Thursday, October 20, 2011

Parallel Universe

A couple of weekends ago, my husband and I traveled to San Antonio for alumni weekend at Trinity University.  Trinity holds a special place in our hearts, as we met there at freshman orientation, in 1978.  He recently got a call from some fraternity brothers, encouraging him to come down for a beer or two, to catch up and to talk about the good old days.  We had some timeshare points to use, so we thought, why not?  We ate some good Mexican food, did some shopping, and overall had a great weekend getaway.  The fraternity party was great, we saw some familiar faces, and got caught up on all the goings-on over the past 30 years.

It was surreal to see the old campus, in some ways the same, in some ways, very different.  It was almost as if we could sense the ghosts of our former (young) selves, flitting about from place to place.  I could see myself walking across campus to get to my 8:00 class, eating a bite in the refectory (who came up with that name for the eating place??) or dancing to the band at the annual welcome back party at the tower.  We walked around, sharing our memories ... "That's where I jumped the fence to the pool and went for a swim in February, just so I could tell my friends back in New York that I went swimming in February!"  "There is the window seat in the library where I used to study."  "I remember when they threw me in the fountain for my birthday!"  And so on.  I felt like I was in a time warp.

Ultimately though, we left a little deflated.  It was as if we suddenly realized that that part of our lives is no longer.  The concrete and bricks may still be there, in one form or another, but we are no longer a part of the place.  We did a little grieving, too, about that carefree time in our lives, when all we had to worry about was getting good grades, and making our allowance stretch through the month.  It was a little disappointing that some things had changed, but they were mostly changed for the better.  That creaky old building where I had most of my classes was no more; bulldozed and rebuilt into a modern, exposed beam and glass representation of modern architecture.  The old science building where Mitch spent hours in biology and chemistry labs was earmarked for demolition as well, with a new, state of the art science complex under construction next door.

Fort Bonifacio

Third Culture Kids spend a lot of time looking back.  Our years overseas were, for the most part, charmed.  We lived lives that no one in our home culture could ever envision.  We tell stories about the exotic locales, the luxurious lifestyle, the freedom.  In the case of the Philippines, we had extraordinary carte-blanche to explore the city and explore ourselves.  We had maids, drivers and gardeners.  Field trips meant a drive to some of the most beautiful tropical beaches in the world.  Some of us were witnesses to history; sometimes living through revolutions or martial law.  We lived just down the road from the American military cemetery at Fort Bonifacio.  Daily we drove on streets where World War II battles took place.  Names like Corregidor and Bataan meant something real to us.

The new and improved Manila.
So when the day comes that dad announces that we are "moving back to the states" we unrealistically expect our past lives to remain the same.  We want that time in our lives to freeze, to never change, to stay suspended in permanent animation.  We grieve when we hear about the changes.  There's now an elevated highway on E. de los Santos Avenue?  You've got to be kidding!  And where is the Quad, where we used to spend our afternoons watching movies or hanging out?  Gone!  There's now a SUBWAY system in Singapore?  Impossible!  A recent visit to Google Earth confirmed that my old house on Cambridge Circle in Forbes Park, is no more.  Granted it was one stiff wind away from falling down when we were there, but it was nevertheless a jolt to see that it was gone.  I can still close my eyes and be in my bedroom, and hear the hum of the window-unit "aircon".  I can hear the cook, Pacita, announcing "Dee-ner is u-ready!"  But that parallel universe is gone.  In my mind I hear platitudes like, "You can never go back" and "The only thing that stays the same is change."

For us TCK's though, those cliches are too close to our hearts.  When you watch a child grow up, the changes are imperceptible.  Only others, who haven't seen them in a long time, notice how drastic the changes are,  ("My goodness!  You've been eating your Wheaties!")  From the distance of time, the changes in our former homes are just too striking to comprehend.  Our old school has been demolished for an office skyscraper; the new location is flat-out gorgeous on a major scale.  Someone posted a video (above) and pictures online of the old campus before it was wiped out.  Rubble littered the floor, empty classrooms were covered in cobwebs and dust.  Here and there was a broken desk, a microscope still sat on a counter. The earth was reclaiming the land; weeds were growing through the concrete floors and vines covered the cracked walls.  It was eerie and devastating to a lot of us.  When we were there, it was old, it was creaky, but it was ours.

The new and improved International School, Manila
There is a lot of talk about TCK's having unresolved grief ... moving sometimes is like a death.  In those days, there was no internet to keep up with the old gang.  In most cases, you never saw those people again, ever.  So it was like a death, several times over.  Is it any wonder that we have issues with attachment and identity?

Not to end on a morose note.  Now we have the internet, we have message boards where we can reconnect with former classmates.  It heals the heart to "see" those folks again, to banter about our days in Manila, to look at pictures of ourselves from that time.  Reconnecting with the past heals; all of our awkward foibles and high school mistakes are forgiven and forgotten.  Happily, our spirits do still exist in that time and space, in that parallel universe.

1 comment:

Liz said...

Don't know why there is no sound on the video ...