The day I first met Nen was the same day I started my nursing practicum, a program mandated by then Philippine President Marcos, where new graduate nurses would serve the rural areas for six months while waiting for the results of the Nursing Board exam. She and I, along with three other nurses filled the small health unit in my hometown with the glare of our white uniforms. We could hardly contain our eagerness to practice what we have learned in nursing school. We were immediately oriented to our new duties by the rural health unit medical practitioner who has assumed the role of mentor. At the end of the first week , our duties were no longer limited to sterilizing needles and syringes. Our health care team started making trips to remote barrios involving walking on rice paddies, to provide children’s vaccinations. Every visit ended in a feast on staples like boiled camote, grilled corn, and tropical fruits. The barrio captain in each community we visited would serve as the proud host. We felt important. Little did I know then that Nen, besides being my new colleague and friend, would be playing a more significant role in my future.
She introduced me to Andy when I attended the annual fiesta in her hometown. My adult life began.
Since then, each day I went to work, Nen would greet me at the door and hand me a red notebook. Inside were poems written by Andy for me. For each poem I read I responded by writing another. This literary exchange went on until there was not a page left to write on. Somehow this romantic activity made the six months pass more quickly than we imagined. Six months felt like six days. Suddenly they were gone. Our next big question was what to do next with our young careers. Nen and I decided to go to the big city only to realize later that the life we found in Manila was not enough. We looked for employment abroad and ended up in Florida. As roommates in the hospital’s nurses dormitory, we became family and endured the first impact of homesickness together. On warm evenings we would stroll along the bay behind our building, watching the horizon display Miami’s skyline which reminded us of Manila Bay. We missed our families terribly.
In less than a year, Nen felt an urge to move out of Florida and join a friend in the West coast. Shortly after we separated I decided to return home to marry Andy. My family was shocked but was accepting of my decision. I was twenty-two then. Life was simple.
Just as I thought I would be content in my provincial life, some truths slapped me in the face so hard that I decided to go back to Florida. As soon as paperwork was complete and visa documentation was ready, I moved my whole family overseas. It took only a few months and everyone seemed to have naturally embraced their new lives. We learned how to be Americans. All this time I have not heard from Nen. One day as I was revising my old phone book, I came across her old work number. Hesitantly I dialed it and was greeted by a pleasant sounding voice who asked me to hold for five minutes only to be told that she was not available. Weeks later I tried again but was unsuccessful. I was disappointed yet deep inside I knew she must have had a good reason for her self-imposed distance. I accepted and respected her choice.
Twenty years later, it took only one message and one response through the most unlikely (or most likely this time) “venue.” I found her! Little Vanessa is getting married… in Lisbon… and all I could say was, “Yes, I’m coming!”
My thoughts brought me back to where I am now.
Suddenly I hear myself practicing Schubert’s Ave Maria as requested by the bride. Rummaging through my gowns in the closet. Packing my small luggage. Clicking reservations online for Pestana Palace. Everything feels surreal.
Seeing the city of Lisbon for the first time and anticipating my reunion with my long lost cousin and niece are stirring up such excitement!
Inside the grand St Geronimo Cathedral, Vanessa looks regal in her white gown as she walks down the aisle. The lacey veil trailing behind her, gently touching the tiled floor creates a poetic motion. In my mind I still call her “little Vanessa” even with her five-foot-eight-inch statuesque figure. Rui, waiting by the altar, has the most eager look and dreamy eyes in anticipation to have a glimpse of his queen. The organ music is intoxicating to the point of taking me back to the 17th century as the wedding ceremony begins. He listens to her vows, then he speaks, “I have realized that my one important purpose in life is to make Vanessa happy… because that’s what makes me happy.” As I listen to his quivering voice I feel his genuine love for her, so touching that I am unable to hold back my tears. My scarf is getting damp. I am totally filling up with this inspiring energy that only true love can bring.
Another full circle.
My last day at the palatial hotel has come so quickly. When I knocked at Nen’s door to say goodbye, she was not there. Later I have read a message from her saying she went looking for me to do the same. Fate has intervened. On that same day in Lisbon we both have learned that saying goodbye is no longer an option.