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Friday, November 10, 2017

The Princess and the Pauper

Today, I realized I am a princess. This sends me goosebumps because for 20 years I had been living like a clueless pauper. When I was five, I started thinking I belonged to a middle class family. It was also then that I started making distinctions between who is rich and who is poor. I often envied the neighbors for having this and that and I concluded that we were not rich. As a kid, I started believing that maybe life is about possessions, that they are the center and the driving force of every man's endeavor. So whenever I saw a shooting star, I would always whisper, “success and happiness.”

I grew up in a neighborhood where money and career were the common topics of women and even men, in their siesta/gossip time. The ones worthy of praise are those who were poor years ago and have worked their way into working abroad, bringing home dollars and are now having their house remodeled. As a playmate, I had my share of boasting around with friends trying to pretend that my family is rich. One time I brought to school a jar of sand with starfish on it, to support my false claim that we have this really nice house near the beach. When I arrived home from school that day, I never felt poorer. So I said to myself, “I will be rich one day.” With the influence of education and my family, I began believing that climbing up hard in the ladder of academic success is the key to wealth. And so, I tried my best to do well in school. But it was not easy doing so. I had my inferiorities, insecurities and relational issues to begin with. When I was five and in kindergarten, I was one of the objects of bullying in class. My friends, especially, the guys would laugh at me putting my right foot on the chair while sitting down. I didn’t see anything wrong with it but since being bullied was not fun, that habit stopped - but not the bullying. Some guys teased me for my skin color; some, for other things I could not remember anymore, perhaps because there were unpleasant for me. There was one time a boy said my other girl classmate was prettier than me. My five year old heart was crushed. It has been over 20 years but I could still accurately spell out that boy’s name and role-play that event with the exact lines. There were times I could not trust my own test answers and had to ask my classmates what theirs were. There was a time I erased my own answer, having heard my classmate say it was wrong – only to find out later that mine was correct. I had my insecurities to begin with and so I could not be so confident in my skills, in being successful and finally being rich or having the power. So I was not only a pauper. I was the ugly pauper who could not trust in herself. And that made becoming successful seemingly difficult. So I made an attempt to change my mind. But this world is the survival of the fittest, it appeared to me, so I tried again. Many of my classmates devoured studying. Many of them gathered in groups to talk about the lessons and sit in clusters and brainstorm answers to teacher’s questions and cheer together as teacher affirms answer. If I was smart, I would be a member of that circle, I thought to myself. So I had second thoughts about actually being smart. I remember one particular instant when the teacher asked the whole class what the color of the sky was, and everyone said blue, except me who said, orange, sometimes even red, actually a mix of both. The class’s reaction made me feel strange about myself, as if I was the most abnormal person in the world. My teacher didn’t react to the commotion I made and simply said, very good class, yes, the color of the sky is blue. My memory of the sky being red and orange could not have simply deceived me then, but, maybe it was just me. To be smart was not that easy, indeed. And to feel this way as a five year old was way too stressful. So sometimes, I did not care about being smart and simply enjoyed playing with friends. My favorite was playhouse and I usually played the role of mom. I like being mom because I could tell my husband what to do and what he did wrong. I could also scold my children and tell them things I believed I was an expert of. I also liked playing teacher because everyone could just sit there and listen to me. My sister said being a teacher is no good and I could not understand why she thought so. I did not ask her because you are not supposed to ask questions from children who have different opinions from yours. I liked playing Tumbang Preso because it felt glorious to be able to hit cans with slippers and run away with it without getting caught or Piko because I felt accomplished to be able to hop my way back to home base with my eyes closed. I liked biking, but was not very free at doing so because my parents only allowed us to ride our bikes nearby - basically just around our small front yard. 

I was a curious child. I did not care if it meant death to do certain things, be it eating raw red chilli peppers, soap or lizard’s manure, or perhaps inserting beads or flowers in my nose. Driven by my what-ifs one day, I stooped so low at a fish pond – too low I fell into it. Weeds were all over my head and I wondered if I had eaten fish. People were sympathetic but I didn’t tell them that I kinda saw it coming. I was too curious in third grade, I asked how I was made. My parents got the encyclopedia to show me the insides of a man and woman. The pictures kinda helped but some things were not clear. I got the impression though that a man and a woman made me – my dad and mom. I didn’t just spring from a bamboo shoot, according to some Filipino folklore. I was a spoiled brat sometimes and people especially one of my babysitters named – okay I’d rather not say her name, gave me so many names I started to think I was the worst child in the world. I was maldita, taklesa, himantayon (bratty, tactless, judgmental). Those moments were my emergent exposure to human character. Sadly, I thought I was on the bad side. So I wasn’t only the poor, ugly, dumb kid.. I was the poor, ugly, dumb, ill-mannered kid. That could have been enough for me to commit suicide, but life was still fun – what with all the outdoor games and the occasional family gatherings. Our family wasn’t perfect but I felt we were happy.

In grade one, I was in the honor roll. Mmm.. so I was smart after all, but not smart enough to know what honor roll means. I had to ask my mom what my teacher meant with that. In a world where everything is measured by numbers (and I actually do not like numbers), it is hard to believe in yourself sometimes and easy to forget your dreams even if it means studying in a Catholic school. We all go through the same insecurities no matter what school we go to, I guess. Until now, I remember clearly the names of those pretty girls I envied – those who had pretty eyes, white skin, nice hair and nice stuff. I envied them too much, I was confused about how I felt about them. It was an intense and powerful feeling of envy that sublimed itself into a strange attraction. So based on who I easily got attracted to, I got confused about who I was. (to be continued)

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