February 28, 2001. That was eight years ago. The 16 hour flight from Manila was uneventful. I was traveling with my brother, my sister and her son. They were all excited, eager to see what the land of milk and honey could bring. Hopeful and quite optimistic for a new and better life in America.
They all were ecstatic. I wasn’t.
Ever since we had the news that our immigration papers were approved, contrary to what everybody felt, I was shattered. It was as if my life ended. Suspended was the more appropriate term. Yes I was waiting for this to come, but that was when I still don’t have kids.
Life in the Philippines was getting harder everyday. So an opportunity like this one is definitely hard to resist. And it was even harder for me. My kids are growing up, they needed more, I needed to provide more, and I needed to secure their future. A better opportunity is now at hand, at least for my kids, so I needed to go. That was the simple economic truth.
But the impending emotional consequence of me leaving them behind was just too hard for me to swallow.
During the interview process I was told by the consular officer that I could bring my kids with me. I almost cried. Not because I was happy that I could bring them, but because it reminded me of the dilemma that I was going through at that time. Even if I could, I wouldn’t dare bring them with me. They were still kids, and kids needed to be with their mom. Besides, I don’t even know where I was going.
Everyday before our actual flight to LA, my heart sinks deeper and deeper that I found it even harder to breathe. But since it was all for my kids, even though I never liked it, I never resisted. I let my body get through it. It was like riding a giant wave, getting swayed by the tide, and even if I wanted to, I had no will swimming against it. I don’t want to, but I just had to.
I just went with the flow.
We arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport late at night. It was a long and grueling flight. Made even worse by the anxiety and long lines at the desk of the custom official who, despite being warm and friendly, welcomed us with suspicion since it was our first time traveling to the states. After verifying the authenticity of our immigrant visas, our luggage, most of them in boxes, had their turn.
When we finally got out of the airport, we were met by our mom and our eldest sister. Then they all started crying.
Our mom was probably crying because, after all those years, she was finally reunited with some of her kids. Our eldest sister was too, maybe because all her hard work to bring us to the states finally paid off. My brother and sister who were with me were emotional too. Their life in the country was equally hard, and so finally, the time for a new and better one for both of them was about to start.
Yes, I also cried…. but somehow inwardly and more deeply. You know, when you cry to yourself, your eyes swelling without even shedding a tear. My body was starting to shake. And then I thought.. what if.… maybe… just maybe… all of these weren’t real? Maybe it was just a bad dream?
I eagerly ran out of the airport and went outside to see for myself. Then I saw LA for the first time. I finally realized that what I was hoping to be just a dream wasn’t a dream at all. It was all for real.
Only then it started to sink in. I was indeed….in an entirely different place… away from my kids. And all the tears started to fall. Because I knew….. at that instant I knew. That from that moment on…. my life would never be the same.
And they all thought I was crying tears of joy.