The other night I was having flame-grilled hamburgers at some hole-in-the-wall restaurant by the roadside at 11:30 at night with my friends, finding it difficult to get myself heard at times because of the sound of trucks and buses speeding by. It was nearing midnight and traffic was still bustling, with many shops – mostly dining establishments, coffee/milk teashops for students – still lit. It was then it hit me: I had lived in this city – then just a sleepy town but now an industrial haven – for a full 39 years and three months, and that was about to change.
I am moving into a new city because of practical considerations. But since I have lived in my hometown all my life -- there were some minor breaks, to be sure, but I always returned -- I have witnessed how it has changed in the same way that it has witnessed how I have evolved.
It was here I grew up, in a series of apartment houses, with my mom, grandmother, and uncles until mom settled into a new life with my stepfather and I was left with Lola and one uncle, who raised me to be happy and loving and hardworking and to bear in mind that there were many causes worthier than the pursuit of material comfort.
It was here I first learned that commuting was a big challenge. At five, I was taking public transportation daily to the nearby city of Caloocan. Of course I had my yaya with me – the tall and thin Nanay Susan who carried a chubby girl in pigtails every time we walked over a puddle in the rain. These days I am still commuting, and finding that it could be as despicable in the summer heat as it is during a storm.
It was here I studied, and studied hard, because I knew it would bring my Lola great pride to have the first college degree in my mother’s side of the family. I was never assigned any chores. I was just encouraged to keep my grades up. Now on my walls are two diplomas, both earned on scholarship – and the stark realization that grades and fancy degrees are just one of the many elements of success.
It was here I discovered that to write was what I loved doing most of all. Here I spent long hours scribbling away on my journal, and then noisily tapping at Mom’s Olympia for my submissions to the school paper, and then after almost a decade of pretending to be serious with other things, decided to come home to this career.
It was here I felt at home with friends. While I met most of them at school, in that adjacent city, we would come to each other’s houses and met each other’s families. We sent snail mail to each other over the summer and wondered what the rest of our lives would bring. Now most of my friends have moved out of their hometowns as well, some staying put and some living abroad, but we talk to each other as regularly and as intimately as when we were sporting our pleated blue skirts in school.
It was in my hometown I gave birth to four lovely children, all of whom started school in small campuses here but are now almost ready to go out into the world, not as their mother’s child but as their own person.
Here, I battled and weighed major decisions in my life and decided that an imperfect but principled life is always better than an easy one where appearances are merely kept.
I will miss many simple things in my hometown: the neighborhood salon, the wet market and my suki for the seafood, the mall that is within walking distance, the massages from the blind, the local inasal restaurant you can just text when you’re too lazy to putter about in the kitchen.
But these are the little things. The bigger, more important ones I will not miss, because what I learned in my hometown is that so long as you have the people you love with you, your home is where they are.