About more than 10 years ago, Sita was working at hospital in Manila as a registered nurse. Her husband got flattened by a drunk driver while crossing a busy street in Manila. His head hit the pavement, and he was knocked unconscious. He spent a month in bed with a fractured pelvis and much longer learning to walk again, but eventually he lost his job in a factory. Due to some financial burden and to her husband medical expenses her salary as a nurse couldn’t cover the educational expenses of her three children who are currently attending colleges. Sita applied for a visitor’s visa at US Embassy in Manila. She got a ten year multiple visa.
When Sita arrived in California, she meet Robert a naturalized US citizen who also came from her same hometown.Robert a three timer divorcee, lived with his mother’s house, and was inclined to stay in each evening and drink tea with his mother. His English was terrible.Robert was fifty-four and had been alone for a long time. Sita is still married to her husband from Mindoro.
They went out on several dates. Robert had never really dated since his third and still looking for a wife who can provided him financial assistance, even when he was young, unless you define dating as “drinking with women for the eventual purpose of sex.”along Magsaysay avenue in Olongapo. But these were sober, proper, painstakingly old-fashioned dates. Robert found Sita his pleasant company, though because of the old head injury he suffered from car accident he often drifted off to a place in a “fantasy island.”
“Where are you, baby?”
“Tell me what it’s like. Tell me about Disneyland.”
Slow, sweet smile.
Robert decided to marry Sita (He knows that she can bring home a huge bacon, being a nurse in America) Sita also had only three big dreams: to see America, to learn to speak English, and to make enough money to open her own business back in the Philippines. (She estimated it would take twenty thousand dollars equivalent to 0ne million pesos. ) Sita knows that only Robert can fulfill her “American Dreams” Robert thought he could grant all three wishes with one wave of his magic gringo wand.
Of all our American living options, the most practical in California, where Robert had held a cooking job six years earlier at the nursing home prior to his car accident. The owner had been clamoring for his return, the old aged patients love his chicken adobo and he promised Sita a job in the nursing home and the two of them a rent-free house with a fireplace for three months.
Though Robert vowed that he would never cook professionally again, He took the offer. (Robert have cooked in a number of places since, which he consider proof that God has a sense of humor.) The life of a nursing home cook is one of low pay, high pressure, and frequent injury — plus he get to work with jailbirds, drifters, drunks, and addicts. Before they left the Philippines, Robert found a doctor who agreed to prescribe him Valium so he could get through six months in the nursing home kitchen. But the blue tabs, even mixed with red wine, did little to ease his aggravation at work. Sita was miserable, too, her children in the Philippines always wrote her a letter asking for money. Her husband has now a live-in ago-go dancer from partner from a cheap bar in Ermita without a clean valid health certificate.:
Robert was gone all night, he worked double job delivering pizza at Papa John after his shift at nursing home. The wind howled across the plains. The snow fell in San Bernardino mountain. Sita was far from her home and her family for the first time, unable to understand even the simplest phrases, thrown into a job as a CNA at nursing home, and living with a man who smoked and drank and cursed and came home smelling of French fries,pizza and beer. She cried many nights and had recurring nightmares about lavish houses full of the walking dead.
She asked Robert for Valium, but the pills didn’t have much effect on her — a whole ten-milligram tab, a dosage that sent Robert to the cool oasis, didn’t even make her sleepy. Robert was worried she would not be able to make the transition. America was not the dreamland she had anticipated. There was too much pressure here. Most immigrants, it seems, come to America in search of “opportunity,” which is a five-syllable word for “money,” and many of the good traits and habits they bring along with them are quickly exchanged for the aggressiveness, selfishness, and cheating required to compete for all that “opportunity.”
After six months Sita’s tourist visa was up. They sat at the kitchen table to talk. Robert felt like a manager about to fire an employee. He was sorry that he hadn’t been able to grant all her wishes, but he had very little power in America. Robert could not get her a well-paying job or put her on the inside track. He couldn’t even save twenty thousand dollars. And Sita was so unhappy here that Robert thought he would be doing her a favor if he sent her back home.
When Robert told her this, she cried and said, “But I will go home with nothing.”
Robert explained everything again, slowly, in his crappy spokening english: Sita was homesick. She didn’t like America. Robert was too old for her. He would not be a good husband. “I want a simple life,” Robert told her.
“I want a simple life, too,” Sita replied, bowing her head.
“Are you sure you want this?” Robert pressed. “America? Me?”
“What about your children and husband waiting for you in the Philippines?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Do you understand what I’ve said?”
Robert calculated the relative unimportance of the few years he had left on earth and decided to do whatever he could to help her. When she returned to Philippines someday, she would not have to be ashamed to her husband and her children. She would have a flat nose and brown American husband who took good care of her.
The marriage will work, Robert thought. Despite their divergent backgrounds and the difficulty she was having acclimating, they were basically simpatico. They were both loners, indoor types, coffee drinkers. They were both inclined to leave the party early with plenty of left-over foods to go. Robert pictured them as husband and wife: They would take long walks. Robert would cook her nice dinners. Sita would learn English. Maybe she would change her mind about America. Robert wasn’t crazy about America either, but he had stopped idealizing it long ago. He’d realized its limits. America was not a storybook wonderland, but it beat the pants off Japan. America tried, at least. It was generous; it cared. Few Americans were standing in line to immigrate to China. There was no Mexican border patrol amassed at the frontier of Texas preventing undocumented Americans from entering Mexico — not yet, anyway.
Sita and Robert had a civil wedding at Las Vegas after Sita’s husband signed the divorce paper prepared by a lawyer in Los Angeles. It was the best Robert could do, not being Catholic, like her, or inclined to hypocrisy. The diamond on her ring was small, but it’s always seemed to him that the larger the jewel, the shorter the marriage. Unable to understand anything being said to her on one of the most important days of her life, Sita was overwhelmed. She will be happy now, Robert thought. She will at last belong.
Robert had been naive enough to think that once he married Sita, she would become an instant citizen, but he’d forgotten about the long tradition of marriage fraud: American citizens being paid handsome sums to wed aliens and then divorce them. Ahead of them lay thousands of dollars in fees, dozens of forms that could not be correctly filled out even by Immigration and Naturalization Service personnel, fingerprints, medical examinations, the resurrection of ancient Philippine affidavit of birth documents, and several trips to INS headquarters along San Pedro blvd. at downtown Los Angeles. Robert began to fill out forms and make frequent long-distance calls during which he was put on hold for hours and given a different answer each time.
With the arrival of summer, Sita began to work with obert in the nursing home she was now promoted nursing-in-charge as a reward to her by the owner having passed the LVN exam. The hours were more reliable, it was a better environment in which to practice her English, and they could spend more time together. They’d get off late and go home to their dark house (on which they were now paying rent), wash off the grease, salve there cuts and burns, open a beer or two, and watch movies whose dialogue for the most part she couldn’t follow. TFC and WOWOWEE is a must for young newlyweds who don’t have sex much. Robert need a lot of viagra.
Every day Sita seemed to like America less. She appreciated the power, culture, and wealth, but the Americans she observed — especially in films — were too predatory, mercenary, cold, coarse, bitter, vulgar, violent, and corrupt; too Night of the Living Dead. And it was true. Anyone could see that the splendor of America had faded, that it had become a tired, overweight, depressed, profane, and complaining nation. Almost all the resources once reserved for lofty goals now went toward repaying debt and repairing the gaping breaches created by its empire-sized desires.
Sita’s mind often drifted, like a child who has wandered too far from camp, and Robert find her staring at the primeval forests, starring at the naked picture of her former husband live-in partner which her eldest daughter sent her through internet,a video of them having sex also and a 69 foreplay.. Even when conversational, she was in the habit of starting sentences and not finishing them.
“If you want, we can . . .”
We can what?
“Let’s walk faster. It’s too . . .”
Twenty seconds. Too what?
“I wish I could . . .”
Three beats. Half a measure. “I wish you could too.”
Sita wanted to have sex most nights. That was a bicycle Robert had not ridden for a long time, and the chain was pretty rusty, the handlebars bent. For most of the green valley of his youth. He’d been drunk or high, and it was difficult for him to perform otherwise, but he tried to please her. Often they had long, fevered foreplay followed by a flop in the first act. She cried and took the blame. She wasn’t sexy, she said. She wasn’t like the American girls.
They visited the doctor. Robert explained his problem, which he thought he’d solved long ago by forfeiting the game. The doctor nodded and rubbed his goatee. He spoke about sex surrogates, implants, and psychologists. (Horrors!) “But they’ll try the Viagra first,” he said.
“Good,” Robert said. If the Viagra doesn’t work, I thought, I can always kill myself.
A boner pill — even if it drops your blood pressure, gives you a headache, and makes you feel flushed and dried out — is a true marvel. Flaccid middle-aged men must have lain in their beds and dreamed of such an invention for a hundred thousand years. Think of how much more territory the Romans or the Macedonians might have been able to conquer with that mighty blue pill. A dose lasts about eight hours, and after taking one he’d wake up in the middle of the night with a splendid woody, ideal for hanging coffee cups on but of no real use for sleeping. He’d get up for a glass of water, steering his unwieldy appendage before him as he made his way through the darkness into the kitchen.
Judging from the Viagra ads everywhere, He knew he was one of millions, but he still felt ashamed getting the prescription filled. Buying condoms is embarrassing, but at least he’s saying, His virile; his capable. If he’s buying Viagra, he’s saying, His unable to achieve the only evidence of manhood recognized by this society. So he tried to function without it whenever possible. And then one night, without the Viagra, a bit of magic and wham! A month later Alicia began feeling nauseated. They got a home test kit and confirmed that she was pregnant.
Sita had been pleading with him to have a baby, but he’d been telling her he wasn’t ready; He wanted to publish a book first. Perhaps two. Now here he was, fifty-six and about to become a father. Well, he liked children. Of course he’d be slobbering in a wheelchair at his high-school graduation while all his friends said, “So nice your grandfather could attend.” But he vowed to do his best. Maybe the greatest opportunity for learning, better even than travel or hardship, is raising a child. It’s another try at growing up, but from a different perspective. The fates had given him one more chance to get it right. And he’d write as many books as he could so that there would be some trickle of pennies coming in beyond his days, and his child could say, Yes, he was an author. So what if you’ve never heard of him.
When their neighbors decided to move in Carson, they offered to sell them their house — a real home, circa 1920, with three bedrooms, a skylight in the dining room, a large backyard, and two enclosed porches — for three hundred thirty-three thousand dollars. This was the only price at which they could ever have afforded to become a homeowner. Robert don’t know how the average American does it: house, car, insurance, wedding ring, Viagra (eight bucks a pill!), new roof, water heater, washer and dryer, college tuition, and an antique hardwood dining-room table that weighs two hundred pounds and won’t fit through the front door. Say what you will, the American dream, even the discount version, is one expensive proposition.
But there new house was sunny and spacious and watertight, with good ghosts and tulips and clean drains and a dishwasher and a crab-apple tree and a gorgeous view of the railroad tracks and the prairie across the street. And Robert had his own room in which to write, so he could finally open all those boxes of manuscripts he’d been dragging around for years. It would be a fine place to raise a child.
Robert just wished it had made Sita a little happier. He told himself that when Sita finally mastered the language, things would be different. Or when she got her driver’s license. Or when she had the baby. Or when she got her citizenship. It wasn’t as if they had the option to turn back now. Even if they’ve wanted to return in the Philippines, she couldn’t leave the U.S. for the next two years without invalidating her bid for citizenship.
So they whiled away the time practicing her English, watching movies, working at the nursing home in the evenings, and talking about the baby. In spite of their views on the corrupting influence of material possessions, Robert tried to make sure Sita got whatever she wanted: an aquarium, a new television, a new bed, an antique china hutch. When she wanted a car, however, Robert resisted: They could not afford a car. They had just bought a house and all the other items Robert mentioned. The prenatal and hospital-delivery bills would total more than ten thousand dollars.
But then the INS demanded that they make their first of many appearances which is 50 miles away. There was no economical way to get to INS without a car. And soon they would need to drive to the hospital, and later to soccer games, chess matches. tong-its and majong session.. And maybe if Robert bought a car, Sitawould stop being so homesick, stop dreaming about zombies, stop retreating so often into thinking about her husband..
So Robert visited the used-car lot and asked Willie, his high school drop-out friend, for a cheap, reliable car. He showed them a Buick (no thanks) and two Subarus: an automatic with 180,000 miles and a standard transmission with 157,000 miles. Robert chose the standard. It got them to INS office in Los Angeles and back without a hitch. It was not a pretty car, but it ran well, the air conditioning worked, and it got better than thirty-five miles per gallon. Robert tried to teach his wife to drive it so that she could become an American, all alone in her car in bank lines and fast-food drive-throughs and traffic jams, yakking on her cellphone, punching the radio buttons, and melting the ice caps. But she didn’t take to the stick shift. She thought they should get another car, one with an automatic transmission. OK, hold on a second, honey. Was not something recently said about a simple life?
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Robert got up late while his pregnant wife lingered in bed. Before starting breakfast he checked his e-mail and was met with Yahoo! pictures of the World Trade Center punctured and in flames. He hurried to turn on the television, where all major catastrophes since the assassination of JFK have been viewed over and over in slow motion. Watching the horrific footage, Robert had the same thoughts that millions of others had: Maybe we deserved this. Nothing will ever be the same again. What ever happened to the big, dumb, lovable America that bailed everyone out and asked for nothing in return? We must catch the bastards who planned this and put them in giant bird cages and dangle them from the New World Trade Center until they are covered in sea-gull shit.
His wife watched without emotion as the buildings collapsed and the people fled in horror. Crashing planes and balls of fire are Hollywood trademarks, so Robert didn’t know at first if she could distinguish this from entertainment. She did not know where New York City was. Sita asked him to translate. He explained to her who the God-confused people were who everyone thought had done this, the likely reasons why they had done it. Later he’d wonder how the men who’d designed and executed this plot, who’d lived here for five years and shopped and bicycled and played miniature golf and gone to strip clubs, had sustained their hatred for the U.S. Perhaps they’d been motivated by the very things. Robert warned his newly second hand third wife about: the selfishness, the emphasis on material values, the pervading sense of isolation, the deterioration of faith and family, the emphasis on winning at all costs, the rudeness, the subordination of beauty for profit, the sameness, the commercials everywhere you turn. . . .
Sita’s husband called. Her children called her too and not asking for money, they bought a used cell phone in Blumentrit, the snatcher sold it to them cheap. They didn’t know where New York was either and hoped that she was not too close. After the 385th replay of the plane plowing into the second tower, Alicia wife still watched impassively. Then it occurred to Robert that she was viewing this from the perspective of the Third World. This was a tower that did not represent her; that symbolized exclusion, privilege, and economic monarchy; that oversaw the factories that paid her countrymen three dollars a day for labor for which Americans would be paid ten dollars an hour. For her, a soulless, godless, corporate, venal, inaccessible monolith was falling. That was all.
A friend from Mindanao, Sita’s kumpare who joined the Abu Sayaff e-mailed her a few days later. The subject line read: “Viva Osama bin Laden!”
“What does this mean?” Robert demanded.
“It’s just a joke,” she said.
“That’s a strange joke,” Robert said.
They both watched the stock market plummet. Neither of them had any money in there. Robert had trouble explaining to Sita what the stock market was: Well, see, these people who don’t actually work buy and sell pieces of companies. . . .
About a week after 9/11 Sita and Robert took a belated honeymoon trip to Laughlin, Nevada, a small gambling resort along the Colorado River. The Subaru was not up to crossing the Rockies, so they traveled by bus. The freeways were empty. The airports were empty. Vegas, as they strolled through the downtown area on a two-hour layover, was empty. The stock market was still falling. Everyone was scared to death, and there bags were searched several times because a mixed-up Croat had knifed a bus driver a day or two before. The bus windows were so dirty they could barely see out. The Stars and Stripes were waving everywhere.
On the way, they sat in a McDonald’s, the gloomy and shocking headlines all around them. But nobody in the restaurant was talking about Osama bin Scarybeard and his insane plot to destroy the civilized world. The man had no sense of humor, and his concepts of God and justice reeked. The journalists who made their living preying on our emotions continued to talk him up, saliva on their lips, inflating his image, hailing him as a “mastermind” and so on, but to Robert and his second hand wife and the rest of the diners in McDonald’s, Scarybeard was just another power-hungry pirate who wanted his name in the paper. They were bored with him and his humorless megalomania. He probably needed Viagra. We’d get him eventually (they thought at that point), put him in a pair of too-tight Calvin Klein jeans, pierce his nipples, set him in front of a tv, and force-feed him Pringles potato chips.
While they were in Laughlin, a model-airplane factory burned down, and everyone thought it was the terrorists. For the first time in Robert’s life Americans were not only frightened but seemed to be measuring the last days of the Republic. All the hysteria and emptiness was contagious, and Sita finally became afraid too. She wondered what would happen to her family if America fell. What would happen to us? Who would she be?
After 9/11, dealing with the ins changed from a bureaucratic nightmare into a labyrinth that even the Minotaur wouldn’t be able to negotiate. As our bumbling leaders continued to manipulate our doubts and fears to consolidate their power, immigration ground to a standstill. Xenophobia, as Scarybeard had hoped, was at an all-time high. No dark foreigners could be trusted, not even pregnant twenty-eight-year-old Catholic dentists. Nevertheless, they were already halfway to citizenship, and they couldn’t give up now, they already paid immigration attorney in Los Angeles on credit card.
On their second trip to the office of the INS (already splitting and morphing into the Department of Homeland Security) they were almost killed. It’s a 50 minutes drive. Side street in Long Beach is two lanes, undivided, not much traffic as a rule — not much humanity out that way, period. It was raining hard, and trucks passing in the other direction doused them in blinding sheets of water. The Mexican landscaper laborer pulling a trailer in front of them was going too slow. peeked out, saw the way was clear, signaled, moved into the opposite lane, and accelerated to pass. The Laborer landscaper signaled and began to make a left turn in front of him..
Somehow, his brakes irrelevant at that point, Robert managed to shoot the gap between the front of the laborer’s’s truck and the mailbox. Their Subaru went blasting off an embankment, Sita and Robert both screaming their version of there last seconds on earth. A moment later they were stalled in the grassy mud of a ditch, and Sita was yelling over and over, “My baby! My baby!” Robert jumped out to help her stand up. The laborer had parked and was shuffling down the grade toward them. He was a slow, rickety man of about sixty with a hook instead of a hand dangling from his shirt sleeve.
“I signaled,” he said.
“Yeah, you did,” Robert returned, “after I started to pass you.”
He shook his head and looked up at the rain. Somehow they were not hurt, and the car was miraculously intact. They didn’t have time for police and insurance reports and idiot laborer. If they missed the INS appointment, they would have to reschedule for months later and possibly have their case denied.
Robert got his frantic second hand wife back into the car and drove up the steep, grassy bank and back onto the rainy highway. A few miles down the road he pulled over to survey the damage more thoroughly. The steering wheel was bowed where he’d gripped it to absorb the impact, a signal lamp had been knocked loose, and the license plate was bent, but that was it. On the dash was the cup of coffee he had bought ten minutes ago at Mc Donald before he’d tried to pass the Mexican laborer. The top hadn’t even come off.
Sita was still convinced that our child was badly damaged or killed.
“This is our baby,” She said, showing her the coffee cup. “The top didn’t even come off.”
They made it on time to the INS office, where the officials were nice to them after they’d inspected their pockets and learned that wife was eleven days away from giving birth. They needed another document, but they were “getting close” — the way the donkey is getting close to the carrot on the stick.
Robert kept telling Sita the baby was ok. (The doctor would confirm this on there return.) The womb was the ultimate shock absorber. Their necks were sore, and Sita’s chest hurt from where the shoulder harness had held her. Fortunately she hadn’t fastened the lap belt. Robert can’t explain their luck. He highly recommend a Catholic passenger in their Subaru.
Everyone said there child would be a girl. They knew by the way Sita was carrying, by her craving for sweets, by the tilt of her eyebrows, and so on. His wife and Robert believed them. They even picked the name Isabela. Then it occurred to him, about three days before labor was to be induced, that most people are wrong. They invest in the wrong stock, bet on the Manny Pacquiao opponent, make the wrong career choice, Sita vote for the wrong president ( Gloria Arroyo). They possess too strong a will to believe what should be true. Robert also realized that a girl would be too easy for him to raise. If he had a boy, he would be under the obligation to provide a masculine role model.
By the day Sita delivered, Robert was the only one who thought that their child would be a boy. His wife was astounded when she saw the baby raised slippery red into the air with his doodlebug hanging down. The doctor handed Robert the scissors to cut the umbilical cord, and a little blood spurted onto his smock. He was not much of an Isabela, their son. They decided to name him after the Patron Saint in there hometown: Vicente–St.Vincent Ferrer.
Sita bore down on her English studies when she realized that her son would soon be a native speaker, and she could not bear the thought of being unable to understand what he said to her. But even motherhood had not made her happy. She seemed little changed from the day she’d first arrived in the country of her dreams. The only time she ever glowed and smiled and laughed with sparkling eyes, besides on a shopping or gambling trip, was when she was on the phone to her family in the Philippines. Occasionally he talked to her husband, too. Though she had trouble understanding their Bisayan dialect with her former husband live-in partner over the phone, She could identify key words and the usual phone dialogue. (So, how are you? How is your health? Is the boy doing well? ) Once, when Sita had stepped out of the room, Robert was emboldened to ask her former husband.,
To become a US citizen, there is a five-year “continuous-residency” requirement — three years if you’re married to a citizen. When Robert’s wife’s notification of eligibility finally arrived, she was working at the nursing home as a registered nurse and receiving good benefits, some of which (pension,401K and IRA) were likely being salted away somewhere in a tower in New York City.
Robert can’t say that marriage was a picnic on a sea cliff with roasted duck and a cold bottle of Pouilly Fuissé. They now fought a lot. Sita wife still worried, still dreamed of zombies, still drifted away to reconcile with her divorced husband. But her moods and behaviors were easier for Robert to understand now. And sprouts of optimism continued to appear: the proud way she drove herself to and from work; the proficient way she spoke English; her plans for the future (including travel, another degree, and a room added to the house); her devotion to their young son; the intense interest she took in the dozens of people she now knew; the expert way she operated a slot machine or filled out her ncaa-tournament brackets. She no longer feared that America would fall, or break her, or change her into someone she didn’t recognize.
Night after night she studied for the written portion of her naturalization exam. The list of a hundred possible questions had her the most concerned:
How many representatives are there in Congress?
How many times can a senator be reelected?
In what year was the Constitution adopted?
Name the two senators from your state.
How many amendments to the Constitution are there?
Which amendments address voting rights?
Who becomes president of the U.S. if the president and vice-president die?
Only Robert father, who’d taught government and civics most of his life, could have passed this test. Sita was understandably nervous. They drove for the fourth time to downtown Los Angeles, now with there son in a car seat. INS functions were being funneled into the glittering neo-Roman extravaganza that was the new Department of Homeland Security building. The Department of Homeland Security employees were out-of-the-way friendly. The wounds of 9/11 were healing. They sat in a lobby for a while, chatting with the other hopeful naturalization candidates, until Sita was summoned. It might be one to three hours, They were told. Robert Sita a good-luck kiss, which she barely noticed; then he left to try to find some breakfast for their son. Vicente was three years old and would eat only bacon. The walked the Smiley streets of downtown Los Angeles, looking lucklessly for a breakfast place. Robert put Vincent in the car and drove around and finally found a little drive-through diner that sold them a side order of bacon. The boy was happy.
When they got back, Sita was waiting for them in the parking lot wearing a relieved smile. She had passed her test. They’d asked her only six questions, all easy ones, like “How many stars are there on the flag?” They went out and bought some wine to celebrate in the motel room that evening.
In the afternoon they returned to Homeland Security for the swearing-in ceremony. Two short patriotic films were shown. The roll was called. The citizens-to-be recited their oaths. There were two koreans, five Vietnamese, eleven Salvadorans, one Russian, two Indians, and four Mexicans. The flag waved. Cameras flashed. There was much hugging and tears. Sita, baby, where are you? Who are you now? Robert wife raised her hands.thought came on Sita’s mind. “After six months,I’ll drive to Las Vegas with my brand new Lexus and file a divorce for Robert.Hehehehehe!