My poor little secret
I was in first grade when the biggest mall in the province opened. Everyone in my class was so excited to be fetched by their parents after school to head straight to the shopping center. I kept quiet to avoid questions because I knew we could not afford to visit. Still, I tried my luck and asked my mother if we could go. She answered, “Ana ti mapan mo ubraen ket awan la ngarud kanen tayon? (What are you going to do there? We do not even have anything to eat.)” To which I responded with a nod—disappointed but definitely not surprised.
I was born into a complete family. But over time, I witnessed how my parents outgrew one another and decided that it would be better for them to be apart. Eager for a fresh start, we moved to my grandmother’s house in Ilocos. Life seemed decent, our wooden fence was enough to barricade our home, but looking at my neighbors’ tall steel gates, I knew that our situation could be so much better.
I entered my first day at elementary school with a single notebook with its cartoon design cover and a newly sharpened Mongol 2 pencil, both kept in my blue backpack. I thought what I had was sufficient considering that everything was still brand new. Just when I was about to get my supplies, everyone started bringing out their magnetic pencil cases and their big rubber erasers from their gigantic trolley bags. It was like a trend that I was never informed about. Since then, I knew I had to keep up with the norm to be accepted. I made sure that I will never be left behind again, even if it meant lying straight to their faces.
When asked, I would lie about my father’s work and how my mother was an overseas Filipino worker in the US. I boasted about us living in a three-story home that was not ready for visitors because it was under renovation. Young as I was, I noticed a drastic difference in how my classmates would treat me. The gap that I have always wanted to fill was filled by these false narratives. I gave them what they wanted to hear from me—the illusions I had in my head.
If there was a secret I knew I had to hide from my classmates, it was our house, especially its facade. I was so ashamed of its exterior—an old, rusty building owned by my Lola. I never let anyone see and know where I lived because it would destroy my pretentious act of being a wealthy kid. It came to a point where I had to check my surroundings before entering to make sure that no one from school was around the area.One time, my friend’s family offered me a ride home. I stopped at my neighbor’s place to make it seem like I lived there. I waited for their car to leave— just enough to not be seen as I walked toward where I truly resided.
I knew for a fact that someone inside the class had things worse. One settled for his old notebook and never made it a problem. The other had her pencil which was a couple of inches small because she wanted to use it until she could hold it no more. Other kids’ backpacks weren’t as brand new compared to mine, but they didn’t have to pretend where they lived or lie about their parents’ occupations because they were simply content. At that moment, I wished I did the same thing. Eventually, my good days were over and all of them caught my act. I was shamed and belittled for it. It was something that I expected, but deep down I always hoped that they would prove me wrong.
Fast forward, life became a little bit better. I moved to Baguio for senior high school. I enrolled in a private school where almost everyone lived comfortably, if not luxuriously. Still carrying the fear of having to pretend to be accepted, I was, once again, the boy who kept quiet to avoid questions that would potentially harm their perception of me.
The first few months went great. Not until I was reminded of the bill I had to pay for tuition. Timing was also cruel enough to let me know that I also had to settle my payment for my dorm. I was so stressed but had no choice but to keep it all in because no one would understand my situation, as I was sure they were not facing the same financial dilemma.
When everything felt unbearable, I blatantly unloaded the baggage on my group of friends. This time, I didn’t care what negative things they had to say. To my shock, one offered me their spare bedroom, while the other was willing to lend me money to pay for my school expenses, so I could take our exams. The weight I have been carrying since my childhood vanished at that moment. I politely declined each of their kind proposals, but to see how they cared instead of being disgusted just made me think that I didn’t have to pretend all this time; I just needed to find the right people who would genuinely embrace my truth.I am now back in my home province as a college student. Being true to myself, I go to my class every day without having to put on a filter that says “I’m rich” because I’m not, and nowhere near being called one. We now also live in an apartment, meters away from the mall I talked about. I can go there any time of the day without having to ask for money or my mom’s permission. It may not be the success story as huge as you’ve anticipated, but if this is what I have now, then it’s a success I am thankful for.
Ryand Ugalde, 20, is a communication student at Mariano Marcos State University. He aspires to become a broadcast journalist someday.
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