Sideways

Copyright © 2017 by VeryWellAged

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Chapter 1: Say it ain’t so

This hasn’t gone like it was supposed to go. I met a really pretty, and pretty young, Filipina on-line, by the name of Charline. I was thirty-two years older than was she, but she seemed OK with it. I brought her to the USA and married her.

And there we lived, for five wonderful years. Charline got her ten year green card and then her US citizenship.

I was happy, truly happy. So was she, though she missed the Philippines and bugged me to help her purchase property there. Eventually, she convinced me that I should retire there. And so, in year six, I retired and we moved lock, stock, and barrel, to the municipality of Naval1, on the island and province of Biliran, in the Philippines.

Naval’s not a tourist stop for foreigners, but it is where Charline’s family is from, and so it is where we settled. It is where we built a house on a lot I purchased for us. Her name was listed as owner, but my name was listed as husband on the deed. That made it ours, but as I cannot even own more than fifty percent as an inheritance, it was never going to be fully mine. It was hers. The house we built was also in her name. It was something I never even noticed until the electric company listed the house as hers and hers alone.

Still, I thought all was good, and it seemed to be for the three years it took to build the house and then finish all the small things as we settled in. Over the three years, the house would be filled with her family on the weekends. There was laughter and clear happiness.

Before I even moved permanently to Naval, I got my permanent 13A visa as a permanent immigrant via the Philippine Consulate. Once we got here, Medicare was no longer an option. Instead, I was a dependent on Charline’s PhilHealth, which is much like Medicare in the States. I got a Senior Citizen’s card and booklet which allowed for reduced prices on meals, groceries, and medicines.

I guess getting the card was a little illegal as I am not a citizen. But it helped a great deal and I was happy to have it.

We settled in.

And then one morning Charline got out of bed and announced she was going back to the States. A friend of hers there had a job waiting for her. She would live with her friend.

She made it pretty clear that she was leaving me.

Why?

I got no answer. For the next few days, as she packed and got things collected for her trip, I got no answers. Her family said nothing to me. For the most part, they didn’t even come around.

Where do you expect me to live?

Here.

How?

What you mean how? This is our house. You live here. You say you like it, so stay here.

What do I do when I need to renew my 13A at the end of the 5 years?

I will help you. Not a problem. Or maybe you will file for a Retirement Visa then. Then you not need me for the Visa.

How do I continue with PhilHealth? I am on it based on you.

My sister have my papers. She carry the papers for the PhilHealth office. No problem.

Three days after her announcement, she was gone. If not legally separated, I was separated in reality. I might not own the land or the house, but I could live in it. When I died, it would be hers anyway.

But I was not completely alone, or I thought not. We had a maid and she could do the shopping and the cleaning. I had no designs on the woman. She was married to a nice guy and lived just down the road.

The day after Charline left, the maid quit.

I don’t speak Cebuano (also called Bisaya) or Waray-Waray, the two ‘dialects’ spoken on the island. Folks here have some English, but I was essentially fucked. I had sold everything back in Ogallala, Nebraska. There was nothing, and no one, to go back to. My income was OK but limited. There was plenty enough to live here, but it wasn’t so much by standards in the States. If I had not sold everything, maybe I could have gotten by OK back there, but I had closed that door when I moved to Naval.

So, here I am, alone in the house. Not a potato in the kitchen and I don’t even know how to use the rice cooker to make the rice. I have some Filipino hotdogs in the freezer.

I walk down to a sari-sari store and buy a loaf of “white bread.” Their bread is sweet and the size of each slice in the loaf is small. The small Filipino hotdog sticks out of the ends of the bread as I wrap the dog with a slice.

This is a massive cluster fuck.

I eat three dogs and bread along with some San Miguel beer for my beverage. So OK, I am full for now. But what am I going to do going forward? It’s a real problem.

I have Internet and open up Facebook. A guy I know in the States, who is married to a Filipina, is on-line. I send him a short message. He answers, asking, ‘what’s up?’

I pour it all out in that chat session. He asks for a ‘time out’ for a few minutes. When he gets back on he has news for me and apologizes for having to tell me what he has yet to say. And then he lays it all out. It is the sort of thing I was thinking but didn’t want to believe.

His wife is aware that Charline has left me. But it was not for a job, though Charline will get one. She got what she needed from me: land in the Philippines; a fully built house; and US citizenship. That completed, and knowing there is no more banked wealth she can tap, as far as Charline is concerned, I am disposable. And so, she has returned to the USA, knowing I really can’t and won’t follow her. She is done with me.

My buddy is sorry for me, and maybe, just maybe, a little scared for himself, though his wife tells him, not to worry. But promises like that sure aren’t helping him as we continue to chat.

I am sitting here without a clue of what the fuck to do even to fill the time. TV isn’t even an option. We have a TV, but the channels are all Filipino. I didn’t splurge on cable. I guess I can now, but that will take a bit. I mess around on the computer for a bit, lock up the house, and go to bed at 8:30PM.

Breakfast is doable. I can make coffee and there are some bananas in the house. There is also a box of Nestle Corn Flakes. I really didn’t know Nestle made corn flakes. I thought it was a Kellogg’s product, but sure as hell, this box says Nestle.

I dump some flakes into a bowl, put some sugar on the flakes, slice a banana over that, and add some “lite” milk.

OK that is accomplished… but what the fuck do I do now?

I grab a length of mahogany from a branch of a tree we cut down on the property that was in the way of a shed I wanted to build. Taking out my knife from my pocket, I take a seat on the terrace out front and start whittling. Maybe I can make a walking stick from this.

I am taking my time. It seems to me, time is something I have plenty of and there ain’t a soul waiting for me. So maybe I just need to do some thinking before I get all riled up and bothered.

Right now I am just getting the basic shape set. I haven’t done any fine work and I have left the top of the stick alone. I like the grain of the wood and am still working it when I realize it is past time for a lunch meal. I figure that keeping to a ‘normal’ schedule will be good for my mental health as I work through this mess. But I ain’t really got any food for lunch made.

Putting the mahogany down and the knife back in my pocket, I close up the house and walk down the road. There is a bakery about a half a kilometer away. I will buy something there.

This is a town, but it is pretty rural as towns go. Every one of my neighbors is somehow related to every one of the rest of my neighbors. Or at least it seems that way to me.

I can’t be sure, but it seems to me that people are noticing me as I walk by their homes. Maybe I am just imagining it. Don’t know. It just feels weird. I feel very isolated and vulnerable.

It’s sunny and hot out. I don’t use an umbrella. I do have a broad brimmed straw hat which helps a bit, but the perspiration is soaking my shirt and rolling down my back. The dust from the dirt road is mixing with the sweat. I feel far less than clean. My Adidas’ are comfortable and the walking itself is not a problem. But though half a ‘k’ is not far, I am regretting not taking the car.

Yeh, the car is in her name too. Yes she left it and it is mine to drive, but not to own and not to sell if I want to sell it before buying something else.

I see the bakery. One of the gals there has a rig set up out front and she is frying doughnuts. In a stall two down from her, a man is selling pork BBQ. These are little chunks of marinated pork, on bamboo skewers. I buy six skewers of the BBQ and half a dozen of the doughnuts, before reversing course and returning home. On the way I eat the pork, skewer by skewer, tossing the little bamboo sticks to the side as I finish each.

By the time I return home, the pork is gone and I have consumed one of the doughnuts. Putting the rest of the baked goods on the kitchen table, I strip down, pulling the wet and sticky shirt, shorts, and briefs off me.  The shower feels good. Though I can take a hot shower, I keep the temp very cool.

Dry, redressed, and back in the kitchen I grab one more of the doughnuts before returning to my project.

The wood is talking to me as my knife meets the grain and works its way. It will be a strong walking stick. The ninety degree bend on the top will make a good hand grip as the grain bends that way. There is no knot involved.

In the past I normally whittled on maple rifle stock blanks. I have no firearms here. But the walking stick will prove a modicum of protection so long as the other guy doesn’t pull a gun.

Do I need protection? I hadn’t thought so up to now. But I no longer feel safe. Is that silly? I mean my wife was not exactly a bodyguard. But in a way she was. I am exposed now in a way I was not before.

I am taking my time with my new walking stick. I remove bits slowly, I grab some sandpaper from the shed and remove a great deal of extraneous material, before tackling the handgrip with my knife.

It is beginning to come to life, but the sun is fading. I put the stick down. Locking up the house again, I drive to a well-known resto-bar here, Jelo’s Place. There I can get a decent plate of rotisserie chicken, fried rice, good burgers, or some good pancit. There are nice desserts, if I wanted that, which I do not at present. And there is beer. If it ain’t high cuisine, it ain’t bad either. The food is tasty and I didn’t have to cook it. As I haven’t gone shopping, I really don’t have anything to cook anyway. Besides I don’t have a clue how to cook fried rice or chopsuey2.

Charline and I used to eat here on occasion and the guy serving me asks, Where your wife, Sir?

I suspect she is still traveling, but I sure as hell don’t really know. I tell him, In the USA.

She there visiting without you?

No, she is there is stay.

When you leave?

I am not leaving.

Why you not with your wife?

Ask her! OK, so that was uncalled for, but I guess it just came out all on its own.

Anyway, it freaks the guy out and he just about runs away after saying, Sorry, sorry! I sorry, Sir!

I wave to him to come back and apologize for being rude.

No, Sir, you not rude! Your wife. It is she who is rude. She not to do that. It is wrong. You want her back, Sir?

Yeh, I thought I did. But if this is what she really is, then maybe I am better without her.

Sir? Yes, I think maybe you correct! If she bad to you, then better you know it! Yes, you are correct. Better she be gone. Sir, maybe you want another beer? Or maybe you want some Fundador?

OK, some of the brandy, Fundador Light3, but no ice.

Yes, Sir!

I suspect I downed about half a litre before returning home at 9PM.

Morning arrives without any type of a plan. I am as lost as I was yesterday. All I can do is make another bowl of corn flakes and brew another pot of coffee.

Normally the maid took care of the laundry every second day. But there is no maid here. The floors are getting gritty and the laundry is piling up. I am not sure about how to get a maid, but there is a laundry down the road, between the bakery and the resto-bar.

I put all my laundry, and the sheets I had been sleeping on, in a basket and drive it down to the “Cool Bubbles” laundry. As I am already half way to the supermarket, I continue down the road and do some very necessary shopping for foods I am able to cook.

Potatoes are not nearly as inexpensive as is rice, but I know what to do with spuds. I buy eggs, bacon, ham, more hotdogs, some frozen fish called ‘cream dory4,’ some flour, butter, vegetables, and fruit. Also in the cart is another loaf of bread, ten San Miguel beers, two 750ml bottles of Tanduay Light Rhum, ten cans of Spam, some spaghetti noodles, Del Monte spaghetti sauce, and a dozen bags of potato chips.

Yes maybe, if I was Filipino, I could have gotten the vegetables and fruit at a better price at the open air market, which is called a palengke, but with my white skin, Charline always told me, if I showed up, the prices would be sky high.

Before I drive home, I stop at a Minute Burger and buy three burgers. I get six, as it is two for the price of one, for these little sliders. Three are finished off before I get back home. The next three go down with the help of a beer.

After putting the groceries away, I return to the terrace and my walking stick. I continue sanding with a fine grit paper. I will checker the shaft in places and make finger guides on the handle, but first I want to bring the entire piece down to a fine sanded result. Eventually, there will not be a spot on the entire piece that is not smooth to the touch. 

As I sand, I think about what fate has dealt me. There are moments I am incredibly sad and feeling sorry for myself. There are moments when I want to believe this is all a big misunderstanding and that she will come back. There are moments I just can’t believe that it has happened. And there are moments when I am angry with a red hot rage. The one thing I am not, is feeling guilty. I do not deserve this. I did nothing wrong. I am one of the good guys. Even she, knew it, and said so on occasion.

Is this the ‘nice guys finish last’ reality?

Is this my reward for being decent and caring?

I have sanded off all the grit from the paper, I have been sanding so long and hard. Now it needs oil to bring the luster forth, but before that I need to carve more. Maybe tomorrow. I am done for today.

I get up, dust myself off, put some ice in a tumbler and pour a fair amount of rhum over it. This rhum is a little sweet. The sugar cane that produced it lives on in the flavor. I open a bag of chips and proceed to make a good dent on the rhum, while finishing off the bag of chips. I am not hungry and I will skip supper.

It is dark out. I clean up the mess I left on the terrace and start my computer. Let’s see what Charline has posted on her Facebook page.

I’ll be damned! The bitch has blocked me on Facebook.

I decide to return the favor and block her. Fuck her.

I search for her Facebook friends, but each of them has blocked me too.

I search for her sister’s page. That very sister who it supposed to help me with the issue of PhilHealth, but I am blocked there too. This is a fucking nightmare. How many people were in on this?

I am getting more and more pissed off. Do I have any real friends? Why didn’t anyone warn me?

I decide to check out some porn on the net before crashing for the night. The porn is OK, but it doesn’t get me horny. It just makes me feel lonely. It is not what I need. Are the girls pretty? Sure some are, but so what? They aren’t mine.

I wander around the house. It is not a small place. We built it with the understanding that it would often overflow with her extended family. And it did until a couple of days ago. Now it is as quiet and as empty as a mausoleum.

In the two days since she has left, it is already showing signs that it needs to be cleaned. Life has left the house. Joy has abandoned the premises. There is a sense of an impending denouement. A final curtain to be drawn and a sense that I am in the way, an obstacle interrupting the natural order of things.

I don’t belong here. I know it. All around me know it. The universe knows it. And yet here I am, stuck and not moving at all. What did she think I would do? Did she give it any thought at all? Did it even cross her mind?


1 - Pronounced: nah-VAHL.
2 - It may be “Chop Suey” in the rest of the world, but in the Philippines it is one word.
3 - A basic brandy. Cost is far more than basic Tanduay Light Rhum and is considered a treat to be served after dinner to guests. For comparison, the cost of 750ml of the rhum will be less than seventy-five pesos, while the cost of the brandy in the 750ml size is over three hundred pesos. The difference does not go unnoticed to those who are offered it.
4 - The cream dory, also referred to as Pangasius or Pacific dory, is a farm-bred fish, white in color and soft in texture.


Chapter 2