View part 1 here.
Carmen sat with Emcie’s flowers on her lap. “The flowers are bigger than me! You shouldn’t have bothered.” she exclaimed. “On second thought: it’s my birthday. I’m glad to have something nice today.”
“We just wanted to give you something,” I said. “I was thinking of giving you a pen, but thought it’ll be too redundant, Ms. Pedrosa.”
“I love it,” she answered.
Jary, Emcie and I smiled shyly.
Carmen sat up straight, cleared her throat, and said, “OK, bring in the questions!”
Carmen Navarro Pedrosa graduated from the Assumption College. After finishing Journalism, she started working for the Manila Chronicle where she started her career as a writer. Shortly after, she married her longtime sweetheart Alberto Pedrosa and gave up her post in the Chronicle to take on a full-time role of being a housewife.
When Ferdinand Marcos took the Presidential post in Malacanang in December of 1965 and when he and the new First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos led the elite group of entourage to New York for their first state visit, the first couple was a hit in the International Press.
It was when the idea of writing about Imelda’s life came into Carmen’s husband’s mind. “It’s going to be a best-seller!” he prophesied one night.
Thus was the start of Carmen’s 30-year career as Imelda’s unauthorized biographer. In 1969, she published THE UNTOLD STORY OF IMELDA MARCOS despite the consistent harassment from Malacanang. The book was an instant hit. Exposing the unknown facts about the First Lady’s early beginnings in Leyte, the fact the she belongs to the “poor relations” of the great Romualdez’ clan, and her unbeknownst recognition as an ad hoc Miss Manila in 1953.
THE UNTOLD STORY was Carmen’s obra maestra in 1970, however served as her only work that will seal her family’s fate when Martial Law was declared in 1972.
Carmen and her entire family were sent into exile in Europe during the Martial Law years until the Marcoses’ final plight to Hawaii in 1987. Her children, though educated and brought up abroad, grew up without having experienced the Filipino culture and adapted a Western mindset until they graduated from college.
Probably the gravest consequence Carmen faced from having written Imelda’s biography was when the Marcoses denied her the permission to go back to the Philippines to visit her dying mother during the Martial Law years.
“I was told not to even consider going back, or I will be sent to jail. I have been told over and over again not to continue on publishing THE UNTOLD STORY, but I still went on with it. Not seeing my mother in her last days was the hardest blow the Marcoses gave me.”
After the EDSA revolution in 1986, Carmen’s publishers in New York asked her to come up with a re-boot of her biography on Imelda. This time, stretching from 1929 (Imelda’s year of birth) to 1986, THE RISE AND FALL OF IMELDA MARCOS hit the bookshelves in the Philippines and in the U.S. in 1987. She was an overnight sensation; a star biographer at the time of a political shift.
“I could never ask for more,” Carmen whispered while looking at the setting sun. “It’s just sad to realize, that now it’s already out of print. I’m just glad that my book from some 25 years ago still reaches young minds”
A few more small talks and it was already time for her to go.
I grabbed my copies and reached for a pen. Nothing will stop me from being a notch cheesier. I’m a fan. PERIOD
“Can you sign these for me?” I asked. “It’ll make me very happy.”
“It’s my birthday today,” she said after signing my copies. “I hope you’d forgive me if I’d ask to be excused a bit earlier. I have prepared a small dinner party for friends.”
“Imelda won’t be there for sure,” I said smiling.
She smiled and stood up with her bunch of flowers. I held out my hand. She held my left shoulder and pulled me towards her and kissed me on the cheek.
“We will see each other again,” I said.
I saw her walk in the twilight, towards the darkening pavements where her driver has parked her ride. Carmen, with a dozen of assorted flowers, left us more prepared for the upcoming book discussion.
However, for me, it was more than preparation. It was a consolation. The final treat. An event I’d always treasure as a reader and a fan. I looked down at the yellowing pages of my copy of THE RISE AND FALL OF IMELDA MARCOS. Though tattered and torn, it glowed back at me.
A writer lives as long as the pages are turned, my father once said.
And a book that is falling apart has a reader that is not, I told myself.
And then, I smiled.