Since the time it started to matter, most people have always thought I was independent. Perhaps it was an inevitable conclusion my friends arrived at considering my personal circumstances.I was born in Lipa, but in my toddler years, we lived in Cubao, Quezon City. (Perhaps that’s the reason why I was drawn to QC later in life). When I was around 4, we moved to San Pedro, Laguna, a suburb at the perimeter of Metro Manila. My mom left to work in Italy when I was only a year old, while my dad ventured into a small enterprise selling ready to wear clothes (RTW). He even named the business after me, which is the reason why as a child, my dad’s friends had taken to calling me “Raz Marketing.” (“Aba, ang laki na ni Raz Marketing a!” “Ano, Raz Marketing, ilan taon ka na?”…). The business flourished and dad was encouraged to open another one – a small vulcanizing shop that later expanded to selling tires as well. That’s where our tire business got its name – Port Area Tire Center.
Both my parents found successes in their ventures, but it also meant their only child was growing up mainly in the company of helpers and immediate relatives. I usually got to see my dad early in the morning before going to school and on weekends. My mom, on the other hand, flew back from Italy on a yearly basis – either in May, for her birthday on May 2, or in December, for a sweep of my birthday, Christmas, New Year, their wedding anniversary on January 10, and my dad’s birthday on January 12.
My dad eventually moved his business to Muntinlupa which was much closer to our house in San Pedro. When I was 8, he ran for an elective post in his hometown in Cavinti, Laguna. (I remember joining the campaign sortie, tricked by my dad’s friends into shouting, “Vote Allan de la Torre! Walang asawa, walang anak!”). He was elected municipal councilor. That meant he didn’t only have the business to run in Muntinlupa, he had to go back to Cavinti every Friday for the sessions with the Municipal Council.
That setup lasted till my early teen-age years as my dad eventually ran for Mayor and won. In high school, I went home to my aunt and a helper.
In junior year, my father died. My mom started going home more often than she did before – around twice a year. Not long after that, I left home for college. I rented a condo in Katipunan. Our home in Muntinlupa was left to the care of the helpers, until eventually, they were let go for practical purposes.
The solitary nature of my living condition led most people to think I was a fine example of how it was to be independent. It was flattering to some extent. It accorded me confidence that seemed to go hand in hand with independence.
The truth is I’ve always doubted whether I was really being independent or if I was just faking it. After all, I was never really without any kind of support. Even when I was living in QC by myself, I didn’t have to do my own laundry, even if laundromats already proliferated then. I never had to go pay my own bills. I had regular visits from people from home. I never suffered the burden of financing my own lifestyle. Even though I did my own share of cleaning the condo, driving my self to school, going out and occasionally cooking (microwaving) my own meals, I was, in fact, still dependent on my mom and my home support group.
Even when I started working, that setup remained the same. Even when I moved into my very own house, that was still the case.
It really wasn’t until I moved here to London that I felt really independent. I do everything here myself, and there’s no one to run to when I need help. Even if I needed it, here in London, I can’t really depend on anyone. I do have a few friends here, but they too struggle to keep the gears of their daily lives well oiled, and I’m too aware of that to add my concerns onto their plates.
Here, I feel what it’s like to spend my own money and not have it replenished by benefactors. I feel what it’s like to be sick and not have anyone to call so they can bring me medicine. I feel what it’s like to come home without any food to eat, and have no choice but to sleep hungry or go out again to buy something from the nearest grocery. Here, I get to know what it’s like to live by myself, and just live with it.
I can’t help but give myself credit for how well I’m able to handle it all. I guess I really had no reason to doubt myself before. If there one thing my personal circumstances taught me, it was how to be emotionally tough to survive this chapter in my life. Nep, my friend who moved here two years before me, said that she cried herself out in her first month. I’m proud to say that despite feeling the urge numerous times, I haven’t shed a tear. I’ve managed to stave off any bubbling miasma of depression or despair.
I realize there are two ways one can be independent. I’m finally learning how it is to be independent in the practical sense. Now I can proudly and confidently own up to the virtue, considering I’ve been independent in the other sense all my life.
Maligayang araw ng kalayaan, Pilipinas!