Lockdown

Some nights back a friend, a resident at a private hospital in Makati, messaged and said, apropos of nothing, that he was Ph*9 for Covid-19. He is now in recovery, he added, just awaiting a confirmatory test result. Feeling needier and more vulnerable than usual, I asked him if we were going to get through this. He wasn’t sure, he said.

This must have been a week ago. I had been watching Little Women (2019) so that I’d cry about something else (before I realized may sakit sakit eme din don thanks a lot, Beth March), and I had to pause the thing so I could break down anew. I thought then that I had regained a semblance of equilibrium after the initial tsunami of rage and helplessness, prompted by, among others, the sight of hordes of motorists and commuters stuck at ill-planned checkpoints and news of people, elderly and healthcare workers alike, having to walk miles because public transport is suspended and government is, as usual, inept. In theory perhaps it was easy to apprehend the collapse of our chronically overburdened, precarious health system, but I suppose I never truly imagined an end-of-days scenario when it would actually happen. Like all socialists, I am afflicted w/ chronic optimism.

Then Sunday last week I woke up feeling lethargic and slightly feverish. I felt a swollen lymph node under my chin. I despaired, wondered if I had passed on the deadly bug to my senior citizen parents, if my Australian insurance had overseas cover, and I made a mental note to send the draft of my work-in-progress to O just in case. The existential toll from this lockdown, now on its third week, is probably innocuous compared to the physical and psychological and economic, but w/ pandemics everything perhaps sort of dovetails to the existential. That our lives for all its imagined fullness and numinosity in fact hinges on banal, ‘non-essential’ things, like idling by at a coffee shop or communing w/ people we marginally like or holding jobs and going to school. Could you imagine? Formal education, the supposed bulwark of our flimsy civilization, is deemed non-essential when it comes down to it.

My symptoms happily didn’t deteriorate (thanks to V for absorbing much of the paranoia), although eight days on the malaise persists, exacerbated no doubt by the lack of sunlight and physical activity, the quiet, quiet torture. Or maybe because these days like most people I pendulum between grief and guilt. Grief from the huge gulf that is elided every time someone (usually rich and dumb) intones that this pandemic is ‘affecting all of us.’ Grief because so much of our little lives, we’re finding out, is in the hands of labor that is routinely, systematically undervalued and made invisible–baggers, kitchen staff, cashiers, not to say anything of healthcare workers. And guilt because for all the difficulty and paranoia my circumstances enable me to essentially ride out this pandemic unscathed. Because no amount of donating to choice donation drives or overtipping delivery guys would change the fact that people are outside, and have no choice but to be outside, all due to the brutal, uneven way in w/c society is structured, or to the deplorable fate of not being born in Seoul or Singapore.

Been thinking lately of the outside-inside dichotomy. Being inside our houses to escape the virulent outside, even as borders–national, inter-city, even inter-barangay–are shut and movement is restricted. Midway into the lockdown there is a growing sense, at least on social media, that interiors are oppressive, wild, unbearable, and as proof here are inanities and mundanities broadcast to a captive audience.

Weeks back during the first night of the hastily announced curfew, I saw on the news a middle-aged woman standing forlornly while stopped at an inter-city checkpoint–meters away from her house. I live just there! the woman cried out to the police, I need to go home so my children could eat! Ridiculous and arbitrary, and we shake our heads at the ineptitude, the cruelty. But the draconian conviction behind such a thoughtless measure was also symptomatic of something else: this regime’s unwieldy, insecure power. Perhaps another source of our helplessness then is this: a key aspect of the outside that the lockdown denies is the sociality of our collective, bodied rage; the ability to consolidate such rage beyond hashtags telegraphed from the comfy prison made of our homes; our collective, that is, fullest and most complete, selves.

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