“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.” — Abraham Lincoln
By Alex P. Vidal
NEW YORK CITY — Mercidetas is in a hurry to book for a trip to Manila in November 2016 and the cheapest ticket she could get was $453 at China Eastern for a flight via Shianghai.
If she moves her flight to December, Mercidetas will have to shell out $1,439 at Philippine Airlines.
“I need to be home before December. My youngest daughter will deliver her baby before Christmas,” chortles Mercidetas, 56, a mother of three.
Her daugther, Rachel, 17, lives in Carmona, a first class urban municipality in the province of Cavite, Philippines with a population of 97,557, according to the 2015 census.
Mother and daughter haven’t seen each other in person since 2001 when Mercidetas left then two-year-old Rachel to the care of Rosario, Mercidetas’ older sister who was single.
Mercidetas, clerk in the local registry of deeds, left for San Francisco, California on a tourist visa before the 9/11 attack.
She never returned to the Philippines.
She left her two other children–Rhea, 7, and Dan Robert, 9–in the care of her estranged husband’s parents.
Both Rhea and Dan Robert now have their own families. Rhea, cashier in a grocery store, lives in Norzagaray, Bulacan. Dan Robert, whose expertise in the kitchen was recently featured in a popular TV program in Manila, is cook in a Japanese restaurant in Makati City, Metro Manila.
Mercidetas works as babysitter in Long Island. She admits Rachel is her favorite child “because I nearly lost her when I was only six months pregnant.”
She had a violent altercation with Ramon’s “girlfriend” who kicked her on the stomach during a scuffle.
Mercidetas says “Ramon was not happy” when he learned she was pregnant to Rachel.
“He became paranoid after coming home one night when he saw a carpenter inside our house during a power blackout,” recalls Mercidetas. “He accused me of having an affair with the carpenter.”
Mercidetas theorized Ramon, driver of a prominent politician in Imus, a neighboring municipality, only wanted to justify his infidelity by “falsely” accusing her of committing adulterous acts.
She caught Ramon and his inamorata while coming out from a drive-in motel and attacked them.
Ramon’s girlfriend, younger by about eight years, fought back and Mercidetas landed in the hospital after a violent fracas. “I nearly lost my baby,” she sobs, gnashing her teeth.
Ramon left them and lived with his girlfriend in Quezon province.
“Ate Rosario took care of Rachel when I decided to go to the United States,” Mercidetas narrates. “My heart sank when Ate Rosario died in 2009. I could not fly home because of immigration issues. Rachel was only nine years old then.”
Rosario was a victim of hit and run in the Carmona highway. The car that sideswiped her while on her way home from church sped off.
“When Rachel needed me most, I was not there on her side. I was going insane. I lost my appetite. I lost weight. I had sleepless nights worrying for my youngest daughter. My friends in the Woodside entertained me in the videoke bar and assured me everything was fine for Rachel, who was taken care of by our neighbors before being adopted by Ramon’s sister in Caloocan (city, Metro Manila),” Mercidetas adds amid tears.
She needed to raise funds as babysitter; sometimes she dabbled in house cleaning for a part time job “because I left a big debt in the Philippines.”
Aside from sending money to Rosario for Rachel’s needs, Mercidetas also remitted some cash to Ramon’s parents for her other children.
She also left “a pile of debts” several months before she obtained her visa.
“That’s why I needed to work so I can also sustain the needs of my family even if I am a TNT (tago ng tago),” remarks Mercidetas, who left San Francisco to New York City after two moths in 2001 to hook up with a former classmate, Evangeline, a caregiver in Brooklyn.
Evangeline paid for Mercidetas’ rent for three months in a small bedroom on 69th St. Roosevelt Avenue, Woodside. She transferred to a spacious room when she landed a job as babysitter.
Rachel took up an associate course in computer in Caloocan City where she met Mamerto, an instructor.
“Even if she had no idea how I looked in person except in the photos in our family album, Rachel and I talked over the phone regularly,” adds Mercidetas. “When Skype came, it was heaven for both of us. We cried together because we could look at each other face to face even if it was only in the internet.”
Mercidetas considers Rachel as “still my baby and (she’ll) forever remain as my baby” even if Rachel was already teenager.
Rachel would not anymore resent their distance and flip-flopped in pressing her mom further on circumstances why a mother had to leave her children and could not come home during important family events.
Mercidetas assured her “we will someday be reunited and will no longer be separated in whatever circumstance.”
In return, Rachel promised to be a “good girl” and to finish her studies.
“In the Skype and in the Facebook messenger, we always prayed together for God’s guidance and blessing so that all our wishes would come true,” discloses Mercidetas.
Rachel haven’t heard from her father. Mercidetas says she had to employ “white lies” to divert Rachel’s mind each time questions about her father’s whereabouts tarried in their discussion.
“I just assured her that someday her father will show up and join us. It pains me a lot while saying those white lies because I know it’s already impossible,” Mercidetas laments.
Mercidetas admits her “most shocking” nightmare came in June this year when Rhea, now 22, informed her by long distance that Rachel was pregnant.
To add insult, Mamerto, the man who allegedly impregnated Rachel, is married with four children.
Mamerto resigned from the computer institute owned by the former presidential adviser of Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada after Rhea and their relatives confronted him and brought the matter to the attention of school authorities.
Rachel stopped going to school. “Nakakahiya (shameful)” was how Rhea described Rachel’s predicament when Rhea reported the matter to Mercidetas.
Mercidetas admits she felt like her world has crumbled for being unable to assist her favorite daughter during “the most confusing moments” in her life.
“I blame myself. All her life I was not there to give her advice and guidance while she was growing up. What she lacked was parental guidance. We failed to provide it,” Mercidetas exclaims, clinching her fists.
She cautioned Rhea from admonishing her sister severely and appealed to give Rachel all the moral support and understanding.
“Gusto ko man lang sana mayakap sia. Pati ba naman sa kalagayan nia ngayon wala ako sa piling nia (I wanted to at least embrace her. I should be there beside her now),” Mercidetas sighs.
Rachel refused to answer Mercidetas’ calls in the Facebook messenger, Skype and other means of communications. “Naintindihan ko sia. Naghalo ang kanyang hiya at takot. I wanted her to know that I am not mad at her. I wanted her to know that I am giving her my full support basta kausapin lang niya ako,” she sobs further.
Mercidetas did not press the issue. She waited for the moment when Rachel could muster enough strength and courage to talk to her.
One afternoon in July while she was in the Junction Boulevard subway station in Corona, Queens, Mercidetas’ Facebook messenger rang. It was Rachel.
“Nanay patawarin mo po ako (mother please forgive me). I failed you. I did not honor my promise. I am so ashamed.”
Mercidetas replied: “Anak wala kang kasalanan. Mahal na mahal kita pati ang magiging anak mo at magiging apo ko. Hintayin mo ako. Magsasama na tayo muli. (You are not at fault, my child. I love you, your daughter; and also my grandchild. Wait for me. We will be together again.)”