It had been 13 years since my mom left to work in Albania as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW). Before, my dad was the one who worked in Taiwan. We’d only been a complete family for three years and the few months sandwiched between their contracts that were allotted for vacation. Yet, despite all the time I’ve been given to get used to a life of long-distance relationships, I never got over the crying part whenever it was time to say goodbye.

My mom left for Albania a few days ago. The first time she left for Albania, I cried my eyes out and texted her as soon as she boarded the bus to Manila.

Before she left, she made sure that I would take care of my younger sisters in her stead. Things changed rapidly. I felt it when I had to make my own school projects without help. There were fewer opportunities to play because I had to sell ice scramble in my free time. I also had to get up early to boil water with firewood. Add that to assisting my dad in helping my sisters prepare for school.

When she first told us she was coming back, I waited for every bus I saw on the highway to stop. I remember feeling so jittery, unable to stop calling for her. I hugged her tightly the moment we got home. She had to leave again after two months. That goodbye was less painful than the first, but we still cried.

I took on more responsibilities as I got older because that meant lessening my dad’s load. Helping out also meant helping my mom while she was abroad. I felt like I had grown up.
She’d take a vacation here once every two years. The last time she came back was in 2017. She stayed only for a week after bargaining with her employer because my grandma died. Then COVID-19 happened. She hadn’t been home in five years.

She finally came home last July to stay for a little over a month. Being with her felt foreign. I have been used to being left alone, but she brought back the nagging to rearrange my room and eat breakfast which we learned to skip long ago. Two days before she left, I resolved to express my goodbye.

We cried. She told me more of her side of the story. One so different from what we see on her Facebook. How she felt so alone. How she would make one day’s cooking last her a week. And how she thoroughly cleans every corner of her meticulous employer’s house.

I do understand how hard it has been for her. We had this conversation a few times already. I had understood her through calls where we shared our feelings—the joy, longing, frustration, silence. I could sympathize because there were four of us left here, and it hasn’t exactly been easy for us either.

Whenever she comes back, I am reminded of the things I missed. And feelings I tucked away unknowingly come back and wash over me like paint splashing on white canvas. Before I can even properly process these feelings, it would be time for her to leave. And it’s going to be heartbreak for me all over again.

And yet I can’t tell her to stay.

I guess part of me never really grew up. I still feel like a child with this voice inside me whispering, “I’m going to be left behind, again.”

I have nephews, cousins, and friends who also have one or two OFW parents. Oftentimes, I look at them and see a part of myself. We all have that sort of independence, and share that indifferent attitude to things that we can’t change. I guess for some of us, nonchalance is a facade; for some, it’s a result of constantly being reminded that not everything will be ideal. I bear no grudge, and I’m grateful for my parents’ sacrifices. However, sometimes I can’t help but think of things that could have been.

In my mind, I dream of a Philippines where no one has to leave to afford their needs. Where no family has a missing member because there are enough available jobs that provide sufficient pay. Where a person only decides to become an OFW because they really want to and they are confident to go back home on their own terms.

For now, I think it is okay for me to cry. It’s a comfort to know that my feelings are valid. After this, I’ll move forward with my dad, my sisters, and my mom.

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