When my father asked me, “Sasama ka sa ’kin o hindi?”, I knew the question would haunt me for the rest of my life. I did not answer him; I just kept quiet. He understood and left with my younger sister. Before I could even process what happened, they were gone.

Growing up, my father was not always at home. He was a seaman, working overseas for two to five years; he would come home for a few months before leaving the country again. While I was always looking forward to his pasalubong, I was more excited to show him all my medals and certificates from competitions I had won in primary school. I was dying for his praise and reaction, which he never gave. Mom told me to understand him, saying, “Pagod lang kaya ganon, pero proud ‘yun sa ’yo.”

That only prompted me to work harder to bring home more medals and certificates, hoping that one day, my father would praise me and smile at me. Although it was tiring, I told myself  it would be worth it.

Then my parents separated.

It took a toll on me. My grades took a dive. I lost at several competitions. Students and parents in school began asking me what happened.

At a young age, I began blaming my parents for not considering us when they decided to separate. I began blaming myself for not doing anything to stop them. I began blaming God for doing this to us. The entire situation was heartbreaking. I told myself I would never be like them.

While my parents decided to not communicate with each other anymore, it was us, their children, who continued to find ways to connect with them in any way possible. I spent my high school and college days with my father. When I started working, I decided to move back with my mom to support her since my younger sister was already helping my father. While it was difficult adjusting at the start, we eventually got used to it. This “new normal” became part of us.

It has been more than 10 years since our family fell apart. My parents are happy now. My mom, a full-time plantita, enjoys growing her beloved plants and taking care of our dog, “Lockdown.” My father still lives with my younger sister, and they are also doing well. I no longer blame my parents for what happened. They chose to save our family by separating, to avoid more conflicts that would only have worsened the situation. Above all, they chose to love themselves.

Looking at it now, it seems like everyone has already moved on—except me.

Trust me, I really am trying my best to forget. I am already 25, old enough to be told to be mature about our family’s situation. However, I still end up envying those complete, happy families I come across whenever I roam around places in my hometown or even in malls in Lipa. There is still this pain in my chest, and before I know it, I’ve already spent a couple of seconds staring at them. Then these buried “what ifs” will again come to life and haunt me for the next few hours. Then I will blame myself, again.

At this point in my life, I am not looking for anyone’s praise anymore. What I want is acceptance of what happened, because even though I understand now the reasons behind it, I still cannot forget. I still cannot accept the fact that I will never experience coming home from school or work with my entire family at the dinner table waiting for me.

I now work as a college instructor. While I do not let my students see this vulnerable side of me, I always enjoy engaging in conversations with a student or a workmate who has been in the same situation. We do not talk about our own families, because we never state the obvious. Maybe this is my way of diverting my attention from the ghost that never leaves me.

It is true that we have our own healing process. But regardless of the case, we have one thing in common—pain. While John Green stated in his novel “The Fault in Our Stars” that it demands to be felt, it needs to be embraced and accepted as well. I know I cannot just forget it: I need to accept it.

It may be slow, but I am doing it—I am moving on. 

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Our Nanay, whom my siblings and I love so much, is a perfect mother and a perfect wife. Through the years she has nurtured us as best as she could because Tatay is away most of the time.