Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Donuts to Memory Lane: An Autobiography

A very busy day at work had left me starving that I found myself inside a donut store at the local mall. Everything was enchanting to the eyes, but what caught my attention were the two kids at the adjacent table. 

It was such a delightful sight as they eat their donuts playfully. “Yuck! That’s dirty!” echoed a sweet voice as a donut fell, and with another hand trying to catch it just before it hits the floor. There had been a series of indistinct dialogues from that table. 

“Want to have kids, huh?” my friend asked jokingly as she tapped my shoulder. I realized I was lost for a moment.

I was on the fourth grade when I had my first bite of Dunkin’ Donuts. I remembered feeling overjoyed when I saw the colorful buns; trying every flavor there was! That was one of the most delicious stuff I had ever tasted in my lifetime. My father brought home a lot that day that I decided to take some to school. Carried away by my innocent pleasures, I boastfully opened my printed plastic bag during the break and ate with all delight, enjoying every bite. I brought four donuts of different flavors. Since I couldn’t eat everything, I decided to share them to my friends Tiwi, Janith, Ronia and Michelle. 

“It tastes different. Did your mom reheat this?” Tiwi asked  as she kept on with the feast and noticed a mark. Of course she can tell the difference. She was born in a good family. Her father was a college dean at that time. 

“Of course they did! Don’t you know where it came from?!” A classmate who happens to live in the same neighborhood interrupted while I was explaining about the marks left by the grill. 

Everybody stared back at our direction. The tears started to fall as everyone in the class gave me those scrutinizing looks. Tiwi stood up to my defense, and Janith devoured the donuts as if she never heard anything. I have never felt that humiliated. 

My school has a fine reputation being the first public primary school in the country. It has produced numerous public figures, and standards are held high. Being in the star section, my classmates, whose parents are mostly professionals, always had the best- notebooks, art materials, and things I had never seen in my life. Every single day started or ended with the stories of “who got what”. I hardly ever participated in their discussions. I realized I had nothing interesting to share since we didn’t even have an electric connection or own a television at home. One of my best friends, Tiwi, would always bring extra materials for me or would invite me to their house a block away from ours to share her things. But in most cases, I chose to be absent, missing some activities. I had had used every single alibi to stay home. I was almost an outcast and my confidence minute. Who am I to compete with them?

The day of the donut incident may be one of the funniest experiences my classmates had in school, but for me, it was one of the luckiest. With my mother being a plain housewife, at times a laundry woman, and my father being a garbage collector, socially and economically, I was too far behind. What can I prove to those sons and daughters of engineers, military official, teachers, government employees? Having four children in the family was  a big challenge. Sometimes, we got through the day without a serving of rice. There are instances when the only way to alleviate hunger was to dissolve a teaspoon of coffee in a glass of tap water. The donuts my father had religiously gathered from the trash of Dunkin’ Donuts, and which I brought to school were the same things we had for the three meals that day. It was the same case in moments we had plenty of chicken or pork. For others who could afford to buy, it was such a disgust, but for me, it means a day with my stomach having something to digest. We’d been extremely lucky to have a decent meal we could buy. My mother had had a bad record for the never-ending credits at the nearby store. After what happened, I have never brought donuts to school.

The experience just got worst when I was on the sixth grade. Entering my teenage years, I realized that my classmates wore camisoles but I couldn’t. That was another cause of ridicule. I started to skip classes that I almost got dropped. Luckily, my class adviser was very understanding. She even requested one of my teachers to drop by our house to talk with my mother. Upon discovering, my brother had hit me hard. I remember asking my mother why on earth I needed to suffer those things; that people needed to laugh at my life and get me belittled. My mother who couldn’t believe what she heard hugged me tightly and said, “That’s why, you needed to go to school, so you will have the opportunity to make your life better. Work hard to overcome all the obstacles. You are brilliant. I never taught you to read and write at three just to think that way. Prove you are not stupid.” 

It was our lifestyle that made people in the neighborhood frown at us. It continued even until my sister got a part time job while struggling through college and started helping out. My brothers needed to skip classes and drive a pedicab to earn money. I had to give my mother a hand in packing banana brittle nearby to help out. 

But, life is fair. Those experiences had brought in challenges and opportunities. Born and raised in an indigent family caused us to lean through hard work, having life at the bottom. There's no way to go but up, they said. Luckily, or maybe to others in our neighborhood, miraculously, four of us were able to go to college.

The day I saw the children in the donut store had me wander in the distant past. It had reminded me of the childhood that shaped who I am, the friends who stayed true no matter what, and the challenges I never thought would only make me resistant to hardships. I will never forget those days. I promised never to dwell or even drop by there again, ever. 

The voice that stopped the other kid from picking up the bun on the floor had reminded me how my classmates reacted the day I brought the donuts to school. It broke my heart and taught me something about reality. 

Now, every time I pass by a donut store, I can’t help but wonder how things had been if those rejected buns never reached our home and fed our hungry stomachs.  

Indeed, we can never be truly appreciative of things we enjoy without missing even the simplest luxury of decency in life. Trash. For others they may be useless, for some of us, it’s life and survival.

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