Carmen’s six months term in Canada was nearing an end, and what had we learned? What do we do next?
Lurking in my mind was the unrelenting apprehension that this relationship was not right. I had invited Carmen to come to Canada on a dare with myself: Maybe I needed to test our relationship potential with real experience, not just instinct. If she could get a visa to Canada, then I would have one less reason to abandon the project. She got the visa. I had to follow through.
And here we were six months later and I was not much more convinced than I was at the beginning of the year. Some of my concerns had been assuaged, and some were no better. I’d discovered new attributes, and some new concerns.
This is not the place for a listing of the relative merits of the case. And as I’ve said in another place in this narrative, a relationship is not a scorecard, nor a balance sheet. But a reckoning of some sort is always in play…
I knew I was not ‘in love’ with Carmen, but I ‘loved’ her. I have read and thought a lot about love over the years and I think love is a fraud. I used to be a true romantic, in love with the idea of true love. Now in my jaded old age, and persuaded by the biological materialists, I have a more hardened view. Love is a neuro-chemical response to ensure the survival of the species, to fuel the drive to reproduce, and then to create [temporary] bonds to protect the mother and the offspring. Love is not even identified by psychologists and neuro-biologists, as a basic emotion. Cloaked as it is in so many cultural memes, and taking on so many forms, it’s hard to know if the word can ever describe the huge range of feelings we call love. Plato took a crack at it and his categorization still predominates: Romantic love – eros; Maternal love and its many familial forms – philia; Universal love – agape. I am very attracted to eros, not just the romantic erotic part of eros, but to the vigor and drive of the life force. But I no longer trust it. Too many disappointments, too much pain. I am conscious of the fact that I am protecting myself in not ‘falling in love’ with Carmen. And yet, and yet, I still cleave to the idea that you don’t choose love, it chooses you. I was ‘in love’ with Emily. But was I? Really? In the circumstances of my grief, how could I be sure? Was I in love?, or just desperately grasping for a moment of pleasure and escape from the ravages of my life, like a soldier and his girlfriend just as he departs to the front?
Carmen herself is highly intuitive and ‘knew’ that I was not in love with her. And I was honest enough to tell her that Emily still haunted me, even as I tried to let her go for good. ‘What if she came to the door and said she was sorry’, Carmen hypothesized, ‘what would you do? I think you would take her back and send me home to Philippines!’ I denied it of course. ‘I would be crazy to forgive Emily for the harm she has done and for the massive duplicity,’ I said. But that was not the answer Carmen wanted to hear. And I wasn’t so sure that’s what I would do.
So what was my future to be with Carmen? And what was I going to do about it?
I got lots of advice.
My romantic optimistic friends, some of whom are themselves curiously grounded in what matters most, said it was wonderful that I had found such a loving companion. Live every moment as if it were a gift. Love her. Appreciate her. Accept that life is short; you could search for a lifetime looking for perfection.
My professional pragmatic friends said I should just end it. Even if I loved Carmen and wanted to marry her and spend the rest of my days with her, there were still many consequences and hurdles: immigration, pension rights, estate transfer, family conflicts. Health coverage! At the least I needed to see a divorce lawyer and get a pre-nuptial agreement with Carmen. And if I didn’t love her, why perpetuate the relationship? The points of conflict and friction are likely to just worsen. What then?
And what about the distance, and the resulting costs. There would be a lot of travel back and forth and Philippines is a long way away; even if you fly economy (shudder), it ain’t cheap. Philippines may have lower living costs, but only if you lived basically; and maintaining two abodes erased any gains. I knew I would never emigrate to The Philippines and Carmen would almost certainly never qualify to immigrate to Canada, so our long term relationship meant long term commuting. Until my health, or hers, and/or my money, ran out. And when one of us dies, what then? I expect to be buried next to Marlene in Pinecrest Cemetery. Carmen expects to be buried in Santa Rita cemetery near her mother, or more likely in Trece Martires, where most of her kids now lived. These life realities sure took the romance out of it.
I should just abandon these fantasies and resign myself to a life of loneliness, and maybe the faint hope of meeting a lovely Canadian woman. The former idea was unthinkable to me, and the latter seemed very unlikely. I know I would wither and die. But maybe that’s all we live for anyway.
I knew that I had to accompany Carmen back to Philippines because she could not do that on her own. Well of course she could but not to my overly protective psyche. The plan emerging in my mind was I would take her back to the Philippines and I would then explain to her that it would be better for her if she stay in Philippines while I returned to Canada, alone.
But inertia, and doubt, and concern for her wellbeing, continued. We had made progress in our six months together in Canada, what would it be like after 5 – 6 months together in Philippines?
I decided that was worth a try, even though I knew that behavioural economists referred to this losing strategy as escalation of commitment. But being with a devoted and affectionate woman, especially coupled with my psychological need to avoid loneliness, trumped all the other options.
We talked it out, sort of. Talking about large concepts was not something Carmen did very well, given her limited English, and my non-existent Tagalog. We made plans.
The first step was to get a visa for me. Canadians can visit without visa for 30 days but longer than that needs prior permission. Carmen was thrilled when we took a tour of the Byward Market looking for the Embassy and found a bit of The Philippines right on Murray Street. It’s not true what they say about Philippine corruption, at least in the Ottawa Visa Office, but I did grease the wheels by donating a copy of The Maxim Chroniclesto the office library.
Searching for accommodation in Philippines was far more challenging: I did not want to live with Carmen in her tiny and hot house in claustrophobic Capital Hills. I needed more space and more creature comforts. I didn’t mind meeting all of Carmen’s extended family and neighbours, I just didn’t want to be immersed with them. Carmen suggested the nearby town of Tagaytay, 30 minutes drive from Trece, and it’s a lot cooler there as it is about 2000 feet in elevation above the lower plains of Cavite. It’s a tourist town she said, everyone comes every weekend to view Lake Taal and its volcano. That caused me momentary pause, Tagaytay was located on the caldera of a vast dormant volcano. Still, the government promoted Tagaytay since 1938; it must be safe. Only later did I discover Taal is still active and last blew its stop in 1968 and burped in 1991. A massive condo complex was constructed there within the last ten years. Carmen was sure we could find an apartment to rent. Sounded good. My search began in earnest as I poured through internet listings. Hmmm, these are not cheap! Especially as I needed a two bedroom place, one room to serve as my studio for my writing, possibly retreat. Finally I settled on a place, and from the pictures and description I thought it would fill the bill. I contacted the Filipino owner, Ernesto, who happened to live in California. We worked out a deal.
Booking flights was the easy part, even though I had to scrap the previous plan of returning through Osaka. It was actually cheaper to book a round trip to Manila via Montreal and Tokyo, returning by way of Taipei, Vancouver and Ottawa. Carmen had no interest in seeing her favourite pamangkin again.
I organized health insurance for my sojourn in Philippines, reduced my car insurance since it was being left in the garage unused, and my Telus cellular service since I wouldn’t be needing it in Philippines, rearranged my banking to pay the rent, and utilities while I was gone, and draw money when I needed, asked Jenny to look in on the house every couple of days and collect the mail.
The day the taxi arrived to take us to the airport the maintenance supervisor helped me turn off the water and drain the pipes. We turned the thermostat down to 10o and walked out the door.
The Philippines phase of this journey of discovery was about to begin.