The year was 1971. Marcos was a year away from declaring martial law. 1971 seemed, then, a more innocent time. We were both representing our colleges at a leadership conference in Zamboanga City, Philippines. He was studying marine engineering at the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy and I was in my last year at Bayambang Teachers College. A city boy, he had grown up in Manila, and I grew up in the rural province of Pangasinan. He was already living away from home and had already completed a few apprenticeships. I had never been too far from my house. It was an honor to be my college’s delegate, but the primary reason I was interested in attending the conference was that that trip to southern Philippines was my first time on a plane.
Since I was a young girl, I had dreamt of flying, of traveling to places I had read about. St. Petersburg and Cleveland and Tokyo were equally exotic to me. This dream of living and working abroad at international schools is the reason I became a teacher. With the image of my first flight in mind and my mother’s encouragement, I went.
The first time I met Him, I was waiting on one of the conference buses when he sat next to me and bought me maruya, a Filipino snack of deep fried bananas. On the waxy paper that held the maruya, he asked me to write my name. I didn’t think much of his asking me to scribble my name on a piece of paper. I was sure he wanted to be friends. When he found out where I was from, he told me that he knew a girl from there. It was a small town. She lived next door.
A couple days later, while everyone was out enjoying each other’s company, I was back in my room, which I shared with several other women. I missed my mother. I was homesick. I had a 103-degree fever. He came in, with a guitar and his PMMA sweatshirt, which he gave me. I was shivering even in his sweatshirt. He began strumming chords on his guitar and asked me to sing. I told him I didn’t sing. He put the guitar down and talked to me until my roommates returned from their night out on the town.
The next night was the conference party, and he asked me to promise him the first dance. I kept it. Several men asked me to dance, and I said no. I had told my new friend that I’d save my first dance for him. Some would say that I was too literal and stuck too closely to the letter of my promise. Perhaps. But I was being a friend, a friend who was becoming increasingly annoyed with the fact that he did not ask me to dance until the last song.
I shook my head, no.
The next morning, he ignored me, even as I tried to start a conversation with him over breakfast. To get back at him for not talking to me, I got on a bus in Zamboanga City, a zip code which I didn’t know my way around at all. My goal was to get lost. Somehow, in my twenty-year old mind, I imagined that if he didn’t see me at dinner, he would blame himself. He would understand that his silence at breakfast resulted in my getting lost in a strange town and missing dinner.
I didn’t know that he had stepped onto the next bus and followed me into the city, just to make sure that I found my way back.
They will be married 39 years this January. They lived abroad for more than 27 years and have traveled to almost 30 countries.