13 Years

Kristine's feet ache. She wants to flick her feet and send her 3-inch pair of stilettos flying across the room. She knew that moment she decided to wear it that it would punish her. After 12 years of running around after her children, sneakers is the only thing that give her comfort. Despite that certainty, she wanted to be pretty tonight. It is, after all, rare that her husband volunteers to give her several hours of total freedom to attend a wedding. So, she wanted to look pretty, see a semblance of her old vain self for once because she needs to. She needs that. She needs to see a semblance of her old self because everything is a jumbled mess in her brain right now.

"Oh my god!"

She flicks her head to her left to check out who shrieked. It's Roselle, one of the first friends she made when she first moved to the US about 15 years ago.

"Can you believe it?" Roselle said as she settles down beside Kristine with a glass of white wine in hand and a red wine in another which she puts in front of Kristine.

"What? Thanks," Kristine said.

"The parents gave the bride and the groom a house, a three-bedroom house. Oh my god, they don't have to worry about paying a damn cent for rent. How much are you paying for your apartment?" Roselle asked.

"Twenty five hundred," Kristine said, taking a big gulp of the red wine. Damn, that tastes good.

"Imagine that! And the house is in Koreatown, Larchmont. And you're in Gardena... and you're paying 2500. And they got a car from the groom's older brother. And I still don't have a car. I don't even have a license. And I still don't have a retirement fund. And I haven't even seen New York. And you haven't been to Japan. Arrrggghh!"

And Roselle is gone just as abruptly as she appeared, leaving her with a half-empty glass of wine, aching feet and hurricane of emotions.

Oh my god.

She watches the groom across the room, laughing at a joke one of his groomsmen just cracked. His entire body is shaking and his ears are turning red. He high fived his groomsman, his laughter not faltering. It must have been a good joke. She needs one right now.

It was 13 years ago when she had a wedding like this. Well, not like this. It was far less elegant than this. If it wasn't for her friends who scurried to transform a Chinese restaurant to something presentable, hers would have looked like a Philippine fiesta but she didn't see it back then. At the time, all she saw was the man she was marrying and the beautiful gown she was wearing and the bright future ahead of her. That was all she saw because that was all that mattered.

‘Don’t lose yourself in this marriage and in motherhood. Your family is priority but you can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t be the best mother and wife if you aren’t the best person you can become.’

She remembers one of her friends telling her. She remembers it to this day but she never lived that advise partly because it was given by someone who wasn't married and partly  because she couldn't bring herself to care. She was too high in her newfound routine of being a wife and before that had the chance of wearing her off, she became a mother.

She did what any mother would have done. She made decisions for her family. She lived and breathe her children. She stayed with what was supposed to be a temporary job for the sake of financial stability.

She stays in a 3-bedroom apartment because she wants to accommodate her husband’s mother and brother who continue to live with them.

Her husband still drives her to work every morning because buying a car of her own would mean additional insurance, gas expenses and maintenance cost.

She is still computing vacation hours they accumulate just as so they could plan an "economical trip" to some part of California within driving distance because flying is just way too expensive with six people.

She was never a materialistic woman but there were experiences she wanted to give her children, her husband and herself. She knew she had to work for those experiences and she thought she did. When she made the decision to stay in her job in a law firm, she thought she was doing it for her children.

Maybe she was and maybe that was a wrong thing because she lost herself.

She wanted to become a pharmacist but being one, back then, meant a huge pay cut. It meant staying in the same 2-bedroom apartment. It meant paying for her own medical insurance. It meant less shopping. It meant starting over.

So she chose the easy route, remain in the job she never thought she’d want for some amount of stability.

She has been doing it for 13 years… all for her children and husband… and for 13 years nothing has changed… except her.

She suddenly finds herself rendering more overtime when she didn't need to all because it's extra hours away from home. She now insists on doing the grocery alone, arguing she gets it done faster lone than with two pre-teens when in fact she spends an extra 15 minutes outside of CostCo to have a burger and coffee. She now craves for time with her friends even if it means attending stupid weddings where she will be forced to wear stilettos that’s never healthy for her back.

She now feels alone. Everyday, she comes home to two children, a husband, a brother in law and mother in law and yet, she has never felt more alone.

She feels lost and she never wanted to feel that because she is supposed to know who she is, a wife and a mother.

She clutches her silver purse. Inside is a letter from St. Mary’s Hospital, offering her a pharmacy internship.  She sent the application as a result of a rare quiet moment she got on a Sunday and now she has a chance. Her dream is opening itself up for her again. She is being offered a chance to regain herself but taking an internship job means a paycut. It means staying in this 3-bedroom apartment with her two children, mother in law and brother in law. It means starting over.

And she can’t afford that.

“Earth to Kristine!”

She looks up and finds the bride’s face right in front of her.

“Oh, sorry.”

“Let’s take a picture,” the bride said.

“Oh, okay,” Kristine said. She runs her fingers through her hair and straightens out her dress as she follows the bride. “When’s the honeymoon?”

The bride sighs, holding her hand, presumably to make her walk faster.

“It will have to wait,” the bride said. “My boss asked me to join her trip in Paris. It’s a huge opportunity. I’d be meeting people, getting a preview of the new technologies… it’s too good to miss.”

“Oh,” Kristine said. “Is he ok with it? Didn’t you two prepare for this honeymoom for over a year?”

The bride stops and turns around to face her.

“I haven’t told him.”

“What?” Kristine said, her eyes wide, her body stiff. “What the hell?”

“Kristine, we’ve been planning this 6-month backpacking honeymoon for a year. How can I tell him?”

“How can you not?”

“What if he divorces me?”

Kristine wanted to laugh but it’s a good thing that before she cracks, she realizes that the bride is not joking.

“Oh my god, sweetie, he won’t divorce you,” Kristine said.

“This is LA!” the bride said. “Britney Spears got divorced after 9 hours!”

Kristine watches the bride, silly tears threatening to fall. She reaches out to cup the bride's face.

“He won’t divorce you because he loves you,” Kristine said. “He will understand because he loves you. Sure, he might get upset for a bit but he will understand because he loves you. He loves you because you are you and he knows that the only way you will become the best wife to him is by becoming the best woman you wanted to become.”

It was slow but it did happen. The bride’s face relaxes. Her eyes softens. Her shoulders drops, not in surrender but in assurance. She probably already knew what Kristine said. She just needed to hear it from someone else.

The bride almost jumps to hug her and Kristine finds herself unable to breath and before she knows it, she starts sobbing and it’s a good thing the bride is crying too.

“Thank you,” the bride said. “I needed to hear that.”

Kristine smiled, “I needed to hear that, too.”

The bride turns to pull her again towards the photo booth but Kristine tugs her wrist.

“What?” the bride asked.

“I will have to go right after we take the picture,” Kristine said, clutching her purse.

“Oh, why? The party just started.”

Kristine sighs.

“Oh, the children, huh?” The bride said, her voice full of understanding.

“No,” Kristine said. “They’re tweens now. They probably like that I am not in the house. I just need to talk with my husband about something. It can’t wait.”

“Oh. Is everything okay?”

“Of course. Oh, it’s nothing bad. No. It’s actually good. It’s good and maybe in a few years, it will be perfect,” Kristine said.


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