F Chapter 2: Frustrations



There is something incredibly hypocritical about weddings… and ethereally beautiful.

On the one hand, weddings don’t really serve any legitimate legal purpose. For countries where there is a clear separation between church and state, it is nothing but a ceremony. Some sort of a verbal declaration that you are finally committed to somebody.

For a marriage to be recognized by the state, the couple is required to sign a contract. The couple has to agree on certain terms and conditions including, but not limited to, fidelity, provision of physical and emotional care, and financial and emotional support.

Oddly enough, a marriage contract makes no mention of love. It doesn’t state that you must love the person you are marrying. It gives no fuck about love. It gives a huge fuck about sex (no sex can actually lead to divorce) but not love. 

All our lives, we are made to believe that we must love the person we are marrying and stay in love for as long as we live. Love should be the only reason we are to get married, anything less is unacceptable.

We should not marry for money or convenience or sex… only love.

Of course love should be demonstrated through other… virtues… or actions. I don’t know what it’s called. Whatever. Those things include trust and faithfulness and respect. Those are the things that really matter. Those are priceless.

And then we march down the aisle as the greatest testament of our love and we are asked to sign a fuckin’ contract.

Ro fuckin’ mantic.

“But love is about trusting somebody, is it not?”

“Gotta sign on that dotted line, kiddo.”

“What happened to love being above…”

“Do I look like fuckin’ Shakespeare? ”

“No but…”

“No contract. No marriage.”

For all these talks about the sanctity, divinity, and purity of love, it comes down to several pages of notarized and filed contract. Just like any other contract, breaking it have legal consequences. You can go to jail, have your money taken away, required to pay the other party a monthly fee for the rest of their life or yours, or all of the above.

Of course, the root of my perpetual disdain for it comes from my experience. I have never been married but many of the people around me have been and most of them went through the whole 9 yards to get it done - white wedding gown and a complete entourage. Some of them have been beautiful but most have been complete and utter disasters. No one dares to say it but hey. I don’t know why but most of the weddings I have attended were more stress than they were worth. You would think that after a lifetime of dreaming for this day, they’d get everything down to a tee.

There's the classic situation of horrendous bridesmaid gowns. To this day, no one can really tell if Brides intentionally design their Bridesmaids’ Gowns and make it ugly in order to make themselves appear more beautiful or if they simply have horrendous fashion sense for them to even remotely think those gowns are within the vicinity of being acceptable.

There’s the awful food. I don’t know why couples even bother going through food tasting when food becomes the most unmemorable part of weddings anyway. When food is good, serving style is awful.

Filipinos loooooove buffet. I fuckin’ hate it. I fuckin’ hate having to fall in line for my food wearing my Sunday best. If I am wearing make up, you can be assured I had to pay for someone to do it on me because I neither have the talent nor the patience of it. That’s at least $75 down the drain just as so I could appear halfway decent. And then you ask me to fall in fuckin’ line to get food? I could have called Domino’s and they’d deliver the food at my doorsteps.

Yeah, yeah, it’s your wedding. It’s not even honored by the law!

I’m calm.

The most common problem of weddings in the Philippines, however, is money because while US couples make do with the money they can get, the entire city get involved in my country.

Weddings are a family affair. Scratch that. Especially in rural areas, weddings are province-wide affairs.

It is common for families in the Philippines to prepare their entire life for their child's wedding. And everyone gets invited, even those that the bride and groom don’t know or don’t want.
Families slaughter pigs, cows, and chickens to serve them to guests. They cook them first, of course. They drain their life savings, borrow money from shady lending firms, and break their grandchildren’s piggy banks just to wed their children.

When Western culture started creeping their way into my country, you’d think the custom will change. You’d think people will be more practical about their wedding choices.  It only made things worse.

Women started following traditions that didn’t make sense to a tropical third world country like wanting to be a June bride. They miss the part that June is summer in the US, making it an ideal time for people to go out and celebrate. Summer in the Philippines is when fuckin’ humidity is at its angriest causing people foul mood and foul body odor. It’s hard enough to walk around wearing a 100% cotton t-shirt, why the fuck will you want to go out with a wedding gown made of 4,294 layers of chiffon, satin, and other god damned polyester-based fabric?

It’s an invitation to murder.

There is also Pinterest, Instagram, We Heart It, and the ultimate evil of them all, Google. They give people ideas on what “a beautiful wedding” looks like. There are fresh flowers hanging on a vine from the ceiling that make the venue look like a majestic forest. There are candles in a mason jar cupped by tulips and pin lights that adorn every table. The center aisle where the bride will march sits on water and the lights that bounces off the swaying water shimmer against the bride’s silver gown.

It’s evil… and also fuckin’ beautiful. I swear to god, everything I have done in my life from the time I discovered Pinterest is patterned after something I found on Pinterest. I fuckin’ hate Pinterest.
These repository of beautiful ideas break banks and Filipinos just refuse to be left behind.

Brides pull their friends to help out, establish networks that could provide them the things they need for half the price. They buy the fabric themselves by battling the squelching smell of Divisoria (an awfully smelly market where everything is a bargain. Think Santee Alley but smelly... way more smelly) to find a store that can copy Monique Lhuillier’s wedding gown design for $10.
They often get what they want, give or take two layers.

I just can't help but think that if these couples work on their marriage at least half as hard as they work on their wedding, more marriages will last a lifetime.



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The first wedding I ever experienced in California is that of Kris. When I met her, she was already with Robbie and it was already serious. When they announced they were getting married, we weren’t really surprised. We also weren’t surprised that the four (five because Lady Gaga was still hanging out with us) of us will be her bridesmaids.

The first order of the day was a wedding gown. 

I have always liked Santee Alley. It’s the shopping center of Los Angeles bouncing with smaller local brands and manufacturer’s outlet. This is where rejects of elite brands get sold and excess raw materials for high fashion brands are put out for almost nothing.

This is the place to go if you want lots of good stuff and no budget to match it.

Going there to shop is an experience in itself. There is something majestically enthralling about walking through the street of pre-greatness. There’s something about being a part of raw beauty. I know that for some people, fashion and beauty is superficial or juvenile. Not for me. I think creating something beautiful whether it is meant to be worn or of to be displayed or used for other divine purposes. 

Come to think of it, nothing around and in us is naturally beautiful. Those beautiful stars are violent balls of fire so lethal and powerful, it can destroy an entire planet on contact. The beautiful blue shade of our sky is nothing but a result of sun’s light bouncing off floating dust invisible to the naked eye. 

Our own skin, no matter the amount of collagen and organic lotion we put on it looks like a disgusting spider web under the microscope. I wanted to burn myself alive the first time I saw it. Everything around us, including ourselves, is ugly in its truest form. Somehow, life or God or the circumstances that made us (depending on what you believe) made everything appear beautiful in our eyes because it's the only way we can bear everything.

Beauty is a necessity. Beauty is the only way we survive. 

If only I have the energy to make some effort on myself, I’d probably be married by now.

When Kris told us that we were going to Santee Alley to accompany her to look for her wedding dress, I was very excited. Believe it or not, I am excited to see her get married and excited to be at the actual wedding.

By all accounts, the day started beautifully. No one was late which allowed us to take our time with breakfast in iHop. I am constantly on a diet but weekends is when I get to cheat and eat as much as I want. I ordered three layers of Pancakes and refilled my cup with coffee 5 times.

We chatted for more than an hour and I enjoyed the stories as much as my coffee and the weather. It was cloudy that day. I don't particularly like the heat so the absence of an angry sun put me in a good mood.

Around 10, we started traversing Santee Alley, store by store, dress by dress in search of the perfect one.

“I want something unique,” Kris said at the start of our adventure.

Unique it was.

We went old hollywood. She showed interest in some of the gowns and tried on several. She didn’t go for any of it claiming buying the first gown you see is like marrying the first guy you slept with.
Thinking she might want to go Great Gatsby, we went into another store but she thinks the era doesn’t complement her body shape.

I went for the Audrey Hepburn look, turtle neck, puff sleeves, and just below the knee. She tried on about four. The price fits her budget but she still didn’t go for it. We went on to visit about 10 more stores. Each was turned down.

It was during our very late lunch when Kris told us that she, in fact, already has a clear idea on what her wedding gown would look like. She wants it princess cut which slightly pissed me off because we spent the entire morning and half the afternoon looking for something different, going from old Hollywood to colorful Christian Siriano. She tried on 500 different dresses but didn't settle for any but kept on emphasizing that she wanted something different.

Apparently, all she wanted was the common princess cut. She didn’t tell us because she’s one of those girls who can't just state what she wants and would rather beat around the bush, leave crumbs on the path, in the hopes that people would pick it up and eventually realize what she really wants and give it to her. They find it is better to make people believe that what she wants is the other person’s idea instead of just downright asking for it. Even if it meant wasting the entire morning and part of the afternoon of four (five) other girls. 

I don’t know if they like the challenge of manipulating people or that they just feel unjustified about what they want. 

I think it's a waste of time because, most of the time, people actually know that the other person knew what she wanted all along and just refuses to say it. 

Today, it seemed that she ran out of choice. She kept on telling us she wanted something different and we kept on leading her to “different”. Considering it was about to rain and the lunch we were having was more like early dinner, she knew she needed to get the dress or she will have to wait another week and come to Santee Alley again alone. 

After coming clean, it took all but a 3-minute walk to find the right store. Oh, the hours we could have saved.

She did find what she wanted. It was a beautiful sweetheart neckline princess cut with all the right sequins in all the right places. It was THE wedding gown for her. All 5 of us knew it right at the moment she walked out of the dressing room, with hair still unmade, perspiring from having to change from her denim jeans, strapped bra, and tshirt to the petticoat and 8-layered wedding gown. Our breathes hitched and some cosmic energy must have sucked the air around us because it wasn’t until she twirled to ask if it looks good in it did we exhale.

We felt butterflies flapping the edges of their wings against our skin and with the weak ray of sunshine shining against the sequins of the gown, we just felt a strange but welcomed sense of peace and calm.

We knew it was for her.

We came to her one by one to take pictures and unnecessarily adjust the gown, her hair, and just about anything we could uselessly touch. I guess we needed time to recover.

But I’m an ass and also a little (a lot) pragmatic.

As joyful as we felt for Kris finding the gown for her wedding, something else floated in the air and no one dared to acknowledge it. It’s something heavy, scathing, and very shameful but nonetheless real.

And it was odd how I could so instantly identify that there was something in the midst of the peace and happiness we were all feeling to see Kris halfway through the fulfillment of her dream to get married.

I kinda knew what it was but in this one rare instance, I decided to shut it.



==================================



It wasn't until that night that I finally got the explanation and confirmation.

“I never had a wedding,” Shedry said.

“What do you mean you never had a wedding?” I asked.

“I mean exactly that. I never had a wedding,” Shedry said after our fifth pitcher of flavored soju.
Nobody bothered to say something. We were going to let this thing play by itself. Shedry’s marriage to Vince was still a little known territory to us. We know they have been married 12 years and that they have a son. The son is in the Philippines, Vince is in Italy, and Shedry is here. We didn’t really ask about their marriage but let her talk about it whenever she felt like it. She doesn’t usually feel like it. 

“Vince stayed in the Philippines for 5 years while I was working in Italy. It was a long distance relationship and it was far from ideal. We broke up after 2 years. After one year I learned that he got back with his ex-girlfriend and he got her pregnant. They never got married. I moved on and had other boyfriends. When I visited the Philippines, he told me that he wanted me back. My clock was ticking and I really wanted a child. After several failed relationships in Italy, I felt that he was ‘the one’. I got back with him. But, I couldn't leave my life in Italy behind. We both decided that I would spend another 2 years in Italy and save some money before he goes there and we will get married there. I'm not entirely sure what happened. I think he was just getting impatient and threatening to break up with me if we didn’t get married so we ended up getting married long distance as well.”

Philippines it's not exactly a state-of-the-art country. To this day, birth certificates can still be altered years after someone was born. I speak from experience. I am actually two years younger then the age that appears on my birth certificate. My parents felt that at age 5 I was ready to go into first grade. Philippines was pretty strict that kids will have to be 7-year-old to go to a public school so my father got a white out, changed the year of my birth and submitted the damn document. By June, I was attending school and lived my entire life with my flawed birth certificate. 

So, when Shedry told us that Vince sent her the marriage contract dated on the day she was in the Philippines via FedEx to her which she signed and sent back, everyone knew it was totally feasible and probable.

The plan was for them to make it easier for She to petition Vince to live in Italy without having to go back to the Philippines. It did make it easier for her to petition Vince but it didn’t make her parents happy.

She is an only daughter, her father’s only chance to walk down the aisle and to give away one of his children. Considering gay marriages is yet to be legal there, She was his only chance. She promised her parents they were going to get married after several years. They just needed time to save money.

But there is never enough time. There is never enough money. 

Vince’s job in Italy wasn’t exactly earning him the big bucks. It was minimum wage. That and the unbelievable Italian life standards and tempting Italian fashion (they are all so fashion forward) break banks. Foods are always cooked fresh, flowers are always freshly picked, and fashion is actually fashion. By the time they earn $5,000, summer came along and it is mandatory for everyone in Italy to leave the country and go on an exotic vacation. Staying in Italy means you’re a loser.

Yes, the country is actually empty during summer.

There were birthdays to celebrate and new clothes to buy. Vince also has an incredible collection of running shoes. Those seem more important than buying a wedding gown.

“Then I got pregnant. The baby became the priority,” She said.

“Do you want a wedding?” Uma asked.

No, she doesn’t. She would rather buy her husband the newest NMD and pay for his gym membership than gather her entire family to celebrate her union with Vince. She’s gulping down a pitcher of flavored soju to celebrate her life choices.

“It doesn't matter,” She said. “We have a beautiful kid and we're still together. Obviously, a wedding is not something that we need. We're still together.”

"And you're happy!" Anthonia said. "It's just a wedding. It doesn't matter."

It doesn’t. It shouldn’t... except it does. 


====================================


We met Vince several months after that night.

Although he isn’t exactly my type of good looking, I can see why Shedry fell in love with him. He is 5’6” at best but stands proud with his well-defined muscles. We now know that, at least, the money spent on gym membership was put to use. Shaved and clean-cut, he dresses the part of Shedry’s husband. He knows how to dress up and he keeps himself healthy and fit with organic and low-sodium meals. 

She decided to prepare dinner for everybody to meet Vince. Being the mother of the group, I wasn't really surprised with the amount of effort she exerted in preparing dinner for all of us and her husband. It was totally unnecessary. We could have all pitched in a dish and enjoy the night just the same but we’re all down for a home-cooked meal, even if it has low sodium.

She also warned us that Vince is a traditional Filipino husband. Traditional husband in my country means having a domesticated wife. That’s fine. It’s our country. It’s our culture and we understand, although we don’t necessarily agree.

What we didn’t expect was for Vince to be THAT traditional, if I can even call it that.

“She, I want more rice,” Vince said, interrupting Anthonia’s story about how she met the love of her life, the one, her soulmate. It’s the 5th soulmate this week. I don’t know how many souls she has.
Going back to She, she promptly stands up to get some rice.

I check Vince’s legs. Yup, intact. I turn to see and estimate the distance between the dining table and the kitchen. No more than 10 feet. Those well-defined thighs, I conclude, are useless. The asshole can’t get his ass off the chair to walk 20 steps and make use of his gym-honed muscles to get himself rice.

She returns with his plate full of rice and another serving bowl also full of rice. She hands it to Vince but Vince is too busy with his phone. So She has to put the plate down in front of him.

“Get me some fish sauce,” Vince asked She.

How about I cut your fuckin’ legs off that way we can justify what you’re doing? “Unbelievable,” I said.

“What?” Vince asked.

“Anthonia’s soulmate,” I said. “I hope her soulmate doesn’t like rice or fish sauce.”

“Yeah. Sodium is worse than sugar,” Vince said.

Laziness is worse than sodium and sugar put together.

Later that night, while all of us are being gracious enough to help in cleaning up and washing the dishes at the end of dinner, Vince  stands up and goes to the living room to watch something on Netflix.

Yo, the 50s called. They want their chauvinism back.

“She, you wanna cut back on your servitude a little?” I asked a day later.

“What servitude?” She asked as we make our way to the store.

“You attend to Vince too much. The guy can’t even walk to the kitchen to get his own rice,” I said. I didn’t really see how she reacted. I was driving, I had to keep my eyes on the road.

“Well, that's me. I do attend to everybody. I attend to you guys. Of course I'd attend to my husband,” she said.

Point taken. I made my point and she made hers.

I make a mental note to ask her to get me some rice next time.

It was a week after, however, when I felt something was really wrong. It was understandable that She has a better job and earns more than Vince. After all, Vince has only been in California for less than a month. It is admirable enough that he got himself a job.

But, Vince isn't exactly penniless. He got a good retirement package from the company he worked for in Italy.

AND being a traditional husband, I half expected for him to take financial responsibility of their family… or at least majority of it.

We had lunch with Vince one weekend. When I saw that Vince and She split the bill, I didn't really make too much of it. I don't think anybody in the group made too much of it. As I've said, Vince is new to the country.

After lunch, we proceeded to buy a week's worth of food. She mentioned that her grocery is now worth more than twice the usual.

“Well, there's two of you now,” Uma said.

“One hundred sixty five,” the cashier said.

Vince leaned in to She, “I already paid for half of lunch, I am not going to pay for the grocery.”

It’s hard but I decided to shut the hell up. I pretend to look away and not hear anything. Because even though I am normally an asshole with things like this, I am not an asshole when it comes to my friends. The least I can do is let She save face.


====================================


I like scarves. I like thick scarves. I like thick scarves wrapped around people in LA with their hands clasped or tucked in their pockets while they walk the paved sidewalks on their cute knee high boots. 

I love their chapped lips and the tall coffee cups they nestle in their hands to try and keep their body warm. I like their smokey breathes and their colorful coats and jackets.

I like LA the most in this chilly weather especially because it’s the Christmas season.

Back in the Philippines, Christmas starts as soon as the ‘ber’ months march in. My own father starts playing Christmas songs on September 1 and as soon as Halloween ends, the Christmas tree goes up. There’s a whole lot of religious traditions that have evolved into a commercial tradition which makes Filipinos love it even more.

There’s the 9 midnight masses that Catholics attend in the belief that they will get their wish if they do so. There’s the traditional Kris Kringle. Families, friends, officemates… whatever, exchange themed gifts daily until the day of the grand Christmas party with a grand exchange gift. There’s the caroling, family and friends reunion, and the midnight meal where families gather together for dinner to celebrate Christ’s birth at 12 midnight. Healthy habits be damned.

US doesn’t give a shit with any of those. You can attend all masses until your ears fall off but it is not interested in hearing about it. It is certainly not interested to hear about the amount of cooking you need to do for family members that will be spending Christmas with you.

So, we make do.

We make do with no federal holiday by filing PTOs and hope to all the deities our supervisors approve it. Nurses (which I am not, so freakin’ stop asking me already), unless they are senior nurses, skip it altogether because the $50/hour they will lose in earnings just to consume 5,000 calories isn’t worth it.

As mentioned, I am not a nurses. Uma, Kris, Anthonia, and She aren’t nurses. As unlikely as it may seem, we are a group of Filipina friends who aren’t nurses.

So, we get to get off work at 5PM and have weekends.

We also get to plan our annual Christmas dinner where we exchange gifts, eat as much as we want, and get drunk. It’s usually an all-girl affair and we were happy to see She come alone.

We set the price for the exchange gift at $50. Each of us prepared a wish list, knowing fully well that spending $50 for a gift on someone is doable rather than spending $50 on ourselves. The exchange gift was our excuse to buy that one thing we want for ourselves but couldn’t bring ourselves to do so because paying our rent, bills, and lawyers are the priorities. 

During Christmas, however, we give… and we receive.

“My parents and my daughter are visiting next year. I hope their visa gets approved,” I said. Every Christmas, we make a wish, one wish for the next year. It’s some sort of a game, a tradition we hope destiny will bless by making everything come true. 

“When?” Lady Gaga asked.

“October, maybe,” I said.

“We should plan a trip together because my parents are visiting next year too,” Lady Gaga said.

“I don’t think our parents like the same things. You said your parents like visiting construction areas, my parents don’t really give a damn about the materials that were used to pave LA road,” I said.

“No, we’ll find something,” Lady Gaga said.

We will so not.

“LA won the Olympics so there’ll be more construction going on in the next 8 years. I heard 30 new train stops will be constructed in LA. Your parents will enjoy it here,” Anthonia said, smiling and astounded at discovering some people are actually interested in construction areas.

“You are so lucky,” Shedry said. "All you have to do is lead them to the nearest train station. Just bring one of those portable chairs and they’ll have the time of their life!”

“I wish my parents are like that. Give them cement and watch them float to cloud 9,” Kris said, starting to laugh.

“Cement? They’ll be happy with nails and a hammer,” Uma said, joining in. 

“We own a property development company in the Philippines,” Lady Gaga said, between laughter.

“I can make their itinerary right now,” Shedry said. “One train station stop under construction every four hours.”

“Oh hey, but seriously. If your parents are here on the day of my wedding, they’re invited,” Kris said. 
“And that is my wish. I just want my wedding to be wonderful.”

Kris pulls her leg up and firmly places her feet on the sofa. I am the only one who lives alone. My place has become the official party place.

“We’re helping. Of course it will be beautiful,” Uma said. “You might want to change that. You get one wish.”

“Safe travel for my parents when they come here for my wedding?” Kris said.

“That is so boring,” Anthonia said.

“That is not boring! Those are my parents!” Kris said.

“Oh shooos, they’ll be fine. That’s a given. Like, hello!” Anthonia said. “Like… you should have made a better wish.”

“There is nothing better than the safety of my parents!” Kris blurted out, ears turning red. Anthonia effortlessly gets into Kris’ nerves. It’s entertaining to watch.

“Of course,” Anthonia said. “But… what I mean is… it’s one Christmas wish, you should wish for something cool… I am seeing someone now. He is a model. God, I feel… really really really really…”

“We get it,” I said.

“I really feel like this is the one and oh my god! He is so hot!” Anthonia said.

“This is more 'the one' that the other 'the ones' you met before?” Uma asked.

“For sure. Oh my god, it doesn’t even compare,” Anthonia said. “Like… we have done it five times.”

“Five times?” Shedry said. “So, you’ve only started going out.”

“No. That’s not what I mean. I mean, we’ve done it five times in one night, In a span of three hours to be exact,” Anthonia said.

“Hot damn!” I said.

“Yup!” Anthonia said. “And you can’t blame me. He’s a model. He is so so so so…”

“We fuckin’ get it,” I said.

“So… hot!” Anthonia said.

“And you want me to change my wish to finding a man?” Kris asked.

“No. You already have a man. I just think you should wish for something more cool... like a million dollars or something,” Anthonia said before gulping down a bottle of Angry Orchard.

“Are you rushing to somewhere or something?” Uma asked, as she watches Anthonia finish one bottle in one go. 

“It’s really good. Try it,” Anthonia said offering a bottle to Uma.

“One million dollars?! One million dollars? That’s more cool than my parents’ safety?” Kris said, the redness has spread to her face.

“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about when she’s sober. You expect her to know what she’s talking about after 7 bottles of beer?” Shedry asked, searching through the gifts we put in a corner. We haven’t exchanged gifts. “I swear to God if this gift is mine, I’ll kill the person giving this to me.”

She is holding what looks like a pair of shoes… wrapped in tissue, held by a ribbon.

“What the fuck is that?” Uma asked.

“Not that I am a genius but I will bet my ass that’s a pair of shoes,” I said.

“We drew lots two months ago for this exchange gift. You bitches had two months to prepare for this gift and you can’t even buy a ready made gift box in Daiso?” Shedry asked, already holding out a laughter.

“What made you think it’s yours?” Kris said.

“Because I’m the only one who asked for shoes!” Shedry said.

“Don’t assume!” Anthonia said.

“Oh my god! This is yours. I mean… I’m your baby? You fuckin’ wrapped your gift with a tissue paper?” She said, eyes wide.

“No!” Anthonia said.

“Dude, we’re going to be opening our gifts soon. What’s the use in denying?” Uma asked.

“Don’t judge the book by its cover!” Anthonia said, saliva somersaulting like a fuckin’ Cirque du Soleil acrobat.

"Or the gift by its wrapping paper... or the lack of it," I said.

Uma can't even add to the banter. The fuckin' gift looks horrendous. 

“Oh my god, it’s her!” Kris said. “You have time to buy all the clothes from Ross and you can’t buy a decent gift bag?”

“Why do I have to waste my time wrapping it when the content is what you will look for?” Anthonia said, spiteful.

“So you wrap it in a fuckin’ tissue paper? Do you have any left for your ass?” Uma asked.

“I have bidet!” Anthonia said, spreading her hand in frustration.

The banter went on even after we have each opened our gift. We got what we asked for, a colored printer for me, shoes for Shedry, Super Dry jacket for Uma, make up for Lady Gaga, and a Pharmacy book for Kris. She said she will review for the board after her wedding. 

The crispy laughter and drunken joy reverberate through the night. The year coming to a close to five (six) women whose journeys have only just began. None of us had any idea of what 2016 had in store for us and we sure are glad we didn’t because if we did, none of us would have been able to laugh that loud… that easily… that carelessly that night.



====================================


We have barely seen She since his husband arrived in the US. We expected it, though. When she mentioned that her husband is the paragon of a traditional Filipino man, we knew he expected She to come home right after work.

I just didn’t know She would evaporate like fart into thin air. We have, in fact, seen more our families living in the Philippines through Skype than She who was living 3 blocks away from where I was.

“Okay,” Vince said when I called him to tell him we were planning to surprise She on her birthday.

Our earnings are not even halfway decent. A master's degree from the number one university in the Philippines or more than a decade of managerial experience in the Philippines doesn’t mean a rat’s ass in the U.S. Most of us were getting paid $10 per hour. A McDonald’s service crew gets paid more than we were. So, when we say we're going to throw somebody a party, it actually means each of us bring something that we can share over lunch or dinner. It’s all we could afford. And it's enough.

Besides, it’s the least we can do for the mother of the group.

“Do what you want. Just let me know when and where and we’ll show up,” Vince said. 

You’re not invited. “Okay,” I said before hanging up.

“He said he’ll be there, right?” Uma said.

“Uh huh,” I said, nodding.

“I told you he’d assume he’s invited,” Uma said, shrugging. 

“He is She’s husband,” Anthonia said.

“And he is making sure we don’t forget,” Kris said.

We walked into her apartment that weekend with balloons, food, and gifts in hand singing a horrendously out of tune ‘Happy Birthday’.

It wasn't until we finished our third bottle of wine and Vince made his way towards the bathroom did and Anthonia brave to ask what Vince gave Shedry as a gift.

“Vince is not big on gifts,” Shedry said.

“Oh, okay I said that's fine, I guess,” I said. In fact, it was really fine. After all, my own father isn't big on giving gifts. In fairness to him, he does give all of his earnings and all of his money to my mom. So, it is up to my mom to buy whatever she wants considering she only gives my dad a daily allowance. It goes without saying, she can decide for herself. As we already established that's not the case between Shedry and Vince.

What Shedry didn't mention that night is that when she said Vince is not big on giving gifts, what she actually meant is that Vince has never given her any gift except for a t-shirt Vince bought from Forever 21 because it was 3 for $10 on sale. He gave Shedry one of the three pieces.



====================================



Kris is very stingy. It's almost funny. She never lets go of anything that concerns money, not even a cent. I am not rich but I never cared for small amounts. It won’t make me rich. Kris is on the opposite spectrum. 

So, when we met her for dinner one time slouched on her notebook with her pen and a calculator, computing the expenses that she anticipates she will be spending for the wedding we weren't really surprised.

She told us that Robbie and she are putting $300 aside every payday for their wedding. In fact, they opened a joint account. By the end of the year, they’d be able to pool enough money for her dream garden reception.

Unlike American tradition, the the man actually spends for the wedding in the Philippines. Because we have already entered the modern era, this is not being strictly followed. Most of the time, the girl and the guy pool their money to spend for their own wedding.

According to her computation, she can afford to have a ceremony at the church she has always wanted and still rent a beautiful reception area, preferably one with a pool and beautiful garden.  She doesn’t want to spend on a wedding organizer so it is the four (five) of us that are in-charged of putting the wedding together.

Uma is a professional event organizer. It’s not really a challenge for us. It took Uma all but two months to find 5 possible venues, sources of flowers, 5 caterers, and 5 videographers/photographers Kris can choose from. Uma had everything organized, including sample portfolio and date availability.

“Robbie can't give his share this month,” Kris said.

Let me guess. Either his mother or his brother got into some sort of trouble and he needs to pay for it. “Oh why?” I asked.

“Robbie’s brother doesn't work full time. When his brother is short, Robbie foots the bill for his share in the apartment, car, and insurance,” Kris said, not looking up from her calculator and notebook.

Robbie actually pays for the car and the insurance monthly, doesn't he? “Oh, that's too bad,” I said.

“Well I'm sure it's a one-time thing. He’ll pay his share next month,” Anthonia said. “What are you going to do now?”

“I don't have a choice,” Kris said. “I'm going to have to cover for him this month but he did say he's going to make up for it next month. I guess, I will just push back some of the things that I want to pay for the wedding to next month,” Kris said.

He is not going to contribute to the wedding money again until the wedding.

“Okay but then three of the five wedding venues that we found, we will lose it because they need a down payment this month if you want to book them,” Uma said.

Kris doesn't like this. She knows that delays mean higher bills. Higher bills mean she will have to compromise her dream wedding.

“Okay, that's fine. I don’t have a choice,” Kris said. “What are the two options and are they okay to wait one more months for the deposit?”

Both venues were beautiful and they were okay to wait one more month for the deposit but the next month came and went and Robbie didn’t give his share.

“Again?” Uma asked as she takes a sip of her organic coffee. We are right across where she works in Downtown, a coffee shop known for being “not Starbucks but almost as good”. The owner keeps on saying she is offended by it because Starbucks sucks. I agree. 

“They paid for our plane tickets to the Philippines,” Kris said.

“You’re going home?” She asked, settling beside me with her macchiato.

“Yes, after our wedding. I mean, of course I need to get my green card first,” she said. “I was told it will take me no more than three months.”

“Woah! Congratulations!” Uma said. “Take lots of pictures. Let us know just how worse traffic has become.”

“I will… so… they decided they’ll buy their tickets way in advance so they can save. His brother said he’ll pay Robbie back and he has not,” Kris said. “He always does that. He makes Robbie pay for something and does not pay him back.”

“You have to live with it,” Uma said. “You’re marrying him and his family. He made that clear when he proposed.”

“No, I think things will change,” Lady Gaga said.

“Of course it will. Robbie told me, very clearly, I will be his priority after we get married,” Kris said.

“He has never been able to say no to his mom and brother when it comes to money. You think that will change?” Uma said.

“Hey, don't blow it out of proportion. It's just bad timing. Concentrate on the positive side. At least, you're getting married,” She said.

“That’s two bad timing two consecutive months,” Uma said.

“His priorities will change after we get married. We are going to start building a family,” Kris said, hopeful.

“Men just need time to grow,” She said. “You have to remember that he has been single all his life. He's not really familiar with how things work when you're already a couple. You just need to take it slow and talk about it.”

“Well, he is an American Citizen. He will petition you. That’s worth a whole fuckin’ lot,” Uma said, trying to lighten the mood.

I have no doubt in my mind Shedry wants the best for Kris, her motherly instincts kicking in instantly with Kris’ wedding in sight. She is the undeclared “mother” of the group and just like any good mother, she wants her children to have things she was never able to experience.

Like a wedding.

But the thing about giving advices is that it is never totally objective. You will always be jaded by your own experience.

The thing about taking advices is that you favor the ones that will fulfill your own desires.

“I’ll just… settle for this venue we found. I like those venue you found, Uma but…” Kris said. “I think what we found will fit our budget and when Robbie gives his share next month, we’ll be able to give a down payment.”

Robbie never gave his share the next month and the month after that. He never gave his share for the wedding, ever.



F (a novel)




Fairlane Raymundo

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