30 Years Married – The Pandemic Anniversary

For as long as I can remember, my family and I have always celebrated my parents’ anniversary in Reno. We would get so excited that we would pack days in advance. My sisters and I would wake up early on those Saturday mornings and prepare for the long drive with snacks. That’s how you know we were going on a trip – when my mom bought the family size bags of all our favorite snacks. That 4 hour drive used to seem like forever. Getting to the rest stop in the mountains was a sign that we had less than halfway to go. I can still see me and my sisters waiting on the side of the lobby as my parents checked in, fighting over who has to hold the Beauty and the Beast suitcase. I can still remember those late nights at Circus Circus, playing the games, winning stuffed animals, and watching the live shows. Then, before going back to the room, getting ice cream would be a must. Me and Merl would play with the stuffed toys we won, and we would stay up late watching TV. That’s how it’s always been, until we got older and turned to the pool instead of Circus Circus. But with the current pandemic, this time around we skipped our annual tradition and kept it local.

This weekend we celebrated my parents’ 30 year wedding anniversary. “But 36 years together!” My mom always adds in. 30 years married and 36 years together, since their wedding date and official date are 6 years and 1 day apart. We’ve always celebrated their anniversary together as a family. But this anniversary felt different. There’s something about every tenth wedding anniversary that gets to you, it’s one of those big milestones. 3 decades married made all 5 of us feel old in our own way. Especially since we weren’t celebrating the way we usually do was definitely a sign of the times. I got my parents, but especially my mom, these orchids because “if someone gives it to you, it will bring good luck.” Haha.We’ll forever remember that their 30th wedding anniversary was during a pandemic. But still, 3 decades is definitely something to celebrate, even if we’ve all been pretty good about distancing and avoiding crowded public places.

We decided to keep it local and celebrated at Pier 39, a place we used to go to when we were younger. If I’m remembering correctly, this is the first family outing we have been to since the shutdown happened in mid-March, aside from drive through birthday parties. I had my first outside dining experience since COVID-19, and it felt a little weird being out again. My dad made it a point to say that he would not eat inside a restaurant. Thankfully, it was a sunny day in San Francisco and outside dining was pleasant…. for the rest of the family, while I – of course – sizzled in the sun because my seat wasn’t in the shade. We had the table furthest from everyone else, with the view of the water and boats. I was blind and slowly baking in the sun majority of the time, but it was still nice. After Pier 39, we played tourists in San Francisco, passing Ghirardelli Square, going down Lombard Street, looking over the city at Coit Tower parking lot since it was still closed, and riding through Chinatown. And apparently my dad took us to where he and my mom had their first date.

My dad and uncle were best friends in high school, and that’s where my parents’ love story begins. Without Uncle Rey, my sisters and I probably wouldn’t be here! They were always at the same functions since my mom and uncle were brother and sister and ran in similar friend groups. I’ve heard about the late night hangouts, bowling, picnics, and all the places they used to go to to meet up with friends. It’s kind’ve crazy to think of my parents as teenagers / young adults. My little sister described it saying, “isn’t it crazy that mom and dad have always been a part of our lives but they had a whole other life before us?” Something that I’ve always thought of, but more so now as I enter into my adult life and think of my future.

Anyways, my mom always tells us how she knew my dad was a good guy because of this particular story. He asked to take her out and she said yes, but only if her home girls could come along too. He said yeah and treated them all out. To my mom, she saw it as him being a very generous guy because he was kind to her friends even though he originally only asked her to hangout. Long story short, they started dating. 6 years into dating, they decided to get married. It’s so crazy to think that my mom got married when she was 26. To put it into context, that would be like me getting married next year. Growing up, I’ve always put my mom’s timeline along with mine as certain age “markers” to eyeball when it would be appropriate for me to do the same – like get married, move out, have kids.

It’s crazy to think that they’ve been together for that long! 30 years married, 36 years together. Damn. Growing up, I thought nothing of it. But now as an adult, I’m more at awe when celebrating their anniversaries. Especially since I see now how a relationship is hard work. If you want something to work, you really have to work for it. My mom was 20 when they first got together, and that is a lot of changing, evolving, and growing together over the years. And it’s sweet to know that they’ve been there for each other through every stage of life. My parents’ marriage taught me that no relationship is perfect, there will definately be disagreements, but if you’re really committed to someone, you find a way to make it work. My parents are definition of ride or die for each other.

I like how after all these years, we still come together as a family for their anniversaries. When we were younger, our trips to Reno were the vacations we looked forward to. Our parent’s anniversary was like a holiday to us. We got to celebrate and get treated out. We got to play games, win prizes, and spend their money. As we got older though, I will admit that Reno and Cache Creek hotels lost it’s touch. We were starting to be in our late teens and early 20’s, and Circus Circus just didn’t have the same effect as it used to. I think this time around, with the pandemic and all of us being young adults – 29, 25, and 23 – we are seeing that these anniversaries are important and… dare I say… limited.

As I grow older it makes me melancholy knowing that not everything lasts forever. So I’m cherishing these moments more because I never know what life will be like 1 year from now, 5 years from now, 1 decade from now when we’re celebrating 40 years of marriage. Now it’s our time to give back to the selfless parents that chose to spend all of their anniversaries with their kids. Now we take them out and treat them out for their anniversary. Oh how the tables have turned, but I like it better that way. They made us happy taking us places and starting traditions since we were kids, so it’s only appropriate that we return the favor now that we are older.

My parents’ 30th wedding anniversary will definitely be one for the books. The pandemic anniversary. Haha. But I’m glad we got to spend it all together as a family. “ThAnK yOu, gUuUysSS!” My dad said in a dumb voice as we drove off leaving Pier 39….We all broke out laughing. That’s the Cabillo’s for ya – can’t show affection properly but be feelin’ all the feelz.

“Infinity Is Forever”

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A year ago, my cousin, Nina, would never have imagined that she would be raising her son and daughter alone. But it’s the sad reality that she faces now. On September 28, 2016, she unexpectedly lost Will, the man she loved and been with for 9 years. Before this, everything seemed to be going in their favor; they got back together and were expecting their second child, they moved into the top level of the house Nina grew up in, and they were finally a family again after some time apart. Their lives drastically changed when Will passed away, leaving her with a son that was almost 5 years old, and a 2 month old baby girl.

The day after Will’s 1 year death anniversary, Nina decided to get a tattoo in honor of him. Before he passed away, Will wanted his next tattoo to be an infinity sign. When he brought it up she told him that she also wanted it too, and that they should get the tattoo together instead of him buying her an engagement ring.

“I told him, ‘I don’t want a real ring, I’d rather [we] have a house, and then we can just get tats on our ring fingers.’ That’s more permanent than a diamond ring,” she said matter of factly.

So I went with her to get her infinity tattoo, and she wanted to incorporate what seemed like 10 other ideas into it. With great thought, Nina decided to keep the tattoo simple, and stuck to the infinity sign with a music note that Will had tattooed on his hand. Music was Will’s passion, and she wanted to capture that in her tattoo for him.

It’s crazy to think that it has really been a year since Will passed away. And in this past year, I’ve witnessed my cousin change. She admits that she finds herself more antisocial, not wanting people to see her or be around others. She explains how even when she is out with friends, she’s not engaged in any of the conversations that they’re having, and her mind is in a thousand different places. After 2 hours of hanging out, she just wants to go home to her babies and call it a day.

Nina tries to keep herself busy to keep her mind off of the fact that Will isn’t here anymore. When she has too much free time, she’ll replay memories from the past and just overwhelm herself with too many emotions.

“What makes me cry the most is the fact that he’s not here to help me with the kids,” she says frustrated. “It makes me mad that he couldn’t stay here to help me and help raise them.”

And when she starts to overthink, she is met with the same feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt. Before Will passed away, and while she was pregnant with Nalia, they were running into financial issues, causing them to fight. The fighting didn’t stop when Nalia was born, and Nina never got to make up with Will again because he passed away shortly after. The overwhelming feeling of guilt takes over her when she remembers how they didn’t talk before he passed. It’s one thing to know that the person you love is no longer here, but it’s another thing to replay in your head what you wish you could’ve said. Nina feels guilty knowing that she’s living a “comfortable” life because he did pass away. When Will was alive, they worried about financial costs, but now that he passed, she’s not in that position anymore. She feels guilty that it took him dying to be in a place where she’s financially stable.

“I wish I could go travel with the kids because [now] I can,” she says looking straight ahead, as we’re parked in the parking lot of Nalia’s daycare. “….But it’s like… who am I going to travel with… and to share these memories with?”

She reassures herself that things could have been worse, and as bad as it sounds, this probably had to happen. This situation has forced Nina to rely on her mom more than she wants to. And though they disagree, she knows that if Will was still to be alive, it would be another situation with him. It’s one of those moments where you look at all the alternate realities that could’ve happened and realize, either way you look at it, you would’ve been put in a shitty situation regardless.

“I always think, ‘well, maybe this is God’s way of telling me I should appreciate my mom, and accept her for who she is and the type of person she is,” she says. “It’s  hella funny because Will would always say that I act exactly like my mom. And I hella see it.”

She wishes that Will could’ve realized what they had. Nina believes that he knew what they had, and knew they had practically everything they wanted, from a house, a family, jobs, and pretty much everything was set in stone. But he didn’t know how to handle it. She knows that he grew up having nothing, and for him to have everything, he didn’t know how to deal with it. Nina knows that deep down Will didn’t think that he deserved all the good things happening in their lives. He had a lot of responsibility on his plate. They were expecting their 2nd child, his 3rd. He had to provide for my cousin and his 3 children. And she knows how much of a hard worker he was and how he would stress over providing for his family.

“I just wish that I could’ve just told him, ‘It’s going to be okay,’ ” she says. “But instead I was always mad. I would always be like, ‘what is wrong with him?!’ ”

She worries for my nephew, Tre, because he is a carbon copy of his father. She prays that Tre finds his way, because she genuinely doesn’t know what to do when he acts up in school. Nina says that he acts exactly like Will, and that’s why she’s even more scared for him. She wishes that Will was still around to help raise Tre, because since they’re so alike, he would know what to do to get through to him.

Since Nalia was only 2 months old when Will passed away, Nina always wonders what he would think of her if he was still alive. A couple months ago, Nalia turned 1. It’s one of those bittersweet moments that you realize she’s only getting older, and will only know of her father by stories and the few pictures they have together.

“Every time I stare at Nalia I’m just like, ‘what would Will say about her?’ ” she said. “Would he think she’s funny? … I always just look at her like, ‘what would he think about you?’ ”

Of course she knows that dating again is somewhere in her future, but she doesn’t like the thought of starting all over with someone else. She worries that a future partner can  be detrimental to the children, and overall just thinking the worst. She realized that she’s probably going to worry for her children and their well being for the rest of her life. And that’s something she despises about herself.

“If anything, this past year has made me realize what type of person I don’t want to be, but still am. ”

When I asked how she’ll tell the kids about how Will passed, she said she’d be honest with them and tell them the truth. Tre already knows that his dad was “sick,” but that he loved him a lot. Will always believed in not sugar coating the truth to his children, so that’s how she’ll continue to raise them. Tre and Nalia will know the truth, but will also know that their dad loved them and did what he could for them.

Though she hasn’t had many dreams of Will, the dream she holds dearest to her is the dream she had of him holding her hand. She loved his hands. She loved how they were that of a hard working man, but his palms were smooth and soft. In a way she believes that that’s Will’s way of saying that he’s still holding her hand through life.

“Infinity is forever,” she said. “He’s forever going to be in my heart.”

 

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Cheering Them On

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Abdallah first met Gabriella on the SFSU cheer team. At first, Abdallah was interested in someone else who encouraged him to join the team. However, things kicked off for Abdallah and Gabriella 2 months later where they went to a cheerleading competition in LA and had to share a bed. On the car ride home, they sat next to each other and talked the whole way through. When they got back to San Francisco Abdallah asked if he could take her on an official date. The rest is pretty much history.

Abdallah is Filipino and Egyptian, so his father is strongly against him dating Gabriella because their religion. But Gabriella’s family is accepting of Abdallah. Her mom adores him.It was hard for Gabriella because she at least wanted his father to meet her first and then make judgement from there, but he is against the whole relationship.

While living at home, Abdallah was tired of having to be home by a certain time because of his parents’ strict rules. He told his father face to face that he was dating Gabriella, and his dad was not having it.
“So we were both taking about moving out, but not with one another,” Abdallah said. “By now we’ve been dating for a year or more. We both had our own group of people we were going to move in with but both our plans just started to fall out. Before we knew it we were the only 2 people and ended up moving in together.”

Telling his parents was not easy. His dad was furious that he was moving out, and on top of that with the girlfriend that did not share the same religion as them. His dad refused to talk to him or a few weeks, and Abdallah didn’t want to talk to him either because his dad wasn’t calm.

It has been a few months since he has moved out and his relationship with his dad has gotten better. His dad wants him to move back home, but Abdallah is on the fence because he wants to save money if he were to move back home, but the couple both feel like it would be a step back from all the progress they accomplished already.

Abdallah and Gabriella are both totally in love with each other. So whatever happens with the living situation, they are confident they will make it work.

When I asked Abdallah what he would do if his parents never accepts the relationship and are not supportive in the future if they want to get married he said, “If I want to marry her, I’m gonna marry her.”

Mr. & Mrs. Cruz

Amberly and JT met and started dating when they were 16. The first time JT met Amberly he told his friend, “I’m gonna marry her.” Through many bumps in the road, they managed to stay together because their love for each other was stronger than the outside drama that was going on around them.

On their 8 year anniversary, JT popped the question, and in 2012, they officially became Mr. and Mrs. Cruz.

They waited a little over a year after getting married to start trying for a baby. On Thanksgiving 2014 they announced to their families that they were expecting.

Devastating news hit Amberly and JT when the doctor informed them that their baby girl was developing a mass in her lungs. At that point Amberly was still pregnant and blaming herself. She was thinking it was because of her that the baby had a mass in her lungs, she thought maybe it was something she ate or her trip to the Philippines that caused it.

Aly was born June 2015, and February 2016 she got the surgery regarding the mass in her lungs. She is happy, healthy, and always smiling.

“It was amazing to see how the roles changed between us,” Amberly said. “We’ve been together for almost 13 years and I was always the “strong one”… Like I’d know what to do or say in a situation and usually be the one to keep JT at ease. But when I found out Aly had a mass in her lungs and will need surgery, I was a mess! I was (and still am) constantly worrying/ paranoid. JT was my rock throughout everything. He listened to me, consoled me, and even handled the paperwork for her surgery, usually I handle everything but it was too much for me.”

Having a baby brought the couple closer together, and when life tested them, they stood by each other and consoled one another. The birth of their daughter has brought so much joy to their lives.

“It was really comforting to see the change in JT,” Amberly said. “Usually he’s quiet and I have to be the one to ALWAYS be strong. It was nice to let my emotions flow and have my husband be my rock throughout everything. As corny as it sounds, we are a team and I’m really lucky to have such a strong support system.”

The Photograph

**Nancy, I know you said to focus on people that I don’t know, but I promise I will do that AFTER this post… this is a story I HAVE to tell.**

My dad’s mom died over 50 years ago in the Philippines while giving birth to her 8th child. Unfortunately my grandma and aunt both passed away. My grandpa was left with 7 kids, 2 of which were under the age of 7.

Decades passed and my grandpa was alone. He is now 92 years old, going on 93 this July. A little over 10 years ago he remarried. For so long he was alone and single, longing for companionship.

My family, aunts & uncles, & their kids that are free, go to my grandpa and step-grandma’s house every other Sunday. It’s a great way for the family to remain close and for my grandpa to see his kids, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

One Sunday my aunt brought old pictures. She showed me and my cousins our grandmother, who none of us ever got to meet. My aunt was saying how she thinks she looks so much like her mother and how her other 2 sisters also share some features. There are only a couple of photos I’ve seen of my grandma, so my first thought was to take a picture of the photo.

My grandpa wasn’t really paying attention, he’s 92, so he’s always just chillin’ minding his business. My sisters and I like to show our grandpa pictures on our phone of him from previous events or ones we take right in front of him. He thinks it’s so cool how technology has advanced and still can’t believe that we can take pictures of him on our phones. Every time we show him his picture he starts laughing surprised like “that’s me!”

Anyways, I took out my phone and pulled up the picture of my grandma. I showed it to him and his reaction made me happy and sad all at the same time. Seeing her picture made him eagerly grab my phone out of my hand.

Staring at her picture he said to me in Tagalog, “Where’d you get this? Do you know who this is? It’s grandma.”

Other than when he complains about his back hurting, my grandpa is usually just chill and observant at get togethers. So when he reacted so surprised to see the picture, it touched my heart, because I could only imagine all the memories that photo brought back.

I think that’s a whole other level of love. To lose someone so tragically, and to be alone for so long, to get remarried, but to be so excited to see an old photo made me really happy. I can only imagine what he felt when he saw that picture, but I know that’s exactly how I would want someone to look at an old photograph of me. 20141109_190624

The photo above is the exact photo I showed my grandpa.

Never Have I Ever…

It’s funny how the people you meet in life can lead you to the person you marry. This was true for my “Tita Lola” Rhonda Zulueta. She is on the left in the photo above. Rhonda is my dad’s cousin, so technically she’s my aunt, but we have that kind of relationship where we can basically joke around like cousins. Hence her name “Tita Lola,” which means “Auntie Grandma” in Tagalog. ( I wish I could insert 10 laughing emojis right here)

Rhonda and Jackie were friends for 4 years before they decided to pursue a relationship with each other. Jackie is actually Rhonda’s ex girlfriend’s cousin! Crazy! It all started when Rhonda was going to go to New Orleans with friends. She needed “practice” with drinking because she didn’t want her friends and sister to think she was weak. She drove to Stockton and played “Never Have I Ever” with Jackie, where she revealed her feelings for her.

After that incident, Jackie didn’t respond to Rhonda’s texts for 2 days! But only to find out that she wasn’t ignoring Tita Lola, but was hungover from the game. They decided to date a while after that.

“I knew she was the one when I asked her to be my girlfriend and when I saw how she interacted with Damian (her nephew),” Rhonda said. “My mom and sister liked her too. They never liked anyone else. She was always the one I ran to and I could trust.”

They lived together and dated for 4 years before they got married.  The day after Christmas Rhonda decided to propose. She left the ring box in the car and asked Jackie to get her lunchbox and meter out. Jackie was so fixed on finding the meter that she didn’t even notice the box!

“I had to grab it and show her the ring,” Rhonda said. “It took her a minute to realize what was happening.”

I remember when Rhonda messaged me on Facebook asking for my address so she could send us an invitation to her’s and Jackie’s wedding. I was so happy and low key honored that we were getting invited. We come from a huge family, my great grandparents had 10 children and those children had on average 7 children each. So inviting everyone in the family would be like having a guest list of 1 million.

It’s crazy how everything turned out. A failed relationship ended up giving Rhonda a wife. I’m so happy that Rhonda has found someone who makes her so happy. Rhonda is so selfless and family oriented, so it makes me glad to know that both their families approve and love them together.