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Crystal Neri | Stories And My New Life In Cebu - Crystal Neri

Stories And My New Life In Cebu

I SAT IN FRONT OF JAN YANEHIRO IN HER 79 New Montgomery office at downtown San Francisco. She’s dressed in a yellow wool jacket over a black top and long pants. Her gently parted bangs and lilac-colored eyeshadow struck me first as I stare at her.
“Crystal, your voice tends to fall off at the end of your sentences. Project like this.”
She proceeds to say a few words. I follow them. 
“Yes, better. Keep practicing.”
Jan is an Emmy-awarding winning journalist. As the Director of Multimedia Communications of Academy Art University, she had been the first person to encourage me to study production. When I was a scared, stressed, teenage girl looking for a scholarship, she welcomed me in open arms saying, “You’d flourish in my department both as an athlete and a student.” And I believed her.
Four years later, I graduated with several awards, one of them an NCAA Woman of the Year nomination. Not only my US education will enable me to provide for myself, I was also exposed to an environment that proved I could live a creative and meaningful life. A private art school education. Traveling the whole U.S. with artist friends while playing competitive golf. Living in downtown San Francisco –  melting pot of wealthy, artistic, free, environmentally and historically adept people and ideas. My brain, my physique, my soul — all expanded the best way possible any young woman could ever wish for.
That bright afternoon, Jan and I had been working to produce a singing show. It will be our last class together. Although I’m thankful for her kind mentoring, at the same time, I was also feeling nostalgic about the near end of my college journey. It’s graduation soon. It was almost goodbye.
After graduating, I moved to San Diego, California. The weather is described as semi-arid, mild and sunny throughout the year. It’s essentially all-day long perfect, the kind that would guilt you if you’re not outdoors.
I’ve been driving for almost an hour now, even turning off the radio so I could focus on the directions. But what I could not find is the entrance to Elfin Forest in Escondido, California. I’m right here, but as with most state parks, looking for the “staging” area (the place where the hike starts), is the hardest to find.
One mile from destination,” the GPS voice cries in unison with the hazard light clicking. After a U-turn and an illegal left turn, I finally found the gate.
The Elfin Forest hike boasts of several trails that vary in difficulty. As a moderate hiker, I aim for maximum three to four hours in the mountain. Asking for more might be a push for a young woman wandering alone.
Fake alone, I would call it, because you’re never truly by yourself in nature. I’m walking on half-sand/half-dry soil. Hundreds of miles of it spread in front of me, sometimes wielding like forks into deeper parts of the woods. I learned this thing in college training where we load our butts and thighs and tighten our bellies for every lunge. My trainer advised it’s best for protecting knees, so I used that in my new hiking hobby. That, and breathing in rhythm, made me fall in love with hiking more.
Up in the mountains, mansions in Escondido peaks looked like tiny cars. California is experiencing its worst drought in years. So right now, a typical California view is like an old pastel painting —  brownish, greenish, bluish — real but faint. Slowly rolling mountains but never too small like hills or staggering like the Grand Canyon’s. And there’s always a body of water, this time the Olivenhain Municipal Water District.
Since moving to San Diego, I learned to relinquish the outdoors. My work ends early so by afternoon, I’m free to sleep under the sun. Without any friends, school or social obligations, I’m living in melancholy, peace and solitude. 

“Aloneness is not the same as loneliness,” one of my favorite quotes would say. The San Diego life, paired me down to what really matters to my core – a purpose (my first employment after school), nature (hikes and coastal views), books (to feed my brain) and lots of reflection time. 

When my working privileges ends, I’m moving back to my home country, the Philippines. My VISA is expiring soon. It’s almost goodbye.
And now here I am in Cebu living an entirely new life.
Two weeks ago, I left my siblings in Cavite to move to Cebu permanently. I bawled on the plane until I got bloodshot eyes over missing the three little people I love the most. 
“Why do you want to drop me off at the airport?,” I asked my nine-year old sister Ace. 

Kasi wala na akong ate (Because I will no longer have an older sister),” she said so straight and emotionless, I wanted to crumble inside. A notable hurdle in this new life: Leaving my family. 

A week ago, I sat on the bathroom floor away from screens and noise. My future husband had to rescue me, probably thinking I just went mad. But I needed the space to internalize my losses. I’m waking up everyday depending on one person. I have no place to go or nothing (not even household chores) to do. A notable hurdle in this new life: a loss of a purpose. No work, no dignity.
Two hours ago, Jovi and I, were being toured by a sweet lady around Radisson Blu Hotel. I could not follow her words because she’s speaking in Bisaya — the dialect of Cebuanos. I’m born and raised Tagalog and adopted English from my college days. Bisaya is spoken fast and there are still many words I don’t understand. A notable hurdle in this new life: language.
I went to school in San Francisco for four years, then I moved to San Diego for a year. That’s five years of building a life — the first time I would call my real “own” life without much of anybody’s help. I decided to pick my major. I cleaned, slept, cooked, washed and ate in an apartment I chose. I hosted breakfasts with my own adult friends. In those five years I grew up, not only in age, but in a hey-I-can-survive-alone kind of empowering way. 

Goodbye to my independent U.S. life, artists friends in San Francisco, to the crazy mornings of waking up beside my nine year-old sister, or even just the familiarity of my Cavite home or the San Diego freeways. I don’t think a husband is enough to replace all that. And that’s okay. Because when I sleep at night and wake up in a this new life of uncertainty, only one strong, ironic and quizzical thing hits me. The eliminator of all my notable hurdles: Gut-wrenching joy.

“Uncertainty is where things happen. It is where the opportunities — for success, for happiness, for really living — are waiting.”