“There are ways of dying that don’t end in funerals. Types of death you can’t smell.”
– Haruki Murakami, New York Mining Disaster, in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
This line particularly struck me this afternoon as I was reading. Tomorrow will be the second week I will be working in our municipal hall–as a Job Order employee paid P200/day, 1/5 of the daily rate someone with my level of knowledge and abilities is usually paid for. Despite the 5-minute walking distance from our house to work, it was almost a Herculean task everyday to go there. I was born here, but I studied in another town, now a city, around 20 minutes by commute until high school. I had playmates who were neighbors when I was younger, and as I got older and spent more time in school, we didn’t see each other much anymore. While some children were focused on playing, I was into books. I didn’t like going out of the house anymore. Reading books became much more interesting, a temporary escape in a boring life. Going back, I was never truly happy at home. I was happy at school, being with classmates, and I liked learning. When my mother started menopause and my older sister went to college, it was also the start of the years I harbored bitterness. While other children were still helped by their parents to do homework, I had to rely on myself. “I don’t know that anymore” and “I forgot how to do that” were phrases I’ve heard too many times. Those, for me, and a pile of papers on top of the dining table were stabbing signs of rejection. Finally, in high school, I stopped asking for help.
I have always felt I was different. I never had what you call a complete family because my father died when I was 4 years old. I was also smarter and more mature than other children my age. In my last year of elementary, I already knew that the world was a cruel place and that my mother held a crueler tongue.
I felt alienated at home and school. When I went into college, I never felt totally homesick. I would miss home but never cry for it. When I come home for vacation, three days later, we would fight. This still happens until now, only I would return home from my work in Manila. And today marks my 7th month here, stuck, in this small town.
Even though my last two jobs were stressful, I was still happy because of the people around me. I actually consider these people as my true family whom I love more than the family whom I share the same blood and name. Reading Murakami’s lines made me realize once again that I am dying a slow painful death. I never wanted to work here in our town. I hate the pressure and the expectations associated with being the smart youngest daughter of Ma’am T, who graduated from a prestigious state university. I hate being forced to smile and being forced to mask my disdain for shallow, selfish, and corrupt people working in the local government. I hate working hard and compensated unfairly, comparing the level of commitment and focus I give to other regular employees. In my 5 days at the municipal hall, I have already done work that should have already be done decades ago by regular staff. Our town has made little progress for the past 10 years because of greed, laziness, misplaced pride, lack of social concern, and strife. There is no genuine sense of public service anymore and everywhere, stupidity, indifference and shallow patriotism is almost palpable in the Philippines. Case in point: there is a bill which aims to proclaim Manny Pacquiao a national hero, which is fucking ridiculous. What about our farmers and fishermen, who toil daily just to provide food on our tables, aren’t they heroes also? There are times I wish I was stupid, ignorant, and insensitive so that I don’t worry too much.
I am already tired of pretending to be nice and understanding to everyone here, including my family. Living alone and working thousands of miles away, I have the freedom to be myself. There are people who recognize my abilities and see my potentials. In my craziness and periods of despair, there are still people who accept me for who and what I am. By working here however, I have already secured my position similar to a bird in a cage.
I am still looking and applying for other jobs. I am not going to give up that easily. One day I will leave this place and start another life somewhere. I will not let my real self die. I will live. I HAVE to live. And if I have to be branded as an ingrate, so be it. I am 24 already and I am fucking tired of being afraid. I am fucking tired of sacrificing my happiness for other people. I don’t want to be miserable anymore.