IT WAS a chilling morning in Baguio City. I was too lazy to get up. All I wanted was to linger in bed. A call on my cell phone, though, forced me to grab the gadget and half-asleep, answered it.

“Tess, how are you? Where are you now?”

“I am fine…,” I answered nonchalantly, wondering who the caller was… Who could be calling me at that early morning, just to ask me how I was…and where the hell I was…

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Rather irritated for having disturbed my lazy morning, I asked, “Who is this, by the way?”

“Tess, this is Joy… Joy B… come on, don’t tell me you don’t recognize my voice anymore.”

How I wanted to tell her I was not in for a chit-chat that cold morning, but I tried to control my irritation.

“Oh, Joy… (and for a few seconds, I tried to figure out who she really is, as I have so many friends and acquaintances named Joy)…

“What’s up with you, Joy?” Her excited voice eventually brought me to full consciousness… and at that moment, I shifted to a curious mode.

“Tess, I just got married….and I am on honeymoon now…”

I have become more curious….

Joy… my friend…who was a department head of one bank. The last time we talked, she told me she was to leave for Manila, for an interview at the US Embassy. I wished her good luck …. And I forgot all about it.

“Yes, Tess… I got married yesterday to George…”

“George…. do I know him?”

“No Tess… I don’t think you know him… ours is a whirlwind love story…and here I am now, married and very happy with George. Want me to send you our wedding pictures? I can email it to you now, if you like…”

Later that day, after visiting the strawberry farm in La Trinidad, I dropped by an internet café to check my emails. I was getting “curioser” at Joy’s wedding… and who the hell George is….

What I saw was indeed a happy couple. Joy in her white wedding dress….and George, in his white barong Tagalog. What a radiant pose! In another picture, Joy’s two daughters are with them…and they, too, looked very happy. Still, in another picture, I saw the happy family, in one bedroom… having fun, bonding time.

The psychic in me tried to “read” George’s face… and pieced together the information my friend Joy told me about him. George is 47 years old and never been married. He teaches at a community college. How I wanted to ask Joy why George was still single at 47… and the other many loopholes that kept bugging my small head.

Anyway, on my return to Cagayan de Oro, I immediately called Joy. The tone of her voice told me she was very happy…was in Cloud 9.

“Joy, I am very happy for you, and for your kids. I know that’s what you have been dreaming of…to marry an American…and go to America.”

“Thank you, Tess…I know you could not believe how things happen so fast, but I have found my ideal man…and we love each other.”

After our talk, I continued to analyze things. Indeed, it was so fast, to jump to a second marriage… but it was Joy’s choice…and I know she knew what is best for her and for her two young daughters.

Joy was once married to a handsome soldier who was introduced to her by a friend. They both hail from Cotabato and a month after the first meeting, they got married. Her husband, being a soldier, would intermittently come home and she endured living with her in-laws, who did not treat her well. What pained her most was to be always told by her mother-in-law that she wanted another woman for her son, and that Joy doesn’t deserve it.

After the birth of her second daughter, Joy has not heard from her husband anymore. She heard he was living with his former girlfriend (the woman his mother wanted him to marry). Joy did not look for him. She was not dependent on him anyway. She had a good job heading the Loans Department of one government bank in the city. Besides, she could not take anymore the verbal and emotional, and sometimes physical abuse from the father of her daughters. She felt she was better off without him. Added to that, she got the rights to their conjugal properties (lands and a house and lot in Patag).

From friends, Joy learned to use the Internet to find a second husband. She was clear of what she wanted: a white American. She was focused on where she wants to go….USA!

Every now and then, Joy would tell me about her search…and sometimes, I would be a willing shoulder to her when she discovered the man she has been chatting with is married…and his wife found out about Joy, and she threatened to kill her. She was so devastated… but told me she won’t stop searching.

Disappointed at the slow development of her search, she tried her luck applying for a US tourist visa. She came home more disappointed when she was turned down. But the experience all the more moved her to aggressively pursue her dream.

One night, she met George in one online dating site. The third night, he was her boyfriend. That was October 3, 2004. December 7, 2004, George arrived in Cagayan de Oro City, and the next day, December 8, they got married in a simple civil ceremony.

In one of our talks, Joy told me that while George was in the city, they had a spat. George told Joy that after seeing Cagayan de Oro City, he wanted to live here instead. Joy was furious and put her foot down. It was not what she wanted. It was not in line with her dream… of going to USA…

After less than a year of waiting, Joy, along with her two daughters, arrived in Orlando, Florida, to join George. I was very happy for Joy. Finally, her American Dream was realized.

I was in Trinidad and Tobago when one day, Joy surprised me… when she came online to chat with me. She was full of stories… happy experiences. She related how she loves America…and how she has adjusted to her new country.

I never heard from Joy anymore after our irregular chat while I was in Trinidad… and I presumed she was wallowing in her American Dream….

Last year, she popped up again. She was updating me of her life in America. No, she is not living in Orlando anymore, but has moved to Ft. Lauderdale. Yes, she has a good job as a bank teller. Yes, her eldest daughter loves America, too… working as policewoman during the day and studying in college at night. Yes, her second daughter is doing well in school and excited to have a work of her own. Yes, Joy has been awarded an outstanding employee award. No, she did not buy a house, but lives in a cozy condominium as it is more practical that way.

For two months, Joy would drop by to chat and update me and I am happy for her…

One day, as we chatted, I asked her, “Joy, when are you visiting PI? It’s been years since you left for USA…don’t you miss PI? Don’t you miss your parents, your siblings, your friends?”

“Tess, of course, I miss the Philippines… and if only I could go home….”

“What prevents you from doing that… you have a good job and I am sure you have enough savings…. What is a few thousands for plane fare in exchange for seeing Pi again?” I asked rather forcefully.

I don’t know what I said that for a few moments, Joy did not answer and finally, she said, “Tess, you are my friend…and you understand me. You know, I have a revelation to you. It is hard, painful, but I want to let it out. I have been keeping it to myself, but I think it is high time that I let it go. Tess, I am not happy here… and my coming here is full of pains, of hardship…”

I did not know what to react to Joy’s revelation, but I did not interrupt her…all I responded was a “hug” emoticon, and sometimes, a smile.

Joy continued, “Tess, barely a month that I and my daughters arrived in USA, George started to be mean to us. He resented the fact that he was forced to enter into marriage with me. He kept telling me that I used him. He was upset that we have to cook rice…as it only added to his expenses. He would shout at me and my eldest daughter… for simple fault. Worst, he did not want to sleep in same bed with me anymore… He dreaded my touch… as if I have a contagious disease…”

Based on Joy’s story, George was a gay (that was my first impression, the moment I saw their wedding pictures, but I just kept it to myself). George was also communicating with many other women from all over the world. Before their second month in USA, George told Joy one day he was to leave for Argentina, to marry another woman. He warned Joy that she better do something, because George wants to bring her new wife to USA. Joy and her two daughters should be out of his house before he would get back from her Argentina trip.

Smart as she is, Joy used her network of Filipino friends in USA and was able to get their assistance. George wanted her and her daughters deported back to the Philippines, but Joy was able to convince the INS that her marriage to George was legal, and the INS decided in her favor.

With the help of her friends, Joy was able to find a job. She has had long years of working for a bank and she easily got a job as bank teller.

“Tess, you know, except for my close sister (who works in one government office), even my parents do not know the ordeal I am going through here in USA. Every month, I try to save, so I could send money to my sick parents. Honestly, Tess, how I wish I could go home to the Philippines. Life is easier there… and I know I could find another job there, but what will my friends and relatives and much more, my parents say to that? I don’t want to appear as a failure. I don’t want to be mocked at, simply because I dreamed of coming here in USA. I was only trying to make my dream happen. If only I knew it would be this difficult, I would have stayed put in PI…”

“Joy, don’t feel bad… what happened to you could also happen to anybody. You are not alone. As you said, you were only trying to realize your dream. It’s not too late… Keep the most of what you have now and you have a choice…”

A few months ago, Joy called, “Tess, I am in California now…and guess who I am with?”

“Who?”

“Kenneth….”

“Kenneth, who?”

“My American boyfriend… and we are to get married soon… and he is to buy me and my daughters our plane tickets…for our PI vacation. Tess, I want to see you when I am in Cagayan de Oro. Promise me you will be around, okay?”

Joy, I wish you all the best. I pray for your happiness… I pray for the realization of your American Dream…