Moving at seventeen made the experience of growing up different. Flying halfway across the world to start a new life wasn’t what I had planned. But then did I really have any real plans at seventeen? I laugh at myself when I recall the plans and goals seventeen-year-old me wanted for myself in ten years.
The funny thing about making plans is that once you make them, life gives you a reality check with a big ‘NO’. No, you will not end up with your high school sweetheart. No, you will have to earn your own money if you want to buy new things for yourself. No, you will not be married with a kid on the way by 27. No, you will not be the engineer your parents wanted you to be. No, you will not live the rest of your life in the same country you were born in. No, your life won’t be the same, comfortable one you’ve been living for seventeen years.
It was the literal manifestation of the old cliché: when one door closes, another opens…
I hated it at the beginning. My first few years were horrible because I still held on to the goals and dreams I had back then, but later on I realized life had something else in store. A bigger adventure and a better goal I couldn’t even fathom as a naïve small-town Filipino girl.
I talk about this a lot with some friends, the ones who also left the Philippines at around the same age. Of course, there is a shared experience within all immigrant kids, but there is something about leaving and restarting a life when you’re just about to start one “back home”. There is something about dreaming of a future – dreaming of what your adult life would be like, how you would want it to be – that is just five to ten years away, then have that change completely, and watch other lives unfold around you while yours is on hold.
I also stopped calling it “back home” five years ago, when I stopped bouncing back between two worlds – the old and the current. The last and only time I went back to visit “back home”, I realized that it wasn’t really home anymore, it’s simply the place where I was born and raised. It may be where my roots were, but I’ve uprooted and I’m searching for a place to lay the foundation…
I look back at my old self and see how much I’ve changed. Sure, I’m still the same low-key hopeless romantic, just a little bit more cynical. I’m still the same wild dreamer, just a tiny bit more realistic and practical. I’m still the same person at the core, but hardened with the walls I built to protect myself. While I may be the same person, I’ve changed. And none of the plans I had a decade ago are important to me anymore. My priorities have changed. I’m putting myself and my happiness first this time.
Walking down Spadina one chilly February afternoon and talking about how much our lives have changed, I remember telling my friend: “Thank all the gods that my life did not turn out the way seventeen-year-old me wanted.” We were talking about what-ifs… especially this: what if we did not leave the Philippines? Granted life is still not easy for either of us, and that being an adult is hard as fuck, at the end of the day, neither of us wanted it any other way.
Moving between two places and being stuck between two worlds forces you to change. It closes doors you wanted to enter and traps you in some sort of territorial limbo where you have no idea of where you belong and who you are. But later on you realize that even if all doors close, you can open a goddamn window or break some walls… you can make your own way and who gives a shit if it’s not the typical way? You know where you want to go, you know how you want to get there. Directions are only for people who have no idea of what they’re doing.