The hardest part about being homeless is not having my own space. I’m not living on the streets but I’m in a temporary living situation in my daughter’s guest room.
I’m not standing at an intersection carrying a backpack. I’m roommates with two adults and their toddler and I’m having a blast.
People give me a cautious “Oh…” when they find out I live with my only child and her family. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Adult children move in with their parents after college and before they find a job, right? Or move back home when life has dealt them a blow and they’re on their behinds?
Not in this case. In our story, I’m the one who’s on the verge of bankruptcy after losing two jobs in six months and nearly being evicted. I have nowhere to go.
My daughter and I didn’t fit the mold of struggling single mom and child. I made decent money as a voiceover talent and radio announcer for most of her life. We got by on my talent fees, credit cards, and the occasional handout from her father, my husband of only eighteen months who left us after she turned two.
“Remember the season in Manila when we were eating noodles and hotdogs? That was rough but God saw us through it. I’m so thankful my friend took us in rent free.”
“Mom, I know we had some tough times but I never curled up in a corner clutching my tummy from hunger.”
Funny how memory chooses the images in our minds when we bring them up for air. “Well, sweetheart, you didn’t have to do that because I made sure you didn’t.”
Maybe it’s a memory she’s come to terms with; maybe it’s why she loves hotdogs and rice.
I was never a fan of rice and saucey dishes poured on top of rice or served on the side where rice was the star of a meal. My childhood palate grew up on tuna sandwiches, hamburgers and fries at grownup restaurants my parents loved, and potato salad made by my Filipino mom.
Dorothy hardly made her country’s food because my dad didn’t like the way it smelled. He didn’t like the aroma of the fish and other chicken, beef, and pork sauced dishes filling our house so my mom made the best roast beef, chocolate fudge, spaghetti, and meat loaf and other American food.
On the rare occasions she made her Filipino food, the moon was blue and the rice was made to the brim of her rice cooker. After my dad died, the moon was always blue and rice became a fixture along with pork adobo, pork sinigang, and stewed fish in vinegar.
Grief moved in with us so TV dinners became my staple. We didn’t own a microwave; frozen dinners were popped in the oven for thirty minutes.
When we moved to Manila so my mom could be with her family, it was like moving to another planet. It was to me at least. There was no such thing as McDonald’s or Taco Bell. Rice was cooked at every meal and eaten with anything. Fried eggs? Yes. Spam? Yes. Steak tips? Yes. Roast chicken? Yes.
“I’m starving, Mom. I have nothing to eat! I want a cheeseburger!”
My biological father said there was a McDonald’s and offered to get me food. I was ecstatic. He returned six hours later with foil-wrapped burgers and a bagful of fries.
I threw a tantrum. I was eight and privileged. I didn’t care he took buses and jeepneys for two and a half hours each way. How dare he think these hamburgers from a place with a stupid name like, “Tropical Hut,” could pass as cheeseburgers from McDonald’s?
I took a bite against my will and declared the food gross.
Forty years later, my mom is gone and I live back in the country I spent my childhood. It’s been ten years since I’ve had a burger from Tropical Hut and its roadside competition, Burger Machine and Minute Burger. I’d give anything for a trip home to eat at these places.
I make rice once a week these days in my daughter’s house. I manage to botch it every time. It’s either undercooked or overcooked and I have to doctor it with more cooking time or more water. But I fry the leftovers the day after and fry hotdogs cut down the center the way my daughter likes them.
“I find it oddly comforting, Mom. It reminds me of home. I’m glad you’re here. I love that you make fried rice for me.”
“At least my fried rice turns out better than my rice-rice. When I die, you can write on my tombstone: ‘She only cooked rice perfectly once.’”
I don’t know how long I’ll be living in her guest room. I’m taking life one pot of rice at a time.