A medical worker and a first-rate germophobe, my mother set the rules in my early childhood and there was to be no violation of her sacrosanct life and health tenets. “Stay at home. Do not hang out with grimy, seamy playmates. Do not wander off to dirty, smelly places. Always wash your hands. Cut your nails. Leave your slippers by the door. Wash your feet. (In Cebuano, it was called panghimasa) Do not wear dirty house clothes in the bedroom. Take your afternoon nap. Always have a hanky in your pocket.”
Alas, I grew up with the select family traits — asthmatic, allergic, sickly. I remember how Mother told me after my nth asthma attack that it would be a lifelong disease. Before high school, I already earned the distinct experience of having been taken to the hospital ICU for my condition. Pollen and pets were a no-no as were dust and dusk, smoke and sweets. I was always with a cough and cold, dreadful byproducts of my weak nasal and respiratory passageways.
Imagine adult life: I was forced to report to work in a seedy, filthy location in the metro. I would cringe every time I had to cram myself into the vile caverns of the city’s public transportation. During my walk to the office every morning, I would do my best to nimbly scamper through slovenly sidewalks dotted with feces and flooded with garbage as I cursed my life in silent agony. The antisocial in me learned to avoid seedy, cheap malls as they were, to my eyes, overrun by too many humans and most likely too many diseases. I didn’t take a particular fancy to travel; being out of my comfort zone stressed me out. Plane rides and hotel rooms would drive me crazy. Before the outbreak, I didn’t understand friends who were jetting out of the country to tick off some discounted destination from their social climbing bucket list.
When COVID-19 spread like wildfire, I was livid (and racist, if my friends were to tell you). “Who in their right minds will make soup from bats? Why would you have a civet cat for dinner?” When self-isolation was recommended by health officials, I couldn’t be any happier. Years before the lockdown, I had taken to wearing a surgical face mask every time I had to venture out of my sanctum and into the realms of filth. And now, being forced to socially distance myself from others was more than a welcome development to me.
I’ve always relished being alone and now with the Enhanced Community Quarantine I was able to work in solitude, without the noise and pollution coming from fellow humans, and without the putrid and fetid detritus of the world. The news articles about the dreaded disease I eagerly lapped up served only to make my hypochondria grow unfettered and robust. On nights that I would get an asthma attack, I would be convinced that I had the virus, and I’d never wake up in the morning.
On the eve of the lockdown, dubiously announced in the seemingly-senile late-night ramblings of our president, I was deep in the bowers of sleep when I was unceremoniously whisked away to a safe haven out of the metro. I only had time to pack two shirts, two shorts, two sets of underwear, and my large Celine bag that thankfully had my trusty vanity kit and medicine pouch. I only had my Carolina Herrera jumper to wear around my neck and cover my face with.
I write this as someone who is immuno-compromised with asthma, fearing for my body’s vulnerability. My nasal allergies continue to plague me; my bedside table is weighed down by my medicines. I can never seem to not touch my face; my nose is always itchy from some element.
While ensconced away for the lockdown, I found my heart unsettled. I was away from home. I had counted on taking volumes from the huge pile of fashion books and Vogue magazines stacked on my coffee table as reading fodder throughout the period to calm me down. I was planning to occupy myself by fixing my closet because I had managed to make a quick shopping trip for my wardrobe revamp before all of this insanity ensued. Instead, I turned to chatting with friends, updating my social media, spending so much screen time until my eyes went foggy. I realized I had never spent as much time working via interminable Zoom meetings that dragged for hours.
When the inevitable loneliness crept on unguarded moments, I found my spirit agitated and distraught, fraught with worry at the obvious uncertainty of things. I checked up on my nieces, my siblings, my folks — always a stressful task I wish I could postpone or ignore. Worries over my health, job security, future prospects would gnaw at my nocturnal thoughts until I’d fall into disturbed slumber only to face the same awful thoughts the following day as I updated my countdown.
I write this on Easter because all the other days before this looked drab and dreary. I write this as someone who is immuno-compromised with asthma, fearing for my body’s vulnerability. My nasal allergies continue to plague me; my bedside table is weighed down by my medicines. I can never seem to not touch my face; my nose is always itchy from some element.
Today, I pray we learn from this period of rest and reset; this long recess for reassessing. And I intone to anyone who’d care to listen the very words that came from my mother: “Wash your hands. Clean your surroundings. Don’t behave like filthy animals.”