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High blood

Bicycle and birthdays

On an ordinary day, I bike to Monterey Hills in Antipolo where a statue of the Lady of Mediatrix stands. There, I may spend a few minutes of prayer to thank her for granting a personal favor I’d asked.

I then proceed to the peak of Mount Maarat in San Mateo and cycle back. The ride is painful, and on most days my lungs feel like they would burst.

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At 72, this has been my daily ritual. I grind through the pain and find ways to focus on the positive. In a way, this has been the theme of my life.

I came from a poor family of 12 children from Carayman, a town in Calbayog City, on the island of Samar. We lived off a small coconut orchard that was our family’s main source of livelihood. When food was scarce, my siblings and I would eat duma  (root crops) and  lugao  (porridge).

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When typhoons would come and crops would be hit hard, we turned to the sea for food. As a boy, I remember tagging along with several men on a boat to catch kabasi (fish). We would be awake and paddling all night, and yet, on most days, the catch was barely enough for everyone.

Nanay and Tatay eventually decided to let go of some of my brothers and sisters. They were given to the care of childless aunts in Mindanao and Manila. The day they left was one of the saddest days of my life.

Early in life, I tried to work odd jobs to earn money. When I learned to peddle, I peddled everything: popsicles, newspapers, sweepstakes tickets, fake necklaces, balut. I even shined shoes for a time.

I also worked as a sota, a stable boy for a rich family. I dressed up the horses and fed them with sakate, which were long wild grasses. I bathed the horses by the sea and scrubbed their fur.

One night, as I was sleeping in the makeshift cuadra, my father woke me up. Nanay had a stroke, he said. Startled and half awake, I ran to our house and, when I arrived, I saw Nanay unconscious, unmoving, with her mouth half-open.

My heart broke. We rushed her to the provincial hospital for emergency treatment. The hospital was dark when we arrived. Power was off and there were no generators, so the doctor asked us to wait until morning before they could attend to her.

Nanay survived the stroke and recovered, but we moved to Manila for her to get treatment.

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I struggled to fit in. In school, when I talked, everyone would laugh because of my heavy Visayan accent. I also had no lunch during recess, because Tatay was still jobless.

I worked my way through high school and college. At 13, I worked as a peon for a construction company and unloaded bags of cement from a barge to a bodega.

In high school, I took the night shift as a loader for a soft drink company, working from early evening until dawn, and attended school in the morning.

I fondly remember my classes. Some of my classmates were maids, houseboys, construction workers and taxi drivers. I would listen to their stories, and their dreams of leaving the stink of poverty. In their company, I learned that I was not alone.

It has been 56 years since, and those stories, while still vivid in my memory, are now just that — memories.

They have been layered by new, comforting, rewarding and fulfilling ones, as I got married to Rosie, my wife for almost 50 years, and as I watched my four children finish their studies and become decent individuals.

In my daily prayer, I thank God for His many blessings. For one, in particular: the gift of perseverance.

* * *

Nemesio “Jun” Dormiendo Jr., a retired teacher from Xavier School, wrote this essay two years ago. Since then, he’s survived his beloved wife Rosie, has had a pacemaker implant, and turns 75 this October. And while he’s abstained from those lung-busting bicycle trips to the hills, he takes long walks, grows cockerels, and remains a valued counselor to his kids and grandkids.

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TAGS: biking, Birthdays, High Blood, Nemesio Dormiendo Jr., overcoming poverty, perseverance
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