Many summers ago, I spent 10 years of my childhood in Davao City.
We were moved from Iloilo City, where I was born, to Davao as my Dad was made General Manager of a stevedoring company. As the transfer was midway through a school year, my Mom had no option but to homeschool me till the next school year came round. I was 5 years old then so the school (Stella Maris Academy) gave me the Nursery entrance exams. I passed with flying colors. Maybe it was fate but they decided to let me take the Grade One entrance test. I passed it too. At the age of 5, I was enrolled in the first grade — the youngest of the batch.
There is something about being the youngest in your batch forever and ever. You have this insecurity about not being old enough to “know” things that your classmates know, or not being in on secrets because you were still “too young”. When a school year came to an end, I’d secretly hope that when I enter the next school year, I’d find somebody younger than me. But every time I moved up one grade level, I’d find myself still being the youngest. The only thing that held up for me, who was then quite shy as a child, was my being nerdy and brainy. I found myself being elected to key officer positions in class and holding leadership positions even if I was, at times, reluctant to be the head when everyone else was older than me and, in height, towered over me.
My Mom, eager for me to grow up well-rounded, enrolled me in piano and ballet lessons for years. Looking back now, I am grateful she did because it developed my ear for music as well as the grace and poise that comes with being a former ballerina.
Then just as I finished my second year high school in Stella Maris, my Dad got news that he was being transferred to Manila.
It broke my heart. I only had two years left and I wanted to graduate with the batch I was with since first grade. But it wasn’t to be. We moved.
Since then, I lost touch with all my classmates, save for one – Cecile – who stayed in touch with our family till now. She too, however, had lost touch with everyone else.
Fast forward to 2010.
One day as I was logged on to Facebook, I decided to search by name some of the friends I knew from Stella Maris. I found Junie and Mary Ann and promptly added them. They added me back within a couple of days. Junie then kept in touch via email. In one email, I found out that a reunion was brewing because Lisa, who was in the US, was arriving and wanted to meet up with Marisians in Manila. Curiously, the reunion organizer, Alita, had the same surname as a co-parent of mine whose son and my son practically grew up together.
No, it could not be. I know Alita from school. It could not be the Alita of Stella Maris. I would have recognized her.
The email contained a mobile number of Alita so an inner voice told me to compare it with my co-parent Alita. I was dumbfounded. The mobile numbers were THE SAME.
Alita, my co-parent for 11 years, was a classmate from Stella Maris. And we both did not recognize each other.
Last Sunday, the reunion happened in a restaurant in Makati. I was having goose pimples as I opened the door to the restaurant’s function room, seeing unfamiliar faces staring at me and trying to match them up with the childhood faces I still remembered from my past. The feeling only lasted a few seconds. Some of them cried out “Mary Jane? Mary Jane, it’s YOU!!!” They still remembered their long-lost classmate (yeah, I was called Mary Jane then, duhhhhh!)
Another surprise at lunch was the presence of our former Stella Maris directress, Sr. Vivencia Pana, who serendipitously now lives in my girls’ former high school which is a stone’s throw from my home. She has been living there for years unknown to me.
And if you think the connections stop there, think again. I found out in that reunion lunch that Junie, who was my barkada mate in Stella Maris, studied Nursing in the same school where I was taking Accounting. Since Nursing was a 5-year course, she graduated a year after I did. We were also in different departments so our paths never crossed while we were in the SAME COLLEGE!
We tried to make the most of the hours. Who ‘s married and who’s still single. Who’s no longer married. Who passed away already. Who’s abroad. How many kids we had. What we’re now doing. Who knew how to contact who. One classmate at the reunion, I found, had converted and is now a Jew.
There were too many years between us to really catch up but it is a start. Some have opened Facebook accounts so we can all reconnect. Even Cecile, who’s in the States, has reconnected back to them through Facebook.
I am hoping that in time, I will be able to find more of my grade school classmates. It just blows my mind now how connected we all truly are. There’s the story of Alita and I, co-parents for so long, unaware we were classmates. There’s Facebook that was instrumental in my finding some of my past. And there’s Sr. Pana who only lives a 5-minute walk from my home. My past has caught up with my present and I am relishing it.