpa met his unexpected end on the sea during the town’s grand fiesta, my grandma relentlessly continued to till the land herself, her aging hands firmly holding the carabao’s plow. My grandma may had never felt the luxuries and pampering she deserved at her old age, but she died knowing that her children have stable lives and that may have been enough. But my mom was wistful when she said that, as if somewhere in her heart she’s wishing that she could have done something for them to express her gratitude for their sacrifices to give her a better life.
The operation of my mom’s breast was a successful one. They had to take her left breast -a masectomy operation. After my dad talked to the doctor, he went straight to us and told me and my brothers they will have to take the whole thing off. It’s the standard procedure when the tumor is malignant. I remembered nodding silently, in an easy, calm way, loathing to be the eldest child and the only girl in the brood who can understand. Afterwards, I went up to the bathroom and cried the most soundless cry I can remember.
The operation’s over, but the chemotherapy sessions began. My savings account is all dried-up for the medicines and supplements, while my dad compensates for the sessions. My travel plans and bucketlist is currently on-hold. My books and gadgets have to take a backseat. I may even have to look for a higher pay job and forget going to film school for awhile. I’m broke as a young professional who has to survive off of Yakisoba noodles. What’s surprising is, I really don’t mind at all. I guess it’s time to take off my selfish self and let it hang on the wardrobe for awhile. I can have the time of my life later. In the meantime, I have to be my mom’s financial and emotional backbone.
I was never a good daughter, but I guess it’s never too late to start. Even at 21.