Her name is May. Just as bright as the month, if you first see her. But her eyes are taken to melancholy; her hazel irises swirling to a sweet yearning. She is pregnant with what is supposed to be her second child. If not for her youth, she wouldn’t have had a miscarriage with her first. Her name then, suddenly anticipates the impending gloom of June’s thunderstorms. But May, like the rest of my childhood friends, started young it seems. Just barely out of their teens, some even barely in their adolescence, many of the girls I grew up with have been, for the lack of a better term, knocked up one after the other.
It started with this beautiful young morena who lived perhaps, four or five houses from ours. Pregnant at fourteen. Twelve years later, pregnant still, and now with her fifth child. The first three had different fathers, as I’ve learned from neighborhood gossip, which in a small community like ours, is close to accurate.
Other childhood friends followed suit. Some married – or were forced to marry – their boyfriends after giving birth, when they were still barely in their twenties, and hardly halfway through college education. The younger girls had to drop out of high school. While a few had to leave the neighborhood for good: the shame of their transforming bodies easier to hide someplace else. Others, unfortunately, were left by their men after finding about their pregnancy, and now struggle – with a determination I admire – as single parents.
Living in a part of the world were religious sensibilities still pervade in spite of increasing hostilities toward it, teenage pregnancies are much sneered upon by the countless self-righteous. They are often mistakenly taken as indicative of the moral character of a person. Unfortunately, the woman usually takes the brunt of society’s disinclinations towards moral taboos. While men can escape and even be seen as victorious, the girls are judged a lifetime for their single, adolescent mistake.
The pregnancies in the neighborhood have come one after the other, and at a startling speed that it has eventually become a habit between our house help and her friend to predict who was next in line. Even the young boys I grew up with have turned into young fathers; if not, they have been turning to drugs or violence, or dropping out of school in favor of computer games, tattoos, and girls in tight shorts and tank tops with their neon bras sticking out.
We don’t live in an affluent neighborhood. Nor do we struggle in a decrepit shanty town. We are as middleclass a middleclass family can be. But some in the neighborhood are barely making ends meet, and it is from these families that the teenage pregnancies and occasional domestic violence have emerged.
It is convenient to blame the financial position of the household on such a phenomenon. It is easy to put fault on the parents of young boys and girls for failing to educate them. It is easy to find the relationship between not being in school and being a teenage mother. It is easy to claim that, with little opportunity studying from an obscure college, the women – my childhood friends – were better of settling, or easing in the pleasures of sex. Unfortunately for those who were left by their boyfriends, the pleasures were stolen by the thieves of innocent, and left the woman to carry, quite literally, proof of innocence lost.
It is easy albeit disgraceful to make such judgments.
I don’t look down upon my childhood friends who have settled down, or are just doing so. Certainly the premature loss of innocence is hardly shocking in a day and age when the mettle of tradition is tested to such extremes. But I do have my questions. I do wish that despite societal standing, they had fought off the beastly desires and strove for bigger opportunities. I do wish the women had taken advantage of their changing roles in society; that having a family, or being married, is not the be all and end all of life; that regardless of whatever university or college or vocational school they graduate, opportunities await those who will strive and sacrifice; that there is nothing wrong with being practical, and nothing wrong with being single.
And of course, I do wish the men had been more sensitive and respectful of the women, perhaps less fearful to be branded unmasculine for being a virgin, or perhaps more mindful of the repercussions of unprotected sex.
With no education to bolster their chances at employment, many of my childhood friends turned mothers now rely on their mothers to care for their babies. After all, children these days grow up too fast. Who can blame the kids? They are all in a hurry, so many of them scurrying to malls and inside fast-food franchises, born in a time when everyone has purchasing power. That is how they call it, ei? They say the economy is improving. They say the Philippines is overtaking Malaysia, and Indonesia; a real economic tiger coming of age and ready to embrace freer trade. With the numbers pointing up, the legislators have taken turns to propose new bills, and pass new laws to finally get this country on-board with the rest of the economically modern world: reproductive health included, and much debated. All of which, is good, if it can truly, and sincerely improve the lives of women and children.
But I’ve seen enough of this country’s politics to be skeptical of any sort of plan. No matter how admirable a planned or passed law may be, my doubts remain, if not on surface at least below, where it wrestles with the idea of powerful people coming from the upper echelons of society, carving laws for the people below. Do they really know the pains of the lower classes? Are they keen to be as defeatist as those in the middle? Or are they simply elitists passing elitist laws in the anticipation our bullish economy will make everyone elitist as well – educated, rich, and comfortable?
Profundity, unlike truth, is relative. For May, to have her own child regardless of possessing a diploma is her profound achievement – to see her baby smile, to see her baby happy and healthy, to know her body is capable of bearing fruit, and experiencing its heightened pleasures, even when accompanied with heightened pains. And maybe for the men, to have someone carry their name is enough. Damn economic progress! Damn owning an SUV! If he can provide food to the table, then everything else is reduced to detail. As for those who have to fend for herself and her child without a man, then profundity is proving everyone wrong, learning from her missteps, and facing the harsh realities with a remarkable and uniquely female spirit.
When I remember those wishes I made for my childhood friends, I think I’ve made the mistake of setting elitist expectations, where education is the be all and all of life; where pragmatism should be the system of belief everyone operated upon; where a nine-to-five jobs is the truest measure of success. The truth is, to me, they’re still the young girls I played with as a young boy, still full of innocence on the private scale of things, creatures blessed and enraptured by powerful beauties. Their lighters voices, and higher squeals. Their soft, long hair caressed by the wind. Their vibrant eyes carried in such vibrant bodies. They’ve made their choices. And they’re living and fighting behind it. Something I don’t think I can say for myself.