Art by Gian Nicdao
I usually sleep during my favorite time of the day. That is, early morning when the sun is starting to rise, well before the summer heat takes over. It’s the kind of early that I associate with many tender and tense memories, like waking up early for a school trip or going home late from a night out. It’s somber and exciting at the same time, mostly because it’s both a beginning and an end.
I then wake up late, too late, especially if it’s a weekend. My day goes by backward, coupled with few naps here and there that would tire my body out more than a workout would. I’ll go down to look for food, and inevitably become disappointed with whatever’s on the table. I’ve gotten used to food deliveries, and my mom is not a good cook — she’s one of those who cook because she has to, not because she enjoys it. I fill my day with whatever task needs to be done, all while four cats run and sleep around me. My dad waits for the news, while my younger sisters watch whatever’s on their devices. I wait until everyone’s asleep so I can have the house to myself. I wait for my favorite hour again.
It’s been more than a month since I went back home, mostly out of necessity. As soon as rumors about the lockdown went out, my dad drove to pick me up from my place in Manila and brought me home. I remember eating in a worn-down Army Navy at an NLEX stopover and having this ghostly intuition of what’s about to come, looming over me. I thought I’ll be staying at home for two weeks, max. I was wrong.
This has been the longest time I’ve stayed here in years. I moved out of my hometown when I was 16, for college, and continued living in the metro — ultimately creating a life that’s far from what I left behind. I was with my childhood best friends anyway, so I didn’t feel lonely or isolated. We exchanged the stillness of the province for the chaos of the city. Sometimes, we wish we were built differently.
I’m not a fan of the province. I have always felt like a stranger here, trying to keep all of the world to myself. There’s a lot of stale days and downtime — it gives anyone a lot of space (quite literally) to breathe, but for me, it does the opposite. It’s a lot of time to think. The same space, no matter how wide, feels suffocating.
I’m not a fan of the province. I have always felt like a stranger here, trying to keep all of the world to myself.
Within a couple of days, I found myself retracting to old habits I thought I was over with. It’s like my younger, petulant self who likes listening to emo music while brooding in her locked room came back to haunt me again. My life in the city felt so far away.
“I’m forced to disconnect from the world,” says my best friend Karla, when I asked her what she liked most about home. It’s true — when Manila feels too much, there’s always the province to retreat to. We can only be home for a couple of days though, because something here will remind us why we left, always.
It’s usually the differences, and it’s as menial as your taste in food to something as important as your ideals and values that are challenged by the very same people you call your family. If you can’t be yourself, you grasp a few things: You learn to shut up and hold back. You learn to keep secrets. You learn where your boundaries lie. You learn that it’s best to carry on, for the sake of not disturbing this illusion of peace and accord that you all kept up for so long.
The lockdown is already a difficult time, but it’s even harder when you’re stuck in a place you’ve outgrown. I worry about people with complicated homes, forced to deal with feelings of alienation and hurt on top of this restless pandemic. This virus is brutal, and it reveals itself in so many ways that not only affects the body but your system as a whole.
With how things are unfolding, it’s probably going to be like this for a while. We’re going to be stuck at home, wherever or whatever that may be. I remember when my best friend Myra said, “Manila is such an ugly, cruel city so maybe home is a feeling/person na nga lang talaga.” I think she’s right.
If there’s anything that this lockdown has reminded me, it’s that home can be anything. Right now, home is our dinner table, where I like to write and work. Home is my younger sisters fighting about chores. Home is 5 a.m., my favorite hour of the day.
It’s ironic because as much as I don’t like it here, I can’t stop writing about it. I remember a scene in Lady Bird, where Sister Sarah Joan tells Lady Bird that she clearly loves her hometown. Lady Bird wasn’t so sure, because she thinks she just pays attention. I wonder too — are love and attention the same thing?
I’m not sure myself, but if there’s anything that this lockdown has reminded me, it’s that home can be anything. Right now, home is our dinner table, where I like to write and work. Home is my younger sisters fighting about chores. Home is daily hour-long calls with my boyfriend, where we never fail to tell each other how much we want things to go back to the way it was, so we can see each other again. Home is rage-filled updates with my best friends, the kind where we clown the government so much we sometimes worry about our safety if we were ever found. Home is whenever my dad does something kind and thoughtful, like going into my room just to check up on me. Home is our four cats coexisting with us, despite my allergies. Home is 5 a.m., my favorite hour of the day.
I don’t know how long this is going to last. I wish I didn’t have lessons to learn because the prices are costly. However, despite the struggle, it’s nice that I get to have little pockets of home. I’ve changed, but I guess I can always go back here.