Illustration by  Matthew Niel J. HebronaI long to walk in cold layers of snow with my fur boots on, but it is quite impossible now. All I can see are the leafless trees of Los Angeles. I guess you can’t expect snow to fall in California.

Bows of green and red are all around and cheerful songs simply float in the air without touching my spirits. For eight years without celebrating Christmas, I have forgotten the feeling that went with the month.

A familiar face smiles at me, and her hand reaches for mine. She says, “Tina, are you coming home? You haven’t returned since you came here. Don’t you want to visit your relatives too?”

“I’ll think about it.”

She has been asking that since I came here. She, like the rest of the Filipinos here, calls the Philippines home. But I have no home there, and no relatives to send money to. Even Los Angeles is not my home, and so I consider myself an orphan who left an empty home to live on her own.

I can still remember those painful moments while I was still there.

The sound of clashing kitchenware filled our sampaguita-scented yellow bungalow in Manila while little children sang Christmas songs in the street. My mother was throwing everything in reach at my father who was constantly cursing her birth.

I watched them from behind a door, peeking once in a while amid the screams. Tears were running down my face. I was filled with fear—not really out of possibly being hit by some casserole—but by the impending separation.

My classmates had many stories about their broken families, and I did not want to experience the same. They told me of great hardships and I saw their grief.

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I was only 17, and I was proud that my parents were still together—until then, when the evidence was clear and loud.

That Christmas Eve was the last time that I saw of my father. I wanted to see remorse in his face, but it was only the back of his head that I saw when he walked out of the door. I was surprised to see my mother not crying. In fact, she had not a crease of reaction on her face as her brown eyes just stared blankly at the flickering Christmas lights.

But why? Wasn’t this enough to make her cry?

Answers came a year later. My mother and I were invited to some family reunion. Incidentally, I heard my father’s sisters talking about him. According to my aunts, my father had already married another woman, and they had moved to Hong Kong. The woman was very pretty and my father had already been seeing her a year before their separation.

I looked to my thin, fragile mother who possessed no beauty in her. She wore saggy clothes and her face was pockmarked. She looked and acted weak. I hated the way she looked. No wonder my father left her for another woman.

I blamed her for everything.

I left her for the US as soon as I graduated. I had no plans of returning and my hatred for her was enough for me to disown her.

But all this reminiscing is such a waste of time. I have to attend to my patient.

She smiles weakly at me; her innocent face beaming as bright as the sun that noon. Chemotherapy had already shaved her head bald so she had to wear a bandana. She says goodbye to me. Christmas is only four days away, and now she has to go home to spend it with her family.

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With seemingly great effort, she musters enough energy to ask me, “Nurse, aren’t you coming home too?”

Words run out and I just simply smile while pushing her wheelchair. She waves her hand as she disappears into the car.

Mara was my favorite patient. She was just nine years old, and she had leukemia. I drew strength from her; she was full of life though it was slowly being taken away from her. I admired the beautiful irony I saw in her—the irony of strength I never saw in my mother.

Her question resounds in my head as I lay down for sleep that night.

Will I have to wait for my life to end before I come home?

How much is that ticket anyway?

After another day of work and with nothing to do, I decide to visit my former apartment in Burbank. I had stayed there for almost five years, and then I moved to Los Angeles when a tertiary hospital hired me. I still own the apartment though.

And I rarely open the mailbox since I’m not fond of reading letters. During my first few months here, I found only junk mail with advertisements. Since then, I didn’t open my mailbox unless I knew there really was an important letter set to arrive—a very rare thing.

But after all these years without even touching it, I am teased to open and check all the letters be they trash or not.

Envelopes of various sizes fall on the sidewalk as I open the mailbox. I gather all of them and head inside my apartment. I place them on the dining table. Around a hundred are scattered and I am curious if there are letters worth reading. I rummage through them, and find numerous offers for subscriptions. However, there are around four letters that catch my attention. They are in envelopes of my favorite color—blue. Perhaps they are worth reading.

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All of them were written in the same month: December. They all contain the same greetings of Merry Christmas.

The handwriting is quite familiar, and the words look carefully etched on the paper. These are definitely from my mother.

In the first letter, which I found the most significant, it said:

I know you were thinking that I did not care about your father leaving us. At that time, I felt that you already had enough problems to worry about, especially in your studies.

Now, I think that we are both ready to hear my story.

The next three letters tell of what she did during the entire year. She would go to her work as usual and made sure my room was always dust-free. It seemed as though she had no problems at all, except in her last letter. She said she wanted to visit me, but wasn’t feeling well. She added that there was no need to worry.

And all of her letters had the same P.S:

I miss you anak. Please come home.

My eyes quickly tire that I have to close them for a moment.

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