Aurora is not her real name, but her story is as painfully real as it can get.
She lost her mother, a Filipina mistress, at the age of 2 when the latter was murdered. After that tragedy, her father, a Chinese immigrant, shipped her off to Hong Kong where she endured abuse and neglect under the custody of the first wife. She was then taken back to the Philippines at the age of 7 and was raised with her father’s children from his other mistresses.
Aurora’s story is the subject of the book “Broken Mirror” penned by Coylee Gamboa, which circles on the protagonist’s continued longing for love despite the series of misery she had been suffering as a child.
Gamboa said the now 50-year-old Aurora, who was her classmate in art class, hopped from relationship to relationship with men who took advantage of her innocence and mistook lust for love in hopes of finding the true affection she had lost following her mother’s death.
“Aurora’s life was a search for love. She hungered for the love that she felt when her mother brought her into this world, and then she lost. So she went from relationship to relationship before marrying an immigrant from China, hoping that she can have a happy marriage and fulfilled life. But her husband turns out be unfaithful to her and even unfeeling towards her,” Gamboa said during a meet-and-greet event in Taguig last week.
In strict Chinese tradition, a Chinese should marry only a fellow Chinese. Aurora strived to be the traditional submissive Chinese wife, but in the face of maltreatment and adultery, she decided to break her silence and defy tradition by speaking up on the abuses of a Chinese marriage.
“Only recently Aurora finds her voice and she speaks about what happened to her. In doing so, Aurora speaks out for a lot of other women, not just Chinese women involved in Chinese marriages and loveless unions but anywhere women experience abuse in this world, where women experience being marginalized in their own marriages, Aurora speaks for them. And it is my fervent hope that this book will find resonance around the globe,” Gamboa told members of the media.
It took about 40 to 50 interviews in a span of 14 months to write the book, according to Gamboa. She said the names of people, places, and other details had to be changed to protect the identity of Aurora’s children. Gamboa, who took up journalism at the University of the Philippines and Master’s in Communications at Stanford University, served as financial markets editor of the Asian Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong and news editor of Singapore’s Business Times.
But Gamboa said it was not easy for Aurora to share her story to her and to the world.
“Aurora was going through the breakup of her marriage when she decided she needed to tell her story to release the pain that was bottled up inside her… But after the first interview when she told me to help with her story, I told myself no woman should have to go through this alone so I decided I would stand in solidarity with her,” she told INQUIRER.net.
“God had given her a story and He had given me the skill — we combined both and came up with this book. I knew from the start that her story was explosive and would resonate in the lives of so many women worldwide, but it was her story to share… It took courage for her to decide that she would share her story to the world. This is her testament,” the author added.
In telling Aurora’s story, Gamboa made a pledge to be an instrument in sharing the story of women, and even men, who are suffering under the same circumstances. But she noted “Broken Mirror” is not just a story for couples trapped in a loveless Chinese marriage, but a “story for all broken people.”
“I know of women who have similar problems. I’m helping a woman in Korea who’s writing about her marriage also with her Korean husband. A classmate asked me to help her with her story about her 25-year marriage to a Japanese man. There are many other women out there who are experiencing the same thing, and why do they have to go through it alone? Why does their story have to end with them when their story and road to healing can be an inspiration to women and anybody who is broken?” she said.
“It’s not just a story for women. The story is for all broken people, that they may find hope and they can mend their lives, they can live in freedom. So that’s why I think the story is valuable, and I think it’s worth writing and worth reading,” Gamboa added.
Asked about Aurora’s present situation after the events in the book, Gamboa said she is now “doing very well” with her children as she continues to look for the right man. She said the team is studying the possibility of making a sequel because “the story has to inspire us even more of how well Aurora is doing and the progress she’s making.”
“Aurora means dawn. Her Chinese name in the story is Mei Ling, which also means dawn. It’s a poetic description. It’s also a hope and a prayer that her life will see a new dawn, and in the book, she has. The resolution towards the end showed that she was getting out of her predicament,” the author said.
“The real Aurora is doing very well. In the process of writing the book, she experienced a catharsis and a healing and she’s more hopeful and she’s looking at the possibility of love. She’s still looking for the love of her life,” she added.
Below, Gamboa answered a few more questions from INQUIRER.net:
Q: What specific events or chapters in Aurora’s life made the biggest impact on you?
Gamboa: There was this one incident when we were about six or seven weeks into the book. Aurora felt so trapped in a loveless marriage. After being unwanted and unloved all her life, she wanted to be free to find happiness in the remaining years of her life but her husband wasn’t going to give her her freedom. She tried to take her own life to put an end to all her pain. But she didn’t die.
We had a meeting scheduled for the next morning and immediately I could see that something was terribly wrong. When she spoke, her voice was full of pain and hopelessness. I knew her heart was breaking. It was painful for me to listen to her then and I lived through that pain again when I listened to the recording later on.
All I could do was to implore God to sustain her and heal her broken heart. I asked people in our prayer group to lift her up in prayer. We have been praying for her since then.
Q: What makes a woman truly strong and independent?
Gamboa: Personally, I think knowing that God loves you makes a woman truly strong and independent. I derive my strength from that. I know He’s with me and that He will never abandon me and that nothing can ever separate me from His love. I pray that Aurora will find similar comfort in God.
But, when we were writing the book, Aurora didn’t know that she was strong or that she could be independent. She thought she was weak and given to frailties and her husband had made her dependent on him. She didn’t know if she could live on her own.
She had to learn to love herself, to see that frailty and mistakes, even so-called failures, were just steps in the journey to wholeness. The important thing was getting up and going on. Making the book enabled her to do that — to get up and go on. And when she finished the book, she realized that she was a survivor and that she had strength of character after all.
You know, she’s amazing! To have gone through all that she did and still be such a nice and warm person! I am privileged to be collaborating with her on this project.
Q: What is your advice to women out there who are suffering the same fate as Aurora but who cannot speak up? What is the greatest lesson of love that young people today could pick up from her story?
Gamboa: My advice is to find someone to talk to. Evil, abuse and other misdeeds thrive in darkness and anonymity. Our reluctance to speak up against it only reinforces the bad behavior of the abuser. If your life is in danger, get out of that relationship. Come to our website or write to Aurora. Tell us your story.