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What It's Like To Grow Up Without Parents
Grace Trinidad*'s parents left her to deal with life on her own when she was 11. Instead of buckling down defeated, Grace used being alone to become a stronger, better person.
as told to Cecile F. Jusi

If my parents came up to me today and told me they wanted to take me home, I’d probably just laugh and tell them to go away. After all, I haven’t seen or talked to my mother for five years now and my father for 11 years. The only reason I acknowledge that I actually have parents is because I’m talking to you now. Other than biologically, I don’t believe my parents are significant to my existence.

 

Left alone

My mother and father separated when I was five. My father took off and disappeared from my life immediately after. He’s never seen or talked to me since. I’ve actually forgotten what he looks like.

 

My mother hung around until I was 11. It probably would have been better if she left and evaporated when my father did. At least then, I would have been saved the embarrassment of having the only mother in school who dated my teachers, single guys from our parish, and at one point, the older brother of a classmate. My parents’ marriage was annulled five years after they separated, but my mother started having boyfriends long before that.

 

She finally abandoned me on my best friend Nina’s 12th birthday. My mother went with me to Nina’s house for the party. And somewhere between “Paagaw,” “Simon Says,” and “Trip to Jerusalem,” my mother left me. She slipped out of the gate of Nina’s house and didn’t look back.

 

After hours of trying to get in touch with my mother, Nina’s mom walked me to our apartment. She talked to the landlady and then asked me to get some of my stuff because I was going to sleep over at Nina’s for the night.

 

I still don’t understand why my mother didn’t come to pick me up or where she went. I figured then that she had to go somewhere and forgot to tell me. I thought she’d come for me the next day. Well, it’s been five years now so I’ve quit waiting.

 

Pretend family

I was in a state of disbelief for weeks after I realized my mother was really gone, and she didn’t want me anymore. It seemed like a bad dream. I think that was when my insomnia started. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. I didn’t completely understand what was happening. Eventually, I learned not to think about it and not let it affect me so much.

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When Nina’s mom and I got my stuff at my apartment, we found that mine were the only things left there. My mother had apparently packed up and took off. But she did leave an ATM card in an envelope by the front door where we kept our mail. A savings account was opened in my name, and there was money there to support me for a while.

I didn’t know any other family in the city. The only other relative I knew of was my father’s cousin who lived in Bacolod. And I didn’t know how to get in touch with her. So Nina’s family took me in, and I ended up staying for two years.

 

Nina’s family made everything just right for me. I shared Nina’s room—an attic converted into one cool comfy hole. Nina made my whole stay there feel like one long slumber party. Her two younger brothers played basketball with me all the time. I could see that Nina’s parents tried their best to make me feel part of their family. But no matter how hard I also tried to pretend, I couldn’t ignore what was really going on; I’d been abandoned and was freeloading off people I wasn’t even related to. I was always going to be the outsider. That made it so hard to trust people. I was so into myself that I couldn’t even trust Nina’s family enough to let my defenses down.

 

Money matters kept making me squirm. I was—and still am—allergic to being a burden to anyone so I ate as little as possible even if I were still hungry. I never let myself be the last one to finish eating at the table. And although Nina’s mom bought me some clothes when Nina went shopping for school, I never asked for anything. I taught myself how to mend my socks and clothes that had holes in them.

 

School was another big adjustment. I used to study in an exclusive all-girls private school. To stretch my money as far as possible, I asked Nina’s parents to transfer me to the nearest public school so the tuition would be lower. I was secretly hoping they’d say, “Stay in your school. We’ll take care of the tuition.” But on the first day of sixth grade, I found myself in a strange new school. And I blamed no one but my parents. I hated them with all of my being.

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Read more on the next page about how Grace had to leave the house she was staying in.

 


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