Chesapeake Bay TransitIt was in the afternoon of October 31, 1974 when the fateful accident happened that brought a lifetime change to the once beautiful and adorable, young girl from the town of Liloan, Southern Leyte, Philippines. I was then a high school sophomore. We used to clean our classrooms everyday. Our school was a private school, but it was part of our youth civic action program that we were given assignments to clean our rooms and do some civic activities in our town. We just cleaned our public cemetery in time for the All Saints Day celebrations, where we accumulated numerous amount of used candles. We melted it and made into a home-made floor wax. It was a usual routine for us. At the time when the accident happened, we did it in one of our classmates' house and not in our own home. When the home-made wax was ready to be brought to school, one of our classmates placed it back to the stove, when she saw the top portion solidified. The container caught fire because there was already kerosene mixed to the melted candles. When I get inside the house from the back door, I was astounded from what I saw and while everyone was running away, I put some wet rags to the burning container to have the fire subsided and brought it out of the stove and throw it in an open space, to put off the fire easily with water. Unfortunately, while doing so, the wind suddenly bl ows hard, and before I knew it my school uniform's bow tie already caught fire.
I was brought to a neighboring town's hospital after a one-hour pump boat ride. At that time, there was no facility in our town for burn treatment. The next two week was spent in the hospital recuperating in anguish and in pain. I was sent home there after for continued medication and treatment. I was at home for months facing an obscured future. While at home, I was on a self-study so that I won' t miss the school year. Friends visit after class either to say "hello" or just simply out of curiosity to check how ugly I become. My teachers were kind enough to come around and to give the exams. Six month's passed, and the wounds healed leaving a disfigured face full of keloid scars including my neck that made it impossible to do the usual body movements. It was a very disheartening experience for a young girl at thirteen. Fame and adoration cut short by unsafe practices and a lapse of judgement at a tender age.
Did it make me bitter or better? Right at those moments, yes, I was bitter. I will be lying if I'll say that I am not. I was really so devastated seeing my face in front of the mirror full of scars. At a certain point, I wanted to end my life. Perhaps, my father sensed it. He pitied me and how I look. In April of 1975, he brought me to Dr. Rizal Aportadera, a burn specialist and plastic surgeon in Davao city, Philippines to undergo a skin grafting operation, so that I can move my neck freely. It was a successful one. Although, some portions of the keloid scars are left in some areas of my face and neck, I tried to lead a normal life after the procedure. I went back to school to finish my high school, studied hard to graduate at the top of the class. As suitors were all gone with the wind, amorous relationship took a back seat.
Stares from strangers anywhere I go became irritating. In college, against all odds, completed my degree in Chemical Engineering as a Dean's Lister. Another set back happened when the Latin honor was not conferred to me during graduation due to some Technicalities. Again, did it make me bitter? Yes, I was disheartened, and I promised myself that I will do good in the licensure exam. I was very grateful to pass it. On the affairs of the heart, my secret relationships come and go during my college years but I was always hoping to find my dream guy soon..
Life's journey continues riding on it's peaks and valleys, until I was accepted for a job with a Steel Manufacturing company in Iligan City. I worked hard until I became a Sr. Staff Engineer in our QA-Pasig plant. Friendships and close relationship blossomed but was not meant to last a lifetime. I was still waiting for my soul mate to cross paths. Till one day, my knight in shining armor came along unmindful of how I look and finally, we became one in 1988. At the peak of my career, I was again at the cross roads of my life and had to make a choice between family and a booming career. As a woman, a wife and a mother, I choose the path less traveled by most successful career women. It was not an easy choice and a very unpopular one, but making a happy HOME was where my heart is and the chance to nurture a young and fragile marriage comes at the forefront of my priorities.
Am I still bitter? No, I'm a BETTER person now. Life's twist and turns made me find the man who loved me and accepted me for what I am. I thank God for all the blessings, as I enjoy life in my golden years, traveling and seeing the beauty of the world through my husband's eyes, across the oceans of challenges. Today, we look forward to 2015 when our only child completes his degree in Doctor of Medicine and be ready for service in 2016.
In hindsight, the things that transpired in my life, made me realize that in living with life, we simply have to go with the flow. A sure-fire formula in moving on is to strengthen and nurture on the asset that is left and stop looking back on those things that are gone. Learning to embrace my uniqueness and overcoming the bullies inspired me to give my BEST in everything that I do. Indeed, it is true that when the outside beauty fades or is lost, a good character, a loving heart and kindness are essential ingredients for success.
Note: This article is written and dedicated to my niece Athena Honey Barton for her school project on Risk, Consequence and Courage.