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Heading South

As we grow up, family trips tend to become more of a request of desperation from our parents. At least it felt like that for me. I used to love going on trips with my parents, I loved staying up all night long knowing by sun rise, we'd be packing our things in our van as we headed South towards the border. I loved knowing that I could comfortably sleep the whole trip to wake up to my mom saying "We're here!!" as we all would gaze out our window, groggy, to admire the huge outlet mall across the freeway. We would spend countless hours walking the strip, looking for name brands we couldn't get in Canada. My parents would argue where to eat when we all knew we'd end up at Burger King. We would hop back in the car, full and content, as we kept going to our actual destination. My brother and I would crack up jokes to piss off my sister, then I'd find myself getting the short end of the stick because they would turn against me next. We would laugh so much in the van. We would sing along to filipino songs that my mom would make my dad play, then fall back asleep when the sun winded down. I would wake up from my dad chewing on ice cubes in the middle of night and hearing my mom ask him every few hours "Are you okay? Did you want me to drive?" and his reply would always be "No, it's okay. Go back to sleep". Every summer we would plan a trip somewhere. Every summer until we were old enough to say no.

My sister sooner got into basketball. So eventually, family road trips became family road trips to get to my sister to a tournament or a camp. These trips were more mandatory than it was free-willed. It was still fun to be on the road, but not like it used to be.

"Can we just stay home, there's no reason for us to go" We'd say to my mom when she would tell us about the next big trip. She would never answer back.

"Fine, that's up to you" my dad would say (which ultimately meant we got to stay home).

I knew my mom hated it, and she would argue any chance she could to my dad.

"Why are you always letting them do what they want?",

"Why can't you just say no, and they have to come with us",

"Why do you let them get away with everything?" she'd say.

This went on for years. I knew my parent's had their fair share of arguments, they almost never agreed upon anything. And when they did, it was like hallelujah! They aren't fighting, we can finally have some peace and quiet for the rest of the day!

One year, I decided that I'd go with them on a trip. We had to be up early in the morning to make sure we got enough daytime driving ahead of us, so we set off around 3:30am. At first, it felt great and I missed it. I knew that this trip meant a lot to my parents knowing they had me to fill in the void while my sister spent majority of her time with her teammates. However, the tension grew each day. They didn't smile or look at each other the way that they used too. They would put a lot of attention on us, and I never understood why. Of course at my age, all I wanted was to spend every living and breathing moment with the boyfriend I had at the time. And, any time that I couldn't cling onto him, I'd make a big deal out of it and I would have the worst hissy fits. Like I was some thirteen year, just hit puberty, teenage little girl. I deliberately made their lives harder by not showing my excitement or proving to them that I was having a good time. They always had a hard time to connect with me the way parents normally do. So, although I wanted to be happy that I was away from home and out of the city, I made sure to prove that I regretted my decision to go on this trip any chance I could. I didn't have to try so hard though since they never actually spoke to each other. And if they did talk to each other, it was mostly arguments about other things. I already lost my battle.

Who would win this time?

How the hell did I get into this?

How did it get this bad? I thought.

This wasn't the wake up feeling groggy, I've been in a van for more than 8 hours, sun-rise, sun-set type of feeling. This was rainstorms, dark clouds, why am I on this trip, unexplainable silence feeling, and - It Was Painful.

The road trips started to cripple away. Mom would spend majority of her day at work, only to get home, grab something from the fridge, and eat it in her room. By then, my dad was spending more time with us since he was sleeping on the couch in the basement. He'd stay awake until we got home, knowing very well where we've been pretending he couldn't smell the smoke or alcohol from our clothes. I would try so hard to walk slowly into the dark stairway, and into the hall without making noise, only to hear out from complete darkness "Joooonaaahreee, I hope you know what time it is!". Shoot! Of course, dad is waiting, and my standard answer would always be "I know, I'm sorry"... And without saying anything more, I'm doing the walk of shame down the hall, left, and straight into my bedroom.

I never asked my dad why all of a sudden he started to sleep on the couch. I never asked my parent's when I'd wake up in the middle of the night why they were arguing at 3 in the morning upstairs. I never really asked why about anything. Until this one last hoorah, a glimpse of hope that they would make amends and somehow find their love back. They said they were going to take my sister to her tournament and they were going to go together. "What? Really? Why?" was all that I could ask myself. I knew it was the worst idea they could ever have, and yet - I played along.

"I won't be able too, I work, and no one can take my shift" a lie.

"I hope you guys have fun, and don't worry, I won't have anyone over" another lie.

And so they left. Somehow - weirdly enough - Together.

I knew this was going to be the last time - I had no doubt about it. But I wasn't going to sit in the car and witness it myself. There were only 2 scenarios that I had made up in my head.

1. They were going to figure things out and we will all live happily ever after, or,

2. They would come back home and do the same thing, avoid each other all day long, where finally one of them will get fed up, leave, and leave all of us in this huge house that we won't be able to afford.

Number 2 was the obvious answer, and I stressed about it the most. There was no way with my salary from Chatters, I would be able to help one of my parent's with this huge ass mortgage. So instead of not being able to afford it, I knew the only realistic decision was that we had no choice but to sell the house, and separate from each other. Since I knew this was going to be the last time - I wanted to make my last weekend a memorable one...

Knowing what my future held.

Knowing that at some point that month, I would have to decide between my mom and dad.

Who was I going to live with?

Whose heart I was going to tear apart.

I had to make sure I took it all in, that I spend all day and night in the dream house that they built, and grasp the present as I grieved for the future.

I had a wall in my closet filled with random quotes and drawings. I'd write names of my loved ones, and spent hours on my closet floor. I had a lamp in there too and would normally put music on as I stared at that wall. When they all said their goodbyes, mentioning all the extra chores I am to do while they were away, and what leftover food there was in the fridge to eat, I smiled and hugged them both like it was the last time I'd hear both of them delegate what I should and should not be doing. I just knew. When they left, I went straight downstairs, right into my closet, I took a pencil, and wrote their names down. Underneath it, I wrote down the date and circled the whole thing together. I sat there for a while longer until I realized J was calling. Shoot, I forgot to tell him when to stop by. But, I felt tears go down my face, I felt the anxiety and vulnerability slip through the cracks, knowing this, and not understanding what I was feeling, I had no choice but to let the call go to voicemail.

A few hours had passed, I hear the doorbell ring from the front door. I've been sitting in the same place a lot longer than I thought. I picked myself up to check my phone. 10 missed phone calls... He must be worried. There's the doorbell once more. Was I wanting company? I had all these mixed feelings and I wasn't sure how to react, I wasn't sure if I wanted to even unlock the door and manage to keep a smile on my face, to act like I was ecstatic to have the house to myself. My phone lights up again, it's another phone call. J has been waiting outside for more than 10 minutes - I shouldn't keep him waiting. So I head upstairs, towards the mirror between the basement and the main level. I look at myself, pale, like all the life was taken right under me. I placed my cold hands over my face, and blankly practiced my smile so that he wouldn't notice I've been crying for the past 2 hours...

"I was worried!"He said.

"Why didn't you answer your phone?, I've been outside for so long I was going to leave cause I didn't hear back from you" He stared, noticing my smudged eyeliner that faded under my eyes.

"Are you okay?"...

And there I was trying to keep this stupid smile on my face thinking I'd be able to hide the countless hours I just spent hidden in my dark and cold closet. I suddenly fall into his arms sobbing as he picked me up onto the couch where we stayed the whole night as he tried to reassure that everything will be okay.

I wish it upon no one to experience the tragedy of a broken family. I also know now that, regardless of the age you were when your parents split up, it'll still hurt just as much. But you'll remember it so vividly because it became a turning point in your life. I know that dealing with something so fragile makes you feel helpless, and it makes you second guess the meaning of marriage or family. And even though years eventually pass, you'll still find yourself looking back on that day as though it was just yesterday.

After spending all night talking, we realized the sun was going to rise in about 20 minutes. I had no more tears to shed, I was emotionally drained, I felt numb, and I knew it was time to call it a night. I was just about to doze off, but opened my eyes again to the sound of him unlocking the back door to step outside onto my porch.

"Come out here, we need some fresh air" he said.

I move up from the couch to peak out the backyard and made my way outside to sit along side him and under the blanket he brought out. We fell silent as we admired the open scenery. The orange haze that crept from under the grey shadows, the moon slowly disappearing in the sky as we focused our attention on the beautiful golden rays from the sun as it makes its appearance. That's when I found myself looking back at this very same moment, when I woke up from my dad, holding my moms hand, telling her to wake up the kids because the sun just looked so damn beautiful and that we shouldn't miss this opportunity, as we drove down the open valley road, as we headed south towards the border.


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