Monday, May 28, 2012

The Soldier, The Nurse...TWO WORDS (Skyline Pigeon Part 3)

We kissed. It was twenty-five years later after we first met, and thankfully, it was not just a dream.

Sammy tenderly held my face as we kissed. I felt like precious china in his embrace. My tears continued to fall as I was overwhelmed with gratitude for this moment that had brought us together. I felt him tremble as he controlled his emotions.

We did not stay long at the restaurant. He brought me back to the hospital, and gave me a private tour at the hospital where we first met. My friend Althea, the Chief Nurse of the hospital who arranged the emergency preparedness symposium, was unreachable (by purpose, I'm sure), so Colonel Dr. Samuel drove around the huge campus to give me a funny and entertaining narrative of the changes in the landscape.

I used to be his student nurse, but I flew away to the United States to fulfill my American dream. He was my one-eyed patient; a victim of the wars in Southern Philippines. We never spoke of our feelings about each other until the last day of my clinical rotation; but there was an undeniable attraction, that just could not be fulfilled at that moment in time.

He went on to become a medical doctor in the army. He continued to serve his country and helped the soldiers that he is still is. Sammy recounted that I served as his inspiration to move to the medical field. Despite being devastated by my leaving, he took comfort in the fact that I cared for him, even for just a short time.

We spent the rest of the day together, driving through Makati and Intramuros. I ditched my blazer and bought some cheap sandals from a sidewalk vendor. Sammy changed into a simple t-shirt. Pretty soon, after Sammy had safely parked his Mercedes in a hotel parking lot, we opted out of fancy restaurants.

We were like any other couple strolling hand-in-hand along the boulevard. We sat closely on a bench and watched the famous Manila Bay sunset, and talked, argued about politics, and laughed at each others' jokes.

Dinner was Chicken Joy, fish balls, and halo-halo. Cheap date, but the best I ever had. Priceless.

I pushed back all the other concerns, and all that mattered was that moment. I went into his warm embrace willingly; basking in the upsurge of emotions. We just held on to each other; fearful of being brought back to the reality that in just three days, I would be going back home to New York.

But reality stinks. I had to go back home to New York, back to my 20 year old son who still needed my presence. Although he was preparing to go into medical school, I still needed to guide him as he transitioned to his own adult life. Sammy had thought that I was staying for a month as I had posted on Face Book, but I explained to him that my plans had changed because my son had to transfer to his new dorm in a week.

He drove me home and met my mother, who eyed him with suspicion.

"He looks like a movie star. Even with just one eye, and his grey hair, he would still get all the girls. Have you not learned from your no-good ex-husband.?", my mother asked right after he left.

In two days, he had totally charmed my mother. Sammy came back the next day, and brought all of us in the family to his house in Tagaytay. He was a humble man, despite the opulent surroundings and his well-furnished mansion.

Up there in the mountains, away from the teasing eyes of my family, Sammy spirited me away to another secluded place. We shared sweet kisses and fierce embrace.

He pulled out an old picture; it was a group picture of me and my classmates looking towards the make-shift stage when the patients in Sammy's group gave us a short program. I was at the center of the picture, in profile, my long hair pulled back in a pony-tail and my lips curled up in smile.

"I took this picture, and it has been in my possession for twenty-five years." he sighed. "I knew you had your dreams to follow. That's the only reason I did not pursue you after you left."

He said, "Last November, I woke up from a deep sleep, and as if somebody was calling me and touching my face. For whatever reason, I remembered the picture I have of you."

I gasped. I told him, "It was November of last year on Veteran's Day, when I was watching a Sam Milby movie. I paused the film, covered Sam's left eye, and thought of you."

Sammy hugged me close, and we both shivered at the strange coincidence. I believe that it was Divine Providence. Running his hands on my hair, Sammy confided that he prayed and asked God to help him find me.

"I found you; I will never let you go again."

And yet, I went back home to New York, back to my son. Sammy could not come to the airport because of a hospital emergency. On the phone, I said goodbye to him, my voice cracking with emotion. He was trying to tell me something but the sounds of the planes flying overhead drowned out any more conversation. I never even got to tell him that I love him.


I walk down the aisle with my handsome son escorting me. He tells me that I have never looked better. All around me, my friends and family smile and applaud; all sharing in the joy of this blessed moment.

I am marrying Sammy, twenty-six years after I met him.

Unbeknownst to me, Sammy and his two sons followed me to New York after my vacation, and met up with my son to ask for my hand in marriage.

My son arranged for me to meet him at the Roosevelt Tram station on Roosevelt Island, only to surprise me when he arrived with Sammy and his two sons. And there we were, just the five of us, up in the air in the tram when Sammy proposed to me.

Just as I have written in another blog post (where Sammy took the idea), the glorious orange, red, and purple colors of the sky over the East River on one side and the Manhattan skyline on the other side provided an awesome backdrop to the proposal.

I jumped in delight and the tram swayed in agreement. The four men all paled and grabbed the siderails inside the tram. Just after I said a resounding "Yes", all four men had tears in their eyes. It was perfect.

And here we are, back in the Philippines for the grand day. The chapel is bedecked with flowers. My friends had gone crazy; they've been waiting for this as a payback for those wacky bridal showers I have thrown before. So, why are they all wiping tears as I march under the outstretched swords of the military guards?

My groom, the colonel, the chief medical officer, my one-eyed soldier is waiting for me at the front of the chapel. Although we had only been together for a short time, I am certain that he had never looked better. Tall, and fit with salt-pepper hair and his left eye patch. My handsome Sam Milby/ George Clooney soldier. His full-dress white military uniform commands attention; his insignia gleaming on his shoulder board. He is a prince. Mine.

His beautiful smile makes my heart sing. I want to run towards him; he's just a hop-scotch away but decorum insists that I march along with my handsome son. Besides, haven't we waited all these years already, so I can wait for just a few more minutes. We have the rest of our lives to spend with each other, but would one lifetime be enough?

The minister delivers a great sermon. I try to hold back my tears. But then I see the choir members crying.

Now, it's time for the wedding song by the soloist. To my surprise, the minister hands a microphone to Sammy.

My eyes widen in alarm that Sammy will sing "My Skyline Pigeon" here on our wedding day. It is a special song for us, and will always be "our song", but even I feel that it would not be appropriate for a wedding song.

Sammy winks at me, and as he holds my hand, he makes a promise with this song.

"I Do." Two words that seal the deal. And on this hour, I am being wed to my prince charming, who had held me in his heart and in his mind all these years.

I say "I do" for all the right reasons, for all the beautiful things that have happened to me since we've found each other, for these wonderful feelings of being cherished for who I am today.

I do want to spend the rest of forever with my soul mate. To discover more of the man that I love. I do want to make up for the lost time, not really regretting the years in between because I am today for what I've gone through. I do, because he makes me deliriously happy.

And so we will love each other, for all eternity, more than twenty-five years.


PART 1- (Actually happened)

PART 2- (Absolute Fiction)

PART 3- Of course, like Part 2, not happening. :(

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Soldier, The Nurse... KUMUSTA KA? (Skyline Pigeon Part 2)

April 2012

"It's more fun in the Philippines", the tourism banner proclaimed. As I walked through the Ninoy Aquino airport, I wondered what my two-week vacation would bring.

I have gone back to the Philippines for short vacations over the years. Of course, vacations always excited me, but this time, I was coming back for several reunions. The grand family reunion, the college and high school reunions. Like going back in time, to recapture old memories with family and friends.

The past was coming back full force with all its memories. We have led separate lives, gone on to different pathways, but we were ready to reminisce our younger years. Frankly, I was apprehensive as to who I will be seeing after all these years.

And through my college friend Althea who's now the Chief Nurse in the military hospital where I was once a student, I have also been slated to speak at an Emergency Preparedness symposium. Just a few months ago, I reconnected with Althea through Face book. The miracle of social media. Reach out and touch someone.

Coming back to the hospital where I first met Sammy, my one-eyed soldier. The one who sang "The Skyline Pigeon" to me when I was a 19 year-old student nurse, twenty-five years ago.

On a cold November day in New York, six months ago, nostalgia crept in as I watched a Sam Milby film on TV. The Filipino actor's uncanny resemblance with Sammy made me catch my breath and I felt my heart fluttered, as it did when I took care of Sammy in the Plastic Surgery ward.

Was it because it was Veteran's Day that I started to reminisce about my Sam Milby look-alike soldier?

Sammy's left eye was enucleated from injuries sustained in the battlefield in Southern Philippines. But despite the injury, I felt drawn to this handsome young soldier, his good right eye as beautiful as it could be, even made more special because he lost his left eye in service of country.

Although nothing untoward happened during my clinical rotation at the Plastic Surgery unit, there was apparent awareness of each other, an attraction that never had a chance to prosper. I was a nursing student, he was a patient. Our worlds were not supposed to come together.

Just before my month-long clinical rotation was finished, Sammy confided his feelings for me, but he conceded that I needed to follow my American dream. Much as I was enamored with him, I realized that I had to leave.

Because I wanted to explore the world and because I wanted more for myself and my family, I said goodbye. Just like the skyline pigeon in the song that he sang to me. And so, in a few years’ time after graduation, this skyline pigeon flew away to the distant lands. I have never heard from him again.

And now, I'm back at the same military hospital. It was ironic that Althea worked there now. Two days ago, we sat together at our college reunion and talked about my presentation. I attributed her exuberance to the upcoming event at the hospital that she had organized.

I have been teaching emergency preparedness to my nurses in my hospital in New York. My audience today will a combined group of nurses and doctors. I would be sharing my knowledge gained from years of disaster management classes and actual experience volunteering as part of the Medical Reserve Corps and a few disaster relief groups to Haiti.

The hospital had a facelift. Now, another impressive building stood on the right side of the big compound. A full-service hospital with 1,000 beds to serve the injured soldiers; it is now a modern, fully-equipped hospital; so different from the quaint hospital I knew 25 years ago.

I smiled at a group of student nurses who passed by me. They looked immaculate in their nurses' uniform and starched apron, white nursing caps, and dazzling white shoes. I heard them chattering about their new assignment and their cute clinical instructor.

I remembered my student days; those carefree days, of new discovery, of new experiences, and budding love. With our stiff aprons, blue and white sheer sucker uniforms and white nurses caps, we breezed through the years with carefree equanimity and optimism, fully aware that the real life of nursing would be a lot different.

Then, an image of Sammy as he surprised our group with a song at our going-away party brought a sensation of regret for that interrupted romance. He had a beautiful baritone voice, haunting in its earnest sincerity. I guarded the secret of my feelings to this man, and only wrote about our story in a blog, many years after the fact.

I met Althea in the hospital lobby. She looked different from the happy-go-lucky student nurse I knew. Tall and slim, she looked authoritative in her military uniform. I forgot she's now a Lieutenant Colonel; all the servicemen bowed in deference as she passed, and they eyed me, a stranger, in my power suit and high heels.

I caught my image in a mirror. Not bad for a 45 year old, but too old for these servicemen. With my short hair with brown highlights, and my trim body (thanks to the Zumba classes), I looked years younger, modesty aside.

But I didn't come here looking to flirt with anyone; I had been divorced for ten years and the memory of the heartache was enough to turn me wary of romance. My son was still in 2nd year of college, majoring in Biology, my future doctor. He was unable to come for vacation because of school.

Althea and I were walking down the long corridor leading to the Administrative Offices when her cell phone rang. She excused herself and moved a few feet away to accept the call. I entertained myself by looking at the massive murals of Philippine landscape that adorned the hospital walls.

"Hi, Jo." I knew the voice, but I didn't turn around right away. I was sure I was just imagining it; that I was so caught up in the emotions of my return to the hospital that I would conjure up the voice that had filled my dreams in the past.

He cleared his throat, and I turned around to face Sammy. After all these years.

If this was a movie, this would have been in slow-motion. I looked up to his face as he towered over me. And I whispered his name in recognition, "Sammy."

His expectant face lit up, as if he was holding his breath and did not want to assume that I will recognize him. He gave me a most beautiful smile. Breath-taking.

The years had been good to him. He looked as handsome as I remembered him. He still had an eye-patch on his left eye, but the same beautiful, long-lashed brown right eye twinkled in amusement at my startled gasp. What was it with that pirate look, I thought. It gave him a dangerous, exciting look.

Sammy stood tall and distinguished-looking in his military uniform. A full-fledged colonel. We both said the words, "Kumusta ka?" And we just stood there looking at each other. All those years apart, and all we could say was "Kumusta ka? (How are You)".

We both chuckled, and then he softly hummed the song by Nonoy Zuniga; a whimsical take of that awkward moment when former lovers meet after years apart. and they both become tongue-tied.

Kumusta ka?
Ikaw ay walang pinag-iba,
Ganyan ka rin nang tayo ay huling magkita
Tandang-tanda ko pa habang ako’y papalayo,
Tinitingnan kita hanggang wala ka na
Kumusta ka?

A whirlwind of emotions kept me speechless. My heart was beating fast, and I felt like a nineteen-year-old again.

Althea's sense of timing was perfect and prevented me from embarrassing myself with a senseless remark. She came back from her phone call, and, without any sign that she noticed anything unusual at the sight of us just staring at each other, introduced me to the Chief Medical Officer of the military hospital, Colonel Dr. Samuel....

Sammy nodded to me, and shook my hand, and whispered "Later." It sounded like a promise.

I did not know how I managed to go through my one-hour lecture. The auditorium was filled to capacity with nurses from the different units in the hospital, as well as a good number of medical doctors. Teaching came natural to me, and pretty soon, I had engaged my students in my presentation.

I was supposed to spend lunch in a small catered affair at the administrative offices together with the rest of the speakers, but I was ushered by Althea's secretary to a waiting Mercedes outside the lobby. Sammy was at the driver's seat. He had changed to a crisp, nicely-pressed Barong Tagalog in deference to the hot weather.

Inside the air-conditioned car, Sammy's smile made my heart melt as he said, "Welcome back, Jo."

I asked Althea for the privilege of your company, Jo. “, he explained. “I hope it’s okay with you.

I nodded my agreement, secretly doing a high-five in my mind. I fumbled with my seat belt and he reached over to attach it. My cheeks felt hot at the closeness, but I managed to maintain a calm facade, despite my turbulent emotions.

Surreptitiously studying his profile, I decided that with his salt-and-pepper hair, his firmer jaw and his air of confidence, he looked more like George Clooney now. Gone was the self-consciousness of his younger years, when he was still a man coming to terms with his injury.

He looked like a man secure in himself, who had achieved far beyond than any other man in his league. He wore success like a second skin.

The years apart fell away as we slipped into the easy conversation that we've always had when I was the student nurse and he was my patient.

Sammy told me that he went right to medical school after he was discharged from the hospital. He had been outfitted with an artificial eye, but did not feel comfortable with it, and instead opted for an eye patch. He recounted that he had never married; had two long-term relationships but had never married, although he has two grown-up sons who both finished college.

It felt natural to talk to him about my own life, and my failed marriage. He seemed to enjoy my stories about my close relationship with my son. The ride to the restaurant seemed short, and we were both reluctant to leave the car.

I could not remember much about the restaurant, except that it was quiet, with subdued lighting and that we were seated at a secluded table with a grand piano at the side. It was romantic.

The food was excellent, but we hardly touched it. There was an undercurrent of excitement that brought a flush to my cheeks. Was it because he kept looking at me with such fierce yearning? Or was it me looking at him with hungry eyes?

After the dessert, Sammy pulled out a bouquet of roses from an extra chair. Did he order it in advance? He tentatively reached for my hand. I was surprised, but I did not pull my hand back. I was past the age of innocence, and I welcomed this new beginning.

We were being swept by a force much stronger than ourselves. I felt powerless to resist the pull of his smoldering eye; I just felt that the moment was right, and that twenty-five years apart just vanished, and we were at an important crossroad of our lives.

"I have been waiting for this moment, Jo. I never thought I would ever see you again." Sammy's sad smile brought me back to my clinical rotation in the Plastic Surgery unit when he sang Elton John's song to me.

He continued, "I'm good friends with Althea, but I never knew that you were classmates, until she started talking about your college reunion. I discreetly asked her about her classmates, and then saw an old picture of you in her Face book account."

I couldn't help laughing at that, and we soon were doubled up in laughter as he recounted also joining FB just so he could browse my own account. He had conspired with Althea to invite me to the Emergency Preparedness symposium.

I feigned annoyance, "Hmmph, I should have made my FB setting private."

He snorted at that, "I also found your blog post about me."

I must have looked shocked at his revelations, because he looked alarmed, probably thinking that he had pushed the limits. I was just completely overwhelmed, but I reassured him by squeezing his hands. All those feelings had rushed in, but I was excited at the chance to be with him again.

Sammy stood up, and led me to the piano. As we sat together at the bench, he asked, "Remember this?", and proceeded to play "our song".

Elton John's song is not a love song, but at that time, just like as it was twenty-five years ago, My Skyline Pigeon felt like an expression of love that could not be denied anymore.

I felt tears falling down my cheeks. Here I was, sitting beside this man, and I did not want to fly away again. After all these years, our shared passion came back unbidden. I had survived being alone for many years; my friends had often complimented me for my strength against adversity. I was at peace, and happy being with my son.

I had resigned myself to a lifetime of being alone. But until now, I never realized that I had an empty space in my heart. I thought I would not feel loved again. I had long ago given up hope that I would find the courage to fall in love again.

Here was our second chance at happiness. What was important was that we found each other after twenty-five years. It was destiny.

As he sang to me, Sammy's face looked radiant, and full of love. The magic enveloped us, and I did not care that we were a middle-aged couple, and that we lived several continents apart.

After the last note, Sammy tenderly dried my tears and held me close. And then, he kissed me. It was meant to be.

I thought, “Oh God, please, do not let this be a dream.”

Part 1-

NOTE: Part 2- Just a figment of my very bold imagination. What if? LOL.

Part 1- Actually happened . I did not have any contact with Sammy at all after we parted ways.

Part 3-

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Letter from My Son and Reflections on My Mom on Mother’s Day


My son would probably not appreciate it that I will share his letter with you. TMI, Too much information, he would say. Since he’s not my friend on Facebook, I doubt he will know anyway that I kind of “violated” his confidence. I hope you'll not blab that I blabbed. But I’m sure he’ll understand.

Because I am a proud mother. On this Mother’s Day, I do not need a gorgeous bouquet of flowers nor any fancy dinner (not yet anyway until he's done with school). I don’t need any ostentatious display of affection. His letter, written in a ruled student paper and sealed in a plain envelope, with the admonition to read it after he left the car, said it all.

He wrote:

Dear Mom,

In these past years, our relationship has changed. You’ve become more than a mom to me. We bond over silly things like venting about ridiculous people and we laugh at things until our heads fall off. I can come to you for advice whenever the overdramatic people start crazy drama. We can tease each other freely without feeling bad because that’s just what friends do. I’m so glad that I can feel this comfortable around you, and even more glad that it has morphed into a friendship. For these and many other reasons I know I’m blessed to have you as my mom.



My Mother

And now, I am thinking of my mother in the Philippines. My still vibrant mother. She still dances her ‘chicken dance” when she’s happy. She still drinks her San Miguel beer at night to relax.

I wish I make her as proud of me as I am of my son. I wish I have shown her how much I love and appreciate her. She had given me much more that I can ever thank her for.

My Nanay, Marina "Neneng" Cerrudo, beautiful in her costume as a young lady in her native Aklan and beautiful still in her favored housedress today. She weathered all the storms in her life and had remained strong after all these years. She is a fireball of energy and humor.

With her unconditional love and her selfless heart, she shaped my character and guided me through life's ups and downs and gave me the confidence to live my life to the fullest. As the matriarch of the family, she is our strength and our moral compass.

And when things were rough, her unwavering support held me up. Through the years, she remains the ideal of what is grace under pressure, of quiet strength and fortitude.

I can never thank her enough for all that she had done for me. Happy Mother's Day. I love you, Nanay.

On this Mother's Day, I would like to share the songs that say the sentiments I cannot articulate enough.