Twelve years after my family pushed me into marrying Ding, he was begging me to release him. “I married you against my will,” he said, avoiding my eyes. He was telling me he wanted out of our marriage. Out of my life.
Out of my life, he said.
I called him the “apple of my eye.” But it was an understatement. He was my whole life for many years. So, how could my life get out of my life? Wouldn’t that leave me with nothing?
“I’d rather die,” I thought. Aloud, I said: “You can never leave me. Wherever you go, I will find you.”
How did he stray – the sweet apple of my eye?
My best friend
He was my best friend – the only one in the whole world who understood me … my quirks, my moods, my silences. When I was 18, I had a nervous breakdown. I lived in a fog for weeks. The only person who could break through me was Ding. He defied my parents in order to reach out to me. That was the time I started calling him the “apple of my eye.”
Not so dark, not so tall, not so handsome. He was quiet, gentle, not given to drinking nor smoking. But it seemed to me he was always around – like an angel.
He was so quiet that he only said “I love you” once – one Valentine’s Day, when we were courting. He never repeated it. It did not bother me that he did not. I married, after all, a man of few words.
My parents thought we eloped. But that was not quite true. When I ran away after a bitter scolding from my father, also on account of Ding, it was not he whom I sought out. I went to a friend’s boarding house to let off steam. Ding followed me there. In fact, he implored me to go home. But when I would not, he kept me company. He stayed on, although I urged him to leave when night fell. “I will not leave you,” Ding insisted. He stayed with me, until I went home two days after.
My father could not believe that “nothing happened” during the two days I was away. A medical examination would have confirmed our blamelessness. But my parents would not hear of consulting a doctor. Certain were they that “my honor” and that of the family had been blemished. We were married at civil ceremonies a few months later, when his mother came home from her contract work in Singapore. We were both 19.
This is what Ding meant when he said “… napilitan lang siya.”
I did not have any illusions about marriage. No big expectations from my husband. All the years we were together, we lived either in my parents’ or my in-laws’ house. We occupied a room in either house. Both small, cramped, lacking in privacy. At the beginning, we – as well as our children – were fed, clothed, sheltered by our elders. Our basic needs were taken care of. So, it did not occur to me to ask anything from Ding, even if he had a job every so often. I would take whatever little he gave but never asked for more. I never knew how much his monthly pay was. I never asked.
Come to think of it, I was never really a housewife. I never learned how to cook, go to market, beautify my home, make housewifely decisions.
And come to think of it, in 13 years, Ding and I never went out together – except in rare outings with the children. We never celebrated a birthday, a Valentine’s Day, or an anniversary. He never gave me a gift though I’d save for a new pair of Nike shoes for him every Christmas. He was also a distant father. And yet, in my heart of hearts, he remained to be the apple of my eye.
I’m not what you might call sweet and gentle. At work people called me the “taray princess.” At home, even my accomplished Ate who was used to bossing us around, could not make me toe the line. I was careful to let people know that in spite of my petite exterior, I was no pushover. But I was putty in Ding’s hands. He was, after all, the apple of my eye.
I finished my secretarial course in-between pregnancies. In time, I too began to earn. My mother-in-law set me up for a sari-sari store business. I liked being busy. Later, I found an office job.
Perhaps Ding never loved me. For he began looking for other women to love soon after we got wed.
He had a string of girlfriends in his office. I would find pictures of office parties with some giddy-looking girl seated beside him. He would take home video tapes of office socials to watch over and over. She and the giddy-looking girl were inseparable even in film.
I took refuge in my job, raising my children, and studying. With such busy routine, there was little we saw of each other. In the early morning, we’d have a few minutes of breakfast together. At night, when I came home from school, he’d either be asleep or out. Either way, I’d also be too beat to talk with or wait up for him.
When I was just beginning my job, Ding took seriously ill. He had coronary thrombosis that confined him to the Heart Center for almost a month. He almost died then. His heart stopped; it took a respirator to revive him. Although I was afraid of the prognosis, part of me was happy to have him all to myself to take care of.
During his confinement, the hospital was my home. I slept there, ate there, had a change of clothes there. Luckily, my office at Balara was just minutes away from the hospital.
When Ding was released, a blood clot still remained in his right eye. It took years for the blood to disperse. And even when the clot was gone, Ding was still prone to severe headaches. When the attacks came, they were so bad he wanted to hit his head on the wall. I’d apply cold compress, massage his pain away, pray over him.
I felt most like Ding’s wife when he was afflicted.
Didn’t I tell you about Ding’s string of girl friends? There were so many I couldn’t any more distinguish one from the other. But there were two whom I’ll never forget.
Eva was a girl from his office. She’s small, cute, brown, sexy. Well, to make a long story short, I was able to track down Eva and she turned out to be real nice as well. She promised to forget Ding. And she also asked me to bring her home “… so I can see Ding’s children. So I can prop up my decision to break up with him.”
Taking a crowded bus, we were hanging by the estribo all the way. When we alighted, Eva remarked: “You could have pushed me from the bus, you know.”
- to be concluded