Moving from the Philippines to Hawaii to live with her new husband in 2018 turned out to be a big mistake for Helengrace Cabasal and her two boys.
Her husband, whom she had met on visits to Hawaii, had a bad temper, but she thought she could manage him. It didn’t work out that way.
In April she filed for a temporary restraining order against him, and although he asked to reconcile, “I would prefer to be homeless than to be with him,” Cabasal said.
But the price of feeling safe in their home has been steep. Cabasal struggles to pay the rent and buy basic necessities even while working overtime seven days a week.
Her youngest son, Christoper Ortiz, 10, is “intellectually handicapped” and needs constant supervision, she said, making it almost impossible for her to get enough sleep.
“Even if I am so tired, as long as I can get up and go to work. At least I have peace of mind with no husband around,” Cabasal said.
She has no friends or relatives to help care for her son — “my special boy,” she calls him — and doesn’t qualify for government aid. Cabasal said she couldn’t afford the rent on an apartment after her husband left so the family moved into a cramped, older duplex in Kalihi in June. To make more money, she picked up an extra shift working for a convenience store chain, taking the graveyard shift seven days a week.
“It’s so hard,” she said, but at night at least her eldest son, Nichol Cabasal, 18, can watch his younger brother at night. She recalls having to sleep with one eye open to prevent Christopher from sneaking out of the house and wandering around the neighborhood, though he hasn’t done it lately.
“Even though we lock the doors, he has his ways to get out of the house, he’s so smart!” she said.
On one occasion, Cabasal forgot her key and had to remove the window jalousies to climb into the house; Christopher remembered how she did it and would make his escapes through a window.
Although affectionate and sweet-natured, he knows how to push his mother’s buttons and constantly badgers her to do things he is able to do for himself, she said.
“He is so dependent on me,” Cabasal said.
Christopher, who struggles with speech, begs her every day for a bicycle, which he calls “big” or “ba-a-ba,” and she promises him she’ll save money for one.
When he gets angry, sometimes he breaks things, throws his clothes around, bangs the door and even locks himself in his room. “I cannot rest,” she said.
It’s difficult for Cabasal and Nichol to make sure that with their work schedules, one of them is available to supervise Christopher. Early in the morning, when Nichol has to leave for his job before his mother gets home, he has to take Christopher to his workplace with him. And Cabasal, who doesn’t have a car, has to rush from work by bus to meet the boys at Nichol’s job.
Nichol is also a part-time community college student who wants to become a social worker.
Despite their daily hardships, at least her sons don’t have to hide in their room any more, afraid of her husband’s temper, Cabasal said. When she talks about how miserable it was with her husband around, tears flow afresh as she recounts the traumatic fight that made her call the police and file a restraining order the next day.
“It was my birthday, April 12,” when she finally realized, “If I don’t leave him, I might go crazy; I have to get out while I’m still whole.”
Now she wonders how long she and her boys can survive in Hawaii under such strain, knowing she is unable to further her education or job training, or work day shifts because of her son’s special needs. Moving back to the Philippines is unlikely since she resigned from a steady job there and her older son now feels settled in Hawaii.
“We’re struggling,” she said, but “I give them the best I can; we are survivors, and I believe that everything will come to pass.”
For Christmas, they could all use some clothes and shoes, and Cabasal would like kitchen utensils and curtains.
The annual Good Neighbor Fund, a charitable partnership between Helping Hands Hawaii, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and First Hawaiian Bank, helps struggling individuals and families during the holiday season. This year under the Adopt A Family Program, more than 500 families are seeking assistance with food, clothing, toys and household items. Donations to the Good Neighbor Fund also assist Helping Hands with operational costs for the nonprofit’s Community Clearinghouse Program, which helps people with basic necessities throughout the year, at 2100 N. Nimitz Hwy. The hours for Adopt A Family donations (new items), Monday through Friday between 8am to 4pm; For general donations for the Community Clearinghouse (gently used items), drop off on Tuesdays between 8am to 4 p.m.
Individuals may drop off cash or checks to the “Good Neighbor Fund” at any First Hawaiian Bank branch statewide until Dec. 31. To donate specifically to Helengrace Cabasal and her family, include the code: DVAC-038.