Friday, October 7, 2011

Thirty-One Years Later

What a wonderful and life-affirming experience it is to spend time together with my dear classmates from the Arellano University College of Nursing. We might have led separate lives, gone on to different pathways, but this last week-end, we bonded together again. Remembrances of clinical rotations at V. Luna, QI, Mental Hospital. Of Ever Emporium and Shakeys. Of terror professors and instructors. Of tests we've hurdled and of skits we've played for our patients. We've come a long way, baby.

October 1, 2011 was the 1st Global Reunion of the Arellano University College of Nursing held at the SouthPoint Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. From our school grounds at Legarda, Sampaloc, Manila and thirty-one years later, to the bright neon lights amidst the concrete jungle of one-armed bandits at Las Vegas. Those slot machines do not interest me at all; I am an oddity in the midst of hungry-looking folks. But here at last, alumni from our college gathered in posh SouthPoint Hotel to celebrate. The excitement in the air was palpable. Anybody who looked Filipino was probably an alumni or a spouse entrusted with the delicate task of taking pictures.

Our AUCN FaceBook group was created by Ampy after Althea who's in the Philippines started the search with a photo of fresh-faced and bright-eyed young men and women, BSN program, section 2, Class 1980, the last batch of the five-year curriculum. Hence, we've grown to 23 members. Because of various reasons, only nine of us made it to the gala but we snatched some time to see two more.

Sept. 30, 2011, Friday-

Woke up very late today, so naspu-naspu lang and barely made it to my Delta Airways flight. After a stop-over at Salt Lake City, it was just my luck that a platinum blonde with bright red lips and short-skirt sat in between me and a gullible middle-aged man. I pretended to sleep so she turned her sights to the male, but I heard Chatty Lady's life story as she proceeded to a dissertation of her life as a Political science professor who's deeply in love with her husband who she's meeting in Las Vegas but he has the sniffles but hopefully better because they're watching the David Foster show then dinner with friends. She took the necessary pauses for breaths but she shifted topics like a pro during the 45-minute flight. I swear that she must have been a Speed Talking Queen I'm not anti-social but this lady brought Chatting to the ultimate level of Annoying Behavior in a Plane. TMI (too much information or as I call it Totally Migraine-Inducing).

AUCN Registration- 6pm SouthPoint Hotel
Met Louie at the hallway as we got lost looking at the reception room. Finally found the group and the screaming began. The room was already filled with schoolmates from all the years but I zeroed in on my Section 2 group.

Louie and I took turns hugging the other ladies. There they were, in casual wear. They didn't look much different from 31 years ago. Maybe a few wrinkles here and there, and some weight gain. It is what it is. But anything more than the ninety-eight pounds I was during my college years is expected. Who cares! But gone were the gangly, innocent, and carefree looks of our student years. Instead, I can proudly say that we all metamorphosed into sophisticated and self-assured ladies with strong personas, confident of our place in society and the successes we've achieved.

The classmates in attendance: Ampy, Rose, Lita, Luz, Janet, Arlene, Fe, Louie, and yours truly. I am so proud of all of you.

After the registration, I begged off to rest a little bit after my flight. Just needed to rest because the ear assault at the plane left me with a splitting headache. We all agreed to meet for a 9am breakfast.

Then at about 9pm LV time, I got a call from Lita. Trelly and Lorna were waiting at the hotel lobby to see us. Trelly came all the way from London with her hubby, but would not be able to make it to the gala because of her trip to California the next day. Lorna who does live in Las Vegas must have her hands full with her brother's family also visiting at the same time.

Another screaming match. Some hotel guests were smiling at the sight of grown Filipinas jumping, and hugging at the same time. If you've seen pogo sticks, we looked like them.

We finally moved our chikahan fest to Ampy's timeshare condo nearby. This time, it was just Ampy, Rose, Lita, Janet, Trelly, Lorna and I .

Memories... lit the corners of our minds. Flashback thirty one years. Those were the days, my friends. And the talk just flowed, each and every single one of us bursting to share the warm memories of our years together. With our stiff aprons, blue and white sheer sucker uniforms and white nurses caps, we breezed through the years with carefree equanimity and the knowledge that the real life of nursing may be a lot different. But the years spent in the Philippines defined our work ethics and attitudes, and made us appreciate the nobility in our chosen profession.

As we talked, all the years in between faded away. We recaptured our youth as we relived the experience of not having the real responsibilities yet; we were just student nurses, just within the cusp of a new milestone. We lived for the moment; sure we had our share of problems but we managed to enjoy our nursing years with a group that loved to have fun as well.

We swapped stories about our patients at V. Luna. Our past romances which sometimes involved our military patients. In my case, check my story of my Sam Milby look-alike soldier. Back then I was so embarrassed when another patient visited me at my home with his friends. It was a strange group of friends with various stages of disfigurement.

I should have learned my lesson from Chatty Lady. It is possible to catch up on each others' lives by speed-talking but we were all so excited that we were tripping over each other to relate our own remembrances. It was as if the floodgates opened up and the chatter crescendoed to a point where we just doubled up in girly laughter at the funny moments. No Alzheimer's memory loss yet.

Ampy and Rose kept on looking at me to write about our talks but I just could not remember much with the giggling and the shift from topics to topics. Oh, I did relate my experience in the Quezon Institute as we boiled the syringes and the needles, walked up to our patients with alcohol-soaked cotton balls, and finally injecting the dull needles into the patients' emaciated arms.

Time flew fast; we were just warming up. The cobwebs in our minds loosened up, but Lorna and Trelly had to leave. Trelly's English hubby and Lita's husband managed to entertain each other as we ladies soaked up the camaraderie, and bonded again just like the 21-year olds that we were. I told Trelly, "Lee is a keeper."

October 1, 2011, Saturday-

9am Breakfast at the Garden Buffet with the whole crew. Louie joined us minus his missus. This time the husbands showed up and tolerated the incessant chatter around them. Fe's Brazilian boyfriend came over for coffee.

12noon - a shuttle ride to the Strip. Most of the husbands stayed away (wise decision on their part). The ladies played tourists as we hopped on the tram. Janet's beautiful daughter must have thought of us as daffy as we got lost on the way back.

Photo ops with JT, the lawyer-turned photographer husband of Arlene. Complete with encouragement of Viva Las Vegas, he made us strike poses with our arms up in the air. He must be preparing us to audition for deodorant commercials. This husband and wife seemed to be trying out their comedy act for Jay Leno:

JT (Juan Tamad, John Travolta, James Taylor): "Wala ka nang mahahanap na katulad ko."
Arlene: "Sino naman ang nagsabi na hahanap ako ng katulad mo?"

6pm- the Gala. The Grand Sonoma Ballroom was filled with alumni from the 1964 class to the present. The 1980 class was well-represented. The ladies were beautiful, of course, and Louie the Dude sauntered in with his salmon-colored buttoned down shirt and dark suit blazer.

The Souvenir Ad that we placed for our class looked great, and Louie had generously covered the cost as his birthday gift to us. Thanks.

The pictures told the story. There were too many cameras again, and we sat with frozen smiles just to make sure that each camera captured every single pose.It was a fun night as we applauded each class as they came up to the front stage for the picture-taking. Our teachers, Mrs. Curato and Mrs. Antonio graced the occasion.

The 1980 class, composed of representatives from more than seven sections from both the 5-year and 4-year curriculum, was the loudest group.

For all the fun we had, it was just heart-warming to spend this time together. Thirty-one years later, we sat together side-by-side with our shoes off as we posed, all nine of us, for the last time. The bond is there and we would like to see each other again next summer.

So we resolved to plan our summer get-away. For this reunion, we were on our best behavior with good clean fun. But for the next reunion, I cannot promise that we will hold off our tongues gossiping about our absentee classmates. Maybe, this would be added incentive for them to attend , you think?

Here's my impressions of you classmates:

Ampy- I respectfully nominate her as the East Coast Regional Representative for the AUCN Alumni Association. She has the scent of a hound; she can certainly track down the rest of our lost classmates as we prepare for the Summer 2012 East Coast reunion. And Ampy, you still have the smoothest skin of them all.

Rose- I don't remember her this soft-spoken, but maybe we were just too loud. You're so sweet with your gifts. And how did you maintain your svelte figure? I love how you still maintained your close relationship with your barkada. I love how you always include Heidi in the conversation.

Janet- you're still the reserved Janet I remember. Your daughter is beautiful and it is obvious that you raised her well. Thanks for the gifts. It will be your responsibility to bring Solly and Cely to our next reunion, okay :)

Lita- Good luck with your move back to the ER. Thanks for being comfortable with us to relay that scary almost-experience at V. Luna. I also like how your accent is similar to your husband now.

Luz- The Dancer. Was that Zumba? Couldn't keep up with all that bouncing, lol. Thanks for sharing you-know-what.

Louie- thanks for covering the souvenir ad and for keeping up with all that screaming and tsikahan. Get all those men to come next time so that you won't have to clam up and you won't have to plead the fifth.

Fe- Hands down, she's the sexiest of the whole bunch. Is that because she works too hard, as her boyfriend claimed? I hope she joins FB soon.

Arlene- you and your hubby make a good team. You made me laugh with your prayer.

Trelly and Lorna- I wish you could have stayed longer. It was so much fun just hanging out with you.

There was so much more that we wanted to share with each other. We went through the gauntlet of clinical rotations together, took tests together, worked through our thesis together, posed for pictures together. So the bond was started by our experiences. That night, we realized that the connection remained; it just needed a little spark. We may have lost touch along the way as we built our own lives. Our successes are measured in many different ways; our lives were as colorful as the soap operas we watch, but we emerge victorious. In shared confidences, we've learned about our ups and downs. But through all these trials, we have remained self-assured and strong and I'm proud to know them.

October 2, 2011, Sunday-

7am- I attended the INC worship service at the Las Vegas congregation. Both my cab drivers were friendly but polite. None of the sleazy leering from some of the NY cab drivers.

My driver on the way back to the hotel said that he was impressed that I even had time to go to church. Of course, nakapag-misyon ako. He also said that with the expensive taxi fares (about $100 round-trip ride to the Las Vegas locale), I could have rented a Ferrari or Lambhorgini. I said that next time, I might go for that. I will drive the car as slow as possible so that I can savor the thrill.

The handsome driver engaged me in a really enjoyable discussion during my 30-minute drive. No Las Vegas fling for me (no, I was not even thinking of that) but he surely made my day with his quiet appreciation.

I came back to New York, hailed a cab at JFK and got a grumpy driver. Welcome back.