Monday. Jerry and I were talking about our candidates for worst birthday celebration ever. A major perk of sharing a birth day with somebody is being able to critique birthday parties. My candidate was our 19th or 20th birthday, can’t really remember which exactly, mostly because I tune bad days out. Some of my friends will remember this. We invited them to Da Vinci Pizza, ate together, but I was really depressed that time. I had a breakdown, cried, walked out on all of them. Worst birthday ever.
Jerry’s candidate was the winner.
We absolutely can not remember when this was. Probably when we were 11 or 12 or 13. Tuned it out too. That was the time when my mother was unemployed, and unemployable, because of this management trend at the early 2010s when they only hired fresh grads. When I tell people we were dirt poor for a long time, they don’t believe me. But we were. Literally lived off of handouts and ate rice with 5 peso lumpias sold at Silingan Kan-anan. Everyday.
My mom is an accomplished woman in the food and beverage and hospitality industry. Worked in five star hotels in Taiwan. An incredible cook. Definitely didn’t need to hop from job to job, but then the restaurants she managed closed one by one. Something about the US recession. Her job stints became shorter. Her last resto job was one we found together. I remember the day so well, and that’s because I’m proud of it.
We went to Security Bank in Cebu Business Park (it’s now a defunct building. I saw it yesterday.) She was doing transactions, blabla and I was reading the newspaper ads. There was a job opening for a restaurant manager. I told my mom she should apply, and she did, she got accepted, things weren’t so bad anymore, we ate better.
One day I come home from school. See my mom in broad daylight, washing clothes. Bakit nandito ka, mommy, I ask, she should be at work. She was silent. She looked at me like she didn’t know how to say what she wanted to say, but she was able to. She lost her job. I never heard my mom stutter.
That day, unlike other days I successfully tuned out, is forever burned into my brain.
She wouldn’t get hired again until after a few years.
Our worlds became smaller. We went from renting a two-storey house, to renting a downstairs apartment, to renting a room literally large as a closet. If you moved too much you kicked the tv. She took jobs from our landlady. Doing laundry. Cooking silog meals they sold at the dorm. Our lowest point was probably when she worked as a laundrywoman for one of my classmates. We would spend weekends at my classmate’s house, who was my best friend then, and while we hang out my mom would be at the back of the house, doing a complete stranger’s laundry. We were specifically instructed not to tell anyone at school. I studied in a private school. We couldn’t explain our daily beefloaf lunches.
I wouldn’t know it then. And I am the world’s biggest jerk for it, but when I was a teen, I really hated my life. Developed a disdain for my mom – not because she did my classmate’s laundry or couldn’t afford most things but because she laid in bed all day. Talked to nobody. Had no friends. Didn’t laugh or smile or enjoy anything. She didn’t know anything about me.
She was depressed for over five years.
This brings us, to Jerry’s candidate for worst birthday ever. We were maybe 11 or 12 or 13.
We didn’t celebrate at all. We didn’t have money. We probably slept it off, I can’t remember.
Our birthday is on April 17, if you didn’t know by now. On April 25 that year, somebody gave us money. We dressed up, decided to celebrate, and headed to the place we always wanted to eat in.
I remember our birthday meal now – we probably had 500 pesos – I ordered one piece chicken with gravy and rice from that chicken store beside Casa Ilongga. It is still there today. Jerry had the same thing. My mom didn’t order anything for herself, said she was full. And since every birthday needs a cake, we bought the cheapest cake in Goldilocks. A Taisan Loaf.
We took out the steak knives we packed and dug in. I am devastated that they don’t sell the Taisan anymore.
We came home, went back to being poor (haha).
To Jerry, it was our worst birthday ever. My vote also goes to the April 25 birthday.
I’m 22 now. Freshly minted. Out of college and in an office job. Oh, my adolescent self would be over the moon. She would freak if she found out I ate at an eat-all-you-can today, or that I bought myself a new sports bra. Buying things? WOAH
My friends, the absolute angels that they are, dragged us out of bed last night and insisted on waiting on midnight to celebrate together. We did. They bought me flowers and Jerry a can of pringles. We sang old songs together. Went home. When I walked in the office this morning there was a thunderous symphony of “happy birthday krizia!”. Again, I ate lunch at an eat-all-you-can. Woah. Our friends surprised us (again!) with cake and letters and siomai. Five minutes after that, Jerry left for Leyte. I went home to my mom, who hugged me and said, “Happy birthday, anak”.
She asked about the giant bouquet of flowers on our dining table. I told her it came from the mems, and then it dawned on me she didn’t really know who they are. So I pulled up our photo from my phone. Pointed at each one and said their name. Told her they were so kind to me all the time. I showed her our videos. She was smiling.
We never talk like that. It’s always bills and problems and paychecks. But tonight we talked about bouquets and friends and birthdays.
Best. Birthday. Ever.
I am terribly terrified of the future. Of regressing. Of being unable to bring my mom steadily uphill. We’re still living in a room, slightly larger than a closet, but she’s highly respected in her job and she beams every time she talks about her students. Whenever we eat out she pulls out her keypad phone with a 1 mp camera and takes a photo of us. I’m getting my first legit paycheck tomorrow and she will be so proud of me.
I know this is supposed to be a post about our birthday, but it feels like day one. It feels like redemption. It feels like all those dark days were catapult boards. One day, I will buy my mom a large house with a large kitchen and she will never have to touch laundry ever again. For now we have each other, this run-down apartment, and a million dreams – and my God who does not stop at bad endings. Who heals the broken years stolen by poverty, depression, disdain.
Lord, if I can ask You one birthday wish – please give my mom the abundant life found in You. Thank You, for giving her to me.
Here’s to 22.