I mailed a handwritten note to my former employer in South Florida informing them that I was interested in applying for a position in their institution. The written requirements were easy to fulfill, I thought. Four weeks later I received my work visa. It would expire within six months from the date of issue.
I nervously counted the months without wanting to know the real answer to my question. The expiration date meant that my baby would then be only six-months old! All I could think of was that I was leaving her. Could I do it? Immediately I gathered all my strength to convince myself that this was the right thing to do, the only thing I could do. I went into a stoic mode, one skill I’d learned as a young child when my father was in a bad mood. I thought only of the practical steps needed to prepare for the day I leave. I started losing weight slowly and steadily. After a couple of months, I went from a hundred pounds down to ninety. Doctors could not find any diagnosis related to my weight loss. One said it was post-partum depression. I was losing my appetite. At one point the scale showed eighty -six pounds. My husband and I became worried thinking I was seriously ill. We consulted one medical specialist after another and every one of them told us that all diagnostic tests showed normal results.
The next four months were spent mostly in preparing for my departure. I took continuing education credits in order to reactivate my nursing license. My husband and I scraped off what remained in our small savings. He started to get more aggressive in his process of collecting overdue loans from his clients. Despite all these efforts our funds were still not enough to cover my airfare and miscellaneous expenses. Somehow we eventually were able to borrow additional funds from another relative who trusted me because she knew I was offered employment in the US.
There was a part of my brain that I had to turn off so I could function without falling apart. Many times I found myself staring at my son and my baby and wondering how long I would last not seeing them. There was a certain question I wanted to ask myself but did not dare to for fear of knowing the real answer. I decided to offer large amount of money to the babysitter. I asked her to take care of my children and to not leave them for any reason. In return I would give her the promised amount when I come home. I was relieved when she did not ask me when that day would be.
On the day I had to leave I instructed everyone but my husband not to see me off. I felt numb all over as I started heading to the bus stop with my baby’s sitter walking along with me and holding my baby. She was quietly looking at me. I cried silently with no tears coming out of my eyes. My husband understood how I felt without saying a word. At this moment I discovered that somewhere between emotion and devotion there is a place where sacrifice takes on the face of love. It becomes love. It is nothing but love. I wanted nothing more but to secure the future of my children. It was then or never.
The bus ride from my town to the international airport lasted ten hours. Manila International Airport has witnessed two of my significant departures. The first one had something to do with honoring my parents’ wishes and leaving behind my fiancé. This time it was all about leaving my baby girl and my son. I weighed nothing more than eighty-six pounds on that day and yet I felt the weight of two hundred. The last image in my mind was my baby’s face with her eyes in a questioning look thrown at me at the bus stop. My son was quiet and could not grasp the idea of where ‘mommy was going with a big luggage.’ He kept asking me where I was going. I kept telling him, “I’m coming back soon.”
The flight to Miami was longer than usual due to multiple stopovers. I could not sleep during the trip. Exhausted and sad I arrived in Miami International Airport thirty six hours later. I patiently waited by the curb for my cousin who promised to give me a ride to the nurses’ dorm in Miami Beach. Thirty minutes passed and I started to notice that most of the passengers I have traveled with were gone. I decided to wait longer patiently and sure enough, my cousin finally arrived, quite exasperated.
“Bles, I did not realize that that was you standing by the curb! I drove past you three times. I did not recognize you! What happened?!”
I tried to answer her question but nothing came out of me. In my mind, only flashes of worry, stress, exhaustion, emotional pain, sadness, and regret remained.
It was pure déjà vu entering my old nurses’ dorm. Every image I remembered about it seemed unchanged except myself. This time I felt torn and battered. The following morning, I anxiously reported to the Human Resources department. Sitting patiently while trying to resist shivering in the chilly room, I finally felt I have passed through the worst trial in my life. After reviewing my employee file this one lady turned to me and said, “Your priority date is set for next month.”
I had to ask her what priority date was. She said, “You are set to be interviewed to receive your green card.” I froze. I did not want to believe her. I wanted to find logic in everything I heard. Then I remembered the countless hours my former roommate and I spent at the Immigration Building in Downtown Miami, filling out piles of documents. She has been smart enough to see that I would need it in the future. When my initial shock faded I realized that I no longer would be worrying when to see my family again. Still I found no logic to what was happening. I could only believe one thing. On that day my life was blessed with a miracle!
The images of the day I left my babies have stamped an indelible mark in my memory. It serves as a reminder of how much I have endured as a young mother and a realization of how much love I am capable of giving to my children.
Decades later I felt overjoyed witnessing the birth of my second granddaughter, Meliya. Her mommy knows the story of how I left her when she was only six-month old. She vows to never do what I have done.