At the age of two, she was stricken with polio, one of the thousands of children who caught the disfiguring virus during the epidemic. The indomitable faith of her mom and the entire family, made sure that despite this, she would be able to walk. And she was,with the hobble typical of such victims.
She grew up to be a chinita beauty, always smiling, never insecure of the deformity of her left hand and leg. But she also knew that she was never going to be like other girls, with their strong legs that could dance the ballet or, at least, hop and skip merrily along the way.
She would attract the interest of some of the boys at the parties...when she would be seated, with her legs covered by the delightful balloon skirts of that time. But the interest would quickly dissipate when she would decline the offer of a dance, and unapologetically show her left leg. The boys then were polite. They would just fade into the dancefloor with other girls.
But not him. He was so stricken by her beauty that first time he saw her at the campus. He saw the polio, but it never bothered him one bit. He was too enamored. Maybe it was because of his true romantic nature. He had an artist's hand. He could make sketches with his pen with just a few strokes, with amazing likeness. And he also had the gift of a poetry, schooled in Shakespeare. He had an amazing command of the English language.
This was how he, perhaps, tried to stand out in the family, a typical middle child. He was the middle son, sandwiched between a smart, charming Kuya and a handsome Bunso. So he was always immersed in the arts at a tender age. He was into theatre, music, sketching. And he developed his confidence that way.
But the arts was not what his parents planned for him. He was a Junior to a doctor-father. Being a doctor was imprinted on him, as much as he resisted. So he ended up in that UST Campus, intent on making his parents proud of him, finally.
Then he saw her, an interior design student, a friend of a friend. And he just had to meet her.
She definitely did not take him seriously, as he started the formal courtship procedure (visiting her at the house). Well, he wasn't as gwapo as her actor-crushes. Even a bit too scrawny. Besides, all of those guys get turned off by her polio anyway. Why would he be any different?
Oh but he was. He was persistent. And he just charmed the pants of her mom, who loved conversing with him in their native Capampangan. He really had a way with words. So she melted and had her first boyfriend, ever. And she felt how he truly loved her and cared for her.
He was deeply religious, another trait that endeared her mother to him. And even just a few months of going 'steady', he wanted some divine symbol to tell him that she is THE one. So he prayed that novena to St. Therese of the Child Jesus. He asked for a flower as a sign. Yes, that would be enough. A flower from her, incredulous during those times. Why on earth would she, the girl, give him, the guy, flowers? But it seemed the right sign to ask.
She was going off on a trip to Corregidor Island for the weekend. And she casually asked him what he wanted as pasalubong. He asked for a flower as a souvenir. She found it weird of him. But then again, he was always artisty-quirky that way. She shrugged and just nodded.
Her girl friends were teasing her about what pasalubong she'll bring back from Corregidor. She mentioned the flower request, which seemed even weirder now that they were on the island. Not fruits, not even seashells. But a flower. As she was carefully going down the steps from the beach house, she noticed a shrub in full bloom. The gardener allowed her to pick a few flowers, and told her they were Vietnamese roses. Odd-looking roses, they were, she thought.
She gave him the roses during his visit. He was flabbergasted, but didn't show it. He graciously accepted the gift and acted like all was normal. He went home that night whistling his favorite classical piece, a Rachmaninoff. He was ecstatic! He couldn't believe that his prayer would be answered so directly, Even though he asked for a flower as a sign, he was surprised that she gave him roses, the very flower associated with St. Therese. The symbolism was unmistakable. He knew then that this was the woman he was going to spend the rest of his life with.
That was fifty three years ago. And they are still together, both in their mid-seventies.
With parents like that, how could you not believe in love that lasts a lifetime? cc
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