By Marivir R. Montebon
I am not bitter as I say goodbye to you tonight. As everything, whether good or bad, moves and passes on, so do you. I certainly am hopeful that covid19 would have gone away with you too.
Despite the chaos, fear, and exacerbation of poverty that you brought, many of us emerged more creative and cohesive as human beings.
Unfortunately, it seems, this virus, this invisible enemy of humanity has gone fierce with a new strain. Be that as it may, I believe that the world’s scientific and medical communities are dealing with it appropriately.
So goodbye, 2020.
How am I? How did it go with me as the world and my world was locked down for ten months of your 365 days?
Well, 2020, I discovered a lot of myself during lockdown. In the midst of strange and frightful things like the interminable wailings of ambulances that I heard day in and day out and the pile of dead bodies moved out from hospitals in the city, thankfully, I survived it.
With the death of my only child Leani Alnica on November 19, 2019, you came in an utterly sad and bleak year. You are unlike all my other years, where I look at with glee and preparations and gifts. I was wrapped in my grief in January and in the succeeding months, fear and uncertainty.
I ached as I packed all my things inside our apartment in Maspeth where my daughter and I last lived together. Every item in the house – glasses, plates, clothes, toys, notebooks, books, pictures, everything – was about the life of me and Nikki in New York for the past 11 years.
Packing up my things in January made me feel so alone. I have lost a daughter and a a friend. In the vastness of the digital highway, an outbreak of a virus had already been reported about.
In the third week of January, I flew to Columbus, Ohio to visit my friend way back in college, Gilda, and her husband David. It’s a promise fulfilled after five years of invitation. I was very much pampered there with a tour at the Airforce museum and authentic German and Amish restaurants.
February was a special time for me and my huge clan in the US. My packing was halted as I shifted to prepare for the wedding reception of my dear cousin Rytzl and husband Ryan in California. It was going to a big fat Filipino American wedding. But no one ever realized that it was to be the last one for our clan in who knows how many years!
I spent more than two weeks in California where I celebrated my mom’s birthday and saw my brother in Menifee and my two aunts in San Diego. I also got to meet my high school classmate Angela and Practical Arts teacher Ms. Connie Lepon. Oh what a memorable tour it was!
Most of all, the big fat Filipino American wedding party did happen! My clan’s laughter and fun was a balm for my grieving heart. But I never stopped wishing Nikki was around. But I was certain in my heart she’s hovering and laughing with us too.
California winter for me was the best season, with the sun shining on us the whole day that I only had to wear a light jacket. I was grinning in gratitude for the weather.
I flew back to the East coast towards the end of February and finally made the move to Manhattan with the help of Ann and Tita Nieva. This time, the dark cloak of the pandemic was upon us. I was at the Kabisera Kape with Ann and Tita Nieva on March 18, the day before Governor Cuomo ordered for a lockdown.
Life had changed since then. I looked back and said, 2020, I was glad I made those California and Ohio trips. Who knows when I will be able to travel safely again!
During spring time, I absolutely had no social life. No more parties, press conferences, events, concerts, movies, dining out! Everything was reduced to virtual engagements. I missed being with my friends and family.
I had become ever more mindful of cleanliness. Washing hands frequently with soap and water and alternately using hand sanitizers dried my hands. I became paranoid of germs settling on food from the grocery store that I washed them thoroughly than ever before. I wiped mail and packages with anti-bacterial wipes.
My obsession for cleanliness due to phobia of germs, enhanced by the more than a year of my daughter’s bout with cancer, was clearly doubled during the pandemic.
Aside from hygiene, I rigidly cared for myself for the first time. Since March, I have been taking vitamins A-Zinc, plus some powerful oriental mouth spray and essential oils.
The lockdown had its good side, definitely. Self care’s new twist was the underlying symbiotic philosophy of not allowing myself to be sick so that the others won’t be sick as well.
The pandemic simplified my life. It defeated my consumerist lifestyle. Expenses for eating out, habitual shopping, and transportation were cut, thus creating good savings. I only actually went out to buy food, which was rare, because I preferred online shopping to avoid crowds.
Access to information, which was vital in my daily course as a journalist, became much faster with social media. I didn’t even have to go out of the house to interview for my stories. And there was a deluge of stories to write during the pandemic! Everything was worth writing about, making me busier than ever.
I somehow kept my sanity during the lockdown through my creative and fun interaction with friends and family through social media. I maintained chat rooms for family, clan, professional friends, and close friends. That was my art of survival.
Into the spring, when deaths in New York peaked to more than 800 people per day, New York became the epicenter of the pandemic. I was troubled but nevertheless managed to sing an inspirational MTV with former colleagues at The Freeman newspaper and wrote a novel about a Filipino nurse with girlfriends in Manhattan. (Link here https://justcliqit.com/the-freeman-women-journos-sing-their-hearts-out-in-the-time-of-the-pandemic/)
But when my two aunts and uncle (all with diabetes), and two cousins were afflicted with covid19 in the harrowing months of April and May, I was panicky.
My clan realized in horror the brutality of the pandemic. Our sick loved ones were alone in the hospital battling for their lives, and we couldn’t even go with them to the hospital nor visit them. They were in the care of the frontliners who had been overwhelmed themselves. My family’s anxiety had reached the high heavens. We were anxious why they’d not answer our phone calls and nervous too each time the hospital called back.
I felt truly sorry for being unable to be with my folks, who at the time when Nikki was sick, supported us with love and care. I could not reciprocate that love in the time of the pandemic. It was awful to feel helpless. We Filipinos take care of our family members when they’re sick. Covid19 made us essentially useless.# (To be continued.)