Family in unlikely places

By Meryl Fulinara

Last week I became an orphan-or that’s what my friends have been saying, at least. But it’s not necessarily true.

My parents decided in January they were going to pack up everything in our San Jose, Calif., house in October and move back to their native soil-the Philippines.

My brother has been living on the island for about five years now. He went to Bethel Bible College in Valenzuela City, Philippines, and since graduating he has decided to stay there as a missionary.

My immediate family has gone back to the homeland, so where does that leave me? Not without a family, I can assure you. I have family much closer than I expected. They come from all over the country, have experienced so many things and they have taught me about myself and the world every single day.

When I first moved to Chicago in 2005, I made friends that, even now, I consider a tight unit-my “new” family-and there is a closeness within my group of friends that I’ve never felt with my mother, father or brother.

We were all thrown into the whirlwind that is Chicago and we’ve all been forced to grow up and mature together. We know each others’ capabilities, and I know that these people would be there for me as much as my own parents would be.

When I moved into the studio I am living in now, some of my good friends helped me pack and move my belongings and even donated a ton of their furniture so my apartment would seem livable. I had nothing, and now I have all I need.

I have a father figure in one friend who always seems to be able to pick me up when I fall down. He has walked me through plateaus and has never failed at giving me advice that I apparently never listen to.

Early last year he helped me get through my mother’s stroke in Janary. He told me that I should move back home for a couple months in order to sort everything out.

And while everyone was cynical and doubted I would come back to Chicago, he understood and stood by me, making sure everyone knew that when I was ready, I would make my grand return.

Another friend, who seems to be my mother figure here, has been with me through everything. She’s been there for the tears, laughs and has been my confidant in relationships.

She has helped me through my break-ups and dating misfires, always assuring me that everything would be OK and that I should always follow my instincts.

I have a handful of close friends who are like brothers and sisters to me. We bicker and fight, but I love them with all my heart. I have chosen not to tell them that minor detail because although I am a writer, I am unable to vocalize and articulate my emotions well, especially sentimental ones.

I recognize that while I may be more than 10,000 miles away from my mom, dad and brother, I have friends here in Chicago who are as much a part of me as anyone else in my immediate family.

So whenever someone calls me an orphan or I feel alone, I know that I am just a bike ride away from someone that cares about me as much as my own flesh and blood.