Friday, January 5, 2007

Naida's Story (as told to Anna): NAIDA OF THE OLD SCHOOL

I married an incurable womanizer; three years after marriage Jimmy hopped from one relationship to another looking for something I'm not sure he ever found. First, it was another doctor like him, then a nurse, then another doctor, then another nurse .. ad nauseum. All of these hurt terribly but I rationalized it was me that he came to. It was I who was queen of his home. I was so naively young and inexperienced about the ways of the world and busy mothering. I was perfectly willing to live with his little flings. My experience was that they hardly ever lasted. Just when I had wisened up to one, it would be over and another one was just about to begin. I thought Jimmy was sick that way. The way some other men might have asthma or migraine. He is chronically afflicted: an attack comes, then subsides; then another and another. Was he insatiable or simply vulnerable?

My children -- three of them married -- thought I was hopelessly oldfashioned. They called me a martyr who would never be cannonized. But my eldest daughter was more perceptive. She told me one day: "Mama, I know you have no choice. Even if you wanted to leave Daddy, you are so dependent on him in every way." Emotionally, socially, financially -- Lizzie meant. That's Lizzie -- she understands more than she cares to let on.

Right, I was just a school librarian; he is a doctor with a thriving practice. Thanks to him, my children went to the best schools, got to travel, enjoyed the good life. If I left him, my children would have to settle for less, much less -- unless I left my children to him. Which was unthinkable.

In a sense, I am a product of old values. In the '70s, a failure of marriage implied a failure of the wife. A wife was supposed to eat dirty bread and like it. A wife was supposed to take final responsibility for the marriage. A wife was supposed to preserve the family at all cost. Yes, I reckon I was old school. I flinched at the thought of going back to my home town in Palawan with the stigma of "SEPARATED WIFE" written in bold letters on my forehead.

I was a campus belle. I played the field, in a manner of speaking. At FEU, I was chosen muse of the varsity basketball team. I went steady with the captain ball. At a town fiesta the summer my athelete-boyfriend was away playing in the Olympics. I met a tall and handsome medical student from UST. That was Jimmy.

There is something in the white uniform of a medical student that sends a girl's heart hippity-hop. Jimmy would drop by our school library, where I was working as student assistant. "Psst, Naida," my friends would whisper with a wink, "your 'white man' is here now." When I strolled the campus with my white man, I felt like floating on air. In turn, Jimmy relished the idea of courting a librarian. When he had to explain his late hours, he simply told his mom he had to go to the library. She had no way of knowing he went to the library of another school.

Ours was a whirlwind courthsip. "Daig niya ang basketball player sa man-to-man guarding." I was 19, just about to graduate, when we got secretly married. Jimmy was about to start his medical residency.

Jimmy is basically a good man, who loves his children to distraction. He is quiet, gentle, undemonstrative. I guess he loved me in his own way, except that he had this incurable affliction. Reckoning that on the balance, I could have done worse, I was determined to make our marriage work. I closed my eyes to his little affairs -- sure that in my otherwise "charmed" life, his girls were just little mosquitoes that hover, annoy, and distract but in the end may simply be swat or shoeed away.

Nothing ever prepared me for Sarah. Not the mosquitoes -- oh, no, not those lightwieghts. She was a big one -- vicious and ambitious. I almost got swat by her.

An anonymous call alerted me to this new woman in Jimmy's life. Another nurse, the caller said. So, what's new ?! Oh, but this time, not a practising nurse but a medical representative. Oh, one of those, I thought. It was the nature of their jobs to pander to and flirt with doctors. Oh, well, since the caller gave me a number, I might as well call her up The voice -- somehow unagitated -- agreed to meet me at the Army and Navy Club, where Jimmy and I were members.

When I first saw her, I felt a teeny-weeny pinch of fear. A tall, well-built American mestiza, she looked too poised and in-control for her 21 years. But her words soothed me. Naku, Ma'am. How can you think that? I'm just doing my job. Si Dok, he's just a good client. Ay, Ma'am. My parents are so strict. They brought me up well. They'd kill me if I did anything like what you're thinking.

I left the club somewhat assured that the anonymous call was a false alarm. Meanwhile, my antennae were up. The way my husband was carrying on was far from assuring. He took to borrowing our son Mark's clothes and affected a young man's long hair and sideburns. When I rode in his car, I got a whiff of a jasmine scent, definitely not mine, for I detested jasmine. Once, I found a hankie that was neither mine nor my daughters'. Most of all, Jimmy was coming home late, later, or not at all.

Getting swat

I was in a cab with a cousin one day when I happened to spot my husband's car from the opposite direction. Traffic was heavy on Espana Street that noon. So vehicles were crawling. In a few seconds, I got out of the cab, ran to his car and climbed into it through the backdoor. I pounced on the girl -- berated her for lying ... called her names ... told her: "Sayang ka."

This time, she didn't try to dodge. "Uso naman ito," she said.

My husband took her side. "Don't be afraid, he consoled her. "I am with you all the way."

What do you do when you are about to get swat? You call for reinforcements, naturally. I phoned Lizzie, my daughter, to join us ahora y mismo. She came in another cab, ready for battle. As I bluffed about lawyers and legal separation proceedings, Lizzie attacked Sarah: "Huwag kang umasa. My parents will never separate. My mother will be Mrs. Soliman forever."

Perhaps Jimmy has gone soft in the head. Perhaps he really fell for her. Na-truelove, so to say. Perhaps, at 51, he thought he'd make this last hurrah an affair to remember. Or perhaps Sarah was really a heavy-weight. Perhaps she is gifted and talented in the love department in ways unfamiliar to me. Whatever the reason, Jimmy was hopelessly enamored. He brought her a condominium unit. I've never known Jimmy to go go that far.

In the eight years that the affair lasted, I tried everything to stop it. When I couldn't, I tried mightily to stop me from hurting.

I sent Sarah a picture of my family. "This is the family you are about to break," I wrote on the back. She returned it to sender without reply.

I talked to Sarah's father, who promised to talk to his daughter. Nothing happened.

I sent her letters -- alternately sweet talking, wheedling, pleading, threatening. In turn, she wrote me vicious replies. One of them read in part: "Even if you killed yourself trying to look young and beautiful, you will just succeed in looking pathetic. If I were you, magpatuka na lang ako sa ahas."

I had access to painkillers -- Jimmy had all these medical samples lying around. One night, when the hurt was so intense, I took an overdose of Madrax. In the twilight moments between waking and sleep, I felt I had to go to the bathroom. Too drugged to walk or crawl, I crept. Otherwise, I would have defecated on my bed.

If you think I had hit bottom then, think again. My grief was a bottomless pit. I turned to bottled spirits, drank till I puked. One morning, Jimmy came home and found me incoherent and reeking of alcohol. He hugged me in remorse as -- quite uncontrolably -- I alternately laughed and cried. The next day, he came home as late as before. He and Sarah didn't skip a beat.

I looked for other painkillers. Hare Krishna, Zen Buddhism, Mt. Banahaw, Science of the Mind and Man. I took all these routes, Lizzie in tow. They were effective analgaesics. Like their encapsulated and bottled sisters, they were good for only a few hours, but by then I began to soul-search -- go inwards.

If you need them, they will come

If you need them they will come. I mean people. Friends and strangers. Support systems. They helped me cope.

One of them was Mr. Bondoc. He was also a regular at the Army and Navy Club where I took my son swimming. I didnt know him from Adam, but he sought me out. He said he was compelled to talk to me because though I smiled, I had very sad eyes.

Mr. Bondoc became my listening post and best friend, until the time of his death two years ago. At the time of our meeting, he was also trying to get over an unfortunate marriage. He rationalized that with him, it was bound to happen because he was gay. But he had good vibes about my marriage, he said.

He advised me not to do anything drastic. He drew this wonderful analogy between an extramarital affair and and aircraft. "When an aircraft has just taken off, there's nothing you can do to stop it. The energy is just tremendous. Wait until it is up on the air and has settled. That is the time you can force it to land."

"In the meantime, Naida, while you're waiting for the plane to land, equip yourself. Gather your ammunitions. You owe that to your children.

On Mr. Bondoc's advice, I gathered all our savings, bonds and stock certificates and sent it to a sister in the United States. I withdrew all our bank accounts and put it in my name. In time, Jimmy found out. Though he raved and ranted, I stood my ground. It was an insurance for my kids. It was also a warranty for me. He couldn't leave me then -- I had all the money. And even if he did I felt secure that my children would not be deprived.

Meanwhile, Sarah's attacks escalated. She'd leave an indecent trail of her person -- now a panty hose, then a pelota sock, then a hairpin. Our car often reeked of jasmine. The phone rang at midnight -- it was she pretending to be a patient.

"Enough is enough," Mr. Bondoc cried, pre-empting my anger. He encouraged me to file disboardment proceeding with the Professional Regulation Commission against Sarah. After praying over the decision, I did. My case was strong, because of all the letters she sent me. And I could charge concubinage because I could show the courts their love nest.

All hell broke loose when Jimmy found that I filed the case at the PRC. "If you dont withdraw the case, you'll never see me again." With all the courage I could muster, I told him to do what he wanted but that I would never withdraw.

When the sheriff served Sarah the subpoena in her office, Jimmy rushed by her side. But in a few months, she lost her nursing license, then her job.

In six months, Sarah had left for the United States.

End of affair? Guess again.

My husband carried his torch for his mistress over the long distance. He burned the wires to hear her voice. He found ways to fly to the U.S. twice a month to renew their passion. The all-expenses paid medical conventions abroad were heaven-sent to him. That I sometimes travelled with him was just a piddling inconvenience. It was on such trip that I met another stranger that influenced my life.

What's your problem?

I met her in a connecting flight beween San Francisco and Miami, en route to Sao Paolo, Brazil, the site of yet another medical convention. We had just spend five days in San Francisco with Jimmy's sister. I had also just then firmed up my decision to leave Jimmy once and for all.

Louise, an elderly American, was seated between Jimmy and me in the plane. She told me that she lived in a nursing home, but that she was being taken by her only daughter on a vacation to Miami -- an annual treat she never fails to give her. She recounted her past -- her daughter was a love child whom she was tempted to abort but chose to have instead. She never married, she said. How she would have regretted it if she got rid of her baby, she exclaims, "...for look, she's my greatest joy now."

Then Louise asked where I was bound for. I told her and then pointed to my sleeping husband. "Oh, how nice," she said. "I hope you'll have a wonderful time." "I dont think so," I retorted, "because we're on the verge of a breakup. I told her I had decided to go to a lawyer once we got home.

But why, what's your problem?" she asked.

"Well, we spent five days in San Francisco ith his sister. He disappeareed for three days to be his mistress in another state."

"What's your problem," she said again.

"Well, he's been carrying on with her back home for years and years. If she didnt lose her license, they would've been still together. He's so crazy over her that he goes to visit her every so often."

"Fine. But what's your problem?" she persisted.

"Oh, can't you see? It's hopeless. I have to leave him."

"I can't see that you have a problem right now. Your husband is with you, isn't he? At the moment, the other woman has a problem, not you."

That jolted me.

Where did Louise come from? She shouldn't have been sitting beside me -- she was a wheelchair-bound invalid who should be occuping a special seat in the plane. The stewardess who met her was astonished too that the ground staff did not issue her a special aisle seat. But there she was at the very moment I needed someone to drive some sense into me.

Back in the Philippines, Louise's words resounding, I convinced myself I had no problem. I decided to stay in the marriage. I have survived all these years. What else is there to fear when I have gone through hell.

I met Sarah one last time. She came back for a short visit and insisted on seeing me. By then, my husband had taken up with another woman, one of the lightweights who didn't really threaten my happiness.

Sarah was crying. "Bakit ganun? No. 2 na nga ako, kinakaliwa pa. Talk to him, Ma'am. You're the wife. You have the right."

I told her to write off Jimmy from her life to clear the way for a new man. Before she left, I could not resist a parting shot. "Invite me to your wedding. I'd love to be your Ninang." We hugged each other then.

Growing old together

At 70, Jimmy is still practising medicine, but he has slowed down. Does he still cheat? Not to my knowledge. I'm not really sure, for I have stopped following him around. I am 65, retired as a librarian, but a starting a second career as trainer on value education and advocate for the green movement.

I surrounded myself with friends with whom I went dancing, outing, swimming. Years ago, I joined the Ramon Mitra presidential candidacy campaign, which put to use my organization skills. More recently, I joined the Toast Master's Club, which developed my gift for public speaking.

When I let go all my fears of losing my husband, I found myself. Where before, I revolved around him, I have now found other orbits. No longer as needful of his "sun," I shone on my own.

I lead a full life these days. Last week, I was invited to talk on parenting by a parent-teachers association. Next weekend, I'll be in Baguio to join a foruim on the green movement. When I return, Jimmy may or may not be waiting. Either way, I no longer hold my breath because he comes home eventually.

My daughter, Lizzie is, as usual right. I will be Mrs. Jimmy Soliman all my life. Honestly, I feel more "married" today than ever before. Years ago, Jimmy and I promised each other that come what may we will grow old together. We are doing that right now.

Whenever I see our numerous grandchildren flock around him nowadays, I know for sure that I have made the right decisions.

(Watch out for other stories of hurting and healing by Anna)