Alley Cat

May 30, 2008
By Sophia Aleli Beltran, Sta. Rosa, Laguna, ZZ

I used to have everything.
But that seems like such a long time ago. Looking back, I can now see how many opportunities I had so foolishly wasted.
If I regret anything I had done in the past, that would be when I had swum alongside others in deep sea, and I suddenly started wondering what I had been swimming for. That was when things started to go wrong and I learned to doubt.
I had never really felt the ‘high’ others did when they accomplish little things in school. I had wanted a different ‘high’ then—far, far away from school. So I took a different route, and ended up face down in the dirt.
But it made me happy. I lived the life many dared dream of—all play and no work. I spent more time outside school than in it, and I was happy.
It took me six whole years in high school to realize that I was no good. No good at all. So I decided to give up. I hated math, and math hated me back. I couldn’t memorize everything in the periodic table. I didn’t understand why I had to learn all that stuff. Besides, there are better things to do than to stay cooped up in a dingy classroom nine hours a day. Like do anything that’s not school-related in any way. And that’s exactly what I did.
I met people I wouldn’t have met had I stayed locked up in school. I became one of them—I became ‘cool.’ I was so cool that I felt totally in control of my life. No parents to hang over me like a dead nail, no rules—and if there are, I was so cool that I broke them all. I was so cool that I never had to listen to my parents arguing over the same stuff they had been arguing about yesterday, and the night before, and the night before… I was always outside the place I never considered ‘home’ that I never had any idea when my parents got separated. And I never cared.

I never cared…

I mean, I shouldn’t have cared, right? Cool people don’t get affected with awful separations. But I had quite a hard time dealing with it. Sometimes I feel like I have myself to blame. To tell you the truth, I spent countless nights crying my heart out, hoping that God will hear me. But somehow it felt like as if when I pray, He never listens to me. Slowly, my faith in Him diminished.

I felt so alone.
Paradoxically, I also felt unbreakable—like nothing worse could happen to me. I ran away from home and did whatever I wish. I didn’t have much money then, so I stole food, clothes, and even little things I wouldn’t be caught dead having. Larceny became my friend. I became a small-scale thief, and I did it to sustain myself. Sometimes, I did it just for the heck of it.

In the midst of my forlorn solitude, I met Gary.

There’s nothing unusual about him. Like many other guys I’d been through, he smokes, he drinks (a lot, to put it simply), and he doesn’t like going to school. My feathers had been ruffled pretty hard then when he hooked up with me, and I actually thought he cared. I thought he loved me.

I was so desperate that I ran away with him. We became nomads—we never stayed in a single place. It was mostly because people started to remember our faces, and they learned quickly that we were up to no good. We did robbery together, Gary and me. He did drugs, so I learned to, as well. But I never really felt as attached to him as I would’ve hoped, probably because I know that he’s not really committed to our relationship. Like me, he just wants to have fun.

But the fun ended when I got pregnant and he refused to claim it as his own. He said I’d been with too many guys before him that he can’t be sure if it’s his. Deep inside me, I know that he fathered my child. I know that he knows it too; he just doesn’t want me to burden him with responsibility.

I woke up in the streets one day to find out that he wasn’t beside me. He left without a trace.

I didn’t know whom to hate—Gary for giving me false hopes about our make-believe fairy tale, or myself for trusting him.

The path to our old house had been long and tiring, but I took it in the hope of finding what’s left of my family welcoming me with open arms.

When I arrived, they were no longer there. Our house looked emptied up, but I believed it was nothing compared to the emptiness I had inside me.

Then it hit me that had I found them at our old house still, I doubt that they would take me back. I doubt that they would even recognize me. The very little pride I had left engulfed me that I refused to look for them anymore, nor ask for help. Thievery was the only job I knew, so I found myself back to where I started, only much worse.

It was a cold December evening when I felt the creature inside me fighting its way to the outside world. Hidden behind piles of wood and paper, I gave birth alone. It had hurt so bad that I hated my child. I hated him for looking so much like Gary. I hated him for giving me more reason to hate myself. But the little love I restrained inside grew more and more each day for little Gary, who clenched my finger with his tiny fists. He looked at me with so much trust that I couldn’t bear not loving him.

In my desolation, I started to pray again.

I never really knew what forced me to do it, but it just felt like the right thing to do. And for once I knew God listened. I asked for guidance and He gave it to me. Slowly, life became better for Gary and me.

Surely, we had our ups and downs, and we hardly had more than what we needed, but we had just enough. The life my little Gary and I lived was far simpler than the life I had lived before my life turned to crap, but I’m thankful.
I worked as hard as I hoped my parents did for the sake of keeping our family together, and when Gary graduated from college, I felt like the happiest person on earth. Now, Gary’s raising his own family, yet never fails to visit me and make me feel appreciated.
I am so proud of him.

But giving Gary everything I wanted him to have is not enough. It still feels like there’s something missing.

Despite my age, I went back to school. This time, the determination I possess to do well is incomparable to the determination I had then to fail. I kept a tight hold on my dreams, and now I’m 60 and fulfilled. The look on the face of my dear Gary caused tears to well up in my eyes during my graduation speech last week—all the admiration, love, and pride I saw there were just too much.
For the first time ever, I felt loved.
As I look back, I realize that many things lost can never be found again. But life has a funny way of giving back what we had lost—not in the form we knew it had then, but in another—to compensate, perhaps, or to make up for its shortcomings. In the same way that I had lost hope in myself, I found hope in the eyes of little Gary.

More than that, I found what I never had before.
I found a home.


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