by Maya Angelique B. Jajalla
I have two hands. Heads turned. The left and the right. Mischievous smiles stared at Roger. Hold them up high, so clean and bright. Giggles started to burst in the class. Clap them softly, one, two, three… Sharp, teasing eyes met his. Clean little hands are good to see. The kindergarten class erupted in laughter.
This is pretty much the clichéd childhood of a bullied kid like Roger Hernandez Jr. – a boy with a cleft lip, difficulty in speaking, and only one arm (with three of its fingers attached to each other). More important than his struggle to be viewed as “normal” in a society of fixed standards, his greatest battle was to feel a sense of completeness within himself.
With only one arm and only two well-developed fingers, how does one learn to count his blessings?
The battle with Goliath
Roger didn’t grow up with a father and a mother. His parents separated when he was still a baby. He only met his father twice in high school while his mother married an Arab and lived with him in a foreign country. Roger grew up in Larena, Siquijor with his grandparents, cousins and aunts. He had no sibling. He found it hard to make friends. Kids always made fun of him. He fought back. He became the bad guy instead.
“Nobody catches the one who starts the fight. So when I fight back, people see me as the bad guy. Somehow, I became the ‘bullied bully’,” Roger said.
He was called bungi and pungkol by most of the kids in Larena. He often came home crying. “It was hard not to be affected when you’re still a kid. Of course I was hurt. I don’t think others should say what’s already obvious.”
However, while the other children learned numbers by counting their own fingers, Roger harnessed his mental capacities. He memorized figures. He mastered the multiplication table instead of relying on the “finger-matching technique”. What his hands couldn’t reach, his mind made up for it.
He also chose not to be exempted from “sweepers”. He wanted to work like “normal” kids worked. He wanted to have the same load that people with two arms had.
But Roger will never forget what happened in 2nd grade. He was playing with his classmates when suddenly, another classmate made fun of him. Roger was so insulted that he picked a stone and threw it to the boy’s head.
Blood spilled from the boy’s ahead. Roger got scared. So he ran. He ran to their classroom. Roger was crying when his teacher found him.
“I’ll never forget that day. It made me realize that I focused so much and spent a lot of time trying to rebut my bullies. Looking back, it was totally not worth it,” Roger added.
In the book of Samuel, a young shepherd named David used his slingshot to cast stones on Goliath, a giant who challenged him in a fight. Little David defeated the giant. He triumphed in that fight.
Twelve years ago, Roger threw a stone on the head of his classmate. He injured the enemy. He defeated the bully. But he failed to defeat his giant.
Sometimes, giants appear as small thoughts of anger and specks of hatreds in our minds. And all along, Roger’s Goliath was not the boys who made fun of him. The giant was inside him – the same way our own tricky giants reside within us.
The Steadfast Tin Soldier
Roger was a bright young lad. He graduated Salutatorian in a public elementary school in Larena. Rumor has it that he was supposed to be the Valedictorian of the batch. But because the top student of the class was supposed to deliver a speech, the spot was given to someone else who can articulate well.
“That rumor spread in our town. I still hadn’t had my [lip] operation that time. So my words were not as clear as I talk right now. It somehow discouraged me. But I just think about it this way: if it was really for me, then it should have been mine. It was not given to me, so maybe it wasn’t really meant for me,” Roger said.
When Roger reached high school, he began to divert his mind away from self-pity. He started exploring his potentials. He became a badminton player and a dancer. And yes, he serves the shuttlecock using a single arm only. He eventually played basketball. And like any other dreamer, he wanted to have a good education. Roger wanted to go to college.
In Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”, the soldier who only stood with one leg dared to dream of winning the ballerina’s heart. The goblin warned him not to pursue his heart’s desires. The 24 other soldiers who stood with two legs told him that he wouldn’t succeed anyway.
People told Roger many things that the tin soldier heard. College was his ballerina. Roger fixed his eyes on the ballerina. He was determined. And because he banked on the right things, Roger was able to ace the screening test and attain a slot in the prestigious Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Scholarship Program.
The DOST scholarship was a dance towards his ballerina. Roger wanted to prove to his goblins and the rest of the soldiers who stood with two legs that when it comes to dreams, a steadfast heart and tons of determination is more important that a complete set of arms.
Roger is now a fourth year BS Information Technology student in Silliman. He was the president of Doltz Hall last school year, and the current president of Woodward Hall. He has been representing his college in the track and field category during intramurals. He has been representing his dorm in the dormitory dance-off since boys began becoming part of the competition.
People still look at him in a weird way. “But Sillimanians are ‘civilized’. They’re not the little kids who teased me. And teachers here are good, too. Whenever someone insults me, my dormitory brothers defend me. The world became beautiful. Maybe it’s because I already learned to search for the beauty in this situation first,” Roger added.
Roger stops at five when he sings “Ten Little Indian Boys”. But he doesn’t let this stop him from getting his ballerina. “My goal is to be educated. I want to get a diploma and work. I want others to believe in me because I believe in myself now. I want others to realize that they can live their dreams, too. I can do it with one arm. I’m sure they can with two.”
Sitting on a wooden chair at the Woodward Hall sala, Roger collected his thoughts before answering a question. “Yes, I feel complete,” he said. “I mean, it would have been better if my father was around when I was growing up. But because of the people who love me, and the God who loves me unconditionally, why shouldn’t I feel complete?”
And that is how one man counts his blessings with only one arm and only two well-developed fingers.