I've shared that I was going home after 6 years but I did not reach out to my friends and relatives until I was already in Eastern Visayas. I did not want them to go out of their way to see me, for I know, they too have their important things to attend to. Besides, my trip was only for me and so I thought, whoever I get to come across with while travelling, then I'll say "Hi!" and "Hello!" but not to pull them out of their routine just because I was there-- which I would normally do.
I was gone for 6 years. Tacloban feels so different but familiar at the same time. It's like the feeling you get from deja vu, only to get confused because I actually lived there for many years. I had to walk in going around the city because the landmarks I know from 6 years ago have either closed down or were ruined by Yolanda so I couldn't accurately tell the tryke driver where I'm headed to. I unexpectedly saw Voltaire, my once dinner companion in college and remembered the coversations we had about Waray and his hostility towards the Imperial Manila; we annoy each other so much but these days, when "thinking" conversations lack, I still wish they were just a text away; I saw Ate Janis and her bookshop that is her source of peace and refuge from the routine that is her work. We shared the same thoughts about keeping our jobs that bore us in order to get paid well so we could do the things that we love; I met up with college friends Ena and Merco-- both I have not seen since graduation, Clang, albeit we always meet up when she's in Manila and the elusive Dr Sugbo who treated us to Halo-halo in Hotel Alejandro, his favorite restaurant; I shared a conversation with Trixie, a friend from college-- UPTac and UP Diliman, who is the part-owner of the charming hostel I stayed in, and she dropped a ten-year worth of stories all in an hour or so. I joined her in the dining table the last night I was in her hostel, while she was coaching one of her staff and I realized, among many other things I realized that night, that I coach/mentor just like her.
When I went to Caibiran, I dropped my bags in my grandma's house and when she opened the our gate, she did not immediately recognized me, not because she was senile or what but I've grown bigger over the years. I couldn't blame her. With old age probably, she now is shorter than I remember. The first thing she told me was, "kay amo na ini Karen. Nakaabat na ako na dire na maiha" (this is it, Karen. I can feel that it won't be for long), referring to, most likely, death. I choked and because I know I can't handle conversations like this this early, I immediately changed clothes to visit the school where I finished high school and albeit 98% reminded me of how grave my weight issues were, the solid 2%, I can feel, that they were glad to see me. Some of my teachers whom I have close attachments to wrapped up their classes early and went to the office I was hanging out. That night, in the middle of a school week, we went to the town's market to buy food and wine and stayed up late because, "Karen only comes home once in 6 years". They were the exact same people I left from years ago. Some got promoted to higher ranks but they remained the same. And regardless of how much I am earning now, they still feed me and pay for my tab.
I met up with my cousins and hopped from one town of the island to another. Mimi, a elementary school teacher took the day off; Melissa, also a teacher, rendered halfday so she could join us in our tour; Pidoy who now works for the government in a other province, came home unplanned just because I was there. Adrian, a nurse, whom I have constant communication with, nagged me about not telling them beforehand that I was coming so he could have fixed a service and a driver to move us around the island. Tita Bulao, Mama's sister, and her husband Tito Umping were frantic about what food they'd serve me. Because I grew up with them, they knew that I rarely eat fish and vegetable so they had to ask Tata, my cousin-in-law, to go find something in the market. Abiel, who is now in college in another town also came home because I was around. I didn't recognize him when I saw him though. Tiya Nimfa and Ate Rhea prepared dinner that night. I met new nephews and nieces and got surprised with the ones I have not seen for years of how much they've grown.
I met with my high school friends who have consistently been bugging me to attend the high school reunions or go home for a vacation. Most, if not all, have kids of their own and have been married, remarried, planning to get married while some, on a sadder note, separated. There were awkward silences in between conversations, of which I feel that they wanted to ask questions but went silent about it. I could have answered them if I could, but none raised any, save for how much I'm earning now, which is irrelevant. LOL.
During the crucial teenage years of my life back then, when Mama and Papa were not around, I was raised by this incredibly beautiful family of six daughters and Nanay Encia, all of whom I consider my adoptive family. I visited Nanay Encia and Ate Ging in my last night before I went back to Manila. Ate Ging told me that it was the first time she saw me since I left the island in 2006 and we have not spoken since then. She recalled how they only had 3 girls before, of which they refer to as Kara Marie Cleo (Karen, Janna Marie and Elvie Cleo). New kids have been added since then. Ate Joy, in one of our message exchanges told me how the girls (Janna and Elv, who are now grown ups) were excited about me coming home, and how I keep on inspiring them with what I do and the dreams I slowly keep on fulfilling. And that they were proud of me. Mommy Son, filled me in with 6 years worth of stories in one night; that this person is already gone, or this one married this person, or how this person became this and that and the whole night, in susprise all I could say was, "Whaaaaat? Whaaaaaaat!"
In 6 years, I've been to many places and have done quite a number of things I was proud of. And in 6 years, I have neglected this family that raised and loved me before. When I came home, I was expecting that they would all ignore me and nag me about being ungrateful and never having enough efforts to reach out and check on them-- which is utterly acceptable. I did not deserve their time and attention now. I only went home to remind myself of what I had before and who I was before everything came, before I exchanged everything I have now with what I had before because for years, I have been lost and sad about a lot of things. But with this trip, these people reminded me that home is where your family is, and your family, no matter how you suck at writing and checking on them, no matter how you forget to love them, they will still love you back unconditionally; they will stop and find time for you, and they will be genuinely glad just to see you alive, maybe fatter, but happy being with them. This probably is the most painful but at the same time, the most beautiful thing I have learned from this travel.