Saying good-bye as I was getting to know her

NYU grad Rachel Misty Walt is leaving New York to join the Navy. The FilAm photos

NYU grad Rachel Misty Walt is leaving New York to join the Navy. The FilAm photo

By Cristina DC Pastor

I sat across from Misty who coherently chronicled her “semi-nomadic” life over coffee, eyes laughing at every goofy detail.

Another young writer who has graced the pages of The FilAm is leaving. But unlike the others before her, Rachel Misty Walt is not going to the Philippines. She will be joining the Navy.

Before leaving New York, she called out to her friends in a unique online invitation. She would be spending her last month in the city, she wrote on Facebook, and would love to see again “people who really have made an impression on me.”

That I made her list touched me deeply.

We are not exactly close, having met briefly all of two times. But I did invite her to write for The FilAm, and she obliged with two well-written essays: the insightful “Raised a Pinay” on how the women in her family have been the biggest influence in her life, and a snappy review of the TV series “Orange is the New Black.”

But there’s another fact that connected Misty and myself. Her mother and I grew up in the town of San Juan in Metro Manila: her mother lived on a street close to the town’s public market while I moved from one rented house to another around the private Catholic school where I studied from elementary to high school. My father, a bill collector for Ford Motors, spoke English and the nuns erringly concluded I come from a family of means.

I learned that Misty’s mom Imelda went to San Juan Municipal High School. She developed into a great dancer and traveled to Okinawa to be an entertainer there. That’s where she met Misty’s American dad, Marty, then an airline mechanic for the U.S. military.

It was funny listening to Misty describe her mom in all candor as a “bar girl,” and her father as “kind of her customer.” She and I chuckled at this refreshing nonchalance. She did not deodorize by using the vague reference to “cultural entertainer.” Her mother, according to Misty, was indeed one and fortunate enough to work for a strict and conscientious employer who did not tolerate any hanky-panky and made it difficult for the women to go out with male patrons.

Her parents married shortly after. The family moved from one base community to another until her father eventually became a defense contractor for a private company and the family settled in Greenville, South Carolina. She carefully pointed out she’s only “pseudo military brat” because her father has longed worked for a private establishment.

Misty, who confessed to being happy living the blue collar life she had gotten used to in Panama City, Florida, would find herself pursuing Individualized Study in the Spread of Culture at NYU. In New York, she began as an unpaid fellow and moved up the chain to become an associate for the nonprofit Advancement for Rural Kids, a school-based feeding program for children in Capiz. For a year and half, she coordinated efforts on the ground via laptop from the executive director’s Manhattan apartment. In between, she also babysat and taught belly dancing.

With her mother, Imelda.

With her mother, Imelda.

The Navy life was fascinating to Misty not so much because her father had worked for the military, but it may have opened up possibilities for travel, adventure, a certain degree of financial independence and unpredictability. For one who has lived “a military lifestyle of constantly relocating and having friends who did the same,” joining the Navy wouldn’t require a big adjustment.

She is aware of how the military establishment has been called a snake pit for sexual harassment. She wished too that there would be a palatable compromise between her activist involvement with the Ugnayan ng Mga Anak ng Bayan’s grassroots politics and the military’s mandate to colonize and rule. She has those concerns but is putting them aside for now. First, she needs to get in.

She eagerly looks forward to bootcamp where they will cut short her lush, black hair and the yelling-to-your-face begins.

“Yup, that’s what they do. Not so much to break you down but to make you tough,” she said.

There won’t be any mobile phone or computer, only a determined focus to leave civilian life behind to become an officer. The goal-oriented Misty wished she could be that and remain true to her social justice conviction.

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