Off the Island

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| This is the 373rd story of Our Life Logs |


They say that life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you. In my life—in chasing my dreams, in fighting to provide for my family, and in searching for love—I’ve made a lot of choices. When I look back, I see some of them are good, some are bad, and some are worse than bad. But each brings me a lesson. I’m learning from those lessons now.

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I was born in 1986 on a beautiful island in Samar, the Philippines, as the third child of a female-dominated family. There were five of us sisters. Yeah, that’s right. My father had a lot to handle.

With a fisherman father and a stay-at-home mother, we were the poorest of the poor. I grew up doing all kinds of chores including those often reserved for men. We couldn’t really complain, since my father was the only man in the family. I fished and hand-picked shell food with my father and collected firewood with my mother. All of us kids helped harvesting copra. Sometimes, it was fun working together, but it was also very hard—because even after doing all these things, we still couldn’t eat three times a day. There were times there was no food at all.

My childhood revolved around the island and trying to survive on it. I’d stare at the ocean line, hoping that someday, I’d be able to leave the island and get rich. This was a dream that had settled in my mind ever since I was capable of understanding life.

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My ambitions were bigger than my small body. I aspired to go to college and become a lawyer. I couldn’t understand people who lived without ambitions. I remember scolding my older sister when I heard she was impregnated by her fisherman boyfriend. I was so disappointed because now she’d be stuck on the island and possibly locked in poverty forever. I mean, how could anyone be content with the simple island life when there was so much more to see in the outside world?

 

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With my four sisters (me in the middle).

I worked hard on my studies and got accepted into college with a scholarship. In college, I stayed focused with a purpose. Nothing could distract me. No boyfriend, no parties, just school. Unfortunately, it was all ripped away in my third year when my scholarship had run its course. Suddenly, I was faced with a hefty tuition bill that I couldn’t dream of paying. It felt like my world was tumbling down. As the only daughter to have made it into college, my parents had high hopes for me, and I was devastated that I would now have to disappoint them.

I tried to continue without a scholarship, but eventually had to drop out. Without the promise of education and a way out, I felt lost. What was I to do?

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Then, call it fate or not, I met a man—an old, married man, to be exact. Let’s call him Andy. Andy was an engineer and a father of three. We started getting to know each other, and he learned about my situation. Soon, he was offering to send me back to school. I’d never had a boyfriend or much experience with dating, so I was ignorant, not realizing what he wanted in return for this generous offer. When I did figure it out, I was shocked. But at the same time, I realized I’d been handed a golden opportunity—one I’d desperately needed that would change the trajectory of my life.

I knew it would be wrong. Adultery was illegal in my country. Getting involved with a married man could get me into trouble and potentially destroy his family, hurting other innocent people. But then, I thought about my poor family struggling on the island; I thought about my dream of getting out and making a better life for all of us. I saw no other way to thrive in Samar. I refused to accept a stagnant life on the island, and here in front of me was a man with money; my ticket out. I couldn’t pass up a chance like that. I’ll admit it; I used him.

Instead of going back to school, I cut out the middleman and asked Andy for a job. He was high up in his company and with his help, I landed a job in 2007 as his secretary. There, I started to live like a shadow—Andy’s shadow. I lost my identity. I was often referred to as “Andy’s girlfriend” or simply “sugar baby.” It was hard to accept that at first—the judgmental eyes and harsh comments, but I could endure the hurt at work knowing I had appreciation at home. I became the main breadwinner for my family, providing everything at home, from food on our table to my parents’ medication.

 

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Me, 2008.

After two years, my job transferred me to Cotabato, allowing me to fulfill my dream of leaving the island. On the other side, my secret relationship with Andy continued. While it was all for the sake of survival at first, as time passed, I started to fall in love with Andy and he fell for me. I knew even true love couldn’t justify our relationship, but sometimes feelings can’t be controlled, no matter how hard you try. I entered the relationship for the wrong reasons and in midst of it all, I fell for Andy aside from the money and his promises. I fell in love with his soul. 

Andy and I were inseparable except for special occasions like Christmas and New Year, when he had to go home where he truly belonged. He understood that we could not be together legally, so he allowed me to go on dates with other men—with his watchful eyes, of course, to make sure they were good for me. Yet no matter how good or qualified those suitors were, they never passed.  They never compared to Andy.

Meanwhile, over the years, I made my own name at work. I proved my worth and got promoted. Management took note of my strengths and made me a project coordinator in 2012. I got to travel to different cities in the Philippines including Manila, Bataan, and Bacolod. I was finally living my dream life. Everything was perfect; until it all came to a grinding halt.

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Me at work, c. 2013.

Andy passed away from a heart attack in March 2014  and left me broken. Not only was I alone without the support I’d grown accustomed to, but I’d also lost the man I’d loved in secret. When he died, my entire world crashed. Life without Andy felt so empty. I cried for many days and nights, but in time I knew life had to go on. I’d worked too hard to let it all crash.

In my grief and need for love, I reached out to a Dutch man named Ronald, whom Andy had let me go on a date with years ago. He was a kind man in his mid-50s, and I’d enjoyed the nice talks we had before, so I arranged to meet up with him, trying to find someone to fill the hole Andy had left.

Soon after Ronald and I started seeing each other, we got married. Yes, I know, so quickly. I can’t explain it, but the connection I felt with Ronald reminded me so much of Andy that I fell hard and fast. Ronald was single; I was ready to have a true, legal marriage. We married in November that same year in gorgeous Thailand. Knowing Andy had approved of him made me feel good in my decision. I knew Andy would have wanted me to move on and keep reaching successful heights in life.

I thought my life would go back to normal and the emptiness I felt from losing the dearest man in my life would go away. But I was wrong.

After we got married, Ronald and I spent a few days together before parting ways; I returned to my career in the Philippines and he went to the Netherlands to handle unsettled business. The plan was for me to study Dutch so I could permanently come live with him in the Netherlands (as it was a country requirement). We promised to stay in contact every day. At first, we did, and I was happy despite the distance. In May 2015, he visited and finally met my family. I was so happy; everybody was so happy. But sadly, he had to go back to his country and leave me alone once more as he wasn’t helpful in helping me learn Dutch. With no promise of when we’d meet again, I said goodbye. 

After that, we started having arguments and misunderstandings. It was usually small things, but it always led to days of radio silence. Then days turned into months. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to get a response from him. I felt so abandoned. I felt like I was married but without a husband.

This lasted for more than two years, until we met again in November 2017 to settle things, but both left disappointed and frustrated. It began to feel like I was being played by fate. I had my best life with the “wrong” person; now I had a man to truly call mine, but it all only brought pain. Maybe this is karma. And if it is, I deserve it.

There were times that I stared blankly in the horizon, thinking back to what I’d done to get here. I had used a wealthy man to get ahead instead of working for it myself. What if I had tried it on my own? Would I have made it without Andy?

Then I realized something. Here I was now, working and thriving without any help from anyone. I had made it on the path Andy carved for me—a path of independence. Andy wanted me to have a good life, but most importantly, a happy life. He wouldn’t want me miserable with a man who doesn’t treat me right.

It was then that I decided it was time to make a move. No more silence. No more waiting. It was time to confront my husband and end this crazy marriage. There was no more reason to hold on, when all it brought was frustration. I was fine on my own now.

I applied and got approved for a tourist visa to the Netherlands and packed my bags in 2019. An important project at work had just ended, so it was the perfect time to take a leave of absence to take care of things. Once there, I met with my husband and requested a divorce. It was the most liberating feeling finally standing up to him. Since then, I’ve been in the Netherlands, trying to get it all settled before my visa expires. After this, I will be going back to the Philippines to finally move on.

When I look back on what I did to make it, I see how I could have done things better, but I can’t change the past now.  Bad karma may have balanced the scales in my life, but now I have a choice: to let my past decisions continue to invade my life, or to move on and be better. I have the power to close the bad chapters in my life and have a future with integrity, to allow goodness in for a smooth-sailing journey to the future that I still wish I have. I will be happy on my own, because, after all, genuine happiness comes from within.

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Me in the Netherlands, July 2019.

 

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This is the story of Lilia Pedejero

Right now, Lilia is in the Netherlands, settling the marriage that she jumped in too quickly and thought would work out. Lilia grew up poor and was determined to get off her tiny island she was raised on to find success and see the world. Desperate for a way out, she became a sugar baby and eventually fell in love with the man name Andy before his unfortunate death. She remarried but soon learned her new husband was bad for her. In remembering Andy, she got the courage to end things with her husband. Lilia learned how to love herself and survive despite all odds. In a month, she will be going back to the Philippines and back to her old working self with only hope of having a happier and smoother journey towards the future. Lilia hopes that someday she will find a man who could love her despite her past, but until then she’s content with being alone.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on June 28, 2019.

| Writer: Lilia Pedejero | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

 

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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