On learning to live under quarantine, and refusing to be defined by it

On learning to live under quarantine, and refusing to be defined by it

We need to keep moving, but we also need to keep track of where we are.

Art by Neal P. Corpus

 

The last time I left the house, I walked along our street until I was able to get a ride on a jeepney. I sat at the very end of the vehicle like I always did so I could watch the places passing by. I got off at my stop. I crossed the street and made sure to look both ways. It was an ordinary day. 

The number of coronavirus patients was rising in the country and I was planning on self-isolating for the time being, so I’d gone to the local mall to stock up on groceries. It was a Thursday but the lines at the supermarket were long and the shelves were looking emptier than usual. When I was finished, I treated myself to late lunch at a nice Japanese restaurant. I figured that I deserved it. Then I went home. I did all of it without thinking, going through the motions like I’d done plenty of times before. The sun was still high in the sky. It was an ordinary day. 

Two days later, the government announced that Metro Manila would be put into community quarantine for a month. There would be no public transportation. Places that were usually quite populated would be closed to the public. Citizens trying to make an honest living were left stranded on the streets, sometimes with very little space, making social distancing impossible, and rendering their situation — a “solution” to avoid spreading the virus — pointless. Others were forced to walk distances no human should ever traverse on foot just to accomplish tasks deemed “essential.” 

All I could do was watch it all on a screen, powerless and frustrated and afraid. It’s been three weeks, and the fear and desolation remain, barely hidden beneath a sense of new normalcy that we’re all trying to live with. 

 

All I could do was watch it all on a screen, powerless and frustrated and afraid. It’s been three weeks, and the fear and desolation remain, barely hidden beneath a sense of new normalcy that we’re all trying to live with. 

 

It’s strange to me how easily I’ve adjusted, along with everybody else. I’ve read my fair share of dystopian stories; in one of them, a meteor was announced to hit the earth in three days, and then it would be the end of the world. There was chaos, but people also went about their business, carrying on as if nothing was happening. They had to, because what else was there to do? 

I’ve found that this time in quarantine reminds me the most of summer — the idea of it, of when it still mattered. The season lost its urgency when I started working; it was just another couple of months, same as ever, just hotter and more humid. But when you’re young enough, there was always that notion that one summer could change everything. 

It reminds me specifically of two summers, five years apart, when I was 15 and 20 years old. The more I’ve thought about them, the more the parallels have stacked up: I would lie in bed watching the colors change on the ceiling, going from warm hues to something colder as the sun sank. I stayed up late reading. The days blended into one another. I hardly ever left the house. There was no reason to.

For the past three weeks, my days have been unstructured and unmoored. I watched a horror movie called Vivarium the other day, about a couple who get stuck in a never-ending suburbia, and felt an odd chill in how much I related. I’d find myself laughing against my better judgment at quarantine-related #content — an edit of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album cover where the Beatles are walking far away from each other because they’re social distancing, or a Jaboukie Young-White tweet that goes, “Do we still live in a society?” — and I have to stop and think, “Ayoko na.” 

I’d watch a member of BTS say in a PSA, “I hope soon we’ll again be able to see those we love, share a meal and talk together,” and just be reminded all over again that we’re experiencing a difficult, historical event. 

 

“Maybe they call it ‘suspension of disbelief’ because you have the ground literally pulled out from under you but you never get the relief of landing.”

 

I posted a story on my private Instagram, rambling about how McDonald’s has stopped serving their breakfast menu because they’ve run out of supplies, and how it just keeps sinking in heavier and heavier how different everything has become: “Maybe they call it ‘suspension of disbelief’ because you have the ground literally pulled out from under you but you never get the relief of landing.” My cousin, a medical resident who’s currently assigned to the emergency room at St. Luke’s, reacted with a crying face emoji; days before, she even took the time to check on me. 

That immediately put things into perspective, though: she’s on the literal frontlines. I’m lucky my job can be accomplished remotely and that I could even think of self-isolating before the community quarantine was announced. I’m lucky I can afford to put my life on hold like this and still get by. I’m lucky my family remains safe from the pandemic. Knowing this doesn’t make waking up in the middle of an international health crisis that’s causing societal collapse any easier, but it’s important to note all the same. 

The dread and powerlessness I feel in the face of all that’s happening haven’t gone away. In these situations, people always ask each other, “Well, what can you do?” and mean it rhetorically — but this time, you can find something to do, even when you’re just sitting at home. I’ve been donating what I can. I’ve been speaking out and calling out irresponsible governance and B.S. when I see it. I’ve been using the small platform I have through my job to try to convince other people to do the same. 

I think about the last time I left the house all the time. I’ve been joking that I’ll probably cry the next time I get to ride a jeepney. I miss McMuffins, and long lines at the supermarket, and eating in nice Japanese restaurants. I’ve learned that missing something is different when you just haven’t gotten around to coming back to it, when it’s always just there, and when you can’t know for sure when the next time will be because everything’s on hold and uncertain. 

I wish the last time I’d gone out had been more special than just a mindless grocery run. I wish I’d looked at the sea. I wish I’d met with a friend. 

I have to hold out hope that there will be time in the future to do all these things. Until then, I’ll go about my business and carry on.

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#essay #health #opinion #self

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