I will never forget that plane ride the first time I left home to try my luck in America. It was a few weeks after New Year in 1992.
I remember my mother coming back to the foot of the escalator that brought me and my niece to the boarding gate for Philippine Airlines bound for San Francisco. An indescribable pain pierced through my heart as I saw her take another glance at me.
Our flight was packed to the aisles with babies bawling their infant lungs out with a chorus of shrieks that added to my pain. Like being crammed in the economy section was not enough punishment for bailing out of my own country.
To seal my fate during that terrible trip was my eleven year old niece who decided to make herself comfortable at all costs, including me. From her much coveted window seat, she stretched out her legs and rested her feet on my lap. Imagine being in the middle of that and somebody else's grandfather who snored up, up and away.
Little did I know that a few weeks later, the same pain that pierced through my heart at the airport when I saw my mother glance at me a decade ago would echo much louder. How I fell on my knees after hearing my sister's voice over the phone telling me that she had passed away. Yes, I used up my roundtrip ticket only to say goodbye to my mother again.
Note: A few years after her passing, our family set up the Lilia Santos-Villa Endowment in honor of her accomplishments as a social worker. On the day she passed away, she came home happy to learn that the money she lobbied for the first safehouse for battered women and children in Manila came through.