𝐓𝐮𝐧𝐚 𝐒𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐰𝐢𝐜𝐡 𝐢𝐧 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐓𝐢𝐦𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐏𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐦𝐢𝐜
Hello Nina from the future. This is how you felt on April 3, 2020, in the middle of a pandemic.
Whenever I wake up, it almost feels like just another day: the warm sunbeams slatting through my east-facing window, the reliable chug of my old AC, and the parched feeling in my throat. The messages on my phone say otherwise. It is not a normal day, and hasn’t been, for what, 18 days now? I’m nearing the point where I’m used to waking up to a global pandemic silently raging across the world.
But not yet. Not quite yet.
Pre-COVID-19, I was never the type to scroll through my notifications first thing in the morning. However, the updates now serve as anchoring of sorts. I’ve subscribed to a Telegram group named ‘PH Coronavirus Updates’, and the numbers rising up every morning sets off a chain reaction in my body: cold anxiety of the hypochondriac kind, a heavy unease, and finally, at around 8:30 am, an unsettling calm.
The day has begun. There are no noisy tricycles roaring outside my window, no people walking on the streets.
Manila is on lockdown, thoroughfares drained of its buses, jeepneys, and throngs of people. We are not going anywhere.
There is a virus waiting to jump to the next susceptible person.
It’s still time to get up.
I take a shower. 10 am, I wake up my laptop and get to work. Slack pings, left and right.
I’ve been on a remote work setup since November, so working from home didn’t present a psychical rearrangement to me as it did to a lot of people. But ultimately, it’s the loss of escape that changed how work felt like: no more jaunts to a coffee joint to hunker down on a brief, no more skiving off to the beach to clear up the week’s mental detritus, no dinner with friends to feel sane, no more yoga at a high-rise building and picking up fresh produce afterwards to get energized.
No need to disassemble the crassness of my privilege: I’m well-aware, thanks.
This won’t be the place where I list down how I’ve helped out other people during this time, or how I stand with the truly disenfranchised and condemn every anti-poor decision our government has made. We can all police—or better yet, inspire—each other to not be trash human beings at this moment in history; certainly, a new kind of social media morality has arisen from this pandemic, for a reason.
“This is so unprecedented.”
“Weird fucking times, love.”
In all the political filters, dogmas, and other belief systems we may view this global pandemic with, in the end, we are all subject to it. COVID-19 has birthed a kind of solidarity we couldn’t have imagined just a month ago. This is history playing itself out even as we scroll to the day’s developments.
We will remember this time—this *will* leave marks.
I am sitting here, with the guilt of material blessings, doing what I can to help, but also reckoning with what’s going on within me. When you’re hemmed in by the walls of your home, there is nowhere to look except in the crevasses of your brain, and no one else to move among apart from the people you live with.
At home, well, everyone’s home. As there are 19 people sharing one roof, this enhanced community quarantine has thrown us together in closer proximity and for longer stretches of time than we’re used to. Palitan talaga ng mukha.
It’s interesting how we find new ways of being with people we already live with. To make this time bearable, yes, but also as a natural consequence of being quarantined together. The green walls inside our home almost feel like they’re melting and shifting to accommodate the novel ways we’re moving around and living within it. Like it’s breathing with us through endless afternoons and silent nights.
Previously ignored nooks and crannies finding renewed purpose: the little stair landing with old books is now our resident teenager’s TikTok spot (or whatever kids these days do on their phones.) A sad, ignored corner in the garden is now where 4 year-olds Saige and Steph gather rocks to throw a measly foot away. The garage is now emptied of anything with wheels, and dad and I have dragged our battered but precious, long-armed Ilocano silyon chairs to preside over the area. It’s now where everyone convenes at 4 pm: for coffee, for an errant breeze after a whole day of melting in summertime Manila, for a repetitive but still satisfying collective cooing over Enzo, barely two months old.
Mealtimes are like save points in a game now. We’ve always had dinner together as a family, even pre-pandemic. But something about having all our meals together has reconfigured how we make sense of a day. Asking someone to “please pass the patis” (mmm delicious assonance) is not just passing the patis now: it’s grounding, a sign that you’re in the same boat with these people, it’s breaking bread together in comfort, because while tomorrow feels pregnant with uncertainty, tignan mo, may sawsawan pa rin na nagpapasarap ng kain natin.
Speaking of breaking bread: I want to touch on Mum making me a tuna sandwich using Gardenia Classic bread, which on any given day I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. Yes, that’s not the most politically correct thing to say about Gardenia right now, I’m well aware. Yet after a day filled with a ringing sense of anxiety and unending work, nothing has ever felt more delicious. I don’t remember the last time my mom has made me a sandwich (she’s certainly not behooved to do so, and I wouldn’t want to make a sandwich for someone gustatorily fussy as me either) but somehow, in the time of a global pandemic, it’s just a new normal. A magical new normal.
There are other moments.
My Kuya walking in circles around the garden with a backpacked Saige, looking for non-existent frogs. The strangeness of our dining table littered with laptops. Spending a day on my friend’s island for hours on Animal Crossing: a virtual otherworld bridging Chicago and Manila. Sitting on the silyon with dad, realizing we have the same shaped feet. Santino asking me about quarks and rhizomes and all things my adult brain has neglected. Watching my friends learn new skills, despite everything: cooking, handstands, knitting, triple crossover hops. My sister breastfeeding Enzo in one hand, and organizing her staff via email on the other. The ritualization of our afternoon coffees. Zoom video workouts with friends. The handwashing singalongs. Ate Melai thoughtfully adding soil to my jade plant after it fell off my window sill (I had a ridiculous mini-breakdown, sue me). Mom preciously asking where she could procure ripe mangoes in the Merville Facebook group, because Saige’s been craving for some mango shake.
The crawling of time. Pockets of time, moments, really, to remind us what to treasure in our life once we’re all let out of the house again: blessings and essentials.
But don’t get me wrong, this period of time doesn’t and won’t look the same for everyone, and nothing about what we’re facing now is inherently romantic.
Nina from the future, these happened too:
There are daily wagers taking it to the streets because they are sidelined and hungry. There are government officials mishandling billions meant for aid and still fumbling with most of the logistics, two weeks in. There are households supporting weary frontliners. There are frontliners, depleted in all aspects yet reporting back for duty the next day. There are families separated by various circumstances. There are people mourning a beloved one, when just a month ago, they were healthy, whole, and right beside them. There are cancelled weddings, sporting events, concerts, and other things that made life something to look forward to.
There are business owners poring over Excel sheets wondering about continuity and how to keep their people employed. There are people alone in silent condominium units. There are 8-people families wedged together in tight, airless makeshift houses no bigger than a fourth of a classroom.
There are people with mental health conditions struggling to make sense of this seemingly alternate universe turned canon. There are immunocompromised people wondering anxiously if their unopened groceries will be the one thing that delivers the final blow.
There are dead people.
And there are people fighting for their lives, not just socially distanced, but in pure isolation, struggling to do the most basic and elemental function to our existence: breathe.
That’s all we can do, to begin with, even as we live with the dark realities of this pandemic. Breathe, and allow love and kindness to suffuse our thoughts and actions.
In the time of pandemic, a kindness to one is a kindness to all.
However it looks like for you, I hope that your April 4 comes with a little bit of hope. We crawl ever closer to a day where this will become something we won’t forget, but still put behind us.
If you are infected, I hope that you recover. If you are suffering and hungry, I hope that help comes soon—we’re fighting to get supplies to you. If you are tired of taking care of other people, I hope you find some rest, in any way that you can.
If you are mourning the loss of a loved one, I hope you remember them in all their humanity, and take that with you as kindling maybe not to move on (because they will always be etched in your soul), but to do better as a human being. Not soon, but somewhere down the line.
I hope we take with us the lessons of this strange season, and pull humanity forward again, with scientific sobriety, and a heart that beats for everyone.
I look forward to tasting the salty tang of seawater on my tongue again. Sharing dessert with a friend, mask-less and cozily attached at the hip. Jumping in time to a beat during a concert, feeling the music around other people. Dressing up. Doing groceries without the tedium of social distancing and controlled lines. Walking outside to get coffee, and appreciating the smooth, bittersweet pull on my senses, finally in the company of other strangers.
It will come.
For today, we just support our frontliners, wash our hands, and stay in.
April 4, 2020: we breathe and live on.