You never know what tomorrow brings. Sometimes people tell me, â€œPopong, you work, you own three properties for rent, you live alone, no vacation, no love, no nothing. What are you going to do with all that money?â€
Ha! It is very easy to fool people. They already assume so many things about me just because of my lifestyle and what I own. I donâ€™t really have anything because I invested all my early income to support my family back home which is what the other 99 percent of OFWs do in their lives. Donâ€™t tell me we all dreamt of working our asses abroad as a means to get loaded with money. The money was meant for the people in dire needs back home, heroic and noble, though there is always that one percent who just wanted to work abroad..
Loida, my coworker is a Nurse who still works at 66 years old. I have known her for at least ten years and she always lands in trouble because of her meticulous ways which slows her treatment of patients. I used to observe her, and couldnâ€™t help compare her appearance now to those of our earlier years when we were both young and she carried a wrinkle free face, jet black hair as thick as my accent. These days, her face is sagging, her hair has thinned so much I can see her scalp from behind. She had worked in different units all the way from Labor to ICU to Tele and it felt like she got demoted everytime she moved, compared to regular Filipino Nurses who got promoted to management the older and more experienced they became. Loida used to be brisk, no one else could be as hard working as she was but on certain days, like today, her agitated patients are screaming:
â€œWhere is my pain med?â€
â€œI have been calling for hours to use the bathroom!â€
â€œNobody has fed me and my tray has turned cold.â€
â€œI am soaking wet in my urine.â€
The more they screamed the more Loida got rattled. Sheâ€™s been sitting at her desk wrapping a call to the MD to verify meds. Her eyes almost filled with tears, she looks for the aides who are either busy with other patients or â€¦ she stares at me helplessly. â€œPopong, please.â€
I walked around the unit making sure those who were stuck with their wet diapers were changed, the ones who wanted to get to the bathroom were assisted, and those who needed to eat, I tried to at least place the tray close to their beds. This I did without resentment.
My feeling is â€“ Loida should have retired by now. She had been doing Nursing for forty years and it is time for younger Nurses to take over.
â€œHay Popongâ€, she sighed when we met in the hallway, â€œIt is hard to make money.â€
â€œLoida, arenâ€™t you supposed to be retired by now?â€ We have this direct raw conversation all the time without any offense taken.
â€œHow can I retire Popong? A brother back home needs dialysis. You know I donâ€™t have any children. The few nieces and nephews I put to college never graduated. Some got pregnant so now they still call me to help them. On top of that my mother is 90 years old and she lives with me. I have bills to pay for both of us.â€
I am not sure if Loida tells the truth, for I heard rumors she loves going to local casinos. But regardless of her responsibilities or vices, I thought it is cruel to subject herself to gruelling labor at an age when she should be enjoying her retirement instead of serving people yelling at her while she is in near tears looking for help. Everyone should be kind to themselves. Unless, of course, she enjoys what she does or she saves money for gambling. Which makes it all the more ridiculous to keep enslaving herself.
Loida and I have a running contentious argument in the correct way of helping our respective families back home. I always meant business with mine. I was the kind who would demand the kids I support to produce good grades and graduate on time. Should they fail, all the financial support terminate abruptly, a threat I issued constantly; to keep them kids on their toes. I did not mean the threat of course, but I made it sound real enough to make them work hard at school, earn good grades and pass their boards on time.
After they graduated, I promptly stopped the financial support as my way of forcing them to look for jobs and support their own families. This did not happen smoothly of course, there were collateral damages and effects that I somehow expected. It was a shock, especially for the parents, to see the money they got used to receiving suddenly stop. The kids pushed themselves into jobs for a living, now that the burden to take care of themselves and their families was shifted to them. From the kind brother and uncle, I became the devil incarnate overnight. I became a serious threat rather than a loving supporter. I returned home with them scampering away out of fear I might get displeased; I was that monster ready to inflict a severe punishment if he got unhappy with them. It broke my heart to be viewed this way but I knew it was the only way. I wanted them to survive without me and this was the only way I could do it.
I had reasons for being harsh. I worked seven days a week dragging my body to come up with their tuitions and food on the table; I was also paying for the medicines and hospital bills of my aging parents at the same time. I was a perpetual hard worker with no savings. I joked that staring at my paycheck was like viewing a corpse. It was always dead on arrival, used up the moment it landed on my direct deposit. And that made me harshest on those who received it. If I worked so hard for my paycheck, I made sure those who benefited from it worked as hard as I did.
I did not care whether I was loved or respected or treated with reverence, I did not give a shit about that drama. I just wanted those I helped to survive the very many travails of life, my ultimate goal was for them to be able to stand on their feet when I no longer possess the ability to help them. It was like a race for time, they must succeed while I could still help. Their failures will be permanent because the person who could save them, myself, will become useless someday, when my body could no longer work as hard as I could and produce the kind of money that could help them to survive.
In my childhood, I had witnessed in my town the fathers who left for abroad to work as construction laborers all the way from Asia to America to Europe and the Middle East. They enslaved themselves for the mighty dollar they sent to their families; on the receiving end, their wives shopped everyday, and their kids partied like instant millionaires. The partying produced unwanted pregnancies among the girls and the boys got magnetized to vices and idleness and sloth. When these fathers returned now old and bent due to the heavy toll of their labor, they came home to a wife who lived like a queen with two maids and children who had their own children without jobs or education or skills. These men had nothing left. The whole family crumbled into a state worse than before. Ha! That outcome will not happen in my shift. I donâ€™t give a damn if I become my familyâ€™s worst nightmare so long as they are eating and working and living independently and securely. I did this for their survival, not their love. Damn love.
That is counter to Loida who believed in earning the love of her family without conditions. She is willing to work as hard as she could, for as long as she can still drag her feet because she savors herself as the noble family savior, the sacrificial lamb, the angel and saint, the one whom they treat like a queen, embraced and pampered when she visits home. She confesses that some of those whom she provided tuition got pregnant or never graduated at all, still they keep on calling her for help, even now when they have already produced their own family. That really makes me mad you could see smoke out of my ears. I saw her story played out before.