Columns Inside Voices

Inside Voices: Life As We Know It

We’re not prepared for this surreal, unbelievable life. The quiet, interrupted only by the sound of Purge-like sirens and megaphoned reminders to “stay at home,” is a little too quiet. Summer plans, interrupted by collective compassion (in reality, forced houseboundness), are a pandemic away. Our idol worship and false priorities, rightfully interrupted by a sudden, acute awareness of what is essential, are put on pause until it is acceptable to be ourselves again — bad hair days, need for praise, and selfish ways, again. 

At the grocery store, I pick up my fifth pack of something; something I’ve never had to do before. A fifth pack of something is something you pick up when the first, second, third, and fourth are not enough to soothe your worries, or satisfy that part of the brain that tells you, that’ll do. A fifth pack of something is self-preservation kicking in. It’s the pack that stares back at you from inside your cupboard, reminding you that things will be like this for a while. Like a rabbit’s foot you will keep it there for luck. You will use up the others as you normally would, but the fifth pack will be treasured, and it will bring you comfort.

I received my Quarantine Pass this week. If you’re reading this in 2045, it’s a tiny piece of paper, unlaminated and far from official looking: my golden ticket to the outside world. I still freeze up when uniformed men carrying guns question me. “Why are you going to this supermarket?” There’s a question I’ve never had to ask myself. Why here, not there? Maybe I insist on crossing city borders because I need familiarity. I need to walk the same path, cross the same streets, make the same lefts, turn the same rights, and end up in the supermarket that reminds me of the good old days.

We’ve been taking things for granted. Haircuts, upon deeper reflection, are a luxury. Waxing? An unnecessary torture. In this time of limited means and restricted access, I am discovering what the true essentials are. Silently, I stocked up on period products. Nobody tells us how female characters in post apocalyptic TV shows cope with their periods — we just never see them fussing over it, just as women aren’t outwardly fussing over it now. Never have I been more aware of the needs of women around me, and never have I felt more helpless. Emerging from this lockdown a Yeti seems like a small price to pay. 

Photo by CHONX TIBAJIA, taken at Venice Biennale 2018

There are three instances when freelancers feel especially socially distanced: 1) During office Christmas party season; 2) When we remember that we’re not getting 13th month pay; and 3) When we see people posting their Zoom calls on IG. Working from home has been a struggle. I realize that this one is a tiny speck in this new reality that seems to consist primarily of struggles, but for the sake of everybody’s sanity, let’s just say all feelings are valid. A third of the world is in quarantine. We’re alone together.  

As I sit on my couch, attempting to put this tangle of thoughts into lines upon lines of writing, I feel inadequate and overcome with dread. For once, the uncertainty that the future has always held seems palpable. I feel it when I’m standing a meter from the person next to me at the grocery store. I feel it at home when I answer emails from my bed, from people sending emails from their beds. They say this is the new normal, but I’m not sure I can get used this. Things will be on hold for an unforeseeable length of time. Grim as this may sound, I worry that we’ll soon run out of suitable people in the frontlines, and the writers, the ballerinas, DJs, and the artists will have to do. 

We’re seeing mountains as far as Sierra Madre from our condo units now. Were they once invisible or have we not been looking? This lockdown is recalibrating my faulty system, long trained to consume and churn, to look and see through the noise. Is Manila Bay actually blue or is it mass delirium? These days, even good news is suspect. I look around the house and I see: particles of dust as they gather on the floor, the sun blessing the bedroom with outside light, A working across from me in the kitchen, the streets from our balcony, looking mighty lonely. There’s so much to see, and for now, all we can do is look. 

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Follow the author on Instagram at @pineapplechonx. Illustration by CARISSA BAUTISTA.

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