It was 1952. We had gotten secretly married—not in court, but in Ermita church, in front of an honest-to goodness Capuchin priest.
We came in separate vehicles—he with his pal Catalino “Mac” Macaraig, in Mac’s car, and me with my friend Teresita “Bubut” Francisco, in a taxi which was made to go around the block twice, to avoid detection.
Poor close pal Ellen, who stayed in our house in Georgia, couldn’t come along. She would be mother’s immediate first suspect. Marcelo remembers peeping anxiously through the slats of the sacristy to make sure no relative on his or my side of the family was praying fervently in a pew. By coincidence, Bubut and I were dressed in lavender, color-coordinated bride and bridesmaid. Too risky to step out of the house looking like Snow White.
He was already at the altar, the man I was destined to live with the rest of his life, my assurance and my pleasure, my rest and my tranquility, my sweetness, my possession, my treasure, my pain and my joy.
The priest was a roly-poly Basque with an accent and ink on his fingers. “Bad kids,” the priest teased us upon learning that we were marrying without parental consent. It was July 4, Independence Day. “Why you get married when everybody celebrating freedom?” he asked.
(When Independence Day was transferred to June 12, we shifted our anniversary, too).
If elopements or secret marriages now sound positively Jurassic, they were the only solution then to parents’ unrelenting strictness that allowed young people little private conversation and only stolen dates. Of course, it was considered a dangerous move—but what marriage is not? Girls secretly married guys they were so in love with but hardly knew.
Virginity was the code of the day. Nice girls didn’t “cross the line.” Instead, we confessed to some poor celibate priest all that steamy necking and petting that went on in the car without consummation. (It drove my boyfriend nuts.)
We were almost the same age. I had graduated from a four-year course and was working in an advertising agency. His law course was longer, and he was reviewing for the bar—in a Quonset hut in UP. What a hot review!
That whole year of secrecy we continued living in our respective homes but slept together in motels. I did not get pregnant because his best friend Mac had gifted us with a book on natural birth control. (Trust lawyers to do expert planning).
We would cavort on the strange beds with delighted screams, chasing each other with baby oil and talcum powder for an nth round of bliss.
Short time was never enough. Alerted by passion, mouths swollen with deep kisses, blind with youthful ardor, we would find each other again for the nth time. How cruel that at sundown we would have to part.
Too soon it was time to go home, my daddy will worry, my mother will nag. We would get into the hot shower together, in a bathroom cubicle filled with steam, soaping each other, getting involved with the interesting parts. Predictably, it always ended up in a lathery lock.
Hurriedly I would begin to dress. When I had succeeded in doing a neat ponytail and tucking in my blouse he would pull me down again, burrow into me and skewer me dead. We would lie on the pillows exhausted. What a grand day!
As soon as the bar results were out, his mother and father and brother and sister came to our house to ask for my hand. Actually, none of the four parents ever got to the subject, just talked about their doctor colleagues, the tennis club, the PGH, and their careers while my mother paraded to them all the dishes she had cooked. I tried to act coy, and he secretly pinched my butt.
So, over again we went through the ritual of marriage. This time in the beautiful, old-chandelier-lit San Agustin church in Intramuros. This time in immaculate white suit and voluminous Chantilly lace saya and four bridesmaids in apple green—Ellen, my classmate Nit, my cousin Nor, and, of course, Bubut. The four ushers were his pals Alex, Joe, Tito and Andy. (Mac had left for the States).
The grand reception was in the Winter Garden of Manila Hotel. Three hundred guests at long tables with white tablecloths and a three-storey cake. The menu was squabs in nests of matchstick potatoes. Two white doves flew from the flower-covered paper bell.
We didn’t have the heart to tell his parents that we were an old married couple because they had spent so much on the festivities. It turned out to be the only wedding reception their family would ever have. His brother married quietly in the States. His sister never married.
To my strict mother I confessed the secret union a few months after the big celebration, hoping to break her heart. Let her stew imagining the motel business and agonize over the thought of my coming home everyday pretending to be a dutiful, virginal daughter. It is perversity only restricted children are capable of.
We celebrated our 25th anniversary. And then our 50th. Then our 58th. We never wondered whether we were happy or not. Maybe it did not matter. Or ever would.