It is said residents of suburbia are the least fit of citizens, including centre-town urbanites, and that is because they have to drive everywhere to address the necessities of life: shopping.
Carmen loved shopping. All sorts of shopping: groceries, cosmetics, toiletries, clothes, shoes and handbags, jewelry. My Bridlewood townhouse was an easy five minute drive to half a dozen grocery stores and banks and hardware stores and drugmarts. And a mere 20 more minutes to a monster shopping plaza. This was heaven to Carmen. I later learned that in Cavite, which is one great smear of town upon town, with no clear boundaries, and traffic, traffic, traffic, it could take hours to get to the shopping destination of your desire. Almost no one in her neighbourhood had a car and to get to the mega-malls in every town centre you traveled by foot, then by tricycle, and then jeepney. For this reason her neighbourhood, and every other neighbourhood and street and road, was littered with little shops, usually adjoined to their little ramshackle houses. These mini-merchants, all neighbours, in effect served as the common supply channel for these residential enclaves. So when Carmen got to Canada, a drive of twenty minutes to an open space mall was no hardship at all. It was an adventure, it was a marvel.
She must have thought I was made of money, and I suppose, compared to her last twenty years of desperate survival, I was. After all, I had traveled to Philippines three times to see her and retrieve her. I had a ‘big house’ and a big new car. And two expensive dogs, and credit cards. I think she was experiencing a strange psychological shift and struggled to reconcile it, oscillating between her time when she had a rich husband in Manila, and her time of suffering of a different sort in suburban Cavite. I reminded her that I was reasonably well-off, with pensions and an ongoing consulting practice, but I wasn’t rich. Still her large eyes, wide, could not help spying yet another little pleasure that landed in our shopping cart. I understood all this – years of deprivation can severely alter judgment and delayed gratification was not possible – but there were times when I felt I was becoming her chauffeur and carrying boy, an echo of her wealthy past. I confess I felt the stress of this compulsive buying, and let her know I wasn’t happy about it, mostly through body language, sometimes angry words. She would be upset, and would apologize, but the behaviour didn’t change.
Doug’s many friends
It was one thing to make house together, it’s another to find the equilibrium between being a couple and being an individual. In the first blush of a love affair, and discovery, you want to spend all your time with the other. But as the relationship matures your ‘self’ needs the variety and challenge of other people. I have many friends, friends that cover the gamut from distant professional acquaintances, to close colleagues to intimate friends. I couldn’t always tell the boundaries to all these distinctions but I can say that many of my ‘friends’ stepped up for me during my time of duress and grief, while at the same time, many others redefined themselves for their avoidance of me. But as I began to reemerge to my renewed purposeful life, I also needed to renew my friendships. I had many times offered to introduce Emily to this circle of my support network but she was too intimidated to try. Carmen was not. Or if she was she hid the fear and did it anyway. It was only later when our roles were reversed and I was immersed in The Philippines did I realize how challenging, exhausting even, it is to spend many hours in the company of others and barely able to follow the conversations in another language. She never complained, though she was uncharacteristically quiet. As the months wore on however, she grew increasingly confident in her English and joined in.
The thing she did comment on though, was how far we had to drive to see these many friends. Living in suburbia, your friends were scattered in their own distant suburbs, or downtown, and this meant much travel. At least the travel on relatively uncongested expressways was not the tremendous thief of time that commuting in The Philippines is. For this we cannot thank city planners for inventing suburbia, only for adequate infrastructure.
But really, that is not the point. Suburbia is neither a curse nor a blessing. It is an opportunity to come home, for there is no place like it.