It was a turbulent time. A girl discovered that she regretted joining a Shanghai group to Saipan for NCLEX review and taking the exam; she sought refuge in a shelter I directed. A blossoming bud who was my ward at first, become my bed partner, then my spouse, ripened into a delectable fruit. There was a big gap of 37 years but I was overdue for a midlife crisis, and what better way to have one but in the company of a bright eyed doe just getting over being a fawn?
Her famous words in 2007 were, “five years is long enough.” She left, with me holding a heart, bitter but my heart nonetheless.
In 2015, echoes of Shanghai’s phrase were pronounced again, but this time, without the fragility of unpreparedness. The Shenyang lassie I married five years earlier, 20 years my junior and older than Shanghai by 17, took a separation break from Saipan to deal with our new house in China. Unfinished, it was draining family resource. She wanted to reflect on her future as well, leaving me by my lonesome.
In 2007, Shanghai girl ran off with someone but she was candid enough to acknowledge and own up to the fact before the deed. Shenyang just took off.
Like Shanghai, Shenyang come from a culture that puts a premium on acquiring wealth I am neither inclined to do, nor skilled to amass. Shanghai was smart enough to earn her own, earning a decent sum in her career as a nurse. In fact, she was so confident in her trade that she worked off hours. Even with all the funds she earned, she still expected me to pick up all her expenses as is customary of a husband in Shanghai. That part was my culture shock!
Shenyang has done hospitality work in Kuwait and China but downgrades her self-story and earning capability. In her time, two in a class of 50 high school grads going beyond to university was one too many. Shenyang never went past high school; she repeats a defensive self-story of “I am only a high school graduate,” reminding me when I make a mistake that I attended college.
Her company produced tracks for the railroad. Government-owned, when it privatized, it encouraged employees including welder lass to take early retirement even if benefits did not kick in until more than a decade later. She did, and now at 50, she has pension benefits comparable to that of her mother who labored until she reached the legal age of 55 to retire at about the same time. Shenyang can live on her pension in China but is a drop in the bucket when converted into dollars in the CNMI’s higher cost of living, e.g., my regular haircut in Saipan costs $10; massaged also, I pay $3.25 in Shenyang.
October is weak, less vigorous and extensive than September, but with brighter days after the equinox into winter until spring. When I recall the autumn leaves of October, I hear Frank Sinatra, or Nat King Cole, croon the words of an autumn song:
The falling leaves drift by my window
The autumn leaves of red and gold . . .
But I miss you most of all, my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall.
The old coot has gone soft, one could say, though romance is hardly in the agenda. I am also way past nursing the integrity of loins though mine is accommodated not too badly. Besides, we are in the tropics and it is very seldom that “autumn leaves start to fall.” I remember autumn days in the temperate zone but in the humid and sweltering heat of Saipan that enflames the flowering firetree, the leaves of autumn is unknown.
But perhaps, it is the autumn of the heart that is at play.
If I take autumn out of the personal realm into the social, we ask which wilting leaves are drifting by our windows? Driving down Beach Road and Middle Road, I count many abandoned buildings, with some still unoccupied from the day construction completed their exteriors. Then there are the new ones fully equipped without any tenants, or, are used by government offices, local and federal, when the landlord is connected enough to the decision makers that lease space. Now, if that is not a wilted leaf on the economy, I do not know what is.
A colleague harps over the quality of decision-making and governance administered on island, the sorry state of the economy with uncertain future of those who stayed with their retirement programs and benefits, even those still employed.
Soudelor generated goodwill locally and externally, but that came as dole. An all too familiar reality, dole is practiced widely on island. Integrity hangs on the hard-earned dough that is spent without guilt that the lard gained is the donation of others. The price of goodwill is high on the conscious.
Autumn need not head downhill. In the wilting of Autumn leaves, illusions of longevity are shattered. Leaves that wilt are resplendent in color on the way down. The reality of life does come in many colors, even on the way down. Life was demanding and difficult after Soudelor’s but glee and gladness on the way down is a choice that we made.
When autumn leaves … they start to fall. Wheeeee!