Friday, November 18, 2011
The Wide-Eyed Child Bride
No trips to the salon for this 18-year-old, 7-month pregnant bride. I was left to my own faculties with a little help from my future mother-in-law.
Wedding chariot. This was not the exact vehicle that was used in my wedding, but it is very similar. (Photo courtesy of sulit.com)
The presidential table was the only table at my wedding.
My wedding cake -- "Aladdin" was the Disney movie that year.
This is about my wedding, one sunny Wednesday 17 years ago.
Before that, I had been living with Jay for about a month already, in Unit 2-E of the same apartment compound in Barangay Marulas where my Lola Deling lived. Jay and I did not pay rent, much less populate the place with pieces of furniture and appliances out of our hard-earned savings. That would have been sweet. But nothing in that apartment was ours at all. Everything, from the pastel-colored plates and rainbow-striped bedsheets to the lowly tabo in the bathroom was owned by Ate Magdalena, Lola's irrepressible neighbor, who was married to an Austrian chef working in a Balinese resort.
That summer, Ate Magdalena was whisked off to Vienna to get to know her in-laws. She did not want to leave her house pad-locked in the three months that she would be gone. So she asked Jay and me if we would be so generous as to do her the favor of living in her house, free of charge, and treating everything in it as if it were our own.
I was technically single but very much pregnant, on leave of absence from university where I was a freshman. My grandmother was furious when she learned that Jay and I were even giving the matter some thought. She worried about what the neighbors would say. Fortunately, my gay uncle whom I called Papa Edwin burst her bubble. “Damn the neighbors. Look at the girl's tummy!” He, like I, could understand the conservative affectations of my grandmother but decided we would be better off doing what came naturally. After all, Jay and I were only waiting for the day I turned 18 so we could start processing our marriage documents.
Will you tango?
Ah, the proposal.
There was none.
Jay simply knocked me up. And then everybody, even I myself, assumed that I would want to be his wife.
His parents believed in earnest that they were doing me a favor by legitimizing me and my unborn child. See, I had a most unconventional family setting. I was a child out of wedlock – I would not know my father until three years after my marriage – and my mother had died the year before.
On the day after Jay informed them I was with child, his father was on our doorstep at six in the morning, asking my grandmother to please not hate his son because “it takes two to tango.”
He added that they had nothing but good intentions and would not in any way expose me or their good name to shame. Why, a cousin was congressman of the third district of Pangasinan – and would it not be nice to bear a prominent last name? He said he would be back later that evening with his wife. Would it not be nice, too, if we could all have dinner together?
My old-fashioned Lola Deling was mollified by the old man’s show of good intention. She began referring to that evening as pamanhikan. She bought two pieces of Andok's lechon manok and put an extra leaf of pandan in our boiled rice. But 7:30 became 8:30 became 9:30 became 10:30, and only then did Jay and his parents arrive – with a plastic bag of corned beef, noodles, soap and toothpaste. “My husband is a seaman, a second engineer,” Jay's mother said, as if that was supposed to explain their lateness and their canned offerings.
My future mother-in-law dominated the dinner conversation with tales of how she had raised her Jay-jay singlehandedly because he husband was always at sea. She enumerated the values she instilled in her boy, so that he was now respectful, thrifty, disciplined, ambitious – and a gentleman. She rattled off his achievements as a piano player, composer, theater actor, pilot and would-be aeronautical engineer. She added that their house was big and she had always wanted to fill it up with children.
In one of her rare pauses, Papa Edwin wondered aloud why there seemed to be a rush to get us married. We were both so young. I was 17 and Jay was 20. Why don't I keep the baby, remain in Lola's house, receive financial support, finish my studies, get a job? In a few years, when Jay and I were more sure of our feelings, we could make a conscious decision to marry and plan the wedding ourselves. Wouldn't that be better?
The rest of us looked at him as though he had lost his mind. Papa Edwin shut up.
Taking advantage of the awkward moment, Jay's mother started again. She told us that we should be practical and have a civil wedding first. And then, when we saved enough, we could schedule a church wedding where our baby would either be flower girl or ring bearer.
Jay piped in that he was looking at a budget of one hundred thousand pesos for the occasion which would be held at the San Agustin Church in Intramuros – for that rustic, romantic, timeless feel. He would hire a string quartet and have soldiers line up in pairs and raise their swords. Then we would march underneath.
I nodded my head vigorously, imagining myself with flowing hair in a long, lacy bridal gown. Sweet, I thought. In those days, what Jay wanted, I wanted, too.
I spent my 18th birthday by going to the municipal registrar and filing an application for a marriage license. The following day was Jay's own birthday; he turned 21. His mother threw a joint debut celebration in their house. Naturally, only Jay's friends and relatives came.
The party was in full swing when Papa Edwin dropped by to say he could not stay, not even for a quick meal, and to warn me that I should not even insist because nothing could change his mind. He wished me a Happy Birthday and a Happy New Life and all of a sudden I was fighting back tears. I felt so alone, suddenly wanting to run after him, go home and bring back things to the way they were. But then I saw Jay, holding a glass of punch, having a good time with his friends. I sat beside him, this boy I loved, and reminded myself I would soon be his wife.
Three weeks later, our license application was approved.
Tossing and turning point
In the weeks leading up to the wedding, I had difficulty falling asleep. I would not doze off until three or four in the morning. I attributed it to anxiety over the life-changing step I was about to take.
My new bedfellow was not too happy with my tossing and turning. Jay tried to lull me to sleep with his stories. He told me about the time his father came home for a vacation and filled their refrigerator's vegetable rack with chocolates “which I did not have to share with anybody! Imagine that?” He ate them up in record time and soon had to see the dentist.
He also talked about wanting to be a pilot so that everybody would literally look up to him.
One evening, Jay sounded more upset than usual. It turned out that his mother had stopped talking to him because of his decision to cohabit with me in that apartment and not in their big house “which would eventually be mine.” He told me he had tried to appease her by saying that we were staying in the apartment to make the separation from my grandmother gradual and less painful for the old woman. He added that I also needed to be among familiar faces during my pregnancy.
I sat up. That was not how I saw it at all. All along, I thought he liked the idea of the two of us in our own little universe -- never mind if the sheets we were lying on were not even ours. I waited for Jay to say that what we had then was a preview of what was to come, with the two of us, and our future children, happy and cozy in our home. We would start out with modest things, building our means and our happiness as we go along.
But I did not argue. He was tired from work-- his job as marketing assistant for his uncle's computer hardware shop and the two-way commute between Makati and Valenzuela must be taking its toll at that late hour.
In the meantime, my grandmother got tired of waiting for Jay's parents to come over again and discuss the details of our civil wedding. She and Papa Edwin put together a lunch menu and started calling people who would help with the cooking. They drafted a list and scheduled a trip to the Balintawak market.
Two days before the wedding, I was at Jay's parents' house. His mother had asked me to go to the PLDT office to pay their telephone bill and I had come over to hand her the receipt. She then gave me two thousand pesos. “Give this to your Lola,” she said. “This is my contribution to your wedding.”
I handed the money to my grandmother, who became angry. I was angry too but I did not know why, save for that feeling that something was wrong. Again I dismissed those vague but disturbing feelings.
The magic carpet
Finally, my wedding day arrived.
I had a silky white maternity dress that bared my shoulders and came down to my knees. I designed it myself and had it made by the seamstress down the street. Good thing my Lola, a former seamstress herself, had extra pieces of cloth stashed away in her closet. That saved me the trouble of buying the material.
For himself, Jay bought a plain white short-sleeved polo the evening before.
On the morning of my wedding, he asked me to iron his shirt. I did not know how to iron but I did not want him to think I knew nothing about chores. An hour passed, and I was still struggling with the shirt. He remarked that I was ironing creases into it instead and suggested I call one of the cooks to do it. I brooded for a few minutes. Did he just give me a thumbs-down in the domestic department?
At eight in the morning, preparations were in full swing. A long wooden table had been laid out in the compound's garage. Papa Edwin had also borrowed some monobloc chairs from his friends in the barangay hall – they were in bright shades of yellow and green, with the name of some official painted at the back.
Jay's parents arrived. His dad wore a yellow polo shirt and slacks and his mom came in a red-and-white polka dot dress I may have seen her wear the previous New Year's Eve. She cast a look at the colorful tables and chairs – and suddenly I saw them through her eyes. I knew what she was thinking. True enough, she called my uncle and asked him to send a couple of boys from the neighborhood to get white table cloths and a dozen white monobloc chairs from her house. She said the boys should scrub the chairs there since the visitors should not see they were only being scrubbed now.
“What visitors?” Papa Edwin asked.
Jay's mother also fished out 300 pesos from her wallet and asked my aunt to go out and buy 20 white balloons and have “Best Wishes Jay and Adelle from Papa and Mama” stamped on them. Her precious son heard her and told her this was not a children's party. She yielded. The greetings were out – there would be nothing written on those balloons.
She then pulled me aside and told me that the wedding cake, which was her surprise to me, was on its way. I looked forward to seeing the cake. My grandmother totally forgot about having to have a cake and Jay had not mentioned it, either.
Surprised I was, indeed, when I saw that the cake it was in true-to-form Disney format. “A Whole New World,” it said. Aladdin and Princess Jasmine were there, with their magic carpet. My heart sank but I willed it to resurface. I told myself to see the good intentions buried somewhere all that icing.
Just then, Papa Edwin said our ride had arrived. He had borrowed his friend's stainless owner-type jeepney and had asked his friend's husband to drive us to and from the Regional Trial Court.
I know: seven people inside an “owner” was not exactly the height of luxury. Lola, Papa Edwin and Jay's parents squeezed themselves at the back. Jay and I were in front. It was a bumpy ride to court and I had to lift my butt every so often to shield my baby from the jolts. At that time, I was on my seventh month of pregnancy.
By the time I got out of the vehicle my hips were aching, my left leg was cramped and my dress was sticking to my back from all that sweating. My got tangled from the wind and the smog – the jeep was not the air-conditioned kind. I did not feel pretty anymore. I felt as dusty and cheap and worn-out as the stairs leading to the judge's chambers.
We were late for the ten o'clock appointment -- “but not to worry,” the secretary said, “Judge is also late.” We were told he was having coffee with a friend and would be back soon. We waited a good 45 minutes for His Honor. In the meantime, Jay's mother chatted with the woman who I learned would be our godmother -- a municipal health officer she had known for decades but whom I'd only met that morning.
The judge arrived. He was dismissive and businesslike, as if we were doing him a great inconvenience by showing up and asking him to marry us off. He was so brisk that the actual ceremony was over in less than five minutes.
We spent another fifteen minutes taking pictures – with the judge, with our ninong, Papa Edwin, and ninang, Jay's mother's friend, and with the court officer who asked us to sign the marriage documents.
And just like that, I became somebody’s wife.
Party and after-party
I did not seem to mind the ride home as much. All I wanted was to take a shower and get out of that sticky dress. But the show was not yet over.
When we got home, the white table cloth had been laid out over the big rectangular table. White balloons had been tied to the backs of the immaculate monobloc chairs.
On the table lay a feast: caldereta, menudo, embutido, rellenong bangus, chop suey, hulabos na hipon, escabecheng lapu-lapu, pancit canton. My mother-in-law was pleased. Perhaps she was thinking her two thousand pesos really went far. There were enough seats for everyone at the long table, even for my two other uncles who had taken a break from factory work and had brought their wives for the luncheon.
But all I could focus on was the fact that there were too many flies. I was worried that I would not notice a fly in my food and I would ingest it and it would be bad for the baby. Even the Disney-themed cake remained in the box until the last minute because my mother-in-law said the flies might stick to the icing.
I did not have the heart to invite even my closest friends.
All of the gifts came from my relatives. I opened one and saw that it was a box of drinking glasses. Jay's mother remarked that she had a lot of glasses in her house already, expensive ones, and some dated back to her own wedding in 1971 and even her parents' in 1937. Jesus Christ, this woman, I finally allowed myself to think. Did she assume I would be drinking out of her glasses forever?
I looked at Jay, hoping he would say something to remind his mother that he and I would find those glasses useful when we struck out on our own. But he did not say a word. He was busy putting the electric fan on steady mode so that it faced him directly. “Damn this heat,” he muttered. It was the middle of March.
Somebody remarked that the judge was in too much of a hurry that he forgot about wedding rings. I panicked. Did we even have rings? I looked at Jay and his face was equally blank. But his father fished a red box out of his shirt pocket and showed us two gold bands that he said he had bought in Singapore. My name was engraved on the inner surface of Jay’s ring. His was engraved on mine. We put them on each other's fingers but had to do it several times so Jay's mother could take better pictures.
Two months later, I gave birth and went home straight to Jay's parents' big house after my stay at the hospital. I went back to school for my degree and had three more children.
And now it is 2011. That baby I was heavy with during my wedding is herself seventeen, a college sophomore. She has just survived a break-up from her boyfriend of two years. I am glad she’s over the hump – and has realized that your first does not necessarily have to be your only, or your last.
The others are now 15, 11 and 9.
I am a journalist by profession, but a writer at core -- a chronicler of works in progress, mine or others'. And I am in school again, in the same university that allowed me to go on leave to have my baby and did not revoke my scholarship. In fact, I am there now on yet another scholarship. It’s good to know we are still worth believing in, despite our occasional folly.
My Lola, Papa Edwin, and Jay' mother have died. Jay’s father continues to venture out to sea and visits his grandchildren, showering them with presents, every time he is on vacation.
The trial court has moved to the former municipal hall. The pitiful structure is now a condemned two-story building with laundry hanging out from the windows. In front of it is a vacant lot that serves as a tricycle terminal.
Jay still lives in his parents’ spacious house, coexisting with the many fancy gadgets he has acquired over the years – a drum set, three saxophones, yet another piano (he now has two), and a host of designer watches. There is a mean-looking black Nissan Patrol as well as a cute BMW Z-3 in his garage. I bet he could not be caught dead in any owner-type jeepneys, especially since his new job is in Fort Bonifacio, in the fanciest section of town. We see each other during holidays and school events. I wish him well.
I live in a two-room apartment I share with the children. The younger ones alternate sleeping over at their father’s house, however, to keep him company. Our home is small and the bedroom cramped, but after four and a half years, I have learned to appreciate the trade-off between the lack of personal space and the closeness the children share with me and with each other.
My lawyer tells me I can expect a decision on my petition to nullify my marriage before the year is over. I filed it two and a half years ago. The progress is slow – I can’t afford to “facilitate” my case, nor am I willing to – but I am fine with waiting: Waiting for the verdict, waiting for the rest of my life.
Seventeen years ago I was in a hurry, but now I want to take beautiful, sweet time.