My elementary school days are now in a distant past, at least from my subjective point of view. Now that everyone is under quarantine and not able to move around much, I feel lucky to be greeted by something that I thought all along only resided in that wonderful period of my personal history.
I remember being told by our 4th-grade teacher to pull this weed from the school track field every Friday morning when I was in elementary school in the province. I was pleasantly surprised to find them growing in a park nearby while walking the girls, and I wasn’t triggered at all to pull them.
I used to pull this weed with reckless abandon, but today I thought I’d let them have their sweet time under the sun, undisturbed.
Depending on one’s level of optimism there are many reasons one can be thankful about for having to go through the newly established daily rituals everyone is forced to have because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Today, my younger sister messaged me at 8 in the morning to remind me of our planned trip to the grocery. Gulping half a box of milk, washing my face, brushing my teeth, and putting on an ill-fitting surgical mask I dragged myself to a nearby SM Hypermart only to discover that the path leading to it from my condominium was closed, so my sister and I had to go to the direction of EDSA to get to the grocery. Upon arriving, I half-expected but still couldn’t help myself but be amazed by the sight of a line of people waiting for the grocery to open slithering several meters from the main entrance to the back facing Main Ave.
Meanwhile, the sun has begun its relentless ascent, unmindful of whether its prickly rays hit someone who wants to get a nice tan in the city or a woman who has just survived her first chemotherapy session for skin melanoma. Nobody appeared visibly bothered, not even the woman I suspected to be suffering from a kind of cancer.
It’s equality in the flesh, but equality is a myth. Some brought with them foldable chairs, others a plastic chair that when folded a certain way functions as an umbrella, still others have plastic carts sturdy enough to be sat on. I quietly sat on the floor with my shopping bag as the only thing that separated my buttock from the concrete floor that for all I know harbored Covid-19-laden particles.
Various iterations of face masks spat at the face of the myth of equality most of us delude ourselves into believing. There were those made from small pieces of cloth that on a regular days may be used as rags, most wear the run-of-the-mill bought-from-pharmacy variety, still others reinforced their masks by placing a roof-like structure made from clear, semi-hard transparent plastic just below their eyes for the purpose of keeping droplets that may contain the viruses from getting straight into their medical-grade face mask.
We arrived at 8:10, two hours later we’re already inside the building that looks like a giant warehouse but not yet on the actual floor of the grocery. This I refer to as the pandemic retail purgatory whose length of one’s stay will depend on how much anxiety those on the actual grocery floor feel and the level of leisure in the way they approach shopping for basic needs. My sister, I, and those lucky enough to arrive early were seated on plastic chairs whose ghastly green color added to the cheeriness SM wants to see among its captive customers. We remained seated for another hour and a half.
People resisted this state-sanctioned, industry-supported enforced cheeriness by keeping that glum face the entire time or make the boredom the subject of the spectacle they want everyone to be an audience of, or as in the case of the woman standing behind the cash registry of Goldilocks, closed the registry with so much force that 10-peso coins are mixed up with the 25-cents. Some played their favorite music, unaware of the fact that their taste in music is not something many shared.
I never felt a proximity this close with people before. Whereas before the pandemic I could choose to maintain my distance from anyone whose presence I have this unexplained aversion for, this time, whether I like it or not I have to be with them, though maintaining a radius purportedly enough to keep the virus from spreading, hence my pithy contribution in flattening the curve. I never felt this isolated yet this close to them. We felt an almost grotesque same level of anxiety, and it’s now more than ever do I feel more human, more connected, yet more separated from everyone else, except of course my cat.
I spent the entire morning sleeping, and the rest of the afternoon trying to stay awake while my conscious mind struggled to remember what day it was and to figure out the placement of the thin line that demarcated awakeness and sleep. I found myself fully awake at 7pm when my cat awoke me from my stupor with his shrill meows. I recalled I pulled myself up at 10am to feed him, but he must have downed the huge dollop of wet food quickly, that by seven he’s hungry again.
My cat has been my constant companion for several years now. He’s witnessed the ebb and flow of my life, and I may have been in a relationship with quite a few, but he seems to have been the only constant in my life that’s characterized by endless shifts.
He has not left my place since I brought him here more than a year ago, sedated. My cat can be a little springy with strangers as he’s uncomfortable with weird scents so his transfer could only be made possible by having him injected with a powerful sedative administered by his vet. My condominium proscribes owners from keeping pets other than aquarium fishes, but who will heed this rule amid the loneliness of city life?
Given that he can only move about my studio of several square meters and his inability to ruminate on the concept of freedom (I adopted him when he was still a kitten and took him with me when an ex and I had decided to part ways); I believe he is also not a very smart cat—but being his dad, I’ve long resigned to this fact because I love him unconditionally—hence I cannot imagine him capable of introspection much less question my decision to keep him in my studio, albeit all his basic needs are provided for.
It’s interesting to know how his entire day goes and maybe derive some insights on freedom from his experience. On the one hand, my cat has been indoor his entire life that the idea of roaming the streets to find food or mates is foreign to him (I am of the opinion that he is one very handsome tomcat—big, sturdy, and muscular—that he would be alpha if only he were given the chance), and on the other hand, here I am forced to stay home indefinitely because of the pandemic that’s claiming people’s lives and sanity outside. On normal days, I’d spend most of my time working then come home in the evening to be with my cat, read a little then off to bed. Even during weekends, I’m seldom home the whole day.
Now, however, my cat and I are on the same boat. And I am beginning to take cognizance of the fact that it’s tough, that it takes a certain set of personality traits to endure this successfully. To be confronted by thoughts I’ve ignored for too long and to have no one to talk to about them or to have exhausted all possible modes of distraction I was afforded before this pandemic, the four walls of my studio is now becoming an arena for a fight till the end between me and my destructive thoughts.
At 6 in the morning today I left Mandaluyong; less than ten minutes, I was home, exhausted, not anymore in shock, fully resigned to the fact that reason has its limits.
All I knew was I needed more sleep, was a bit hungry, and wanted to cuddle my cat, Tumi.
A big part of a human being, the reptilian part of his brain, is something that our senses have very little access to; this part, governed mostly by his primal fears and the desire for self-preservation, determines his decisions; man is too complex one can only make a rough estimate for reasons of his actions. This choice is often based on imagined fear more than facts.
But experience also taught me that there is only so much that I can do and that it is not my responsibility to change how the other sees me.
Every one of us carries his own baggage upon entering a union, and the older one gets, depending on what he has gone through in life, either becomes more wary of or more willing to trust other humans. I don’t want distrust, contempt, and bitterness to determine my actions toward people I decide to become part of my life.
I’m writing this here, today, because I want to revisit this post a decade from now and this to serve as a reminder to my future self to avoid the path I know will keep him from being happy.